John (Butch) Mepham
Forward by Ian McNab (roadie to the stars)
This is a story of a guy who made an impression on so many people in his life - by sitting on them! He was born at a very early age to his mum and dad, who in fact thought they had ordered a puppy. Still he was very good to them and rarely went home at all, spending the biggest part of his youth messing about with his mate’s in the back streets of Manchester!
‘I know’ said one of his friends ( his only one ) ‘ lets start a Skiffle group and make loads of money’, and so it was that Manchester music was born.
Now they knew that two lads only made a duo and they wanted a full group, so being the clever little devils they were , it struck them they needed some others to join them . They would then be a proper group and make a lot more noise than just the two of them. They both had been to school and remembered that one or two others could plink and plonk on banjo’, guitars and other things. Butch himself believed he was a whiz kid on the old tea chest and broom handle so he was a natural to become the world’s best bass player.
In 1958 my mother bought me a guitar for my 17th birthday. Unlike most acoustic guitars of the day, which had nylon strings, this one had steel strings which was perfect for playing my favourite music ‘Skiffle’. A friend of mine, Derek Crewe, taught me to play 3 or 4 chords and the Sidekicks Skiffle group was born!
All our practice sessions were held in Derek’s front room under the watchful eye of his mother, who would be saying ‘you are not playing loud enough ‘ or ‘ play faster’ or ‘you are not smiling’.
We held the group together for about 5 months playing in youth clubs and pubs, also the local R.A.O.B. (Royal Ancient Order of Buffalo’s).
After a few months, the group broke up and I formed my own group called ‘The Meteors’. It consisted of myself (vocals/guitar), George Owen (guitar), Tom Mangan (tea chest bass) and Brian Lowe (snare drum).
Again we played similar venues including some city centre coffee bars and clubs. We were also the resident skiffle group at the Manchester branch of the Lonnie Donegan fan club.
On one occasion when playing at the Brunswick club on Oxford Road, I heard a bit of noise behind me. During the guitar break I turned to find that Tom was putting on his black shortie mac, I asked him what he was doing and he told me ‘he had to go home’ as his mother had told him to be in by 10.30 pm.
We had a lot of problems with transport in those days, not many people had cars or vans, on one occasion the bus we went on to a gig (double decker courtesy of Manchester City Transport ) drove off as Tom was still trying to get the Tea Chest Bass from under the stairs. H had to get off at the next stop and walk all the way back with it.
The group broke up in early 1959, I think because our parents kept on telling us to be home early.
While playing Skiffle I had met Derek Quinn (later lead guitar with Freddie and the Dreamers ) who also played in a Skiffle group. One evening I bumped into him on my way home from work and he asked me if I was interested in forming a ‘Rock and Roll’ group. As far as I knew , there wasn’t any rock and roll groups in Manchester at that time .
We met that night at Mauldeth Road Youth Club in Withington. Derek, Pete Bocking, Joe Abrams and myself formed ‘The Jets’ rock and roll group fronted by a young lad by the name of Johnny Peters (Barry James) - a sort of cross between Cliff Richard and Elvis Presley.
Johnny Peters was a great front man, a good voice, personality, and a great stage presence; he got the girls screaming everywhere we played.
Derek and Pete were sort of joint lead guitars to start off but as Pete was the better player he eventually took over lead playing most of the solo’s , with Derek some of the rock and roll solos.
I was playing bass guitar although you couldn’t buy bass guitars in those day’s so I was using my Hofner President.
I saw an advert in the Melody Maker paper for a solid body bass guitar by Henri Weil (of Burns Weil guitars). We went down to London and purchased it along with it’s matching solid body lead guitar for Derek . They both had been made for a musical instrument exhibition in Germany and had never been played professionally .
Johnny Peters and the Jets were a very successful band. We played clubs and dance hall in Manchester and around the North West - we even played a few gigs in London .
The Jets were the first group to break into the Mecca Dance Hall circuit, which was mainly dance bands, playing every Thursday night for Bob Bloxham, the manager at the Sale Locarno, where all the ballroom dancers kicked off their high heel dance shoes and started jiving!
The Jets lingered on for a number of years with different front men including Wayne Fontana and Mike Sweeney. Pete and Joe left the group in early 1960 to form a new group fronted by the Two Teens (Alan Clarke and Graham Nash) called The Fourtones.
Derek Quinn, Peter Bocking, John (Butch) Mepham, Keith Bates, Alan Clarke, Graham Nash
After their first practice run through they decided they needed a bass guitar player and offered me the job. Derek Quinn joined a few weeks later, so the Jets were back together again under a different name. I was now playing a Fender Jazz bass ordered from Barratts in Manchester early in 1960, Pete was playing a Fender Stratocaster. In those early days most group’s didn’t even have one Fender between them let alone two.
Quite a lot of guy’s used to come to watch the group just to see the Fender guitars that you could normally only see on the telly or Buddy Holly’s album covers.
The Fourtones or Ricky Young and The Fabulous Fourtones as we were usually billed became one of the North West’s most popular ‘Beat Groups’ as we were now called, playing all the top night clubs, theatre clubs of the day, we even played the Stars and Garter and The 2 I’s coffee bar in London.
We used to play the Ritz Mecca Ballroom in Whitworth Street, Manchester every Sunday afternoon, which made a useful double gig with the 2 Js ( later Oasis) in the evening.
On one occasion we did a TV variety show from ABC Didsbury studio in Manchester. This was also Les Dawson’s first TV show which became a hilarious occasion for us, trying hard not to laugh out loud because the microphones were live.
The group was doing so well that we thought it about time we got a permanent roadie in the form of Ian McNab and his Austin Omnicoach. Ian was a cast off from Johnny Peters and the Cresta’s after their manager sold them their own van.
Ian made sure we were all picked up and arrived at the gigs on time.
Butch (left) and Terry Morton Alan and Graham with Derek in the background
We also backed a couple of recording stars on their tours, the first being Lance Fortune, the other was Jimmy Justice at the height of his career , when ‘My Little girl is Smiling’ was up in the charts.
The group underwent a few changes over the years, with firstly Joe leaving (I can’t remember why) and being replaced by Keith Bates, a superb drummer, and later Derek left to join Freddie and the Dreamers, being replaced by Terry Moreton.
The Fabulous Fourtones played their last gig at the Three Coins in Fountain Street, Manchester on 27th July 1962 - my 21st birthday. We were involved in a car crash on the way home from the gig.
Somewhere about halfway through the Fourtone’s I seem to remember a short break when Derek, Pete and myself teamed up with Alan Gracie (drums) and Phil Corbet (vocals). The group was called Phil Corbet and the Coasters, but it was only for a few weeks then it was back to the Fourtones.
Next came The Pete Bocking Six which was usually 5, 6, or 7 of us.
The line up was Pete Bocking (guitar), Ian Starr (drums), Graham Attwood (sax), Clive Neil (sax), Keith Sheppard (bass) and myself (6 string bass).
We played all the normal venues of the time in and around Manchester. I can remember one occasion when we played Bernard Manning’s Embassy Club where we fielded 2 saxes and two bass guitars - a really powerful sound for those days.
On another occasion we played the Oasis with the Beatle’s Paul had turned up without his bass guitar and their manager asked if he could borrow my Fender Jazz Bass. I explained it wasn’t a left handed model but was told he would manage.
We as usual went across the road to the Nags Head for a pint, when we returned the Beatle’s had left leaving my guitar on the floor with all the back damaged. Paul had been wearing a big buckle on his belt and this had scratched through the varnish cutting into the wood. I never even got an apology.
I left the Pete Bocking Six after about 4 or 5 months to join the Merchant Navy
as an engineer, something I had always wanted to do, but that’s another story, even bigger than this one.
John ‘Butch’ Mepham
John in 2005
John catches up with Graham Nash at the Royal Albert Hall in 2010 (and as they were in The Fourtones)