My Story - Paul Mlynarz
Unlike the many fine musicians who appear on the Manchesterbeat site, I was never inspired by Lonnie Donnegan, Chuck Berry or even Elvis. They were all fairly uninteresting to me and almost had the same charisma as Andy Stewart and Alma Cogan.
Music wasn’t the reason I wanted to be in a group – I just wanted to be in a group.
There were exceptions, of course. B. Bumble’s Nutrocker was the first real turn on and, like most of us in those days, I even listened to the ‘B’ side, the incredible Nautilus. In those days, you had to as you had so few records.
I followed the usual path for a lad growing up in the early 60s who wanted to be in a group - I bought a guitar from the local music store. Sadly I just couldn’t get the hang of it, so my aspirations were limited to the 60s equivalent of the air-guitar – the tennis racket and whatever I could find as a pseudo-microphone.
My parents couldn’t work out the damage to my dressing table – scene of the almost nightly performances ‘on-stage’, strumming along to my (few) 45s.
I can remember singing I Like it in a record-a-disk kiosk on Victoria Station (2/6d) and singing a really hip version of Yeh Yeh into a small reel-to-reel tape deck (Woolworths) in front of some of my dad’s friends. He promised to get me one but never did. No wonder I never made it!
I used to go to Pop North at the Hulme Playhouse every now and then. I would write off for tickets to BBC Piccadilly and get to watch Gay Byrne, Bernard Herrmann and the NDO plus a range of big acts of the time. I can remember seeing The Springfields and The Applejacks - but there must have been more.
Being a Rusholme lad, I also used to stand outside the BBC studios on Dickenson Road watching the groups arrive for Top of the Pops. I clearly remember The Four Pennies arriving in a taxi (posh), Manfred Mann all hunched up in the front of their van – something like a 15cwt Commer, with Paul Jones driving - and some group in suits; all excited, waving, throwing out photos but no one knew who they were. Turned out it was only The Honeycombes. Oddly, much later I played in a band with a guy who had been in a version of The Honeycombes.
The biggest attraction for me was going there with a group of kids from around Heald Place that included Susan Roberts. I really had the hots for her but, as can often be the case, she didn’t reciprocate. I went right off her some years later when the group caught her with one time agent Dave Davies (one of Roy D's associates).
Yukk! Snogging an agent! Susan, you are still not forgiven.
In time, the music scene got more of my attention but I was a Rusholme lad. I bought my clothes at Baines on Claremont Road, Rusholme, bought those Top 6 EPs from the record shop on Wilmslow Road, went to local youth club dances whose names all started with the word ‘Saint’ and I never got to Heaven and Hell, Jungfrau or the Twisted Wheel.
I was a Holy Innocents, Fallowfield (Thursday), St Bernadettes, Withington (Friday), New Century Hall, The Pop Inn or Browns (Saturday) and Top Ten Club or St Kents, Fallowfield (Sunday) sort of guy.
Some Saturdays were spent at Bury Palais, where the atmosphere was fabulous and the bands inspiring. Rev Black and the Rocking Vicars were a real turn-on. Not sexually you understand, Harry, but for a guy who wanted to be in a group, they were the best! I can remember wearing madras check trousers (C&A), stripey shirt and a blue pacamac – gee, I was trendy.
I used to go to Bury with a guy who I worked with as a Saturday boy at Woolworths Piccadilly. Name long lost but a nice guy. We occasionally sat in the luggage rack in the train compartment, just to prove we were "cool". He eventually got a Lambretta and I got a Ducati 50cc scooter, single seat, from Kings Old Trafford - couldn't keep up with him. I suppose this was 1965ish.
I started working in August 1966 at the CWS in Balloon Street - order furnishings. A great place to work and I had three great years there. Lots of young people, next to New Century Hall, opposite Ralphs Records and lots of boutiques around the place. I can remember Steve Clegg from Stalybridge (who was the first person I ever met who had been abroad for a holiday), Richard Green, Russell, Pat and Mr Clark. Ron Foden was another.
Our Christmas doo was in the NCH and I remember seeing The Chuckles one year. This was the time of Radio One Club and every now and then there was the live show in the NCH. We just popped in during lunch hours. I can remember seeing Status Quo in their regency gear and the great Bitter Suite, from Sheffield.
Sadly, I had missed the bigger Manchester groups. I never saw The Toggery Five, The Country Gents, nor Ricky and Dane and the Fourtones - my music was the local groups like the Dyleks plus Richard Kent Style, St Louis Union, Manchester Playboys, Factotums, Measles and Life ‘n’ Soul, with Stuart Charles, the ultimate frontman. I even had a suit made just like them! Beige, red lining - except mine was from Burtons and theirs were made by Abe Sachs.
One memory is tossing up between seeing a group at St Bernadettes or one at The Pyramid Club in Stockport. Both groups were advertised as having light shows, I hadn’t heard of either but as I could walk to and from St Bernies, it was the winner. The group was Carl Douglas and the Big Stampede, who were awful. Their light show turned out to be simply a home movie of them running around a park and doing the sort of things any group of lads would do when running round a park for a home movie. Huh, 3/6d for that! To add insult, Carl didn’t make it to the gig, so all we saw of him was a few glimpses of him rolling around on the grass with his mates. Not even a single Kung Fu chop - that was to come later! The other group – Pink Floyd. What an error!
A little later and I was working in the evenings at Belle Vue, first as a waiter then I managed to get a spot working in the soft drink bar upstairs in the New Elizabethan. Midweek was a bit boring but Saturdays was packed (remember seeing The Maybellenes there) and Sundays was Top Ten Club, of course. I have fond memories of some great people and some great bands.
Top Tenners will never forget the night we had Stevie Wonder at the club, with The Reg James Explosion as support. Dave Eager came and helped me on the bar – a favour I really appreciated and one that upped the ego considerably – ‘as I said to Dave Eager the other night …’
Dave Eager was always the ‘main man’ to me - DJ at both NCH and Belle Vue. WOW!
Other great acts at that time were Liverpool’s Chants (later Vocal Perfection then The Real Thing), the Original Drifters and Root and Jenny Jackson from Sheffield.
In time, I managed to grab the job doing the lights and follow spot for the New Elizabethan. Although fairly boring on modern and old-time dancing nights , on Sundays I got to chat with the groups over their lighting needs.
In those days no-one carried lights, so it was all down to me and I can remember the instructions for The Merseys (‘just red lights on all the time, mate’) and The Troggs, who just didn’t care either way. When I went in the dressing room I expected lots of booze, women and right old thing going on but instead they were sat around reading paperbacks. Wild things? They all had those BOAC airline bags – remember those? Huh, if I had been in the group it would have been livelier than that :-)
On Saturdays, I also had to check the sound for the big band and that was interesting. Their drummer, fairly young, was a nice guy and we had a few chats about the music scene and he encouraged me considerably. He wouldn't know it but he did.
On a night off I had been to a small gig at Kendal MiIne’s Social Club to see a group fronted by a guy from Claremont Road way – Kevin Brown? His group’s name and line-up has long since faded from memory but I can still picture a not very cool guy playing sax. I think he had spots and a pair of thick glasses – possibly a club foot, rotten teeth and bad breath as well, but I wouldn’t want you to think I was jealous of him (although I was). The group were playing on the floor and I was just a couple of feet away. They were humans and it dawned on me that if spotty could be in a group, so could I.
Of course I had been to school with guys in groups (even school had groups) – Phil Gregory and Dave Holmes from the Mobile Unit/Phoenix City Smash and Rob Young and Les Brazil from The Focal Points. I had seen them all many times but never realised I could do it as well. It was as if it was something they just magically did and I tragically didn’t. But the spell was broken – I too would be a star.
So, with some of the funds from my job at CWS Balloon Street during the day and Belle Vue in the evening, I saved up and found an alto sax advertised in the Manchester Evening News for 14 pounds. That was almost 2 week’s wages then, so a major purchase. I went on the bus with my dad and bought it – we gave it a good looking over although it would have been obvious we didn’t know one end from the other.
Next problem – how do you play the bloody thing? Luckily there was a reed in the mouthpeice or I would still be trying to get a note out of the thing. Some would say that's not a bad thing.
For three months I squawked and squawked and tried to play along with my records. Jumper shoved down the bell to kill the noise. I sussed out the riff to Hold on, I’m coming and annoyed everyone at home night after night with that haunting riff. Mind you, I didn’t know about chord changes, etc, and just played the same riff – you know the one – over and over again. The neighbours must have been saints. A great lead in to a neighbour story.
At the time I was into reggae and bluebeat (still am) and loved Al Capone and Guns of Navarone and stuff like that. I used to go to a small electrical oddments shop next to the 53 bus stop on the junction of Gt Western Street and Alexander Road to look for good singles. When our first West Indian neighbours moved in next door, I was over the moon.
I used to play my music loud, bedroom window open and hang out of the window, grooving to the beat. I presume I was trying to show them how cool I was but it must have been awful. I had an Elpico 3 watt amp cranked up full, booming through a couple of 2 inch speakers – stereo no less. Thanks Mazels, I loved the shop.
On the rare occasion I heard their music, it was straight pop and even stuff like Andy Williams. A major disappointment for me (and major annoyance for them, I presume)
Anyway, I had been chatting to Rob Young from The Focal Points about playing sax - he worked at the CWS also, in the bank. He kept asking me to their rehearsals at St Crispins Church Hall on Lloyd St, Rusholme.
I fear I may have embellished my playing skills to him a little but was realistic enough to realise that I was not really ready to front a band a la Junior Walker style. Not even ready to pull the jumper out of the sax bell.
However, one day he mentioned that Phil from Phoenix City Smash was coming round to the rehearsal for a listen, so I said I would come as well.
I had known of the group for years, even been to a rehearsal with their first drummer, Steve Reece, a schoolmate whose parents owned a chippy on Walmer St, Rusholme. He didn’t have a drum kit so banged on the armchair arms. As you would expect, he was soon replaced by a drummer with Premier and not Parker Knoll.
In the mysterious way that life works, he in turn was replaced by a drummer who lived above a fish and chip shop. Eerie, eh! But bloody useful as a base for meetings!
Back to Phoenix City Smash. I had seen them at the Pop Inn a few times and had also shared a night with a few of them at New Century Hall when we made up the few who stayed to watch the group and didn’t rush to the bar when they came on. My first experience of Jimi Hendrix.
Back to the audition. I had played my party piece, the never ending riff and had put the sax down on a chair. Phil walked in, spotted it, then asked:
‘Whose sax is it?’
‘Wanna join a group?’
And that was it.
Phoenix City Smash
The following week I rehearsed twice, learned four or five songs and did my first gig at Lostock Youth Club, Stretford, on the Friday. We were lead, bass, drums, vocals and a tenor sax – plus me on part-time alto sax, part-time dancing and clapping. More dancing and clapping than sax, I remember.
The group was after an organ player and Ian ‘Andy’ Anderson from Oliver’s Twist turned up with Harry ‘the Fwerk’ Green, his bass player, for support.
I remember the night well. I was sat with Phil, chatting with Andy and Harry about the group, its aspirations, list of gigs, etc. Phil was really doing well but we were finding it hard to concentrate – Les Eaton, the singer, was doing rudies with a girl on top of a table tennis table.
It was at this point I reckon Andy decided we were the group for him – I had already made my mind up! This was the life for me! A double bonus - I even liked table tennis.
Andy was in our next gig was at a social club on a Salford housing estate. That night there were two of us dancing and clapping.
I had three great years with Phoenix City Smash – seemed like so long, it was such fun and the pace was fast.
We gigged extensively, did Opportunity Knocks, recorded at Strawberry, had a great van (I like vans), made great friends and worked at a high level – we were a good working band. In Dec 68 we worked 27 nights.
I gigged both the Top Ten Club and New Century Hall as top of the bill – so achieved my ambitions at the time.
I think it is important to acknowledge the work of Phil Gregory who, at 19, was getting us the work, helped finance the trannie, maintained it and drove us everywhere. Every group needed a Phil. Thanks mate.
I have some great memories of the Carlisle weekends where Les and Andy slept in the van to save cash and almost froze, the Hogie Wagon in Warrington (were they really that big?), Tow Bar Inn and the fruit machine, Pop Inn, all those Wythenshawe gigs, Browns, Quaintways, Warrington Co-op, Reece’s ballroom and those monthly gigs at Wilbraham High!
So many gigs but for me, one highlight was an open air concert in Warrington in 69. During the week we had recorded in Strawberry Studios, done Opportunity Knocks and on the night were pulled off stage by hundreds (OK, dozens) of screaming girls. We even drove through the crowd in the trannie, with our horn on and lights flashing, while another group was playing. Our five minutes of fame.
Can’t remember the set but I can remember crawling back the stage on people’s heads and shoulders, my shirt ripped off me and the ruffles (trendy at the time) were rip[ped off. Such is fa,e!
In Sept 70 (I thinkl), I went to Fielden Park College to do a business studies course where I put on some good dances, met nice people (Steve Charnock, Tony Michaelides, Judy McGough and Rita Foy). Interesting times - music was changing, we wore more denim and hair was long and I hung around the Didsbury scene a little. Saw Greasy Bear a number of times. Phoenix were still working but were doing stretched out heavy versions of soul standards plus things from Deep Purple, Joe Cocker, etc. I remember a gig with Quintessance at Didsbury Training College. We were all trying to grab women and do the group thing but were sharing a dressing room with a band that were burning candles and chanting.
But as the music changed, the gigs changed and I suppose I changed. I left; bit silly really but that’s life.
Phoenix gave me a great time and I still regard the guys as real friends even though we haven’t seen each other for years. Phil and Andy still gig with each other in Simply Soul, which highlights the true friendships that were forged so long ago.
I feel I was right – it is not just about the music, it is about being in a group.
After leaving Phoenix, I bummed around. I had just left home, split with Judy, my long time girl-friend and packed in college. I worked in a Chinese takeaway in Longsight, sold shoes at Dolcis on Market Street and generally went to seed a little.
I was playing with Honeychile, a not so great attempt by Andy and myself to"go cabaret" as they say. We auditioned a girl singer called Candy Crystal from Eccles, who was really a little odd. We went round to her house and were sat on the settee in the posh front room, surrounded by admiring parents, grandma and the neighbours. Suddenly in burst Candy, miming to My boy lollipop. Yep, no mistake – miming. We found this a trifle odd as she was auditioning as a singer. She actually had a good voice but was not, as you would imagine, the one for us. I remember a too short skirt and flashy knickers. She had been told by a local fortune teller that she would be famous, so she never had a job. Her mum didn't want people saying about her star daughter that she had worked on the bacon counter at Woolworths.
We eventually settled on a great vocalist from Whalley Range but she insisted on calling herself Kiki Dee – even had the early Tamla albums on her wall. We knew she wasn’t but she could sing, so we put up with it. Sadly, we only lasted a few gigs and then split.
For those interested enough to ask – no, she didn’t join up with Elton for a duet; she ended up at Burnley Locarno in the resident band I believe.
I actually sort of enjoyed that group, despite the oddities, as we did the type of gigs I had never done before. We even played the Lake Hotel, Belle Vue and numerous talent nights.
Jason T Alexander
After that, I joined Tony Lingard who had been with us in Honeychile in the Jason T Alexander Sound or was it the New Jason T Alexander Sound – a bloody long name for a group, I felt.
We were a sort of reggae, sort of pop, sort of cabaret group. They were a bit of fun and it was good to work with Tony and Tommy Beckett, who had both been in Herbert Warnick’s Magic Elixir. Another long name! Our manager was Doris, Tommy’s mum – a really nice, down to earth lady who looked after us well. She turned a blind eye to the girls!
Not too many memories survive but I can remember rehearsing at full blast in the flats in Hulme, Jason repainting the PA a nice glossy black just half an hour before we were to pick it up for a gig, our roadie skittling over some drunks on the way home from a gig and Tommy giving up the beer and drinking 6 pints of milk a night instead!
We played stuff like Leaving on a Jet Plane reggae style and lots of soul standards. They liked us at the Kraft Social Club in Liverpool and we did the usual round of social clubs and a few functions. We wore purple satin shirts and I had a pair of those awful trousers with a split knee and different coloured legs. Thank God I can’t remember the colours.
I also remember auditioning for an Irish show band who kept asking ‘Do you know Brown Cow’ and after all these years, I still don’t know what they meant.
Another audition I attended was with a pair of twins from London who believed were going to blast the Manchester scene apart as Double Trouble. They announced they had already written a theme song that went something like ‘Darbul trarbul, dah dah dah, Darbul trarbul, dah dah dah, Darbul trarbul, dah dah dah, Darbul trarbul, dah dah dah, etc.’, on and on and on. And on.
About 30 guys were there initially but after experiencing Double Trouble’s theme song for what seemed like an hour or so, I looked around and there was suddenly only me left. Prior to my own exit to the outside world and sanity, I gave them a brief glimpse of my stunning tenor voice by joining them in a boisterous version of Diane (The Bachelors), complete with over-the-top Irish accent. Whilst still enthralled at my boisterous ‘Smoil for me’, I made my excuse and left, forgetting to leave my contact details.
Years later, my comedy band opened up with a few bars of Diane before going into Sky High by Jigsaw (God, I love that song). It was really funny (we thought) but had to abandon it fairly quickly as people actually liked Diane and wanted more of the same.
Back to the twins. Perhaps they eventually went on the road as the Kiki Dee twins, miming to Millie records and made a fortune, which they took south and invested in a jellied eel stall. I shall never know.
The move to Wrexham
After this soul destroying experience, I realised I couldn’t rekindle the great times I had in Phoenix, thought it was time I lifted my game and went off to teacher training college at Wrexham and the prospects of a proper job. With Phoenix I had enjoyed some good gigs at Wrexham Memorial Hall and Dolywern Hall in nearby Chirk and I knew most of the local chippies, so it seemed a good place to go. Quite logical.
I had three great years at college, where I discovered you could pull the ladies without playing sax and that you could actually make love lying down. I suppose you have to have been in a group to understand that one.
At the end of my studies, I found a job in Bromborough, on the Wirral. My old Phoenix mate Andy was with Omnibus, a group that was resident at a Mecca gig in the Liverpool CBD – might have been Tiffany’s - so I went to see them fairly regularly. Great group that formed the basis of the Salford Jets.
I hated Liverpool though. I soon found that a Manchester accent is not the ideal pick-up tool on Merseyside, so I moved after a year.
Life 'n' Soul
Off I went to Herne Bay in Kent. There, the Manchester accent was more acceptable than on Merseyside. Andy drove me there - thanks mate.
After a few months, I saw an ad for a sax player, went down to Hythe Scouts Hall for the audition and got the job.
They were a function band who had basically had enough and wanted more musical freedom. Luckily they already had a good sax player in Greasy Geoff (from Yorkshire) who could assist in drowning out my still amateurish bleating and we started to rehearse. But we needed a name.
Naming the band was something of an ordeal - six different people (2 sax, lead, bass, keyboards, and drums), six different sets of expectations and experiences and six different views on what constitutes a ‘good name’. Let’s face it - it must have been a strong character that got his way with naming the group The Rolling Stones, Night Riders of the Purple Sage or Led Zeppelin.
After drawing up a list of first choices, second choices and absolutely hates, the band went home called The Exits - a nice short name I had remembered from my Manchester days. The decision had been democratically chosen, based on a points system.
As with many such democratic decisions, no one had actually chosen the name to win but had placed it fairly high up on second and third choices.
The next day everyone admitted they hated it and unanimously chose Life ‘n’ Soul’- another ex-Mancunian band name.
We were almost called Penthouse (oddly, the Manchester Life ’n’ Soul’s name after Life ‘n’ Soul) but I can remember Little Paul, our guitarist, disliking it because of its ‘rude’ connotations. Little did he know of what was ahead!
With the line-up finalised and a name on the drum kit, the job was to get work. It was initially hard, with the odd job each week or so. Gigs were often arranged by Paul Clugston at On Stage Agency, Margate or obtained by the band directly.
We were playing a mix of our own material (Reg, the bass player, was a good writer) and stuff from ELO, Boz Scaggs and the obligatory soul standards.
Gigs were OK but we were one of the many 20 quid bands around. Better than most, honest, but that probably only put us a few quid ahead.
Then we changed.
It’s often difficult to pinpoint a change in direction but the Golden Arrow pub in Folkestone certainly sticks in my memory. Herne Bay based Quint were the big boys at the time and everyone else was third/fourth fiddle. They got about 25 quid and every one else got between 10 and 15 - so they had to be good. If I remember rightly, they were managed by the same crowd as the Salford Jets and recorded on CBS.
We did a few gigs to a small but appreciative audience - playing a mixture of original compositions and soul, pop and rock standards. To compensate for a lack of numbers, the band had joked around a little between the songs and I started to tell the odd joke - usually very odd.
After a gig or so like this, the audience began to improve and the ‘witty repartee’ between myself and the audience increased to such an extent that the band always had songs to spare. Banter was usually taking the pee out of Paddy (the barmaid), slagging off Quint or telling jokes like ‘One of the barmaids is going to have a baby – not sure which one, I haven’t decided yet’.
I also remember constantly plugging the purchase of toasted sandwiches - which the bar staff hated making.
Yes, we were a laugh a minute but the crowd were entertainment starved southerners and my Manchester accent made me sound like a comedian off the telly. The fact they were usually fairly drunk helped a little I suspect.
At rehearsal one night (Hythe Scouts Hall), I suggested we did a medley of Gary Glitter songs. He was still a bit trendy at the time – way before his ‘troubles’. At the next rehearsal, Terry the drummer turned up with a silver suit and a pair of golden boots and basically told me to put my money where my mouth was. I had always wanted to sing but never had, so I took on the challenge!
The Golden Arrow was the obvious place to try it out! It worked and we became a comedy group.
The crowd had been building for some time - now the room was packed out every gig, to the extent of covering the pool table so it could be sat on. The audience expected the unusual – good music interspersed with, perhaps, a raffle where the somewhat posh winner was shocked to receive a pair of Perry's socks (still warm) or the band opening up with Moon River or worse, opening up and trying to play someone else’s instrument! The Gary Glitter act went down a storm and started to encourage ‘odd people’ to follow the band.
I remember a guy called Gordon - who used to do something unusual every time he came to see the band. Although he had turned up dressed in nappies, the obligatory stockings and suspenders, gorilla outfits and as a Smerf, the most memorable was him arriving dressed in newspapers as a punk. A quick thinking Terry (drummer) called him over to chat on stage, while Perry (keyboards) set him alight! He left the stage extremely quickly but luckily there was plenty of beer around to douse him down.
Eventually the band could no longer afford to play at the Golden Arrow - although the fee increased to a massive 27 pounds 50p plus the odd free drink. More than Quint! All the trappings of success – money and free beer! Eat your heart out Elvis – whoops, he did.
A couple of the guys decided that they really wanted to play music, rather than be in a comedy band, so we shrunk down the line-up to lead, bass and drums with me as lead singist. Still doing the odd dance spots but featuring a one hour comedy show.
And so we continued for many years, four nights a week, with members coming and going – especially guitarists.
One week I noticed an ad in The Stage newspaper and gave it a ring. The response was very positive and in a matter of weeks we were recording. The company SRT (Stereo Records and Tapes) reputably sold a huge amount of albums per week - but made up of albums from hundreds of artistes. They gave regular working acts the ability to produce albums mainly for retail at gigs.
This process, and the company, was not new to me - I knew Sweet Chariot had produced a couple of albums for SRT and found their sales quite advantageous. So, within a matter of weeks we were in the studio.
The studio, Porcupine Studios in Eltham, South London, was attached to the house of owner/engineer Ted Taylor. Ted was a Musical Director at Thames Television and used the studio as something of a hobby. As he was quite active with his Big Band in the evenings, studio time was booked for 9.30 a.m. - 5 p.m., very unmusician times we felt but it gave us the evenings to watch London based bands in the pubs.
Recording the album, a mixture of original and classics, in three days was traumatic but a great experience.
We sold over 3,000 copies of the album and, although offered, just never found the time or line-up stability to record again as Life ‘n’ Soul. Sad, because the offer was there. Although a good club act, recording had been an idea for a long time but for a working comedy band opportunities for recording deals were quite improbable.
Arthur Kay's Originals and The Volcanoes
However, Life ‘n’ Soul members were heavily involved with Herne Bay Ska superstar Arthur Kay's Originals. Yes, he really is a superstar to me - I just love his stuff. Plus, of course, Herne Bay wasn't really famous for much else musically - one of the members of Fiddler's Dram (Day trip to Bangor) lived in the town, Peter Noone bought the George Hotel for his parents and Dikkon Hubbard’s (Omnibus, Salford Jets, etc) aunt lived there.
Arthur is a great guy, great songwriter and pre-empted the ska thing that became 2-Tone. Sadly, he didn’t catch the wave. His second single Play My Record/Sootie is a Rudie involved myself on sax and Life ‘n’ Soul guitarist Bob Colthart on guitar.
Shortly after, both Life ‘n’ Souls’ Perry White and Terry Cutting joined the band for gigs and recordings. Our stuff was released on Folkestone's red Admiral label - still going strong.
Also, these recordings are featured on numerous CDs and vinyl – both in the group name and on many Ska compilations. We rarely make the front cover as we are the filler tracks.
I have over a dozen of them, usually called something like Best of British Ska, UK Ska or Ska Revival. Biggest thrill was finding a cd in our local equivalent of a ‘one-pound shop’. As I live in Australia, I thought it was great. My kids were torn between being slightly impressed and greatly embarrassed.
Band has a couple of claims to fame. They were the last band to back Judge Dread (who collapsed and died on stage with band) and they recorded the backing track for Millwall team song for the Cup Final against Man Utd.
Life ‘n’ Soul were also the basis of another ska recording band, The Volecanoes’ and one of our tracks No One But You I recently found covered on a cd by a Melbourne, Australia, ska band.
I also played sax on The Last Resort album - A Way of Life, Skinhead anthems. This album is still available, not only on red vinyl as per the original but also on cd. It is a classic album of this genre – Oi, a sort of skinhead punk noise.
The album went to number one in NME’s Oi charts, NME did a two page spread on the band (minus me) and they toured Japan.
One memory I have is of going to see them live. I couldn't work out why they were tuning up so loud ... then it dawned on me, they had started. Not my scene but they certainly gave it a go.
Sootie is a rudie : Play My record : No one but you
Some of the 45s/CD's our tracks appear on (just ones I played on in early days)
Back to Life 'n' Soul
Good times but work with Life ‘n’ Soul had slowed down. We were pricing ourselves out of a market that was hit by a UK recession. Too expensive for local social clubs, we tried new markets. We even did the trip up to Carlisle and Scotland – a long way from our base near Dover.
One gig was in a small Scottish mining town that had had the mine closed down on them some years before. Very little work, old mattresses burning on the waste land, scruffy kids and odd looks from the locals because we had our own teeth and weren’t drunk. It was the first time ever that the club had charged on a Sunday night , so we were something special. Remember, this is Scotland.
We did the comedy and although going down well, we felt no-one could really understand what we were saying – perhaps its because we spoke English. Then I came out as a very piss-taking Rod Stewart, with a dreadful strong pretend Scots accent. You know the sort of thing. ‘Is that you Jimmy’ – what you hear on the 53 bus any Saturday night when the pubs close.
All of a sudden the crowd came alive and started to really enjoy themselves – they could finally understand us! Such was our success that one guy came over, put his arm around me and, with a blast of breath that was 100% proof whisky and 0% Colgate , told me ‘Aye lad, ye were worth 10p’.
And after all these years, just like Brown Cow, I am not sure what he meant.
While mentioning Scots accents, we once turned up for a first gig at a club in Chatham and were sat in the van waiting to get in when a crowd formed and we found ourselves in the middle of the queue. Naturally we opened the van windows and started to chat. For some reason we for all put on a Scots accent and bullshitted about coming down from Glasgow. After a while, two ladies appeared with flasks and a couple of plates of sandwiches for the group, seeing as we had come so far (about 30 minutes in reality).
We did have a conscience, so after scoffing the lot we still pretended to be Scots, so as not to offend. Mind you, we couldn’t keep it up, so did the act in our normal voices, switching to our jimmy accents as we ventured out of the dressing room.
We had to do that every bloody time we played the club, as the flask and butties always arrived. They say there’s no such thing as a free meal!
We also did some gigs in Manchester and I even got my southerner mates to experience Barratts and good old Jim Reno, who managed to sell us something we didn’t need, despite being about 85.
We also went down in Barratts folklore by gaffa taping our roadie to a nearby lamp post – totally mummified - whilst we went for a coffee. He was rescued by a passing policewoman, who went into the shop, pointed to him and asked ‘Is this yours?’
Roadies? If you treat them well, the buggers want paying.
The NAAFI scene was a lucrative scene for us although some of the gigs were great. Others not so.
One time I remember we did a Tuesday and a Thursday at two army camps just outside London, only about a mile between the two. Life on the road with a comedy group throws up some interesting aspects of life. On the Tuesday we got a standing ovation and on the Thursday they started booing us in the first 5 minutes.
Standard response when dying, rare but always possible, was to switch to rock and roll, blast the buggers for half an hour and pee off. This we did, packed the gear up and went to be paid.
‘Great gig lads’ he said, ‘they treat all bands like this. We’ll have you back!’
He is still waiting.
We also did the NAAFI gigs throughout the Falklands war and saw the sad state of some of our guys on their return. Poor buggers, very nervous. We used pyrotechnics and explosions in the act and had to stop it for a time.
Doing comedy was fun, most nights were great and for most of the time we worked well and were a major SE attraction.
So many stories - we really were uncontrolled at times and started off huge food fights with audiences, were banned for being too rude at a Hen Night (stripper was rebooked), made lots of people happy and had a bloody good time.
Off to Papua New Guinea
However in ’82 I saw an ad to teach in the South Pacific, which coincided with a real shortage of work for the band. Our tour of German military bases was cancelled at the eleventh hour, so I had time on my hands and I went for the interview. I got the job and I was off soon after.
Gigging in Kent on the Saturday night, in Papua New Guinea on the Tuesday!
The band continued after I left, went pro, did Holiday Inns in South Africa, toured UK extensively and are still on the road after 30 plus years - now called Band of Gold with a chick singer. They have only recently abandoned the hard-work of comedy and have become a straight covers band – age has finally caught up!
Odd feeling for me, as the ‘newcomers’ have been in the band for over 20 years.
I now live in Australia, still teach but have never got back to gigging.
My Mrs can’t work out the damage to our dressing table top and why, when I don’t play the silly game, I need a tennis racket.
Oh, and I often think back to Les and Lostock Youth Club when I play table-tennis. No wonder I lose my concentration!