How the band got to France and back all on the same day is a story Vernon first told me on our first trip to Palamox, back in 1985. Here’s the story.
The band gigged on through January 1965
We gigged on through January 1965 but one cold winter’s night after braving the threats of the violent yobs at some god-forsaken place in Lincolnshire, driving over the flat plains looking for an all-night café, Joe turned round.
“Sorry lads, the band’s broken up. We’ve no engagements.”
“What? No more gigs? How come when we’re the best band in town?
“I can’t help it. Everything’s finished. Don’t think I’m any happier than you.”
So how did things go wrong?
I blamed our manager, also the owner of the “Esquire Club” whose main interest was promoting his gold-mine of a club. He did however help us later when we had real problems. And then there was our semi-crooked agent in Cleethorpes.
I was dropped off at home and went into a deep depression. Sunday, I refused to get up. Mum couldn’t persuade me to eat. “Black is Black” as Los Bravos changed our English usage. I slept on, sorely depressed, slept and slept, my mind a blank.
And then: “Get a passport. We’re going to France!”
Monday morning. A nock on the door. Dave Memmot, genius drummer and van driver, is at the door. A man of few words.
“Get a passport. Tonight we’re going to France.”
I was underage, my father an insurance agent on his rounds, incommunicado. What could I do? Went to the Labour Exchange (now called euphemistically Job Centre) and got a form applying for a visitor’s passport. Forged my father’s name on the form and got the passport quite illegally, with no sense of guilt or remorse.
From Dover to Calais
We get on the Great North Road and head for the Big Smoke. North Circular road and the Dartford tunnel. Now we’re in Kent heading for Dover. Palpable sense of adventure.
In Dover we have a few pints then sleep a little in the van waiting for first Calais ferry. Once on the ferry we find a new beer which is Dutch and which we like. “Orangenboom” (Orange tree). We spend the crossing tanking up on this foreign lager. Once at the docks in Calais I’m immediately given Joe’s front seat in the van.
In France, Vernon acts as the interpreter
I’m the only one who speaks French, the official interpreter upon which the other members of the band rely.
“You sure you talk frog?”
“Of course. Eight years of French at school. Give me a break.”
We park on the docks. A rather scruffy customs official approaches.
At the French customs
“Bonjour, les mecs! Qu’est-ce que vous aves dans la petite camionette?”
I already have instructions from our manager to say that we’re here to give concerts to our friends in different parts of France. I explain to the Frenchman that the instruments are to play the music on.
“Ouvrez les portières, s’il vou plaît.”
We open the doors. He looks, says “wait a minute” and makes off to the office. We wait.
They give the band three options
He comes back and says in French:
“Well, my lads, you’ve got three options. Either leave all your equipment here in our warehouse, or leave a deposit of 5,000 francs (£500) with us or take the next ferry back to Dover.”
In my job as interpreter I had to always suffer a bombardment of questions from the band.
“What’s he say?”
“What’s it all about?”
“Something fishy going on?”
“Quick, tell us what he said.”
I politely asked the customs man to repeat our options but much more slowly, which he did in nice, slow, easy French, so there’d be no doubt.
“What’s he say, for fuck’s sake?”
“We leave equipment in his warehouse here on Calais docks, or we leave £500 deposit and enjoy our holidays or we take the next ferry back to England.”
“No, it’s exactly what he said. He repeated it twice.”
After sampling some French wine, back to Dover
“We need time to think. What do they drink here in France?”
“White wine is very good.”
We get out of the van and head for the bar. I order “Cinq vins blancs, s’il vous plait.”
The boys like it and call it VAN DONK! We all have a few, then take the next ferry back to Dover. Have some fish’n’chips, a few pints and sleep in the van on the same football field where we’d parked the day before. Most cold and uncomfortable.
Next morning we’re on to our manager in Sheffield.
“We’ve been thrown out of France by the Customs.”
“Don’t worry. I’ll send you a postal giro. Get the cash and go via Ostend”
We get the cash from P.O., buy tickets, and get the next ferry to Ostend. On the boat, they’ve got the same “Orange Tree” lager. We tank up.
At Ostend they wave us through. No trouble. We head for the French border. It’s dark, raining, dismal.
Back to the French border
We come up to the French frontier. Out come the customs men.
“Bonjour les mecs! Qu’est-ce que vous aves dans la camionette?
“Ouvrez la portière s’il vous plaît.”
He sees the equipment, looks at my amp.
“Est-ce qu’il transmet?”
What he wanted to know was whether this was equipment to set up a clandestine radio station in France.
“No, it doesn’t transmit. It’s an amplifier for my electric piano, to make it louder.”
Meanwhile our wily drummer and driver had disappeared, coming back shortly with a pack of 200 Pall-Mall from the duty-free, which he handed to the customs man.
France at last!
We were waved through. At last we’re in France, after crossing the English Channel three times in two days. We drove on in the rain and dark. The lads were feeling peckish.
We stop at a bar and go in.
“Well, what they got to eat?”
I peruse the menu.
“There’s sandwiches, cheese, ham and pâté”