After being hired by Joe and buying the electric piano without his parents knowing, Vernon has to play with the band on a TV show. As you can imagine, his family and many of the neighbours will be watching… Here is the story:
I play quite often in Joe’s band that autumn of 1964.
One day I ring him at the appointed time to find out about gigs.
“Everything’s cancelled this weekend”, he tells me. “We’re going in the telly in London. Leave Thursday afternoon and come back Sunday night. Just be at home Thursday afternoon. I’ll explain in the van.”
It’s Thursday afternoon and we head for the Great North Road
Thursday afternoon the Ford Van arrives with the intrepid Dave Memmot at the wheel. We head for the Great North Road.
“So, Joe, what’s this telly lark?” I ask.
To be one of the acts at the “Stars and Garters”
“ ‘Stars and Garters’. In the studio they set up a pub, sort of East End, Cockney. There are comedians, musicians, atmosphere all Cockney-style.”
“and where do we come in?”
“We only have to do one song. I thought Tommy Tucker’s High Heeled Sneakers”
“Looks like a fine choice to me”
My parents will be watching…
We arrive at the ITV studios for rehearsal. I get a trembling sensation in my spine. My mum and dad are going to invite the whole street to see their dear son on telly. They’ll see the electric piano! The cat will be out of the bag and I’ll be in for the high-jump.
and they don’t approve of buying things on credit
Having lived through the Great Depression and the Second World War my parents knew the destructive effect of credit. They never, ever, took credit, hire purchase anathema to them. If they wanted a new telly, they’d draw the money out of the Post Office Savings bank and pay cash. Always cash, never a penny on credit.
We go to the studios for the dress rehearsal. The set of “Stars and Garters” is teetotal coloured water in front of the cameras. But there’s a real bar at the back so Joe, me and the boys go there to tank up. I spy three plump women of a certain age. Cockneys. I talk to the ladies.
How the electric piano was kept from my parents’ eyes
“You girls like to earn a little drink?”
“Sure darling, three double gin and tonics.”
I get the ladies’ expensive drinks. Their Cockney accents intrigue me.
“So, love, what do you want us to do?”
“when I go on stage just stand in front of my electric piano.”
“No trouble darlin’.”
The show starts. First Jesse Mathews (second Mrs. Dale of Mrs. Dale’s Diary)sings “Over my shoulder goes one care, over my shoulder go two cares…” A pleasant matronly lady. Ray Martine goes on and cracks a few Cockney jokes. Then it’s our turn. Joe, me and the band go on stage. The three plump ladies position themselves in front of my electric piano. Joe sings “High heeled sneakers.”
I play standing up. Only my head and shoulders appearing above the ladies. My mum and dad never saw that electric piano bought on credit. Got away scot-free.
We enjoyed London
The rest of the weekend after the show was even better. I bought Tchaikovsky’s fifth symphony and took it to an old school friend’s from Chesterfield who was now an undergraduate in London University. He was highly amused that I’d joined the world of rock’n’roll.
Saturday night was even better. Off to the Watermen’s Arms, Isle of Dogs. First a jazz trio, then Mrs Shufflewick, a drag queen Cockney comedian. We laughed like drains. What unknown delights London offered.
Got a taste of real-life rock-industry
We never got paid for that show. I started thinking the rock industry was full of crooks. Managers, idle, only interested in their 10%. Agents just gangsters.
And thoroughly enjoyed the end of 1964
That Christmas, however, was idyllic. In the band we’ve got new numbers rehearsed. My favourites: “Black, White and Brown Blues” by Big Bill Broonzy, exquisitely accompanied by our guitarist, Dave Hopper. Then Ray Charles’s, “What would I do without you”, accompanied by me alone on electric piano.
This trend of stopping the band and having Joe sing with one single instrument was pleasing both to the audience and us. It also gave the rest of the band time to take it easy. That same Christmas of 1964 we saw our following grow. We took over from Dave Berry as the top band in Sheffield.
In the next post, we’ll read about the events that took place in 1965, and the trip to the American Bases in France.