A tale of young Middleton lads who reached for the stars (by John Firth)
In 1962, four young ex Moorclose Secondary School pupils (now Middleton Technology) decided to form a group on their way home from one of their regular visits to one of the many clubs springing up to accommodate the hundreds of groups forming around Manchester.
Kelvin Hudson opted for guitar. As a long time Buddy Holly fan (he even had the horn rimmed glasses) he was a natural. Alan Greenhalgh was going to play tenor saxophone. This was no surprise as he’d always had slightly off the wall musical tastes. John Firth had a fascination with drumming and Mike Belton also chose saxophone.
Parents were coerced into becoming finance guarantors for a Premier drum kit, a Hofner guitar and two Selmer saxes and every spare minute over the next few months were spent practising. A name was chosen - The Backbeats - and they tried out playing live at various youth clubs leading to their first paid gig, the children’s Christmas party at Middleton Post Office.
The missing musician (bass guitar) was recruited, a Collyhurst lad called Jack Younall and gigs all over the North West followed. Their old friend Pete Cowap suggested they try out with his agency, Alan Arnison in Manchester and an audition at Wilmslow’s Rex Ballroom was arranged. Arnison saw the potential and signed them up and booker Ian Hamilton was to look after them. Although there were plenty of gigs, Hamilton soon spotted an obvious flaw, "None of you can sing, you need a vocalist".
To cut a long story short, another Middleton lad, Roy Gibbs became singer after what could only be called the most impressive audition ever. He was BRILLIANT and perfectly suited to the style of music which by then had evolved into a mix of R&B and Soul tinged with Jazz.
A change of name came when Hamilton said, “A few years ago there was a local band called the Powerhouse Six. There are six of you now and your sound is certainly full of power.” After fitting in full time jobs with gigging three and four nights a week all over the North and even farther afield, Hamilton suggested turning professional “I can fill your diary for the next three months if you’d consider it” We considered it. It took about two seconds for each one of us!
Hamilton was true to his word and he kept us busy six and seven nights a week touring up and down the country in our battered old van. One thing we were doing more of was playing in London at all the top clubs of the time, Marquee, Speakeasy, 100 Club and Scotch of St James.
It was at the latter where we were playing one night and John Lennon was in the audience. He must have enjoyed what we were doing because as we came off stage and walked past him he said, “Great set lads”. It was also here where we backed an American singer called Jose Feliciano on one of his first visits to the UK. There were many memorable moments at the Scotch.
We were spotted at The Scotch by two independent record producers and a deal was signed. Our first single, a version of Sam Cooke’s “Chain Gang" was released on Decca records in August 1966 when we played most of the summer in Devon and Cornwall. It was amazing, the weather was glorious, England were favourites for the World Cup, we had a record out, people were actually coming to see us as a result of hearing the disc, God was in His Heaven and all was well with the world.
The disc did reasonably well getting a few plays on Radio One and lots on the pirate station Radio Caroline. Our follow up single “Raindrops” did not do so well and consequently our contract was dropped.
We did the obligatory month in Germany (where the term “sweated labour” was coined, I’m sure) and the usual round of gigs up and down the country. Some of the gigs were more memorable than others like when we supported Jim Hendrix and Cream (with Clapton) both at big university gigs.
The break up wasn’t exactly amicable but the good news was that forty years later in 2006, five of the original Powerhouse, three coming from Canada, Israel and Spain, got together at “Dusting the Plaque” at the Olde Boars Head and absolutely wowed the audience.
This year (2010) the Pete Cowap Music Festival at Middleton’s new Arena plays host to three of the original Powerhouse for yet another get together. Roy (Tiddy) Gibbs, vocalist, is coming from his home in Spain, Stuart Olsberg, tenor sax, from his home in Israel and drummer John Firth will be walking to the gig from his Hollin home!
There is some concern about getting Roy and Stuart over here because of the current disruption caused by the volcanic clouds but hopefully, get here they will and the group are hoping to get some rehearsal time in before the main event at the Arena on 2nd May.