Music in Middleton - by Danny Hardman
It was in the era of change following the second world war that the rebellious phenomenon known as the Teddy Boy evolved. Instead of the short, slicked-back hair-styles of their fathers, young men sculptured their hair into tsunami-sized waves with copious handfuls of Brylcreem. They dressed in jeans and leather jackets or Edwardian style suits with narrow trouser legs and knee-length coats, usually with velvet collars and a pair of suede beetle-crusher shoes, brightly coloured socks and bootlace ties. Young girls dressed like the boys in jeans and leather jackets or in flared skirts that lifted as they jived, showing their stocking tops and suspender belts.
In the mid-50s Middleton became an overspill town for the city of Manchester bringing in a large influx of young people to the new council estate of Langley. A Guardian photographer and reporter met local teenagers at Langley Secondary Modern School on a cold night in November 1956 after reports of hooliganism and vandalism in the area following the Friday night dance sessions. According to the reporter there were Teddy boys and girls there, but they were treated with respect and courtesy as the youngsters danced and listened to their music.
Four months later it was a different story when the film "Rock Around The Clock" came to the Victory Cinema on Wood Street. The second night, fighting broke out and police were brought in to calm the situation. The following day's assessment found 30 seats had been ripped out and used as missiles whilst many others were slashed and in the gents toilets two cisterns had been ripped off the wall. The toilet windows were also smashed. The Victory cinema closed down shortly after this incident and was eventually demolished in 1959.
British teenagers of the fifties identified with America's disaffected rock and roll singers like Elvis Presley, Jerry Lee Lewis and Buddy Holly. Young boys tried to imitate their idols but any thought of spending 'good money' on musical instruments would have been frowned on by parents that had struggled through six years of war on service pay and ration books.
Lonnie Donegan changed all that with the release of Leadbelly's, Rock Island Line. His up tempo version of the song became a huge hit on both sides of the Atlantic and the skiffle line up he used on many of his television appearances was an inspiration to the many aspiring musicians. With a combination of guitar, banjo or ukulele and a rhythm section consisting of a tea-chest bass and a washboard for percussion it was a cheap and easy to start a group.
Two of Middleton's first skiffle groups were the "Rainmakers" and the "Startones" who battled their way to the finals of the Rochdale Skiffle Contest at the Carlton Ballroom. Younger members of the community were following their example and The "Moonrakers" practiced in the garage of the hardware shop at 62 Mount Road, Alkrington. The shop was owned by the parents of their lead guitarist, Peter Cowap. These eager 12 and 13 year old musicians gained in confidence and musical ability by giving shows for the local kids on Alkrington at 3d a time (Just over 1p).
By the end of '59 the skiffle craze had run its course. Manchester's Belle Vue announced that drummers would not be allowed to use washboards and the tea chest bass reverted back to packing cases used by families moving from the old slum areas to the new council estates.
Deke Bonner and The Tremors
The first all-electric group in Middleton was "Deke Bonner and the Tremors" formed in 1959 by Len Dyson with vocalist Colin Smithies, bass player Tony Cook (Nick Duval) and Charlie Sidebottom on the drums. The group rehearsed at Middleton Cycling Club behind the New Inn.
The Tremors did cover versions of popular rock and roll artist of the day, but without the individual stamp of a good lead guitarist the group lacked the punch needed to grab an audiences attention. John Dean, a friend of Len's introduced them to Peter Cowap, who turned up with his friend Neil Gibbons. Peter was certainly interested in joining the band but made a proviso that Neil (a saxophonist) would have to be included in the deal.
There was a measure of excitement in the room as the band watched Neil hook up his complex looking saxophone and even Peter was filled with anticipation as he watched Nick Duval strap on the first electric bass guitar he had ever seen. The session that followed was a full-on rock and roll beat, with Peter's attention to detail on the solos, driven by an over-saxed rhythm section and convinced everyone they had the talent and sound that would make them a force to be reckoned with. John Dean became manager and secured bookings all over the northwest.
The Country Gents
In 1962, eighteen year-old Peter Cowap formed "The Country Gentlemen". The bass player was Tony Cook formerly of the Tremors and drummer Leo Laherty. The trio began rehearsing at the Railway public house on Townley Street while manager John Dean began hunting down venues for the boys to play.
They were plucked from obscurity after a Decca representative rang Middleton's Central Records and asked if there were any promising local rhythm groups. A few weeks later four Manchester groups were called in for an audition near Belle Vue. The Gents passed the audition which resulted in Peter signing a record contract on the 9th of May 1963. The talent scout from Decca Records was Dick Row, the man that turned down the Beatles.
A month before signing their contract the Gents played support to an up-and-coming Liverpool band at Middleton's Co-op Hall and The Beatles played before a sell out crowd of 300 enthusiastic fans on Thursday 11 April 1963. A few weeks before, The Beatles had themselves been a support act for Chris Montez and Tommy Roe, until a disappointing show by the Americans lead to the top of the bill spot being handed over to the 'Fab Four'. Seven months after playing the Co-op Hall The Beatles were appearing on the Royal Variety Performance...and as they say, the rest is history.
The popularity of the beat groups saw an explosion of venues opening in Manchester city centre. Even Middleton got its own beat club called The Limit, ironically, built on the site of the old Victory Cinema on Wood Street, the site of the Rock Around The Clock 'riot' of 1957.
The Limit, the only club for teenagers was situated above a shop at 16 Wood Street and opened on 15 November 1963, and as stated by the Middleton Guardian, "would be waiting to welcome the town's moderns"-the formal name for mods.
The Limit opened its doors at 7.30pm-11.30pm every night for members and non-members alike. Membership was two shillings and six pence (12.5p) and the entrance fee was four shillings for members and five shillings for non-members. (20p and 25p)
The decor was stark black walls with a black and white ceiling imitating a zebra crossing. The walls were lined with red leather bus seats and the lighting was courtesy of Belisha Beacons and red danger lamps usually used on road works. The piece-de-resistance was a set of traffic lights reputed to have cost £100 at the side of the stage. Scattered randomly around the walls and from the ceiling were various warning signs from, 'No Cycling' to 'No Waiting', etc. There were probably more road signs in The Limit than in the centre of Middleton.
The Limit boasted an American hotdog maker and like most other clubs of its day only sold soft drinks like coke, tea and coffee, although quite a few of the lads bought a bottle of Bulmers cider or called in the pub on the way for a drop of Dutch courage. Doing The Twist was not something that came naturally to the young studs of Middleton and a drop of lubrication was always a help. Many a local teenager found love in the confines of The Limit.
In 1963 came the seminal rock music show, Ready Steady Go! RSG became an inspiration for thousands of youngsters to form beat groups. "The Nevadas" were a bunch of 14/15 year-olds that played local dances and youth clubs. Phil Quigley, the drummer and lead guitarist Derek Foley left and joined "Merv's Bardots", one of the bands that formed the bedrock of Manchester's R&B scene. Phil Quigley left Merv's Bardots in late 1965 and joined "The Chosen Few", a well known and respected Manchester band. In the summer of '66 they moved to London where they had considerable success as "The Hush".
"The Backbeats" line up of lead guitar Kelvin 'Spud' Hudson, Bass Jack Unell and drums John Firth was augmented with two tenor saxes played by Alan 'Alby' Greenhalgh and Mike Belton. A brass section in a group was a bit of a rarity at the time and was thought of as strictly big time. These guys certainly had a different agenda than most of the small town groups of that era. They played rhythm and blues music in the local pubs and clubs but yearned to reach a more appreciative audience. For that they needed an agent that could get them access to Manchester's city centre clubs. An audition at the Rex Ballroom in Wilmslow got them the agent they so desperately needed, Alan Arnison.
Alan's first piece of advice was to change their name to "Powerhouse". His second suggestion was blunt and to the point, "None of you can sing. Get a vocalist". They were put in touch with Roy 'Tiddy' Gibbs, a one time singer with the Teenbeats, whose claim to fame was an appearance on TV's Six Five Special.
Back to Country Gents
In the November of 1963 the long awaited Country Gents single, "Greensleeves" was released (A rocking rendition of the traditional song allegedly written by Henry VIII). The same month President JF Kennedy was gunned down in front of the world's media in Dallas, Texas. The Country Gents' Greensleeves was banned by the BBC as disrespectful.Listen to 'Greensleeves'
It wasn't all bad news though as they did get some radio and television exposure from the single. Memorable moments were live appearances on Radio's 'Pop North' and a television broadcast from the banks of the Mersey for Granada's 'Scene At Six Thirty'. The group also did a live show with the manic Screaming Lord Sutch for Border TV. Leo Laherty fondly remembers the day. "It started out right enough then Sutch began ad-libbing and before long the script was thrown to one side and the rest of the show was bedlam".
If 1963 was the conception of the 'swinging sixties' 1964 was definitely the year of its birth. On January 1st Jimmy Saville introduced the first "Top Of The Pops" from a converted church in Rusholme. Bobbing up and down in the sea off Harwich, Simon Dee announced, "Good morning ladies and gentlemen. This is Radio Caroline your all-day music station." The first of the pirate radio stations was launched over the Easter weekend, although we up north would have to wait until July for Caroline North, anchored off the Isle of Man, to commence broadcasting.
Liverpool groups, Gerry and the Pacemakers, the Searchers and the Merseybeats had a firm grip on the charts but that was about to be prised loose by their fellow musicians from the other end of the East Lancs Road. Brian Epstein was one of the first to recognise the talent that lurked in the clubs of Manchester when he signed Pete McLaine's backing band "The Dakotas" to back his new wonder boy Billy J Kramer. Other Manchester groups that made Top Ten hits in '64 were Freddie and the Dreamers, The Hollies, Wayne Fontana and the Mindbenders and Herman's Hermits.
In 1965 the Country Gents took to the recording studios again as the backing band for the talented "Little Frankie". Although small in stature Frankie packed all the power of a female Steve Marriott. Their first release was the "Raindrops" 1963 hit, "The Kind of Boy You Can't Forget". On this Columbia recording Cowap's bass tones can be clearly heard trading 'didlies' back and forth with Frankie in that distinctive fifties and early sixties 'doo-wop' style. The B-side "I'm Not Gonna Do It" is reminiscent of Brenda Lee's "Sweet Nothin" and was the perfect vehicle to unleash the full power of Little Frankie's amazing voice.Listen to 'The Kind of Boy You Can't Forget'
Their second release was "Make A Love", a bossa nova style number. Peter was always eager to step out of the normally accepted pop rhythms. The flip side "Love Is Just A Game" opens with Peter picking-out the intro in his own inimitable style while Frankie's youthful voice plays the haunting melody like a heart string, her teenage angst emotionally laid bare with each line she sings. The Country Gents' last recording with Little Frankie was the Buddy Holly song, "It Doesn't Matter Anymore".Listen to 'Love Is Just A Game'
Peter took the name Buddy Knox as his stage name in the early years in honour of his idol Buddy Holly. The three year partnership with Little Frankie was dissolved in 1967. Sadly the band never did have chart success but they did build an unshakable following that guaranteed full houses whenever they got together in the future. Ironically the Country Gents never had a hit record but Pete's arrangement of 'Greensleeves' got them to number 22 in the charts in Holland.
"The Moonrakers" rose from the waning skiffle era and were the last skiffle group to play at Middleton Fair in August 1960. The name Moonrakers as most Middletonians will be aware, was a derogatory term used for Middletonians. It was taken from an old story about a drunk walking home late one moonlit night. The drunk sees the moon's reflection in a pool and foolishly tries to fish it out. The group were not so foolish and had a long and illustrious life on the scene.
Lead guitarist and vocalist Brian Broadhurst laid down some excellent vocal tracks with harmonies by Pete Walsh on the two demo's they made at recording studios in Stockport. Their first was Neil Sedaka's "Oh Carol" with the popular Gerry and the Pacemakers song, "Chills" on the reverse. Unfortunately the demo's are too damaged to play here.
The Moonrakers eventually hit the dizzy heights of stardom in 1968 with a residency at Bernard Manning's 'World Famous Embassy Club' in Harpurhey. Sadly the good life was not meant to be and when the inevitable happened Brian took to the cabaret circuit as Ian Anthony, a well trodden path for most of the singers and groups of the sixties.
"The Wheels" were an exception for groups of that period as they wrote their own songs. Once called "Lee Paul and the Boys", they changed their name to The Wheels after Dave Hill and Pete Kay left to start the Rainmakers. The new members were Phil Carney on bass and a very young but talented drummer named John Theaker, from Alkrington.
The original songs played by the boys brought them recognition and an offer of work in Germany in 1965 and the group turned professional. Life in Germany's beat clubs in the sixties was hard work with long sets stretching in to the early hours of the morning. The long nights of dancing attracted the big crowds and the big crowds attracted the racketeers and extortionists. After the trouble became too much they returned home to Manchester.
Lee Paul and Les Hall were eager to concentrate on their song writing and moved to London where they signed with the eccentric Joe Meek. Joe had an international hit in 1962 with "The Tornadoes". They were the first British band to have a number one hit on both sides of the Atlantic, 12 months before The Beatles.
The work finished on February 3 1967. They rang the studio to organise their next session and were told Joe was not available and not to ring again. Joe Meek was a very troubled man. Suffering depression due to his sexual orientation and increasing doses of barbiturates, add to that a lawsuit for plagiarism and bouts of paranoia, he finally snapped killing his landlady, then himself.
Les returned home after the death of Joe Meek and joined Tamla Express with Phil Carney, Derek Foley, Tommy Rigby and a drummer...strange how drummers seem to be the first names to fall from rock's family tree.
Stan Dulson was a founder member of Middleton's 1950s skiffle fraternity, the washboard he played is still in his possession to this day. He formed "The Measles" with friends off Langley estate. He took up the harmonica and a few of Mick Jagger's moves along with the stage name "Red Hoffman" and the band hit the clubs around Manchester. Their talent was quickly recognised by Kennedy Street Enterprises who had no trouble filling their diary with work.
The Measles were a beat group of considerable talent whose naturally exuberant front man was the consummate entertainer. Everyone in the band had a natural sense of humour that surfaced effortlessly in on-stage banter. The band could turn out a Beatles song or current hit before drifting into a George Formby number, Popeye The Sailor Man or even "Dog Rough Dan". Entertainment was always their goal and they never failed to achieve it.Listen to 'Dog Rough Dan'
Graham Nash got the boys their recording contract through the Hollies A&R man, Ron Richardson. Ron arranged a meeting for the Measles with Mickey Most, who signed them up. The Measles released four records, the first of these being "Casting My Spell On You" which came out in March '65. On the B-side was "Bye Bye Birdie Fly", a song with a strong jazz feel to it, and a showcase for Stan's talent on the harmonica.Listen to 'Bye Bye Birdie Fly'
Their follow up was the much more laid back "Night People". The song was very distinctive with an anvil sounding beat and the rest of the band humming harmony in support of the verse. The flipside was a song called "Dog Rough Dan", written by Stan and Peter Cowap. It is a jolly ditty about a heavy drinking navvy, sung in a Lancashire dialect by Stan with Pete on guitar. One of many songs written by the pair.Listen to 'Night People'
Their third release was "Kicks". The B-side "No Baby At All", had harmonica as a part of the rhythm section rather than just a solo instrument giving Stan Dulson a chance to show his virtuosity with an 'Echo Super Vamp'. Pete penned their last single "Walkin' In". The song mirrored the sixties creed of self belief and that belief was evident in the way teenagers walked, talked and dressed. The song embodied the swinging sixties with sentiments that would have been self-explanatory to any young mod at the time.Listen to 'No Baby At All'
Listen to 'Walkin' In'
It was between '63 and '64 that the beat groups began to wane. Teenagers reverted to the old blues men who had inspired their idols, like Muddy Waters, Lightnin' Hopkins and the stompin' John Lee Hooker. This was great music to listen to but it didn't go down too well on a night out. A 'crossover' version of black music suitable for white audiences called Rhythm and Blues evolved through artists such as Bo Diddley and Chuck Berry that fired the imagination of the next generation of musicians.
America's black musicians were making excellent records, Bessie Banks' "Go Now" and the Shirelles' "Sha La La" are good examples, but the records only gained mass popularity because of the Moody Blues and Manfred Mann cover versions. Barry Gordy opened a small studio in Detroit where he manufactured hits in the same way he had seen cars being produced on General Motors assembly line. What Gordy put together was 'Hitsville USA' and one of the most successful record labels ever, Motown.
Motown held its own under the weight of the British invasion with the help of talent like Marvin Gaye, Little Stevie Wonder and the irrepressible Martha and the Vandellas. Martha's songs caught the audience like a hit from a drug, they were vibrant and intense and the kids that watched 'Ready Steady Go' loved them.
The 'RSG' audience was made up mainly of 'mods' from London's 'in clubs'. The programme's producer went down there looking for the best dressed and best dancers, who received free tickets for the show. The rest of the country's movers watched avidly every Friday night to pick up moves and fashion tips from the kids on the show. Also every kid in the land that could hold a musical instrument watched with a mixture of awe and envy and a longing to appear on the program.
Back to Powerhouse
It was in this new atmosphere of trend-setting excitement that the R&B sound picked up new followers. A lot of the older bands changed their names and style hoping to extend their careers, but none more successfully than Powerhouse.
Powerhouse took Alan Arnison's advice and sought out a front man. Their first meeting with Tiddy Gibbs was at the home of one of their saxophone players, Alan Greenhalgh. The band were sceptical about the singer fitting in, especially as he was older and married with a young child. Their conversation eventually got round to the kind of music Tiddy liked, and his choice of Otis Redding and Wilson Pickett convinced them they were all singing from the same hymn book, but did he have soul? Tiddy suggested trying something together. According to John Firth, "We'd hardly got through the first 12 bars of his vocal before we were all looking at each other with a mixture of disbelief and awe." They were soul-mates in every sense of the word.
Their booker got them plenty of work over the next few months which convinced them going professional was a viable option. It was what they had worked for, a dream come true. The dream quickly turned to sleepless nights when they took a month's residency in Germany. They worked for seven nights a week doing six-hour nights, eight at the weekend. It was a hard apprenticeship but it paid dividends in musical ability and gave the band a tighter sound. The overall sound was further enriched when they added Darryl Ogden to the line-up on Hammond organ, shortly after turning professional. The now seven-piece band soon became one of the premier soul bands in the country, on a par with Geno Washington and the Ram Jam Band and Jimmy James and the Vagabonds.
In the summer of '66 they spent most of their time playing on the south coast, around Devon and Cornwall, with the exception of a short break in London to record "Chain Gang". It was a brave stab at a Top Ten single recorded by Sam Cooke in 1960. It didn't chart even though their rendition packed the punch that Sam Cooke's lacked.Listen to 'Chain Gang'
Two months later they recorded the Dee Clark number, Raindrops. Tiddy's soulful voice and Spud's simple guitar melody carried the sad lyrics like a rain cloud, depositing them in the heart. John Firth still has strong feeling about the record, "I still happen to think it's a brilliant record. To this day, Tiddy's voice sends tingles up my spine when I listen to it."Listen to 'Raindrops'
Both records received plenty of airtime on radios' Caroline and Luxembourg but not on the BBC. Luxembourg and the pirate stations were important, but the BBC gave the all important national exposure needed to guarantee success. Financial success may have evaded them but memorable moments like playing support for the 'Jimi Hendrix Experience' and 'Cream' are priceless.
"The Spirits", haunted by their failure to make headway, had a change of line up and a change of name to Tom's Rigg. The original bass player was replaced by Phil Carney, Pete Kay stepped in on bass and Tommy Rigby joined on vocals, thus the name. They were a talented five-piece R&B band with a large female following, thanks to the rugged good looks of their lead singer Tommy Rigby.
The band recorded a Louisiana Red number entitled "Red's Dream". Tommy gave a passionate rendition with an energetic harp solo worthy of someone much more experienced. The flipside was Jimmy Reed's "Hush Hush" with vocals by their drummer Barry 'Louie' Crew.Listen to 'Red's Dream'
An excellent, laid back version by the band of this well liked twelve bar. The demo was never followed up and no recordings were ever released by them but I can only put that down to the ignorance of others in the industry rather than a lack of talent. Tom's Rigg were regulars at the Cavern and the Jigsaw in Manchester where they worked with some of the greats of sixties music, Edwin Starr, Dusty Springfield and Fontella Bass to name just a few.
Tom's Rigg followed a series of Middleton bands to Germany to work in the beer swilling, sex crazed, dance halls. On their return to England the band split and rested for about 18 months. They reformed to do more gigs in Germany, with options for work in Turkey and Italy, but the contract depended on them having a female vocalist. They recruited an excellent singer by the name of Pat Oliver. She and Tommy blended well together and the band were well received wherever they played.
A new agent handed them a map with directions south through France and Spain to work in Morocco. This stay in Morocco was happy and rewarding until a family tragedy forced one of them to return home. The rest of the band came home when their contract ran out and slipped back in to the club circuit as if they had never been away.
American trio "The Walker Brothers" shared the bill with them on many occasions. At one particular venue the Walker Brothers arrived after a long drive up from London with nothing to eat. An elderly lady who worked at the venue offered them some potato hash. Scott Walker was very impressed by the filling meal and thanked the old girl for the tasty stew. "Stew! That's not stew, it's 'tater 'ash you cheeky young beggar." Star or no star Scott Walker found one female who wasn't disarmed by his boyish good looks.
Ivan's Meads were initially a blues band who went through several transformations before evolving in to the successful R&B band that packed out the north's premier soul clubs. Casualties up to their recording debut include Tony Kennedy, David Bowker, Roger Cox and the proverbial drummer with no name. After a stint at musical chairs the group ended up without a guitarist in the line up. There was Ivan Robinson on vocals, Alan Jay (Powell) on drums, Keith Lawless on bass, Rod Mayall, half brother of John, on organ and Pat Dempsey on sax. The line up may have been odd but it was not detrimental.
Ivan's Meads' first single was the excellent "PF Sloan" number, 'The Sins Of The Family'. Recorded at EMI's Abbey Road studio in 1965 and released on the Parlophone label, Ivan's melodic voice weaves its way around the twists and turns of Sloan's erratic phrasing with all the skill of an Olympic slalom skier. The harmonica used on Sloan's original release was replaced by a Hammond organ, which gave it that unforgettable sixties sound that made it such a success in the soul clubs.Listen to 'Sins of The Family'
Before the final chorus Ivan hits the high note and we hear a short, nervous chuckle. The producer failed to edit this out, it's the real deal. There are no session men on this recording, unlike most records at the time.
The record got plenty of local airplay which brought in a lot more work and increased the groups following. Keith Lawless remembers the massive ego boost of being whisked away by taxi to avoid mobs of screaming girls only to come back to earth with a bump when they were dropped off at a cheap bed and breakfast frequented by overly friendly young ladies.
Their 1966 release was "We'll Talk About It Tomorrow". It's in a similar vain to the 'conversational' Lucky Stars, released by Dean Friedman in 1978. The producer wanted an orchestral backing so all except Ivan were redundant for the A-side. The B-side was an instrumental. "The A-side was Ivan without the Meads," said Keith "and the B-side was the Meads without Ivan. Which seemed a fair division of labour."Listen to 'We'll Talk About It Tomorrow'
Ivan's Meads' cleverly they penned their own flip-sides. Keith Lawless is credited with the jazz influenced, "A Little Sympathy" while the entire band take credit for their second B-side, an instrumental in 'Memphis Group' mode entitled "Bottled". The move to writing their own songs would have increased any royalty cheques by a considerable amount if they were lucky enough to have received any. Royalties at the time involved a huge legal wrangle between the record companies and their artists, as still is the case, and will no doubt continue for years to come.Listen to 'A Little Sympathy'
A loss that could not be replaced, was Ivan Robinson when he decided to leave. The lads looked around for a replacement and once again plumped for a local, Tommy Rigby. The Meads fulfilled their bookings with Tommy fronting the band but the arrangement did not work out for either side. The band drifted rudderless for a time and eventually disbanded.Listen to 'Bottled'
After the break-up, Alan Powell started a successful writing partnership with Robert Palmer. One of their songs, 'Life In Detail' was in the movie 'Pretty Woman' and Alan's half of that deal paid for the 40ft sail boat on which he now lives, moored in Sausalito (San Francisco Bay). Is he missing Middleton? I don't think so.
The Perfect Circle
The Perfect Circle didn't form on a particular date, they evolved over a couple of years, from paper and comb harmonica, broken snare drum and an old Rosette acoustic guitar to a fully equipped Mod band owned by the music shops of Oxford Road. We were spurred on by 'The Who's' instant stardom and our desire to become rock stars.
We'd patiently practised for months locked away in secluded bedrooms so no-one would hear us, rejection at such an early stage would have been disastrous. Eventually with a little confidence and even less talent we booked a practice room at my school youth club, St Dominic Savio's in Alkrington.
We soon built up a good following in the town. We got an agent and bought a van that we could push to gigs with our equipment in, knowing it was only a matter of time before we could afford the engine repairs and spread our name further afield. With patience and a lot of hard work we did become competent and worked the pubs and clubs of the North West, entered countless battle of the bands contests and sweated blood on the workingmen's club circuit.
In '67 we applied to Kennedy Street Enterprises for representation and met a young fellow named Terence Morton Smith. He liked what he saw and after a meeting in his office, knocking back whisky and smoking fine panatelas, we agreed to go on tour as support for the Merserybeats. Unfortunately we had apprenticeships and parents that were determined we were going to see them through to the end. Sadly our professional careers were dashed before they began and the Merseybeats would have to struggle on without our help. Perfect Circle played regularly as a semi-professional group for a couple of years before breaking up and going their separate ways.
"The Bujjies" were an alliance of Peter Cowap and former 'Measles' vocalist Stan Dulson along with guitarist Wyn Davis with long-time friend Ian Starr on drums. Noddy Holder met up with The Bujjies in the Bahamas and mentions it in his autobiography, 'Noddy'. He and the others guys in 'Slade' hung out with the band at the 'Jokers Wild' expecting a similar venue for themselves but their surroundings were a lot less salubrious.
Ian Starr stayed in the Bahamas when the rest of the band returned home. A couple of months later he made a deal with a guy who had the franchise on a club called the 'Pirates Den', to bring the band back. The band returned to the Bahamas under the name Tiger-Tiger with Alan Marks. Kelvin 'Spud' Hudson, formally lead guitarist with The Powerhouse replaced Wyn Davis who returned home after only a brief stay.
An American impressario called Howard Hoffman saw Tiger-Tiger playing at the Pirates Den and offered to get them work in the States. Tiger-Tiger worked successfully in the USA, with Peter's ability attracting a lot of attention from some of the country's more successful artists. Sadly after months of legal wrangling their application for work permits was turned down and they were forced to return home.
Tiger-Tiger evaporated on their return and Pete formed "The Pressmen" and took up residency at the 'Poco Poco' club in Stockport. The Pressmen didn't fulfil Peter's musical ambitions and he set out on his solo career.
Peter recorded three singles at Strawberry Studios in Stockport. The first was entitled "Crickets", obviously influenced by his stay in the Caribbean. The song opens with some expert flattop picking slipping quickly in to a tropical dance rhythm that makes you want to click your fingers and swing your hips in a carnival strut. Travel abroad was not very widespread in 1970 so perhaps the sentiments behind the song went over most people's head. Whatever the reason the song wasn't successful chart wise but sold well locally amongst his loyal fans.
"Man with the Golden Gun" was a terrible choice for Pete's second single with its honky-tonk, lacklustre mix of guitar and banjo and lyrics that are more novelty than narrative. Even the key is wrong as Peter struggles on the edge of his vocal range to make the high notes. A much better choice would have been the flipside, "Tampa Florida" where Pete lets rip with some good old rock and roll. The last of Peter's trilogy of singles "Safari" was a bass and drum lead reggae number with an understated guitar solo of stretched notes that float like a heat haze on the warmth of the lyrics.
None of these three songs, released on the Pye record label, made it to the charts despite Peter's obvious talent and that of his session men later to become 10cc.
In 1971 Pete became lead vocalist in Manchester's most successful group, "The Hermits", after Peter Noone left to pursue a solo career. The Hermits signed with RCA and released their first single, "She's a Lady" in 1971. Their next single released in 1972 called "The Man" was a dark and disturbing tale about the acute neurosis of a Congo veteran, played out in march time. This song with its haunting chorus and machine gun riffs has the kind of depth attributed to the Beatles' Eleanor Rigby.
When freed from the record company's restraints, their ability and imagination surfaced during the making of their album to reveal an entirely different entity. They were now a talented country rock band with a marketable repertoire and a new name, "Sourmash".
Sourmash began laying down tracks at Strawberry Studios. With Peter doing a majority of the writing his love of the Caribbean and his passion for country music came to the fore on songs like, "Morgan's Privateers" and "Sea Island Boy". Peter's Travis picking on the song "Bluegrass" leaves no one in any doubt of his skill as a country guitar picker. The album entitled "A Whale Of A Tale" was not released due to the death of their A&R man at RCA and management changes. It was a missed opportunity to silence the group's critics and show the industry what they were actually capable of.
Reluctantly, The Hermits name was revived and the group returned to the cabaret and nostalgia circuit to earn their living. Peter, disillusioned by the experience, left and formed Grumble, launching their recording career with the Ronettes classic, "Da Doo Ron Ron" in the summer of 1973, only to watch it slide down the slipway and drown in a sea of poorly thought out cover versions.
Peter Cowap spent the rest of his life as a solo artist. Always a musician's musician he never had trouble filling a venue and was constantly in demand until his death in July 1997.
In 2004 a commemorative 'blue' plaque was unveiled in his name at the Old Boar's Head public house in Middleton. The 'Boars' in the sixties was the watering hole of choice for Middleton's musicians when not working. The 'Blue Plaque' is the first to a contemporary rock/country musician in the Greater Manchester area.
Complacency was not a word in Peter's vocabulary and he was always on the lookout for a new sound. Over the years he came up with many different ideas to manipulate the sound of his guitar. Peter's experimentation even stretched as far as trashing a guitars in the name of science.
My favourite idea, if only for the lateral thinking involved, was the use of two capodasters, a contradiction in itself. The first was put in place as normal while the second had slots cut in to allow certain strings to move freely while anchoring others, the chord shapes he invented for this idea died with him.
Peter will be best remembered for his ability to use the B-bender, a device invented by Gene Parsons and Clarence White of The Byrds. By pushing down on the neck of the guitar a linkage raises the pitch of the B string a full tone imitating the sound of the peddle steel guitar. In full swing Peter played the bass line while picking the melody and enhancing it with peddle steel fills, in essence he was a trio. I vividly remember Peter drinking heartily for all three of them.
When I hear the word roadie the first person I think of was a local legend named, John Dean, a real life Jack-the-lad that came and went with the energy of a hurricane. When he was there he was the source of much hilarity and when he wasn't his escapades where guaranteed to liven up the dullest night.
John is probably one of the main factors in the success of Middleton's musical talent, if it were not for his knowledge and many contacts in the business a lot of the groups would have formed and evaporated without trace, as happened in many British towns. Nothing was impossible to John, a philosophy that rubbed off on everyone who knew him and the reason why Middleton bands were so numerous and successful. Sadly John's guiding light was extinguished at the age of 37, but in the history of Middleton music, one name will be remembered by all the musicians involved, Johnny Dean.
Looking back the 1960s was a truly magical time, fondly remembered by everyone I have spoken to (if you were there you couldn't forget).
Written by Danny Hardman 2009
This article, kindly provided by the author, is a scaled down version of a series printed in the Middleton Guardian. To see the whole 17 parts in full, go to the nostalgia page on their website at www.middletonguardian.co.uk/community/nostalgia/