In 1965 there were a lot of good bands around and if you didn’t want to do the working men’s club circuit, competition was stiff. Popular bands from the Sunderland and South Shields area playing in night clubs, ballrooms and colleges at that time were: the Gregg Burman Soul Band, Revolutionary Spirit, The Shady Kases and Shades of Blue. Some of the top Newcastle bands were the Junco Partners, the Sect, the Elcort and the Chosen Few.
After playing in social and working men’s clubs for about five months I felt I was ready to move on to something different. In September 1965, one of the popular Sunderland bands, the Jazzboard were looking for a sax player. I hadn’t actually seen the band but I’d heard a lot about them. They played at two of Sunderland’s trendiest clubs – the el Cubana and the la Cubana. I also knew that they frequented the Biz Bar where the Sunderland mods hung out and that they had a big following in the area. Jazzboard were a four piece outfit previously going under the name of the Fallout. They were fronted by a charismatic singer called Bruce. They had a young talented organist, a bass player but no lead guitar. Their lead guitarist Mick Grabham, had left a few months earlier and had not been replaced. The only one of the band that I knew personally was their drummer, Nigel Olsson.
Contrary to the name, Jazzboard did not play jazz but were basically an R & B (rhythm and blues) band, performing covers of songs by artists like Alexis Korner, John Mayall and the Graham Bond Organisation. I’d never played that type of music before but when I was approached by Nigel Olsson and asked if I was interested in auditioning with the band, I had no hesitation in accepting. The audition was a success and I played my first two gigs with Jazzboard on Thursday 30th September 1965 and the following night at the ‘Club 11’ nightclub in Sunderland. That weekend we also played at the la Cubana and el Cubana. I felt that I’d moved up a notch in the local music scene and I was pleased that I would be playing to the Sunderland ‘in-crowd’.
The band members at that time were Bruce Lowes, singer and occasional drummer, Nigel Olsson on drums (but sometimes out front on vocals), Jimmy Hall on Vox Continental keyboard, Brian Hughes on bass and myself on tenor sax. In later years Nigel found fame and fortune as Elton John’s drummer and Jimmy went on to perform with Kiki Dee, Highway and Frankie Miller’s Full House. Jazzboard was managed by Bruce’s father, Bert, a larger than life character who owned several businesses in East Herrington, including a hairdresser’s shop where the band rehearsed. Bert also acted as the road manager, minder and chief trouble-shooter.
In my previous band, the Six Leaves, I’d been used to a lot of traveling, playing at numerous social clubs all over County Durham. I found out that other than the Cubana clubs in Sunderland, Jazzboard hadn’t been playing too many gigs. The el Cubana and la Cubana clubs were housed in an old terraced building on Toward Road, Sunderland opposite Mowbray Park. The el Cubana was situated in the cellar of the building and the licensed La Cubana above. The clubs were owned and run by a guy called Eric Punshon who I had first met when I played with the Kylastrons. The el Cubana was unlicensed so most of the punters used to get tanked up in the Palatine Hotel just down the road before going to the club. The Cubana had a great atmosphere and was nearly always full for Jazzboard’s appearances. The bands that played at the el Cubana were mainly from the Sunderland area but on one occasion in early 1966 the Spencer Davis Group appeared there.
Adding the sax to the Jazzboard brought their sound a little bit closer to that of their favourite band – the Graham Bond Organisation. But it also coincided with a growing interest in Soul music in the UK. In the autumn of 1965, Wilson Pickett had a sizable hit with ‘In the Midnight Hour’. Following in his steps was Otis Redding with ‘My Girl’ and ‘Mr Pitiful’. James Brown was also gaining popularity in the UK with ‘Papa’s got a brand new bag’. Because of the sax/organ line up, Jazzboard were able to make a reasonable job of covering the new soul material and jumped on the band wagon before most of the other local bands, which were mainly guitar based.
The band’s change in direction and Bert’s hard work over the next few weeks paid dividends because the bookings came flooding in. Bert had also managed to get some work from Bill Keith, the manager of the Chosen Few who were going south to London in favour of local gigs. We got a regular weekend booking at the Guys and Dolls club in Newcastle plus gigs at the 45 Club in Whitley Bay, the 4X Jazz Club in Tynemouth and Redcar Jazz Cub.
Then at the end of 1965 the really good stuff started coming in. On 23rd December we played our first gig at the renowned Club a’Gogo in Newcastle. On New Years Eve we played at the Kirk Levington Country Club, a venue which at that time was booking all the country’s top club bands such as Geno Washington and the Ram Jam Band, Chris Farlow, Jimmy James and the Vagabonds, the Steam Packet to name but a few.
However it wasn’t all plain sailing. The New Year got off to a bad start on 2nd January 1966. In stark contrast to the New Year’s Eve gig at the stylish Kirk Levington Country Club and a New Year’s Day gig at the 45 Club, Whitley Bay, we played at a working mens club in County Durham called Birtley Buffs. The band was determined to keep the party spirit of the previous two nights going in spite of the fact that the audience hated us and our music. As the band members became more intoxicated, the crowd got angrier and less tolerant. The final straw was when we did an impromptu version of Ken Dodd’s ‘Tears for Souvenirs’ with Brian Hughes, the bass player flat on his back. For the first and last time Jazzboard was paid off. We decided after that gig to rename the band “Bert Lee and the Buffs” to commemorate the occasion. That idea didn’t last very long but a few months later we did go under the name of ‘Big Herbert’s Band’ for a few weeks because we thought it sounded trendier than Jazzboard.
But 1966 did get a lot better. Our first major gig was opening for the Who at Mister McCoys Club in Bottomley Street, Middlesbrough on Friday 7th January. The Who had two top ten hits in 1965 with ‘I Can’t Explain’ and ‘Anyway Anyhow Anywhere’. Throughout 1965 they made regular appearances on ITV’s ‘Ready Steady Go’. In November 1965 they entered the charts with ‘My Generation’ so at the time of the Middlesbrough gig they were really hot property. They put on a great show for the hundreds packed into Mister McCoys that night. John Entwhistle wore his famous Union Jack jacket. Keith Moon wore a white T shirt bearing the word “POW” with “Dave Berry” in a smaller text below.
We didn’t get to meet the Who before their set because they arrived at the Club while we were on stage. Before our first set, the Who’s roadies kept telling us how ugly the members of the Who were and that if our band had been in their shoes we’d be more popular because we looked better! After the show we spent an hour or so talking to the band in the dressing room during which time I ended up with Keith Moon’s sweaty T shirt as a memento of the occasion. Nigel was invited back to a party at the Who’s hotel and got a taxi back from Middlesbrough to Sunderland the next day, which had apparently cost Keith Moon £17 – (a couple of weeks wages in those days!).
A month later on 8th February 1966 we opened for the Small Faces at the Majestic Ballroom in Newcastle, affectionately know then as ‘the Maj’ (and now ‘The O2 Academy’). I don’t remember much about the Small Faces performance that night but I recall that we shared a small dressing room with them. The band was accompanied by a minder who was about a foot taller than the band members. At one stage the dressing room was invaded by some female fans and some male students from Newcastle University. The students asked if they could interview Steve Marriott for their University magazine. They were promptly ejected by the Face’s minder and only the girl fans were allowed to stay.
Over the next few months Jazzboard continued to play at some of the best venues in the North East such as the Kirk Levington Country Club, Mister McCoys, the Club a’Gogo and Newcastle’s Mayfair ballroom plus the newly opened Quay Club in Newcastle. We opened for a number of top bands of that era; Geno Washington’s Ram Jam Band, The Action, The Eyes, The Shevelles, Tony Rivers and the Castaways, The Pretty Things and Herbie Goines and the Night Timers. We also started playing at some new venues – the Kave Dwellers (or KD) Club in Billingham, Columbia House in Stockton and a new club on Roker Avenue, Sunderland called Club Aztec (previously the Blue Note). Around this time we also started visiting the Club a’GoGo in Newcastle after our own gigs had finished.
We were sometimes mistaken for another Newcastle band that played at the same venues as Jazzboard. They were the Gas Board, a soul covers band fronted by Bryan Ferry, who was a student at Newcastle University at the time. Another connection with Gas Board was the fact that our singer, Bruce Lowes had been in a band called the Banshees with Ferry a few years earlier. Bruce had been the drummer/vocalist with the Banshees and had approached Bryan Ferry, who he knew from a cycling club, and asked if he would front the band. Ferry, who had not previously sang with a group, successfully auditioned with the Banshees and took over the vocal spot from Bruce.
Throughout the late spring and summer of 1966, Bert was still getting Jazzboard a lot of work – as many as five gigs a week. Most other local bands at this time were going through a Newcastle agency run by an ex-ballroom manager named Ivan Birchall. From June we started playing regularly at the Cellar Club in South Shields, the home of the South Shields mods. The original Cellar Club was on the ground floor and cellar of a large old house on Beach Road, South Shields. Later that year it was to be replaced by the ‘New Cellar’ on Thomas Street.
In August, Bert managed to get us regular spots at three night clubs owned by the Bailey Organisation; Sunday lunchtime at the Latino Club in South Shields; Monday night at the La Dolce Vita in Newcastle and Friday night at the Marimba Club, Middlesbrough. The clubs all had their own house band to support the main performers but the idea of us appearing was to do a couple of dance sessions between the cabaret acts. Our appearances at the Bailey clubs continued until November that year during which time we shared the bill with diverse acts such as Gerry and the Pacemakers, Los Bravos, Peter and Gordon, the Ivy League, the Four Pennies, Pearl Carr and Teddy Johnson, The Johnny Dankworth Orchestra with Cleo Lane and the Honeycombs as well as a few comedians, including Bill Maynard (now better known as Greengrass from the TV program ”Heartbeat”).
Another performer we appeared with at the Bailey clubs was the legendary American rock and roll singer Jerry Lee Lewis. Jerry Lee was famous for his hits ”Whole Lotta Shakin’’ Going On” and ”Great Balls of Fire” in the late fifties. He was equally famous for bigamously marrying his thirteen year old cousin in 1958 when he was 22. Not too long after this wedding, Jerry Lee toured Great Britain and was given a rough ride by both the British press and his audiences for what now could be regarded as paedophilia. When he toured England in 1966 as a cabaret act his previous misdemeanors had either been forgiven or forgotten. In the audience at Newcastle’s Dolce Vita on 24th October and enjoying the show along with other rock and roll fans was none other than Eric Burdon of the Animals.
Because of a dispute with the Musicians Union, Jerry Lee was accompanied by British musicians for the two Bailey gigs as well as his own Memphis backing band. The British musicians were, in fact, some of The Pirates who had come adrift from Johnny Kidd when he had been killed in a car accident on the 7th October 1966. On the 4th November we appeared again with Jerry Lee Lewis (and the Pirates) at the Marimba Club in Middlesbrough. When I was about twelve one of my favourite records had been ”Shakin’ All Over” by Johnny Kidd and the Pirates. At the Marimba gig I shared a meal with some of the Pirates in the club’s restaurant. Although they had not been with Johnny Kidd in his heyday, it was a humbling experience to spend time with musicians who had backed one of my childhood idols.
On 13th November the band had another prestigious gig – this time supporting Cream at Redcar Jazz Club. We’d all been great fans of the Graham Bond Organisation featuring Jack Bruce (bass) and Ginger Baker (drums) so it was a fantastic experience to open for their new band – Cream. Here’s a review of the Cream’s appearance at Redcar Jazz Club that night. The support band’s mode of transport is dismissively referred to in the second paragraph of the review. Well that was us but, in fact, we had an old Comma van and not a four wheeled Transit.
On Friday 2nd December 1966 Cream were booked for the official opening night of the New Cellar Club in South Shields. In fact, the Jazzboard were the first band to play at the club. Not on the first night but at a private party for the contractors and staff the night before the official opening. Unfortunately this didn’t help us get tickets for the Jimmy Hendrix gig at the Cellar a couple of months later. These were in short supply and priority was given to club members. The New Cellar was a great place to play. It had a dressing room for the band and a stage that revolved from the dressing room into the main lounge and dance area. The furniture was purpose built for the club – the tables had even been inscribed with the names of all the local bands that had played at the old Cellar, including the Jazzboard. We started to play regularly at the club through to the spring of 1967 and during one period we were playing there every week.
In January 1967 we met a Jamaican soul singer called Keith Locke who had moved from the Far East to Newcastle. Keith had a number of hits in Singapore and Malaysia in 1965 and 1966 with a band called the Quests. He was hoping to launch a new career in England and needed a backing band. The Jazzboard, fronted by Keith was to be renamed Keith Locke and the All Stars. After a month of rehearsals the band was ready to take off but then Keith just disappeared as quickly as he came and we never saw him again. The Quests are still big in the Far East and can be seen performing on YouTube.
In the spring and summer of 1967 there were a lot of personnel changes. A year earlier the original Jazzboard bass player, Brian Hughes had left the band to be replaced by Peter Watson who had been playing in Germany with the Quandowns. Nigel was the next one of the original Jazzboard to leave taking Peter Watson with him to form a band called the Enterprise. We added a trumpet to the line up coincidentally another ‘Jimmy Hall’.
For nearly two years the Jazzboard had performed without a guitar in the line up. In the spring of 1967 the Jazzboard became a seven piece when guitarist Les Gofton joined the band. Les had been playing with South Shields band, the Bond and earlier that year had supported Jimi Hendrix at the New Cellar Club. Incidently, Les is the father of Lauren (Laverne) and Peter (Johnny X) from the North East band Kenickie. Lauren Laverne is now better known as a TV and radio presenter.
Jimmy, the organist ditched his Vox Continental keyboard and acquired a Hammond organ. Unfortunately, he also acquired a drinking habit which affected his ability to stay awake during performances! Several bass players came and went before Pete Watson returned. Both Peter Watson and Les Gofton were in the band’s final line up.
Things started to pick up in the late spring. We opened for a few top names; Alan Price at Redcar Jazz Club, The Herd (with Peter Frampton) at Eston, Middlesbrough and the Family at Peterlee Jazz Club and we were still gigging up to four nights a week. However, the days of Jazzboard were numbered when organist Jimmy Hall decided to start a new band with ex-bass player, Brian Hughes. Jimmy asked me and the other Jimmy Hall (trumpet) if we were interested. We both were. Jazzboard’s last gig was at the Locarno Ballroom in Sunderland on 18th August 1967. We shared the bill with three other North East bands that night; John Lewis Blues Band, the Trend and Just Bent. We were the last band on and so most of us went on a pub crawl before our set. Needless to say, the alcohol we consumed ensured it wasn’t our best show but a lot of our Sunderland fans were there knowing it was our last performance and gave us a great send off. Strangely enough, a year or so later, I played in the same band as the drummer from Just Bent. He remembered that night very well and told me that the Jazzboard made a great impression on him and his band. Perhaps they were all as drunk as we were!