A while ago I received an email from Arthur Renwick, a north east guitarist who played in local bands in the late fifties and early sixties. Arthur reminded me that there was a very active music scene in the north east prior to the Beatles era and wondered why there was nothing on Ready Steady Gone about it.

The answer is really simple – this site is about my own experiences of the north east music scene which started around 1965. My knowledge of anything prior to that is very limited. Arthur has kindly filled me in regarding some of the groups and venues he knew from the fifties and sixties. More about Arthur’s band days below.

Arthur with the Talismen in 1959

Arthur (far right) with the Talismen in 1959

While I was thinking about music in the late fifties, I started to wonder what or who back then influenced young people to start playing guitar or bass. It must have been a lot different to the time when I started to play music around 1963. By then the Beatles had left their mark and had been the inspiration for many people to go out and buy a guitar, bass or drum set. Those who persevered with their choice of instrument and had achieved a reasonable standard by the mid sixties had probably forgotten about the fab four and were emulating other great musicians. By that time there were lots of excellent bands in the charts and playing live music at clubs and concerts all over the country. So why choose to play the guitar in 1958 or 1959? Budding musicians from the previous generation had grown up in the big band era and were more likely to have taken up the saxophone or trumpet.

At the time Arthur started to play in bands, the UK charts were dominated by American artists; mainly solo performers or vocal groups Rock and roll had emerged a couple of years earlier with Elvis Presley and Bill Haley and UK acts like Tommy Steel, Marty Wilde and Cliff Richards started to appear in the charts from 1958 onwards. There were also some skiffle and jazz groups in the top twenty but still there weren’t that many iconic guitarists around to influence people.

Johnny Kidd and the Pirates

Johnny Kidd and the Pirates

US instrumental acts like Duane Eddy, Johnny and the Hurricanes and the Ventures had been appearing regularly in the UK charts. In fact, it was Duane Eddy and the Ventures that were the influences for Arthur’s guitar playing. However, it wasn’t until the summer of 1960, when Cliff Richards’ backing group the Shadows hit the charts with “Apache”, that thousands of teenagers decided they wanted to take up the guitar and become the next Hank Marvin. At around the same time, Johnny Kidd and the Pirates hit the UK charts with “Shakin’ All Over” and showed the world what could be done with a catchy guitar riff. Johnny Kidd and the Pirates were the first English rock band with a vocal/guitar line-up to achieve a number one hit in the UK. ‘Shakin’ All Over’ has been covered by numerous performers over the years and is still played by bands all over the world.

Things started to change over the next few years. After the Beatles first release in October 1962, more and more UK bands started to appear in the top twenty and by the mid to late sixties charts hits by UK artists outnumbered those from the US. Here’s a comparison of UK and US top twenty hits from 1959 to 1967: –

UK and US top 20 hits

UK and US top 20 hits

So from about the mid sixties onwards there has been no shortage of great bands and musicians to influence young people wanting to play music. Anyway, back to Arthur; in his own words, here’s his recollections of the north east music scene in the late fifties and early sixties: –

“I started to play guitar in local groups in the late fifties in Wallsend, my home town. There are two photos of me on Vintage Sixties Live: one in the Talismen the other in the Scimitars with the New Vikings. This photo was taken in a rock competition held in the North Eastern Marine Social Club. We came second and the Vikings came first. There were about fifty groups that took part and later that month there was an even bigger competition held in the Roxy in Blyth. The Sixteen Strings won that one. They were a Shadows type of group. The Scimitars were a six piece group with tenor sax. We played Johnny and the Hurricanes type material plus rock and roll. We used to open with the “William Tell Overture” but I guess people liked the Shadows.


Above – Sixteen Strings (photos courtesy of Bill Rowntree)

“Anyway getting back to the very early sixties; the main groups of that time were the Gamblers and the Delemeres who I thought were great. The Gamblers had a tenor sax and played the stuff I liked. The guitarist was Jimmy Crawford, the sax was Ken Brady and the bass player was Blackie Samuel. They went on to back Billy Fury in 1964. The next great group was the Delemeres who went to work full time in the Liverpool Majestic in 1961. Need I say any more – yes, they worked with the Beatles lots of times. The bass player Dave McGiven is one of my good friends and he tells some great stories about that period.

The Gamblers

The Gamblers

The Delemeres in 1962

The Delemeres in 1962

“One of the really early groups that I got to see was Johnny and the Cadillacs about 1959. I saw them at the MEM in Wallsend, a popular venue back then. They were another great group; the lead guitarist was called Pussy Muse who later played guitar for Screaming Lord Sutch. The drummer was called Keith Robinson who had a drum shop on Newgate Street, Newcastle. “On a Saturday night around 1960 me and my group of mates would go to the Hotspur dance hall in Whitley Bay to watch The Wildcats, another top north east group. The star was Hilton Valentine, a really good guitar player even then and a really nice lad to know. His step brother, Harry Dixon played bass, Tappy Wright played rhythm and Ronnie Stephenson played drums. They had the coastal area all stitched up. I know that there are people out there who will say that local groups from Durham were better but these groups were at the top. I knew lots of great individual guitarists, bass players drummers.”

Thanks very much to Arthur for his memories. If you were around in the early sixties and want a reminder of some of the other bands that were playing at that time, it’s well worth visiting Vintage Sixties Live.

  1. Dave Ismay [Known as Diz]

    April 27, 2017 •

    You mention The Sixteen Strings who were originally called The Strangers and the lead guitar was Tony Bates
    They changed to The Sixteen Strings when they got a singer and red glitter suits and to avoid confusion with all the other 'Strangers'
    Tony left to become an actor and dropped the 's' from the end of his name. He appeared in a long running period drama but he to changed his stage name to avoid confusion with the other Tony Bate
    I seem to recall their singer was from Wallsend and that they recorded a single called 'Sounds Like Indians To Me'

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  2. Tony Glynn

    January 23, 2020 •

    Hi.
    I have just seen your you article re Sixteen Strings.
    Back in the early sixties I used to go to a youth club in North Shields and Bill Rowntree who was the drummer with the Sixteen Strings used to attend along with his mate Brian Bathey who was the bass player with Vostox Combo. Their lead guitarist and keyboard player was Pierre Peddersen and they were resident band at Rosehill club.
    By chance I met Bill Rowntree in Whitley Bay just before xmas 2019, I had not seen him for about fifty seven years and he still recognised me.
    Bill was badly injured when the Sixteen Strings van which he was driving back from a gig was in an accident he was in hospital for many months.

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  3. Bill rowntree

    January 29, 2020 •

    Hi Tony
    Thanks for the mention; I remember Brian, Pierre and many others, happy times. Tony did change his name to James Bate because of another actor; he was very successful appearing in TV shows such as When the Boat Comes In, Doctor Who, Auf Wiedersehen Pet and many others. he also made TV commercials and a couple of movies. We kept in contact and visits back and forth to London. He died in a London hospital when he was 45.
    The bass player was Peter ( Ricky ) Longstaff he was such a talent, he sadly passed away 3 years ago, he was still playing weeks before he died. Ricky and I were very close we and kept in regular contact.
    Colin Oliver was the rhythm guitarist and singer, a really talented guy; still plays and sings, for pleasure only, we also keep in contact
    Ray Banks was the vocalist, he left to form his own band the Don Juans.

    I have so much memorabilia form those heady times, photos, posters. group cards etc
    I stopped playing after 25 years however, my 2 youngest sons both play various instruments and studied music at university.
    My thoughts to all the guys / bands from the 50s and 60s that are still around.

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  4. Dave Ismay

    January 30, 2020 •

    Bill it is good to have my ancient brain storms confirmed as valid memories.
    Back in those early days Tony lived about 200 yards from me on Whitley Road and Ricky lived on North Parade as I recall. When I started work in Shields Ricky used to give me a lift most days. The Strangers were very active around the coast as you know and my memories are of many great nights in the various church halls and The Social Service Centre on Friday nights.
    Was that record really called 'Sounds Like Indians To Me' ???????

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  5. Dave Ismay

    April 12, 2020 •

    Bill Rowntree (#3) - there has been a little chat on the Monkseaton FB page about St Andrews Church and the dances
    The son of Tony Bates one time girl friend has been in touch and Lesley Wolstenhome has sent me a publicity picture of the Strings

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  6. Bill rowntree

    April 12, 2020 •

    Hi Dave, I trust that you are safe and well during these difficult times. I remember Lesley with fond memories and it would be special to have contact with her, also to see any photos.
    I have so much memorabilia, posters, photos, Tony's publicity file when he changed to acting etc
    I'm still in contact with Colin and Ricky's sister Denise and his first wife Susan.
    I will make the effort to post some memorabilia on this site
    Take care
    Bill

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  7. ernie johnson

    May 1, 2020 •

    hi Bill a blast from the past - Ernie. Nice to see you're still alive. You were one of my best friends. Last time I saw you was in Newcastle when we bumped into each other.
    Sad to hear about Ricky, nice lad. l lost my wife 3 years ago, still working when l can.
    You cant keep good guys down all the best, Ernie
    take care

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  8. Bill rowntree

    May 1, 2020 •

    Hi Ernie, A nice surprise to hear from you we go back a long time; sorry to hear about your loss. Yes it was very sad about Ricky he was a very talented guy, we kept in contact until the end and there was a memorial service for him in Whitley Bay.
    It also brings back memories of dearest Tony or James Bate as he was known when he became a full time actor. I miss him so much and think about him often, on the 19th of this month it will be 28 years since he died suddenly at the age of 47; taken too soon.
    I keep in contact with Colin and he's fine; the short lived period of the 16 Strings had such an influence on my life and I'm always grateful that I played with such talented guys. Regards Bill

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  9. Roger

    May 1, 2020 •

    I’ve been reading with interest the various comments about Sixteen Strings and, in particular comments #2 and #3, which mention Pierre Pedersen. I played alongside Pierre in 1969 and 1970 in the Newcastle band – Sneeze. The last time I saw him was in 2016 when Sneeze did a reunion gig in Gateshead. Pierre told me that before Sneeze he had been with Coloured Rain and Tricity Clan. He never mentioned Sixteen Strings or the fact he had previously been a guitarist. All the time I knew Pierre he only ever played Hammond Organ.

    Last week I heard the awful news that Pierre had died on 23rd April in Kent. He was 72.

    His wife, Anne, posted the photo below on Facebook but didn’t say who the band is. Pierre is top left. Could this be Sixteen Strings? If not, does anyone know the band and the other band members?


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  10. Bill rowntree

    May 1, 2020 •

    Hi, Thanks for your message, that is sad news about Pierre; I always remember him as a special guy. He was 6/7 years younger than me, although we didn't see a lot of each other I remember him and happy times.
    Once i went London I never saw him again; the photo shows him as I remember him.
    The other guys in the band I don't recall their name but will look through my memorabilia.
    Pierre was not in the 16 Strings, it was Tony Bate, Colin Oliver, Ricky Longstaff and myself.
    Kind regards; Bill

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  11. Roger

    May 1, 2020 •

    Thanks Bill. I've just reread Tony Glynn's comment (#2) and think that he means that Pierre played in the Vostox Combo (not 16 Strings). You're right - Pierre was a special guy. I never, ever knew him to lose his temper or bad mouth anyone. As far as I'm aware he was playing in a local Kent band until fairly recently.

  12. Bill rowntree

    May 3, 2020 •

    Hi Roger
    Following our chat about Pierre what you said was very true, he was one of the genuine people. I remember with horror of the accident on stage because of the power mishap.
    When looking through my memorabilia especially group cards; every group seemed to have one. I think this one was prior to Vostox Combo; it was "The Forebeats Rhythm Group"
    Pierre's name and address on the card.
    Regards Bill

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  13. ernie johnson

    May 9, 2020 •

    hi Bill, thanks for getting back to me. How's things with you and famlly - is your son still into music? When you have some time go onto Youtube and put in
    Ray Burton dance baby dance, should be at the top list and see if you know him.
    all the best take care
    Ernie Johnson

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  14. Bill rowntree

    May 9, 2020 •

    Hi Ernie, I mean Ray
    Thanks for your message, you're looking good;
    Yes my 2 younger sons are involved in music, Edward who is 24 still plays guitar, drums, violin etc however, he is pursuing a career in classical music; his web page is edwardcampbellrowntree.com
    Take care Ernie, hopefully meet up when COVID 19 is gone.
    Stay safe and all who are part of this RSG
    Regards
    Bill

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  15. ernie johnson

    May 12, 2020 •

    hi Bill hope your all well checked out Edds web page. You must be both very happy with him sounds good keeping up the Rowntree music.
    Yes l would like to meet up some time when thinks get better. Look after your self and your wife, all the best Ernie

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  16. Bill rowntree

    May 19, 2020 •

    Hi everyone
    On this date 28 years ago I lost a dear friend, Tony ( James ) 16 Strings guitarist and an excellent musician; he was also a very talented actor.
    He died suddenly in a London hospital aged 47 years, he has missed so much of life which saddens me.
    I remember the good times with the Strings and the times we spent together in London long after the Strings had broken up.
    Also remembering Ricky and other musician friends that have gone.
    Regards
    Bill

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  17. ernie johnson

    June 9, 2020 •

    hi Bill, just to see how thinks are and your well working on new backing tracks to play when this daft thing has gone. Looking towards meeting up with you.
    All the best to you and your wife - Ernie

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