The 60s Part 1: Bye bye Mr Alex Pye, in „Brum“ the Midlands beat them all

Birmingham in the 1960s: City and society

To get into the right mood to follow Steve Gibbons career in the 1960s, however, we take a look at the general situation in Birmingham, where most of this is happening. Again, the autobiography of Steve’s age and band mate Dave Morgan (Scott) helps us:

The cityscape was still very much dominated by war and industry:

The City of Birmingham in the mid stixties was a landscape alternating between the scars of German boms and the grimmy Victorian edifices that marked its industrial heritage.

Authorities were still very much valid:

It was the sixties, an era when a policeman would stop a speeding car by stepping out into the road and putting his hand up. That was all it took.

And there were still ideals to worship and overpowering villains:

A world full of giants. Of Churchill and Stalin. Of Chaplin, Brando, Elvis and then – the Beatles

Compared to the decade before, however, the 1960s were a colorful decade in Birmingham. The city tour videos on YouTube are now also in color.

 

 

The Second City music scene

The music scene was also colorful: Birmingham of that time is described as „one band“, with musicians between whom there was a „friendly rivalry“. There are said to have been about 500 bands.

But the boom hoped for never happened. Perhaps it was because the city’s entire music scene exploded within just a few weeks and months. It lacked the unique enthusiasm that dominated Liverpool through years of isolation. Chasing record managers found (in Birmingham) only a few potential hitmakers among the many capable, but mostly colorless bands of the so-called Second City.

However, Wanda clearly points out that in Birmingham, even as a beat band with only local success, one could live well:

Not making it nationwide didn’t mean unemployment. On the contrary – there were enough opportunities to perform… All of Birmingham was packed with beat bands

And the author makes it also clear that as a musician in such a scene you don’t have to worry about further performance possibilities if there are differences of opinion with the buddies in the previous band:

And since there were bands like sand at the sea, it didn’t matter if you were thrown out of a band. You could just go to another band. The line-ups in those days were not stable anyway.

With such an extensive and lively scene it’s not surprising that there was a magazine called Midland Beat, which reported about this scene.

If you feel like it, you can check out old issues of this magazine online in the Birmingham Music Archive.

Midland Beat: The „trade journal“ of the local scene

While doing so you will realize that the magazine not only reported about bands, but also gave information for them.

So there were practical tips, such as how to join the musicians‘ union so as not to fall for criminal managers:

To make sure that everyone really followed this advice, the union also placed its own advertisements:

Did You see it?

Join the group with 30,000 members
including Bert Weedon, The Beatles, Peter Jay, Shane Fenton etc. etc.
The Musicians‘ Union

So the Beatles were also in the union!

But who were the other musicians mentioned in this ad in the same breath as the Fab Four? Behind these names, which should not mean anything to most people, are three interesting stories.

  • Peter Jay was the drummer and bandleader of the group Peter Jay and the Jaywalkers, which had made it to number 33 in the British charts in November 1962 with Can Can ’62, a version of the song Orpheus in the Underworld by Jacques Offenbach, which had been produced by the sound wizard Joe Meek. In November December 1963, they toured Great Britain as support act for The Beatles and in 1966, together with Ike and Tina Turner and the Yardbirds, they opened for The Rolling Stones.
  • Connected to Shane Fenton is an anecdote in the history of British rock music, which perhaps to a certain extent provided the model for the rumour spread in 1969 that Paul McCartney had died and been replaced by a double. In the band Shane Fenton and the Fentones, singer Johnny Theakston, who had performed under the pseudonym Shane Fenton, died at the age of 17 of a heart failure he had acquired as a child during an infectious disease. Since his mother asked the band to continue under the previous name in memory of her son, the successor as singer also called himself Shane Fenton during his performances. This successor was actually called Bernard Jewry and had previously been the band’s roadie. In the course of his later career he changed his name again and appeared as Alvin Stardust until his death. Shane Fenton and the Fentones had a few smaller hits, Alvin Stardust had several big ones.
  • Nevertheless, perhaps the last musician mentioned in the union ad in the same breath as the Beatles had the greatest musical influence. Bert Weedon was a guitarist who was able to place himself several times in the British charts with instrumentals in the 1960s. In 1976, his album 22 Golden Guitar Greats was the first LP by a solo guitarist to make it to number one in the British LP parade. Guitar greats like Eric Clapton and Bryan Murray, but also Paul McCartney, name Weedon as a role model. Even more guitarists than through his own recordings, he has probably been influenced by his guitar textbook Play in a Day, which has sold more than a million copies since its first edition in 1957. The work is considered to be the best selling guitar school in the world. Bert Weedon may be called „the guitar teacher of the nation“, a word which has been coined in Germany for live time hippy Peter Bursch who wrote tons of guitar schools but never rewarded broader recognition by the general public with his band Bröselmaschine.

The importance of Weddon is also underlined by fellow Ugly Dave Pegg, who was to become one of Steve Gibbons‘ constant musical collaborators:

For anyone of my generation, there were two figures who were massively important. The first was Bert Weedon, who waa on FiveÒ`Clock Club with his golden Hofner guitar. That was kids`TV programme which was presented by glove puppets. …Bert Weedon made playing the guitar look so easy… He had a book Called „Play in a Day“ which I think should be prosecuted under the Trade Description Act. I bought it; it took me a month to be able to tune my guitar. There was as Hank Marvin of The shadows who wasn`t just a great player, with a fabolous distinctive guitar sound you`d recognise anywhere but looked ordinary; he wore glasses, a bit of a geek. And an inspiration to us all for that reason. (Off the Pegg; p. 20)

With musicians like that, you’d like to be in the union!

There were also reports about which Brum bands were just about to go on foreign tours in France or Germany

midland 12

midland 4

Returnees reported on their experiences and analysed, for example – not very flattering – the German scene:

The Germans? Six months behind Birmingham!

reports Dennis Ball, bassist of the band „Out of the Blue“ after a year full of guest performances in Germany and adds:

The German scene has no trendsetters. They follow on anything that England comes up with, only way behind. I estimate that in another six months, Flower Power will be settling in and by this time England could well be on to something new.

In British musical circles, however, there seems to have been envy of the quality of German musical instruments. This is suggested by the advertisements for instruments of the brands „Hofner“ (i.e.: Höfner) and Hohner, which appeared in these magazines.

 

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Among other things with such nice slogans as

Play an instrument – for pleasure and profit

Advice, experience reports and advertisements: So Midland Beat was a kind of trade journal. Therefore also Christmas and New Year’s greetings should not be missing. Just as the butcher thanks his loyal clientele in local newspapers at the end of the year, the local bands here turned to their fans. Here for example Danny Laine (who we will hear about later in connection with the group The Balls):

midland 9

There were also business recommendations. Services for bands were offered as follows

midland 7

 

midland 11

But also managements offered their bands for gigs, e.g. the former group of Trevor Burton, who was to become the second constant in the Steve Gibbons Band from the 1970s to the early 1980s

midland 8

In addition to that advice was given e.g. how to start a fan club for your own band, or to get an organist as this would be the trend of the future:

 

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(Sorry: We always think of the old guitarist joke when talking about „keyboarders“: What do keyboardists in bands and condoms have in common? Without is nicer, but with is safer 🙂

There were also reports about which Brum bands were just about to go on foreign tours in France or Germany

midland 12

midland 4

Alexes`Pye Stand: place to hang out and „musician`s exchange

„Midland Beat“ was obviously a reliable source to find out about new developments in the local music scene with the lead time usual with print media.

But whoever wanted to could also do this in real time (and at night time). The latest events, performances and „transfers“ of band members were also the subject of a snack stand – namely Alexes Pye’s stand. Many musicians met there after their gigs and many a new band project was cooked up here.

So much for the surroundings! But now back to the musical activities of Steve Gibbons.

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