The Black Knights
By Bill Harry
The band was formed as a trio in 1962 with Bill Kenny on bass, Taffy Jones on drums and Ken Griffiths on lead/rhythm. Taffy left the band the following year and Allan Schroeder, former member of Cliff Roberts & the Rockers replaced him. At the time the trio were appearing at the cellar club, the Witches Cauldron in Albion Street, New Brighton.
Kenny, a draughtsman by trade, was a prolific songwriter and the group had a full hour's worth of his original compositions in their repertoire.
The press reported on a motoring charge in which their van was held together by wire. They were stopped outside the Mersey Tunnel by police constable John Laird who said that the wire held on the exhaust, held on the rear offside wing, kept the rear door closed, secured the spare wheel and held on the offside panel. Another rear door was jammed closed with paper, the front passenger door would not open and other parts were corroded and jagged.
As the van drove off, the rear door flew open and Kenny shouted, "Any chance of some string - I've no more left!"
In a letter to the court he admitted using the van in a dangerous condition and was fined £5.
Kenny recalls that the group played the typical music that became known as the Mersey Sound, a mixture of rock with a shot of rhythm and blues, commenting, "Most of the self-penned stuff was pretty much the same mix. Inspiration came from American artists like Ray Charles, Chuck Berry, Little Richard and Ritchie Barrett.
"Our first gig with the Beatles was at the Tower Ballroom, New Brighton in early 1963, shortly before Allan joined. I remember meeting John and Paul at Pete Best's mothers' club the Casbah in West Derby in the very early days, pre-1960. I had formed a band prior to the Black Knights with a few mates, one of who's mother knew Pete's mum and we travelled to the Casbah on the ferry/bus from Wallasey with our guitars, a drum, a one-string bass and an amp the size of an attache case.
"Needless to say we were pretty poor and failed to impress John and Paul.
"After Allan joined, things really began to happen and we were playing all over Merseyside: the Cavern, the Peppermint Lounge, the Mardi Gras, Litherland Town Hall, the Orrell Park Ballroom etc, with all the big Mersey bands of the day.
"Our manager was a chap called Norman Hurst, who handled a few other bands as well as ourselves. It was Norman who arranged for us to audition for the film 'Ferry 'Cross The Mersey.' We turned up at the Adelphi Hotel to attend the auditions for the film and were picked to appear in it."
The group performed 'I Gotta Woman' c/w 'Angel Of Love' for the film, both penned by Kenny and issued as a single on Columbia in January 1965 (Columbia DB 7443). They recorded it at Abbey Road Studios with George Martin. The track was also included on the British and American releases of the 'Ferry 'Cross The Mersey' album.
Kenny says, "Being chosen for the film really paid dividends. First there was the recording at Abbey Road Studios with George Martin producing. What an experience that was. The record only took two takes. The first was okay, but our guitars were not in concert pitch, so we had to re-tune and do it again (sorry, George!)
"Both songs have appeared on various compilation albums.
"There was also the sponsorship from Selmer with all our amplification. Norman sent a copy of the disc to the MD of Selmer, who liked it and invited us down to the factory in London where they built us customised amps.
"Then there was the tour of the U.K. supporting bands such as the Moody Blues and the Animals, to name just two.
"The Star Club season in 1965 when we appeared for six weeks was something special and I have fond memories of those heady days. I remember Tony Sheridan in a drunken stupor smashing down our bedroom door on one occasion."
In 1966 the 22-year-old Allan got married and decided he was too old to play rock 'n' roll. Kenny had his Rickenbacker repossessed and Bill joined a Welsh choir.
Almost 30 years later, in May 1995, Allan decided he wasn't too old to play rock 'n' roll after all and re-formed the Black Knights, although not with the original personnel.
'I Gotta Woman' was included on the compilation 'Beat At Abbey Road 1963 to 1965' issued on EMI 7243 8 2113522 in 1997.
Editor's Note: Kenny has provided further notes about his own life, career and his years with the Black Knights.
"Unfortunately, it's 20 years since I last met Norman Hurst. It was the day the tall ships sailed up the Mersey and it was the first time since the band split up that we had seen each other. He was living in Flint, managing an Office Supply business and had been out of band management since the late 1960s.
"I'd originally met Norman while we were both serving Technician Apprenticeships at the ATE (Plessey) factory on Edge Lane. Norman was sacked without getting his indentures, accused of spending too much of his time on the phone. This established his move into band management.
"Norman had a charming disposition and a good chat line, what better qualifications could you have for the role? I remember that as well as us, he was managing the Roadrunners for a period and a lesser-known band called the Nomads. He certainly provided us with plenty of gigs, the audition for the part in 'Ferry 'Cross The Mersey' and the Star Club season, so no complaints really, except that there was no real financial backing to push us up to the next level.