Steve Day & the
Rod Punt's Odyssey From Wump
& His Werbles to Rod McKenzie
By Bill Harry
In Tony Palmer's book 'All You Need Is love', he writes: "Of the early Beatles - called variously the Quarry Men, Wump & His Werbles, John & the Moondogs, and the Silver Beatles..."
Wump & His Werbles weren't an early incarnation of the Beatles, although they did appear with them when the Beatles returned from their first trip to Hamburg.
Rod Punt who was born in Wallasey in 1942 and educated at Oldershaw Grammar School until he was 16 formed the group. His
family moved to Upton-in-the-Wirral in 1959 and Rod joined the local youth club where he met Dave Georgeson, Nev Humphries, John Cochrane and Jim Meller. They formed a group called Wump (which came from an American band called the Mugwumps, who later became the Mama's & Papa's) & his Werbles. In 1959 they played locally at youth clubs and church halls. The group lasted until February 1961. Rod was vocalist, Dave played lead, Nev was on rhythm, John on drums and Jim on bass.
Rod wrote to me, "We appeared at the Cavern in 1961 where we emptied the place (I remember we were on the bill with Dale Roberts & the Jaywalkers). I was actually on holiday that week at Butlin's in Pwhelli and we were due to appear at the Cavern on the Wednesday night. A friend came all the way on his scooter to pick me up and take me back to Liverpool, but on the way back his scooter broke down outside Rhyl.
"I was panic stricken. We started thumbing a lift but there seemed little hope of two guys and a scooter getting a lift. Anyway, a big van stopped and asked where we were going. We told him. He was the service engineer for Marconi and had just been to service the Rhyl Lifeboat's radio and was on his way to West Kirby to service their Lifeboat's radio. So the two of us and scooter got in the back of the van. He dropped me off at West Kirby station
and I got the train to Liverpool and turned up at the Cavern with half an hour to spare!
"Rory Storm was at Butlin's when we were there and I remembered him well as Alan Caldwell because I used to run for Wallasey Athletic Club cross-country and Alan used to run for the Pembroke Harriers. On the way back from competition we would often stop for a drink on the way home and Alan would play guitar (or one of his mates, I'm not too sure) and we'd have a singsong. He persuaded me to enter the Rock 'n' Roll Singers competition at Butlin's, which I did, and won it! (Rory and Ringo were the judges - enough said).
"I was working in a shipping office called Elder Dempster at the time with a guy called Graham Hodgson, who also had a group called Johnny Rocco & the Jets, who came from West Kirby.
"Wump & His Werbles were not particularly good, although we had played with Kingsize Taylor & the Dominoes and the Beatles (after their first return from Hamburg) at the Lathom Hall in Seaforth.
"I'll never forget it. We had just bought a new Selmer Truvoice Selectatape amplifier and they asked if they could borrow it. We lent it to them and they went on stage and started tuning up. John Lennon had his new Rickenbacker, played one chord and four strings broke all at once. He came off stage and we all helped him to restring it.
"They started playing and we watched from the wings. Paul was on rhythm guitar and we noticed that between numbers he would plug his guitar in and pluck a few notes. When the band started playing he would take the jack-plug out! We were convinced he wasn't playing at all.
"We then went out front to watch and, horror of horrors, Stuart Sutcliffe was playing bass guitar through our brand-new amp. It was bouncing all over the place. We never let anyone borrow our gear again!
"Graham Hodgson (Johnny Rocco) was having throat problems and was advised to give up singing, so he asked me if I would front his group. I met the lads and we got on okay, so Graham left and I joined. He went on to play drums with Frank Knight & the Barons.
"We needed a new name for me, so Graham and I said 'Well, what about Steve - there's no one with that first name on Merseyside.' Then, as he was joining Frank Knight (Night) we thought, 'What about Day - ole!'"
The band formed in June 1961 as Steve Day & the Drifters ("Not a good choice of group name, really" he said) and lasted until May 1963. Steve was lead vocalist and the other members were Mike Nicholson on lead, Derek Bond on bass, Spike Sherratt on rhythm and Phil Duggan on drums. Barry Ezra later replaced Mike.
Rod/Steve recalled: "I was now playing at better venues and with more popular groups. We did a lot of work for Brian Epstein, but we fell out over a gig at the Locarno."
The story behind this was related in Ray Coleman's biography of Brian Epstein. Rod was in Nems when Epstein came over to him and asked what record he was buying. Rod had chosen a single by Dr. Feelgood and Epstein said, "Oh, well, would you do me a favour? Will you please not perform the flipside?" Rod asked why. "Because it's called 'Mr. Moonlight' and I've got it mapped out for John to do with the Beatles." Rod recalled, "If he hadn't said anything I think we would have done it. As it was I ended up writing the words out for 'Dr Foolgood' for Rory and he recorded it for the Oriole 'This Is Mersey Beat' album."
Brian had seen the group perform at Cavern lunchtime sessions and was impressed by their smart cherry red suits, with Rod in an emerald green suit, and their professional performance. He offered the group a date at the Locarno ballroom in West Derby Road.
Rod, whose band was semi-professional and usually got their instructions by telephone, was surprised to receive a letter from Brian with specific instructions: time of arrival, duration of sets and other details. He recalled, "This efficiency stunned me."
Unfortunately, the band's Humber Super Snipe saloon broke down in the Mersey Tunnel and they arrived at the ballroom forty-five minutes late. The group had been one of the first that Epstein had booked at the Locarno and he'd turned up to see them with a view to offering them a management contract. They scrambled on stage but only managed to perform three numbers before their time was up.
Epstein then argued with Rod, not accepting his explanation for the breakdown. "You know the perils of the tunnel, you should have set out half an hour earlier to anticipate any hold-ups or break-downs," he said.
They had a heated row and Rod says, "We remained friendly, but we never ever worked for him again."