Escort to a Bluejean
THE ESCORTS (1963 – 1967)
We were still congregating in the park and before we knew it we were round at John’s house learning Shadows instrumentals. John and Terry were really good for their ages, so I was given the ultimatum that if I wanted to be in the band I had to be the bass player.
Well, nobody wanted to be the bass player in a band in those days as it was regarded as just above the roadie in importance, but I was on a bit of a loser really as they both had Futurama electric guitars already and I only had an old Spanish guitar. So it was down to Frank Hessy’s with my Mum to get a bass guitar as she had to sign the H.P. agreement as guarantor. I couldn’t afford much, as I was only earning £3.00 a week, which was 2 pounds, 13 shillings, and 3 pence after my stamp was taken out. I got a Hofner bass in the shape of a Fender, so I was in the band. All I had to do now was learn to play the bloody thing – and get an amp.
I practiced all the hours I could and ended up with big blisters on my fingers which burst, but eventually I got through the pain barrier and hard skin began to form on the ends of my fingers. When you’re learning you tend to press and pull far too hard and that’s what happens. I got my uncle Pete to build me an amp as he was an electronics genius in my eyes and after a while we were sounding not too shabby or so we thought. All we needed was a drummer.
At the end of John’s street there lived a guy called Mickey Hacket who had a little set of drums and he agreed to come and
practice with us but we needed a place to rehearse as John’s parlour was getting too small and his Mum was worried about her best furniture. So we asked the local priest (Father Ignacious) from Saint Aloysius Church on Queens Drive if we could use the church hall. He agreed and told us to come on Monday night. Great!!!
All we had to do was get the equipment there – so we borrowed a great big wheel barrow and pushed it there. It’s a good job it wasn’t raining. Anyway when we got there it was youth club night – Father had stitched us up.!!! We did it anyway, and it was good to see the reaction of the kids to what we were doing. We carried on
practicing and improving and started to think about getting a little half hour set together for a gig, because that’s all you needed in those days as there were always two or three bands on the bill.
The drummer Mickey wasn’t up for that, he just liked doing it for fun so we advertised for a drummer and one day a guy called John Foster answered the ad. He was Ringo Starr’s cousin and he had Ringo’s old Ajax drum kit. Well, that almost made him a God in our eyes. The job was his!!!!
All we needed was a singer now as we’d decided we couldn’t do instrumentals all night as it could be a bit boring. Now Terry was working in J. Davies with the guitarist from the Del Renas who told him that their singer had just left them and that he might be interested, a guy called Ray Walker.
He was interested and we started rehearsing right away. Ray had a great voice and his big number at the time was ‘Jezebel’ by Marty Wilde and we rehearsed it for ages. Eventually we thought we were ready and managed to get a gig in Holyoake Hall on Smithdown Road. Now this was like playing on the Palladium to me as it was my local dancehall along with St Barnabus Hall in Penny Lane where I went to watch the groups every Saturday night.
Eventually the big day came and we were so scared, I think we were on with Alby and The Sorrels who went on before us, then it was our turn.
We opened up with a couple of instrumentals and then brought Ray on. We played the intro to ‘Jezebel’ over and over until he walked on and moved up to the microphone. He’d only got a couple of lines out when he turned around and touched Terry’s guitar – well, there was a big flash and all the stage power went off and Ray was unconscious on the floor.
Horror of horrors – our big chance had ended in disaster and Ray could be dead. He wasn’t dead, thank God, but he couldn’t carry on and we, as naïve as you can possibly be, decided to carry on, not
realizing that the same thing could happen to us at any time.
For some unknown reason and in panic we decided to sing a song – the only one that we’d actually sung while messing about. It was ‘The First Lessons In Love’ by the Shadows and that was the birth of Terry and me singing harmony duets together.
We didn’t see Ray again – he’d had a near escape and had enough. Terry and I concentrated on our boyhood heroes from then on – the Everly Brothers and I think Terry actually thought he was Don Everly at times. Then one day we were working at the Majestic Ballroom in Birkenhead when Bob Wooler approached us and said how much he enjoyed it and would we like to work at the Cavern. We were so excited as we saw that as being the first steps to making it, as all the best groups were playing there.
We ended up playing at the Cavern 121 times and during that time supported many top groups such as the Mersey Beats – the Rolling Stones – Gerry & The Pacemakers, and we also supported the Beatles on their final performance at the Cavern. We played all the other venues around Liverpool – the Mardi Gras – the Downbeat – the Iron Door – Peppermint Lounge. We were even the first group ever to play at the Liverpool Town Hall and were in the Lord Mayor’s Parade just behind the Beatles.
An awful lot happened to us in a very short time – we got a residency in the Blue Angel, although we were far too young to even be in the place. It was hard work because we were there until the early hours and then I had to get up for work – but I loved it and it really improved us. All the bands used to come in after their gigs and the Beatles used to give us 10 shillings if we played a little bit extra. The Remo Four sort of adopted us and used to show us chords and take the mickey out of us - all in fun of course.
One day John, Terry and I were walking down by Toxteth Technical School and we heard somebody playing the drum solo to a Jet Harris and Tony Meehan record up in the bedroom. We stood in the street and listened for a while and we decided we’d knock and see who it was. We plucked up the courage to do it as we thought it was a bit cheeky, and it turned out to be a 17 year old kid – Enter Pete Clarke.
He was so good we just had to ask him if he wanted to join a band and he said yes, so poor John Foster was on his way out.
Later that year we entered a talent competition at the Philharmonic Hall along with 80 other bands including some very popular and later to be famous ones, and we won it. The competition was for the “Most Promising Band” not the best, although John won a guitar and Pete won some vouchers for his drumming to spend in Frank Hessy’s, so we must have been pretty good too.
Bob Wooler, George and Ringo and Decca A&R man Dick Rowe were the judges. We did an original arrangement - a harmony version of ‘Blue Moon’, not like the Marcels but more like the Everly Brothers which got us marks for originality. None of the other bands could believe that we’d won and a few said it was a fix and accused us of being Bob Wooler’s favourites, but I don’t think it was, because if anybody was Bob’s favourites it was the Mersey Beats not us - so if it was true they should have won.