Escort to a Bluejean
So Johnny rang a friend of his called John Smith who owned the Baileys Cabaret Clubs and got us two weeks work straight away. The first week was in Leicester and the second week was in Watford. That’s how it all started and I’m still here after thirty two years although we are packing in this year.
The band changed through the years – Howie went off around the world with Wings – Geoff went out to America to set up a recording studio and was replaced by Ollie Frost – Flash went to live in Holland and was replaced by Paddy Chambers – Johnny left in 1979 to concentrate on his song writing and was replaced by Margot & Trevor Burns of Margot & the Marvettes but they only stayed for a year – sadly Johnny passed away about ten years later.
This was a real fun band and was arguably the best band I’d ever been in – it was so versatile vocally and instrumentally. We played all over the world – America – Canada – Middle East – Europe. But things don’t last for ever and we are packing in this year as my colleague of twenty nine years Ollie Frost is going off to start a new life in America. So now I’ll be looking for a new challenge but I won’t give up playing. I’ve recently made contact again with Terry Sylvester so “you never know.”
Editor’s Notes: The group originally formed in October 1962. Mike Gregory, Terry Sylvester and John Kinrade were classmates at the Morrison School for Boys in Rose Lane, Huyton. Their line up was: Mike Gregory, bass, vocals; Terry Sylvester, guitar, vocals; Ray Walker, vocals; John Kinrade, lead guitar and John Foster, drums.
Foster, also known as Johnny Sticks, was Ringo Starr’s cousin and it was Ringo who arranged for the group to have a residency at the Blue Angel Club in 1962. Ray left the band and Terry took over on lead vocals. John Foster joined the Dions. From April 1963 they were a quartet with the addition of Pete Clarke on drums.
The Escorts were the winning group in the Beat Group Contest held at the Philharmonic Hall, Liverpool in May 1963. The judges included George Harrison and Ringo Starr. Eighty groups entered and the Escorts won. The prize included a television appearance on ‘ABC At Large’ and a recording contract with Decca.
Unfortunately, it then transpired that Decca said the prize was only for a recording test and they didn’t take an option on the group, who had hoped to make ‘Fortune Teller’ as their debut disc.
In the issue of Mersey Beat dated May 23 1963, Bob Hobbs, in his ‘Guitar Corner’ column, was to write:
“Congratulations to the Escorts on their success in gaining first place at the Lancashire and Cheshire Beat Group Contest at the Philharmonic Hall last Friday evening. Their success is even more gratifying to me as both the lead and rhythm guitarists are pupils of the Hobbs-Birch studios.
“Now a word about the boys themselves:
“The lead guitarist John Kinrade is 16 years of age and has been playing the guitar 18 months. He uses a white Fender Stratocaster guitar with a Vox A/C 30 Twin amplifier and the ‘Baby Binson’ echo unit.
“Rhythm guitarist Terry Sylvester also uses a white Fender Stratocaster guitar with a Vox A/C 30 Twin amplifier. Also aged 16 years, he has been playing 18 months.
“Mike Gregory, bass guitarist, has a White Fender Precision bass and a Vox A/C. 30 Twin bass amplifier. He, too, is 16 years and has only been playing 10 months.
“Finally Pete Clarke, drummer, aged 16 years, has been drumming for 18 months. He uses a Premier drum kit and is the proud owner of £75 worth of Zildjian cymbals.
“All their instruments and equipment were purchased at Rushworth’s and they have now placed an order for two of the latest type Reslo microphones and stands.
“John Kinrade gained first place in the individual award for the best guitarist, the prize for which was a Harmony guitar, while Pete Clarke was the winner of the award for the best drummer, for which he received a Trixon snare drum and stand.
Once again, congratulations to a group of young men who have worked very hard to attain a high standard of playing which must ensure them still greater success in the future.”
Late in 1963 playwright Alun Owen saw them performing at the Downbeat Club and was so impressed he offered them the role of the beat group in his musical ‘Maggie May.’ However, the group who finally appeared in the musical were the Nocturnes, another band who enjoyed a residency at the Blue Angel club.
The Escorts made their recording debut in April 1964 with ‘Dizzy Miss Lizzy’, but it failed to register – although it went to No. 1 in Texas! The group considered that Jack Baverstock, their recording manager at Fontana, didn’t have any feeling for their type of music and were unhappy with the recordings they made with him.
Their next release, ‘The One to Cry’, reached No. 49 in the British charts. Their third single was a version of the Drifters’ ‘I Don’t Want To Go On Without You,’ but soon after it was released the Moody Blues covered it and the Birmingham group’s version charted.
In the meantime, Clarke allegedly proved to be argumentative and by October 1964 had left the band to join the Grimbles, to be replaced by Kenny Goodlass, former member of the Kirbys.
Pete told Mersey Beat: “The stuff I was playing was far too technical for the group.” However, he was to re-join the Escorts in September 1965, but only remained with them for five months and later became a session musician.
Tommy Kelly, former member of the Young Ones and Earl Preston’s Realms joined them in January 1966, a few weeks before Sylvester left them to join the Swinging Bluejeans. The group then went to Germany for a three months stint, with their contract stipulating that they had to have a keyboard player in the line-up. John, Mike and Tommy were joined by Frank Townsend on guitar, organ and vocals and their road manager Bruce McGaskell, a founder member of the Bluejeans, also joined with them on rhythm guitar – he was later to become Eric Clapton’s road manager.
When Terry Sylvester left to join the Swinging Bluejeans, the ubiquitous Paddy Chambers replaced him. When Paddy teamed up with John, Mike and Tommy on lead guitar and vocals, Paul McCartney recorded them performing ‘Head To Toe’ c/w a Chambers composition ‘Night Time’. The single was issued on Columbia DB 8061 on November 18 1966, but failed to register. Elvis Costello was later to cover both sides of the single
In November 1966 Kelly was replaced by Paul Comerford, former member of the Cryin’ Shames, although the group eventually disbanded in July 1967. Comerford went on to become a member of Tangerine Dream, Chambers joined a group called Sinbad while Mike Gregory joined Sylvester in the Swinging Bluejeans, where he remained until 1972, although Terry had left earlier to become a member of the Hollies, replacing Graham Nash.
Two 17-year-old girls, Francesca Holden and Lorraine Johnson, ran the Escorts fan club. In 1964 they told me, “We started because we saw the Escorts at ‘Ready, Steady. Go!’ and we thought ‘We just must meet this group.’ So we went along to Fontana, where they were recording, and pretended we’d come all the way from Brighton and asked if we could stay to hear them and could we please run their fan club.
“We soon had 700 fans and were receiving 40 letters a week. We like to keep the club as friendly as possible. We often have fans round to our houses for the evening and we listen for Escorts records. We’ve made lots of friends.”
This photograph of the Escorts appeared in the March 12 1964 issue of Mersey Beat, with the caption: ‘The Escorts pictured in their exclusive stage suits. The suits were designed by Pete Clarke (the group’s leader) and are tailored in thornproof tweed. Left to right: Terry Sylvester, Mike Gregory, John Kinrade and Pete Clarke.’
The same issue included this news item:
Escorts On Tour
THE ESCORTS have been getting great acclaim wherever they have appeared on the GENE PITNEY/BILLY J. KRAMER/BLUE JEANS tour. Show reviewers can’t remember a group making such an impact on their first major tour. This news will come as no surprise to the thousands of fans on Merseyside who have raved about the group for the past 12 months.