“A proper big band provided the music, with bandmasters like Johnny Hilton and support acts such as the Billy Ellis Trio, which had a blind piano player and a double bass player with a broken nose.
“Girls would stand one side of the dance floor and boys on the other. No man’s land lay in between. The walk back seemed twice as long if a girl refused to dance with you.
“Rock ‘n’ roll eventually took over and Saturdays at the Grafton became jive night. All the guys had hairstyles like Tony Curtis with a DA (duck’s arse) at the back, and wore button-up Italian suits, drape coats, tight trousers and beetle-crusher shoes.
“In 1957 Marty Robbins had a hit song called ‘A White Sports Coat (and A Pink Carnation)’. I got myself a white coat and black slacks, with black shoes. When I walked into the Grafton I thought I was the bee’s knees.
“The Grafton was famous for the fights as well as the dancing. The bouncers were quick to pounce on troublemakers and what started inside would finish outside, with a crowd watching the contest.”
Music and sport are two Liverpool obsessions and Ricky’s mother bought him an old beat-up banjo for £2 and he paid 1/6d to have lessons. He then teamed up with another banjo player Wilf Neilson and two guitarists Brian Craig and Alan Jennings to form the Guitanjos. Ricky comments, “The motivation for the band had nothing to do with dreams of stardom or wealth. We wanted to pull birds and in my experience there were two sure-fire ways of doing this – being a good dancer, or playing in a band.”
They went to a Sunday afternoon audition session at Ozzie Wade’s: “This was where all the concert secretaries from the social clubs and working men’s clubs would gather to hear new bands and comics. Each act was given ten minutes.”
The Guitanjos ended up with six bookings and made their debut at the Knowsley Labour club.
Commenting on the ‘Clubland’ scene on Merseyside, Ricky says, “The social clubs would book a handful of acts for each night. Usually this included one or two comics, a singer and a band. It was a huge business and there were dozens of acts doing the circuit.”
By the early Sixties Ricky was working at building sites and would often arrive at a gig still covered in dust and plaster. So the group decided on a new name. Since the rest of the lads were smartly dressed and he looked in his scruff, he was nicknamed Hobo Rick and the band became Hobo Rick and the City Slickers.
It was the time of the Mersey Sound and Ricky states:
“It might sound sacrilegious, but I was never a great fan of the Beatles. I thought there were loads of better bands in Liverpool like Ian & the Zodiacs, Derry & the Seniors and the Big Three.
“I’m not taking anything away from the Fab Four, but I’m always quick to correct people who imagine they were working class heroes in Liverpool. Lennon & McCartney were middle-class, well educated boys. They were dead sharp and they knew where they were going.
“Although I didn’t get to hear the Beatles play live, I watched a lot of other local bands and some of them should have gone all the way. One of the best was Rory Storm & the Hurricanes with a young Ringo Starr on drums. One of the other lads was an apprentice joiner who had worked with me on the Grafton job.”