In April 1964 the Beatles held the top five spots in the Billboard top forty singles in America. The Rolling Stones released their debut album, unimaginatively named the Rolling Stones. BBC 2 began broadcasting in the United Kingdom. Thieves stole the head from the Little Mermaid statue in Copenhagen. Twelve of the Great Train Robbers received sentences totalling three hundred and twelve years, and I joined the rock and pop band Satan’s Whiskers.
* * * *
Soon after the bodies were discovered, I was questioned by the police, but let me start from the very beginning.
I stood in front of the bathroom mirror, studying my appearance as I trimmed my unruly eyebrows using the moustache trimmer attachment on my electric razor. My mother often chased me around the house with a pair of eyebrow tweezers to rectify the eyebrow problem, but as she plucked her own eyebrows to destruction, before replacing them with a thin pencil line, I made sure that she never caught me.
After naming the newly formed band Satan’s Whiskers, I’d tried, unsuccessfully, to persuade the others to follow my example and grow whiskers as a gimmick. A week without shaving and the stubble of the first few days looked a little more beard-like; although I had to concede that the side growth was disappointing, which would undoubtedly provide ammunition for the others to ridicule my efforts. On an impulse I shaved the beard into a goatee. If I didn’t like the final result the whole thing would have to be removed, but what the hell, easy come, and easy go. I examined my handiwork in the mirror from every angle, until I was satisfied that the goatee was an improvement on what preceded it, and looked even more satanic than did a full beard.
* * * *
Freddie Cope was already at Brian’s house when I arrived for band practise. I’d met Freddie and Brian, for the first time, a few weeks earlier, when I’d gone into Blakewater for a night out with a friend.
It transpired that Freddie and Brian planned to form a band, so the conversation inevitably drifted into that territory. I was the owner of a bass guitar, in fire engine red, which was currently languishing in my parent’s loft, after a previously failed attempt to form a band. Being in need of a bass player to turn their duo into a trio, they asked me to audition.
I wasn’t confident of my musical abilities, as it had been a couple of years since I last played the guitar. I practised throughout Saturday, and wished, on a number of occasions, that I hadn’t agreed to audition for fear of embarrassing myself, but I needn’t have worried, as I was accepted as a member of the fledgling band by a unanimous vote.
“Hi Ray,” said Freddie, in his usual cheery way, as I entered the smoky atmosphere of Brian’s bedroom.
Freddie was a happy-go-lucky character, with a ruddy complexion and curly blond hair. He was around my height of a couple of inches below six feet tall, but I always wore high heeled boots which elevated me by a couple of inches.
“I can’t breathe in here,” I told them as I entered the room, open a bloody window.”
“Open it yourself,” Freddie told me, as I pushed past him to open a window before I suffocated in the smoky atmosphere.
Brian, who was the exact opposite of Freddie, in both nature and appearance, grunted a reluctant “Hello,” while continuing to tune his guitar with a cigarette dangling precariously from his lips, and smoke drifting into his eyes, which made him blink continuously and his eyes to water profusely.
Because the two of them were so different in nature I found it difficult to understand how they had ever become such good friends. Brian Cheshire was dark-haired, with a swarthy Mediterranean appearance, and a little shorter than Freddie. He always needed a shave, and even though he assured me that he’d shaved that very morning, I’m embarrassed to report that his beard growth was more impressive than was mine after a week of nurturing.
“Will Hank be coming to band practise?” I asked.
Frank Rivers was our absentee drummer, and known affectionately as Hank.
“No, he works on Saturdays,” replied Freddie, “but practising in Brian’s bedroom, with a drum kit, isn’t going to be an option anyway.”
* * * *
Hank had played drums in a public house, along with an elderly organist, before Freddie persuaded him to dissolve his partnership and join our newly formed band. Hank and Freddie were maternal cousins, although they were so alike that they could easily have been mistaken for brothers. Hank had never practised with the band, but we had played together once, at a wedding reception. The reception had been held in a large hotel in the market square, and when I say hotel I mean a public house with bedrooms, and named The Queens Hotel rather than the Queens Arms or the Queens Head.
The booking had been successful, even though we’d only practised a few numbers, and had to repeat our first spot of the evening in the second half. I felt embarrassed by our lack of versatility, but no one appeared to mind, as the booking was of the easily obtained and unpaid variety, a wedding present from Hank and Freddie to a common female relative.
The bride’s father helped to flesh out our limited programme by requesting Eve of Destruction, on no less than four separate occasions, which could hardly be described as an appropriate sentiment given the occasion of his daughters’ wedding.
During the interval, and on the back of a successful first set, we thought up names for the band. Many were suggested and just as quickly rejected, until I pointed out the name of a cocktail on the drinks menu, containing gin, Grand Marnier, sweet vermouth, dry vermouth, and orange juice, with a dash of orange bitters, and from this observation the band Satan’s Whiskers was born.
* * * *
While we were practising Randy Bloomfield (1) entered the bedroom; escorted by Brian’s mother carrying a tray of drinking glasses filled to the brim with chilled orange juice. Randy was a married man with a baby daughter, and a wife who at twenty years of age had resigned herself to becoming a band widow.
Randy’s hair had begun to turn prematurely grey, even though he was barely a year older than his wife, but his eyebrows remained thick, black, and bushy. Randy had strong features, with heavy brows, while his nose gave the appearance of having been remodelled inside a boxing ring, although in truth it was a natural feature on the landscape of his face.
Randy liked to take people outside of their comfort zone. He found it amusing to see them squirm, and with that in mind he invited us onto the stage at the Greyhound public house, when we turned up to watch his band play.
“We have another band in the audience,” he informed the assembled crowd. “If you cheer loudly enough they might be persuaded to come up onto the stage and give us a number.”
We were dumbstruck, as we’d only practised four songs, and all of them chosen because they consisted of just three chords, but the audience didn’t appear to notice our musical inadequacies, and his plan to embarrass us came unstuck when we went down a storm.
He may have been trying to embarrass us, but he actually did us a favour, as it gave us the confidence we needed. I in particular would have been reluctant to go on stage before we were perfect, but after the reception we received, perhaps more for our bravery than our musical ability, Freddie and Brian were keen to get the band up and running as quickly as possible.
Randy’s band regularly played at a public house on the estate of council owned properties where he and Brian lived. The pub was popular with the younger demographic, but as the booking fee was disappointingly low; Randy was looking to offload this regular Sunday night venue in favour of the more lucrative offers which were flooding in, as his bands popularity gained momentum.
“I’ve got a proposition for you,” he announced, as he helped Mrs Cheshire with the distribution of refreshments.
“We’ve been offered a booking tomorrow night, which I’d like to accept, but we’re obligated to play at The Manxman. I’ve spoken with the publican, and he’s prepared to give you a trial, if you’d be interested.”
“We definitely are interested?” Brian blurted out, without any consultation on the matter. “Can we go and see him right now?”
“I’ll come with you if you like and introduce you,” Randy volunteered, as he wanted the matter settled as quickly as possible.
Although the pub was within walking distance of Brian’s house, we chose to drive, as walking was never going to be a consideration with transport parked at the front door. The pub consisted of a large public room divided by folding doors. A red carpet, covered with a busy pattern, helped to disguise the beer stains caused by frequent spillages, although it failed to hide the shiny spots of chewing gum, which had been trodden into the carpet and were accumulating daily around the bar.
Customers with drinks insisted, to my annoyance, in congregating around the bar and making it unnecessarily difficult for others to get served, despite many seats and tables being unoccupied.
Randy introduced us to the publican, who was busy pulling pints of beer behind the bar, which ran down the whole of the wall with beer pumps and optics at regular intervals along its length.
“This is the band I was telling you about Jack. They’re available tomorrow, and willing to stand in if you’re prepared to give them a trial.”
“Stage is in there,” the landlord informed us, as he finished serving a customer and came from behind the bar to push back the dividing doors.
Mounted on braked wheels, the tiny stage was a single step above ground level. A backdrop of vertical silver strips caught the reflected light from a glitter ball, which the publican switched on for effect, and it sparkled in a myriad of colours, while he watched in wonder as if seeing it for the very first time.
“The stage appears to be a bit small,” I observed. “We’ll never get the four of us and all our equipment on there.”
“Randy’s band spills onto the dance floor,” we were informed by the landlord, which Randy confirmed with a nod of his head. “If you’re a success, I’ll book you to play alternate Sundays, with Randy’s band doing the others.”
We concluded the business agreement with a handshake, but I understood why Randy wanted to move to pastures new, as payment for our musical services was close to non-existent at this venue, although at this stage of our fledgling career, the money didn’t matter half as much as laying claim to our first commercial booking.
(1) The character described as Randy Bloomfield went on to record the single “Looking Good Feeling Bad,” his own composition, and two country music albums under the stage name of Randy Blue and Deep Water.