Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Reg Calvert and Johnny Washington

Pete Clemon's latest Coventry music article - Reg Calvert. 

Remembering Reg and his 60s School of Rock; MUSIC impresario Reg Calvert was a key figure on the sixties music scene, managing bands which packed out local dance halls and who all lived and practised at his mansion in Rugby. Rock fan and regular Telegraph contributor Pete Clemons looks back at Reg's heyday and tragic end to his life. YOUR nostalgia.

TOWARDS the end of 2011 I was given the opportunity, by Pete Chambers, to go and see a play called Reg that was being held at the Nuneaton Arts Centre. In fact it was two stories. The first was about Reg's younger life. The other was about a more tumultuous period that led to his death in 1966.

The Reg in question was Reg Calvert, one of the great characters of the sixties music scene. And Pete has long predicted that sooner or later his life would one day be made into a stage play or film. The plays, written by Reg's daughter Susan Moore, have certainly left a lasting impression on me.

In his heyday Reg was manager of groups and solo singers. None of them were, at that time, anywhere near household names yet Reg managed to pack out local dance halls. Almost all of Reg Calvert's bands and artists lived at his mansion in Clifton Hall in Rugby which he bought when he moved to the Midlands from Southampton in the early 1960s. They all practised every day in order to reach Reg's incredible high standards. In return he paid them a basic wage with all accommodation and food being part of the contract. Reg had various dance halls round the Midlands which he ran personally. All his own bands appeared in them which meant that he made 100 per cent profit apart from what he spent on food and travel.

His acts included Danny Storm and the Strollers, Buddy Britten and the Regents, Glen Dale, Robbie Hood and his Merry Men, Johnny Washington and Screaming Lord Sutch. And from these acts would morph the likes of The Fortunes, The Liberators and Pinkertons Assorted Colours.

Clifton Hall became known as The School of Rock. It had spacious gardens, recording rooms, a billiard and snooker room, a football pitch and a luxurious lounge in which to rest in. Everyone who stayed there had plenty of freedom. There was no set time for bed. If someone wanted to play drums or sing during the middle of the night then they were perfectly entitled to. After all there were no irate neighbours who would come knocking. To quote Reg - they were a world unto themselves. Despite all that freedom Reg was still a strict disciplinarian.

He had two rules. No alcohol and no girls would be brought back to the hall.

One of Reg's most popular ventures was his regular 'Teen Beat' nights held on Friday and Saturday evenings at the Co-op Hall in Nuneaton.

These were, of course, aimed at the over 18s but Reg was also very keen to entertain and not let down the under 18s who would not have been allowed into the late night dances. So at the same venue he ran Saturday clubs where the same performers would play to hoards of youngsters.

By 1964 offshore (or pirate) radio had arrived and Reg was eager to make inroads into it. He decided that, with the help of the Screaming Lord, a rival to Radio Caroline would make a great publicity stunt. So during May 1964 Radio Sutch was launched from Shivering Sands which was located on an observation fort in the River Thames estuary just outside the three mile limit. More and more of Reg's time was devoted to this new venture and by September the station was re christened as Radio City with shows not only being presented by himself and Lord Sutch but also his teenage daughters Candy and Susan.

Radio City was never going to be popular as the likes of Caroline or Radio 270 but it did have a sizeable audience in south east England and grew in monetary terms. In late 1965 merger talks had began between Radio's Caroline and City.

In preparation for the merger a transmitter was delivered to the fort. This had been funded by a director of Caroline, a certain Major Oliver Smedley. But suddenly the merger plans collapsed and Reg then began talks with Caroline's rival, Radio London. Arrangements were made to launch a new station from the fort.

Major Smedley was angered by this new deal. On the night of 19th/20th June 1966 he sent a gang of dockers to take control of the fort in order to use the transmitter, that apparently did not even work, as part of a bargaining tool so he could get in on the action.

The following evening, 21st June, saw Reg visit Smedley's house to try to resolve the situation. During an altercation Reg was shot dead. Smedley was charged with murder but later acquitted on the grounds of self defence.

The tragedy signalled the beginning of the end for British offshore radio as the killing spurred the government into legislative action. It was also overshadowed by England's success in a certain football competition held that year.

Despite the tragic outcome the story I find Reg's life is incredibly fascinating.

And I have only touched on parts of it here. I really hope that Susan's stage plays get to the wider audience that the tale so richly deserves.
Johnny Washington
Click the article to read this on. 2nd and 3rd graphics.

Pete Clemons also sent a related article on Johnny Washington