Monday, September 23, 2013

The Mad Classix (Coventry band in 1960's)

Pete Clemons focuses Coventry 60's band The Mad Classix for his latest Coventry Telegraph article.





Classix line up on TV talent show
By Pete Clemons


FOR those with extended memories you will remember that Opportunity Knocks was a television talent show hosted by Hughie Green that ran from the mid 1950s through till 1978.

The show was revived again in the 1980s by, first, Bob Monkhouse, and then Les Dawson. The winning acts on Opportunity Knocks were decided by way of a public vote. And this was done by completing a post card, in your own handwriting, and posting it off. Quite often the winners would then go on to appear again on the next show.

To give an idea as to how the acts had done the studio audience reaction to each act was measured by a 'clap-o-meter', however this only an indicator and did not count towards the final result.

The programme was normally recorded the Friday before transmission, so votes had to be in by Thursday in order for them to be manually counted before the following day's show where the results were read out. With technology moving on, telephone voting was introduced for the revived series to make that process quicker. So in effect, and as you have probably guessed by now, the whole show was an archaic version of Britain's Got Talent or The X-Factor.

The Mad Classix was another of Coventry's popular beat groups who existed from the early to mid 1960s. And August 1964 saw them appear on Hughie Green's version of Opportunity Knocks. As far as I can ascertain they were the first Coventry group ever to appear on a television programme that was relayed nationwide throughout the country.



The band had been put forward for the show by promoter Vince Martin. And for their appearance the band travelled second class, with Vince, up to Manchester where they stayed overnight. The Classix rehearsed and recorded the performance the day before it went out at ATV studios in the city.

The full line-up of the band at the time of their TV appearance was Ron Smith (lead guitar), John Davies (bass), Dave Norris (rhythm guitar), Brian Fowdrey (tenor sax), Gerry O'Brian (drums) and Johnny Wells (vocals).

The group's manager, Phillip Newton, revealed prior to the showing that the six band members would be appearing on the television each with a silver streak dyed in their hair. The streaks were apparently added by a hairdressing salon in Bell Green and were given the thumbs-up at the make-up department of the TV studios when the band went along there for the screen test.

Apparently this gimmick also proved to be popular with the queues of fans that would form outside the New Inn at Longford at the time as they began to mimic the band who had a regular Thursday night residency at the venue. For the Opportunity Knocks show The Mad Classix performed a song called 'Keep on Looking' which had been written by lead guitarist, Ron Smith and, according to the local press at the time, its release as a single depended on how it was received on the show.

The Classix did not win but performed really well and far from disgraced themselves. They finished a very creditable runner-up to body builder Tony Holland who had been on a roll on the show with several wins under his belt for his routine that included flexing his muscles to the sound of the 'Wheels Cha Cha' music.

However, Hughie Green must have seen something in the band because, during the proceedings, he made them an offer. It was along the lines of, he would make them stars, if they all shaved their heads and re-named themselves The Eggheads.

It was apparently a genuine offer but after some serious consideration the band politely turned the chance down.

The Mad Classix had plenty of history before, and after, the Opportunity Knocks experience though. They first formed during early 1962 and were known as The Tornadoes but after the Joe Meek band of a similar name sold more than five million copies of the track 'Telstar' they had to change name. They then went on the road simply known as The Classics. The earliest example of the word 'Mad' being added to their name, that I can trace, was toward the end of 1963 for a gig at the Coventry Flying Club. 

The first six months of 1964 saw The Mad Classix tour Germany where they teamed up with German band The Rattles who were incredibly popular in their native country as well as gaining chart success here in the UK with a song called 'The Witch'.

Guitarist Dave Norris was not available for this tour so the band had recruited Beverley Jones. Life on the road was uncomfortable, yet enjoyable at the same time, but Beverley yearned for home.

1964 also saw The Classix not only appearing in Coventry but, due to their exposure on TV, also saw them take on a five-date tour of Wales and a nine-date tour of Scotland.

1965 would prove to be just as busy for The Classix. And July of that year saw them expand by adding ex-Chad's band member and sax player, Johnny Williams, to the line-up.

The same year also saw the band go back to Germany for a further tour. It was while there for that particular tour where they eventually recorded a seven-inch single which would be released in December of that year.

The songs included on that single were its A side 'My Hunny Bunny with 'It's Never Too Late' selected for the B side. Both compositions were credited to Brian Fowdrey and released on the Storz record label. As far as I understand this record was only ever released in Germany. However, the advent of the CD has made rare release more accessible. And, as such, 'My Hunny Bunny' can be nowadays be found on two releases 'Tommyknockers Beat Club volume 9 (Reelin and a Rockin till the break of day' and '60er Rare Beat - volume 2'. Ron Smith left in April 1966 and was replaced by Jeff Lynne for a short while and then later in the year and after having all their equipment stolen the band finally split toward the end of 1966.

For more detailed and revealing information on the band, as well as being a tremendous read in general, I can thoroughly recommend bass player, John Davies' recently released book 'The Mad Classix - A History'. It is available to purchase now from the 2 Tone Centre on Ball Hill.
The MAD CLASSIX 
circa 1964-66 
Pete Chambers Godiva Rocked to a Backbeat

R&B/Beat group
Line up: Brian Fowdrey (Saxophone), Ron Smith (lead guitar), Dave Norris (rhythm guitar), Johnny Wells (vocals), John Davies (bass), Gerry O'Brian (drums)

Formed around 1964, they quickly worked up material, switching from 'beat' to more blues influenced material. They cut demos around the middle of 1964 (including 'Keep On Looking'), hoping to impress EMI or Decca. They Appeared on 'Opportunity Knocks' in June of that year and had their hair dyed specially for the appearance with one white streak!

Toured Germany (where they released a single in December 1965) and added Johnny Williams (Sax) from The Chads whilst there in July 1965.

Ron Smith Left in April 1966 and was replaced by Jeff Lynne for a short while. He left the band and joined the Nightriders in Birmingham who became Idle Race - then to the Moveand ELO.

They split later in 1966 after having their gear stolen.

Single: Honey Bunny (Germany 1965)

Pete Chambers - Godiva Rocked to a Backbeat
"Known for the mad stage antics, they played 6 months in Germany and the above single. Bev Jones was once a member and married lead vocalist Johnny Wells. Ron Smith says " I wouldn't have missed the German tour for the world. It was hard for me because I had a wife and family at home. We worked three to four hours a night, six days a week and rehearsed on the 7th. Yes it was hard work but an opportunity I couldn't miss."

And from Pete Chambers Backbeat article - Cov Telegraph
"
Outrageous Mad Classix lived up to their name

FAMED for their on-stage antics and a fabled tour of Germany The Mad Classix were a sextet who always lived up to their name.

In 1958 Ron Smith had purchased his first guitar, and the skiffle sound of that era was now giving way to a more sophisticated music that we know as rock 'n' roll.

Ron, along with his new guitar, had become a founding member of the Coventry band The Tornadoes. By 1962 a name change had become incumbent to them when the great Joe Meek had created Telstar by the band he called The Tornadoes.

So Coventry's Tornadoes became The Classics, and they continued to find work in places like the Wyken Pippin and their sleek presentations and acrobatic stage antics gained them a residency at The Walsgrave.

They hooked up with Friary Promotions and took on sax player Brian Fowdrey who was working at the agency.

By now the band had grown to a …" 


Tom Long added in a comment recently

Hi Trev,

Thought you might like to know this, as a addition to The Mad Classix story.

On Saturday 29/9/2012, Brian Fowdrey, the saxman and founder member of The Classix wed his partner of many years.
The original members of the band got together (minus the singer, who died a while back), and gave a half hour performance.
I had the honour of performing with them, as Gerry, their drummer hadn't played for over 30 years! We persuaded Gerry to play a couple of numbers with them, though.
Ironically, the first gig I did with Jason and the Canaenites was as support for The Classix, at The General Wolfe in Foleshill back in the 60’s!

Cheers, Tom Lane





Mad Classix with Bev Jones. Pic via Pete Chambers Godiva Rocked to a Backbeat













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