Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Beverley Jones and Ricky Lee - Coventry Singers of Note

Recently Coventry lost another outstanding local artist Beverley Jones. Peter Clemons details the rise of her career in the 60's and that of the closely associated Ricky Lee, in another of his Coventry Telegraph articles.

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Sixties singer Beverley was so close to greatness

ROCK fan and regular contributor Pete Clemons charts the career of Coventry singer Beverley Jones, who died this month.

Pete, from Keresley, said the Sixties starlet never hit the bigtime her talent deserved.

IT was sad to read about the recent passing of Beverley Jones, the Coventry singer who cut several 45 rpm singles and who had, early in her career, styled herself on little miss dynamite Brenda Lee, yet had her own very distinctive voice.

After winning a local talent competition, Beverley had a brief stint with local band Johnny and the Rebels who at that time included Johnny Miles on guitar, Johnny Gibbons on bass and Nigel Lomas on drums.

She first began to perform solo at pubs like The Craftsman and The Pilot during Sunday lunchtimes between noon and 2pm. This was early 1962 and she was going out under the name 'Beverley'. But this was soon changed and by April she began to use the name of Jackie Lane. However, and just as quickly, she had to revert back to her birth name when it was come to light that an American actress shared the same name.

During 1963 Beverley spent a lot of time in London recording three of her singles beginning with 'The Boy I Saw With You (I Know Him Well)' c/w 'When It Comes To Love' for the HMV label in January of that year.

Her other two singles that year were 'Why Do Lovers Break Each Other's Heart' c/w 'I'm Just An In-between' and 'Wait Til My Bobby Gets Home' c/w 'A Boy Like You'. Again, both records were recorded and released by His Masters Voice.

At that time there were an awful lot of great female singers about. Whether that was a factor, maybe it was due to bad publicity, or maybe it was just simple plain bad luck but the singles were never great sellers. It is, however, very fair to say that at the time Beverley was within touching distance of greatness.

Another local performer who became very popular during the 1960s was Ricky Lee. His first band, The Atlantics included at that time future The Sorrows guitarist Pip Whitcher in their ranks.

Ricky then became known as Johnny Ransom and joined the Rebels, when they were formed during 1960. This was the same Rebels as mentioned above but at that time the band included Ricky on vocals, Johnny Miles, guitar and brothers Joe Kerrigan and Andy Kerrigan. The Rebels played venues such as The Co-op club located at the Forum on Walsgrave Road and the GEC ballroom.

In 1963 there was another band and another name change for Ricky. This turned out to be a very busy period as Ricky Lee, now Ricky Dawson, joined one of Don Fardons early bands the Millionaires.

Ricky Dawson and the Millionaires secured an awful lot of gigs throughout that year at venues like the Heath Hotel, The Pilot, The Walsgrave and The Hawthorn Tree.

By January 1964 Beverley had also joined the Millionaires. And together Beverley and Ricky quickly became known as the Duke and Duchess and judging by the number of gigs they performed together during that year they must have been incredibly popular.

At their peak the Duke and Duchess were playing lunchtime and evening sessions on both Saturdays and Sundays.

During that year Beverley's set list began to change. Groups were suddenly the fashion and rather than just sing Brenda Lee and Phil Spector type numbers she also began to belt out the songs of The Rolling Stones and The Animals.

The idea of being in a group then led her to answering an advert for a singer to be teamed up with a group.

This was opposed to her previously singing against a big band.

After a successful audition there was yet another trip to London. This time it was to record single number four with a group called The Preston's for the Parlophone label. The single was released during October 1964 and was titled Heatwave c/w Hear You Talking. Again it failed to sell well.

After that venture Beverley joined Coventry band The Mad Classix (Classics). The Classix had formed a few years earlier and now decided that they needed a female singer to front the band. The band toured Germany and this led to valuable road experience. But it also led to homesickness. 

By this time Ricky Dawson had reverted back to Ricky Lee and was now fronting a band called The Falcons.

They were very popular, not only in Coventry, but also in the pubs and clubs throughout the Midlands.

This band continued through to the end of the 1970s.

After a period of family life, which by all accounts was incredibly important to her, Beverley made a comeback in 1976 with a band called The Formula Five.

The Formula Five were another hard gigging local band and even managed to get onto the TV show New Faces. Apart from charity and other various appearances Beverley's career tailed off.

However for Ricky, arguably, his greatest achievement was yet to come. After stepping back from the music scene during the 1980s and 1990s he began to record again.

In fact he put together several CDs at studios in Dudley near to where he had moved. And during 2008 his single 'Please Remember Me' reached number 4 in the German charts. Sadly Ricky passed away during the early part of 2011.

Sometimes in life incredible coincidences happen. And, in hindsight, on Friday 26th February 2010 one such occurrence arguably happened.

At the annual 'Call up the Groups' event organised by Vince Martin and the Phoenix rock 'n' roll group and held at Christ the King church hall both Beverley and Ricky made appearances albeit separately. Beverley in particular, was in astonishing form.

As Beverley once famously said 'once you've been a performer, it gets in your blood. There's always gonna be a time when you'll do it again'. Both their respective families and friends will, of course, feel as though they have a loss within them which can never be replaced but both can rest assured in the knowledge that the legacy that they left behind will be remembered for years to come.

Lots of tracks on Youtube - here are some including Heatwave

Friday, July 20, 2012

The History of the Kasbah (Orchid Ballroom)

Peter Clemons - from the Coventry Telegraph. This time the fascinating history of the Orchid Ballroom - now the Kasbah.

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100 years of entertainment at landmark 
city building.

ROCK fan and regular contributor Pete Clemons charts the history of a building which has provided films, ballroom dancing and live music over nearly half a century.

Pete, from Keresley, looks at the forerunners to the Kasbah, including The Globe Picture Theatre, Majestic and Orchard Ballrooms, and the Tic Toc .

THE venue that we currently know and love as the Kasbah is soon to be 100 years old and is one of the oldest and most enduring entertainment rooms in the city.

Situated at 51 Primrose Hill Street, this incredibly proud looking building first opened as the Globe Picture Theatre in 1914. Quite incredible when you think about it now but at the time it was one of four cinemas in Hillfields alone. Movies were shown within it for more than 40 years until it closed in 1956. The venue was then re opened in 1957 as the Majestic Ballroom.

The Majestic, in the main, had resident big bands such as the Wylie Price Orchestra augmented with singer Jean Hudson. Fridays and Saturdays were advertised as evenings of modern dance. Although during the afternoons you could attend rock 'n' roll dances and learn to jive to band and disc. These sessions continued until July 1961. The venue was then taken over by the Mecca organisation that spent the rest of the year rebuilding and redecorating. During early 1962 announcements began to appear that bookings were now being taken at the renovated building with its luxurious decor and modern amenities. 

March of that year the venue opened as The Orchid Ballroom.

Initially the venue held beat, gala nights and bingo but The Orchid quickly became the premier venue for Irish entertainment. The show bands had now arrived and they were led by the likes of Johnny Flynn, Hank Locklin, Maurice Lynch and Jack Ruane.

Early 1963 and the Orchid Ballroom had now come under the control of entertainer and entrepreneur Larry Page. Larry had actually been a pop star in his own right, having toured with Cliff Richard and the Shadows and became known as the 'teenage rage'. Page retired from performing at the end of the 1950s and joined Mecca as a consultant manager.

During his stay in Coventry he hosted many Sunday night talent contests and had even managed to get record deals for local artists Johnny B Great and the Goodmen, Shel Naylor and The Avengers.

He even discovered and created an all girl group, The Orchids, who legend has it, were named after the venue. The Orchids, along with the bands named above all signed to Decca records and all had several minor hits on that label, although The Avengers had, by then, become The Mighty Avengers when their singles were released.

His time in Coventry was relatively short. The Orchid ballroom had, by now, become a magnet for some of the most influential record producers and music publishers of the early Sixties. Both Phil Solomon, of Decca records, and Edward Kassner , of President records, were both serious players in the music industry back then and their remit was to entice Larry back to London.

Of course they succeeded but the legacy he left us with was long lasting and continues to impress today. After he left Coventry during 1964 Larry then went on to manage The Troggs and The Kinks and, of course, set up his own Page One record label and later The Penny Farthing label.

From the mid Sixties the emphasis switched from beat to 'pop' music but throughout all this change the Irish 32 club continued through till the end of the 1960s when, as a music venue, the Orchid Ballroom closed its doors.

After that the venue became a bingo hall. And then some years later the venue closed for good and lay dormant.

That was until during the very late 1980s when Jon Gaunt began to breathe new life into the building.

Jon had founded a co-operative theatre company called Tic Toc. The theatre company, along with its other spin offs had performed at other venues within the city such as the Coventry University and at Hertford Place but now wanted its own permanent home.

The company received funding from West Midlands Arts and the Arts Council of Britain. With this money they bought and renovated the disused and now derelict hall. It reopened in 1990 as The Tic Toc Club. Looking back the Tic Toc Club had an illustrious history albeit a short -lived one. The Britpop scene was then in its infancy and the club captured the magic of those early days by playing host to Blur and the Ocean Colour Scene.

The Tic Toc also embraced the buildings earlier history by naming its two rooms the orchid suite and the majestic ballroom.

The Tic Toc club even teamed up with the Coventry Telegraph music column 'Street Talk' to bring some valuable exposure to the local scene at the time with performances by Splash With Sonya, The Giraffes, The Bonediggers and many others.

For a brief while in 1993 the venue became known as Antics and played host to future internationally important bands like Porcupine Tree and Ultramarine but by early 1994 it was all over.

But it did not remain closed for too long as it soon re-opened as The Colosseum.

The Colly, as it was fondly known as, opened in 1995 and initially concentrated on the dance scene holding regular themed nights such as Fundamental and the Groovy Garden which began at the Dog and Trumpet in the early 1980s and still continues today.

However, by the turn of the century it had established itself as an incredibly important live venue for local bands and also attracted future household names like The Libertines, The Arctic Monkeys and Keane as its fame widened.

During late 2007 and after around 12 years The Colosseum was refurbished and re-launched as its current incarnation The Kasbah. The Kasbah is very popular with Coventry's strong student base and holds a weekly mix of club nights along with regular live bands.

As a live venue the Kasbah has built on the successful foundations of the Colly and is also well established on the national touring map. Recent highlights include Cage the Elephant, La Roux and Noah and the Whale.

One hundred years of history is an astounding feat for any building nowadays. Let's hope, after this future landmark birthday, that it continues to grow for years to come.

Monday, July 2, 2012

Mr George's

Pete Clemons article from the Coventry Telegraph.

When two nightclubs ruled the city's music scene.

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When two nightclubs ruled city's music scene; ROCK fan and regular contributor Pete Clemons looks back to when two rival nightclubs dominated the live music scene in Coventry. Pete, from Keresley, charts the heyday of Mr George and the City Centre Club which were a magnet to revelers eager to see both local and national bands. past up The The 8 dispatches. Club YOUR nostalgia.

IF you ever get chatting about past nightclubs that once existed 'up town' then names such as The Locarno, The Pink Parrot, The Zodiac, The Top Spot and the After 8 club will always crop up into conversation.

Two other clubs will almost certainly be mentioned in despatches.

These are Mr George's Club and the City Centre Club.

In terms of live music these clubs were arguably two of the most important ever to have opened in Coventry.

It could be said that The Locarno/Tiffany's was equally as important if not more so. And of course this was true. But The Locarno/Tiffany's was a part of the greater national Mecca Leisure chain and, as such, I feel it deserves to be spoken about in its own right, as I did last week.

During their heyday Mr George's and the City Centre Club went almost head to head as they tried to entice clubbers through their doors. But both were also to be applauded for the way they booked national and local bands and at the same time having to handle the ever changing styles of music that, looking back was a challenging part of the 1970s.

Progressive, cabaret, rock, disco, punk and new wave were all catered for during their period of existence.

Mr George's was tucked in the corner of the building complex where the recently closed TJ Hughes and the Co-op meet in the Lower Precinct.

It first opened its doors as a club in November 1972. Its owner was the infamous Glaswegian, George Hendry, whose first involvement with the city came when he bought a share in the former Savoy building on the Radford Road. George of course became quite visible around town when out and about in his distinctive Rolls Royce complete with the famous COV1 number plate. 

The first major band to play 'Georges' came in early December 1972 was Sarah Gordon and Little Free Rock. The initial format was that one band played during the first half of the week with another band taking over and going into the weekend.

The venue was playing host to live music for as many as six evenings a week.

Two years later, in December 1974, and in direct competition to 'Georges', the City Centre Club was opened in Tower Street. The run up to Christmas saw a series of concerts by Billy J Kramer, The Searchers and Jimmy James and the Vagabonds.

It too ran on a similar format of two bands per week each given up to three evenings.

Their residencies included the likes of Gerry and the Pacemakers, Shakin' Stevens and the Sunsets, Billy Fury and were as varied as Mac and Katie Kissoon and Cavan and the Rhythm Rockers. But both clubs were not afraid to take risks as they staged one-off concerts by the then relatively unknown bands such as Thin Lizzy, Slade, Motorhead and The Sex Pistols. Of course a lot of these events are now a part of Coventry legend.

As music trends changed both venues broadened out to first of all share live music, and then totally change direction, to become fully blown discotheques. The 'disco's' were, at that time, incredibly popular due in no small part to the commercial success of 'Saturday Night Fever' - the film that significantly helped to popularise disco music around the world.

However all good things, as they say, come to an end and with financial pressures and a host of other issues bearing down Mr George's began to encounter difficulties. The club struggled on with live music and May 1978 saw the last gigs at 'Georges'. Ironically the final residency was by The Coventry Automatics/The Jaywalkers who had had a Monday night slot. This was of course the short lived name for the band that would become better known as The Specials. (30p was the cost of entry for The Automatics if I remember rightly). A month later, during June, the doors finally closed for good.

The City Centre Club faced similar problems. But it did have an attempt at expansion with a short lived partnership with The Robin Hood Club in Watch Close. It battled on till mid 1980 but, like Mr Georges, went the same way. One of the last bands to play there was rock 'n' roll outfit Matchbox.

November 1979 did see a resurgence and 'Georges' re-opened as Park Lane which, in turn, became Mr G's. Yet again, the venue saw some high times and memorable moments and for a short while became incredibly popular. Several cabaret nights were staged there. But it wasn't long before, I believe, financial problems reared their head again and time was finally called during the early 1980s.

Similarly the City Centre Club building was rebranded as The Pink Parrot and then Tamangoes. Again, as popular as all these clubs were the same final fate awaited them.

This was not the end for George Hendry. His empire expanded to places like London, Paris and Majorca and continued to be known 'king of the clubs' until he passed away during 2008 aged 77.

I am sure that Mr Georges and the City Centre Club will hold fond memories for some. And that a lot of people will have their own recollections and thoughts. But the legacy of these two clubs will last for years to come.