Promising band's tragedy.
THE year 1967 was in many ways a special one for the UK.
England was basking in the glory of the football World Cup win of the previous year, Radio 1 was launched at 7am on Saturday September 30 with The Move's 'Flowers in The Rain' being the first record played and the first transmissions of colour TV pictures were being broadcast. This remarkable year also saw The Beatles release their iconic Sgt Pepper's album, Pink Floyd released their debut LP and Mick Jagger and Keith Richards were both jailed for possession of drugs. Locally, Coventry City was promoted to the old First Division (nowadays known as The Premier) and later that same year Jimmy Hill announced that he was standing down as manager.
What was happening nationally was being felt locally particularly by the youth at that time. It was a time of hope, inspiration and expression.
Many beat bands had sprung up in and around Coventry during the mid 1960s. But for one Kenilworth based band 1967 would have a tragic outcome with far reaching consequences and, for some, life would always be tinged with sadness.
The previous year, 1966, had seen the formation of 'The 'Trane' named after jazz saxophonist John Coltrane who, along with Miles Davis and others, was a pioneer of 'free jazz' that inspired many a musician back then and continues to do so today.
The 'Trane were John Green on lead guitar, Nigel Maltby rhythm guitar, Laurie French drums, Geoff Timms bass and John 'Ned' Foyle vocals. John, Nigel and 'Ned' had all been school friends at Kenilworth Grammar. Laurie had met John Green through John's brother while Geoff was a friend and near neighbour of Ned's.
After this coming together through their shared passion for music they practised hard as a unit and eventually felt confident enough to perform live. Stratford Rugby Club was the venue for their first gig and by spring 1967 they had secured their first paid gig at the nearby Chesford Grange Hotel as support to Coventry band 'From the Sun'.
However, just when things had been looking good for the band and everything was beginning to come together, tragedy struck. On August 10, 1967 both Ned and Geoff, aged 18 and 19 respectively, were killed after the Bedford van they had been travelling in crashed head on with a lorry. The pair had been on their way to Hampton in Arden for band discussions and the accident happened just outside of Balsall Common.
According to a police statement at that time: "For some reason the van veered to the offside of the road while travelling toward Stonebridge'. It collided head-on with the seven ton lorry which was un-laden'. This was a very bad accident on a bad stretch of road."
And had it not been for the fact that he had made an on the spur of the moment decision to take a holiday down in Cornwall then John Green may very well have been on that fateful trip.
The band decided to regroup and later the same year recruited the services of Bill Fielding on bass while John Green took over vocal duties.
During their short career The 'Trane played a total of 55 gigs at venues like The Cheylesmore Pub (who once advertised them as The Train), The Navigation, The Plough on London Road and The Hotel Leofric.
Their set, typically, included songs by The Yardbirds, The Troggs, The Kinks and The Small Faces along with the more bluesy music of Chuck Berry, Howlin Wolf and John Mayall's Bluesbreakers whose tune 'Lookin Back' contains John Green's favourite guitar solo.
The 'Trane even secured a support slot to The Jeff Beck Group who appeared in Rugby on December 30, 1967. Later that same evening The Jeff Beck Group who included Ronnie Wood and Rod Stewart also appeared at The Matrix Hall in Coventry.
But after the accident things were never quite the same again. The original spirit of the band had been lost and in 1968, shortly after gigs at the Co-op Hall in Nuneaton and further gigs at The Cheylesmore, The 'Trane split up.
John Green, after a break from music, took up guitar again and performed with bands like Flat Stanley and Sugarcane. Nigel Maltby moved to the peace and tranquility of Cornwall while Laurie French trained to be a teacher. However the last few years have seen both Laurie and John strike up their musical partnership in The Skyline Band and both are now writing and recording their own song compositions in John's state of the art home recording studio.
John Green himself leaves us with these last wonderful words: "What we all thought at the time to be a passing fad was actually a bug whose bite would last a lifetime. There is a whole generation of us 60s muso's out there who still get a huge kick out of the music of that era and some of us are lucky enough to be still making and performing it."
Oh, and one last fact of an event that also happened during the year 1967 - the world lost John Coltrane.
John Green's music website
TRANE / SUGARCANE
So in the Summer of 1966 we form a band with myself on lead guitar; Nigel Maltby, a school pal on rhythm guitar; Ned Foyle on vocals; Laurie French on drums and Geoff Timms on (home made) bass. We call ourselves "The ‘Trane" after John Coltrane the jazz saxophonist, emulating the Yardbirds who took their name from the sobriquet of another jazz saxophonist, Charlie Parker.
Spring 1967 and we play our largest gig so far at the Chesford Grange Hotel where we’re the support act on a double bill. Our fee: a princely £12.50 for two one-hour sets, £2.50 each. We come a poor second to the other band "From The Sun" and Ned and I lose our voices from not having a loud enough PA. It was as they say, a learning experience. The lead guitarist of the main band kindly points out to me after the gig that I need to use thinner strings in place of the ‘steel hawser’ tape wound variety I was using. I didn’t know that it was the judicious bending of light gauge strings that was enabling Eric Clapton, Jeff Beck et al to get those sweet bluesy sounds I liked. Not only was there a paucity of guitar tutorial books, there was no such thing as guitar magazines so we all lived in our own bubble of knowledge and didn’t know how others got their sounds.
I’ve finished school now and some non-band friends ask me to join them on a short camping holiday in Cornwall. On the spur of the moment I decide to go. The band had been thinking of approaching a girl we knew who we’d thought might make a good lead singer in the band and whilst I'm away Ned and Geoff decide to drive over to see her and discuss it. Together they set off towards Hampton In Arden on 10th August 1967 and just outside Balsall Common crash head-on into a lorry and both are killed outright. Ned was 18 and Geoff 19.
If I hadn’t decided to go to Cornwall on a whim I would have been with Ned and Geoff. There but for fortune. The condition of the van may have been a factor. A month earlier Ned and Geoff had holidayed together in Wales and Geoff had sent me a prescient postcard saying “..van’s OK (touch wood)..”
We reform the band in the autumn, bringing in Bill Fielding from Coventry on bass, but things aren’t the same and the line-up folds a year later in mid-1968. There's a highlight in the last months however, when we play support to the Jeff Beck Group in Rugby on 30th December 1967. Jeff Beck is my favourite guitarist and I can't believe our luck.
It's 1973, I'm 25 and a qualified Chartered Accountant. I own a nice Les Paul Deluxe gold top and it’s the best guitar I’ve ever had, although one day I drop it and it suffers catastrophic damage of the headstock. But I send it off to Rosetti, the Gibson importers, and thanks to an insurance claim I get it back faultlessly repaired and re-sprayed in a beautiful sunburst. I then wish I'd kept the gold top finish.
The band, at first called "Flat Stanley" after a character in a children's book, and then "Sugarcane" plays on and off for the next thirteen years during which time we endure at least five different drummers, until Laurie returns from his Halifax exile in 1977; five bass players and three different second guitarists.