Wednesday, May 7, 2014

The Pickwicks

Pete Clemons visitation to the Coventry music scene once again - this time with a Coventry Telegraph article on Tony Martin's Echo Four and The Pickwicks - both managed by Larry Page c 1963 / 64. 

There's also a an article by Pete Chambers on this post and a link to Leah D' Archy's article on Pickwick musician John Miles.

Pickwicks were frock and roll.
By Pete Clemons

ONE of the earliest of the Coventry beat bands was Tony Martin and the Echo Four. They formed during the early part of 1963 and the original line-up doing the circuit back then was Tony Lucas (AKA Tony Martin) on vocals, Mac Watts lead guitar, Alan Gee rhythm guitar, Rod Simpson bass guitar and Malcolm Jenkins on drums.

They were a relatively short-lived band but during 1963 Tony Martin and the Echo Four played well over 100 gigs in our region alone. The earliest dates I can find being at The Binley Oak in Paynes Lane which was one of the earliest venues to regularly put on 'rock and twist' nights. The band soon found their popularity growing and quickly got themselves on the circuit that included venues such as The Baginton Oak, The Craftsman, The Heath Hotel, Coventry Flying Club and many others.

Tony Martin and the Echo Four were highly rated for their musical ability and, after around a year or so, came to the attention of Larry Page who, at that time, was in control of entertainment at The Orchid Ballroom. I am guessing though that he had his own ideas about them and in what direction they should take.

One mystery that I do have concerns the discovery of a few dates I have made by a spin-off band called The Bandits who apparently featured Tony Martin. These gigs occurred toward the end of 1963 at the Flying Club and The Parkstone Club. Apart from those dates I know very little about this group and I am curious to know a bit more about The Bandits along with the other musicians who made up this group.

By March 1964 and, under his guidance, Larry Page reshaped The Echo Four and re-launched them as The Pickwicks. Firstly Mac Watts, who left the band, had been replaced by John Miles  (See Leah D'Archy's enlightening article on her grandfather John Miles HERE and Tony (Martin) Lucas took on bass guitar duties as well as doubling up on vocals because Rod Simpson had also left the band.

The overhaul was completed with a final line-up of John Miles (vocals and lead guitar), Alan Gee (rhythm guitar), Tony Martin (bass) and Malcolm Jenkins (drums).

The Pickwicks, through Larry Page, obtained a residency at The Orchid Ballroom and they also gained a recording contract with Decca Records. Their first single was released during May 1964. It was a "beat" version of a song made some forty years previous which they called 'Apple Blossom Time.'.

* The original, '(I'll Be With You) In Apple Blossom Tim',' was a popular song in its day written by Albert Von Tilzer and lyricist Neville Fleeson, and first copyrighted in 1920. The song has been recorded by numerous artists including Artie Shaw, Nat King Cole, Jo Stafford, Anne Shelton and many others.

In keeping with the Charles Dick-k ens theme the band had a photo shoot where they were dressed in Dickensian attire complete with top hats. But with dry cleaning and the pressing of this gear, in particular the frilled shirts, taking up to a week and a half it proved to be totally impractical.

Johnny Miles sang lead vocal on The Pickwicks version of 'Apple Blossom Time' and it and was given a B-side titled 'I Don't Wanna Tell You Again'. The matrix number for the single was Decca 1964 - F11901 but, despite the publicity, it failed to hit the charts.

So by the time the second single, 'Your Old Enough',' was released the band had reverted back to a more orthodox stage dress. On its release it was described in the local press as 'a throbbing rhythm and blues sound led by vocalist John Miles who also comes over well on the flipside 'Hello Lady'.

Incidentally 'Your Old Enough',' Decca 1964 - F11957, was released during August '64 and was specially written for the band by songwriter Michael Julian who had also written Cliff Richard's hit 'Constantly'.

The Pickwicks, although playing a lot of dates in and around Coventry, seemed to spend a lot of their time on the road playing many dates around the country. There are plenty of tales to tell that involved incidents with their van overheating, breaking down on the M1 and such like.

The band's third and final single was released in January 1965. This one was titled 'Little by Little' and was released on the Warner Brothers label. Its matrix number was WB151 and produced by Larry Page himself. Its B-side 'I Took My Baby Home' is an early Ray Davies song and the original version can be found on the B-side of The Kinks' first single 'Long Tall Sally'. It was widely reported that future Led Zeppelin guitarist, Jimmy Page, played lead guitar on the single but some reports I have read deny it.

The Pickwicks eventually split up in March 1965. Maybe The Kinks and his latest find, The Troggs, were now uppermost in manager Larry Page's thoughts. But it seems that the group had not been getting the amount of work they expected.

Tony Martin, as well as working as a driver, went on to join a band called The Clouds alongside both Roger and Nigel Lomas. Alan Gee worked for Alfred Herberts. John Miles and drummer Malcolm Jenkins had hoped to form another group. I am not sure if this ever happened but Malcolm did have continued success when he resurfaced with The Ray King Soul Band appearing on their Live at the Playboy Club album.

The story of The Pickwicks did not end there though. Even after the band called it a day their legacy continued for a little while longer... well at least the band's name did.

It seems that after Coventry's Pickwicks disbanded a group of musicians based up in Manchester bought the rights to the band's name. Back in the 1960s you could easily register a name. The Manchester version of the band toured Germany and other parts of Europe. One of those band members would go on to become an agent and promoter. 

Leah D'Archy (the granddaughter of John Miles) has written a great article on John Miles and The Pickwicks. John Miles sang on The Kinks single You Really Got me! You can read Leah's article here 

Cutting via Broadgate Gnome A to Z 

The Pickwicks (R&B/Beat group)  made three singles under Larry Page in 1964 -

Apple Blossom Time - 1964 b/w I Don't Wanna Tell You  (Decca 1964 - F11901)

You're Old Enough b/w Hello Lady  (Decca 1964 - F11957)

Little by Little b/w I Took my Baby Home  (Warner Bros. 1965 - WB151)

The Pickwicks made three singles under Larry Page in 1964
This one, a B side from c1965,  was written by Ray Davies of the Kinks with - allegedly Jimmy Page on guitar.

From Broadgate Gnome 2003 
"The Pickwicks line up consisted of - John Miles (lead guitar), Alan Gee (rhythm guitar), Tony Martin (bass), Malcolm Jenkins (drums).

Started life as Tony Martin And The Echo Four, before Larry Page signed them in March 1964 and changed
their name. Initially their stage gear was top hats and tails a' la 'Pickwick Papers' , but when they couldn't find anyone to clean them, they quickly gave the image up!

They cut 3 fine singles of tough Beat/R&B, with Jimmy Page playing lead guitar on at least the first 2 of them. 'Apple Blossom Time' is a cover of the old standard with a tough backing but fairly weak vocals, whilst the B-side has a great Page guitar solo. The A-side of the second single was a ballad, but the B-side was described as '...throbbing R&B...' 'I Took My Baby Home' is an early Ray Davies song, originally released as the B-side of 'Long Tall Sally', The Kinks first single. 

They eventually split up in April 1965 with drummer Jenkins going on to join The Ray King Soul Pact / Band."

NOTE - " On Youtube Leah D'Archy
"Singles: Tony Martin and the Echo Four did NOT originate from the Pickwicks ... The Pickwicks had John Miles and he wasn't it the Echo Four ... he told me that himself ... Johnny miles is my grandad"

From Pete Chambers - Backbeat - Coventry Telegraph

" DID fabulous Coventry beat group The Pickwicks lose out on chart success because their B-sides were better than their A sides?"

TONY MARTIN and His Echo Four had been playing the local and national circuits, including a prime show at Coventry Theatre supporting Brian Poole and The Tremeloes. Local impresario Larry Page spotted them and so began the image building.

Out went the black suits and ties. In came the "Mr Pickwick" frock coats, breeches, top hats and even stick-on whiskers! It was March 1964 and The Pickwicks had completed the transformation with the line-up of John Miles (vocals and lead guitar), Alan Gee (rhythm guitar), Tony Martin (bass) and Malcolm Jenkins (drums).

With a residency at the city's Orchid Ballroom and a diary full of bookings, Larry Page secured a Decca recording contract for his boys.

Johnny Miles insisted their first single was a remake of the old classic Apple Blossom Time (the 1920s Fleeson &
Tilzer song that had been recorded by The Andrews Sisters among others).

But this was no ballad, instead it was given the big beat treatment.

"I was always influenced by the drums and bass sound that Johnny Kidd and the Pirates achieved," reveals John Miles.

"Our drummer Malc was a big guy so he could hit the skins with a lot of power."

Indeed such was the style of Malcolm Jenkins that when John heard a band long after The Pickwick days playing live, without seeing their drummer he recognised Malc just by his drumming style.

Apple Blossom Time was completed in just three takes and I Don't Want to Tell You Again was picked for the B-side.

Apple Blossom was a good song, but the B-side was a great song - a product of that time and akin to the multi-part harmonies The Beatles were doing on the likes of She Loves You and I Want to Hold Your Hand.

Johnny's fabulous pop-beat voice was more than good enough to be heard on the charts, but Apple Blossom Time was the chosen single and I Don't Want to Tell You Again never got a look-in.

Towards the end of 1964 the Pickwick Papers image had been dropped, mainly due to the fact that they couldn't get the costumes cleaned quickly enough.

John says: "It was so hard to find a cleaner who knew how to clean and press all the ruffs and frills, and when we eventually did find one, it took about a week to get them back, so it was easier to just give them up."

But The Pickwicks were more than just an image. Anyone who has ever witnessed them will know what a top-flight
freakbeat unit they were.

This was much in evidence on their second single You're Old Enough with Hello Lady on the flip.

On hearing these two tracks you start looking yet again for which is the A-side and which the B.

You're Old Enough is a good enough song, but the B-side - that's what The Pickwicks were all about.

Hello Lady (recorded in just one take) positively rocks along in a 12- bar boogie style and John's lead vocals are spot on.

I talked to him about the way the single was released, saying I couldn't understand why Hello Lady was consigned to a B-side. I felt that had it been an A-side then Coventry may well have had another hit band.

"You are right of course", explains John. "We pleaded with the management at Decca to flip the whole thing, but they were adamant and look what happened."

What happened was, like its predecessor, it failed to chart.

Despite the lack of hit-parade success, the band continued to play up and down the country. One such concert at
Bradford's Fat Black Pussycat Club was more memorable than most.

John says: "We were on stage at this smallish club, when suddenly Tony Martin started going wild. He was leaping about with his bass still playing. I was knocked out. I thought Tony's well into it tonight, this was pre- Hendrix but he was doing all his kind of stuff, going mental.

"It turned out that he had leant against some heating pipes at the back of the stage and burnt the skin off his neck, but like a good trooper he had continued to play."

In 1965 they switched labels to Warner Brothers releasing the now highly collectable single Little by Little with I Took my Baby Home (a Ray Davies/Kinks song) on the B-side. Yet again, in my opinion, a mistake.

Both songs were good but I Took my Baby Home was by far the catchier of the two.

As I said, this single is highly collectable, because all over the internet it is claimed a certain Jimmy Page played guitar on the track.

Although a great session man, the future axe-person for Led Zeppelin never played on this or any other Pickwicks
record, it was a guy called Harry Friar.

So that's just lopped pounds 50 off my copy of Little by Little!

Before 1966 The Pickwicks had split up, with Malcolm Jenkins joining The Ray King Band and Tony Martin joining Roger Lomas in The Clouds. John went on to work with The Kinks and with his idol Johnny Kidd: "He was a lovely man, I never heard him criticise anyone. Such a talent."

And then in 1988, while visiting a relation in Myton Hospice, John saw a face he barely recognised. It was Tony Martin.

"We sat and talked about the old days, it was so good to see him again. I went back a few days later with Alan Gee. We took our guitars along and sang Apple Blossom Time with Tony one last time, it was magical but so very sad.

"A month later Tony was gone, but he will never be forgotten."


HELLO LADY was written by former Harley Street specialist Michael Julien in just five minutes. He had previously
written Kiss Me, Honey Honey, Kiss Me for Shirley Bassey and Constantly for Cliff Richard.

LARRY PAGE got The Pickwicks a prime place on the bill at the Royal Albert Hall. Others playing that night included The Applejacks and Adam Faith.

Little by Little was also released on Warner Brothers in America.

Malcolm Jenkins started his drumming career with The Coventry School of Drums. " 

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