Glastonbury is just finishing as I write this. I’ve watched some of it on TV – how different and yet how similar is this event to days long gone by. As I watched my memories sneaked back. ‘You would have loved this’ they said. I think I agree with them – but what did I do? What are my memories?
As a member of the younger generation my chances of seeing ‘named’ singers perform live was limited to parental choice – a choice that was not necessarily ‘me’. During the winter we would go as part of a coach trip to London: Christmas shopping during the day, a ‘show’ in the evening – usually at the London Palladium. It was in this loop that, in the winter of 1956, I saw Mitchell Torok telling us about ‘When Mexico gave up the Rhumba’ and not much else apart from a horrible version of ‘The Banana Boat song’. ‘Where are you when I need you Harry Belafonte’ still echos in my mind. I saw a much better, and very funny, version of that performed at Butlins’ the following summer when the Redcoats did a fantastic copy of Stan Freberg right down to a jump through the window. (If you remember this you are may-be older than you let on – if you are too young or just want to hear it again you can listen to the Stan Freberg version on YouTube right now.) I also saw ex Butlins Redcoat Russ Hamilton promising that ‘We will make love’ in 1957 – not to me fella but I suspect Mum would not have minded. Miki and Griff performed ‘for us’ many times – the last time being in 1962 when their ‘Little Bitty Tear’ was in the charts.
On my personal journey into ‘youth acceptable’ music ‘Six-five Special’ was a step in the right direction; ‘Oh Boy’ was better, but I wanted to ‘feel’ the excitement. It was when Larry Parnes took an assembly of home grown performers with names like Duffy Power, Marty Wilde and Vince Eager on tour that I began to hear ‘the real thing’. I also remember an Elvis impersonator called Cliff Richard! With an active village youth club, and a leader who understood us teenagers, we had trips out to see these whenever they were around. We travelled to Bedford and Cambridge to see them but it was at the Letchworth Broadway cinema theatre in late summer 1960 that one of the ‘home grown’ performers imprinted himself on my mind forever.
The house lights went down, the stage curtain was drawn across and the narrow front of stage was dimly lit. The place was silent as a spotlight picked out the right-hand side of the empty stage and into the light stepped a slight figure. He started to sing, ‘I’ve found a place full of charms, a magic world in my baby’s arms, a soft embrace like satin and lace ……… a Wondrous Place.‘ He held the audience silently mesmerised through the whole number – then the place erupted. I was hooked. This was what live performance was all about and this track still sends a chill down my spine when I play it at home or hear it in the car. Ronald Wycherley – a.k.a Billy Fury – thank you.
Later that year I finally got to see a couple of ‘world’ stars at London’s Elephant & Castle theatre. Duane Eddy, sounding just as he did on my records, standing stock still and playing his ‘Twangy Guitar’ with a raucous saxophone in support. The star of the show was Bobby Darin who began his act with ‘Splish Splash’, moved on to ‘Dream Lover’ and then into his ‘new’ swing style numbers like ‘Mack the Knife’, ‘Beyond the Sea’ and ‘Clementine’. The sections of the audience that wanted rock barracked him. Me? I began to see a companion to rock. Darin stopped the barracking by thanking the audience for their requests but, if they didn’t mind, he intended to stay for a while longer! I just admired the class of the man – rock and pop singers just did not talk back to their audiences then.
Great memories but, at the time, these were all ‘remote’ experiences. There was space between them and me. It wasn’t until some of our group got cars, or were allowed to borrow the family car, that we were no longer limited to organised coach outings. A favourite haunt not far from home was the Kayser-Bondor lingerie factory in Baldock – now a Tesco supermarket. There they had regular dance nights in the canteen with local and ‘named’ performers.
One of the ‘names’ was Vince Taylor. He never made it into the UK charts but was a great stage presence. Performing Elvis, Edddie Cochran and Chuck Berry numbers he was just what I needed to counteract the ‘soft’ music of 1963. I was a ‘listener’, not a dancer, and always tried to get close enough to the stage to ‘feel’ the performance. A number of times in that year I was inches from rock and roll heaven.
One particular night, though, is etched deeply in my memories. It matches my ‘Billy Fury’ experience, but in a very different way. As I sat on the edge of a low stage, a couple of hundred souls swirled and jived until they were ready to drop. I had no wish to join them because just a step away from me was an icon in black leather with one leg in an iron support and using the mike stand as added support. He epitomised everything that rock and roll had been. By now this performer was on a downward career slope but live, and in full flow in a crowded hall, Eugene Vincent Craddock just could not be bettered. He was still an exhilarating performer. On this night I had made sure I was there early, and got as close to the stage as possible. Once there I was difficult to shift and managed to end up sitting on the edge of the stage as he – Gene Vincent – opened the show with ‘Dance to the Bop’.. Heaven.
A motor-bike accident in 1955 had left him with his left leg in callipers, and made worse in the 1960 car accident which caused the death of Eddie Cochrane. I cannot remember now if he was closing with ‘Be Bop A Lula’ or ‘Race with the Devil’ but whatever it was I was now sitting right on the stage – while he, with callipered leg and mike stand accentuating the beat – dominated it.
He and I were oblivious to everything except the sound – when my right hand got in his way. It was supporting me when Gene Vincent wished to step there. He won and it hurt – but I didn’t feel it until I got home. Anyway – being stomped on by Gene Vincent in full flow was a small price to pay for being able to say to people of a certain age that ‘I have been on stage with Gene Vincent’. If they probe further I have to admit that it is more accurate to say that ‘Gene Vincent stepped on my fingers in a ladies’ underwear factory’. Whichever way it is said – that was the moment that I really was in Rock ‘n’ Roll heaven.
BUT …. I would have been in a second ‘second heaven’ if I could have been sitting in a similar place on Dolly Parton’s stage while she was conquering Glastonbury this Sunday at Glastonbury.