Revised May, 2015Mick Adkins lead guitar, vocal (left in 1965)
This Birmingham group developed from a band called The Sundowners who formed in the late 1950s. In early 1964, The Sundowners became The Chads and changed their format to an American blues-based sound, thus joining some of the first local groups to play this style of music. The Chads will be forever immortalized in classic rock history as one of the earliest bands to feature future E.L.O. front-man Jeff Lynne.
Abandoning their former image as a rock 'n' roll band/beat group, The Chads (previously known as The Sundowners) picked up a pile of imported American blues records from the Diskery record shop in Birmingham and began learning their new sets as a blues band. Names like Willie Dixon, Sonny Boy Williamson and Muddy Waters were little known in Britain at that time (at least outside of London) but these artists along with those who played similar material that could be heard on Radio Luxembourg, were the inspiration for The Chads "new" sound. There were already some Brum bands pioneering blues and R&B music - most famously The Moody Blues and The Spencer Davis Group - but generally it was not so popular in the Midlands as it was in London. Most local groups at that time were still styled on Cliff Richard & The Shadows or The Beatles.
In April of 1964, The Chads went to the Hollick & Taylor recording studio to try out their new sound and preserve it on vinyl. The group recorded some original compositions including 'Cry Over You' and 'Lonely Child' that were cut onto a limited number of discs (12 in total). You must remember that back in those days, to record in a professional studio and have your efforts pressed onto a disc was a very big thing indeed and certainly an exciting event for any group.
There were few venues in Birmingham at that time receptive to the blues style of music so The Chads concentrated on getting bookings on the University circuit and playing venues as far away as Coventry and Wales. However, the Brum Cavern located under a coffee bar down Summer Lane was a regular spot for The Chads where the cramped and smoky cellar was always packed with an appreciative audience.
Transportation to these gigs for the group and their equipment was provided by an old Bedford Dormobile van that also doubled as emergency overnight accommodation for the group on several occasions! As some of the members still held day-jobs they would be dropped off at home in the early hours of the morning. Lead guitarist Mick Adkins also worked by day as an electrical apprentice but luckily his employer allowed him to have Mondays off which came in handy if the group had a Sunday booking.
The Chads had an agent named Vince Martin from Coventry who found some supposedly lucrative bookings for the group in France at U.S. Army and Air Force bases. There was a catch though. The group would have to hire a female lead singer as was a condition for the gigs so after a number of auditions, Pauline Shepherd was selected for the role. Thus in September of 1964, The Chads departed on the ferry to France for their "big adventure" on the Continent. After arriving in Dunkirk, the band spent the night in less than desirable accommodations before setting off the next day in their van for Toul army base near Verdun.
The 250 mile journey across France proved arduous. The van broke down during the rainy night with a flat battery but after much pushing and persuasion, they finally made it to their destination by the first light of the following morning. The group booked two rooms (one room for Pauline and the other shared by the rest of the band) in a cheap hotel which according to Mick Adkins; "Was full of prostitutes and a collection of crooks, pimps, and the most villainous bunch you could ever wish to meet! This was our home for the next six weeks."
The Chads performed several hours a night, six nights a week at the enlisted GI's club on the base. The best nights were when the GIs got paid as they would then buy the band drinks and supply them with cigarettes. Pauline, the singer also did pretty well said Mick. "For a pack of cigarettes, we would introduce her to some love-sick GI and then leave it up to them!". Although The Chads on-stage performances went down well at the base, their dreams of earning lots of money soon evaporated. The band was paid only occasionally so eventually, and after much frustration, The Chads departed Toul for what they considered a better paying gig at an army base near Paris.
Accommodation at The Chads' new booking were if anything, worse than at Toul. Unable to afford a hotel room, the group at first slept in their van and then in the camp gymnasium for a couple of nights until they were discovered and escorted off the base by military police. For The Chads, any lingering thoughts of finding fame and fortune in France had by now disappeared so the disillusioned group returned to the U.K. in time for Christmas 1964.
Keith Warrender and Mick Adkins decided to leave The Chads shortly after they had returned from France. Mick gave up his music career to settle down and get married in February 1965. He sold his Fender Stratocaster guitar for 50 pounds and became an electrician full-time. The remaining Chads decided to continue and searched for replacement members. Auditions were held at a scout hut in Acocks Green in early 1965.
Mick Adkins takes up the story; "On the day of the audition, loads of guitarists turned up - most of them were crap. The band were packing up and about to go home as it was pissing down with rain when a young guitarist rolled up - late and soaked to the skin with his guitar in a plastic shopping bag. He had taken the bus all the way from Shard End. The lads felt sorry for him so they set up the gear again to give him a try. It was obvious to them even then that he was good so he joined them that night". The name of the guitarist was Jeff Lynne whose previous group was The Andicaps.
The re-constituted group were also joined by keyboard player Margaret Reiss whose addition helped change the sound of the band considerably. This new line-up recorded tracks at Tettlows Recording Studio in Birmingham during 1965. The material selected included Willie Dixon's 'Preaching The Blues', a version of Booker T's famous instrumental 'Green Onions', and a couple of original numbers composed by bass guitarist Joe parsons. While rough, the recordings are certainly significant as being the earliest known to feature Jeff Lynne who played lead guitar on them. A very limited number of acetates were cut and the only surviving copy known to exist today was held by Mick Adkins.
The interesting group photo of The Chads shown here has (from left to right) bassist Joe Parsons, drummer Keith Harrison, lead vocalist John Williams, Jeff Lynne (still playing his 'Burns Sonic' guitar from the Andicaps days), and organist Margaret Reiss. Jeff still wasn't doing vocals on-stage at that time. This historic photo was originally shown on Mick Adkins 'Chads & Sundowners' web site and has since been published in Laurie Hornsby's excellent book 'Brum Rocked On!'
The Chads line-up continued until about September 1966 when Jeff Lynne left to play a few gigs with a Coventry band called 'John Williams and The Classix' before he decided to turn fully 'pro' and joined Mike Sheridan's group The Nightriders (soon to become The Idle Race). The remaining Chads threw in the towel not long after when their van was broken into and their equipment stolen. So ends the story of The Chads - although maybe not quite the end as you will see.
Former Chads guitarist Jeff Lynne went on to fame and fortune in the 1970s with The Move and then fronting the massively successful Electric Light Orchestra (E.L.O.). Jeff was later in the acclaimed Traveling Wilburys line up that also included Roy Orbison, George Harrison, Bob Dylan and Tom Petty. He has written loads of well-known songs, produced records by many famous musicians (and the list goes on), but all that is of course another story!
Mick Adkins could not stay away from music for too long and so went back to playing guitar in 1969 when he joined a part-time band called 'Fruit and Nuts' who played the local clubs. They were later joined by dynamic Brum vocalist Brenda Bosworth along with a new group line-up that included drummer Keith Warrender and bass guitarist Joe Parsons thus forming a Chads re-union of sorts. The band were quite successful locally and became well known on the club circuit for a number of years.
Most of the various Sundowners/Chads members kept in touch with each other and there were occasional re-unions of the group. Mick Adkins had also preserved the history of The Sundowners/Chads on his own website in the 1990s - one of the first sites to be dedicated to a 1960s Brum group who were known only locally. Sadly, Mick passed away in June of 2007 from lung cancer caused by exposure to asbestos dust during his long career as an electrician.
Thanks to Mick Adkins for assistance in writing this page. This biography of The Chads is dedicated to the memory of Mick Adkins.
To hear a short sound clip of Mick Adkins and The Chads, click HERE
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Copyright © 2010 John R Woodhouse