by Will Hammond of The Yamps/Traction/The Uglys
Although already recognised as one of Birmingham's finest 60's groups, there are few others that have drawn so much attention and respect in the last few years than The Uglys. In the Pop/psych revival world, the bands much vaunted "I've Seen The Light" b/w "Mary Colinto" is an anthemic classic, admired not only for the song itself but also for the guitaristry of Willie Hammond.
A founding member of manic "Beat" group The Yamps and the "brass heavy" Traction, Willie now lives in the middle of rural Spain restoring an old village farmhouse that has a small recording studio for budding songwriters who want some peace.
In line with the "early beginnings" feel of this series, Willie has chosen to take us back to his very amusing, first stage appearance when he was 12! (BrumBeat)
"For the sake of what constitutes "First Appearance", I have used the yardstick of having received a form of payment for appearing in public, in front of an audience".
My first memory of playing live was in 1962 at an Irish youth club that was held at the "English Martyrs Church School" on the Stratford Road, Sparkhill, near the Public Swimming Baths. I think I was 12 (approaching 13) years old at the time. A really pale, skinny kid. I was always asked if I was ill!! These were days of the "Play in a Day" music book by Bert Weedon, Brylcreme, stockings, and white stilettos. The Zephyr 6 and Rock 'n' Roll ruled.
The latest "in fashion" item of clothing for teenage boys were fake mohair sweaters. My parents had separated and my mother couldn't afford to get me a proper "fake" so she knitted mine with mohair wool and the natural static electricity would make the fibres stand out from my body, I looked like a walking "afro" hairstyle on denim clad, matchstick legs.
The Shadows instrumental hits and their famous "Shadows steps" were almost obligatory for local groups to copy and perform on stage. Some lesser guitarists would consider the steps as important as the playing to cover their musical inadequacies; "Arr, heez a crap guitarist but he karn arf doo them high kicks. Roit then, we'll avim in the group, let's give Mick the sack." Poor old Mick would inevitably find himself drawn into another band full of useless shadow steppers, all bumping into each other on stage.
The English Martyrs club was run by a beautiful Irishman called Tom Moore to whom I'd been introduced some months prior by my friend Danny who was in a group called The Phantoms and he had me play for him. I told Tom I was in a group and he suggested that we should play at the weekly Saturday Night Dance. For this appearance we would to be paid 10 Senior Service cigarettes. He based the fair payment of a packet of 10 cigarettes on the fact that, there were three of us in the group and ten fags divided nicely. I later thought that I should have told him there were five of us, we might have got twenty instead!
When I said I was in a group, I meant that I was a member of a "sort of group" and we called ourselves a different name every week. At one time we even called ourselves "Andy and The Atoms" despite there only being two of us and neither of us being called Andy! There were literally hundreds of groups like that with kids armed with guitars and drums moving all over the place from group to group then back again to the first one they started with, always saying that they were going to play somewhere but never did.
But now... we were actually going to play somewhere, we were doing it! I think for this, our musical debut and opening night, we called ourselves "The Wildcats". Of course, there were about twenty groups with that name already but that really didn't matter. In fact it was a distinct advantage because if we were rubbish, some other group would get the blame and we would simply change our name again.
The group consisted of me on lead guitar equipped with a Mark 1 Watkins Rapier, the model before the "Strat" copy range. It was bright red with a pearloid scratch plate and was purchased from Bells Music guitar catalogue, Surbiton for about 20 guineas. Owners of the new shape (strat copy) Rapier and Hofner players used to look on it with an air of contempt but I loved the sound it produced.
I, like most other young guitarists of the time, had been an avid Shadows fan for years and copied everything that Hank Marvin ever did. I had spent hours reading books too close to my eyes in the hope that my eyesight would be damaged and I could have a pair of glasses like his. Saying that, my taste in music had changed around the time of our upcoming gig after a "chance" hearing of an early blues album that had been brought back from the USA by a merchant seaman who lived a couple of houses away from me. No more Hank for me after that, but thanks for everything oh master.
The Wildcats drummer was my friend Jimmy Tetlow who lived very close to my house and whose father, Colin Tetlow was a dance band leader. Jimmy was very "into" tape recorders and we spent hours together in a shed in his garden making recordings and playing with sound effects. He made an echo chamber for me by looping his two Phillips tape recorders together. We had a lot in common and both loved the Goons. We also shared the same girlfiends. Jimmy's drum kit consisted of a snare drum and one cymbal. He would stamp on the floor in place of a bass drum.
The third and final member of The Wildcats was a lad called Kevin (Sanders?) who went to the same school as me and lived near the old Velocette Motorbike factory. (Sorry Kevin, I can't properly remember your surname). Kevin was our "bass" guitarist but didn't have a proper bass guitar. He used to play the four bottom end strings on his normally strung Hofner Club. He had blonde, slicked back hair and because of his hair colour he fancied himself as Jet Harris from The Shadows. His Dad played the accordion.
We were very flattered to have been asked to play somewhere and set about practicing for the big event. We didn't have stage costumes, which was generally the norm for groups of the time, but quite frankly, none of us had the money or probably the desire to go out and buy matching outfits.
I did buy myself a new pair of blue jeans though and sat in the bath in them for a couple of hours to get just the right amount of shrinkage, whereby they were a gnat's gonad away from cutting off my blood circulation. I remember Jimmy Tetlow saying he wanted to have the appearance of being "Arty" so he wore a college scarf on stage! I don't think that at the age of 12 or 13 he was going to fool anyone!! Kevin was the proud possessor of a purple fake sweater.
We had never played on a stage or at a proper dance hall prior to this (in fact we had never played anywhere) and my only concept of what happened was based on seeing Cliff and The Shadows in the 1961 film "The Young Ones" whereby they played a couple of numbers, the girls swooned and screamed and that was that. We practiced two numbers to perfection, never thinking that we would have to play any more because all the girls would have fainted by then anyway.
We had chosen for our opening number 'Shakin' All Over' by Johnny Kidd and The Pirates which had that wonderful Rock 'n' Roll opening riff and guitar solo by Joe Moretti (not Mickey Green as some would believe) and was sure to "knock em' dead". That was to be followed by a current Joe Brown and The Bruvvers chart hit 'Picture Of You'. For my money, Joe Brown was the best all round guitarist there was in the UK at that time. I had my hair cut into a crew cut which was his trademark.
So that was it then. Crew cut, 'afro' jumper, tight jeans, winkle picker shoes that had turned up at the end and made me look something like a pixie, guitar and two songs. We were ready to get the girls going even with some rehearsed "moves" on stage (playing the guitar solo for Picture Of You behind my head - like Joe used to do).
There were, however two essential elements missing that could scupper the whole affair - the first being that we didn't possess any amplification and secondly - none of us had even thought of being a singer! The beauty of youth is that those sort of problems wash over you and we carried on our enthusiastic preparations undaunted in the belief that something would turn up.
The first of those two problems was sorted out when Jimmy Tetlow asked his Dad if we could use the amplifier that was used by his big band. He agreed and we all felt a little more excited until we actually saw it. It was a huge, old cabinet made of dark brown stained wood, around 4 feet high by 2 feet wide with one volume control knob on the front. It had one small speaker, mounted centrally that was covered with some tatty gold material that had line of brown through the middle. It looked like a gigantic, old fashioned radio and had an output of around 8 watts.
Come the night of The Wildcats debut, we met at Jimmy's house where we loaded up an old pram with our gear and proceeded to walk the three miles from Hall Green to Sparkhill, passing the Springfield Ballroom where Denny Laine and The Diplomats played. Opposite the ballroom was the shop where I later, bought my first LP and was owned by Bev Bevans mum. The three of us chatted nervously on the way there, knowing that tonight we would be brilliant.
There was a queue at the door to get into the club as we arrived. The line of people all started laughing when they saw us coming round the corner with our pram and even more when they saw our amplifier, remarks like "Can you get Radio Luxembourg on that thing", and "The cemetery is down the road mate", referring to its appearance as a cheap coffin. The amplifier was so heavy it took all three of us to carry it in. I could feel our optimistic confidence begin to drain.
The club was open from 7.30 till 10.30 with the groups providing all the music. There was no such thing as a DJ and there was no record player available. However, there was a good stage with lighting. The backdrop was decorated with LP covers as was the fashion at that time.
There were normally two or three groups that played at the club every Saturday night. The Rockin' Dextones, The Dicemen, and The Phantoms were three regular groups there, so we were a bit nervous about what they would think of us but at least we would only be on stage for our two songs worth. We were told as we entered, we would be the only group playing that night. We were really in it now!!! We had no singer, we only had two songs to play and the teddy boys outside had been giving us grief about our equipment. I was beginning to fear for my life!
We went on stage at the appointed hour and launched into Shakin' All Over. Perhaps the term "launched" is slightly inappropriate when you only have 8 watts of power to play with and even more-so when both guitars were plugged into the same 8 watts. Nonetheless, our hours of practice had paid off and the opening riff and "lead in" to the vocals was perfect in every sense, that is until the time when those immortal words "When you move in right up close to me..." should have been heard. In our case there was silence. It was like listening to a Karaoke backing track. The small audience was looking at us in open-mouthed amazement and the Teddy boys started limbering up for the thrashing they were, no doubt, going to give us later.
There are several musical pauses in this song when Johnny Kidd would sing "Shivers down the backbone" and the music would reply for the next four beats followed by another pause for a vocal break. Well the pauses were there for the vocal breaks but only embarrassing silence to fill them. I was so relieved when the song finished but scared to death at the same time... How are we going to get out of here in one piece?
The audience were laughing and shouting abuse at us by this time, most of it threatening or unrepeatable. We started playing our second number, 'A Picture Of You' which once again, was played perfectly, even with me playing the guitar solo with the guitar behind my head like Joe did, but again without any vocals.
So... we had finished our two rehearsed songs and we just sort of looked at each other not knowing what to do? One fact existed, we felt we were safer up on the stage and so I gingerly asked if anyone in the audience was a singer and luckily one guy got pushed forward and was persuaded to come up. We then played Shakin' All Over and Picture Of You again but this time with vocals - great. We had played our complete repertoire twice now but had only used up about 11 minutes... so we played them both again before getting off the stage.
Sadly, no girls fainted or screamed that night and after we had waited inside the hall for the Teddy Boys to leave the area we scurried off back down the Stratford Road. We smoked the ten cigarettes on the way home and got stopped by the Police as they thought we'd been thieving or something with our stuff piled into the pram.
Unbelievably, we actually got another engagement from that night, at "The Harp", a very large Irish dance hall further down the Stratford Road. We had by this time changed our name three or four times so there was no connection but now we had a singer. The guy who got up from the audience to sing with us that night was Bobby Styler. He was later to be the vocalist alongside me in The Yamps and the first line up of Traction. Today Bobby runs a guitar shop in Brum and still makes the odd stage appearance.
Jimmy Tetlow went on to open his own recording studios in Sparkbrook for a while which was used by several Birmingham bands like The Frame and Johnny Neal to name a couple, and then he moved into TV. The last time I saw his name he was the sound engineer for TISWAS, the Saturday Morning children's TV show with Chris Tarrant and also featured Roger "Ollie" Spencer of the Idle Race. Shortly after this night I changed school and don't remember ever seeing or playing with Kevin again, although I probably did.
As a first learning experience of playing for people it was priceless. We were naive and had done everything wrong but were satisfied with ourselves musically because it actually sounded good. We had the nerve and enthusiasm to get up there and do it and now, despite everything, we couldn't wait to do it all again. Next time we would make sure we did it better. One week later The Beatles appeared on the scene with 'Love Me Do' and everything that had ever been before was changed almost overnight.
During the next two or three years, The Yamps had formed and we worked our way down the Stratford Road playing gambling clubs, strip joints and various bars and pubs like The Mermaid till we made it to the city centre playing those great places like The Silver Beat, The Rainbow Suite, The Whisky and many, many more of those small smokey venues. Those were brilliant, exciting, vibrant times when "Beat Groups" were riding the crest of the wave.
Fifty yards down the Stratford Road from the youth club was the office of agent, Arthur Smith. The Yamps would all pile into his tiny office and ask him for work on a regular basis. In 1965 when The Applejacks were high in the charts with 'Tell Me When', we badgered him into giving us their support group slot at Kidderminster Town Hall.
It was a great night and The Applejacks were a good live act. I remember their set contained some Coasters numbers 'Yakety Yak' and 'Charlie Brown'. Megan Davies on bass guitar was the first female group member to be in the charts and unsurprisingly for those times, was seen by some factions of the public as being tokenistic. The complete opposite was the fact. She worked perfectly with drummer Gerry Freeman to produce a tight, thumping, hard edged sound that would be the envy of most of the bands about at the time.
I would like to add a note about Tom Moore who was a brilliant man and deserves some real recognition. After that disastrous show he re-instilled in me a sense of self belief and urged me to carry on playing despite what anyone said - "Music is a gift Willie". It was that sort of positive support that made Tom different. He was always available to help out any young musician and in fact bought, out of his own pocket, a drum kit for soon-to-be Yamp, Phil Brittle to use because he had also recognised his talent. Tom never asked for, or expected anything in return. No longer with us but worth a belated word of thanks on everyone's behalf "May the road rise before you".
To see a video of guitarist Will Hammond click https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Sn5a2rL3d8o
My thanks to Reg Godwin for his Watkins Rapier photo. Thanks to Bulls Head Bob for the cartoons.
Copyright © Will Hammond
Illustrations Copyright © Bulls Head Bob