Updated April, 2021
Dave Evans guitar, vocal
Tony Lawrence guitar
Roy Vears lead vocal
Roger Spencer drums (left in 1965)
Ian White bass guitar, vocal (left in 1963)
Ray Taylor bass guitar, vocal (joined in 1963)
Bill Harvey drums (joined in 1965)
Formed during the early 1960s, "The Sovereigns" presented a striking image due to their shiny gold stage outfits as designed by the mother of their drummer who was also their manager. The band could rock with the best of them and even went on to make a record with Beatles producer George Martin!
The Sovereigns founding member and guitarist Dave Evans takes up the story;
The Sovereigns began life as "The Strangers" back in 1961 at Greaves Hall youth club, Hillmeads Road, Kings Norton, Birmingham (Note: this was not the same band as The Strangers from Dudley). Formed by vocalist Roy Vears and guitarist Tony Lawrence, I, Dave Evans, was allowed to join with them on condition that I bought a guitar, which I did, a Martin Coletti from the Jack Woodroffe music shop in John Bright Street.
By 1962 the three of us were beginning to get serious about our musical prospects and that was when Ian White, a West Heath lad, made his presence known. A number 27 bus conductor by day, Ian, the proud owner of a Burns bass, could play well and with his ability to sing a fair song or two Ian proved to be just the ticket.
Roger Spencer, a drummer from Brandwood Road, Kings Norton, was the possessor of a fine Premier kit and was happy to put in with us. Roger lived with his mother Gerry, and their house actually had a telephone which meant that now The Strangers were really in show business. She, Gerry, became our appointed manager and it seemed that in next to no time paid gigs were coming our way.
Venues such as the Taboo Club at Stirchley, the Rainbow Suite above the Co op in High Street, The Palace at Redditch, Tamworth Assembly Rooms and the Regan ballrooms were all figuring in our diary. Obviously a gear upgrade was called for. We kitted ourselves out with silver lame suits and purchased a 50 watt pa amp along with a Watkins Copycat Echo.
I bought myself a Hofner Verithin guitar and a Selmer Twin reverb amplifier and to complete the refurb we searched around and finally settled on a secondhand Thames van for transport. Unfortunately, its previous owner had been a Bull Ring market fishmonger and we literally spent weeks trying to get rid of the stink of fish.
It was now 1963 and we were out playing most nights of the week but what with the Copycat Echo chewing up tapes we invested in a Binson Echorec echo chamber from the Jones and Crossland shop in Hinckley Street. Because we were actually in the showroom that afternoon we took the opportunity of adding to the bill a Fender Bassman 50 watt valve amp for our guitarist Tony Laurence. Tony then promptly treated himself to a Burns Bison guitar whilst I, not to be outdone, part exchanged my Hofner Verthithin for a Gibson Les Paul Junior.
With new guitars and a much improved back line the time had come to abandon our silver lame suits. At Stourbidge Town Hall we found ourselves sharing the gig with an eccentric bunch of Liverpool lads by the name of "The Undertakers" and who took to the stage dressed as top hatted pallbearers whilst carrying a coffin upon their shoulders. It seemed the most perfect way to say goodbye to the shiny silver outfits that had served us, the Strangers, so well.
Actually the truth of the matter was our manager Gerry, had spotted a couple of rolls of gold lame material going begging in the window of a gents' tailors shop on Coventry Road in Small Heath. So it was a big hello to gold lame and with a change of shade came a change of name. In keeping with our new 'gold' look, overnight "The Strangers" became "The Sovereigns".
My mother then wrote a letter to Jimmy Young at the BBC telling of her son's band and their recently aquired gold lame suits. The outcome of this was that the Sovereigns were invited to the BBC Studios at Gosta Green for a filmed audition in front of Mister Bill Cotton Jnr.
Prior to the audition the Sovereigns paid a visit to Leon, the "hairdresser to the stars", whose shop stood on the corner of Edward Road and Jakeman Road in downtown Balshall Heath, just across from the notorious Cannon Hill pub.
We all had our hair dyed that afternoon. The rest of the band went for the blue black look but I chose to go strikingly blonde, warranting a warning from Leon. "Whatever you do," advised the hairdresser to the stars, "keep out of the Cannon Hill pub!"
At the BBC audition, and clad in our brand new gold lame outfits, we performed Roy Vears' party piece, the Johnny Kidd classic, 'Shakin' All Over' which featured Roy freezing up his nervous system to the point where his body would shake frantically, giving the impression that Roy's fingers were stuck in a light bulb socket.
We also played the instrumental 'F.B.I.' a la "The Shadows", complete with the appropriate high kicks and dance steps. For our grand finale, sporting newly aquired Mexican sombreros, we opted for Richie Valens 'La Bamba'. Bill Cotton Jnr. seemed pleased but said nothing.
Not long after the BBC experience, on the way home from a gig, we came across a broken down van on Parson's Hill, Kings Norton and stopped to lend a helping hand. As we approached the vehicle so a head emerged from beneath the bonnet. Shaking one of this bloke's oily greasy hands we immediately recognised his face. It was only Johnny Kidd!
The wayward pirate was soon press-ganged by us along to Roger Spencer's house where his mother, Gerry, provided Johnny Kidd with a mug of steaming hot tea. In the meantime Roy Vears was out in the hallway under strict instructions from Gerry to psyche himself up in order to demonstrate his shaking routine for the eye patched buccaneer himself. All credit to Roy, he gave the performance of a lifetime that night but, seeming as if he wasn't too bothered either way, Johnny Kidd simply smiled and politely requested a top up.
The Sovereigns were a band that were only too happy to perform regularly for charity, one place in particular being the Thalidomide ward at the Barnardo's Home in Coleshill. It was wonderful to see the kids' happy faces and knowing that they really looked forward to our future visits when we would play pretty well all the current chart hits for them.
It was probably as a result of our Coleshill Bernado's Home visits that an agent from that said neck of woods, Tony Cahill, began providing us with quality cabaret work and debutante ball and black tie events. One such gig was at Rugby School where the Earl of Warwick introduced himself to us by doling out bottles of bubbly by the crateful for our liquid refreshment.
No matter how we tried we still couldn't rid our van of the god awful stink of fish so, breaking the bank, we became the proud owners of a powder blue 12 seater Bedford van. The wording on the side of the van, in bold gold lettering read 'THE SOVEREIGNS ON TOUR'. We were now in a position to offer goodtime gals a lift home to their doorsteps.
Bass guitarist Ian White decided to leave us at this point, preferring to put in more shifts on the number 27 bus. With Geoff Turton having answered the call from The Rockin' Berries, Geoff's former outfit, "The Swinging Chimes", had called it a day, thus rendering bass player Ray Taylor out of work. When approached Ray happily agreed to become a Sovereign, bringing with him his Gibson SG bass, an AMPEG bass amplifier and his vocal ability. Luckily, Ian's gold lame suit fitted Ray not too badly.
Ray hadn't been with us too long when, from out of the blue, a letter arrived from Bill Cotton's office at the BBC inviting us to the Wimbledon Theatre to participate in a professional showcase. Not knowing what to expect we turned up to find we were sharing the bill with a magician, a comedian and a troupe of dancing girls. The Sovereigns were instructed to do a handful of songs, one of which must be 'Shakin' All Over' and feature Roy performing his shaking routine.
Amongst the invited audience was Fred Pontin of Pontin's holiday camp fame. Whether or not it was Roy's shaking or our gold lame suits that nailed it but Fred Pontin immediately offered the Sovereigns a six month contract for the 1964 summer season at his adults only Osmington Bay camp, on the outskirts of Weymouth. The gig paid 20 pounds per week each all in. The Sovereigns didn't bother waiting for other offers, signing there and then, on the dotted line, for Fred Pontin.
The summer engagement couldn't come around fast enough but in the meantime we continued to work. At Kidderminster Town Hall we were booked in support of "Gene Vincent and The Outlaws". Gene turned up with his roadie Peter Grant but without The Outlaws. Would the Sovereigns back Gene? You didn't argue with Peter Grant.
As it happened, I was a big Gene Vincent fan and knew all of his songs backwards. Gene took to the stage and went through his set; 'Be-Bop-a-Lula', 'She She Little Sheila', 'Baby Blue', 'Say Mama' etc. and the kids, especially the girls, went wild. So wild that the Bedford van came in pretty useful that night!
Gerry, our manager, arranged a couple of appearances for us down in the heart of London's Soho area. Frequented by the music business fraternity, the tiny upstairs bar was called the Artists and Repertoire Club. I do recall one night there when Pete Kitley, the drummer with "The Pretty Things", sat in with us as we reeled off some songs taken from our rhythm and blues repertoire.
It was Christmas 1963 and The Sovereigns were engaged as part of the entertainment programme for a childrens' party at the Grand Hotel in Birmingham, alongside "Molly Badham's PG Tips Chimps". This however involved the sharing of a large dressing room with the said chimps.
It was an absolute nightmare. The chimps were totally out of control, jumping around, swinging from the chandeliers, snatching and thieving any discarded clobber of ours, shirts, shoes, socks, underwear etc, to make off around the corridors of the Grand Hotel with our clobber wrapped around them. And didn't the kids just love it!
On the eve of the Grand National 1964, the Sovereigns were booked in for a show at the Wyken Club, Walsgrave Road, Coventry. The comedian that night was a hilarious but 'camp as a row of tents' chap by the name of "Billy Brean". We did two spots each with Billy performing his second spot in drag.
Wearing a fabulous gown and a really big hairdo, Billy looked like one of the ugly sisters. During the break Billy Brean advised us to put our night's wages on a horse that was running in the following day's Grand National race. The horse was "Team Spirit" and it romped home at 18/1. Shortly after our appearance with him, Billy Brean changed his professional name to "Larry Grayson".
Hi de hi Pontins! Here come the Sovereigns! But without their gold lame suits! Sadly the material was so poor a quality it could not withstand the amount of soaking sweat that had been gushing out of us every night. The wafer thin gold lame literally fell from our backs.
On arrival at Osmington Bay we were made welcome by Rory Wilde, the "Entertainments Manager" cum everybody's friend. Rory, a rock 'n' roll singer from London, had mapped out our worksheet.
We'd be performing in the "Sun Lounge", from 12 noon to 1 pm lunchtimes and 8 to 11 pm nightly with one day off per week. What a piece of cake! After a week or so of us partying every night until the early hours, Rory Wilde had no choice but to drag us from our beds every morning at 11.50 am to commence our striking up of the band at 12 noon prompt.
After lunch and for all of the afternoon, it was Rory's idea of fun to have the Sovereigns frollicking around the pool or on the sports field for all the happy campers. On our day off, "but only occasionally" being Rory's last words, it would be greatly appreciated if we, The Sovereigns, could wag our gear down the road to The Riviera Hotel and give the holidaymakers there an afternoon treat.
Friday night was always "Gala Night" and after our three hours in the Sun Lounge, we were shuffled off to the ballroom to play a 45 minute session of rock 'n' roll. We then joined in with the Bluecoats to sing 'Goodbye Campers' whilst waiving our hankies in a sad farewell to the outgoing holiday makers who in turn would be weeping unmercifully.
The next day, we'd start all over again with Tony and I making ourselves known to all the newly arrived 'talent'. As Ray Davies would sing, The Sovereigns were now working "all day and all of the night". Rory Wilde would also have us marching into breakfast dressed in baby doll pyjamas and wearing heavy make up. And all this embarrassment was to be captured by the camp's in house photographer!
As the summer progressed, and in order to suit our mainly from London younger audiences, we changed our set list to include songs by the likes of The Rolling Stones, The Animals, Bo Diddley, Manfred Mann and The Kinks etc. Sometimes I'd even dare to seat myself at the grand piano for a rendition of 'Blueberry Hill', 'One Night With You' or even Jerry Lee's 'Great Balls Of Fire'.
During such a session one evening, Fred Pontin put his head round the door of the Sun Lounge. Although disappointed not to see any sign of gold lame, Fred was impressed enough to offer us, for the duration of the coming winter season, a residency at his new "Pontinental" holiday venue in Majorca.
Ray's wedding plans and Roger's wish to get back home to Birmingham put an immediate stop on that which meant that we had to decline Fred's offer. Don't say it. Hindsight is a wondrous thing.
During the summer, we had been visited several times by Hal Shaper who was a song writer from London. Hal wanted us to record a song he had written entitled 'If I Ever Lost Your Love'. Although a good song, it wasn't our cup of tea at all - more suitable for the "Matt Munro" type of artiste - but we went along with it just for the experience.
Around the end of October, early November, and staying at Hal's apartment in Earls Court, Saturday was spent at the not quite finished yet ADVISION studios recording the backing track to the song. The next morning, Hal took us along to the famous EMI studios at Abbey Road where, under George Martin's supervision, we did some overdubbing and laid down the vocal track.
I sat behind George and seated at his mixing desk, he recorded Tony playing harmonies to his previously recorded guitar licks at Advision. It was a fantastic experience, but we were not surprised to learn that the song vanished off our radar and was never to be heard of again.
Back in Birmingham, and after six months away, "The Sovereigns" were more or less forgotten and, with no bookings in place, Roger Spencer quit. However, Tony's dad who worked at the BSA factory in Redditch, knew of Bill Harvey, a drummer who was the son of the works manager. Bill, who'd actually given John Bonham some tuition, joined us and eventually we began to pick up a few gigs.
One gig I recall was the "Silver Beat Club", that played host to the "Woke up this mornin" brigade of audience. The Silver Beat club was within The Exchange pub, which was situated down in the corner of Stephenson Street where, following the pub's demolition a year or so later, the ramp up to "The Pallasades" shopping centre was built.
The Sovereigns would often be sharing the stage with the likes of Alan Price, Georgie Fame, or The Spencer Davis Group and I know that as a result of our shows at The Exchange we played the New Years Eve bash at "The House of Liang Nam", a Chinese restaurant just around the corner from the Silver Beat club.
But sadly, the time's they were a changin'. Nothing lasts forever, not even gold lame suits, and The Sovereigns found themselves coming to the end of what had been, for us, certainly an eventful journey. But that's not quite the end of the story. In 1975, as a replacement for guitarist Mike Rooney, I joined The Modernaires (this photo of the line-up taken in 1988 shows from left to right; Mick Bakewell, Dave Evans, Tony Pio, and Wilf Clare).
Copyright © Dave Evans 2021
Story written by Dave Evans. Thanks also to Laurie Hornsby for assistance with the text.
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