Revised January 2020
Colin Corbett drums
George Davies organ, vocal
Terry Heath lead guitar
Dave Jones bass guitar
Ian "Sludge" Lees lead vocal
Written by BrumBeat contributor Brian Nicholls
In September 2018 Colin Corbett, former drummer with 1960s Cannock Group "The Telstars", discussed his own life in music and, the eventual business partnership he and his wife Rita embarked upon as professional dance teachers. To get to The Telstars we first have to pass through "The Sundowners" and "Dante and The Infernos". Colin takes up the story;
"I was seven or eight when my parents arranged for my sister and I to attend ballroom dancing lessons on Saturday mornings and music lessons on the afternoon. I studied piano/accordion and my sister studied piano right up until I was thirteen. We certainly had a thorough grounding in music theory which has put me in good stead ever since.
Our teacher taught only classical music but, one day she asked me to bring along a piece of music of my own choice and I chose 'The Railroad Comes Through The Middle Of The House' - a popular 1957 upbeat country-style chart hit by Alma Cogan but, the teacher was not impressed. In fact, so horrified with my choice she actually said that she was finished with me and that I could probably become a good jazz musician.
Actually, it was the height of the skiffle era and at home we did have a tea chest bass, washboard, acoustic guitar and a set of hanging bottles tuned to different notes. I stuck with guitar for a while but, when I was around fourteen there was a knock at the door and two lads said... "We hear that you are a brilliant guitarist" and asked me to join them (well, I could play around a dozen chords!)
The three of us became "The Sundowners" (not the same Sundowners band that eventually included Jeff Lynne) and I decided to switch to drums as I had always admired my uncle Ray Hadley who was a drummer in his own dance band. The bass player's dad cut a big marching drum down to a bass drum size and I then had a tom tom, snare drum and a set of cymbals. I bought a drum tutor book and taught myself to play by drumming along to skiffle and rock records."
Colin's group soon developed into the currently popular "Cliff Richard and The Shadows" format of singer, two guitars, drums and bass. Colin kept his extra curricular musical activities very quiet from his classmates so, you can imagine everyone's surprise when The Sundowners were announced on the day of the school leaving concert and Colin casually saunters up to the drum stool from the audience to join his bandmates on the stage...
Colin; "My schoolmates were really pleasantly surprised and the teachers actually said what a wonderful talent I had. We then had a booking at The Top Club - a working men's club in Brownhills but, without transport we took a chance at the local bus company, Harper's Bus Service.
It went better than we thought as the conductor and two passengers helped us get our gear on to the bus, The driver drew back the trap window at the back of his cab and asked us what time would we finish and would we like a lift home.The driver obviously took pity at our plight and ambition and dropped us at the club car park and picked us up at 10:30 pm. They even helped load and unload our gear again!"
However, The Sundowners' actual baptism of fire was when they appeared at The Avion Cinema in Aldridge in late 1961 - a veritable pop music hotspot. They now had Futurama guitars and bass and 10 watt Selmer and Elpico amplifiers plus a Watkins Copycat echo unit. From that, they went on to appear at all local pubs, social clubs, galas and a string of wedding receptions around Cannock, Stafford, Wolverhampton and Birmingham.
The Sundowners now comprised Roger Mosedale (lead guitar), Terry Lea (rhythm guitar- later replaced by Dave Danks), Barry Peacock (bass) and Colin (drums) but, they had three lead singers come and go namely, Ray "Porky" Bourne, Derek Murkett and Kenny Williams. At the end of 1962 The Sundowners changed their name to "Dante and The Infernos". They eventually parted company a year or so later.
In early 1964, yet another customary knock on Colin's front door and there stood four lads from one of Cannock's most popular groups, "The Telstars". They were seeking to replace their Micky Sollom who was vacating the drumstool and Colin's reputation as a solid drummer led them to his door.
Colin Corbett jumped at the chance to join The Telstars who now comprised, George Davies (organ), Dave Jones (bass), Terry Heath (lead guitar) Ian "Sludge" Lees (singer) and of course, Colin Corbett. This incarnation of the group is deemed by many to be the "classic" Telstars line up...
Colin; "We put it about that we were on the lookout for a decent manager and so Gerry Southgate from Walsall Wood, who was alerted to the job via his secretary, came into our life. Gerry was a local businessman with no experience of music or showbiz but, saw The Telstars as another business challenge. I was now proudly sitting behind a new Premier kit in striking 'Blue Sparkle' like Brian Bennett's in The Shadows."
Gerry briefly picks up the story; "The first thing I did was to invest in new group gear (Fender and Vox Amps. Instruments and a Laney PA system etc) and fitted them out with proper stage suits. I also arranged for them to rehearse at The Primrose Club (later The Watersplash) in Walsall Wood and bought them a Commer van. Having smartened them up a bit, I then got them to take their music more seriously and also stopped them from drinking beer on the stage."
Gerry also arranged for The Telstars to visit top celebrity showbiz photographer Dezo Hoffman at his London studio which had seen the likes of The Beatles in front of his lens. The results speak for themselves when looking through the Telstars' portfolio. Gerry marketed the boys by entering them for a range of talent and popularity contests where they always managed to achieve a space in the top three against typical entries of fifty or so groups.
On Saturday 7 June, 1964 The Telstars made a four track recording at Hollick and Taylor Studios in Handsworth for the Dial Label (Shout; Mailman Bring Me No More Blues; Blueberry Hill; The Rise And Fall Of Flingel Bunt). Not least though, the lads appeared on BBC's "One Night Stand" Programme on 26 January, 1965 - the same year that Colin and Rita met. They even had a fan club run by a secretary at Gerry's earth moving business. Managers with the diligence of Gerry were an exception.
Colin; "We played most nights on the Mary "Ma" Regan ballroom circuit which included The Plaza Ballrooms at Old Hill and Handsworth, The Ritz Ballroom, Kings Heath, and The Brum Kavern Club in Small Heath where inevitably, we played at two venues per night and on one occasion we missed The Beatles literally by ten minutes.
One night at The Brum Kavern, John Bonham (later of Led Zeppelin) got up and gave my brand new American Camco kit a really good thrashing. I liked John a lot and we became good friends. I learned a lot from John. The money at Ma Regan's was good but you had to play hit parade (chart) covers and we duly turned out our share of The Kinks, The Searchers, The Beatles, The Hollies and yes, P.J. Proby.
As well as Wolverhampton's Wulfrun Hall, Lafayette Club, Ship and Rainbow and The Woolpack Restaurant, we frequently played such Birmingham venues as, The Locarno, The West End Ballroom, The Pink Elephant Club, Silver Blades Ice Rink, Ringway Club and even the infamous "Doll's Club" where strippers performed in front of us while we played."
Despite all Gerry Southgate's attempts to hold The Telstars together they finally called it a day in late 1965. They had had a good innings but, singer Ian Lees had left to be replaced by Graham Lounge. Ian joined Finders Keepers and then The Montanas and finally Light Fantastic before embarking on a long and successful career as a comedian (see BrumBeat feature on Ian Lees by clicking HERE).
Also, former Sundowners' Roger Mosedale (lead guitar) and Barry Peacock (bass) replaced Terry Heath and Dave Jones but, after a short while, Colin Corbett along with Barry and Roger left to form a vocal harmony trio. Colin and Rita (whom Colin met in 1965) got married in 1967 and the well intended trio folded.
In 1968, Terry Heath, Barry Peacock, Roger Mosedale and Harold "H" Cashmore got together as a "new" Telstars for a year or so and Colin continued as a jobbing musician mainly depping for other drummers and also found lucrative work as a session drummer at a recording studio. George Davies went on to join local recording artists Lady Jayne and The Royaltee and then The Montanas.
In 1972 Colin Corbett along with former Telstars bassist Dave Jones, joined forces with Reg Marshall, Dave Fellows and Tom Stanier, formerly with Zero Five - a popular Cannock heavy rock band - to form a new band In the same mould as Zero Five called "Calico". They continued to do covers of Led Zeppelin, Black Sabbath, Judas Priest, Whitesnake and Uriah Heap numbers. Back in 1965, Zero Five had recorded a pop single 'Dusty/Just Like A Girl' in the legendary Studio 2 at Abbey Road Studios and released on the Columbia label.
Colin; "Whilst I always wanted to experiment with different things musically, I didn't really enjoy that type of music and was not one who sought fame in the music business even though, at times it sought me. I just enjoyed playing local and in my time have played pop, country, jazz, and in dance bands.
I even played with Maynard Fergusson at Walsall Jazz Club (The Wheatsheaf). When I was just turned twenty, I was even headhunted for "The Pretty Things" who were off on an American tour but, my dad persuaded me to complete my electrician apprenticeship, after which he said I could do whatever I wanted. Even so, my interest in drumming finally faded and I sold my kit. I thought I'd miss it but I haven't. However, I switched back to guitar - largely for my own enjoyment."
In 1973, Colin and Rita decided to study ballroom dancing with a professional dance school. They made it a social occasion by taking ten other family members along with them.
Colin; "After three years, the teacher took Rita and I aside and suggested we should actually teach ballroom dancing so, we studied, got our "letters" and started teaching. In 1988 I was made redundant from my management position at Allied Bakeries (Sunblest) which was a spur to start our own business as professional ballroom dancing teachers.
We used available halls, ballrooms and clubs rather than purchase our own studio. We also did twelve enjoyable years on the P&O cruise ships and saw the wide world into the bargain. What a job, eh!"
These days when he's not teaching ballroom dancing, former Telstars drummer Colin Corbett can often be found playing guitar for his own enjoyment. He recently purchased a Fender "Mark Knopfler" edition Stratocaster upon which he skilfully demonstrated a selection of Django Reinhardt to fellow guitarist Brian Nicholls who was visiting Colin for this interview.
To wrap up this story of The Telstars, it should be noted that in 2016, Barry Peacock (now playing lead guitar) and Harold "H" Cashmore along with two former members of Cannock group "Penny Farthing", formed yet another incarnation of "The Telstars".
Copyright © Brian W. Nicholls 2019
Colin Corbett is desperate to track down a copy of The Telstars' Hollick and Taylor vinyl EP. If you can help, please contact him via the Brumbeat website at e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org