Updated June, 2022
Keith Powell lead vocal (left in 1965)
John Allsebrook bass guitar (left in 1965)
Mal Ford organ, piano
Phil Gaynor saxophone
Mal Ritter drums
Colin Wood guitar (left in 1966)
Steve Horton bass guitar (joined in 1965)
Dave Spencer guitar, vocal (joined in 1966)
Keith Powell came from Bordesley Green and being brought up in a showbusiness family, was performing regularly as a singer by the age of 14. His first real group was called "The Ramrods" who started making appearances around Birmingham by about 1960. Keith Powell was a talented vocalist and performer while also having the good looks to attract a large female following.
With his father Jim as manager, Keith Powell was soon fronting his own rock 'n' roll group called "The Jaymen". Jim Powell was also a well known promoter and head of JCS Productions which brought well known acts from all over the country to play in Birmingham.
Keith Powell saw musical limitations within The Jaymen and left to join another Birmingham group called "The Vikings" to become their lead singer. By 1961, Keith Powell and The Vikings were getting bookings all across the country and the pace was such that Keith Powell, feeling exhaustion, decided to take a few weeks off to rest. It was during this time that local singer Colin Tooley was brought in as a temporary replacement.
Colin changed his name to "Carl Wayne" but ended up staying with The Vikings as second vocalist and with manager Jim's approval the group became known as "Keith Powell, Carl Wayne and The Vikings". Inevitably this arrangement didn't last and because of rivalry, Keith Powell left The Vikings who continued on without him (see Carl Wayne and The Vikings).
During the interlude, Keith Powell experimented with songwriting but before long he was fronting a new band named "The Valets" - so called because they had originally assembled to back local singer Bobby Valentine as "Bobby Valentine and The Valettes". Promoters usually ended up misspelling the name to "Valets" so to avoid confusion, the name was abbreviated to "Keith Powell and The Valets".
The Valets included organist Mal Ford who had played in Pat Wayne's group "The Deltas" (see Pat Wayne and The Beachcombers), John Allsebrook on bass guitar, saxophonist Phil Gaynor, drummer Mal Ritter, and Colin Wood on rhythm/lead guitar. The band quickly established themselves as a top live attraction in Birmingham and in June of 1963, Keith Powell and The Valets were one of the groups to be signed up by EMI Columbia Records producer Norrie Paramor at the legendary "Moat House Club" auditions.
When interviewed at the time, Keith Powell said; "The Valets and I intend to help put Birmingham on the Pop map. We want to make a name in Birmingham before we even think about going elsewhere. We've just been offered a tour of Germany but that's not for us. Playing the local clubs is much more satisfying."
Keith Powell and The Valets' first single composed by EMI's Bob Barratt and titled 'Come On And Join The Party', was a high-energy rocker that should have stormed the charts while the flip side was the more sedate 'The Answer Is No'. Released in September 1963, this record got quite a bit of radio play and gained the group appearances on TV shows like "Thank Your Lucky Stars".
The Midland Beat newspaper reported; "Keith Powell and The Valets followed Birmingham groups like The Bruisers and The Redcaps by making an appearance in ABC TV's "Thank Your Lucky Stars" last month. Their set left viewers in no doubt about the kind of music featured by this energetic group".
Their 45 sold well locally but not quite enough to make the national record charts. The same reaction was met with the second single by Keith Powell and The Valets titled 'Tore Up' that was issued early in 1964.
On February 5, 1964, Keith Powell and The Valets were the opening band for "The Rolling Stones" when they performed at Willenhall Baths near Walsall, West Midlands with a sell-out ticket price of six shillings! Mal Ritter remembers sharing his drum kit with Charlie Watts that night.
Like many top local groups, the Joe and Mary Regan "circuit" of four venues provided much work for Keith Powell and The Valets. The Plazas at Handsworth and Old Hill, The Brum Cavern, and The Ritz Ballroom in Kings Heath. Mal Ford recalled; "On these bookings, bands followed each other to each gig, actually playing possibly four gigs a night for, if I remember correctly £12 for the lot and that was to be shared with all members of the band! Who cares - we were always broke anyway and Mr and Mrs Regan were lovely people to work for."
The Valets guitarist Colin Wood also had memories of those wild times. He said; "It was earthy, loud and exciting, not to mention sexy, riotous, sometimes even dangerous, and just a whole lot of fun. Parents hated it which was reason enough to like it. What can you say about the late nights and going for weeks without seeing daylight. Then there were the girls ... I believe we saw one or two about the place. So appreciative and accommodating! Oh, and the music was great too!
Despite also touring all over the country and getting a great reaction from their stage-show, Keith Powell and The Valets were unable to get that all-important "hit record". Not having a songwriter in the group may have also proved a disadvantage. Colin Wood said; "In the beginning all we could do was play songs that came from elsewhere. After all, we knew that we didn't invent rock 'n' roll so we thought we couldn't write our own. But we did create our own brand of music from the start."
By the end of 1964 after a third great single had missed the charts, Keith Powell had decided to pursue a solo singing career and signed to the Pye subsidiary "Piccadilly Records" label under Rockin' Berries producer John Schroeder who intended to capitalize on Powell's powerful and distinctive vocal talent.
John Schroeder said; "Personally, I did not like 'type casting' an artist, but Keith's vocal strength lay in his ability to 'feel' R&B oriented material and it was in this belief that I based my ideas as far as the type of material we should record."
As was popular at the time, it was decided to cover a song already proven to be a hit in the USA. John had Keith Powell record a Curtis Mayfield composition, the classic gospel-inspired 'People Get Ready' as recorded by "The Impressions" in 1965. Backed by top session musicians, Keith's version of the song was impressive though unfortunately it failed to make an impression on the charts. Keith composed the B-side to his second solo single titled 'Beyond The Hill' with the featured A-side 'Come Home Baby' by hit writers Mann and Weil.
Keith's next Mann/Weil recorded composition 'Goodbye Girl' was also impressive and well produced, becoming a hit unofficially on pirate radio stations, but his subsequent singles were less successful. By the mid 1960s, the record charts were dominated by "pop groups" which made it increasingly difficult for solo performers to make an impact.
Keith was then teamed up with well-known singer Billie Davis who had scored a hit record in 1963 with 'Tell Him' and was girlfriend of former "Shadows" bassist Jet Harris. Keith and Billie recorded three well-produced singles together, including 'Swingin' Tight' that were good enough to make the charts but unfortunately didn't. John Schroeder said; "This double-act became considerably successful, especially live, and became established as "The Keith and Billie Soul Package".
Between 1967 and 1968, Keith Powell was featured in many radio broadcasts of the "Geoff Gough Big Band" and also became the resident compere at the "Talk of The Midlands" in Derby. During the following decades, he maintained a healthy career as a singer which included many years in cabaret touring various countries including South Africa, Seychelles, Mauritius, and Mozambique. Until recently, Keith Powell maintained his own personal web site.
John Schroeder who produced Keith Powell's solo records said; "Keith Powell remains to my mind a very underrated artist, blessed with a wealth of talent that has never been justifiably exposed. Keith continues to work consistently because he is an artist with vast experience and professionalism. He can justifiably be classed as a great entertainer"
Meanwhile back in Birmingham, The Valets continued to perform and underwent some line-up changes including the replacement of bass guitarist John Allsebrook with Steve Horton from Denny Laine's old backing group The Diplomats. Also in 1966, guitarist Colin Wood left to go and live in Australia where he today runs his own successful publishing business and was replaced by David Spencer. The Valets became "The Showman", backing local singers Gordon and Janet-Anne Andrews.
Founding member Mal Ford later led his own band and eventually moved into promotion and artiste management with his own company called "Personality Artistes Ltd", a business that he continues to operate successfully from his home base in Blackpool.
Mal Ritter who was one of the original members of The Valets still enjoys playing drums to this day. He can be found at the popular "Tower Of Song" live music bar in Kings Norton Birmingham on most Thursday nights where he performs as part of the house-band.
To see a special feature on Keith Powell and The Valets, click HERE
Thanks to Mal Ford, Colin Wood, Keith Powell and Mal Ritter for their assistance in writing this feature.
Copyright © John R Woodhouse
Keith Powell Solo Singles:
Keith Powell with Billie Davis Singles: