In 1966 some of my friends and I formed a beat group (later, beat groups came to be referred to as ‘ ‘bands” but not ’til the late Sixties); we were based at Boston Grammar School and even practised in the newly built Sixth Form Common Room. We had a lot of problems throughout our one year career in Boston, but I can honestly say, with my hand on my heart, that there were never any ego clashes (which is unusual in Rock Bands!) It was such a struggle with our meagre amount of equipment, learning to play the songs, remembering what came next, we never found the time to argue with each other! (Aso, transport was a huge problem i.e. we hadn’t got any!)
Everyone in the group was in the school’s Sixth Form – myself on bass guitar, Dave Wortley on vocals (waiting to go to University, and a very good footballer), Dave “Hank” Hancock on rhythm guitar (who’d transferred from Kitwood Boys’ secondary modern; not quite as good as “Hank” in The Shadows!); Nick Flynn on lead guitar (the son of highly respected local bobby – Sergeant Flynn) and Randall “Raz” Boulton on drums (one of the younger members of the group, very good at Art).
When Dave Wortley eventually left the group (taking his P.A. system with him) he was replaced by Nigel “Nij” Wilkinson, but, in fact, Nij only ever rehearsed with us: the group broke up before we ever had a chance to do a gig with him, but he plays a central part in the story I am about to relate.
One of the problems we had was with the Boston Mods, who were quite a large, aggressive local teenage cult group. Very few of them were grammar school boys (there were one or two), very few of them were social friends Of ours; the result was that they gradually took on the ambition of always being there to cause havoc at the gigs of “Gotham City” (though, luckily they never actually damaged anything – or anyone!)
The name of our group was always a source of disappointment for me. I had had no say whatever in the choosing of it, I would have preferred something more romantic, heroic or fashionably psychedelic. Yet strangely, though, I did not feel offended nor did I complain: the overriding factor for me was that I was in a beat group: But I always preferred the “fans” to refer to us by our abridged nickname “The Gothams”, which to me sounded less corny and more like the name of a band. As I recall “Gotham City” was chosen by three of the band – Nick, Dave and Hank; they said that we should cash in on the then popular TV series about Batman and Robin, and I was just happy to be in a band. They could have called us ‘ ‘The Cosmic Pods” as far as I was concerned; but I did feel a little disappointed: I ‘ve always been very name conscious and my father allowed me to name all of his racing greyhounds at the various tracks; of course at that time Boston had a track.
The lads came up to me at school one fateful afternoon (l can see it now) and proudly gave me a yellow Batman sticker the size of a penny piece (old money) and told me where to stick it (on my second-hand red Hofner bass guitar). This I duly did, without uttering a singe word of protest, obedient to the last detail.
One of the most memorable clashes with the Boston Mods took place in the upstairs ballroom of Boston’s White Hart Hotel near the town bridge. (l believe it was part of a suite of rooms known as the Louise Rooms). We were second on the bill yet again! Top of the bill were The Foundation (not to be confused with Clem Clempson’s pop-soul band, The Foundations). Their drummer was Johnnie Eagle, member of a family who’ve been running a fish and chip restaurant in Boston for many years, lead guitarist was well known men’s hairdresser, Malc Fletcher; as for the rest of the group, I’d be guessing but Dave Greenhough (brother of Steve) may have been on rhythm guitar. Well it was nearly fifty years ago.
As you go in, they set up in the right side of the hall, we set up at the bottom end, with our paltry set of equipment, and when they came in, the Boston Mods established themselves on the left hand side of the hall, well within barracking distance of “Gotham City!” We reluctantly played one or two soul numbers only because all the other groups kept telling us this was what Boston audiences wanted – “Land of a Thousand Dances”, “In the Midnight Hour”, “Willy Nilly” and so on. But when we launched into Sam and Dave’s “You don’t know her like I know” two of us were in one key and two of us were in another, only Raz, the drummer, knew what he was doing. Of course this was grist to the mill for the Boston Mods, who began laughing out loudly and uproariously. They had enough musical ear to know that we’d slipped up. Full of heroic anger, I strode manfully towards them, overcoming my natural angst on the way. When I got there, through all the fog of arrogant smoking that was going on, could see the look in their eyes, above their smirks , the pupils were extremely dilated, (there was a big pep pill scene in Boston at the time and according to what I had heard, the Mods were well into it).
Remembering the time-honoured saying, something about “lives to fight another day”, I swiftly did an about turn and returned to the relative asylum of “Gotham City”, putting on my guitar strap and electric bass once again, ready for action; after all I could hardly rely on Batman and Robin flying through the White Hart windows on their way to my assistance but there was more chance of finding them in the precincts of their own city. Nick wouldn’t be much use to me with his Buddy Holly spectacles (the Mods would have happily crunched them underfoot), although the fact that his dad was a local bobby might be of some use as a deterrent, but the Mods didn’t come after me (I’d scared them). We struck up again, and this time we all agreed to play in the same key; an ironic cheer went up from the contingent of Boston Mods of whom several were quite musically literate and played in groups.
Another incident with them took place at Blenkin Memorial Hall, at the back of Boston Stump Church, again, two groups were playing and we were the support act; the main group was The Limits with two lead guitarists John Booth and Steve Greenhough. But before we went on, Dave “Hank” Hancock had told me that, while I was away from our changing room, the Mods had come into the room and told whatever Gothams were there that they would smash up all our equipment if we went on stage tonight (not a five minute job anyway!) Obviously they daren’t talk like that if I’d been there after my outrageous acts of heroism at the White Hart hotel dance! Anyway we went on stage before the top of the bill, The Limits, and nothing happened with regard to the Mods’ threat. It had just been talk.
The Limits yet again proved to us that we weren’t playing any numbers that people could dance to. When we played, customers stood and watched; as soon as The Limits struck up everyone started dancing! It made us look as if we weren’t doing our job; but Dave Wortley, our vocalist at the time was the only one in the group who liked that sort of music; I, for example, was into “psychedelic pop” – The Jimi Hendrix Experience, The Pink Floyd, some of the American West Coast groups like Jefferson Airplane. Sometimes the group let me sneak a number I liked into our repertoire such as “Over Under Sideways Down” by the Yardbirds; this song had some very meaningful lyrics to which I could easily relate, plus a great psychedelic lead guitar solo halfway through which, I believe, was played by the now legendary Jeff Beck.
One day I was in Linguards record shop in Wide Bargate (the only record shop in Boston at the time that sold musical instruments and amplifiers as well; there was Allens’ record shop across the way, but they sold tellies, not musical instruments!); I was flicking through the box of 45 rpm record singles situated near the shop’s front door. These were new, but had often been reduced because their flimsy paper covers had been badly torn or, in some cases, they no longer had one! On this occasion I had a real “find” in there – a reduced single by the much respected American West Coast psychedelic group simply called “Love” and led by another now legendary rock icon, Arthur Lee, who died not very long ago. I’d read about them in the pop music weekly “Melody Maker” but never actually heard them; even though I was hard up, I decided to invest, even so; what a buy it was! I got home with it, put it on the turntable for the first time. Immediately I loved it! Couldn’t believe how exciting it was to my 18 year old’s crazy mixed up mind and spirit! Quite simply it was me all over: psychedelic pop feel, a pounding racy beat, Bob Dylan style surreal, at times poetic, lyrics – I hadn’t heard anything so exciting for yonks! I decided right there and then it had to be “snuck” into the Gotham City repertoire. And so, Nick Flynn was the first choice to pass it on to, because Nick had the “ear” to work everything out just by listening to the record i.e. we didn’t have to buy the sheet music.
Let me explain that: the way we worked in those days was that Nick took a record and, by listening to it repeatedly, he could then tell me what the bass lines were and Hank, the rhythm guitarist, the chord sequences. The singer would then have the record and copy all the lyrics down (if he could hear them:); then, finally, Razz the drummer would just have the record to listen to, in order to get the feel of it. He might copy the drumming, he might not – it was up to him, but lending him the record for a few days familiarised him with it – I think on this occasion, actually, if memory serves me well, he did copy the drumming.
I had managed to sneak “7 and 7 is” into the repertoire and we were going to try it at the next rehearsal, which would be upstairs in The Music Room Of The Indian Queen pub in Dolphin Lane (now called “The Four Kings and the Indian Queen”). This venue had become our regular practice place now; we had left the Sixth Form Common Room where we were restricted to always having to practise straight after school.
The reason for this was we had to class ourselves as a school club/society in order to get use of the room. Thus Boston Grammar School Jazz and Blues Society was born: It was the only club at the school that didn’t have any members! But we were men now, we must be, we were rehearsing in a local pub!
And so we arrived at that evening when we first tried out “7 and 7 is” by the American West Coast group, Love. Everyone was present (Dave Wortley had left) and a new vocalist from the school Nij Wilkinson. I was on bass, Nick on lead guitar, Hank on rhythm guitar, Razz on drums, to begin with there were no supporters present: we were expecting two later on, to listen to us; Keith “Lurch” Baker and Roger Beeston, both from the Grammar School. We zinged it straightaway! Never sounding better in the entire history of the group; the original record was rather short, so we had arranged the number to last four minutes. I looked across at the other members of the group as we played; we all just smiled at each other as if to say, “Good, ain’t it!” This was the first time there had ever been any genuine empathy between the various members of the group; we had just needed letting off the leash: Raz, in particular, excelled himself on drums, almost getting carried away by the fast train-like style of the beat, I was stalking around the small stage, heroically dipping and craning my neck in real rock style. Nick almost took his glasses off! The new vocals sounded great. This was how life should feel being in a youthful rock band, and it proved to me something that I (and the Boston Mods) had never suspected: that when we had the right material, we were brilliant!
Suddenly the Music Room door was flung open and in walked Roger Beeston and “Lurch” Baker, grinning from ear to ear. “That was incredible,” they enthused “we’ve been standing outside in Dolphin Lane listening to it.” Both Keith and Roger were, like us, Sixth Formers, but Roger had a car and had passed his test, so that came in very handy for moving the equipment to a gig when my dad wasn’t available. “Absolutely marvellous,” they continued, “it sounded great outside.” The next one in was the pub landlord: “What happened?” he said, “you’re sounding professional!” All of this fulsome praise was brought to us by the song “7 and 7 is”. Well they say that seven is a lucky number, don’t they!
Since 1966, I’ve always carried that blissful teenage scene with me; in fact, the song is still one of my all time favourite numbers. Of course the fact that I was the one who discovered it in Linguards’ music shop made it all the more gratifying. I had experienced two new feelings, the actual words for which I only came across in later life. First of all, there was “empathy”: the group were now communicating musically with each other, we were as one, giving to each other that knowing smile, a sense of truth; secondly there was “fulfilment” – we felt happy, we loved that song, being in a group now felt more than being a case of meeting girls at gigs, being well known faces in local teenage social circles. This was a complete feeling that centred around pure enjoyment of our music at the time we were playing it – nothing else came into it. Youthful enthusiasm abounded – for once, youth wasn’t being wasted on the young. If only the Boston Mods had been there to witness our finest hour!
What happened, later on, to the various “members” of Boston Grammar School Jazz and Blues Society:-
Nick Flynn, lead guitarist: Nick moved to Nottingham with his parents and still lives there today, running his own upholstery business. Since leaving Gotham City, he has played with various professional groups at a high level. I have seen Nick recently on two occasions at the annual dinner of the Boston Grammar School Old Boys’ Association. He has now replaced his Buddy Holly spectacles With some designer frames! and is still lovingly playing guitar.
“Raz” Boulton: In the Sixties, Raz played a Beverley drumkit which at the time was just about the cheapest drumkit you could buy! and on a par, quality-wise, with Hank’s Antoria electric guitar! He was a nice lad and always did a good job for you. I believe he went to Art College after leaving the Grammar School, but I haven’t seen him since those heady days.
Myself: After Cotham City, the next group I was in was called “Stake”, another name I disliked intensely and had no say in choosing! That group was at Hull University, the name being supplied by the lead guitarist who was into Black Sabbath (a Birmingham group, the same city he came from) and Hammer horror films! Our greatest claim to fame was that we were bottom-of-the-bill to John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers and “Eire Apparent” (who played the Woodstock Festival) at Hull University rag dance in 1970. I later went on to work for Mungo Jerry who had a very well known number one hit with “In The Summertime”, and then became a secondary school teacher of English and Drama.
Dave Wortley: Dave always drove a scooter, it was a Vespa or a Lambretta, but he was never a Mod! On pillion would be his loyal girlfriend, Jenny; they were inseparable. Dave was heavily into Soul Music and Tamla Motown, the two types of music that I personally disliked intensely! I was more a fuzzy hair, smoke bombs and long guitar solos man! But I still got on well with him. He was an excellent footballer and played in the same grammar school eleven for which I was goalkeeper. He definitely went on to University but I have never seen him since.
Dave “Hank” Hancock: I Hope Hank’s still got his cheapo-cheapo Antoria electric guitar because I’ve been told they’re now fetching a fortune as a Sixties curiosity item! He went up to Hull University in 1968, the year after me. In the meantime, after the break-up of Gotham City, he had found another niche as a rhythm guitarist with newly formed local group, The Synix. Like Dave Wortley, Hank also had a scooter, but had graduated to a car by the time he arrived at Hull University. Strangely, I don’t recall him ever being involved with a rock band in his years at University.
Nigel “Nij” Wilkinson: Nij was a very smart-looking, tall lad who was still at Boston Grammar School when I left in March of 1967; I often saw him up town at lunchtime. It’s a pity he only ever rehearsed with the group and didn’t do any actual gigs, as he was a very promising vocalist and seemed to take to “7 and 7 is” very readily. To the best of my recollection, he had neither a scooter nor a motorbike (l had a motorbike). After I went up to Hull Uni in October ’67, I never saw Nij again, but I did meet a very good school friend of his at a recent Old Boys’ annual dinner (he remembered the group:)
Keith “Lurch” Baker and Roger Beeston: Keith and Roger were supporters of the band. “Lurch” as we called him, had no transport but Roger was one of the few Sixth Formers who owned a car! and, of course, with our paltry amount of equipment, we didn’t need a transit van, a car was perfectly big enough, even for Razz’s drumkit: I suppose you could say Roger was our “road manager” but really he was just a mate helping out. Apart from Roger, everybody connected with the group was scooter, motorbike, cycle or walk!