Covers and Originals

Every now and then I’ll try out a paragraph from this new book and invite comments. So here goes:

“During the Rendezvous and Birdcage days, very few of the British bands played ‘original’ material – the majority of R&B, soul and blues bands, covered American recordings for most of their set. John Mayall frequently wrote original lyrics but mainly in the form and style of the post-war 12-bar blues, Chris Farlowe’s material included songs by contemporaries like Jagger & Richards but on the whole the range of acts, whether Downliners Sect, Graham Bond, the Vagabonds, the Action, or Geno Washington found their live material on others’ records – even when as with the Action, their arrangements and style brought something unique to the covers. The Who, like the Beatles, were an exception from their fairly early days with some fine Townshend-penned singles, and so too Ray Davies with the Kinks. Locally, very few Portsmouth bands were playing any original songs as 1967 arrived – they were generally expected to cover well-known material in whatever genre – but that would change quite soon for some of them”.


Voice Your Choice

(The Radiants) one of those classic soul tracks that ‘Brady’ was likely to play at the Birdcage. But as 1966 turned to 1967, Brady was about to follow his mate Robin Beste out of the Birdcage and on to another life.

1966 was a bit of an up-and-down year at the club, but it finished pretty well with John Mayall, Little Richard, Cream plus regular favourites the Vagabonds, Action and Alan Bown Set in the closing weeks.

1967 opened with a record night called “Freak Out” although I doubt whether many Frank Zappa tracks were played. There was a three-way split looming as the club suddenly started Ska nights – mostly on record but occasionally someone like Prince Buster would turn up. It’s interesting that the year of the Summer of Love was also the year of ska/Bluebeat (named after the record label of the singles).

The club continued to book those favourite soul/Tamla acts although the Action were already exploring new stuff with covers of tracks like “Why” by the Byrds. Alan Bown would follow suit. And soon to arrive were the Pink Floyd, alongside the Who, the Knack and the Syn who would ‘sort of’ metamorphose into Yes. The In Crowd came regularly but they would soon turn into Tomorrow – “My White Bicycle” and Keith West with his “Teenage Opera”.

Changes were in the air then and across the Atlantic, the Trips Festivals were well underway (Ken Kesey, Grateful Dead etc), while Jefferson Airplane had released their first album in 1966. Early in 1967 the first album by a new LA band appeared; The Doors, including “Light My Fire” and a lengthy finish with “The End”. The Youngbloods eponymous album also appeared early in 1967 with one of the more enduring hippy anthems, Dino Valenti’s “Get Together” urging us “try to love one another”. I last heard that back in the summer on the Isle of Wight performed by Banana of the Youngbloods and Barry Melton of the Fish. It endures – Happy New Year Bloggers:




Almost Cut My Hair

Over the next twelve months my focus will be on the transition from mod/soul and pop to all the fun and excesses of 1967 and beyond – psychedelia, the Summer of Love, Sgt Pepper and all that. Here are a couple of photos – one perhaps familiar, the other recently acquired – which show something of that change. First, a group of Birdcage boys in late 1966:


On the right (above) is the very smartly attired Steve Conway, looking every inch a top Mod. Just a few years later he’s on the right again, below:


Seems as though the suit and tie are long gone and the hair is definitely sprouting. On the left is Steve’s sister Lyn – Mr Tench and I performed at her wedding back in 1969 at the Star in Lake Road. And who is that man with all the hair in the middle? Who could it be?

Incidentally, I’m guessing this might be the Bath Festival of 1970 or one of the IOW events?

And my title comes from a David Crosby song.


What are you doing New Years?

Once upon a time I used to gig but not these days. Usually loved NYE gigs – always better paid and I’m no great fan of the whole celebration thing (do you reckon things’ll get better come Monday?). Birdcage New Year’s Eves were usually fun.

This year, I’ve no idea what’s happening around town, but I do know that on New Year’s Day (Sunday) there are a couple of pub sessions lunchtime/afternoon around Southsea – the Barley Mow with Shep Woolley and mates, and the Auckland blues jam with Andy Broad.

I learned all this from a seagull:



Carrie Fisher RIP

I have to confess I’ve never made it all the way through any Star Wars movie but I’m sorry for her that she’s died at a relatively young age. OK here’s a daft question which partly tests whether you’ve been paying attention and partly checks whether your interest in popular music is as anal as mine. Answer very soon:

What links Carrie Fisher to the Birdcage on New Year’s Eve, 50 years ago this weekend?

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From then to now

Those of us in the previous post no longer look much like that. Meanwhile Mick has been meeting up with old buddies – to share a can of beer? He says:

“Had a gathering at Geoff Davis’ place last night. With us also drummer Mike ‘Clump’ King. The first photo of the three of us together since about 1978? when Geoff and the Gee Dees played at the Honky Tonk Bar underneath Neros – 38 years ago. Sadly missing is Fred Illingworth”.

Cheers Mick


And here they are back THEN – not sure what’s going on!!




The Times They Were A Changing

And rather rapidly

I’m coming to the end of my 50-year-old diary, as 1966 closed. I was in the 6th form at school (not very successfully) and worked at the Post Office over Christmas which meant money for the Birdcage and records. I was very solidly into the blues at Christmas 1966, buying records by Fred McDowell, Sleepy John Estes, Junior Wells and BB King, while my folks bought me a classic blues book, Urban Blues by Charles Keill (Muddy, Sonny Boy, Bobby Bland etc).

On 23 December I saw Wishful Thinking at the Birdcage, dismissing them unkindly as “rubbish”, while on Christmas Eve the Vagabonds (10/-) were no longer thrilling and on New Year’s Eve the In Crowd and Graham Bond (not the Organisation) were ok (the evening “got better”; it cost 12/6d).

Just around the corner the Birdcage was about to undergo a kind of three-way split in the New Year with a mix of early UK psychedelia, regular ska sessions and the old favourites with their soul covers. By the following Christmas, the legendary venue was gone for ever.

In the R&B charts, the top records were “You Keep Me Hanging On”, “What Becomes of the Broken Hearted” and “Mustang Sally” – my particular favourite, the Temptations “I’m Losing You” was at number five. I’ve never lost my love of the great American soul records, but some of the UK’s live acts were becoming a bit predictable – and at the Birdcage we had already seen alternatives like Cream, the Who, Small Faces, the Move (etc).

The top records in the Christmas pop charts were crap: “Green Green Grass of Home” followed by the Seekers (“Morningtown Ride”) and Val Doonican (“What Would I Be”) – although lower down there were hints of something more interesting (“Sunshine Superman”, “In My Mind’s Eye”, “Good Vibrations”). On the whole, the singles charts were increasingly less significant than the albums.

The UK’s first counterculture newspaper International Times (IT) had been published in October 1966 and as December came to a close, the UFO club opened in Tottenham Court Road with the Pink Floyd and Soft Machine.

On Boxing Day I was part of a crowd of over 21,000 at Fratton Park, watching Pompey beat Plymouth 2-1 (Lewis & Portwood) in Division Two. They’re still in Division Two, with Plymouth of course, only it’s not the same Division Two and they don’t work very hard over Christmas these days either. Back in 1966 they went back to Plymouth the next day (0-0) and four days later up to Coventry (scoreline censored). I still played football (and cricket) in those years, but that was another change for me – as music increasingly took over my life that was abandoned for 3/4 years.

Finally and on a personal note, perhaps most significantly, Christmas 1966 was the last year to date that I was not in a band and gigging over the holiday period.