A Potted History

During the mid to late 50's the youth of America were in the grip of Rock-n-Roll, and it wasn't too long before this hit the UK, when Bill Hailey and his Comets came to town.

This was quickly followed by an avalanche of Americas greatest rockers: Little Richard, Gene Vincent, Jerry Lee Lewis, Buddy Holly, and The Big Bopper, to name just a few.

From then on, the dance halls around the country, and the UK record charts, and life itself, would never be the same again.

Suddenly young people found inspiration in the music, and an identity of their own, instead of just following their parents, and so the teenager was born.

So naturally, it wasn't long before the UK started to produce its own brand of Rockers, all wanting to be the next Elvis, or Buddy Holly. Young hopefuls from all over the UK started up their own 'Skiffle Groups' and tried to emulate their new found heroes. 

However, these were poor times in the UK, most families had to survive the best they could, with the bread winners in the family in low paid, low skilled, and often unpleasant, often dangerous jobs.

So there was no money available to buy expensive new equipment; like the latest Vox amp, or a shiny new Gibson or Fender Guitar.

But this didn't deter our young hopefuls, who simply made do with what they could beg or borrow, often rescuing old beat-up acoustic guitars from second-hand shops, and junk shops.

A Double Bass was very expensive, and electric bass guitars were thin on the ground, so often one was fashioned from; an old tea chest, their mother broom handle and some string.

The drum kit was any object that could be beaten senseless with two sticks, and a posh version would be another tea chest turned upside down. Some would even join their local brass bands or youth clubs, just to acquired the use of their equipment.

So great was the teenagers demand to see their idols live and up close, that self styled entrepreneur and promoter Larry Parnes, seized the opportunity and formed a stable of artists, and organised major countrywide tours, stopping off at every large town that had a theatre or a Danilo or Essoldo cinema. 

It was not unusual (pardon the pun) to see as many as 10 top acts all in the same show, and all for as 'little' as two shillings, (equal to just 10 pence in today's decimal currency !).

The artists would cover their hectic schedule by travelling the country together in a single-decker-bus.

The first artist that Larry Parnes managed was Tommy Hicks, who Parnes renamed Tommy Steele, who became the UK's first home-grown Rock-n-Roll star.

Larry Parnes continued this trend, as he managed more and more artist, including:

Reg Smith, who became Marty Wilde.
Ronald Wycherley, who became Billy Fury.
Clive Powell, who became Georgie Fame.

Also Cockney Joe Brown - but thankfully he resisted a name change (Parnes wanted to rename him Elmer Twitch !)

Larry Parnes widened his interests in the music business to include most aspects of the entertainment world, to include the theatre and musicals, etc,. 

He managed groups including The Tornados, and produced musicals including Chicago

In 1960 Parnes even hired The Beatles to back Johnny Gentle, after rejecting them as the backing group for Billy Fury.

There's no doubt that many artists of all kinds owe their professional careers to Larry Parnes, because without him, entertainment in the UK would have looked very, very different.

But then in the early 60's a new home-grown sound exploded on the scene, when Brian Epstein finally managed to secure a record contract for his comparitably unknown group, called The Beatles, and the Liverpool Sound was born.

This was quickly followed by the Manchester sound, and the London sound, as new wannabe Entrepreneurs, Agents, Promoters, and Managers scoured the country searching for similar bands.

This amazing demand for quality live music, continued to spur-on young hopefuls, well into the 70's, but as the fans got older and their tastes matured, the venues shifted to the more sophisticated surroundings, of glitzy supper clubs.

These were amazing times, when you could go out most nights of the week, to one or more clubs or pubs in your area, and see a live band perform to a really high standard, and at really low cost.

Most of these artists were self taught, and had a real passion and commitment for their music, which generally they had to learn to play the hard way, by trying to figure out what the chords and notes were to the latest chart hits, by repetitiously playing the original records over and over again, until they could get it right.

There were no fancy gizmos, or sophisticated digital sampling devices, or computers to make learning easy, they had to do it the hard way, and if necessary spend hours and hours practicing until they got it right.

Oh my how things have changed, and not necessarily for the better.