Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Tales From A Woodie (Part One)

Who are the Woodies? That’s a question I’ve heard asked once or twice over the last few years. There is no simple answer, apart from the fact that they are part of a loose-knit roots music group, the name of which comes from the occasional quirky, but now long-running, newsletter Tales From The Woods, the creation of ex-railway signalman and music fan turned promoter, the eponymous Keith Woods.
Apparently there are now over 300 registered members spread over several countries and no doubt each of them has his or her own tale to tell about the road that led to them becoming a Woodie – Tales From The Woodies, as it were. Among them are old rock and rollers, Cajun swingers, jazz fans, soul nuts, Jerry Lee fanatics, punk rockers, blues enthusiasts, country music fans, lovers of ska and rocksteady, sixties pop music addicts, guitarists, drummers, saxophone fans, piano players, music hall experts, comic collectors, vinyl fanatics, old movie fans   – and many more besides. For some it’s a social club, with monthly meetings, trips to places of interest and regular attendance at music gigs, weekenders and festivals. For others it’s a way of keeping in touch with old friends via the newsletter, phone or email. There is no identikit picture of what a Woodie looks like. The only thing that binds them together is a love of the music and culture of their youth. And a belief in the Woodies motto: You Only Live Twice.
Here’s my story.
My journey to Woodies land is probably typical of many. As a teenager I loved rock and roll, American pop, soul and blues. I was too young to see Bill Haley on his first tour, or Buddy Holly and the Crickets (although I remember vividly their appearance on Sunday Night at the London Palladium), but I knew and loved the early 78s of Haley, Presley, Fats Domino, Charlie Gracie and Little Richard, which were brought home by my older sister. I started to collect records in about 1960, although I had very little pocket money. I resorted to cycling from my home in West Wickham to Clapham Junction, quite a distance, where there was a shop that sold ex-juke box 45s for one and thruppence.
The main source of pop music was the distorted sound of Radio Luxembourg, backed up by occasional visits to the fair, where real raw rock and roll came blaring out of the speakers as I rode on the dodgems. Later there were the pirates, but in my formative years it was primarily 208, with Jack Jackson, Jimmy Savile (dare I mention his name these days?), Keith Fordyce, Pete Murray and ‘yours truly’ Tony Hall. On TV there was 6.5 Special, but even then I knew that the mostly British acts that appeared weren’t the real thing. Jack Good’s Oh Boy! was a step change in the right direction as the occasional US visitor would appear alongside Cliff, Marty and the others, and who could forget Gene Vincent and Eddie Cochran on Boy Meets Girls? There was also Cool For Cats, with wrestling presenter Kent Walton playing records, and, later, Ready Steady Go, which introduced genuine US legends like Otis Redding, the Ronettes and various Motown acts  to the British public.
As the early sixties progressed I managed to see quite a few of the visiting American package shows, at local theatres such as the ABC, Croydon, the Granada, Tooting, and the Fairfield Halls in Croydon. In 1962 alone I remember seeing Gene Vincent and Brenda Lee, Bobby Vee with Clarence ‘Frogman’ Henry and Tony Orlando, Dion with Del Shannon and Buzz Clifford and the Everly Brothers with Ketty Lester. Best of all I saw Little Richard and Sam Cooke at the Tooting Granada and went backstage to meet them and get their autographs, which I still have today. (see photo)
The following year I saw Chris Montez and Tommy Roe, with the Beatles bottom of the bill, and Jerry Lee Lewis and Gene Vincent at the Fairfield Hall, with Heinz, who was booed mercilessly. There were the Everly Brothers and Bo Diddley, with the Stones low down on the bill, and I much enjoyed the Folk Blues show at the Fairfield Hall, with Muddy Waters, Sonny Boy Williamson, Willie Dixon, Memphis Slim and Otis Spann, among others. There were also shows with Bobby Rydell and Helen Shapiro, and Duane Eddy with Gene Vincent and the Shirelles. In 1964 I saw Roy Orbison at the Fairfield, a second blues show with Muddy Waters and Sonny Terry and Brownie McGhee,; Chuck Berry and Carl Perkins, and a third blues show with Howlin’ Wolf and Lightnin’ Hopkins. Meanwhile, the Friday night dance at the Justin Hall in West Wickham featured local groups such as the Kon-Rads (including a young David Bowie) and the Tru-beats, later the Herd (with Pete Frampton). Gene Vincent even appeared there once.
Although I loved rock and roll, I became a sort of mod as a result of owning a scooter and loving soul and bluebeat, as we called ska at the time. I rode my scooter to the so-called mod-rocker riots in Hastings and Brighton. In truth, there were very few rockers there, but the mods made their presence felt, marching through the town and even breaking a shop window on one occasion!
All this time I was recording my top ten favourite discs once, or sometimes twice a week, giving me a record of my tastes at the time. American records made up at least 95 per cent of the entries and I had little time for the British covers that dominated the charts of the day. Beatles? Rolling Stones? OK, but nothing special. Swinging Blue Jeans, Freddie and the Dreamers, Gerry and the Pacemakers? Do me a favour.
After A levels I got a job as a trainee journalist on the Croydon Advertiser and volunteered as the paper’s record reviewer. I received hundreds of 45s and still have quite a few today. If only I’d kept all of them! I also got to review some of the concerts in Croydon, including the Stax/Volt revue of 1967, with Otis Redding and Arthur Conley among others, but in which Sam and Dave impressed most of all.
I moved to Lancashire at the end of 1968 and that effectively brought my music interest to an end for around 20 years. I lived in the Wigan area for a while and went to the Wigan Casino a couple of times, soaking up northern soul, but it was a period that I call the Slim Whitman era, as many of the Scousers who I knew while living in Skem (Skelmersdale) were country fans with little interest in soul or rock and roll.
My interest in music revived in the late 1970s with the arrival of punk and I remember seeing Blondie at the King George’s Hall, Blackburn, before they were big and still non mainstream. But in terms of the Woodies I may as well skip to the late 1980s. By this time I was back in London and beginning to redevelop an interest in the music of my youth and scouring car boot sales for old 45s and LPs, which I do religiously to this day.
To be continued


At 3:04 pm , Blogger Dave C said...

The Woodies’ motto/slogan is in fact ‘Remember – you’re only young twice’. Keith first used it in issue 2 (of the newsletter/magazine) to encourage readers to attend a forthcoming meet-up, and has subsequently signed out with it from issue 5 onwards.

It did appear once as a strapline in issue 3, but it did not re-appear until issue 57, since when it has become a permanent feature.

I believe at one time you had to swear an oath while holding a copy of ‘Roll Over Beethoven’ in your left hand, although this may have been dropped.

At 3:43 pm , Blogger Nick said...

Thank you for the correction. You are of course right about the slogan. However I think it was Great Balls Of Fire that had to be clutched while taking the oath, with the left trouser leg rolled up to the knee of course.

At 8:59 pm , Anonymous John S said...

... I thought the oath was sworn with a 78 of Gene Vincent's 'Race With The Devil'?


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