Remo Sands and The Spinning Tops (Oldham)
Remo Sands and the Spinning Tops started life as The BlakJaks in Oldham , circa 1962. A naff name and equally naff spelling, but they thought it was pretty cool at the time, and if the misspelled name of an insect was good enough for a certain group from Liverpool, it was certainly good enough for them.
The original line up was, Eddie Gibbons (vocals), Paul Whitehead (bass), Bob Moorhouse (drums), Alan Mellor (rhythm guitar) and Austin Hardman (lead guitar).
The band served its apprenticeship playing in pubs, social clubs, and youth clubs and at weddings in and around Oldham . It was never really for money. In those days, the band just enjoyed performing, and if they made enough to cover a few pints, a packet of fags and some fish and chips on the way home, they were happy enough.
Eventually they realised that by way of the amount of practising they were doing they were improving and engagements started to come in on a regular basis.
As a result they became more ambitious, but apprenticeship wages and miserly appearance money meant that decent equipment and reliable transport was way beyond their reach. A fiver a night seemed to be the norm. Maybe at Christmas a tenner. Such wealth was beyond their wildest dreams.
BlakJaks circa 1963 - taken when appearing at the Oldham Empire with Billy J Kramer and the Dakotas, with Dave Lee Travis as compere.
Alan Mellor, Brendan Druggit, Austin Hardman and Brian MacGladdery. At front - Bob Moorhouse
Bob the drummer had managed to get his mum and dad to shell out for a Rogers kit but the rest of the gear consisted of various beat up Hofner guitars played through equally beat up Watkins amplifiers that buzzed and rattled if you tried to turn up the volume. Paul on the bass used to play through a Watkins Dominator amp which shook to bits and it wasn't until then they realised that you could buy amps built specifically for bass guitars; not that they could afford one.
Eddie Gibbons departed for personal reasons and Paul Whitehead was asked to leave as he wasn't coming up to scratch. Brendan Druggitt a rhythm guitarist and backing vocalist joined with Alan Mellor switching to bass. Eddie's replacement on vocals was Brian McGladdery.
The importance of having decent gear was brought home to them at a gig in the Uppermill Civic Hall. They were supporting a group from Stoke on Trent that went by the name of Bry Martin and The Marauders. They were blown away by the power of the amplification and they realised they needed new more powerful amps if they were to compete. However the lack of cash continued to be a problem. Parents were not particularly well off and credit was frowned upon in those days.
Then, what they thought would be a salvation. The landlady of the Salisbury Hotel, a run down drinking establishment at Mumps Bridge , Oldham , placed an advert in the Oldham Chronicle. She was looking for a band to play two nights a week on a permanent basis. Wow, a residency with regular income that would allow them to invest in new kit. After a few weeks of dodging flying bottles, beer glasses, and anything else that could be used as a weapon or missile in a bar room brawl, they decided they didn't need that so they engineered the termination of the “contract”. They simply screwed up the volume of the amps until they were rattling off the stage and for good measure Bob hammered hell out of the drums. That did the trick, they were fired that night.
The band continued to play the local clubs and was keen to broaden its horizons. Unfortunately the agent it was working through had limited access to venues outside Oldham . The Manchester and Liverpool scenes were well under way and the bands appetite for success was whetted even further by visits to the Oldham Astoria to listen to Faron's Flamingos, Sounds Incorporated, Ian Crawford and the Boomerangs etc. Faron's Flamingos was probably the favourite as they were fascinated by the way Faron used to leap up in the air to crash down on his knees at the start of a middle eight.
Alan, the bassist, attempted this one night at Hill Stores Ballroom in Oldham but only succeeded in splitting the knees of his black PVC jeans. By this time they had managed to persuade their parents to kit them all out in those “essential” fashion items. Alan couldn't afford to replace his, so for future performances he used to disguise the split by applying black shoe polish to his kneecaps.
Eventually they did manage to upgrade to Vox 30 amps and better instruments but by and large it was still a hobby and most of the money they earned went to pay for the equipment and transport costs.
Then they spotted an advertisement in the Oldham Evening Chronicle inviting local talented musicians, and vocalists, to enter the Frankie Vaughan Talent Competition. They all agreed that was going to be the route to stardom and one Saturday afternoon they duly turned up at King Street Stores Hall Oldham for the local heat. Sadly the artists outnumbered the combined numbers of the audience and the judging panel, one of which was a Mr Phillip Lowrie, starring then as Dennis Tanner in Coronation Street . They were beaten into second place by a Kingston Trio style of group called the Wheldon Chaps. Clean cut youths in white trousers, white shoes and white jumpers, singing the types of songs that grannies loved. Somewhat disappointed the Blac Jaks thought that again fame and fortune had passed them by, but no. The Wheldon Chaps pulled out of the next heat and the agent who was producing the show, one Harry Gunn, contacted them and asked if they would take their place in the next heat which was being held at the Oldham Empire. The heat was to be part of a show that included Eden Kane and Mike Sarne, he of Come Outside fame, a song that featured Wendy Richards, now a launderette manageress in a place called Walford. Also on the bill were Faron's Flamingos.
Onwards and upwards they thought. There were interviews and photos in the Oldham Chron. Fame had arrived at last and they were treading the boards that had been trod by so many famous people. Who those famous people were they couldn't remember; perhaps George Formby?
That night they won. The “clapometer” proved beyond all doubt that they were the most popular turn on the night. To ensure fair play the compere asked for a volunteer from the audience to check the readings on the instrument. What the compere didn't know was that the volunteer was a guy who used to be a drinking buddy. Whatever, they were on the way to the North Pier Blackpool, to appear alongside the great man himself, Frankie Vaughan. Charabancs were hired to take all the pub's customers to Blackpool . The band left early in a newly acquired Bedford Dormobile to avoid the crowds.
Their turn came to appear. The theatre was packed and nerves were taut. The number they performed was Chains. On the same bill were two other bands. Denny Seyton and The Sabres who had some success around the north-west and a band from the Burnley area called the Four Pennies. They performed Juliet but came second to the Sabres. However, the Four Pennies went on to have a number one hit with that song which had been written by band member Lionel Morton. The Blak Jaks came third. They were disappointed but it had been a good experience had been fun.
They were a bit surprised to be again asked to appear at the Oldham Empire. Thye were billed as “runners up in the Frankie Vaughan Talent competition”. At that time regular Sunday night concerts were being held and they would be on the same bill as Billy J Kramer and the Dakotas , Cilla Black and Mark Peters and the Silouhettes.
Eventually they were introduced to Ronnie Stratton, a car salesman from Manchester. Ronnie was an acquaintance of Wayne Fontana and the Hollies. He had one or two contacts around Manchester and he went to listen to them at the Bodega on Cross Street . At that time the Bodega used to open on Monday nights and the pay used to be a percentage of the door takings. He agreed to manage them. Whether he had any experience as a manager they had no idea but they thought that if he was a car salesman he must be good for something.
He suggested that a name change was vital and it was he who came up with the name Remo Sands and The Spinning Tops. They thought it was a joke at first but decided that it was different and might attract a bit of attention so they would give it a go.
Another masterstroke that Ronnie came up with was to introduce them to Ian Waller (Big Wal), a damned good bass player and no mean backing vocalist.
Wal had been playing in a band called the Wailers, the members of which eventually made up Herman's Hermits. However Wal, being a very big lad, didn't seem to fit the pop idol mould, so he was replaced by Karl Green. Ronnie suggested that the Spinning Tops recruit Wal on bass to beef up the band. Alan Mellor, realising that Wal was streets ahead of him in playing ability graciously offered to stand down and take up the roadie's position. That quite suited him really because when the band was on stage he could be off chatting up the talent.
Ronnie was able to get the band some gigs further afield from Oldham . They were at the many venues on the MacKiernan circuit such as the Carlton Lodge Newcastle under Lyme, the George Hotel Burslem, and the Royal Hotel Crewe. They ended up knowing every bump on the M6. The Alma Lodge in Stockport used to be a nightmare venue. The rules were that bands had to play hour-long slots without a break. If you needed a pee after having a couple of pints before taking the stage, the one who was bursting would signal to Bob that it was time for a drum solo so that he could dash off to the gents. They often wondered how Bob managed not to piss himself. Maybe he kept an empty bottle behind the bass drum.
Fame still eluded the band although they had built up quite a following. Ronnie thought it was time to think about recording. They auditioned for Ron Richards the Hollies recording manager but must have failed to impress as that came to nothing. They arranged session at Malcolm Harding's studio in Leeds and at Olympic Sound in London and cut a demos. They were hawked around but no one seemed to be impressed.
By that time there was friction building in the band and Brendan Druggitt left after a row about money. A guy called Kevin Andrew replaced him, Kevin had been a rhythm guitarist and vocalist with another Oldham based band called the Dawnbreakers. Kevin's face didn't fit and he was unfairly voted out to be replaced by Tony Bamforth, a keyboard player. This added a new dimension to the band and allowed them to play in a more blues style. Then Bob Moorhouse decided he had had enough and left. He was replaced by Don Rathbone formerly of the Hollies. He didn't stay long and Tony's pal Alan Forbes was drafted in to replace Bob. He proved to be an extremely competent drummer and forged a great partnership with Big Wal.
However despite the changes, which on reflection were for the better from a performance perspective, it was obvious the band was going nowhere fast. Ronnie seemed to be losing interest and it all came to a head at Belle Vue one Easter Monday when after the gig had finished a van turned up and Brian McGladdery, who by that time had dropped the name Remo Sands, Alan Forbes and Tony Bamforth packed their gear into it a drove off into the sunset. That was the end of the Spinning Tops.
It wasn't quite the end though. Big Wal, Kevin Andrew, Austin Hardman with Peter Coward on drums, formed a band that despite promise never took off. In fact it never performed in public.
Later Wal and Austin teamed up again with Bob Moorhouse who by that time had found new enthusiasm for playing and joined an Oldham based band called the Klue. Their lead guitarist had decided to quit so Austin joined and it wasn't long after that when the bass player also decided to leave. This was a cue for Big Wal to get back on the scene. For a short time they enjoyed some success, albeit fairly limited. With Jimmy Semple on vocals, it's understood he still does the Oldham pubs, Dennis Haywood on organ, Colin ? a sometimes saxophonist, they covered soul numbers of Otis Redding, James Brown and Wilson Pickett.
Eventually Dennis decided to leave to concentrate on his family business. Big Wal, Jimmy, Bob and Austin Hardman carried on for a while but in the end called it a day.
Big Wal, who had always been a bit of a whiz on the old electronics, and had built various gadgets such as wah-wah pedals and amps for the Spinning Tops, went on to design and build Wal basses. Sadly he died suddenly as a result of a heart attack in 1988, still a very young man. Although compared with the production rates of Gibson, Fender, Gretsch etc. the production rate was low. Wal guitars were generally built on a commission basis and finished to the highest standard. In his guitar manufacturing business Wal sought perfection just as he did in his playing days. Wal guitars are still played by some of the world's best-known bass players. See http://www.trevorandthea.eclipse.co.uk/wal_history.htm .
"The original bass player with Herman's Hermits was a guy called Ian Waller who was nicknamed "Big Wal". He went to the same school, (Burnage Grammar), as myself and Colin Leckenby, Derek "Lek" Leckenby's brother, Derek also being of Herman's Hermits fame.
HH used to play our Christmas Dances, (probably for free), however when HH got their recording contract Big Wal was replaced, as being a portly sort of chap he did not fit in with the image. Wal subsequently went on to join Remo Sands and the Spinning Tops.
Interestingly Wal built a bass when he was at school. It was an exact copy of a Fender Precision and Colin brought it down to my house one evening to play and it was superb. I believe he subsequently went on to be one of the partners of WAL basses."
I don't know who wrote the "Memories" above, but Wal was never a Hermit, nor did H H ever play Christmas parties at Burnage Grammar. Wal and I were born 6 months apart in the same street in Burnage, and were considered "brothers." I still miss him.
Dave Chalmers - 5/11/09
I left the band due to a medical problem I was dealing with at the time. I was surprised to hear that my "Face didn't fit". I went on to play with the Emperors of Rhythm and a few more groups before I moved to Canada. I am now 65 years young and still playing. Hop on a plane and catch my act at The Tartan Toorie on the third Thursday of every month. I still have a voice and play guitar. I have fond memories of the Spinning Tops and the groups I played with including the The Dawn Breakers. If anyone remembers me, please drop me a line.
Kevin Andrew - 22/8/11