The Doorway - Brian Higham
Brian Higham was involved with Barratts of Manchester for many years - starting as a Saturday boy then later managing the store for many years.
They say "If you remember the sixties, you weren't really there" - for Manchester musicians it should perhaps be re-worded to "If you don't remember Brian, you weren't really there".
Brian tells some of the many stories about the guys who walked through Barratt's doorway.
George Harrisons guitar :: Beatle's microphones :: Steak and kidney pies :: Buddy Rich :: Retail and the pleasure :: Graham Nash :: Ted Lee :: The surprise call :: Golden Garter days (and nights) :: Maxton G Beesley :: Elton John :: The Barratts Manchester United Connection :: Paul and Brian :: Sir Cliff & Brian Lewis :: The Lennon Letters
I was at school (Broadway Sec Modern in Cheadle) when I first heard 'Heartbreak Hotel' by Elvis Presley.
Having been brought up on a diet of Hank Williams, Lonnie Donegan and Guy Mitchell, not to mention Tennessee Ernie Ford and Kay Starr, it came as a surprise that somebody out there could sing the way he did, so I went to my local radio shop that had a record department and, having saved up my pocket money, ordered a copy.
On the day it arrived I took it to school with me taking great care not to drop it. After assembly all the would be’s gathered around whilst we played it on the school record player.
I can still see the reaction on the faces of my class mates as they listened in disbelief at what they were hearing. It was awe and wonderment (perhaps a more modern phrase would be 'gob-smacked').
Wouldn't mind but this came after Bill Haley and the Comets (who years later I was to meet). Then there was 'The girl cant help it' with all those great stars like Little Richard, Eddie Cochran with the fabulous '20 Flight Rock' but still before that was ROCK AROUND THE CLOCK when all the kids were jiving in the cinema isles to Bill and the Comets.
Having been taught to play some chords on the guitar by a family friend (Jack Livesey) I set about what was to be a life long love affair with the guitar and good old rock and roll.
On Saturday mornings I used to get the number 1 bus into Manchester and walk up and down Oxford Street looking in all the music shops and theatre costume shops and then walk through Albert Square and make my way over to Shude Hill just to look in Highams music shop.
They had what was then the only Hofner President guitar in Manchester, there was another shop on the same street which sold second hand guitars and I spent quite sometime in there - it was called Godleys.
It was on one of these solo visits into town that I was walking up towards Oxford St when I noticed a man parked outside a sheet music shop unloading bundles from the boot of his car. He was having some difficulty with his packages so I offered to help him unload, for which he was very grateful.
I saw him again about two weeks later and we said 'hello'. He asked me what I doing in Manchester on Saturdays so I told him of my interest in music. He then asked me my name and asked would I like a Saturday job selling sheet music (I think it paid seven shillings and sixpence for the day).
I accepted and he said see you next Saturday at 9 o'clock prompt. 'By the way', he said, 'my name is Mr Fred Barratt.'
It was the following Saturday that I first walked through the doorway that was to change my life, and the lives of countless others who walked through the very same doorway, for ever.
In a moment the whole world of music lay before me, things that you could only dream of before would now embrace me for the rest of my life.
The next couple of years went with a bit of a blur. I spent my Saturdays selling sheet music in the little corner shop on Oxford Street and running all over town. Mr Barratt had a business partner who was also called Fred (Fred Rhodes) and he was a really very nice man. They were both into brass band music and eventually the odd instrument would appear in the shop hoping to get a sale through their contacts in the brass band world.
It was not long after that the first guitar arrived at the shop; it was a Hofner Senator and I couldn't keep my eye’s or my hands off it. Eventually as more things were sold more arrived and instead of being a sheet music shop, it gradually became a bona fide music shop now proudly named “BARRATTS OF MANCHESTER” after its founder.
It was around this time (with the influence of Tommy Steele) that I, like lots of other kids around my age, decided to join the Merchant Navy. It seemed that to be famous it was the thing to do, sort of an apprenticeship before you hit the big time, see the world, sow your wild oats, etc.
So I said goodbye to Oxford Street and Mr Barratt and headed off (with my parents permission) for a life on the open sea - little knowing how soon it would be before I would be back on Oxford Street, back in the job that I would be in, one way or another, for the rest of my working life.
I left home on a very cold January morning (1958 I think) to catch the number 40 bus to Stockport Station where, with my ticket in hand provided by the Merchant Navy Training School, I waited for the train to arrive to take me to Gloucester.
Even the train was special - it was called “THE PINES EXPRESS”. On arrival at Gloucester station I met up with some other lads who were going to the same training school at Sharpness on board the Training Ship T.S. VINDICATRIX (that’s another story but half the intake had guitars and they were all far better players than me at the beginning. When I left it was a different kettle of fish).
I don’t remember his name though I do know he was from Bristol. This guy was so good that when he played the intro to 'Wake up little Susie (Everly Brothers)' it just blew me away. He taught me so many thing I didn’t know about - the many different ways of playing the guitar, even how to hold your plec (pick plectrum). I still play that way to this day and it has always stood me in good-stead and for that I thank him.
After 8 weeks I passed the final exams and wasallocated a port from which I would eventually sail, this was called a pool. Mine was Manchester (Salford docks). I was taken on by Manchester Liners and within two weeks I was on my way down the Manchester Ship Canal to Liverpool and then on to Dublin for two nights. From Dublin we went out into the western ocean to our next stop - Philadelphia USA.
The boat I was on was called the Manchester Shipper under Captain Hancock. When we arrived in Philly we were allowed ashore and you could sub out of your wages. Once you got past the coast guard and the medic’s you had to carry a card to say you had been looked at by them and you had nothing catching or nasty.
On getting ashore I went to a place near the docks called Valentinos Coffe Bar where I met a guy called George Carbone. His brother looked after the Liberty Bell, so a quick visit was made and they made you feel really welcome.
I then got a taxi to down town, where I found a music shop and after about half an hour I emerged having purchased my first guitar it was made by Stella - now Gibson.
From Philly the boat went right down the eastern sea board calling at so many places - Norfolk, Chesapeke Bay and Wilmington NC where I bought an Ink Spots album and six pairs of socks. Then it was on to Jacksonville, Florida. It was here that I bought a Chuck Berry single 'Sweet Little Sixteen' from Stuarts Record Shop.
After this last stop we were heading for home. I had been away for 8 weeks in the USA but it had seemed like a life time. I enjoyed it but had already decided that it wasn't for me. The head cook was a nutter, the baker was suicidal and I never wanted to peel another spud in my life. Despite these things, it was a great thing to do for a 16 year old and an adventure I will never forget.
When I got back home I thought about going back to the shop and asking for a full time job, now that I was a man of the world and well travelled but instead I went to work for a company on the Manchester Stock Exchange called Bell, White and Hardy.
It sounded like some rock outfit but that could not be further away from the truth. It was awful, it smelt of old fags and whiskey breath. My job was as a filing clerk - how boring that was. I think I lasted about 6 mths before I was dimissed, sacked, had to leave the building and told never to darken their doorstep again.
All this was because I told one of the office staff to 'kiss my perpendicular'. It wasn't meant to be rude - it was a joke. I just liked the word PERPENDICULAR. Anyway, she told the office manager, he took the hump and told the boss, who then hauled me into his little piece of the emporia and to my disgrace (I don’t think) I was summarily told I was sacked.
The only thing I missed about this job was my lunch time visits to the Plaza on Oxford St, where the manager was a chap called Jimmy Savile whom I got to know quite well in those days.
A lot of guys who played in groups at that time but worked as well (semi pro we called it) used to meet there regulary. It was a guy called Tex who one day asked me where he could get a spare part for his guitar so naturally I suggested Barratts of Manchester and off he went.
I saw him some time later and he told me that he had been to Barratts and the young guy who served him was most helpful. I wondered who that could be as I knew it could not be Fred Barratt, as he was a lot older. The only other person I could think of was his son, whose name was Adrian.
I had only met him a couple of times when he came to the shop with his father. Anyway I didn't go to the shop or enquire any further. For the next 6 to 9 months I went from job to job and played with a few different groups (we didn't call them bands in those days). It was during this time whilst I was working in Handforth that I met an old friend from my boy scout days called Dave Smith who was quite a good guitar player. He introduced me to a guy named John Lee and with drummer Dave Randles, we formed a group called The Strangers.
One day we arranged to reherse at Johns house,when I got there he had a Vox amp with an echo unit in the back. It was the first one in Manchester. When I asked where he got it from he said Barratts on Oxford Street.
I said you know you would not believe this but I used to work there on Saturdays before I went into the Merchant Navy. The upshot of this was the following Saturday we all went into Barratts music shop.
I was a little surprised that Adrian remembered me, as we only met a few times but that didn't matter as everyone got on great and in the fullness of time we all bought new instruments.
But me being me, I went to see Fred to ask which guitar he thought would suit me best, after all he was the man in the know. After much chinwagging and with Adrians help, I finally bought a Hofner President in sunburst. I think it cost 39 guineas and my mother had to sign the HP forms, for which I will be ever grateful.
This first guitar was unfortunately damaged by a catch inside the case. I took it back to the shop and because Fred knew me so well, he got Selmer of London to replace it for me at no cost to him or me, so I was back on the road.
By now it was late 1959.
Cliff and the Drifters had arrived along with a host of other up and coming stars from both the USA and the UK. I can still remember so clearly the night I went to the Free Trade Hall to see 'The Kalins Twins'.
The support group was Cliff Richard and The Drifter’s (later to be renamed the SHADOWS because of the US group The Drifters). Rock and roll was here but there was still this feeling in the air that something else was about to explode. It was like a tube of tooth paste waiting for someone to give it a big squeeze.
By early 60 - after all the pub and club gigs that I had done with different groups, I finally went back to work at the shop. There was a good understanding between Adrian Barratt (who was now running the shop while Fred his dad pursued the brass band side of the business with his partner Fred Rhodes) and myself as there was only a year difference in our ages.
This was the beginning of a very long and sometimes stormy friendship but was also the beginning of a most exciting time for both of us. The ground rules were set very early on, he was the boss's son so he was in charge, I was just second in command which wasn't easy when you are an up and coming rock star with an ego to match.
By this time I had played in what seemed to be loads of bands. It was during this early stint at the shop that John Lee and myself got back together and formed a new group called “THE HARBOUR LIGHTS TRIO” (trio got dropped quite quickly).
So sometime around '61 I left the shop once again to concentrate on the group but promised Adrian that if it didn’t work out I would come back to work for him again as we had a really good partnership going for us.
The Harbour Lights got off to a great start with new drummer Mike Foord joining John and myself after the original drummer Pete left because of his job. It was now the finished article but I was never away from the shop because we were always buying new gear and one Saturday after a long consultation with Adrian, we splashed out on brand new up to date equipment having just secured a residency three nights a week at the Royal Oak Hotel (it was a pub but posh) in Alderly Edge Cheshire, you know the stockbroker belt.
I was the proud owner of a Chet Atkins Gretsch Tennesean and a Vox AC30, John had a Hofner violin bass because a guy in a Liverpool group had one and Mike had a Ludvig Super Classic Drum kit, oyster pearl.
SCENE AT 6-30 ON GRANADA
Someone had squeezed the tube of tooth paste and the explosion had happened with a bloody BIG BIG BANG - THE BEATLES HAD ARRIVED and life would never be the same again for any of us. Not just would be pop stars but kids, young and old alike, mums, dads, vicars, nuns - you name it they loved them, yeah, yeah, yeah.
For me it wasn’t such a big surprise as in my early days at Barratts I used to go to the BBC quite frequently in Hulme and Dickenson Road, where they often did a spot for radio or in between the NDO sessions. You could say that we shared the same bacon butty - they weren’t big time, just another group trying bloody hard to make it. I only ever met them later 2 or 3 times after that but I’ll come back to that later.
One night when we were playing at the Oak, Adrian came up to see us play and I have to say he was very impressed (why would he not be, we were great). Anyway the real reason for his visit finally came out after we had finished the gig.
Over a pint or two after time he asked me to come back and work for him as shop manager. Sadly his dad Fred had passed away very suddenly and he was going to have to look after the brass band end of the business. After a very very long talk we decided that I could combine the two things as it was all about the same business, so yes there I was back in my beloved Oxford Street once again - working at the same shop. Once again the job offer had come from Mr Barratt albeit Mr Adrian Frederic Barratt Jnr known to his friends as”AFB”and if you were not a friend watch out ! But if you were a customer then he would always be your best friend.
Because I was still doing gigs with the Harbour Lights and visiting the clubs around all town I used to meet all the top Manchester bands. Pete Cowap even came up to the Oak with Lek from Hermans Hermits and Pete got up and played three songs - Matchbox, High Heel Sneekers and I can’t remember the third one.
I found myself catering to all the wants and needs of the respective members of each band that I had sold gear to or bands that wanted all sorts of group gear. Some of whom went on to be household names and some who didn't but were still as important at the time. The story from here on in will most likely not be in chronolodgical order as each person and band has its own story of how they passed through the “DOORWAY” and how the lives of each was transformed for fame and fortune, or not as the case maybe and those who reached the heights only to fall back down again and some who had already made it and would continue to do so to this day.
Over time the lines have become a little blurred, so I wll try to tell of the event featuring a particular person or place as that one story and the facts as I recall them.
A friend of mine had invited me to go out with him and some other guys out of different bands one night to a well known pub called the “Yew Tree” in Wythenshawe where they had live music on.
On this particular night the highlight was “The Karl Denver Trio” with Karl on guitar and lead vocal, Jerry on bass and on lead guitar was a man named Brian Horton. I got to know all three very quickly and it wasn't long before they visited the shop.
Brian was from Wales and was a very nice man, he taught me how to play a demi-semi-Quaver up and down the first string. Sadly he was going deaf so he missed the moment of glory the trio had in the charts, when he was replaced by Kevin, an ex-BBC guitarist. He played on Whimoweh, Marqeta and their other hits. Jerry was the quiet one and Karl was just himself; a bit on the wild side (well, he was from Scotland).
When he got his new flat he didn't have much, so I gave him an old record player we had hanging around. He couldn't say thank you enough. Well at least he appreciated the gesture.
I knew that the Beatles were in town because I had taken some gear the day before to the props department at Granada studio's. The props guy said they were due the next day.
The next morning around 10 o'clock a car pulls up outside the shop (Barratts Of Manchester) and out gets this guy dressed in an off white Mack style thing with leather buttons on it (very 60s). As he came in to the shop I recognized him as being the Beatles roadie, Neil Aspinall (the other roadie was a great guy Mal Evans).
He was carrying one of those beige Selmer guitar cases. Anyway he walked up to the counter where one of the staff said "Can I be of some help to you?" (more probably "wad-ya want mate?" ). He asked to speak to Brian Higham so the member of staff said who shall I say it is,his somewhat terse reply (that's Neil) was tell him "Its the Beatles".
I came from behind the counter we shook hands and Neil explained that George had asked him to ask me to look at the tuners as he was having big problems tuning up.
Well, the third tuner was bent where it had sustained a knock and three of the others were loose so I told Neil that they will have to be changed, to which Neil replied George said that he needed it for the concert tonight at the A.B.C. Ardwick Green (now the Apollo) and that I might be able to do it today as a special favor.
Now these particular tuners or machine heads as we called them were the big grovers so the problem was finding some that day. I made some quick calls and lucky for me they had a set at head office in Denton.
So I asked Neil to leave it with me and as I was gigging in Manchester that night I would drop it in at the Apollo in time for their gig.
Neil then explained that they were doing Granada and then a photo session so he would need to borrow a guitar of some kind, it didn't matter what it was he said as it wouldn't be plugged in it was just for the pics and miming for the TV.
I had a quick look round the shop and we had a secondhand Maton MS-500, will that do the job and Neil said that it would so off he went Maton in hand. I drove to Denton where Adrian Barratt was waiting with the machine's, I picked them up drove back to the shop and changed to faulty ones (I still have them).
After I had closed the shop I went for a bite to eat and then went over to the Piccadilly Club to drop some stuff off for my gig (the harbourlights ) and just by chance I bumped into Norman Rossington who played the Beatles roadie in "A Hard Days Night". We had a quick drink and then took a cab together to the A.B.C. where we were met by the head of ABC and given the full VIP treatment.
We were ushered back stage and there as you can imagine there was lots of introductions and hand shaking, I met up with George and we disappeared to a small dressing room with the now repaired Gretsch and spent a good while tuning up, the Gent was fine but he also had a Gretsch Tennessean 12 string which Gretsch had done specially for him and that was a real bugger to tune (I think in the end he later gave it away to one of The Sounds Incorporated).
Anyway, I spent the evening with them an watched the concert, spoke to Paul about bass string as you would, watched Coronation Street with John (in black and white) then set about putting the world to rights and discussed the advantages of short scale guitars (his Riccie was s/s) while drinking a most disgusting cup of tea out of a paper cup.
Ringo was in the sounds dressing room looking, well, like Ringo. "How's it goin' whacker" was the greeting I got. Brian Epstien turned up and was very charming. The gig was great to watch from the wings but why the hell they bothered tuning up I don't know,you couldn't here a dammed thing for all the kids screaming,
John only had to point to the floor and the noise got louder if that was possible. As soon as they finished they came straight off and passed the guitars to the roadies. We had a very quick hand shake and they ran and were in the vehicle that was at the stage door and drove off into the night.
That folks was my night "With The Beatles". I went back to the Piccadilly Club did my gig at 12 o-clock and then went home a very happy andsatisfied little bunny.
George called me a few days later and asked if he could hang onto the Maton for a while so I said fine keep it as long as you like and he did.
THE REST AS THEY SAY IS HISTORY.
PS I did something that night that I had never done before or since. I asked them for their autographs and I still have them to this day.
Just to put you in the picture, I had met the Beatles several times before the Maton Guitar episode. I used to go down to the BBC Playhouse in Hulme most mornings and then Dickinson Road to follow up deals or sales with the Northern Dance Orchestra.
There was this group from Liverpool that had a gig there on regular NDO sessions at the Playhouse - doing the bit in between. At the back of the Playhouse, there was a lady that had a sort of butty bar for coffee, bacon rolls and buttys. I would sit there for ages while the NDO rehearsed and recorded, waiting for them to have a break (whilst the boys did their bit in between) and as soon as they broke it was wheeler dealer time.
But like I said while the NDO were working, the boys would come to the butty bar for a ciggy and a snack. George smoked more than Fred Dibnah's traction engine - he could smoke three fags while having a butty and a cuppa.
We used to talk about this and that - mainly about guitars and how much you got per gig and where. They were always very chatty and witty with it.
George and I were particularly chatty (hence the Maton thing ) but they were just another band trying to make a crust. I told Mal Evans that if they came to Manchester and had any problems to give me a ring at the shop.
On one occasion he did ring in a bit of a panic. The boys had come to Manchester to play a gig at the Oasis on Lloyd St. This was one of the biggest gigs in Manchester at the time. Well, the phone rang and, for those in the know, Barratts had two phone numbers. The number 236 0052 everyone knew but there was a lesser known one (236 4843) and it was this number I had given to Mal Evans.
He was in a bit of a panic to say the least. It turns out that The Beatles roadie had come all the way from Liverpool to Manchester for the gig but Mal had left the microphones back home in Liverpool. At that time they were using the two sided Reslo ribbon mike's.
Anyway I told him not to panic and asked him what time were they doing a rehearsal or sound check. I then explained to Mal that I only had the latest model in stock which were the Reslo C.R.H. Directional which were one sided - to which he replied any thing would do just get them here before Neil and John throw a fit.
Off I went to the oasis with three Reslo C.R.H. mikes and 3 Valan stands (the CR2H came after '62 I think ).
As soon as I arrived outside the club, waiting for me was a very relieved Mal Evans. We went into the club where all the other gear was set up ready for the gig and I said to Mal that I would set up the mikes for him and because they hadn't used this type before, I would run through the PA set up with him.
All the guys were there and from the minute I started setting them up John Lennon never left my side, always asking questions like 'why was there only one side' and 'would it affect their sound'. I explained that they were directional and vocally it might improve things (now was that cheeky or what?).
By now Paul and George had become more interested, as instead of sharing one mike they now had two - but guess what, when I had finished setting up and they were ready to do a sound check Paul pushed his and George's mike together like as if they were one.
I looked at Mal he looked at me and said that that was the way they like it and so it was. With Ringo perched on his drum kit, they did a bit of 'Some Other Guy', 'Standing there" and one or two others I can't remember.
Afterwards they all said how good the sound was and John in particular was highly delighted and said that they might buy some at a later date (yeah yeah yeah we've heard that one before ).
Anyway I was just glad to help Mal out of his predicament and was chuffed that the boys were so pleased. There was lots of thanks, joking and hand shaking as I said 'see ya' and left to go back to the shop. Mal rang the next day and said that he had left the gear at the Oasis with the manager and that they were in a safe place. He also thanked me personally and Barratts Of Manchester for pulling out all the stops to help out.
As we now know, they would become the biggest band the world would ever see.
This story is dedicated to the memory Adrian Barratt who was a great friend and great influence on the Manchester music scene throughout the 60s and 70s until his untimely departure from the job to which he devoted his life and to whom I owe a great debt.
Steak and kidney pie's, meat and potato pie's and the Beatles, now that seems like an unlikely marriage but here is how it came about.
I was sitting in my local pub in Cheadle village (Cheshire) - the George and Dragon. I don't remember what day it was - it might have been a Thursday because that was my day off from the shop.
As I sat there gazing out of the window across towards Cheadle Green, I saw a white van turning into the pub car park. You had to go through an archway to reach the car park at the rear of the pub. A couple of minutes later, these four leather clad figures appeared walking past the window where I was sitting.
I thought 'I know those faces'. First John Lennon, then Paul McCartney and George Harrison, then finally Ringo Starr passed the window. He looked in the pub window and winked at me. I had met them before.
Next door to the George and Dragon was a very high class confectioner and bakery. The actual bakery was in Ashfield Road where I lived at No 2 and was called The Premier Cafe Bakery.
Well, the boys had gone into the shop so I went outside the pub and when they came out, they had all bought steak pie's and meat and potato pies.
After the 'hellos' and 'what are you doing here' with everybody talking with mouths full of pie crust and potato, we all went into the pub tap room for a drink and they sat there eating their pies.
You see, things were different in those days. You could take your own grub in the tap room in this pub. Some of the local council workers used to have their buttys in there at lunch time and the land lady never used to mind. The council workers didn't know what to make of these long haired rockers from Liverpool.
John was in stitches laughing at old Perry the road sweeper in the corner who had taken his teeth out and put them on the table whilst he sucked on his butty. By this time the whole of the tap room was laughing including me but to this day I don't know what at. George ended up having to go outside, he was that doubled up with laughter. Paul and Ringo were also doubled up.
The landlord and landlady, Frank and Marjorie Bagnall, heard all the commotion and came to investigate. They were good friends of my family, so I made the introductions and everybody chatted for a while until it was time for the boys to leave.
We went out to the car park, they all jumped in the van, we said our goodbye's and waved them off.
The Beatles had just had lunch in my local pub, eating pies from my local shop - now ain't that something.
Marjorie Bagnall has told this story of how the Beatles visited her pub so many times and why not! Sadly Frank passed away some years later but good old Marjorie is still truckin on and lives in Timperley Village to this day.
She still tells the story whenever I see her and it has now gone down in folk lore in Cheadle Village. I think we should have put a sign up saying "THE BEATLES WERE HERE" with thanks to Frank Wienholts (the owner of the Premier Cafe Bakery).
THE REST SHALL WE SAY ONCE AGAIN IS HISTORY, but it has been a pleasure to tell this little story again.
It was one of those usual Saturday mornings in the shop - very busy, all the guys from all the bands around buying stuff ready for that evening's gig.
Some would be buying new gear which they had saved all their gig money for over a period of time. The thing a lot of bands did was to save all the money and then re-kit the drummer. Save then re-kit the lead guitar and so on until all the band had been re-kitted out with bright shiny new gear and there was always plenty of haggling going on as they sought to get what they could for old gear which was put in as part exchange. Sometimes band members would spend the whole day in the shop; first dealing with me and then with Adrian or Clive Neale - just waiting till they could squeeze the last quid usually out of Adrian as he always had the last say (well, he was the boss).
On this particular Saturday, I had arranged for a drummer from a local band to come in to look at a second hand Ludwig super classic drum kit finished in blue oyster pearl. You would never know it was second hand and though it had only one owner from new and had very low mileage, it had done its fair share of gigs. I knew this drum kit well as it belonged to my drummer Mike Foord of 'The Harbour Lights', who had recently left the band due to work commitments and with A.F.B’s permission, we were selling it for him.
The guy who came in to see the kit was over the moon with it and bought it as soon as he found out that it came complete with cases, cymbals and just about everything that a drummer needed to be on the road and gigging. It was a cash deal so a figure was soon agreed on and we shook on the deal.
In those days, if you bought a new or second hand guitar or drum kit you would make the deal sweeter by giving the customer (you usually knew them anyway) a set of strings or a couple of sets of sticks If it was a sax player we would give them some old second hand Rico reeds that had been left on the floor at the playhouse or the B.B.C by the N.D.O.player’s….just joking Paul.. I digress…….
From Paul: Luxury! I used to buy mine from Jim Reno's and they tasted like they had been hidden somewhere private for the past few weeks :-)
With the above in mind, I invited the customer over to the stick bar where we always kept a good selection of different makes ie.Ludwig, Premier, Slingerland, etc. Well, as I said before it was a very busy Saturday and the shop was packed.
I took my customer over to the stick and said help yourself to a couple pairs of sticks. Now with the best will in the world these Saturdays could be a little trying and fractious as with every genuine customer you got a small section of people that just mithered you to death about nothing at all or how Granny burnt the kitchen down or they were just browsing but that is the nature of retail.
On this occasion whilst my customer was selecting his drum sticks, when a guy behind me tapped me on the shoulder and was about to say something when I said "Excuse me but I am just with this customer". Once again he tapped me on the shoulder, which by now was beginning to get on my wick.
Once again he tapped me on the shoulder this time saying to me could I pick some sticks out for Buddy Rich. Thinking that he was taking the mick I replied “WHY DON'T YOU LET HIM PICK HIS OWN BLOODY STICKS”.
It was at this point that over my left shoulder right next to my ear a very deep drawl of an American accent said “Well thank you very much sir, if I could just look at the Slingerland sticks I will be out of your way in no time at all”.
As I turned to my left I found myself face to face with one of the greatest drummers in the world, Mr Buddy Rich himself. Its not often that I get stuck for words and I didn't on this occasion.
I said hello and we shook hands and he stayed in the shop for about an hour, chatting to all the would be world class drummers and customers that were in the shop at that time. He said how much he liked the shop and how busy it was and also how he loved coming to Manchester.
He shook hands with Adrian and myself and walked out “The Doorway”” and off up Oxford Street to do his gig.
I didn't charge him for the sticks that he selected and my customer had something to tell his grand kids, that he had met the great Buddy Rich - the guy who told Frank Sinatra where to stick it (but I believe that they made up some years later).
For anyone who reads this and has had the unenviable pleasure of working in retail, then you will understand exactly where I am coming from. Some days were good and some were bloody awful and then again some were funny and most memorable but on the whole it was in most cases a mundane pass time especially if you didn't like the job anyway.
But in the music shop every day was a brand new adventure, you never knew when something was gonna jump up and hit you in the eye or somewhere else for that matter.
In retail you dealt on a daily basis with people of every colour, class, religion and creed and you dealt with everyone the same. It was a life of music and in music so that’s how it was. Now I am not saying that problems did not arise they certainly did. It was how you dealt with it that mattered.
Now we had a lot of customers who lived in the Moss Side area of Manchester and contrary to the old urban myth “No” they were not all in debt and behind with there HP payments - it was just the opposite mainly.
One day a vary tall black gentleman (6ft-6ins approx - let's call him Mr Wilson) came into the shop carrying in one hand an 18 inch bass speaker (you try that). On being asked what the problem was he explained to the sales person (Eric Haydock) that the bass speaker was faulty and needed to be repaired and that he had heard that we could get it re-coned for him. The repair was taken in and Mr Wilson was given a receipt and told it would be about 3 weeks before it came back and Mr Wilson, smiling, said that was ok.
Exactly 3 weeks to the day Mr Wilson arrived at the shop with receipt in hand and asked could he please have his repaired speaker back. On seeing the paperwork was signed by Eric, the customer was passed over to him and off he went upstairs to see if the speaker was ready. IT WASN'T - so Eric came down the stairs and began explaining to Mr Wilson that the speaker had not yet come back from the people who re-cone them and offered his apologies. Now with some good reason Mr Wilson was not best pleased and made a point of letting Eric know this. Well Mr Wilson asked ”When will it be back then?” Eric replied confidendly that it would be just 1 more week. After much argy bargy between the two, Mr Wilson left vowing to be back in one week - things didn't look to good.
Sure enough, 1 week later Mr Wilson arrived at the shop and immediately sought out Eric (the pop star) in, I must say, a rather aggressive manner and demanded that his speaker be returned to him immediately.
Well now wouldn't you know it - IT WASN'T BACK. On being told this Mr Wilson lost his temper and demanded that we give him another speaker until his came back. Eric tried to explain that we did not have one and that he would speak to the electronics engineer upstairs to make sure when it would be back and so off they both went upstairs.
About 10 minutes later Mr Wilson appeared at the bottom of the stairs speaker in hand and then disappeared out of the shop door turning left to walk up Oxford Street.
Seconds later Eric appeared ”Where is Mr Wilson?“
I told Eric that he had just walked out of the door. He then told me that Mr Wilson had taken the speaker whilst he wasn't looking and that it belonged to another customer. Eric was told to get it back!
What happened next will stay with me for ever. Eric went out of the door we all followed to watch what went on. At that moment, the company van pulled up outside the shop with the driver Rick. We looked up the street and Mr Wilson was stood at a bus stop with the speaker in his hand waiting for the bus. Just stop and try to picture that. I told Rick that it was his job to get the speaker back. After a long conversation at the bus stop the speaker was returned to the shop and Mr Wilson got on his bus somewhat embarrassed at what he had done.
When Mr Wilson's speaker finally did return to the shop, I found the repair slip, put the speaker in the car and drove down to Moss Side to where Mr Wilson lived.
It was a very warm sunny day I remember as I drove my very shiny Ford 1600E towards the Moss. I found Mr Wilson’s house and he was there sitting on the front step, smoking a funny shaped ciggy (joint). He smiled as I pulled up.
I got out of the car, opened the boot and lifted out the speaker and of course he was all smiles and very happy to have his 18 inches back. We talked for a while and I said we were sorry he had such a bad experience with us. I also told him that what he did was wrong but very funny and we both had a laugh about it. I said I would have to get back to the shop and got up to leave - all 6 ft 6 of him.
We shook hands and I headed to the car. Just as I was about to get in the car, he shouted to me and then walked over and said to me “You had better have this” and passed me something. It was the money for the speaker repair and do you know I thought it had been paid at the shop.
So thank you MR WILSON…….a happy ending! He had his speaker, it was paid for and I still had my customer.
Big thanks to Eric for his sense of humour.
It was well known that Adrian Barratt would, if you got him on a good day, do you a really good deal the only problem with that was that he never told the people at the shop or anyone else for that matter what he was doing and so now and again things got lost in translation.
It was an unusually quiet Saturday morning in the shop when the phone rang and one of the staff said its Mr Barratt for you. Hello Adrian..hello Brian. Adrian then says there will be a chap(lets call him Mr Jones) calling in the shop later this morning and I have told him that he can have the Hofner bass on sale in the window for the sum of £36-00, will you see that he gets looked after properly to which I replied of course I will.
Sometime later a black gentleman sporting a natty pork-pie hat came in the shop and asked to speak to me. I knew the man in question and said hello and he said he had come to look at the Hofner bass in the window. We got he instrument out of the window and I said take your time trying it out. After a while he came up to the counter,winked and said I’ll be back.
Mr Jones came back into the shop sometime later and was carrying with him a soft guitar cover obviously with something in it. He came over and proceeded to take out of the cover a rather battered old home made bass guitar ( more like the wreck of the old 97.). Mr Jones then asked me how much I would give him for it against the Hofner bass that he tried earlier. I then had to try to explain that Mr Barratt had not mentioned a p/x and had said it was just a cash deal. Mr Jones said that he wanted to speak to Mr B so I thought what the hell he got us into this mess let him sort it so I rang Adrian and told him what had transpired.i told him that the p/x was not fit to resell but to keep Mr Jones happy allow £18-00 for the p/x.
I now explained the new deal to Mr Jones in this way.. The Hofner bass is £36-00 - the p/x allowance is £18-00 so taking that off the balance is £18-00… Mr Jones was somewhat perplexed at this and could not get to grips with the deal he seemed to think that there was nothing to pay because the p/x was £18-00..next???? is where I really made my big mistake.
I reached over behind the counter for apiece of paper and said to Mr Jones bear with me. I then wrote the whole deal down on the paper..i.e. Hofner bass £36…..p/x.£18-00 leaving a balance of £18-00 to pay.
Now I know what you are thinking ….so was i…anyone should understand that.
The mistake was about to happen, I was beginning to lose it a little and I could see big money deals all over the shop which was now getting busy and here was I farting about for A.F.B over £18-00 bloody quid. Here it comes …..i pushed the piece of paper across the counter to Mr Jones and said ….wait for it…..Look its there in Black and White mr jones do you understand. Well he looked at me and said …What do you mean man Black and white that is racial against me man. Is cos I’m black.i thought oh my god what have I done. Now anybody that knows me will tell you the one thing I am not is color prejudiced, it don’t matter to me if your black, white,purple or green you all spend the same color money and anyway you could not do this job if you were because of the diversity of your customer bass. .but there it was ,so what to do next…having thought for a moment.
I gave Mr Jones the Hofner bass and his p/x back also my profound apologies along with MR Barratts home phone number and suggested he ring him that evening.
The next time I saw Mr Jones was on the following Monday when he popped in the shop and thanked me for doing him a good deal. It turned out that Mr Barratt had too on that Saturday evening on the phone tried to explain the deal to Mr Jones but finally gave up I frustration and didn’t charge him for the balance. ….what balance……between you and me I think Mr Jones had a bit more oil in his can than I gave him credit for.
As for Mr Barratt on his next visit to the shop he stayed well away from all the Hofner guitars ... I wonder why ... by the way I borrowed a Jaguar saloon Metallic blue to go to Derek Lekenby’s (Hermans Hermits) engagement party off a guy called Benny Stone a bass player with a local black band, he made me sign for it and that was in Black and White.
Now Graham was one of those people who in those far far days way back in the very early 60s who always seemed to be around. He had his own band and was never short of a gig or so it seemed.
I remember going to a cinema in Cheadle Hulme called “The Elysian” with a mate to see a group that was on there. When we arrived the group turned out to be Ricky and Dane Young - that being Graham Nash and Alan Clarke + the band.
I watched with some amusement as they danced around the stage it seemed to be like the Kalin twins. I remember thinking to myself 'God I could never do that' - that would come back to haunt me.
Despite all the leaping we enjoyed the night out and later met up with Alan Clarke in the pub nearby called the Junction. The guitar player in our band at that time (The Strangers ) was John Lee and he had borrowed a vox amp off Adrian Barratt which had an echo unit in the back and Alan spent the rest of the night trying to buy it off me but to no avail.
When the band had finally morphed into what we now know as The Hollies, the boys were always at the Toggery in Stockport, which was owned by their manager Mike Cohen. I used to see Graham driving home through Cheadle Village in his Lotus Elan when he lived in Styal.
He worked at the Toggery in Stockport and whenever he saw me he used to wave and I’d wave back. I remember him saying in the shop one day that he didn’t know it was me - he just waved and it was only later that he realised that I was the guy who worked in Barratts with Adrian.
By this time they were well on their way to success with one chart hit under their belt. Graham was a regular Barratts customer and he was a good mate of Adrian’s so it was no surprise that late one Saturday afternoon that Graham arrived at the shop dressed in his stage suit, Cuban heeled boots and very out of breath. He was carrying with him a vox amp top and after much puffing and blowing told Adrian that it was not working and that they were doing a gig at the Oasis and needed a replacement.
Having been dispatched to check the stock I found that we had a couple of spares and so one was made ready for Graham to take with him. He said that there was no rush so we sat there chatting and I played him a song that I had written called “Out Of My Mind”. He was most impressed and in his own words said ‘that’s what we need, keep writing and keep up the good work’
Now from the now nearly very famous Graham Nash that was praise indeed! So much so that I never forgot it but still have the song (maybe I should send it to him).
Graham said that he would get the bus back to the Oasis and so we waited outside the shop until we saw the right numbered bus coming along. Now the trick was to catch the bus slowing down for the lights so that you could jump on to the platform at the back of the big red bus by grabbing the bright shiny chrome pole in the middle and then jumping on board if you were quick on your feet it was a piece of cake. For those who are to young to remember or those people who choose not to remember in those bygone days you could do this and no one bothered.
Well, l with the bus in sight the now very nearly famous Graham Nash said these imortal words which have stayed with me ever since 'Ok fella’s I’m off, see you later'. What happened next I will take great care to describe in every detail.
Graham timed his run into the middle of Oxford Street to perfection and with speed and grace running towards the big red bus in Cuban heels and immaculate suit and well quiffed hair, in one hand the vox amp the other hand reaching for the shiny chrome pole with only one thing in mind get me to the gig on time. And then!!!!!!!oh my god, the lights changed, the bus accelerated.
He reached forward grasping for the shiny pole. He then thrust forward his right foot towards the running board an anguished look on his face. Guess what? He missed his footing.
Adrian Barratt and myself stood in “The Doorway” and watched in horror as the now very nearly famous Graham Nash slipped off the back of the big red bus, as his hand slid down the shiny pole the other hand let loose its grip on the very very new vox amp.
As he lay prostrate in the middle of oxford street the very new vox amp bounced once or twice and disintegrated into a thousand pieces before our very eyes. Of course we dashed into the road - it was the least we could do having had the best laugh in years but he took in good heart and was soon on his way again another amp in hand to the Oasis gig.
Someone told me sometime later that on that particular night Graham reached the high notes much better than usual although he wasn’t moving as well.
So that is the story of the now very famous Salford (born in Blackpool I believe) lad who followed his dream and sang his way around the world but not before he fell on his ASS in Oxford Street, Manchester.
Ted Lee was one of Manchester’s unsung hero’s, like the rest of us he played in a very well known Manchester band “The Olympics” and was part of the Oasis and other Manchester gigs scene. I am sure that most of us who remember Ted will do so not for his musical prowess but for his unquestionable skill with the “”Spray Gun””. If you had a guitar that was red and you wanted it black then Ted Lee was your man.
Working at Barratts of Manchester as I did, you got to see a lot of Ted as he did all the work that came into the shop and one thing I always remember about him was that he was always smiling, even when I said HOW MUCH…..????? I never did want to pay the full price for the jobs, well we were a shop and needed to make a profit.
Nothing was ever to much trouble for Ted. There are so many stories that I could tell you but it would most likely need a book of it’s own, anyway this little story springs to mind.
I had sold a Gibson Everly model to a very good friend of mine, Graham Gouldman. Now Graham was a very well known song writer who had written many hits for Manchester bands such as “Herman’s Hermits” and others. Well, Graham had a slight accident with the guitar; he snapped the neck off the thing and of course sought Ted's assistance with a view to getting it repaired. Ted undertook the repair job and it is said that the work was as good a job as if it were done by Gibson.
Now for those who are familiar with the Gibson Everly you will know that the inlays in the fret board are mother of pearl stars, they are on 1st, 3rd, 5th, 7th, **9th, 12th and 15th.
Now 9 and 12 are double small stars, 12 being the octave. All the inlays were done by Ted’s very careful hands and when the job was finished it was a sight to behold, nay a work of art no doubt.
The only problem was that the two stars destined for the 12th fret were on the 11th. Oh, I think you are in deep doo doo teddy boy. Don’t ask me to explain how he got out of that one - maybe he would care to tell you on Manchester beat. For me after all this time I still cock a wry smile when I think about it, I wonder what Graham thought.!!!!!!??????*****-++%$£” and how much was the repair*****repair ha ha ha ha ha .
Now this was not the only high profile job that Ted took on. Anybody that was anybody in the 60s had some work or other done by the master. In point of fact he has just done some re-spray work for Eric Stewart, ex 10cc and Mindbenders.
Adrian Barratt struck a deal with Ted when he (Ted) was a bit skint, he bought him a ford car and in return Ted did all the repairs for the shop until he had paid Adrian back but I’m sure to this day Barratts got the best of the deal - but if you knew Adrian then it was typical.
In late 1962 Ted was asked to do a special job for the shop and he arrived to see what needed doing. The job was to spray black a Rickenbacker model 325 that belonged to John Lennon and also a Gretsch duo-jet that belonged to George Harrison. The Gretsch was already black but was in need of a re-spray. This job was done quite quickly as I recall as the Beatles were getting very busy but despite the urgency, the job was done to Ted's usual high standard. This had all come about through a conversation between myself Brian Higham, George Harrison and John Lennon at the Playhouse in Hulme Manchester and in early 1963 we saw the first pics of John’s Rickenbacker in its new black livery. Another job well done by “”TED THE SPRAYER””
I could go on for ever and a day about Ted and the things that we got up to but it would take forever but I would like to put it on the record that Ted Lee was and still is one of the most genuine people that in all my years in the music industry I ever had the pleasure to meet and I’m pleased to say that although I have not seen him for many years we are back in touch and I am still very proud to call him a very good friend and I might add his very patient lady Brenda.
I will be writing more on Ted in the future after a long consultation over a very long and not so dry lunch.
As with any events they have to start somewhere and in the shop (Barratts) it was usually the phone ringing and believe me you never knew who or what was going to be on the other end. I don’t recall the day or the month or the year but I do still recall as if it were yesterday the sound of a voice when I picked up the phone and said my normal thing ”Barratts of Manchester”. A long drawn and unmistakeable sound of the Deep South said “Hi could I speak to Mr. Brian Higham, speaking I said the caller now having got my full attention.
The guy on the other end of the phone said that he had been given my name by someone in London from Saville artiste’s and that he was doing a show at the Free Trade Hall in Manchester (now sadly gone) and was having problems with his amplifier and as I had been recommended could I do anything to help. He then explained in great detail the make and model of his amp and by now I was really fascinated to know who the person was so I suggested that he let me know when they did the sound check and I would come over to have a look, to this he replied we are doing it now that’s why I rang you, ok see you in five at the stage door I replied.
By the time I got to the Free Trade Hall I was really buzzing in anticipation as to the identity of the caller. I pushed the big heavy door open and I could already hear guitars and the like banging away. I made my way down to the front of the stage, the guitar player stopped leaned forward and asked are you Brian I said yes sir to which he replied, my name is Luther Perkins and I’m pleased to make your acquaintance. Although by now I realised just what I was into I didn’t let on I just said which is the amp with the problem (i was on the stage by now trying to act like normal but inside I was buzzing like a top ). The amp in question was a black faced fender pro reverb which even back then were very rare. I think the output stage was shot there was just nothing so I said that I had a fender twin reverb that I had put in the car before I left the shop. Well they are heavy dam things but between us we got it on the stand. Luther did a little picking and the other two joined in. After about five minutes they suddenly stopped Luther came over and said “we just ain't getting the right sound” he then asked if there was any chance of locating a pro reverb like his own, I explained that they were hard to come by but guess what ??? I did know where there was one exactly the same, it was at my house in the garage where the roadie stored all the Harbour Lights gear. I told Luther and I said that I would nip to Altrincham and pick it up so I did just that.
When I arrived back at the Free Trade Hall about 4 o’clock was I in for a surprise. I lugged my amp in and we got it on stage and plugged up than Luther said hey Brian I would like you to meet my brother, he pointed to his right and said this is my Brother Mr Carl Perkins
. I leaned forward and we shook hands and said hello…………………… I HAD JUST SHOOK THE HAND OF THE MAN THAT WROTE BLUE SUEDE SHOES now you can say what you like but that was the nearest I had been to cloud nine or was ever to be, but hell five minuets later things got even better. From the side appeared the man in black, the man himself Johnny Cash. Now how many people can say that Carl Perkins introduced you to the great Johnny Cash? Who in turn then introduced me to his wife the beautiful June Carter Cash.
Well they all rehearsed for I don’t know how long and Luther was pleased with the sound of the amp so when they had finished the sound check I said I had to leave and get back to the shop.
So it was I said goodbye to Carl, Johnny and June and Luther and the other guys but just as I shook hands with Carl Perkins he said thanks for all your help Brian and then said why don’t come back and see the show this evening there will be a little party after the show and you are invited Now that’s what I call an invitation.
That night I took my wife Carole to the Free Trade Hall where she met all those world famous people in one crazy fabulous night and I know it may sound a little cheesy but they all treated us as if we were one of there own and made us both so welcome. The party after was awesome and I said to Luther as I was leaving just leave the amp with the stage door guy and I will pick it up in the morning. He said that would be fine and again thanked me for helping him out he then gave me a card with his home address on it and said that if I was ever stateside to give him a call and I could stay at his ranch for as long as I wanted and that it would not cost me I dime.
That night was a once in lifetime night and one that I will never forget though the memory is tinged with sadness as after that tour Luther Perkins fell asleep with a cigarette in his hand, both he and the ranch went up in flames. Some years later Johnny Cash, June Carter Cash and Carl Perkins had all passed away. The Fender Telecaster that Luther used on that last tour can be seen in the hall of fame in Nashville and I must admit that I still tell people that I played that guitar once in Manchester many years ago. Now that is what I call a great memory. Brian Higham.
In 2008 I will be in Nashville. I might just tell the folks there that I once played that there guitar that belonged to “”Luther Perkins””.
Brian sold the very amp to me many years ago and I have kept it and use it daily. It is one of the best sounding amp's I have ever had (and I have had a few).
It was recently featured in October 2011 edition of "Guitar &bass" magazine.
It is great to have and use instruments that have a story attached to them and I have a few celebrity owned instruments, the pro reverb being my favourite. Just to say the amp is still going strong, she has regular maintenance but still retains all the original parts.
Stuart Walmsley - 4/10/11
It’s hard to know where to begin, having left the comfort of playing in a residency for 6 great years we were now about to start another one, but for how long we did not know. The first thing that got to all of us was having to strike all the gear off the stage once we had done one spot and then back on again for the next one. It was a real pain when you were doing 4 spots a night, even though there was the stage manager “Mack” with his trusty sidekick and lighting engineer “Ian” and any other body’s that happened to be there.
This went on for a while but then we were relegated to one of the small side stages but at least we could leave the gear there. It was at this point that the band became The Golden Garter Trio - the Harbour Lights were no more.
I remember going in on the very first Sunday to do a sound check and whilst I was there a very charming young lady appeared out of the darkness of the back stage area and walked towards me and said 'hello' in a beautiful soft Irish accent. Sshe then asked me when the sound system would be available for her to try out. The resident band had not yet arrived nor had the sound man Ian, so apart from me and the young lady, her people and the cleaners, that was it.
It turned out the young lady was Dana, who had recently won the Eurovision song contest. That was quite a pleasant week.
I can’t say that working at the Garter was an enjoyable time but over all it wasn’t too bad. Some weeks were good, some were bad and some just very boring. For me there were too many Chiefs and not enough Indians.
First of all the club manager Mr Mike Robbins (one of Paul McCartney’s relatives) would tell you what to do then the assistant manager would tell you what to do and then the stage manger “Mack” stuck his two pennyworth in and then Ian the lighting man had to have his say and it didn’t finish there. The bloody band leader, Dozy Derek Butterworth stuck his bit in till it all came full circle back to Mike Robins!
Sometimes you didn’t know what to do next with all this crap and bullshit flying around; it’s as though they had to justify their subliminal existence, the poor sods. But now and then, when a top artiste appeared, it could be a real buzz and everyone had to be on the ball.
One such artiste was the great Dusty Springfield.
She was due to appear for two weeks and I had just finished doing a week for Cliff Richard. Cliff was not too happy with the house PA system and he had wanted echo on some of his stuff but this was a facility they did not have on the house system.
David Bryce, Cliff's personal manager, asked if I could help; we go back a long way. So I rang Jim Marshall the week before Cliff was due to appear and he had two 2x15 power cell cabs with horns and a 9 channel mixer sent up to the shop (Barratts) and a two hundred watt and fifty watt slave amp.
I put the system in on the Sunday using a Watkins echo unit for the effects Cliff wanted and on the Monday band call it sounded really awesome. It was much better than I expected and Cliff was over the moon.
That week was fabulous and it was great to meet up with Terry Britain (left) again who had played guitar for Cliff for many years.
He was a local lad from Wythenshawe who went on some years later to write a massive worldwide hit for Tina Turner called What’s love got to do with it. Terry is a very nice guy and genuine person which is quite rare in the old rock 'n' roll scene.
The week with Cliff really flew by and before I knew it, I was giving up my Sunday again to take the Marshall PA system out. We had used some gold plated AKG microphones, which looked pretty cool, which I was now about to remove.
Unusually there were some people already in the club and that included some of the house band and its iconic leader Derek. The mikes were at the side of the main stage, so I started to get on with the job of taking the system down and by now I realized that all the action was because Dusty Springfield had arrived.
She had requested a band call on the Sunday as well as the Monday. I watched and listened for a while and it turned out that she was not happy about the house PA system. Now, for a girl, she turned out to be quite savvy and during a short break in the rehearsals she wandered around for a while and finally walked over to where the Marshall speakers were situated on the side stages.
I was just sat there when she walked over, looked at the gold plated mikes and asked to try one. I explained that they were for a different system which was being removed today but that they would not work on the house system as it was low impedence and they were high. She then asked who it was for; I said I put it in for Cliff last week because his management were not happy with the house system. She said 'OK', smiled, said 'thank you' and walked back to the stage area.
It must have been all of two minutes before Mack, the stage manager, with band leader Derek in tow approached me and asked if Dusty Springfield try the Marshall PA that Cliff had used the previous week.
I explained that I had come in on my day off to move it back to the shop but they were adamant that she wanted to try it, so I said 'okay pal, its all yours'. I thought that at least I did not have to dismantle the whole thing and I could now have a lazy Sunday.
I put the mikes back on the stand and reconnected them to the PA amp, switched it all on (including the echo unit) and was making my way to the stage door when Mack called me and said that Dusty Springfield was now insisting that I operate the dammed thing for her during the rehearsals.
By now I was really pissed off with the whole thing and my lazy Sunday was going down the pan, rapid. I went back stage where (from here lets call her Dusty) Dusty was now waiting. She was most polite and thanked me for helping her out. She then asked me to go through a list of her songs and started to tell me where she wanted echo and where she didn’t. Well, I was bowled over it was my second huge star in two weeks.
As the time went on we were getting on really well and before long all the cue tabs were written down and ready for the rehearsal which went really well.
I arrived at the Garter on the Monday night to be greeted by Mack the stage manager who told me that Mike Robbins wanted to see me in the office urgently. Apparently at the morning sound check and rehearsal had not gone to plan and Miss Springfield was less than happy.
As I made my way to the office I had a good idea what was about to happen and sure enough, Mike tells me the band call had gone really badly and Dusty was quite upset at not getting what she wanted.
Now let me make one thing quite clear before I carry on. It was well documented that Dusty Springfield was a difficult person to work with but this was a bit of an urban myth. Whoever said it in the first place didn’t tell the absolute truth. What she liked in point of fact was to have things done correctly she was a perfectionist and she made sure that this was the case. Why not? She was a super star at the height of her career and she deserved to have it right. So, anyone who bad mouthed her and said she was temperamental had most likely had a rollicking for not doing their job properly - and rightly so.
I don’t think she ever did for the hell of it. She had Joe Public to think about and more to the poin,t she had worked bloody hard to get where she was. When things were running smoothly, you never heard her complain but she was quick to say well done when things were really together - that I can vouch for personally.
The upshot was that Dusty had insisted that I work the PA for her, so I went up to her dressing room and we went through list of songs again. One of the songs she did was Windmills of your mind so the que from Dusty was 'I would like to do this song from the Thomas Crown Affair, Windmills of your mind'.
As soon as she said 'mind' I pressed the foot switch on the echo. She sang 'round' and the echo repeated 'round, 'round, 'round', fading gradually. It was just as she wanted it and having got the first night over, everyone breathed a collective sigh of relief.
Everything went fine until the fourth night - all the ques were spot on and the house band, augmented with brass, sounded terrific.
It came to Windmills of your mind but Dusty said 'I would like to do this song from the Thomas Crown Affair ... round' There was no echo as she didn’t give me the right que and add ' Windmills of your mind'.
Panic! I hit the foot switch and hoped that she realised that she had made a mistake. The rest of the set went fine but when she came off she made straight for me and said 'You missed your bloody que for Windmills you little s--t.'
I spent the next 20 minutes with her and the management, trying to explain that it was not my fault and that the mistake was hers. It eventually got sorted out and all was peace and quiet again. But this was the calm before the storm!
THE SATURDAY I WILL NOT FORGET
Friday and Saturday were always big nights at the Golden Garter, especially when you had such a big star like Dusty Springfield appearing and this particular Saturday was building up quite nicely. Because it was so busy, such a big show and with me working for Dusty as well as playing for dancing, we only had to do three spots instead of four. There was a big review type thing with all the dancing girls and Shep's Banjo Boys - gawd love em! Then there was us, then top of the bill - you know who. I have to say that it was a really good show.
Dusty came back stage a few minutes before she went on, just to check things were ok. She looked stunning.
The band struck up and the mc introduced Dusty.
'Ladies and gentlemen a big welcome live on stage tonight, the fabulous Miss Dusty Springfield'.
The atmosphere was absolutely electric - you could feel it in the air; it was almost touchable and it gave you goose bumps. Even my goose bumps had goose bumps.
She went through the curtain and out to her audience and the noise was absolutely deafening even back stage, so it must have been awe-inspiring out front.
Now all artist’s from big stars to club singers do a false tab number. For those who don’t know, its when they sing one of their big hits or best songs and then go off but then come back on and do another couple of songs.
Now all artist’s from big stars to club singers do a false tab number. For those who don’t know, its when they sing one of their big hits or best songs and then go off but then come back on and do another couple of songs.
Dusty’s false tab number was the fabulous Preacher Man. The show had gone smoothly without a single hitch. I was sat back stage soaking up the atmosphere and doing all the ques and listening on my monitor speaker to Dusty belting out Preacher Man when all of a sudden I couldn’t hear her voice, I could hear the band but not her. I looked at the amp and the monitor, all the lights were on.
I could hear the band but not Dusty.
The next thing I remember was the curtain flying open from the on stage area and Dusty appeared flying down the steps and what she didn’t call me has not yet been written or invented yet.
She was absolutely incandescent with rage. 'You f---in! ba----rd! What the hell did you do, you little shit? How dare you f—k me around like this! You will never work here again! Why is the bloody mike not working? What the f—k is going on? Get me the f—kin manager. I won’t be working in this bloody hole another minute. '
I don’t need to tell you that all hell broke loose back stage with her yelling at me and me yelling back, saying 'I don’t know what the f—kin hell happened. I just lost you on the monitor!'
Through all this, the band was still playing; real pro’s. I tell you, it was surreal.
All the management came from nowhere. The stage manager was running around like a headless chicken, Mike Robbins was a whiter shade of pale and trying to calm Dusty down but that seemed to make things worse than ever (but the band played on).
All her people and her personal assistant were trying to calm Dusty down. She eventually went back on and did her last 2 songs using the house system. It goes without saying that regardless of what had happened, she went down an absolute bomb.
She then stormed off to her dressing room with the whole management in tow. In the meantime, I discovered that the HT fuse had blown in the main amplifier. Unfortunately it was just one of those things that no one could have foreseen happening.
Now I had to go and get ready quickly to play the last spot for dancing. As I left the back stage area, Mack the stage manager said to me 'Can I have a word with you before you leave tonight'.
I replied that it was not my fault and it was just one of those things. I added that I wouldn’t be spoken to or swore at like that by her or anybody else - especially as I was doing her a favour.
We (the Golden Garter Trio) played the last spot and after I went up to our dressing room and took off my make up. Yes, I did say make-up - Max Factor 24 or 28, I can’t remember.
The dressing room phone rang. Dave Buckley, my drummer, answered it and said 'Brian you are wanted in the front office, now', to which I replied 'I am going home. I am pissed off with the whole affair and I know they want to give me the bullet - not just for this row with Dusty Springfield but because I won’t bloody well dance in the revue. So tell them they can stuff their job up where the sun don’t shine, I have had it up to here.'
I turned and walked out of the dressing room door slamming it so bloody hard it very nearly came off it hinges.
By the time I got downstairs, the assistant manager Steve Kalton was there and he very politely asked me to go to the office with him. He then explained that they (the management) were well aware that it was not my fault but they would like to talk to me and so I went to the office where somewhat surprisingly I was greeted with smiles and a big 'Hello Brian'. That in itself was a bit unnerving.
Before anybody could say anything, I said 'Fire me if you want but it was not my fault'. They explained that they had talked things out with Dusty and that she was now aware that it was just a very unfortunate thing to happen and despite the fact that she had threatened not to work the second week that she now would IF I sorted out the PA and on condition that I did the second week for her, for which the management would pay me extra for my trouble.
I could not believe my luck, so I agreed to do it once I found out how much extra I was going to get. Oh, I’m all heart (££££££££). The next day Sunday, I spent nearly all of it putting in a spare amp on to the same system with a bleed to the main house system so in the event of any HT fuses blowing, all I had to do was put the jack for her mike into the next main input which I had now preset so if the worst did happen it would just seem like a drop in volume for a second or two. Well, that was my master plan anyway.
WOULD IT WORK? I HOPED I WOULD NEVER HAVE TO FIND OUT
After the first week, could anything else go wrong?
I arrived at the Garter on Monday night and we did our first two spots as usual and there was all the other stuff going on - Shep's Banjo Boys, the revue, etc. When it came to top of the bill time, I made my way once again back stage and as I approached the mixing console, Mack the stage manager was standing there. He turned to me and said 'I hope all goes well tonight Brian, I really do',
I turned around looked him straight in the eye and said to him 'If Dusty says one wrong word to me tonight, I am straight out of that door)and I won’t be coming back except to pick up my money and my gear'. Well, there was the usual hub-bub back stage while we waited for Dusty to arrive. All of a sudden Dave McDonald my bass player came through the stage door and said she on her way.
We stood there back stage in a line - me, Mack and the two Dave’s. When you think about it now, we must have looked pretty bloody stupid - it looked more like a guard of honour. Anyhow the stage door opened door and she appeared (wearing the dress in the pictures) and she looked a zillion dollars - definitely the Wow factor.
She then looked over in my direction, walked right up to me and took both of my hands and pulled them up to her bosom - holding both hands really tightly. We could not have got any closer if we had tried. She looked me straight in the eyes and said 'Brian, I am so sorry for what happened last week and all the things that I said to you. I realised that it was not your fault and its been worrying me all yesterday and today. Will you please accept my apology? I am truly sorry for everything I said, honestly I really am.'
Ok, you know what came next but I will tell you anyway. I melted like a piece of butter, went all goo goo and said 'Please don’t give it another thought and thank you for the apology'.
She then asked me to work the rest of the week for her, which I agreed to. She then gave me a kiss and said 'Lets have a good night tonight'. I have to tell you that Monday night was one of the best nights ever.
The rest of the week went without a hitch and you would think that we had always known each other. She treated me like I was her best friend. Later in that week, I took my wife Carole to meet her and they both sat in the dressing room comparing contact lenses and glasses as they were both blind as bats without them.
After all these years, I still find it hard to believe that I spent that precious time with one of the biggest stars this country had ever produced and we were just like really good mates.
THE FINAL SATURDAY
The last night finally arrived and just when you think things could not get any better, they actually did.
It was a fabulous show and Dusty was just awesome. At the end of her set, before the last number, she thanked the band for being so wonderful (and they had been terrific). She also gave me a little mention, you know 'I would like to thank my back stage sound man for looking after me for the last two weeks', that kind of thing.
After the show there was a little party in Dusty's dressing room just for a few close friends. After about half an hour, she took me to one side and thanked me once more for being there for her. She then said to me 'I would like you to have this as a gift from a very close friend' and she then handed me a package and on the outside wrapping it said To Brian, the voice saver - all my love Dusty.
She told me to open it - by now everyone was nosing around. I undid the wrapping and inside was an oblong shaped box, which I opened and inside was a beautiful Parker pen, engraved on the cap it read 'To Brian, many thanks, love Dusty”.
I have to tell you there were tears in my eyes when she gave me a big hug and a kiss; everybody in the dressing room gave a round of applause. It was a night and a moment that I will never forget.
Dusty Springfield kept in touch with me for quite a while after our time at The Golden Garter; the odd phone call now and then, usually when she was a bit down as her career started to wobble but generally she was pretty up beat and cards form here and there.
She rang me at the shop quite regularly but as with most long distance friendships, the calls became less and less especially when she went to America.
I only ever saw her once again some years later at the BBC in Manchester and you would think that we had been together only yesterday as we sat laughing and reminiscing in the beeb canteen. I think the people in there thought we were a pair of crazy people, laughing like a pair of loons.
I still have that wonderful gift, the pen that she gave me but sadly we no longer have Miss Dusty Springfield - which is our sad loss. I often get out the pen just to look at it and to think she spent the whole of Saturday afternoon looking around Manchester looking for a gift just for me. How lucky was I to deserve such attention from a star as big as Dusty Springfield - not just a star but someone I could call 'a friend'.
Now, how many nobody’s can say that.
I bet she still wows them up there with all the other stars. Give em hell Dusty.
If you have ever worked in retail then you will know that no two days are ever the same. As with most things in a large musical instrument shop apart from people actually coming in, the only other link to the outside world was the telephone.
Now today that may seem a bit old fashioned but back in those dark days there was no fax or internet, no pc. Just the old dog & bone & if you wanted to send a letter or a bill to someone you put it in a thingy called an envelope then licked the back of a stamp which had glue on it made out of dead cats (oooh nice) & then stuck it in a big red box on a corner somewhere & if you were really lucky you would receive ot a week later or maybe longer. Expectations were not high Back In The Day .. but I digress.
The phone rang one particular morning & was dually answered by young Kevin Parry who happened to be nearest, the voice on the other end asked to speak to me. After a short while Kevin came over to me looking somewhat bemused & said it’s for you, he say’s his name is Elton John (Kevin was a trumpet player bless) so I went to the phone & said "Hello, Brian Higham speaking".
The voice at the other end said "Hi its Elton John here, hope you don’t mind me calling but your name& number was given to me by Saville Artiste’s of London (Cliff’s Office) & they said if I had any problems whilst touring in the north to contact you & if it was possible you would be able to help so that’s why I am calling I have a big problem".
I said if I can help I will what seems to be the trouble…….well he said & then paused, then went on to say that the road manager for his band had parked the van in a less than secure place (they were staying at the Piccadilly Hotel) near the hotel & some artful Manchester dodger had prised off the back door of the & stolen all the guitars.
At this point there was a short silence & then I said oooh that is a problem when is your next gig…..another short silence & then he replied tonight in Stoke on Trent tonight, actually it was The Place at Hanley but lets not be pedantic.
So then I said well what it is you would like me to do to which he replied is there anyway that he could hire some instruments just for the one night.
I asked if he knew what they needed … "I have no idea" he replied, "I’m just the piano player".
I said ok you send the guys down to the shop & I'll see what I can do as they will know what they need. He said ok I'll tell them now & thanks its really appreciated Brian...click the line went dead.
Approximately twenty minutes after the call I was looking out of the window when I saw the biggest gleaming white Roll’s Royce that I had ever seen & I thought to myself some lucky bugger most probably won the pools.
After a brief conversation I said that is some car you have there, he said yes I like it come & have a look inside. Two minutes later I was sat in the back of this roller with Elton John. The back seat area was like a small room with blue leather upholstery & beautiful sold burr walnut on the doors, there was a fully stocked bar & a record player & all the fittings were gold even the telephone was gold.
Elton then pressed a button and a big screen came up between the rear & the front, he pressed another button and another screen came up but this was a privacy screen so you could not see the driver & that is what the gold phone was for to talk to the driver.
It was just absolutely awesome, it was just then when I was trying to take in all this opulence that I noticed another Rolls pull up behind. Elton said oh this is my lead guitar player so as we both disembarked from Elton’s rolls yet a third rolls pulls up & he said that it was the bass player. Well by this time my head was spinning & so was half of Oxford Street with this trio of Rolls Royce’s lined up outside the shop. Finally the last car arrived & it was Nigel Olsen the drummer in a Thunderbird thank god for that BIT OF NORMALITY.
The people on Oxford Street & passing buses must have thought it was a wedding taking place & I’m sure it’s a sight that will never be seen again.
So all the guys in the band + Elton were there & they set about picking various instruments. When they had finally decided which they wanted I booked them out to Elton Johns office, he then asked what the cost would be so having valued them I said give me a cheque for £500.00. to cover the insurance cost’s in case of any damage as the instruments were all new & if they all come back in tact we will deduct the hire charge.
I asked Elton if that was ok for him & he replied that was absolutely fine, he then gave me the cheque. The guys in the band were really happy & there were a lot of hand shaking & thank you’s then they loaded up & left.The Rolls then pulled up & stopped right outside the shop door. The driver jumped out & came around to the kerb side to open the door; I thought bloody hell it must be the Queen visiting (no pun intended). The driver opened the door & out stepped Elton John himself. He came into the shop & asked to speak to the shop manager I said that’s me Brian Higham we shook hands & he said very pleased to meet you & said that the boys are on their way.
Now working in the shop as I had done all through the 60's I had met some very rich & famous people & that was just a part of the job but that day was different & I just could not get over the enormity of the wealth on display that it was so in your face.
Don’t ask me why because I don’t know myself but it did bother me even my wife (Carole ) said that when I got home I looked a little bit pensive so I explained all about the day with Elton John & the 3 Rolls Royce’s & she said it was all part of life’s rich pattern ( what the hell does that mean). In other words get over it.
The next day about 10 o’clock a van pulled up outside the shop. It was Elton John’s roadie. He brought all the gear that had been borrowed along with the delivery note. After a quick inspection I sad that they were all ok except for one minor scratch on one of the guitars well you would expect that after a gig.
About 11 o’clock I rang the Piccadilly Hotel & asked to speak to Elton John & they said he was just having breakfast so I asked the receptionist to tell him that I would be over to see him shortly. She asked me to hold which I did for a minute. When she came back on she said that that would be ok just ask for Elton at reception when I got there & he would come down.
Around 11-30 I went over to the Piccadilly Hotel, went to reception & asked for Elton John & told her my name & the very pretty young lady said he is expecting you I’ll just give him a call.
Well he arrived at the front desk all smiles & we went & sat down, he asked if I would like a coffee & I said that would be nice. The coffee came & we chatted for a while about this & that & last night s gig.
I told him that all the gear had been returned ok & he kept on saying how much he appreciated the shop lending him the instruments. I then said that you had better have this. I then gave him back the cheque for £500-00.that he had given me the day before & he was somewhat surprised & said that I had not deducted the hire charge to which I replied” there is no charge just consider it a service from Barratts Of Manchester”. ell at this point he looked a little bit over come so I stood up having finished my coffee & said that I have to get back to the shop, he stood up & we shook hands & he then said to me in a very sincere way. If there is anything that I can ever do for you at anytime whatever it is don’t hesitate to call me you have the office number & I owe you a very very great big favour. With that still ringing in my ears I left & went back to the shop.
Well just in case you are wondering …..no I never did ask him to return the favour in fact I never saw him again but at least I did help him along the way courtesy of Barratts Of Manchester.
I’ll have to look to see if I still have his number as my old Range Rover is getting a bit long in the tooth.
I did eventually get over this famous visit & disappeared back into total obscurity.
This is quite an amazing set of coincidences that leads me to write this . Whilst doing research on the web into the serial numbers of 3 guitars led me to this site.
I've just read your account of the day Elton John walked into your shop..... and almost 40 years on i sit here with the original Barratts Hire Invoice to Elton John.
Now I've just got off the phone to my brother inlaw if your memory serves you ok you might remember him he is Kevin Downing and worked in the shop along with his band mate Kevin Parry my brother inlaw played the trombone .
Anyhow he gave me the Invoice almost 35 years ago and told me of the story of Elton and how you passed on the Invoice to him as a keep sake of that day and since that day its been with a copy of Elton Johns Yellow Brick Road until I started doing research into the signature and serial numbers the 2 Fenders serial numbers were easy to trace the Les Paul Gibson is proving more difficult and I am waiting for a reply from Gibson direct as it is a pre 1975 vintage and the serial numbers are impossible for me to work out.
If you would like a copy of that Invoice for the site let me know and if you give me an email address I'll forward it on to you.
Its left me totally amazed at how these things turn out.
Keith Ashington - 10/7/11
When I found out that Paul Mlynarz the Manchester beat webmaster was coming to the UK for a Christmas visit 2008 I mailed Paul and asked if we could meet up. We had met before in the '60s but whilst Paul remembers I didn’t and so it was that we arranged to meet.
We arranged to meet at the George and Dragon at Holmes Chapel which was a pub that I managed for ten years after I left Barratts (from 1980 to 1990).
When we arrived at the pub Paul was already there and obviously recognized me because of all the stuff he had put on M/Beat about The Harbour Lights.
He introduced me to his lovely wife Sarah and his daughter Hannah and I like wise did the same with my wife Carole and some other friends from the village
We had a really great lunch time but it went so quickly however it was a meeting I won’t forget in a hurry. I know that all you M/Beat people think we know Paul because we seem to be constantly in touch with him by e-mail but until you have met this guy you don’t know what you are missing.
I hope this doesn’t embarrass him but he is a really genuine nice guy with a lovely family and I would like to thank him for all the work that he has done in getting it out there for the entire world to see.
Not all the groups made the big time but for all those who didn’t M/Beat opens up a new world that we can all explore and I should know because I get mail from all over the world from people who have discovered Manchester Beat. Many old friends and colleagues have surfaced as they discover M/Beat and old friendships are revived, it’s just simply the best ever.
On this special day Paul recruited his daughter Hannah to take some pictures of this meeting of old rockers one of which I attach to this letter and which I will always treasure.
Once again thanks Paul for a great time and all the best to you and your family.
Kindest Regards Brian and Carole Higham
And is was a real pleasure meeting you both, Brian. You played such a major part in so many lives - a true Manchester icon! Thanks for the music.
To be lucky enough to have a job working in Manchester as well as working in the music business in the late '50s & on into the '60s & '70s you were not only lucky but blessed & believe you me I should know.
It’s well documented how it all began for me but not about some of the wonderful people from all walks of life that I was very privileged to meet.
One such person was my great friend & best pal Max Beesley.
Max very very rarely did not have a beaming smile on his face & when ever he came in the shop, you knew that you were in for a good laugh or he was going to try & flog you something that was most definitely hookey believe me he was the original “Del Boy”
One such item for which he charged me £7-10 shillings (old money) was a Black & Decker orange coloured drill which I didn’t really want but he said that he was skint & had his rent to pay (my god did I fall for that one ). I never did use it.
I think it was around 1971 when Max was on a bit of a downer which was not like him at all but I think that finally the band he was in broke up but true to form it wasn’t long before the smile was back.
He had decided to go solo but was still trying to flog me allsorts of weird percussion instruments for the shop (not so weird today).
One day he came bursting into the shop & said “I am goin on’t telly”. I can remember Clive Neale who did the woodwind at the shop said “What as a micky mouse drummer?”
"No" said Max "I passed the audition for Opportunity Knocks doing my godfather impression". To be honest we all thought he was taking the micky (get it ... micky).
Anyway he showed us the letter, so now we had to show him some respect him being a budding T.V. star.
We never did tell him but we used to all rush home from the shop the night that it was going to be on the box. I used to sit there in my flat in Altrincham in my chair with the dog on one knee & me egg & chips on the other just waiting for him to come on. How’s that for being a devoted fan.
The irony of all the laughs & joke’s about this T.V. appearance disappeared when I saw Max do his thing. It really was fabulous & he went on to do I don’t know how many more shows.
Now at the beginning of the week after each show Max would arrive at the shop (by now he was Sir Max) & you could set your watch by it.
Diving through the door he’d say "Hi guys did you see it?".
We usually said something like ”Bloody hell Max the make-up wasn’t good this week you looked as though you’d had a wisdom tooth taken out by a inebriated dentist". I won’t print the reply but he always took it in the spirit it was meant.
I did eventually leave the shop & my beloved Oxford Street in 1979 & lost all contact with Max & all my other friends from those heady days. However I kept his picture on the wall of my office just to know he was not too far away…BUT & IT’ A BIG BUT.
Paul Mlynarz who is affectionately known as the webmaster for Manchesterbeat. informed me that sadly an old friend Peter Bocking had passed away & that the funeral service was to be held the coming Friday at Manchester southern Cemetary.
For me it was a 200 mile round trip but I wanted to pay my last respects to Peter.
I was sat in the chapel with Ray Teret when I felt someone sit beside me & I felt this very firm grip on my arm, I turned slowly & there he was Max …my old mate Maxton.G Beesley.
Words could not describe the conflicting emotions I was feeling, I wanted to jump up and hug the guy but I was at a funeral in a chapel, only Max could have made that entrance.
Well there we both were after all those lost years and all I could say was “Where’ve you been I’ve been trying to find you". He said "I know, I only found out last week, how ya doin?"
After it was what you would expect … just AB-FAB. It was so good to be back in touch with someone I can really call a very good friend indeed.
Special thanks to Peter Bocking without who in such sad circumstances brought so much happiness. Thank you old friend.
PS. I still have the drill that Max sold me so I mailed Max to see if it was still under warranty.
His reply was….only if you have the original packaging.
Max replies with his story ...
It was the Strand Show Band originally from 64 to 68 then we changed to the Strandsmen until we broke up on New Years eve 1971.
That year if you remember I started doing the impressions and stand up comedy and by some fluke appeared on Opportunity Knocks 5 times.
During all this, I did play drums for a lot of people.
In fact one day on one of my regular visits to Barratts to see you, the word was out that Winifred Attwell was looking for a drummer / MD apparently the job was a drag but the bread was great.
I did the job and really enjoyed it and at the end of the short northern tour her husband Lou gave me a pair of gold cufflinks, a very classy guy indeed.
I also toured with Lionel Blair & featured on bongo drums.
I also gigged with the great Maynard Ferguson's northern based band which was a great honour for me personally.
In 1962 I was resident at the Bossa Nova club near Victoria Station in Manchester and a lot of the performers that were appearing at the Free Trade Hall would call in for a blow & would you believe it one night Sonny Boy Williams turned up and was on stage for an hour. He must have been 80 but the energy that came from his music was just truly amazing.
In 1963 I toured with 'Bobby's Girl' Susan Maughn , Dave Lynane saw me play at a late club on George Street called the Atheneum and recommended me to Granada head of music Derek Hilton who was MD for the show.
So there I am 18 years old loving what I am doing & playing with the best studio musicians in the country "no"! The best in the world, well my world anyway.
You can read & rehearse till you are blue in the face but believe you me you just cannot buy experience like that. But the bar was set and it was then I went into my 8 hours a day practice routine, in an effort to catch up fast.
Brian, we have had the best of times , that was living and playing through the sixties, the most amazing and best times ever.
Love - Max Snr.
PS, I was once offered the gig with the very talented & popular Harbour Lights - now that was a great honour.
Just going back down memory lane my thoughts turned to Manchester United.
With all this Rooney stuff going on my mind went back to those heady days in the 1967/8 season when Manchester United won the European Cup. I was fortunate enough to have known some of that great team.
Bobby Noble a great full back was in that team though he did not play in the final.
Bobby grew up in a place called Cheadle Village which was where I also grew up; we both went to the same school Broadway Secondary Modern though he was a few years behind me being much younger. I knew the family quite well especially his big sister Jackie as they lived just down the road from my house.
I often saw bobby with his dad on the local footy field across the river being put through his paces which was to stand him in good stead & yes the boy done good & eventually became a Busby Babe & made it into the first team at Manchester United.
Unfortunately his career was cut short by a car accident which damaged one of the muscles in left eye making it difficult to focus.
The club did everything it could for him but the damage was too great & so he very prematurely retired.
After he had left United he became a regular in my local pub in Sale where I was now living. Bobby was also living in sale with his family.
At this time Bob was not working so one night after a few beers I offered him a job at the shop (Barratts) as a salesman & to my surprise he accepted.
And so now I had a famous footballer from Manchester United working for me along side Ex Hollies bass player the legendary Eric Haydock & they became great mates & got on very well.
Sometime later I was lucky enough to find myself in the company of Sir Matt Busby one sports evening at the Golden Garter in Wythenshawe just outside Manchester.
I mentioned to Sir Matt that Bobby had worked for me after United & he told me how sad he had been at losing such a fine player at such a young age & how he was still held in high regard at Old Trafford.
I haven’t seen Bobby for many years but I know he still lives in Sale with his family & works in Altrincham for a printing company.
Another one of that 68 team was one George Best who I recall scored in the 68 final.
I met George through an old friend of mine Malcolm Mooney who had become George’s business partner.
We all used to meet most Thursdays at the Pinewood Hotel in Handforth where there was a regular disco & after we would go back to George’s new house Que Serra in Woodford where we would play snooker till the early hours.
Well now I suppose you are thinking where does Barratts fit into all this because George didn’t play a musical instrument of any kind he was into other kinds of recreation.
On one of those wonderful evenings George asked me about putting a music system in the ceiling throughout the house, so I said that could be done easily enough.
The next day he came to the shop in his E-type Jag & gave me the make of the unit that he wanted.
I got our shop engineer Terry Smith to go to George’s place to check just what was needed & the set installed was fully functioning a couple of weeks later much to George’s delight. I went up to the house one morning just to have a listen to the finished job & ended up having bacon & eggs for breakfast & a read of the daily mirror with George Best, now there aren’t many can say that.
Some weeks later I also had a great music system fitted into his E Type Jag.
At the time George & Malcolm had 2 shops called George Best Edwardia & were planning to expand into more shops & it was then that I got a call from George to meet him & Malcolm at the shop in Sale which I did & they offered me a job running the shops for them as they opened, well after much soul searching I reluctantly declined the offer & stayed on Oxford Street. Though it was very tempting turning down such a glamorous position working for the great George Best but they both fully understood & I’m pleased to say we remained firm friends.
Sadly sometime later Malcolm died in a car crash & I don’t think George ever got over that as they were really close.
Adrian Barratt & I saw all the 1968 European Cup matches that were played at Old Trafford & we never had to buy a ticket as they came to us by courtesy of the late Great George Best.
It was a great & unforgettable time way back then & I was very privileged to have known George Best as a Friend.
Another Red from the 68 team was Tony Dunne; he was a Harbour Lights fan & used to come to Bredbury Hall Country Club to watch us play.
Whenever he was there he always bought me a drink whether I wanted it or not & he insisted that it was a pint of Guinness with a Baby Cham poured in the top. It blew your bloody head off, no wonder????? .
Oh & some years later I had the pleasure of showing Sir Bobby Charlton & his wife how to use a Phillips video recorder. It only recorded for half an hour, still it was 1974.
So there you have it four Red Connection’s to Barratts of Manchester.
Brian Higham - 21/10/2010.
Having heard some odd story’s about this event, I thought it only right to set the record straight.
The Harbourlights (or Cheshire Plains) Band members were Brian Higham Rhythm Guitar & Vocal, John Lee Bass guitar& Vocals, Brian Lewis (Mr. Lewis) lead guitar & vocals& on drums was Alan Forbes. All of these guy’s (apart from myself) were very talented musiciansin their own right.
I gave the job of lead guitar to Brian Lewis after hearing him play in the shop (Barratts) & what a player he was. To say I was impressed would not be up to the mark he was in fact excellent & confident with it.
It did not matter if he was picking his way through Chet Atkins or playing slide or doing his Badfinger stuff he was always brilliant. He seemed to hear things that I couldn’t…for instance being rhythm guitarist I had to play all the right chords which I did expertly just
not in the right order or the right place but with Mr Lewis’s knowhow he soon put me & that right.
It was early 70s & I had just had lunch with Hank Marvin, John Farrar & Bruce Welch (Marvin Welch & Farrar or the Shadows). We had been friends for many years on & off. We were walking down Oxford Street back to the shop when Hank said a very weird thing to me as we walked along.
He asked me how I fancied playing lead guitar on a tour of Japan with Cliff. Well I was absolutely gobsmacked & said you must be kidding but Bruce turned around & said you’ll be ok with me I’m going as rhythm guitar soI’ll look after you. The reason that they wanted a lead player for this tour of Japan was that Terry Britton who had been with Cliff for years did not want to go on this tour because his wife was expecting & he wanted to be there when his wife gave birth.
Terry had written loads of stuff for Cliff & also wrote What’s love got to do with it for Tina Turner. He was a really nice genuine & talented guy.
** You have to remember that I had known Hank & Bruce for years but they had never heard me play & I think they just assumed that I
was capable** which I definitely was not.
So I said to Hank that I just was not good enough to sit behind Cliff & play - I’m just a rhythm player like Bruce & Hank said he understood & thanked me for my honesty. But then I said that I knew someone who in my opinion was more than good enough for a job like this.
So Hank said why you don’t give David Bryce a ring & tell him he is arranging some auditions in London as we speak. (David was Cliff’s personal manager & had been with him for years).
Brian had never met Hank or Bruce but he was a big Shadows fan so when they came to the Golden Garter as Marvin Welch & Farrar, I took Brian down there one afternoon & introduced him to the guys. Again looking back I guess it changed a lot of things for Brian. I know he was very impressed & why would he not be, Hank & Bruce had inspired changed the lives of countless people all over the world. Even Paul McCartney said the Beatles were influenced by Cliff & The Shadows.
** At this point Brian Lewis knew nothing of what I was going to do or what Hank Bruce & I had discussed. I didn’t even ask him I thought I would speak to David Bryce first who I had also known for a lot of years.**
I called David Bryce that same afternoon & I told him what had transpired that day with Hank & Bruce.
He said he knew Hank was going to ask me & that Hank had called him & told him that I said was not up to the job with Cliff but that he would trust my judgment on the person that I recommended we both laughed. He also said that he to trusted my judgment & said just that. If I said he was good enough for this gig it was ok by David & I said to David I wish I was good enough to play for Cliff but I’m more in the Bruce Welch mould Rhythm guitar only& not too good at that.
I then said but I know someone who is very capable of doing this job. & he asked me who that was. So I explained that Brian Lewis was the lead guitarist in my group The Harbourlights & that he was one of the best players I had ever come across & was also a nice guy & that’s why he was playing with us & I had known him for a few years by this time.
David seemed most impressed but then explained that he had already arranged some auditions in London for this job. He then went on to say that if Brian was prepared to attend the auditions in London & if he was as good as I had said then he would give him the job. David thanked me for my honesty in saying I could not do it.
When I finally told Brian what had gone on he really could not believe it. When I think back I must have been a hell of a shock to learn that you had a chance to play for one of if not the biggest Artiste this country had ever produced. Well Brian said that he would love the opportunity to play for Cliff. And so I called David Bryce & told him that Brian would attend the audition’s in London.
So now it was up to Brian to nail this job. I remember he put his Fender deluxe amp & my black Les Paul Custom In the back of his blue Triumph GT-6 & off he went to London.
After the auditions were over David Bryce called me to say that he would give Brian the gig & did I want to tell him& I said “no David you call & tell him I’m sure he will be thrilled if it comes from you”
Well that night I was in my local The Wheat sheaf in Altringham when Brian came rushing in & said I got the job with Cliff……
I said I know David Bryce called me today with the news.
I must say at the time at the time I thought it was great for Brian but I must admit I was a little envious …. but then reality kicked in and I realized I would no longer have a lead guitar in the group.
Now I no longer had Brian Mr Lewis in my group & needed another lead guitar for the Harbourlights. Well that’s another story.
But that is how Brian Lewis got the job with Sir Cliff Richard & don’t let anyone tell you different. All the above is factual I know I was there & that’s what friends are for.
Some years later after the Cliff gig in 1977 we Brian & I went to L.A together where I stayed at John Farrar’s house in Beverly Hills (You’re the one that I want Oliva Newton John’s producer) & Brian & I had a week in Hawaii which was a load of fun.
Must be nice to have friends.
Sometime in the summer of 2011 I received an email from the very famous author Hunter Davies who was the only official Biographer of The Beatles. He had been given my name by Martin Creasy who also wrote a book on the Beatles early days called The Beatles UK tours 1963-1965.
I had helped Martin with a passage about the Maton guitar that I had loaned to George Harrison in 1964 when they appeared at the ABC In Manchester (now the Apollo Ardwick Green).
Hunter told me that he had written in 2010 to Yoko Ono Lennon asking for her permission about writing a book all about letters that had been written by John Lennon to people all over the world over the years.
I don’t think it was well known at the time but John Lennon was a compulsive writer of letters & notes.
Anyway you can see in the attached letter that Yoko Ono Lennon gave Hunter Davies permission to write the book as long as the copyright of the letters stayed with the Lennon estate.
I had obtained several scans of letters that John Lennon had written & Martin Creasy had told Hunter I might be able to help. And so I set to work scanning & sending Hunter every thing I could get my hands for this very exciting project. At this point I would like to say it was an absolute pleasure communicating with Hunter on a fairly regular basis.
By October 9/10/2012 the Lennon Letters book was ready to be published.
I received a letter from Hunter bringing me up to date with the proceedings & I was very very flattered indeed that he had invited me to the actual book launch at The British Library in London on the 11/10/2012.
And so I received an official invitation in the post which was R.S.V.P.
Well I started planning my trip straight away, I booked my“Ticket to Ride” from Anglesey via Chester to Euston. I also managed to get a hotel just across the road from The British Library so I was all set for my trip to the big city for what was to be a once in a lifetime event for me.
It was a Thursday & I left home very early in the morning to get my train from Llanfair P.G.(no I can’t say it) on Anglesey. The train was on time but wouldn’t you know it that after all my careful planning when I got to Chester the 11-35 to Euston had been cancelled. I did ask the station attendant why it had been cancelled and what an answer it was that he gave me. He said “they couldn’t find the driver”… Priceless you couldn’t make this up.
So I had to get a train to Crewe and then get the Manchester to London Euston train. It was a pleasant enough Journey down to the big city & the hotel was just a short walk from the Station. After checking into the hotel I was going to go for a walk but the rain got worse & worse so I went for something to eat& then got myself ready to go to The British Library for the book launch.
It was still raining when I finally set off to the book launch & I was like a little kid I was so excited. I had been so looking forward to this
night ever since I got the invite from Hunter.
On arriving at the British Library other guests were also arriving & I did recognise one or to faces i.e. Melvyn Bragg, Kelvin McKenzie & Nina Mishkov. Hunter was due to give a forty five minute talk on the book & his experiences with the Beatles so all the guests filed into the lecture room. The seats came down to a small stage where Hunter would sit & give his talk.
I sat on the end seat in the third row & had a great view. It was then that a young lady came into the room which was rapidly filling up. I stood up to let her into the row of seats & lucky for me she sat next to me. Naturally a conversation followed & she asked me if I was a contributor to the book & I said yes I was.
The name of this young lady was Toli Ono & she had written to John Lennon in 1980 when she was just 14 years old & just before his tragic death & John had replied to her with a post card that poignantly said Hi- Bye-Love John 80. She was possibly the last fan that John wrote to.
She asked me where I was from originally & I replied Stockport. She looked at me in amazement & said so am I. What are the chances that two people from the same town would end up sat next to each other at an event like this. Truly amazing. Toli & I spent the rest of the evening together talking to lots of different people & then there was a very special treat in store for everyone - Yoko Ono Lennon John’s widow appeared & she was very patient with everyone & Toli & I were lucky to be introduced to Yoko & she let me take a picture of her & Toli.
Yoko also signed my copy of the Lennon Letters which was very kind of her. Yoko was nothing like what you had read about her she very engaging & extremely gracious with everyone. She even gave an impromptu speech which was nice. For her to turn up to support Hunter at this book launch was in my opinion a very wonderful enthusiastic gesture.
The Quarry Men which was John’s very first skiffle group were there to play for the guests at the private party afterwards & two of the original band members who also went to school with John were in the group which was amazing. But the best thing for me is that they played all the old skiffle stuff just as they did back in the day when John Lennon was with them.
I met some really wonderful people that night & it was a night I will never forget.
Toli & I said good night to Hunter at the end of the evening & he thanked us both for our input into the book albeit small & for turning up.
Toli & I were staying at the same hotel so we walked back together.
What a fabulous evening it was & it will live long in the memory.
Hi, Brian, and congrats upon such a wonderful story. I was fascinated to note that you mentioned those stockbrokers, Bell White & Hardy. My very first job interview was with that firm: I well remember the interviewer moaning that young people wanted as much money as possible for very little effort. I knew I could never be happy there so I walked out! The shortest job interview I ever had.
David Benjamin - 3/3/12
Hi Brian - just to say what a truly fantastic story. I thought mine was reasonable but after reading yours not so sure. I have bought many guitars and amps from Bbarratts M/c. Good luck to you and thanks again for your great story.
Roy Mozley - 25/1/13
Brian sold me my first electric guitar and my first 12-string guitar. I only recently disposed of them! I also bought from him a Fender Rhodes and a strange very early portable keyboard. (name forgotten) Brian and Brian Lewis and their group also played with me in Wilsmlow for Sammy Cooper's annual fashion show, introduced by the now disgraced Stuart Hall.
My group was called Gentle Pulse and still I make music. I'd love to contact him and Brian Lewis if they are still going strong.
Dr John Pollard - 3/2/14
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