The Roadie By Ian McNab
Ian was lucky to be around at an incredible time in the Manchester beat scene. His humorous account tells of group life from a different perspective – the roadie.
The old Ford Pop was way past its sell by date and by some quirk of fate I found myself the owner of an Austin Omnicoach fifteen seater bus. Of course, that was long before the compulsory use of seat belts and the fact that the seating was just two long bench seats facing inwards down the length of the bus it would not have been possible for them anyway! Not that I would be squeezing all that many people into it as my idea was to use it for delivering holiday makers luggage for those who went to Blackpool every year, as you did in those days.
The wife had made some nice curtains to cover the windows and I proudly drove to show it off to my cousin John Eaton, who had not long since purchased The Kings Hall Ballroom in Cheadle Hulme.
As soon as he saw the bus he remarked that it was the perfect vehicle for taking groups to their venues and home again after. He said he had a group in mind that was in need of transport and if I would like to earn a bit of money, I could pick them up the following evening in the village of New Mills.
Now I had led quite a quiet sort of life since coming out of the Royal Air Force. I had helped in the formation of a dance band while serving out in Aden and even plonked about on a big double bass for a while, until they could find someone that knew what they were doing! But that was my limit as far as music and groups were concerned.
Cousin John assured me that I shouldn’t be concerned about not knowing much about the actual music as many of the guys in the business were also in the same boat. As long as I could drive my little bus and get them to their gigs on time and home again after, I would do just fine.
I suppose it was my time In the RAF that made me a stickler for time keeping and I duly arrived at the meeting place. I was greeted by a motley group of individuals standing outside a pub with a load of instruments piled up on the footpath.
An amicable guy stepped forward and blowing his large quiff from his eyes asked, ‘Are you Ian? I’m Albert’.
I jumped out and was introduced to the rest of the group - Ray Arnfleld and his lovely wife Mavis; Cec Mosley, a rather tall guy with a shock of ginger hair; Eddie, the drummer, who was nicknamed ‘Never Ready’ for obvious reasons; and last but by no means least, Johnny Peters, the singer of the group.
I could tell straight away I was among friends.
It only took a few minutes to load the gear and we set off to the King Billy in the village of Tideswell in Derbyshire. The group was Johnny Peters and the Crestas and I was in for an eye opening evening of my kind of music. What cousin John had told me was way out of order, at least where this load of guys were concerned! Not that I was any sort of a connoisseur, but I could tell a good thing when I saw it.
That first evening with this group of guy’s was a real eye opener for me! Yes I had heard good rock ‘n’ roll music on the radio and TV and I even had a few records of my own. But this was the first real live music I had seen close up and I felt part of it in a way which would be easy to get hooked on! I only had to look around at all the punters to see that it was having a similar effect on them as well.
This was nothing like what I had been performing with The Starlight Dance Orchestra in Aden!
All too quickly it was over and we again loaded the gear into the bus and were on our way back to New Mills. I was honored to have the slight figure of Johnny Peters sitting up front with me as he told mc he would be the last to be dropped off in Sharston. The fact that it was getting quite late and the second part of my job was just starting didn’t enter my head. I was still buzzing with the evening’s magic and only slowly coming down to earth again. I was already thinking of possibly more evenings to come.
But first there was Albert, Ray and his wife Mavis to deliver home to New Mills and then on to Marple with Eddie the drummer. After that it was Cec Mosley to Bramhall, a place I didn’t know very well at the time but was soon to find out very well indeed. Besides it was only about a couple of minutes from the Kings Hall where it all started for me!
Then, it was on to Sharston with the star of the show, Johnny Peters himself.
From dropping Cec off I suppose it took another twenty minutes to reach his home and I probably didn’t let him get a word in edgewise all the way. So by the time I got him home he had probably come to the conclusion that I’d had a great night!
It had been an evening to remember and it was already certain that it was not going to be the last - I had the assurance of Johnny that they had liked the way I had both driven and worked with them.
Besides they had left all the equipment in the bus and asked me to pick them up the following evening in Mersey Square, Stockport. Johnny and I were getting on great with each other and were already good friends, as we are still to this very day! I phoned Cousin John the next morning to tell him how it had all gone and he was as happy about it as I was myself. We both agreed that if things carried on as they were and my little bus held out, I would soon be calling myself a true roadie.
There is no way that I could remember all the very many gigs I delivered the lads to over those many months, so I can only pick out a few of the more memorable times we had and things that happened to us as a group.
For one, I was already a married man with a beautiful little daughter to take care of and I still had to talk things over with my wife Lily. The fact that I was going to be coming home in the early hours of the morning was not going to go down all that well with Lilly and also her auntie, where we were then living.
Still, it was better than the long distance heavy transport job I was doing at the time. So things were agreed as long as I got another part time job to make sure that I would be bringing in those few extra pounds we would need. After all, there was no way that a young and upcoming group would be able to pay me a full days pay for just an evening job!
Although there were many pubs, clubs and other venues around the Manchester area, we often found that we had to travel out to the Stoke-on-Trent area to places like the Queens Hall, Burslem and the Kings Hall in Stoke itself.
Also there was Longton Town Hal,l where we had a quite memorable gig one evening. Joe Brown was the main group on that night and I will not forget his fantastic performance on stage! But also I can’t forget his performance in the dressing room after!
I had been asked to stand guard on the door which led on to the top of the stairs and had to be opened often to let the equipment be taken out to the transport. On one occasion, two young girls managed to squeeze through and ask Joe for his autograph! I can’t say his actual words but he ordered them to leave as he wanted to get changed. The poor girls could not get out and were in tears when he continued to change in front of them. I have to say that although he was a good artist, his public attitude needed working on!
Also in Stoke we had a mid-day performance at a very big cinema, I think it was called the Regal. We had finished the performance and there were screaming teenage girls all over the place looking for Johnny, We managed to smuggle him out through the middle of them and out the front doors and had arranged to meet him in this restaurant a few streets away for dinner. We loaded the bus and told all the girls that they had missed him and left the scene for a roundabout trip to the café!
About halfway through the meal, the doors burst open and a gang of still screaming girls mobbed poor Johnny and half his chips!
The owner was not at all happy about the invasion and our dinner was very quickly over! I don’t know to this day if we ever got to pay for that snack! It was to prove a long day as we then had to carry on to Stafford for an evening gig.
That proved to be a fairly normal performance but I can’t say much about Johnny’s later private performance when he disappeared for half an hour with one of those screaming fans! I know it was a very late night for me!
Not that my time was taken up with the whole of the group all the time.
There was a phone call one day from Albert Sayers all the way from somewhere up in County Durham. He was visiting some relatives and his car had packed up on him. There was a gig the following evening and he wanted me to drive up there to tow him all the way back to New Mills!
Now Albert’s one great guy and not easy to say no to, so very early the next day I found myself crossing the hills in the direction of the North East! It didn’t take long to find him and we were soon all tied up and on our way back.
The tow rope was quite short and by the time we were getting near the Leeds area it was just starting to get a little dark. Still with the aid of Albert’s full beam lights and my own we made it back to New Mills just in time to set off for the Klub Koquette in Stockport!
The months rolled on and I had long since had to give up my daytime job and Cousin John had kindly asked me to do a few jobs at the Kings Hall. Bits of decorating here and there plus the building of a new handbag counter in the ladies cloakroom.
Now John may have been one of my favorite cousins but I have to say he was not the best of employers when it came to wages!
Now don’t get me wrong; Cousin John was an entrepreneur of the first order! A guy with his own dance hall, manager of a number of groups, plus he was hiring other halls to run his own dances with his own groups playing at them. He was a very clever guy who was destined to go a long way with any business he wished to go into, But a guy who didn’t suffer fools gladly!
Maybe he wasn’t always very generous with the groups but he almost always had a smile on his face and you just knew where you stood with him!
Johnny Peters and the Crestas were doing quite well for themselves and the chance came for them to do a two week tour up in Scotland.
Having to keep paying for the transport also meant that they weren’t getting as much money as myself! But then I did have all the overheads of running the bus and keeping it in good running order.
Just at that time cousin John happened to have on his hands a large van and decided that if the group were to purchase it from him, they would be able to drive themselves on the Scottish tour!
In doing this they would be saving on having to pay me for my services, John would be able to make a small profit on the sale of the van and the lads would be paying him back in installments for the vehicle. John would also be getting his percentage as manager and agent for the tour! He who dares wins!
And so it came to pass that I had been pushed out of what I had thought to be a sound and lasting position.
True, there is no sentiment in business, but I was very hurt that it should come in that way and from people that I liked and trusted!
Yet there was to be another twist in the saga; John asked me if I would like to take on yet another group that was in need of transport and under the circumstances there could be only one answer to that!
We were always bumping into the other local groups and I must say that although there was a lot of rivalry between some of them to the most part it was friendly and most got along well together.
My new group was to be The Fabulous Fourtones and they had a very good reputation in and around Manchester. I had been asked to pick them up in Albert Square and deliver them to their booking at the Ashton Palais. One or two of them weremaking their own way there so I only had to pick up about three of them in town. I believe they had played the same place the night before as their equipment was mostly set up on the stage.
The three to pick up were Alan Clarke, Graham Nash and John (Butch) Mepham, a great bass player who I am so very happy to say is still a very good friend of mine, as are two other members of the group, Pete Bocking and Derek Quinn.
Derek went on to find fame and not quite so much fortune with the late great Freddie and the Dreamers.
Ashton Palais was one of the old time dance halls with the big stage and a huge dance floor. Acoustically it was very good but I was not ready for the fabulous vocalisation that came from Alan and Graham. I just couldn’t believe that much talent could come out of Manchester and, although Johnny Peters was fantastic in his own style, these guys were something else.
All my enthusiasm for the pop scene was restored in one evening, but I had to keep my feet on the ground this time and remember I was only the roadie. Yes, Johnny could get an audience in the palm of his hand but the sheer poetry and magic of Alan Clarke and Graham Nash was to become a huge pleasure to so many at a later date.
It also did them no harm at that time to have the huge talents of guys like Pete Bocking, Derek Quinn and good old Butch Mepham standing behind them either!
They were a great bunch of guys and the fact that they turned out such a fantastic sound made my job one of the best anyone could wish for.
There were also a few not so good times and one was when we were booked to perform at the Co-op Hall in Offerton, Stockport. What had gone wrong? I don’t know but there were so few punters turned up that the group outnumbered them.
The gig was called off, as were the wages, and I was running very short of petrol. I had no cash and Alan stepped in to lend me a quid so I could at least get them all home.
I always pay my debts and 35 years later, my sister Jean went to see the Hollies in Norwich. I had told her that if she got the chance to see Alan, she should explain the situation and pay him for me. She did! And he took it! He even asked her about the interest. I don’t know if I still owe my sister that quid to this very day.
But as I have found through life, good things don’t last. After a gig at the Three Coins in Fountain Street Manchester I was running some of the lads home and heading down Princess Street when a car shot across the lights in front of me at Charles Street.
We all ended in a pile in a doorway on the opposite side but thankfully nobody was badly hurt. Sadly my old faithful bus didn’t survive the bump so well and was classed as a write off. I was now without any transport and the group also. Sadly that was the finish of The Fabulous Fourtones and the lads went their own way. For now! For a few weeks I lost all track of them, but such a talented lot of lads would soon be snapped up with other groups.
I had a little luck for a change getting a small payout from the car insurance and I was able to buy myself an old Ford Consul at the car auctions in Altrincham.
Then one day I received a surprise phone call from Alan Clarke asking if I had any wheels. He and Graham had got a booking as Ricky and Dane Young at the Empress Theatre Club in Stockport. I told them I had a car and could just about squeeze them in.
They were booked to do two spots at each end of the show with the comedian Alfred Marks tucked in the middle. The amps were set up for their guitars and they were to use the clubs PA system for the vocals. The club’s gear worked ok but they had big problems with their own equipment and in the end had to admit defeat and leave the stage. They worked hard to try and fix things while Alfred Marks was on stage but to no avail.
So both they and I worked hard for yet another night without pay!
I had no further news for quite a while after that until I heard that they had formed a new group called The Hollies.
Some you win and some you lose, but I like to think that but for the car smash The Hollies would never have been formed!
Just another of my small claims to fame!