'MY STORY - TONY MEADOWS'
See The Spots
My introduction to music started at the age of seven when we inherited a piano from my Great Grandma. I had lessons until I was nine but then my interests turned to football. At the age of ten my uncle gave me a guitar that he had made himself. This was the start of my career in guitar music. I attended Broadway Secondary Modern School in Cheadle, Cheshire. One day as we were waiting for our P.E lesson to start I was talking to a friend of mine, Denis Bailey, who just happened to mention that he was having guitar lessons. We started having joint lessons each week. However the tutor was mainly a piano teacher and Denis and I left when we became better guitarists than him!!
Denis' sister gave me 3 tickets to see 'Wham' (possibly where George Michael got the inspiration for the name of his group) which was the forerunner of Boy meets Girl at the ABC Theatre in Didsbury. I think this was around 1956/57. My cousin Diane Atkins and her best friend also called Diane came with me. We were all around 12 years old, I recall Marty Wild, Cliff Richard, Jess Conrad and the Vernon Girls etc which inspired me to progress my music world. For some time Denis and I practiced together but unfortunately Denis lost interest, however my enthusiasm still remained. My mum and dad bought me a brand new guitar around this time which was a Hofner Senator- I had this for about 6 months. I saved up my pocket money and bought a new single pick-up for the guitar from Neale and Hardy’s of Stockport.
I didn’t have an amplifier so I wired it through my dad’s wireless, which did work, but not very well. For Christmas my mum and dad bought me an electric guitar, Hofner Club 60 (Blonde) and a True Voice 15w amp from Johnny Roadhouse in Manchester. I resumed my guitar lessons on a Sunday morning at Barratts Music Shop on Oxford Road, Manchester. You had to go round the back and into the cellar for the lessons. I eventually got fed up at having to get up early every Sunday morning and travel on the bus to Manchester but this did prove to be a good grounding for my playing.
Tony Meadows, Belle Vue (Photo taken 20th December 1964)
My Dad knew a lad who lived just around the corner who played in a group and he asked if I could go round and listen to them for experience. This lad was Brian Higham, who played in the ‘Harbour Lights‘; he helped me with my finger styling and taught me bar cords. I will never forget that Brian came in and announced that he had run over my bike with his brothers car, I thought he was joking but sadly he was not.
Around this time I was playing football for my school team and Stockport Boys. Bob Noble (who eventually played for Manchester United) was also in both teams - he was a good friend and we used to play football on the fields at the back of our houses. There was a period of about a year where Bob and I lost contact, when I left school. I bumped into Bob on the bus one evening when I was coming home from working in Manchester. I asked how he was going on with his football career and he said ‘I get £20.00 for cleaning Bobby Charlton’s and Denis Law's boots!!’ I told him that I earned £2.17s. per week for being an apprentice joiner.
Around a similar time I tried to form a group, I organised auditions in Gatley Scout Club. Unfortunately the turn out was not as I had hoped; there was only one lad who was any good. By now I was going out with a girl called Kathy, we used to go to the Kings Hall in Cheadle Hulme on a Saturday night, the owner of the club was called Johnny. I was inspired by groups such as Wayne Fontanna and the Mindbenders, The Hollies Screamin’ Lord Such, PJ Proby, Marty Barry and the Teenbeats. One night a friend of mine, Frank Sherratt, introduced us to the Hollies; Kathy asked for their autographs and they obliged by doing a group signing of their photograph. Eric Haydock was also with them at the time, Eric meets up with Brian Higham, mentioned earlier occasionally still to this day.
I now decided I definitely wanted to form a group of my own. In the summer of 1963 I was talking to John Titley who lived across the road from me. He said he wanted to learn to play the guitar. I spent a few months teaching him to play chords, he struggled with this so I suggested he learn the base which was easier for him. One night Kathy and I were out with my cousin Diane and her boyfriend Bill McGeehan, who happened to mention that he played the guitar, shortly after we got in touch with Roy Pickford, a drummer. This was to be the start of our group. Our first venue was at Withington Methodist Church Hall, our nerves were getting the better of us so prior to playing, we went to the Red Lion pub in Withington for some 'Dutch courage.' We had only learnt 10-12 numbers at the time so we had to play them twice.
Withington Methodist church and Bill McGeehan and Tony Meadows on the site of the hall, since demolished (2007)
We were first managed by Barry Matkin who played with Marty Barrie & The Teenbeats, it was he that gave us our name - The Spots. The name was inspired by an American group called The Ink Spots. We practiced at a club called Cobden Place in Middle Hillgate, Stockport. Barry opened a club at Cobdens and pursued that field. The Photograph shows him singing with us at Cobdens in October 1964.
Barry Matkin singing with The Spots at Cobdens
We were approached by a new agency by the name of John Dixon agency, he got us quite a bit of work and we were fortunate to get a resident venue at the College Theatre Club. We played 4 or 5 nights a week for approximately 8 weeks. It was owned by a chap call Les Lawrence and Cyril. The compare at the time was Bobby Day and they had a trio made up of George Gray who played base, xylophone and sax, organist/piano player Bob Percy and drummer, George Cooper. They were a group of characters; one night we finished playing and the base player asked me, ‘do you fancy a go on the big double base?’ - he walked off stage and left me playing as the curtains opened so I ended up playing his turn. During our time there we met several artists who became well known such as Mike Newman (comic), Sheena Duff (singer), Mr X (Josef Lock), Gladys Morgan (comedian).
Envelope from John Dixon, The Spots first registered letter
Letter from John Dixon, dated on the first day of The Spots’ residency at The College Theatre Club, Manchester
We decided we stage clothes so we went to the Toggery Shop in Stockport, Mike Cohen, the owner with the aid of his shop assistant Graham Nash (The Hollies) suggested we should have black leather waist coats with white spots on them due to our stage name being ‘The Spots‘. On the way out the group named after the shop 'Toggery Five' were having a photo shoot outside.
Some 40 odd years later, I was in Fuerteventura with my partner, Julie, where we went into a club called ‘Legends’. Who should be playing there? ….. but Frank Renshaw (Young) from the Toggery Five! The owner was also a guitarist called Kenny Dean from Gatley (its a small world).
left to right Frank Renshaw (Young), Tony Meadows and Kenny Dean - 2007
left to right Frank Renshaw (Young) and Kenny Dean playing on stage in ‘Legends Club‘ - 2007
With our black leather waistcoats acquired, we decided to spread our wings and worked more clubs. Some of the clubs we played were - Belle Vue - Manchester, Club Creole -Wilmslow, Embassy Club- Manchester, Manor Lounge - Stockport, Offerton Palace - Stockport, Southern and Northern Sporting Clubs, Embassy - Bredbury, Altrincham Ice Rink, Stamford Hall - Altrincham, Plaza - Oxford Road, The Domino club, Jungfrau - Manchester, Stockport and Hyde Town hall - plus numerous others. Artists that we played with included,the Baron Knights, the Dakotas, one of the Walker Brothers, plus others.
We also played at Queens Cleveland - Blackpool, where one of the funniest incidents of all my time playing in ‘The Spots’ occurred. Our drummer, Roy Pickford’s bass pedal strap broke mid performance; fortunately that morning the group had bought a brand new one, which we had left in our dressing room. Roy went to fetch the new pedal whilst the rest of the group continued playing. Roy had been gone for quite some time so Bill went to check what was taking him so long, after a while neither of them had returned so I rushed up to find them. . When I got to the dressing room I discovered Roy had taken the strap off the new pedal and tried to install it on the old one but it would not fit. We raced back down to continue playing and looked out onto the stage to see John, the bass player, on stage, on his own singing, ‘Where have all the flowers gone’ to thousands of people, he and I had already played the song through after Bill & Roy had left the stage. Bill and I couldn’t help ourselves, we both fell on our knees in hysterics laughing at the sight. To give John his credit he handled the situation with a degree of professionalism. Reverend Black & the rocking vicars were also playing there and lent us their pedal so that we could finish our session.
We were playing in the Midlands one night and at 3am in the morning we called at Knutsford Services for a meal and a drink - one of the staff in the services came over and asked us for our autographs as she thought we were the Nashville Teens. They were in the Services having drinks at the same time. We turned around and saw ’The Hollies’ were also there, we felt honoured as she thought we were the top group!!
I do recall one night playing at the Southern Sporting Club; in the dressing room a group had written their name on the wall. I added 'The Spots' on the wall and we all signed it. When we came back a couple of weeks later someone had changed the name from the ‘The Spots’ to ‘The Piss Pots‘. By the way the group we signed our name next to was ‘The Beatles’ - I wonder if they ever got anywhere????!!!!!
We played BelleVue, Manchester on numerous occasions. After performing on a Saturday night, the manager allowed us to leave our equipment to practice on the following Sunday morning. One particular Sunday we were rehearsing in the Cumberland suite when Bobby Charlton walked in with his two young daughters. They watched us run through a few numbers.
The manager at BelleVue asked us if we would become residents but we had just done a stint at the College Theatre club and we decided to turn the offer down. Our agent had booked us to play with the Rolling Stones at Belle Vue in 1964-65. One of the members of our group (Bill) said we would rather play somewhere else and we ended up playing at Accrington Town Hall, Bill regrets this decision even now. The group that replaced us was the Bridgebeats. On one occasion we lent them our blue tambourine, the next time we saw them they gave us back a red one, which they had acquired from Mick Jagger. As it turns out they had lost ours; the Rolling Stones had borrowed all their equipment as theirs had been delayed at the airport. I still have the red tambourine to this day..
Rehearsals at the Cumberland Suite at Belle Vue. Sunday Morning, Bobby Charlton and his 2 daughters watched The Spots practicing - December 1964
Rehearsals at the Cumberland Suite at Belle VueAAAAAAAAAAAAAA
Another venue was Bernard Manning's Embassy Club - I took my girlfriend Joan and the other members of the group took their girlfriends also, Bernard said we had to pay for them as they were taking seats up in the club. We said we would not play unless he let them come in for free - he eventually relented (we had the last laugh there).
I recall one of our venues at Ilkley Moor; as we arrived one evening it was snowing and the hotel that we were playing at was very picturesque. It was around Christmas time and everywhere was illuminated with lights. After we had finished playing and packed up our van, we realised that we had a flat tyre. Unfortunately we had a clear out of the van that morning and accidentally left the jack in my dads garage. The police arrived and sent for one of their vehicles with a jack, unfortunately the jack didn’t fit our van. One of the police men suggested that we empty the van and the whole group and a few policemen lift the van up while I changed the tyre. We much appreciated what the police did for us that evening.
In mid 1965 we played at Nottingham University, ‘The moody blues’ couldn’t make this venue for some reason so our agent sent us to replace them. It is a coincidence that my son went on to go to university in Nottingham.
Another tale that I had forgotten about but was reminded recently by Bill McGeehan, was when we were playing at ‘the Co-op hall’ in Nuneaten, Bill was singing on lead vocal. Every time Bill touched his guitar and the microphone he got an electric shock - we still don’t know why this happened to this day. But at least we can say he gave an electrifying performance.
We also played in a competition at the Manor Lounge in Stockport, it was an all day session with 20-30 groups taking part. I recall us coming in either 2nd or 3rd place, it was organised by the Rhythm House Stockport - Alan Arnason Agencies and a Vox amp representative. Alan Arnason approached us and said we were very professional and asked us to do some gigs for him. We had numerous bookings from there onward all over the North of England and the Midlands.
I recall us doing a demo tape organised by our Manager Ray Vernon which he took down to London. We were going to do a number called ‘That’s the way she is’. We split shortly after this in 1966. John and Roy went playing professionally for about 2 years. Bill stayed working for British Aerospace and I played in another group called Hector J Plug - we did a couple of gigs but I had joined an Architectural practice and didn’t have time to pursue the group. I continued to play in my own time and still do so today. Bill and I are still close friends, we often play together and reminisce about the good old days.