Breakfast with: Paul Francis – Tony Jackson & The Vibrations
From Takeovers to good Vibrations
By Paul Francis
WHILE working as a professional musician for many years, and playing in bands since the early 60s, I went through many highs and lows.
When working with certain musicians you know straight away when it clicks and everything just seems to gel. When I put The Paul Francis Band together, it happened very quickly and the right musicians were available and wanted to give 100% commitment.
As a young boy of about five or six years old, something happened in school one day that changed my life forever. Two teachers stood in our classroom with a small drum. One played a rhythm then passed the drum around the class inviting us to imitate that rhythm. Only two of us managed to play it and we were chosen to play on stage in a school production.
That was it, I was hooked!
Some years later, I started on snare drum, graduating to bass, snare and hi hat. My older brother had records by Lonnie Donegan, The Everly Brothers and Neil Sedaka and I loved to listen to them. Then there was Buddy Holly & The Crickets and the great sound of The Shadows. I would play along to the tracks in my bedroom.
Eventually, I added to my kit and I met two slightly older men who played lead and rhythm guitars, and we started playing together and built up a repertoire. A family friend asked us to play at a wedding.
This was our big break!
We managed to get some drums in my Dad’s small car, and the rest went with my brother and me on his motorbike and side-car.
The event went off well.
We were called The Takeovers but, unfortunately, the announcer did not catch the name and called us The Potatoes!
Playing in a band felt so good; it was much better than just playing along to tracks on my own. It was also the sense of camaradarie as we got on well and really enjoyed playing together.
By this time, I was taking drum lessons which was helping to improve my playing.
Eventually we went our separate ways and I joined a new band. They had a bass player which was fantastic. We played regularly in a pub and our payment was someone (usually my Dad) passing a hat around at the end.
The pub was a bit rough at times and, often, all the glasses on the bar would be pushed onto the floor and a fight would start. The publican had a wooden leg (it really was like Long John Silver) and he would stomp out to try and calm things down.
Those were my early playing days and, as with all musicians, you move on to other bands trying to improve your playing and achieve success.
This eventually happened when I was lucky to land the gig with Tony Jackson & The Vibrations (pictured top right.) Everything changed overnight. We were in the studio recording our first single, then promoting it on various TV shows like Top of the Pops and Ready Steady Go! We were part of the 60s music scene when there was plenty of work and almost non-stop touring both in the U.K. and Europe.
I had also started doing recording sessions for various artists – which I also enjoyed.
After three years, the band went their separate ways and I joined a Soul band with brass, which was a big sound and great fun. I left them to join The End, later on called Tucky Buzzard produced by Bill Wyman.
This band did a fair amount of recording and spent quite a lot of time gigging in Spain.
After that band, I had the opportunity to tour America, Canada and Europe with Tranquility, Maggie Bell and Steve Harley.
I played in Las Vegas, Madison Square Gardens, Carnegie Hall and Wembley Arena – places I dreamt of when I started playing, never thinking, for one minute, that I would actually play them.
If you are lucky and get the right musicians who get on well with each other, you could end up playing together for many years. This happened when I put together a local Soul band which lasted for 15 years.
But, towards the end, it was never the same after a change of line up. Sometimes there are musicians you would like to work with, but is not possible because of other commitments. Just putting together a bunch of great musicians will not guarantee a good band, as it is all about working together to make a tight unit. The chemistry has to be right.
With the end of the Soul band, I had a break from gigging and concentrated on my drum school, but after a few years I felt the pull of live performance, and the idea of a new band blossomed.
The musicians in my new band are guys I have enjoyed working with in the past who happened to be available at the right time and really keen to put this band together. It is a band I am proud of; great musicians and really nice people. We play material by great songwriters such as Paul Simon, Mark Knopfler, James Taylor, Jackson Browne and Stevie Wonder.
With such a wealth of great material out there we are like five guys in a candy shop.
I am fortunate to have a home rehearsal studio which we use on a regular basis.
In the past, I have been in bands where certain members would not want to rehearse new material. This is essential for progress and, I am glad to say, all members in this band are the opposite.
We are having a blast and hopefully our audiences will too. The thing is, we are playing because we want to, just like when we first started out. We have spent years learning our skills and now we are reaping the benefits of playing together, not for the money but the sheer enjoyment.
I take my hat off to all the other artists still out there gigging and entertaining. You don’t stop playing because you get old; you get old because you stop playing!
The Paul Francis band are Chris Halls and Trevor Cushing who share guitar duties and vocals, Win Bernard is on keyboards with Mick Nottage on bass, and Paul on drums. Brian Bennett, Paul Francis and Clem Cattini at Orchard Percussion Studio.