60s music still as good as gold
Review by music historian and author Peter Checksfield
THE HIGHEST point for me recently was the publication in July of my first book, Channelling The Beat!, which received almost unanimous glowing reviews.
I was now really looking forward to what is almost becoming an annual event, the Sixties Gold show, which I would watch at Margate’s historic Winter Gardens Theatre on Fort Crescent, opened in 1911, a beautiful old place right next to the sea and the lovely Kent beach.
But would this show be as good as the 2017 show, which featured the stellar cast of The Searchers, Gerry & The Pacemakers (his farewell tour), Brian Poole & The Tremeloes, Steve Ellis & Vanity Fare?
Arriving in the hall on a sunny Saturday evening, there were impressive merchandise stalls for both the Merseybeats and P J Proby, the latter particularly well- run by Proby expert Ron Tennant, someone whom I’ve corresponded with many times and who was particularly helpful with the P J Proby chapter in my book.
I introduced myself and my better half Heather and bought from the table a great “live” filmed DVD of a December, 2012 concert starring P J, backed by The Pacemakers, on board the liner Cinderella, sailing from Sweden to Finland and back. This was professionally filmed by Bjorn Lund who passed away a few months ago. The super DVD came with an autograph on the cover by P J.
First on stage at 7.30pm in Margate were The Fortunes. I was lucky enough to have seen them supporting Gerry and The Pacemakers way back in 1988, when The Fortunes were still fronted by founder members Rod Allen and Barry Pritchard. Sadly, both of these guys are no longer with us, but singer/bassist Eddie Mooney does a fine job fronting the band these days. As well as most of the expected hits, an unexpected highlight was their version of Cilla Black’s 1964 number one You’re My World.
A very short change round followed and then Vanity Fare took to the stage. But because their usual singer/guitarist was off sick they did just one song, Hitchin’ A Ride and they brought Steve Ellis on to the stage. Steve was one of the highlights of the 2017 60s Gold show, and the same as last year, he once again reprised three Love Affair classic hits and also The Small Faces All Or Nothing. Steve also added a superb version of Gerry Marsden’s Don’t Let The Sun Catch You Crying, a song that suits Steve’s strong, soulful voice perfectly.
Next up to close the first half of the show was P J Proby. I first met this great man via a mutual friend back in 1985 when we all lived in London and when P J (or Jim as he prefers to be called) was at the height of his battle with alcoholism, and then I also became re-acquainted with him backstage at a 1993 Jerry Lee Lewis concert, and by then, P J had recently and successfully given up the booze. Despite these meetings, I did not actually see him perform live until he appeared on a 60s package show in 2008, a memorable evening that included Mike Pender, Brian Poole and Chris Farlowe. P J was superb that night, 10 years ago, but could he still cut it now in 2018 at almost 80 years of age?
I need not have worried. Still backed by Vanity Fare,with the addition of Sophie Freeman-Young on saxophone and flute, the man’s looks, charisma, and most of all the voice, are all fully intact. Starting with Mission Bell, his act included Lonely Weekends, Niki Hoeky, and his two best-known hits Somewhere and Hold Me, though my personal fave at Margate was a song best known originally in 1963 done by The Searchers. It was PJ’s own composition, Ain’t Gonna Kiss Ya. PJ left the stage after 20 minutes to a wonderful standing ovation.
During the interval, The Fortunes and Vanity Fare came out to sign autographs but I instead chose to chat to Ron Tennant at PJ’s merchandise table and Ron introduced me to PJ’s manager, Manja Dolan, a genuine pleasure.
To start the second half was an act I was really keen to see, as I’d never seen them before and whom I knew had a great reputation live. The group was the legendary Merseybeats, still fronted by Tony Crane (MBE) and Billy Kinsley, who formed the group as The Mavericks 57 years ago in 1961. They turned out even better than I expected, with a genuine rapport among the two front men and the audience, and the band achieved that difficult magical balance between raw spontaneity and slick polish.
Songs included I Think Of You, Don’t Turn Around, Wishin’ and Hopin’, The Everly Brothers’ Let It Be Me, a Billy-sung I Saw Her Standing There and a finalé of Sorrow, which blended into Hi Ho Silver Lining. By this time everyone was on their feet and the band left the stage to huge cheers.
Last but by no means least were The Searchers. When I saw them last year, they were enjoyable enough but their sound was not quite right. This was because John McNally, in 2017, was having health issues and being temporarily replaced by a guitarist from The Pacemakers who played a standard six-string guitar throughout instead of The Searchers’ trademark 12-string. Fortunately John was back this time, looking fit and healthy and playing so well.
Another thing that has changed in the meantime is that The Searchers have announced their decision to retire, with no more shows after March 2019. So these things combined to give the band an added drive, and as well as most of their expected many big hits Sweets For My Sweet, Sugar and Spice,”Needles and Pins etc., their songs included Farmer John. They also did a super version of Young Girl and John sang some Buddy Holly songs. The Searchers rounded off a wonderful evening.
After the show, The Mersey-beats and The Searchers came out to chat and sign autographs. Firstly, Heather and myself went over to talk with Tony Crane and Billy Kinsley, and to personally thank Tony for the great foreword that he wrote in my 700-page book: Channelling The Beat!. They asked if we enjoyed the show and after naturally saying yes, I did suggest they maybe could add to their act a classy Liverpool Express song (for people who don’t know, Billy led this classy 70s soft rock band during a spell away from The Mersey-beats/The Merseys). Tony replied that they were working on adding a song by the group to their current set-list.
After this, I went over to The Searchers table where I wished Frank Allen a long and happy retirement. I also gave him a copy of my giant book, and after seeing the size of it, Frank said: “This will last longer than my retirement!”
He also requested me to sign the book for him. I never really ever thought I’d see the day when Frank Allen of The Searchers would ask for MY autograph!
Music Historian and Author,