Wednesday, 1 August 2007

John O'Harah & The Playboys - Sister Rae

John O'Hara & The Playboys - Sister Rae (President 465. 1977)

Here's a recent favourite of mine.

Born in Scotland John O'Hara moved to London and hit the club circuit with the Playboys in the early 60s, after which they cut their live teeth on the Hamburg stages. The band gained a sizable following in Germany and released a number of 45s and an LP, "Playboy Party No.1" for Decca, while also appearing on Beat Club in 1965. Upon returning to the UK they cut an LP of soulful cover versions, "Get Ready", for Fontana.

The band continued to gig away, and in 1974 cut another LP, "A Look Through The 70s", for SRT. This once again contained soulful covers of the hits of the day. John split with the Playboys in the 80s and launched a solo career, and continues to play the pubs and clubs of Sheffield.

Considering their soulful past, what were they doing cutting this gem, in 1977?!!

Thanks to Paul Martin for turning me onto this beauty.

Top-side is "Starsky & Hutch".

Tuesday, 31 July 2007

Jynx Pack - She's In Love / I Can't Make Up My Mind

Jynx Pack - She's In Love / I Can't Make Up My Mind (Mercury 72501. 1965)

Ken James Kindly provide some information on the previously mysterious group


Round about 1959 a mate of mine told me about a local group formed by an old school acquaintance of mine called Pat Webb. I'd just taken up the guitar - a crappy old second-hand acoustic with a half-inch gap between the strings and the fretboard I got from Pioneer Records in Romford, Essex, I ended up with a left hand grip like a wrestler.

They were practising over a pub in South Ockendon, so I looked in, we hit it off, and after a few changes in personnel we became The Spidermen, playing the local youth clubs and dance halls around the South Essex area. Had a good local following too.

We stayed together probably eighteen months then split. Lead singer Mick Kelly formed a duo with brother John, drummer Tony Major became a singer, bassist Roland disappeared into the ether and Pat and I went our separate ways. Second Phase A couple of years later I was flat sharing in Romford with a couple of mates and ran into Pat playing in a local pub with a group called Johnny Saint and the Sinners. He later told me the drummer was going on holiday and they had a gig, would I stand in on the drums! I'd never played drums in my life, so of course I said like, yeah, no problem.

This introduced me to the rest of the group - watching me attempt to set up a drum kit, which was like a Chinese puzzle to me - I got a few dodgy looks but the gig eventually went okay. I later stood in on guitar while Pat went to Spain or wherever it was.

Again there was a few personnel changes, 'Johnny Saint' went, to heaven probably, and that brought in lead singer Billy Cox. The lead guitar left and that brought me in to join the other three - Pat Webb, Paul Defriend on bass and Fred Good on drums. All that was left was the name, and it was the one I think I came up with that stuck - Jynx Pakk, as it was originally painted on Fred's bass drum. No 'The'. Looks like the record company changed it to The Jynx Pack, less foreign sounding?

On the Road

Billy Cox's influence as the singer led us down the well beaten R&B track (who wasn't then?) and around 1964-5 we did gigs from Nottingham to Portsmouth. Dance venues, pubs, with the odd US air base thrown in, but mostly in and around London. Through our manager, Gerry Kane, we were on the books of Peter Harrison, an agent based in Soho, and played in dozens of small, smokey dives...sorry clubs. Like the Two I's in Old Compton St. and similar other tiny basement clubs - nightmare to play in, couldn't fit all the drum kit on stage and had to hold guitars upright to fit in. Basements, with no fire escape! Another Soho venue was the Alphabet Club. Run by a bloke who must have been seven feet tall with a stare that could take your eyes out, we thought it was just another club so had wives and girlfriends in tow. First indication that it wasn't quite what we were used to, I was repairing a lead and asked out loud if anyone had a knife handy. A girl next to me dipped in her bag and snapped out a flick knife. 'This do?' That's when we looked round and realised - it was girls with girls and boys with boys. And pills everywhere, as we saw when the cops suddenly turned up and half a hundredweight of of-script drugs hit the floor.

Billy, short, sweet and blond, tried hard to ignore the little guy in a long coat, hands in pockets, who stood in front of him the whole evening. Bill never came to the next gig at the Alphabet. Neither did the wives and girlfriends. Or the manager. Seven foot tall guy kept eyeing us with deep suspicion. 'There were five of you last time!' he accused us. (He was paying for five, as he saw it) We denied it. In a friendly way, of course, standing protectively close to our equipment.

We had a lot of fun, quite a few laughs. Especially in pub venues where the inevitable drunk would stand in front of the stage and make disparaging comments. Like: 'Call yourselves a fucking group!' or 'Call yourself a fucking singer!' and other intelligent remarks, while we all waited to see if Pat's short fuse would blow and cost him another Les Paul Gibson.

The other fun thing was driving the van. That was me - the only (willing) driver. I lived in Romford town, Billy and Fred in Harold Hill, Pat in West Horndon and Paul in Hainault. So I'd pick them all up, from home, drive to the gig, have a wonderful time, drive back, then drop everyone at home. Then drive myself home, probably about 2-3 in the morning by then, which was okay for a while but it gradually niggled. I remember the oil warning light on the van flashing on the way to a gig. Next time I took the bloody bulb out. That amused Billy, the others not so much, but I was feeling bloody minded.

The Big Time?

My memories of the group in that era are a bit hazy from this distance but I remember some of the high spots. I think via Peter Harrison we got an invite to some sort of celebrity bash in Battersea Park. Met various TV and film stars - Liz Frazer sticks out, as does Stratford Johns of Z cars fame. Found ourselves lined up in the buffet tent behind The Kinks, all wearing our group badges - we knew them, they'd never heard of us. And apparently some magazine or newspaper guy talked Paul, our bass player, into falling 'accidentally' into the lake during the beauty pageant. Yeah, we had our very own publicity stunt.

Did a few spots at the Noriek club in Seven Sisters Rd. Tottenham, supporting The Who. Good gig that. We were part-way through a great R&B number when one of their roadies pulled out the plug and we went dead! The cable stretched across the stairs at the side of the stage and was in the way of THE WHO. Bastards! Saw them back stage at the interval, manager handing round pills, Daltry swigging booze from a small bottle and offering it to us. But what an act they were. Moon dumping his kit out of their boxes crashing onto the stage, dealing out the cymbals like a pack of cards, you just knew they were different.

The bit the crowd loved most was the bit we couldn't believe. Having scrimped and saved and prostituted ourselves to acquire a couple of Gibsons and a Fender bass, we watched as Pete Townshend smashed his Rickenbacker arse-end into his Marshall amp then swung it like a pick axe into the floor - then jumped on it! We couldn't believe it. Then he calmly turns round, opens a case and pulls out another! We kept a very close eye on our own gear after that.

The next high spot of course was THE RECORDING STUDIO. Harrison fixed us up with a small studio in Dean St. Soho, run by sound engineer Vic Keary. This was up about three flights of narrow stairs, up which we had to lug all the gear. Apart from Billy, of course who had his own little booth and could sing direct into one of Keary's mikes.

For a while we all felt like fame and fortune were swinging slowly into view. I don't remember too much about who was involved beyond the studio but we heard the name Quincy Jones and Mercury Records being mentioned which got us excited. I think they sent an A&R man, Eugene Howe?, to oversee some of the sessions.

Over the weeks we did two tracks - no-one said anything about any more - that were close to complete when the bad stuff hit. I parked the van outside the studio, we unloaded all the equipment and stacked it just inside the door of the vestibule, then went for a bun and a coffee up the road. When we got back Pat and I couldn't believe it - our guitars were missing. I think we checked to see no-one had taken them upstairs, but we knew, really - they'd been nicked. Two Les Paul Gibsons. Probably couldn't carry the Fender as well, lucky for Paul.

But that did for me. I remember borrowing a guitar for the next gig but it wasn't the same. Also I hadn't finished paying for the Gibbo, let alone afford a new one - I couldn't help remembering the cavalier way Townshend had dispatched a Rickenbacker. And besides I was becoming more and more pissed off with the music business. There was always this sense that stuff was going on and we were the last to know, or not be told at all. So I left the group. Fed up and disillusioned.

And that was the end of my involvement in the record and in the group. Apparently they didn't replace me and they just fizzled out and went their separate ways. Paul and Fred I never saw again but I bumped into Billy a few years later. He'd married, taken up the saxophone and seemed pretty happy. I kept in touch with Pat, and 1970 found him playing a regular weekend pub gig in Rayleigh. Their bass player wanted to leave, so I thought, what the hell, and joined as bass player for the next five years, and had a great time.

The band didn't know this 45 was released. Lead singer Bill Cox went on to sing for the The Lloyd Alexander Real Estate who released one 45 on President - "Watch' gonna do (When your baby leaves you)/Gonna live again (President PT 157) - and later (minus Bill) morphed into popular progressive outfit Audience, who released several albums and singles on Charisma.