The Rokes, 1966 – Otway 2002!

Can a multicultural influence add a new dimension to the Micro-Star's act?

On April 23rd, 1967, a new single appeared at #26 in the Big L Fab Forty – Let's Live For Today by the Rokes. As I went about researching this virtually-unknown band, I discovered an amazing Otway connection!

First, a bit about the band. The Rokes were Norman David (Shel) Shapiro, Johnny Charlton, Bobby Posner and Mike Shepstone. Originally called the Shel Carson Combo, they took a stab at the big time early in 1963 with a Top Ten Club residency in Hamburg. Later that year, the band transferred to Italy to back Tommy Steele's brother, Colin Hicks, who was very popular in that country. The 'Combo' was obliged to change its name to the Cabin Boys, as they were replacing a previous backing group of that name. When the unfortunate Hicks lost his voice, the Cabin Boys took over the show. They were soon signed by Teddy Reno, already manager of Italy's successful singer Rita Pavone, (who achieved two UK national entries) and were rechristened the Rokes when they supported Rita on her countrywide tour.

The Rokes were hugely successful in Italy for around eight years. As an example of how massively-successful they were, on July 23rd, 1966, they entered the Italian Top Ten with their single Che colpa abbiamo noi. Here comes the Otway connection! The song is known in England as Cheryl's Going Home. Written by Bob Lind, it's to be found on the B-side of his #5 UK bestseller from 1966, Elusive Butterfly. Otway fans, however, know it as a ditty associated with turning somersaults and leaping off ladders and loudspeakers. It's very definitely something that Otway has made his own. The description of Cheryl on the Rokes' Italian website says, "The song has some 'protest' lyrics which perfectly fit in a nice melody for this folkbeat ballad". Cheryl doesn't sound much like that when he 'does it Otway'! The only discernible 'protest' in Otway's performance concerns "That train, that bloody train, going chuff chuff chuff chuff chuff down the track"!

Right: what Otway does to Cheryl!

The Rokes' version of Cheryl remained in the Italian Top Ten for an amazing thirteen weeks, till October 15th, hitting the #1 spot on August 20th. The single's B-side, Piangi Con Me was the song that became recorded in English as Let's Live For Today. (See Fab Forty 23rd April 1967) Only two weeks later, the band was back in the Ten again with their follow-up E' la pioggia che va! In the 1966 Top 100, the Rokes held positions #11, #12 and #77, outselling numerous Beatles and Stones singles, and others by international stars the Kinks, Tom Jones, Pet Clark, the Animals and the Beach Boys! The press dubbed them 'The Italian Beatles' and their photos a la Fab Four, appeared on merchandise such as keyrings. Their many hits included covers of Jackie De Shannon's When You Walk In the Room and The Hollies' I'm Alive.

As the Rokes' website contains the Italian lyrics to Cheryl, I have decided to issue a challenge to Otway. Attila the Stockbroker has already translated You Ain't Seen Nothin' Yet into German. Can Otway increase his act's 'multicultural content' by performing Cheryl in Italian, whilst still leaping off ladders, etc? And more to the point, will "That train, that bloody train, going chuff chuff chuff chuff chuff down the track" lose something in the translation?

An Otchallenge was issued, and the Italian lyrics were sent to John. He replied on 26th April:

"My daughter's doing Italian at school – I'll get her to go through them with me. Let you know what I reckon."
Cheers, Otway!

Update, Oct 2002:

After the Birthday Hit Gig at the Palladium, Otway admitted that he might have to learn the words to his new B-sides before attempting to learn Cheryl in Italian!

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The Rokes' site features a short video clip of the band performing Cheryl. Spooky...!

Picture © Chris Payne

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