Sunday Supplement, 21st November 1965
|You Thrill Me To Pieces
member Michael Taylor (now a successful photographer and novelist)
has very kindly sent us the story of Herbie's People
Herbie's People began their musical career in 1959 when five
pupils of Etheridge SM School in Bilston, West Midlands, formed a band known,
until 1965, as Danny Cannon and the Ramrods. They were: Danny Robinson,
Ken Hooper, Alan Lacey, Len Beddow and Pete Walton. They became increasingly
popular throughout the greater Midlands area. In their home town, where
the lads regularly played at the Saturday night dances held in the Town
Hall, they enjoyed a huge and loyal following. In the ballrooms of Dudley,
Walsall and Wolverhampton too, the Ramrods became a major attraction.
Buddy Holly captured the imagination of the Ramrods because of the distinctive sound that he and the Crickets achieved, which the Ramrods tried to emulate.
According to Len Beddow, it was decided that Danny should be the singer because he had invested in the group's only microphone. Len became lead guitarist because he had bought the guitar and Alan Lacey drummer because he had purchased the drum. It was all soon settled. In 1962, the band made its first appearance at the Royal Albert Hall in London (top photo) as part of the Toc-H Golden Jubilee celebrations.
In May 1964 the Ramrods reached the finals of the national "New Sound 1964" competition held at the fabled Cavern Club in Liverpool. They finished equal first.
Also in 1964, the line-up changed when Ken Hooper left the group and Dudley-born Mike Taylor joined as rhythm guitarist in his place. From this time the musical style began to change, concentrating more on close harmony numbers. The songs of Buddy Holly and the Crickets still inspired the lads but now they were able to expand their repertoire to include some sparkling interpretations of Beach Boys and Four Seasons numbers. Mike and Pete were both able falsetto singers, but Pete had a rich bass voice as well that complimented his great dexterity on his adored Fender Jazz bass. Pete took a year out at about this time and was replaced on bass by Brendan Guest. They began to develop their own distinctive style and both Danny and Mike pooled their songwriting talents to produce some interesting sounds. Pete, too, on his return to the group, was an active songwriter.
The group met their manager Bill Bates when, as a public health inspector, his job took him from Jersey to Bilston. While taking a walk one evening he heard the band practising at the Toc-H club (a venue shared with The 'N' Betweens, later known as Slade). Impressed, Bill went inside to listen closer and to introduce himself. Bill was already a successful song writer. His song "Will I What?" had been a top 10 hit for Mike Sarne. Artists PJ Proby and Clinton Ford have also recorded his material. Bill married the sister of Ken Lewis of the chart-topping recording group The Ivy League.
The Ramrods changed their name to Herbie's People and Bill wrote a song for them, "You Thrill Me to Pieces". It was the beginning of a significant relationship that spawned a recording contract with Southern Music and resulted in some fascinating and original records. In November 1965 "You Thrill Me to Pieces" (flip side "Sweet and Tender Romance") was released on CBS and was well received. Despite Janice Nicholls voting it a miss on the TV show Jukebox Jury, it entered the UK top 40. Many promotional bookings ensued and the band were to be found playing in London sometimes several nights per week, driving back home after their gigs to attend their day jobs, since they were still semi-professional.
(Left: Herbie's People in 'With the Beatles' mode)
On 21st December 1965, the band appeared on Five O'Clock Club with Lonnie Donegan and Vince Hill.
On 22nd December Herbie's People recorded a track for their second disc, a Bill Bates song entitled "You'll Never Know". This was intended to be the A side but became the B side of "One Little Smile". The band, meanwhile had secured a contract to play for 5 weeks at the Liverpool Club in the heart of Düsseldorf.
The journey to Düsseldorf itself was memorable for the band. They left England on the Dover to Ostende crossing on 31st December 1965, New Year's Eve. In Belgium the Commer van started to give trouble and by the time they reached the outskirts of Brussels it had packed up altogether - electrical problems.
They spent the night huddled together in freezing cold, hungry and dirty but in good spirits outside an apartment block. Next morning, a resident approached and asked if they were okay and said they could have spent the night at his party had he known they were there!
The van was fixed on New Year's Day and they recommenced their journey on a bitterly cold and windy day. But, by this time, they were way behind schedule...
Herbie's People arrived at the Liverpool Club in Graf Adolf Strasse in Düsseldorf late in the afternoon of 1st January 1966, after an arduous journey. Already a crowd was awaiting them outside the club. The lads were sent to their hotel and, despite having had nothing to eat, were ready to play an eight hour stint that night, from eight till four in the morning. They worked those hours every night for 5 weeks, plus three hours teenage matinee on Saturdays and Sundays.
There is no doubt that the group's popularity grew in Düsseldorf as word got around. The Liverpool Club was heaving at every session at weekends.
To save their voices, they tuned their instruments a whole tone lower. They nurtured their voices and stamina by regularly eating a spurious currywurst, or steak with eggs. Danny had a special "singing mixture" of which he was proud, for his breakfast every day: porridge oats mixed with cold milk - but he enjoyed it! Dark German ale quenched their thirsts at night, usually paid for by the customers for performing requested numbers.
In March 1966, Herbie's People's second disc was issued on the CBS label, entitled "One Little Smile", with "You Never Know" on the flip side. The record failed to make the charts. (But it was on the Big L playlist. See Fab 40 270366.)
Their next studio session saw them recording a new Geoff Stevens song: "Semi-Detached Suburban Mr Jones".
1966 and 1967 saw Herbie's People make several TV appearances,
notably on "Five O'Clock Club" and "ATV Today" as well as The BBC Light
Progamme's "Saturday Club" with Brian Matthew, where they gave some sparkling
"Humming Bird", written by Bill Bates, was released in February 1967. It featured a full vocal harmony arrangement from the band, but the instrumentation was over-produced. The flip side was, however, a very pleasing and unusual "Residential Area", which was chosen for use in the soundtrack of the film "Poor Cow".
More records followed, and more disappointments... The band were told that John Carter and Ken Lewis of The Ivy League had written a song with Herbie's People in mind, called "Let's Go to San Francisco". However, John and Ken liked the song so much, it is said, that they decided to record it themselves under the pseudonym The Flowerpot Men. It was a world-wide hit. A follow-up song,"Thank You For Loving Me" was recorded as the fourth single but suffered the same fate when it was used as another Ivy League release.
When his son Mark was born in 1967, Mike Taylor left Herbie's People to concentrate on family life. Pete Walton, already a dad, followed soon after. However, both were asked to appear on subsequent recordings.
The band changed their name to Just William for their next disc, "I Don't Care", which is arguably their best effort. In 2002 it still sounds fresh and up-to-date, with great vocals from Danny and a brilliant musical arrangement. Pete Stevens was by this time on bass and Brian Powney on keyboards replaced Mike Taylor. "Cherrywood Green", another Robinson/Taylor composition, was on the flip side.
Another name change to The Bullring saw the release of a novelty number entitled "Birmingham Brass Band", a marching tempo number with a traditional brass band accompaniment, sung in dialect. The release of this record saw the lads featured on the TV programme, The Golden Shot. The flip side was "Lady of the Morning Sun".
In 1993, Herbie's People were asked by the Bilston Member of Parliament, Dennis Turner, if they would be prepared to reunite for a special nostalgic gig in aid of charity at the Springvale Club, in Bilston. The lads were delighted to have been asked. They got together for a practice session and fell at once into the routine of playing together again, as if no time had elapsed. The banter was still ribald and good-humoured. The result was a fabulous night of rock 'n' roll and nostalgia to a packed house. The band had certainly not lost any of their energy and enthusiasm.
So successful was the reunion gig, that another was organised in 1995, again at the Springvale Club. Once again, the band played to a packed house, and folk were asking whether this was going to become a regular event.
However, two reunions were two more than anybody had expected and no further gigs were envisaged. However, January 2001 saw the band in action once again for a very special occasion, when they did an hour's spot, to the great surprise and delight of the guests.
And yet again . . .
May 3rd 2002 saw Herbie's People performing live once more for the landmark birthday of one of the band members.
Logistics for arranging a reunion gig these days fall to the lot of Lee and Ian Beddow, Len's sons. Lee runs his own successful recording studio, Abbey Sound, where the band can rehearse undisturbed. He also provides the instruments and amplification. Ian is a performer in his own right with a great stage act. They obviously got the bug from dad!
In February 2005 the band again reformed for a gig at the Springvale Club in Bilston. The object was to raise money for the Asian Tsunami Appeal. Due to the hard work and commitment of Dan, the band raised £2600.
One thing is for certain: Herbie's People is still a great rock'n'roll band today.
Many thanks to Michael (playing the black-and-white guitar) for contributing this feature. Herbie's People website.
More about the group and their Knees Club membership, is in the Fab Forty for 19th February 1967.