Here’s a short extract from The Man Who Stole Rock’n’Roll
Just a bit of background. The Bombastics are having a frustrating afternoon holding auditions to replace their lead guitarist and singer. It’s at that point Frank Richards walks into their lives, but that’s not all…oh no…there’s another surprise waiting to happen on that Saturday afternoon in the Autumn of 1962.
Chapter2 (part) ‘So You Wanna Be A Rock’n’Roll Star’ (The Byrds)
It became even gloomier in Fordrough Village Hall when number six (auditioner) didn’t bother to turn up… but things were about to change.
Barry lit up a Park Drive and offered one to Bodkin. They waited. The next couple of hours would change their lives forever.
A young kid with black wavy hair carrying a guitar case strutted in and asked if this was where the Bombastic auditions were being held. Barry was tempted to ask if he thought it was the Women’s Institute Knitting Circle having a stitch and bitch session, thought better of it and asked him who he was and how old he was.
‘I’m Frank Richards and I’m fifteen.’
He was a good-looking kid. He had a smooth complexion, no sign of acne, but a growth of bum fluff round his mouth and on his chin. He was wearing the sort of white shirt and grey flannel trousers he’d wear to school. He rested his guitar case on the stage, opened it and took out a magnificent Gibson guitar.
‘Bugger me,’ spluttered Barry. ‘That’s some guitar you’ve got there!’
Stan gazed in wonder. ‘It must have cost you a fortune.’
‘Not a penny,’ grinned young Frank. He slung a woven leather strap around his neck and walked over to them, jack-plug and lead in hand. ‘Where shall I stick this?’ he asked.
Bodkin nearly choked on his Dandelion and Burdock and thought, If you’re as bad as the lot we’ve had to listen to so far, I just might tell you.
Frank fiddled around with his volume and tone knobs, adjusted the tuning on a couple of strings and then looked up.
‘Okay, let’s try ‘Roll Over Beethoven’, we’ll do it in A.’ Without hesitation he powered his way into the classic Chuck Berry intro, hitting it note for note. At the same time he moved slowly over to the nearest microphone stand and started belting out the lyric.
Stan reacted first, following Frank’s lead and Bodkin soon followed, picking up the rhythm on his bass pedal, hi-hat and snare.
Barry stood open-mouthed until well into the first chorus. By the time they got to the end, the whole sound was not just good, it was great. They all knew it.
Frank gave them a cheeky grin as he changed the tone on his guitar. ‘What about a bit of Eddie Cochran?’ he suggested. ‘‘C’mon Everybody’ in E.’ The sound he produced on the opening chord sequence was spot on, you’d have thought somebody had put the record on.
There were looks of disbelief on all their faces. They were all thinking, Where on Earth did a fifteen-year-old kid learn to play like this and what was he doing with a Gibson guitar like that?
His singing voice too, perfect pitch, and he really knew how to rock.
There was no stopping him now. He laughed as he threw in a bit of Hank Marvin, complete with tremolo arm and Shadows steps. Not a word was said, but they all knew that this kid was special.
Stan spoke up first. ‘That was very good Frank, but there are a number of things to discuss, like you being only fifteen years old and still at school.’
Frank didn’t come up short in the confidence department. ‘Not a problem, I’m sixteen in two weeks’ time and I left school at the end of last term.’
‘What about your parents?’ asked Barry. ‘We travel about a fair bit and there are a lot of late nights involved. What are they going to think about you rolling in at two o’clock in the morning?’
‘Again, no problem. It was my old man who saw your advert in the paper and it was him who said I should phone for an audition,’ grinned Frank. ‘He said it was about time I started to earn my keep. I mean five weeks out of school and he wants to stop my pocket money!’
‘You’ve done really well, I think I can speak for the others,’ said Stan, not wanting to lose this kid but at the same time trying not to sound too over eager. ‘Look, Frank we got two more auditions to hear and we must be fair to these two guys, they deserve their chance. Can you stick around for another hour or so?’ He looked at Barry and Bodkin, ‘Right, chaps?’ They both nodded.
‘Not a problem; it’s only fair, they may have travelled some distance. Tell you what, I’ve got a mate who lives in the village, haven’t seen him since school broke up, I’ll go and knock on his door.’
‘One question I must ask you before you go, Frank,’ said Stan. ‘What’s the story with the Gibson, how come it didn’t cost you anything?’
Frank had that grin on his face again. ‘My dad used to tell me and my big sister, Suzie, that it was down to a Halifax Town fullback named Albert Arkwright, who, in 1955, scored a last minute own goal to give Accrington Stanley a 1-1 draw in a Division Three North football match. That gave my dad 8 draws on the Treble Chance and Littlewoods gave Jack Richards, that’s my dad, a cheque for £75,000.
‘Unlike some woman named Viv Nicolson five years later, who told the world she was going to “spend, spend, spend” my dad took his prize anonymously. He and mom bought a detached bungalow in Little Barnham and put a Jaguar XK140 on the drive. He bought my sister Suzie the Lambretta motor scooter she’d been saving up for, and he bought me this Gibson. I’d seen it in a magazine and told him it was time to replace my old acoustic.’
‘Lucky boy, it’s one hell of an axe.’ Barry got down on his haunches to take a closer look.
‘Okay, I’d best get from under your feet,’ continued Frank. ‘That old schoolmate I mentioned, Dougie Short, lives in the village, somewhere along Station Road. He borrowed some of my records ages ago and never gave them back. A whole box of 45s, Jerry Lee Lewis, Gene Vincent and stuff like that.’ He laid his guitar carefully in its case and snapped the clip fasteners shut. ‘Any chance of leaving this here, save lugging it around the village?’
‘Sure,’ answered Stan. ‘You’re very trusting, leaving a two hundred quid guitar with a bunch of strangers, especially these two reprobates.’
Frank laughed. ‘Me dad’s got your phone number, remember?’ With that he gave another cheeky grin and half waved as he disappeared through the door and into the Market Square.
Barry gasped. ‘Bugger me, where in God’s name did he come from?’
Bodkin nodded in agreement. ‘He’s a cocky little bleeder, but I tell you what, he can play that thing.’
Stan looked at both of them. ‘Get him out of that school clobber and I think we just found ourselves a new front man.’
There was another short silence, then they broke into spontaneous laughter, and how they laughed.
The next poor blighter didn’t really stand a chance. Vince somebody or other. He was quite good too, played some rock-a-billy, played some blues and sang in tune. Stan recalled he wore a purple mohair suit and white winkle picker shoes, had sideburns and a lot of Brylcreem in his hair. Stan took his name and telephone number, but really only out of politeness, telling him they had others to listen to.
As he disappeared through the door which led to the square they heard him stop and acknowledge someone as he let them pass.
A young girl’s face peered round the door. She had a blonde ponytail, and as she entered the room three testosterone-laden teenagers saw she was wearing a tight turtleneck red sweater, a dark grey pencil skirt with a slit to the side of her right knee and a pair of red high-heeled sling-backs. She was carrying what was clearly a musical instrument case, but certainly not the shape that would hold a guitar.
‘I’ve come for an audition with The Bombastics,’ she said.
Now there were a few girl singers around the scene, some quite good, but no girl guitarists that any of them could think of, anyway.
‘Listen boys,’ she said, somewhat coyly. ‘We told a bit of a white lie on the telephone when we spoke to one of you.’
‘That’d be me,’ replied Stan, looking at his list. ‘I’m Stan, and I’m guessing from where I’m standing you’re not Dennis Meadowsweet, then?’
‘No, that’s my dad, I’m Carol Meadowsweet,’ she continued. ‘I don’t play guitar, well not very well anyway, but I love rock ‘n’ roll. I came to your gig at the Phantom Coach last month and I thought you were great. I think I have something to offer you.’
They were intrigued.
‘What’s this something you think you can offer The Bombastics then, Carol?’ asked Bodkin.
She put her instrument case down on the stage, unfastened the clips, lifted the lid and took out a tenor saxophone and joined them at a mic Stan had adjusted for her. The smell of some tantalising perfume wafted their way.
‘When I left Lordsfield High School last year I was playing first clarinet in the school band and my music teacher, Mrs Fanshaw, wanted me to audition for The Birmingham Symphony Orchestra.’
If any of them had been tempted to tell Carol that clarinets don’t fit into a rock ‘n’ roll band and maybe a jazz band was a better idea for her, the outline of her figure in the afternoon sun streaming through the west window and the tenor sax she had in her hands, shut them up. Any coyness had gone as she continued with aplomb.
‘My dad’s a musician, plays clarinet in a dance band. He also plays clarinet and sax in a jazz band, so from a very young age I’ve been playing both, too. Dad also collects records. Swing, jazz, classical, rock ‘n’ roll, you name it, he’s got it. I’ve grown up listening to some of the great sax players.’
She slipped the threaded leather strap round her neck, clipped her sax onto the end of it and blew a few tenuous notes. ‘Can I play you something?’
‘Go ahead,’ said Stan, lowering a mic head for her.
She moved towards it, licked the reed on her sax to dampen it, ran up and down a couple of scales, gathered herself and then burst into a medley of sax solos which they recognised were taken from Little Richard hits. The girl was good, more than good, and all three would be liars if they said they hadn’t enjoyed her wailing sax and the rise and fall of her pert young bosom in that tight red sweater.
She then launched into ‘Yakety Sax’, which Stan, then Bodkin and finally Barry picked up and followed. By the time they finished it sounded pretty damned decent.
A loud clapping came from the doorway. It was Frank Richards.
‘Blimey, that sounds great. Can I join in the jam?’ He walked across the hall, took out his guitar and plugged in. The five of them were soon jamming and enjoying themselves.
When they’d finished Frank apologised. ‘Sorry to be back so soon but my mate Dougie wasn’t in. I waited around for a bit, but the place was deserted, so I guess Jerry Lee and the rest of my records will just have to wait.’ He turned to face Carol. ‘Do you know any Johnny and the Hurricanes? ‘Red River Rock’?’
‘Hang on.’ Stan raised the palm of his right hand, fingers outstretched. ‘Can you give us five?’ He gestured to Barry and Bodkin with a sideways jerk of his head towards the door at the side of the stage. He turned back to Frank and Carol. ‘Stick around folks, we just need to have a chat in the committee room underneath the stage. We shouldn’t be long.’
Stan and Barry unplugged their guitars and leant them against the Vox amps. Bodkin stepped from behind his drum kit and led the way as they disappeared downstairs, Barry with his Park Drive and matches, Bodkin with three teacups and the rest of the Dandelion and Burdock.
Stan closed the committee room door. Bodkin put down the teacups, unscrewed the bottle and poured.
‘Bugger me, after all that crap we had to put up with, I just don’t believe what’s happened in the last two hours,’ said Barry, pausing to light a cigarette. He offered the packet to Stan who rarely smoked, but this time took one.
‘I need something to calm me down.’ Stan caught the matches that Barry tossed him and lit up. ‘We need to get these two on board.’ He cocked his ear towards the ceiling. ‘Just listen to that.’
‘Blue Moon’ drifted down from the hall above. Frank and Carol were jamming the old Rodgers and Hart classic. Carol’s sax was haunting.
‘Just hold on a minute.’ Bodkin put down his pop and wiped his mouth on his shirt sleeve. ‘We’ve never been a five piece. It’s bad enough having to split fifteen quid four ways after buying petrol, especially when I do most of the driving and now you want five Bombastics – and one a girl too!’
‘We definitely need young Frank with us,’ said Barry. ‘Get rid of that bum fluff and he’s absolutely perfect.’
‘Are you saying you don’t want Carol?’ There was a moment’s pause. ‘Just hark at that now.’ Stan directed his gaze upwards as ‘Blue Moon’ was replaced by some jazz riff which Stan didn’t recognise, but sounded smooth. The way the two of them blended the melody so easily was quite stunning.
‘No, I’m not saying that at all. She’s fantastic on that sax, really gets that wailing rock ‘n’ roll sound. Nice tits too,’ smirked Barry lasciviously.
‘You’ve got a one-track mind Barry Harper,’ frowned Stan. ‘Keep your mind on what we’re here for. Anyway, she’s only a kid. What is she, sixteen?’
‘Old enough,’ leered Barry. Then turning towards Bodkin he said, ‘Any road up, it looks like old Four-skins over there, is putting the kibosh on it – right, Mr Tight Arse?’
They’d been talking in hushed tones so as not to be overheard. So when Stan lowered his voice still further they listened even more intently. ‘Lads, I get most of our work, I’ll just have to tell the agents we’re now a five piece and we need to be paid more. Most of them know we pull in a good crowd. I’ve also been thinking for some time now that we need to broaden our horizons. At the moment we’re stuck to the Midlands and it tends to be the same gigs, month after month. We need to get work in London, you only have to look in the music papers to see the amount of places with live music. I bet they pay a lot more down there as well.’
‘Yeah, but don’t forget we gotta buy petrol to get there, and muggins here has to do all the bleedin’ driving,’ said Bodkin. ‘Always me behind the wheel doing all those miles, your own personal chauffeur, whilst you lot are snoring and farting in the back.’
‘The M1 makes things a lot easier, mind,’ continued Stan. ‘We need to get a few of these Cockney agents together; when they hear us they’re bound to give us work. Having a fantastic sax player will help too, especially when they see her. As Barry put it so succinctly, she’s got a bostin’ figure, very pretty too. We can’t afford to miss out on either of these two, they are going places with or without us. Trust me, they’ll be an absolute knockout, I feel it in me water.’
There was a pause.
‘Okay, okay, I’ll run with it.’ There was a shrug of acceptance from Bodkin. ‘Just make sure you get those bleedin’ fees up.’
‘On the question of getting more work,’ he continued. ‘Why don’t we hire some dance hall nearer to the Smoke and do our own thing? Invite yer Cockney agents, we’re more likely to get them to come along if it’s closer to home. We should work on the frozen north too, Manchester and Leeds.’
‘Bugger me, that’s brilliant; old Four-skins strikes again.’ Barry punched Bodkin playfully on the shoulder causing him to spill Dandelion and Burdock down his sleeve. He snarled.
‘Agreed then?’ Stan held out his hand to Barry and Bodkin and both grabbed it for a team handshake and a team smile for a job well done.
‘Let’s go and sign them up.’
I hope that tempts you to download the book in digital form from Kindle for only £2.59 (if you haven’t got a Kindle, download a free Kindle app onto your lap top or tablet) or you can buy a good old fashioned printed book from Amazon.
You’ll get to know Stan, Barry and Bodkin a lot better, as well as Frank and Carol (soon to be known as Sugarlips…but that’s another story
Remember those teenage years having a crush on the teacher? Blonde, lissom Miss…the stuff of wet dreams, back in Birmingham, England in 1963. Now read the book.