“Une Pause Dans Le Temps”

The Blue-Berries   Richard Gleave’s memories (1/2)

Richard G’s reminiscences

The Blue-Berries came into being at the beginning of the autumn term 1963 at Clacton County High School. If I recall correctly, it was the start of the new school year and 5A were allocated a form room which was not yet completed, so we were billeted temporarily in the dining room. Being a tad under-occupied while more permanent arrangements were made, someone said ‘Why don’t we form a group? Who’s got an instrument?’, The Beatles having just had two number ones. So that evening, Richard Higgins, Paul Swan, Paul Henderson, I and sundry others gathered in Paul Swan’s garage, with 3 acoustic guitars and an improvised drum kit consisting mostly of kitchen utensils and knitting needles. A legend was born… well, almost.  Soon we were rehearsing seriously in Richard H’s house in Holland Road. The Shadows’ instrumental Driftin’ was one of our first successes, with Paul S picking the tune and me playing rhythm with a green felt plectrum. Richard’s father, Ken was a famous local band-leader, songwriter and piano teacher - arguably he gave Steve Marriott his first break as a young hopeful at his summer talent contest in Jaywick. (See the excellent book Seventeen Watts? by Mo Foster, p163)

I think it was Ken Higgins who gave the band its first name, Chad and the Drumbeats - so called because Richard H, who had assembled his first drum kit using an old town band bass drum which was about 5 feet in diameter, could only just see over the top when sitting down. The same house was also used for rehearsal by local band Dave Curtis and the Tremors, who used one of Ken’s songs (Dreamer’s Funfair) on the B-side of a single on Phillips records. They also appeared on ITV’s Thank Your Lucky Stars miming to their first single, You Don’t Love Me Any More. This made them practically royalty amongst the kids in Clacton-on-Sea.

All our kit was home-made or improvised - the Pauls and I all made our own electric instruments, using materials from a local wood yard and Burcart’s hardware supplies. Paul S & I drafted in our fathers to help and, basing our designs very loosely on pictures in a catalogue, we created approximations of Fender Jaguars. Jack Jacobs, who was the lead guitarist with The Tremors and also an electronics wizard, helped us to design the necessary circuitry and owned the first red Stratocaster that I saw close-up.

At some point, Paul Henderson was replaced by his younger brother Dave (who had been playing with another local band called The Kardinals). Dave had also made his own bass, a reasonable copy of a Fender Precision. It should be noted by lovers of trivia that we all used Burns Trisonic pickups (as did Brian May). This was largely due to the fact that these were just about the only pickups available in the UK at the time. Around this time, the name changed to The Blue-Berries probably partly in homage to Chuck Berry and also with echoes of The Rockin’ Berries, who were quite big then.

By Spring 1964 we had acquired amplifiers - in my case a 5W Selmer and in Paul’s a Vox AC4 (now very collectible). By now we were rehearsing in a small hut attached to the Clacton Town Football Club, where my grandfather used to collect money on Saturdays associated with a local football pool. It was about 8 feet square with a grille down the middle. The rhythm section was on one side with the guitars on the other. This led to our first gig, as we were making a lot of noise in there one day when a fête was taking place outside. Someone came and demanded that either we stopped, or came outside to play. We did the latter and received about £2 10s for our pains - a huge amount in those days. (Actually £4 - according to Paul’s diary)      

At about this point, both Paul and I had some amazing luck - or was it? Maybe skill entered into it. We both won Burns Shortscale Jazz guitars in a nationwide competition run by Kellogg’s Rice Krispies. We collected our prizes together from the Burns showroom at Centrepoint on Charing Cross Road, London. Later that summer, Paul, Dave & I worked as casual labour at Butlin’s Holiday Camp and befriended Dave Dee and The Bostons who were playing there all season. I learnt a great deal from just watching Tich Amey in rehearsal. Dave Dee later sold us their old Reslo ribbon mics for a mere pittance. Really great hard-working blokes who deserved the success that came their way later.                                                                         (Contd)

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