My jaw dropping day with a gang of rocking rebels
Published at 19:21, Thursday, 02 August 2012
I SAT in the exhibition space at the Wave Centre in Maryport last Sunday afternoon with my jaw somewhere around my chest, pinching myself to make sure I wasn’t dreaming.
One of the organisers of the Maryport Blues Festival had grabbed me and introduced me to Cliff Bennett, from the 1960s group Cliff Bennett and the Rebel Rousers, and Chris Farlowe who was Out of Time in the 60s and is still remembered for that international hit.
Now, I had already interviewed Cliff Bennett over the phone and written a long feature about him, so my intention, at this stage, was to interview Chris Farlowe.
My mother taught me to be polite, however, so I acknowledged Cliff and sat down at the table where both 60s icons were sitting.
Cliff then introduced me to his Rebel Rousing pianist, saxophone player or whatever-he-wanted-to-be-at-the-time Sid Phillips.
Within seconds any pretence of professionalism went out the window and I sat with mouth agape, trying unsuccessfully to take notes as these two legends started to reminisce.
With absolutely no ego they started to recall incidents which involved name dropping the megastars of the late 1950s and the 1960s – the kings and the king makers of pop.
As I went from professional reporter to awe-struck fan, it is hard to describe the interview that turned out to be no interview at all.
All I can tell you is that I spent a long time laughing and then realising that I was laughing about people who had been my teenage heroes – and the heroes of so many of my friends.
Let’s try to start at the beginning; Cliff Bennett and the Rebel Rousers (including Sid who was then playing piano) were the proteges of Joe Meek, famous producer of Telstar. He was the subject of a recent bio-pic in which, by the way, Cliff Bennett got a couple of mentions.
What was he really like, this disturbed, moody musical genius? Well, he was disturbed, moody, crazy and a genius!
Sid recalled how Meek hated being laughed at, which is why he told them all to go away (in less polite language) after he instructed Sid to keep hitting one note for a song “so it sounds like a chicken clucking”.
Mind you, calling Joe Meek crazy could be a case of pot, meet black kettle!
Sid is quite miffed at the fact that bands like The Who were famous (infamous) for their offstage antics which got them thrown out of hotels.
“We were doing that years before,” he claimed.
Sid was happy to admit that in those days Newcastle Brown ale was the food group of choice, while Cliff rolled his eyes and recalled the trials of trying to get the band on stage sober.
Cliff recalled: “I would say to them – on stage – let’s do this number. They would ask if they knew it! Were they in it?”
It is surprising that he did not have a heart attack but then he admitted that he learned to drink during the German club years, which is a totally different story.
Before that, however, let’s go back to a story about poor hotel manager who cut off the booze supply at 2am.
Sid claimed that the band, who were with the Ronettes at the time, were all having a quiet drink and a Chinese meal.
He said: “The Ronettes were singing. It was fantastic. Then this little Hitler of a manager told us the bar was closed – so we grabbed him and hung him over the hotel balcony!”
I am pleased to report they didn’t drop him and no hotel manager was injured in the making of this story.
Fast forward to Germany where they played the clubs with The Beatles, and the cream of USA entertainment also visited the clubs before entertaining in the US bases.
Said Sid: “Remember how Jerry Lee Lewis used to play a piano whether out of tune or not. Remember how he used to play it using beer bottles instead of fingers?”
Over to Cliff: “And when he met Johnny Kidd, from the Pirates, who was dressed in all his gear and told him that he played some of his stuff. Jerry had never seen anyone who performed as a pirate and all he could say was ‘Well damn!’ no matter what question Johnny asked!”
Sid apparently threw away a harmonica that John Lennon allegedly shoplifted from Woolworths after the Beatle gave it to him in return for “enough German marks to buy a beer.”
I’ve learned enough to tell you that Cliff Bennett and the Rebel Rousers are alive, well, and still raising hell.
Published by http://www.timesandstar.co.uk