Don Everly and Charlie Watts are dead; time for some music nostalgia. My band were always looking for places to rehearse. Suitable venues were hard to come by because of the noise we made – the ‘sound’ was not authentic unless performed at volumes suitable for a hall capable of holding several hundred people. On one occasion, it was sometime in 1964 when the ‘Fab Four’ were very much in the ascendant, we were given permission to use a school classroom, probably during the holidays. I was curious to know what the pupils kept inside their desks, and lifted up some lids; lid after lid was inscribed not with John, Paul, George, and Ringo, but with the names of the Rolling Stones. The Stones were the ‘bad boys’ of rock ‘n’ roll, with their raw, heavy blues music; undoubtedly they pioneered the new exciting sound. Along with the Beatles and many other British bands, they were responsible for bringing the centre of gravity of ‘pop’ music to this side of the Atlantic.
Personally though I always preferred the Beatles, with their melody lines and harmonisation alternating with occasional hard rock, but I greatly regretted never seeing the Stones performing live. My wife who did see them once said it was impossible to hear any of the music because of the screaming of the fans...
But for me, pretty much the end of an era was the passing of Don Everly – his brother Phil died some years ago. I slowly became aware of so-called popular music in the mid ‘fifties; but it was 1957 when I was thirteen or thereabouts, that it really started to get under my fingernails. Brits like Tommy Steele and Lonnie Donegan had the occasional hit, but the greats were the Americans – Buddy Holly and the Crickets, Jerry Lee Lewis, Eddie Cochran, Elvis of course (although I was never a great fan), and the unique sound of the Everly Brothers. Lennon and McCartney claimed that they based their harmonising singing style on Don and Phil. Of all music of the period, the Everly Brothers’ is to me the most evocative. In 1959 we were devastated when Buddy Holly died, and again the following year when Eddie Cochran was killed in a road accident in Chippenham during a UK tour. Jerry Lee Lewis is still alive, and his rendering of What’d I Say remains one of my all-time favourites.
It is difficult for music lovers now to appreciate how difficult it was to listen to our favourite music in the late 1950s and early 1960s. Today there are dozens of radio stations pumping out music via FM and digital, as well as thousands more available via the internet. Then, pretty much our only free resource was Radio Luxembourg (broadcasting from Luxembourg). Hit records could be heard on jukeboxes in coffee bars or by buying the disc, but that all involved spending money...
Radio Luxembourg transmitted on AM and was all but impossible to receive during daylight hours due to issues with the ionosphere. Even at night the quality was awful and atmospherics would cause it to fade out for tens of seconds at a time. Since it was aimed at Britain and Ireland, it used English-speaking disc jockeys, and played Anglophone pop music. As a commercial station listeners were compelled to endure advertising. One of the most excruciating was voiced by its principle, Horace Batchelor, who was selling his ‘Infra-Draw’ method for winning at the football pools; one had to send for particulars to Keynsham near Bristol – K E Y N S H A M – he spelled the name out every single time ...
We continued listening to Radio Luxembourg into the 1960s, and when transistor radios arrived I would wander around the streets of Ealing, ‘trannie’ glued to my ear, listening to it. Things improved greatly with the pirate radio ships – Caroline and London – and then the Beeb got the message, Radio 1 came along, FM radio receivers became affordable, and everything changed.
Welcome to the Mirli Books blog written by Peter Maggs