Procol Harum

the Pale

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The Southend Scene - Late Fifties to the Sixties

Charles Scott, for BtP

Charles Scott writes to BtP:
I promised to write something for you, so here it is. However, having read John Denton's memories of the period with Gary Brooker's responses, I am not sure that I can add much. Also, I don't want to appear to be what I am not. What I am is a semi-professional singer / songwriter of some forty years who, like GB, went to Westcliff High School for Boys - I was a year below him.

I can't claim to be a friend or even avid follower of the Paramounts. If anything, I followed another local band 'The Monotones' more because they seemed to play at numerous gigs within walking distance of my home. Their core also attended Westcliff High. I spent more time, however, trying to make music of my own. When I did attend others gigs, I tended to stay in the background away from the entourage of fans, groupies, hangers on etc.

The late fifties and sixties were an exciting time for music. People like Elvis, Carl Perkins, Chuck Berry, Buddy Holly and Eddie Cochran, to name but a few, were breaking new ground in the development of 'pop' music, integrating lots of influences from the US such as blues and country and western. My first big hero was ... don't laugh ... Adam Faith, perhaps because he was someone I could relate to - not much talent initially but loads of determination. He appeared on that fast moving BBC program Drumbeat which seemed to pack more excitement than its predecessor Six-Five Special. That great musical talent John Barry was on that show too whilst ITV had its rival featuring Cliff and Marty Wilde. Around that time I remember seeing Eddie Cochran and Gene Vincent on TV and then became aware of others like Buddy Holly and Chuck Berry etc etc etc.

As well as television, there were the late nights trying to get decent reception from Radio Luxembourg where Jimmy Saville first made his name playing some great stuff. In particular, I remember him playing the Big O's Only the Lonely for seemingly ages before it even hit the charts. Later we had Radio Caroline and other pirates playing all manner of stuff including really weird tracks chosen by John Peel.

This explosion of new music from the rather twee sounds of the earlier fifties meant everyone was looking for a new sound, everyone seemed to have a guitar slung over their shoulder and bands sprung up by the bucket load. Equipment was usually embarrassing by modern standards. Sometimes the whole band, including the vocalist, went through a couple of Selmer or Vox amps. [See illustration]

Southend seemed to develop a great music scene. There were gigs all over the place from Church Halls to Pubs and Cinemas. There was not only Pop and Rock but Jazz, Folk, Blues, Country and R& B. To my recollection, the top bands in the area were the Monotones, The Whirlwinds (later Force Five) and, of course, The Paramounts. Additionally, there was a superb country band - Houston Wells and the Marksmen who had a hit with Only the Heartaches. On the acoustic side there were Vernon Haddock's Jubilee Lovelies and the Nookie Soul Sound. There were also some great Jam Sessions. In particular, I remember some pianist who played at the Smack Inn in Old Leigh who played trumpet with his left hand, piano with his right, and had a selection of guitarists, singers, kazoo players, swanee whistles, jugs, spoons, washboards. Must have been a terrible row but I often joined in and it was great fun.

Thanks, Claes, for the graphic

Apart from local bands we had a great collection of touring artistes visiting the area. Apart from bands like the Beatles and Stones when you could still hear them. There were others who influenced local musicians. I don't know if the Paramounts saw them, but I remember people like Bo Diddley, Chuck Berry, Carl Perkins and Gene Vincent playing at the Odeon. Also, does anyone remember Champion Jack Dupree playing in the area? I remember sharing a drink with him and being really moved by him and his music.

All that is a lengthy preamble and nothing much specifically to do with Gary and the lads. However, I hope it gives a taste of the environment at the time in which The Paramounts emerged and the many musical influences that were on the airwaves and in the flesh. The Paramounts deserved more success than they achieved. They weren't scared to play what they wanted when it was easier to follow the crowd. They were different, picking tunes from people like the Coasters and others I'd never heard of and helping to try and define what R&B was. The music was considered the property of the USA, rather like country still is today. We somehow weren't supposed to be any good at it - but the Paramounts were good at it. They played it with a raw enthusiasm that is, alas, missing in today's electronic, disco age. It was music with guts. Music with balls.

I was an enthusiastic purchaser of Poison Ivy and one of my favourites of the time, Blue Ribbons (a song whose words I can still recall in reasonable part even though I haven't heard it for at least twenty years: although I could never make out what sort of shop it was Gary passed when he walked on down the block). Like other local fans, I willed the records along hoping they would be big top tenners but it was not to be. Perhaps like other locals, The Monotones, they suffered from an uninspiring name. Something they certainly put right with Procol Harum - and how! Pity for the Monotones they couldn't be so imaginative. I think all they came up with was the 'Tree Tops' - Oh dear!

The rest is history. A Whiter Shade of Pale buried itself into the nation's psyche. The fantastic, somewhat metaphysical title combined with Gary's soulful voice has haunted me ever since. Like nearly everyone else, I applaud their success and even if my own reflected glory from having lived in the area and having held the Paramounts in some awe is the whitest of whiter shades of pale, I am thankful for the memories and am still happy to stick two fingers up to the knockers who dismissed perhaps the greatest hit of the era as 'a load of gibberish set to Bach'. 'Oh that ... I could have done that.'

Thanks, Charles!

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