In the Beginning there was...
It all starts when I was a youngster still in school I started as a local DJ doing weddings, youth club dances, and stuff like that... you have to remember I was only 14 at the time and my mother had to drive me around to pick up equipment then to the gig, then of course pick me up after it was all over. Sometimes very late at night and she was not fond of that part of it, but she did it without complaining. As soon as I turned 15 and got my license I went out and purchased a small green Ford van to carry the equipment around for myself. That made my mother much happier, on the other hand she never knew where I was or when I would be home then! This lasted for a couple of years until I got introduced into the world of "Live Music".
Let me step back a few years to my playing period, playing music, that is. Like any boy of 12 I was in a local band playing Beatles cover tunes at the local pubs. That was easy as the rhythm guitar player's father owned a big pub where we rehearsed and he let us play on the odd weekend in the public bar... not bad for a bunch of 12 and 13 year olds. I started off as a rhythm guitar player but since we needed a place to practice and the new rhythm guitars 's father had the pub I was relegated to bass player. I quickly realized I didn't have the drive or desire to practice enough to be a good musician and I quickly found a better notch for myself... behind the scenes as doing what little we had with the lights. And of course that meant my primary job was as a "Roadie" humping the gear in and out of gigs, driving the van full of gear and stinky attitude driven musicians, and the sound. All that if there was a sound systems or any lighting at all!
Finding a band...
Finding a band to work for was not that difficult. I simply looked at the "want" adds in the local music paper, Melody Maker, Rolling Stone (a small London
publication at the time), and a couple of others. Being as I lived in North London at the time a hub for live music in England it was not hard or long before I found a gig. I got to work for some really bad bands but mostly a bunch of really nice guys who just wanted to lay music. The first real band that I got a regular gig with was a Scottish band from Glasgow called "The Sensational Alex Harvey Band". They were a hard hitting rock band that played, I remember Alex was older than the rest of us by a few years, watch the band play their hit "Framed". This is a video of the original bands line up in full makeup and I believe their hard hitting best, it was 1974. Alex had a younger brother Leslie, lead guitar, who played "Stone The Crows" with Maggie Bell as lead singer and what a voice that woman has. Check the original band videos as well as Maggie's great voice. Leslie was the first official sad passing at a very young age on stage playing he got an electric shock from the microphone and his guitar which sadly killed him instantly.
The issue of grounding of the amps and ground equipment had never been cared about much or by many until that sad day when we lost Leslie. I had already been working on the huge problem of hums and buzzes and feedback. I started to develop a systematic method to get rid of those nasty noises and at the same time make it safer for the musicians on stage. It was nothing fancy but part of my earlier college electronics background. It worked and for s short time made me noticed and in demand. At one point when Alex was taking a break from gigging, I was asked to work with the Rolling Stones mobile truck, I think it was the only mobile recording truck in existence at the time. They had hums and buzzes that needed to be cleaned up.
The Rolling Stones Mobile Recording Truck (circa 1972)
1st generation of console modules 2nd generation console and 24 track tape machines
1st Tour of America
One thing led to another and a band called "Wishbone Ash" asked me to do 5 dates with them as they were going to be recoding the date for a live album using the Rolling Stones truck. I loved the bands music and Alex was still on Holiday in Glasgow so I jumped on the chance to work with a new band. The shows went great as did the recording which became the Wishbone Ash Live Double Album, one of the more successful albums to! I even got my name mentioned on the cover notes. They liked my work so much they asked if I would do their first American tour with them. Of course I jumped at the opportunity to travel to the USA at 18 and get paid! That was 1969 I think. I felt like I had hit the big time. Wishbone Ash actually had a reasonably successful tour and we even went back the next year for another 3 month tour.
There was one anecdote that I should mention that happened on that first (1969) tour. We got to Washington Dullas airport and unloaded all our equipment off the plane. Back in those days we would just drive onto the runway find our plane and pay off the loaders to put the bands stage gear in the hold. Then have a truck waiting for us at the next airport, drive on the runway again and unload the gear directly into the truck and drive off. The drawback was that the company that was hired to provide the trucks were never asked to provide drivers... daaahhh and this was America with big tractor trailer rigs. No-one in Wishbone Ashes crew had ever driven any sort of truck, or wouldn't cop to it anyway, I stupidly put my hand up and said give me 5 minutes and I'll have it down. I was the dumb idiot all my life that always was up for a challenge and doing something I had never done before... this time it was drive an 18 wheeler across America for a month! At least it was Summer Stock tour so there was no bad weather to deal with, that came another time! So now I was not only a roadie, and buzz and hum eliminator but truck driver too. I was so tired and worn out during that tour I only remember a couple of the gigs. Pine Knob Amphitheater was one memorable gig. I ended up doing this gig every year at least twice for the next 10 years with one band or another.
After that 2nd tour of America the band decided that they needed a break and to go back into the studio. That put me out of work again as very few bands would keep the crew around when they were off or in the studio recording.
The Next Big Thing..
But I am getting ahead of myself again. My first effort at getting a job was taking the hard road. That was to get to a venue where a band was playing and hang out at the backdoor or stage door and offer myself to the roadies for a backstage pass. That worked most of the time and for a short wile I was actually a regular for Vincent Crane and his "Wall of Sound" band "Atomic Rooster". I had no idea what I was doing but I knew enough about electronics to not only get passed carrying the heavy stuff but to actually wire the WEM sound system up too.
What was the Wall Of Sound"?
The wall of sound was just that as far as Atomic Rooster was concerned. First they stacked their HyWatt guitar cabinets 3 high instead of the usual 2 high, then they put 2 amplifiers stacked on top of each triple stack. That still wasn't enough, the sound system was a solid wall of WEM cabinets which stretched from the edge of the working area of the stage out another 15-20ft, each side.
Now I have to admit that even though the double row of amps on the stacks were powered so the light was on they were not all connected to speakers, the same for all the cabinets, most were just for show, but were fully functional if necessary.
I do have to admit one thing. I remember very little about working with Atomic Rooster as I was a young kid probably 15 or 16 and just so thrilled to be "back stage with the band".
The band went through a change of lineup in the short time I was following them around. From the original Vincent Crane (keyboards/organ), Carl Palmer (drums), Nick Graham (bass/vocals), later John Du Cann (guitar) was added. After that the band was in a constant flux of change of lineup
Sadly Atomic Rooster only enjoyed two hits February 1971, the single "Tomorrow Night" reached No. 11. In June 1971 the single "Devils Answer" hit No. 4. They enjoyed a good touring audience but was never really supported by any more singles although there album sales were not to be sneezed at.
Sadly Vincent Crane died 14th February 1989