THE CRESTAS - HISTORY

 

A history of The Crestas as told by co-founder member Keith Roberts:

The Crestas was formed in 1959/60 by Keith Roberts and Kevin Frank. We soon had on board another friend and neighbour Lewis Johnson and all three of us began playing together with acoustic guitars we had bought in 1958. We bought the guitars from a mail order catalogue called The British and Empire stores in London, and paid about £2/7/6d for them. They arrived in a cardboard box containing an orange coloured canvas carrying bag, and we became instantly popular with all and sundry. Another lifelong friend Dennis Coleman (Zephyr's Drummer) had at that time a semi-acoustic electric guitar and amplifier that his brother, who was an electrician, had concocted using a cabinet and an old speaker. Dennis was well popular I can assure you, because Skiffle was the in thing at the time and with Dennis having a voice pretty similar in pitch to Johnny Duncan we were up and walking!

Anyway, we played at our local school Xmas party and as we went down well, we all got the bug for entertaining. The following year in 1959, Kevin, Lewis and I, who all lived in Balaclava Street, Stockton on Tees, progressed and became proficient enough to form a group we decided to call The Crestas. Later Lewis bought a small red drum kit, and the three of us began practicing and playing together, in the top floor attic of Lewis's house Balaclava Cottage, a large three storey house which still stands at the top of the street opposite where The Queens Hotel used to be before it burnt down. We were soon joined by a workmate and fellow apprentice from British Titan Products, Clive Avison who hailed from Thornaby. All we needed now was a singer and we were introduced to a lad from North Ormesby called Ian Carrick, who sang in the style of Cliff and Elvis with a fantastic voice to match.

Now we were formed, we needed to go electric, so one Saturday morning we trundled out of Burdens Store with the following instruments. I bought a bright shiny red Hofner Colorama, Kevin bought a red Hofner Verithin semi-acoustic, Clive had a Antoria solid body guitar and Lewis bought a smallish red drum kit (as shown in photograph one). He later traded it in and invested in a very expensive full size Premier Drum kit in Gold Glitter, which he used throughout his musical career. The thing we were lacking now was amplification so I pestered my mother for the funds to buy something "big!" It turned out to be at that time, what seemed to be a huge Selmar Truevoice Selectatone single speaker amp, with multi-tone selection function and tremelo, state of the art then, I remember on our first 'booking' we all plugged into that. In 1960, I bought a Burns Vibro Artiste guitar for £75 guineas which was an absolute fortune in those days, and Kevin bought a Burns Sonic Bass (as seen in photograph three). Later, Kevin and I both had a rush of blood to the head and I went and saw Mr Camplin, the manager at Burdons music store, a true friend to most budding groups, and we walked out of the store with a Vox 30 AC Twin (beige colour) and Kev got a Vox AC 15 beige. Clive progressed to a Hofner Verithin and a Watkins Dominator Twin amp. Mr Camplin showed us the latest revelation in technology doing the rounds, which was a demonstration model of the Selmar Truevoice Echo 200 unit, a bright red and cream two toned thing which he let us have on approval after we had badgered him for hours. He was very reluctant to let it out of his sight as it was the promotional one, the first and only one in the shop, but we got it and added it to our gear.

If only we knew then, what we know now and kept it all! The only thing we required now was some form of transport. A local grocer, general dealer and friend called Billy May, had a shop at the corner of Alma Street and Hume Street, he also had a new bright yellow Commer Minibus which he used to run us to gigs in. Show biz here we come!

Kevin and I used to hang out with another bunch of guys who had formed a group a little earlier than us called The Zephyrs who had just started doing bookings. We all used to congregate round at Tommy Harbron's house in Dunmail Road, Stockton on a Sunday afternoon whilst they practiced new numbers. I was forever grateful to Tommy for the tips and rifts he used to show me at that time. A truly great musician is Tommy as was Alan Coverdale, Barry Miller and Dennis Coleman, long before Alan Harrison (Rhet Allen) joined them. I still rate them as the best group ever from the North East barring none, then that's only my opinion but I'm sticking by it. It was Tommy who introduced me to Joe Postgate and we subsequently became members of that great fraternity of North East groups from the Sixties. As The Zephyrs and The Crestas, we played one of our first gigs together, at Northallerton Town Hall in 1960. We teamed up on a few more occasions before being supported by other new groups. One that springs to mind, was being supported at the Jubilee Hall, Stockton-on-Tees, by a new group just starting out, Johnny and The Blue Caps, founded by my old mate Mick Kemp, and fronted by an old mate John McNaughton. I had the letter confirming that booking, from Joe Postgate of Southern Border Dances, which I gave to my old mate Howard Rayner as a keep sake, about a year before his demise, God bless his soul. I suppose his good wife still has this. I told Eric Whitehouse about it and he was going to make enquiries as to whether he might be able to purchase it or a photocopy of it as a keepsake. I never thought at the time of photocopying it before handing it to Howie, but we were talking about the good old days in a pub and I had taken it with me to show him. I gave it to him on the spur of the moment.

When The Crestas first started out as a group, we practiced hard and regular, to become the tight outfit we were. We used to practice in The DLI club in Farrer Street, Stockton, on most evenings when the concert hall was free. On Sunday mornings we'd bung old Bob Cleasby, the caretaker of the Jubilee Hall, who lived next door to Leeds Street fish shop opposite the building, ten bob to use the Jube for a couple of hours practice. Having become well established around the Northern Halls with Southern Border Dances and the large social clubs throughout the Northeast, we were fully booked most evenings and this became well noticed by our respective employers - as those of us who were also indentured apprentices, were skipping college and night school. This didn't go down well and many warnings were given, most of which we ignored to our cost, but on we went.

We, along with The Zephyrs, The Condors, The Midnighters, The Stormers etc were I suppose, the fore-runners of what came after. I used to work with a chap called Jack Smith, the father of Roy Smith, who had just formed a group called The Denvers, which included another good friend of mine and a painter and decorator colleague of Lewis Johnson, his name was John Maunder another good guitarist. Jack asked me one day, if I could introduce his son to Joe Postgate, which I did and the rest is history regarding their success. My cousin Jeff Beall ex-Panthers bass player, used to come watch us rehearse with his mates on occasions. He liked what he saw and heard and got the bug, so he decided to get a guitar and learn to play it, as did another neighbour and close friend from Balaclava Street, Brian Fletcher ex- singer with The Panthers. Our Jeff tells me he knew he wanted to play in a group after watching us rehearse and he said he really made his mind up when he saw and heard Roy Smith's white Fender Stratocaster and, once again, the rest is history. As these groups were just getting off the floor and getting established so to speak, The Crestas disbanded in 1963 at our peak, owing to continued pressure and threats of the sack from our employers. We had five good years and the experience of being a major part of the Sixties North East Group scene will live with us forever. After trading in my Burns Vibro Artiste I got a white Fender which I bought in the early sixties, but sold to a member of a Newcastle group called Toby Twirl in 1972. I still play, although for my own enjoyment, and have a Fender Stratocaster which I bought in 1977 plus a Vox AC30, a Zoom 707 effects unit and a 508 delay Echo effect peripheral.

Other things by Keith Roberts.

I was fortunate in as much as my mother worked in the booking office at the Stockton Globe, and was responsible for selling the tickets for shows. She got complimentary tickets each week for shows staged at the theatre, these were choice front row seats for me to see Buddy Holly & The Crickets, Guy Mitchell, The Platters, Frankie Lymon and The Teenagers, Bobby Rydell, Charlie Gracie and a host of other top American stars.

In 1959 when Cliff Richard and The Shadows were in pantomime at the Stockton Globe theatre, my cousin was wardrobe mistress for the Pantomime, and she invited me backstage to meet Cliff & The Shadows which I did and obtained Cliff's autograph. In 1961, I met The Shadows on their own when they again appeared at the Globe in the Pantomime, Dick Whittington with Frank Ifield, Chas McDevitt & Shirley Douglas and Michael Cox all courtesy of my dad's Uncle Fred, who was stage door manager. I was ushered downstairs to the stage area dressing rooms where I got the shock of my life, there on the floor in front of me were three red Fender guitars on their respective flight cases, two Strats and a Precision Bass. Two guys in suits came out of the first dressing room and smiling, walked over to me and shook my hand, they were Hank Marvin and Bruce Welch. He and Bruce asked if I played in a group, and I told them we had just started out as a local group. Hank walked over and picked up his red Fender Strat, I knew it was his because it was the only one with a tremolo arm, he walked back towards me and placed it in my hands saying, give us a tune then. I honestly thought I was going to faint, and my hand's were all of a quiver holding this famous red guitar given to me to hold, by as far I was concerned, the greatest guitarist ever. I played a few chords and asked him to take the Fender back as I didn't want to knock it out of tune or worse drop it on the floor, to which he gave that famous grin and put it back on the flight case.

Copyright © Stan Laundon.com