THE FALCONS - HISTORY BY PAUL BUTLER

 

Paul Butler - a guitarists (and occasional singer) perspective of what happened:

It all began in the spring of 1963 when I was informed that a group from Middlesbrough High School, then known as The Blue Rockets, was looking for a lead guitarist. I was “auditioned” and as there was no one else, taken on. During that afternoon we played lots of instrumentals, as all the groups did, as we got to know each other and then I was introduced to Peter Embleton who was the singer and we did two Eddie Cochran songs.

The group had formed: Merv Jones on drums, Malcolm (Mally) Willis on bass, Paul (Charlie) Clasper on rhythm guitar, Peter Embleton on vocals with Paul Butler on lead guitar. We spent the next few months practising until we had an equal number of instrumental and vocal pieces to perform. In the early summer of 1963 we got our first booking at the Oddfellows Arms in Thornaby. It went O.K. but we quickly discovered that songs were far more popular than instrumentals and so our musical future was decided.

Throughout the rest of the summer we gradually got more bookings in pubs and clubs, expanding our range of songs by covering the most popular material from the charts as most (if not all) the groups did at that time. We got our first dance booking at the Evenwood youth club in County Durham on the 20th of September enjoying the marked difference from playing in pubs but continued visiting places like the Brunswick in Stockton, the Black Horse in Billingham and the Mobile Club on Norton road. Our visits to St. Pat’s youth club in Thornaby on the 20th of October and the Berwick Hills Community Centre in Middlesbrough furthered our enjoyment of the “Youth Club” scene and we did the occasional double booking with local groups like the Fremonts at Middlesbrough High School. On October 12th we performed in the open in Billingham town centre to hundreds of shoppers etc. This was fun to do but terrifying afterwards as, totally unexpectedly, we were mobbed by fans, had items of clothing taken from us, and we were, for a time, separated from each other, not knowing where to go to get safe. The “fans” were of course just following the current fashion as the country was at the height of Beatlemania and we just happened to be mobbed, too!

We finished 1963 with a run of bookings which were becoming the norm, how about this for a sequence (remember we were all still at school “studying” for our O levels) Dec. 12th, 13th, 14th, 15th, 18th, 19th, 20th, 21st, 22nd, 24th,27th, 29th and 30th!! And then Jan. 1st, 2nd, 4th, 5th, 6th, 10th, 11th, 12th, quite intense! As we moved into 1964 we had our first break when due to Dave Lewis of the Fremonts being electrocuted (badly but not seriously) on stage, we took their booking on Redcar Pier with Freddie and the Dreamers on Jan 12th where we discovered some of the realities of the professional circuit, like watching their road crew autograph Freddie and the Dreamers photographs and then distribute them to the fans!

The schedule was now proving too busy for Paul Clasper and so he quit in April and was replaced by Ken Purvis. More dances and fewer clubs became the pattern as we visited The Billingham Arms sharing the bill with The Panthers, The Maison, Longlands College, Middlesbrough Town Hall and The Outlook, just to name a few. Then in February the “Evening Gazette Rhythm Group Championship” started for us when we successfully beat the Cobras on February 2nd. These competitions are always difficult as it must be incredibly hard for the judges to be truly objective. We then beat The Fireflies in March but we were soundly beaten by the eventual winners, and their army of fans, The Renegades from Whitby.

About this time we bought our first van, a very old ex-post office Morris. The previous owners had fitted windows in the sides and sort of seats in the back, and all this for only £25!! Most of us were not yet old enough to drive (Mally was to be the first) so we still had to rely on one of our parents to do the driving, although very soon a great mate of ours Keith Craggs became a sort of roadie/driver (we would later actually pay him something like ten shillings a week for the privilege!) The van didn’t last too long, eventually slowly dying on the way to the Cellar Club in Saltburn in the summer of ’64 and being replaced by a Bedford dormobile, another “classic vehicle”.

More locations were being added to our list of venues like the South Bank Sporting Club (where we got changed in a room with a huge curtain-less window open to the outside world, but fortunately several stories above ground level), Redcar Jazz Club, The K.D. at Billingham, The Corporation Hall in Stockton, The Scene as well as The Outlook in Middlesbrough, St Pat's Youth Club Thornaby, The Maison in Stockton, The Tow Bar in Nethertown, Cumbria, The Lion Inn on Blakey Ridge, The Kirk (Kirklevington Country Club) and Catterick army camp! We had by now upgraded our equipment from the basic mixture of home-made cabinets, cheap guitars and low powered amps to the inevitable Fender guitar, Vox amp combinations purchased from Burdon's in Stockton often (mostly) on hire purchase as was the norm. To be more accurate, Ludwig drums, Fender Strat, Vox AC 30, Fender Precision Bass, Vox T60 and something that really made us stand out, a powerful (at least it was in those days!) 100 Watt p.a. system which meant that Peter’s excellent vocals could actually be heard. This last point may seem strange but that was not too common in 1964.

There was now, during the summer of ’64, another change to the line-up, Ken Purvis decided to leave. Based on the fact that we’d seen Wayne Fontana and the Mindbenders and noticed that they were able to produce a huge sound from just guitar, bass and drums, we decided not to replace Ken and stay as a three piece behind Peter. This was greatly helped by the fact that Pete was becoming very proficient at adding to the sound by playing some great blues harmonica as well as tambourine and maracas. Our music was also, inevitably, changing over this time.

We were still influenced by the charts and so, as most groups, covered a lot of the good “pop” material that was around, we also wrote a couple of our own songs, although there was less of that being done at the time. Our biggest influence came from listening to the “b” sides of some singles and especially album tracks of some of the biggest groups where we were led to the original musicians that were a big influence. People like Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf, Buddy Guy, BB King, Robert Johnson, John Lee Hooker, Leadbelly and of course Chuck Berry to mention just a few. Eventually we, and other groups, discovered Tamla Motown. Just imagine finding and playing for the first time such classics as Heatwave, Dancing in the Street, On Broadway etc., such mind opening times! By this time we’d finished our O-levels, left school and were working full time, so I guess we were classed as semi-pro.

Our Bedford dormobile ground to a halt and had now been replace by a real van, a Ford Thames 15cwt. with side opening door, interior light and a heater! What was good about playing at the same venue as other groups was the genuine friendship that existed, and we’d often find ourselves sitting backstage at the end of an evening swapping techniques/chords or even sources for new material. When it was a professional group such as, The Interns, The Cresters, The Merseybeats, Lorraine Gray and the Chaperones, Manfred Mann, Mike Cadillac and the Playboys, Wayne Fontana and the Mindbenders, not forgetting the 1234 five (Panthers) then the enjoyment was even greater. Burdon's, as mentioned earlier was a tremendous shop. It was the place to hang out, and where most of the local groups met, usually on a Saturday morning, sometimes to try out new/unattainable/unaffordable gear and this occasionally led to a bit of a “jam” in the back of the shop. The “man in the back” (technician whose name was Mr. Camplin, I think) would often get us to try out new bits of kit. For example he produced a treble boost which he’d put in a “baccy tin” complete with a slider on/off switch, we just plugged into it and then ran a lead from that to the amp. It was the forerunner of the variety of distortion units we all became familiar with, and of course after testing we inevitably bought one.

In the autumn of 1964 I’d wandered into Burdon's to find a brand new Gretsch Tennessean had just arrived. I was allowed to borrow it(!) for a few days to see if I liked it - can you imagine that happening today? It so happened that we were playing at the Outlook that night, with Freddie Starr and the Flamingoes, so I trouped in there feeling pretty cool with a Fender Strat and the Gretsch and the inevitable happened, Freddie decided that my dad must own a guitar shop and that I could therefore lend him my Strat for the night - and I did! And yes he was just as daft even then.

It was late October and as a reward at the end of the night Freddie paid me for the loan of the guitar by giving me (us) dozens of bangers (it was nearly bonfire night). Inevitably as we were loading the vans outside the Outlook at some-time after midnight a “banger fight” broke out! It was like a cowboy movie with everyone running and hiding and throwing bangers. I guess the locals were not too happy, but nobody got arrested! Freddie Starr then went on to earn a living in a slightly different field and I bought the Gretsch.

We were still playing flat out, here’s another sequence from 1964 into ’65. December 19th, 20th, 21st, 22nd, 23rd, 25th, 26th, 31st,Jan 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 8th, 9th… just imagine this, then getting home somewhat late and getting up for work the following morning! During the winter of ’64 to ’65 we invented van skiing. This happened one snowy night when, after dropping off someone on a quiet road, someone in the group decided to hold onto the back door handles of the van as it drove off (yes I too wonder why). As it moved forward, the art was to hang on with straight legs and ski! This was so much fun that we soon had everyone, except the driver(!), hanging on in a long chain! Cornering was great as the last in the line of the skiers was whipped to the outside of the bend, but the fun would often stop when we reached a gritted piece of road as we then had to run. Needless to say that this all took place in the relative safety of deserted housing estates, and once again nobody got arrested! We ground our way through 1965 reaching as far south as the Spa pavilion in Whitby, which at the time was a lonely adventure across the moors, many visits to Cumbria and up as far as Newcastle and Durham. As we drifted through 1966 it was becoming obvious that we were getting tired, it had been an incredible, exhilarating, but exhausting non-stop three years of playing and living in each other’s pockets etc.

In February 1966 Merv left, so for a while we enlisted Mick Kemp from The Blue Caps to join our ranks. Mick was great fun to play with, but a different type of drummer to Merv, Mick was lighter and we missed the essential heavier driving beat that Merv provided for the three piece line-up. As we reached the summer it was obvious that Del and the Falcons had run its course and so we played our final booking in Redcar and went our separate ways. Merv had already gone to The Denmen and then went on to other bands and never seemed to stop playing, Peter joined The Blue Caps and lots of other bands before going into the nightclub scene, Mally, as far as I know, just stopped playing, and Paul (me) quit playing for a few months before heading first into the acoustic guitar world and then returning to playing the electric guitar. In an interesting twist to the tale, from the end of 1968 through to the summer of 1969 Peter and Paul got together again and performed acoustically playing Simon and Garfunkel and similar material at the La Ronde nightclub in Billingham.

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