THE Redcaps, a Walsall band who shared stages with Jerry Lee Lewis and the Beatles, were just about the hottest thing in the Midlands in the early 1960s.
As we saw at the end of last week's article, the band signed a record deal with Decca (infamous for rejecting the Fab Four) which brought them to an audience far beyond the Midlands. They still plied their trade right here though, with many of their concerts at venues owned by the legendary Mary 'Ma' Regan, who also happened to be their manager.
The previously mentioned Plaza Ballroom in Handsworth was owned by Ma Regan, as well as The Plaza in Old Hill; The Ritz in Kings Heath and The Brum Kavern Club in Small Heath. She was ably assisted by her husband Joe Regan who always acted as MC when international groups appeared at one of the ballrooms.
The Regan ballrooms were open Wednesday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday evenings from 8pm until late and regularly featured top chart groups and solo artists from the UK and USA.
Ma Regan managed other groups in addition to The Redcaps and generously supplied them with the latest Vox AC30 amplifiers. Before the trio of Vox amplifiers though, The Redcaps, like all other groups of the time, originally assembled their own home made sound systems from basic Linear amplifiers (manufactured by Northern Transformers Ltd) coupled with home-made speaker cabinets, until they could afford Vox, Fender or Selmer amplifiers.
Mick said, "we started with Linear amps and then Selmer and finally, Ma Regan's Vox amps". As for guitars and bass, "we started with Hofners, then Burns, Fenders and finally Gibson," Mick explained.
With each venue also having the latest state-of-the-art PA systems the sound quality was first class for the time. Mick Walker:
"Playing the Regan circuit could be a gruelling experience. It was quite common for her own groups to be expected to play at three of the ballrooms in one night. Imagine, starting at The Plaza, Handsworth for a 45 minute spot and then on to The Plaza, Old Hill for the same and then finishing at the Ritz, Kings Heath – think of all the packing and unpacking of all the gear!"
The Redcaps did all this as well as fulfilling other gigs outside the Regan ballroom circuit. Drummer Alan Morley was reported in Midland Beat as continually expressing his displeasure about the constant dismantling and assembling of his drum kit. Compared with guitarists and bass players, who really just plug and play, drums on the other hand are a tedious operation, to say the least!
"There were no roadies in those days," said Mick. "You did all the lugging yourselves." The Redcaps, however, were well trained for this type of hard graft having served their apprenticeships at the US army base in France during 1962.
"We were doing eight hour spots every day," said Mick. "It was just as tough as those gigs in Germany that all the other groups of the era talk about.
The boys were playing for the regular soldiers, whereas the sergeant's mess was graced with the presence of Liverpool group Rory Storm and The Hurricanes. This group had a drummer by the name of Richard Starkey, who went on to discover fame and fortune with The Beatles.
During an on-stage "misunderstanding" between Ronnie and Dave one evening at a gig in Wednesbury regarding when to come in with the vocal following an intro, Ronnie stormed off stage, never to be seen again. Ronnie King and The Redcaps now became The Redcaps, with the soulful and very able Dave Walker taking on all lead vocals as well as rhythm guitar.
They were no longer a 'him and them' type group, but a self contained unit – just like The Beatles, who they went on to support on four separate occasions.
It was this line-up that recorded the first two singles for Decca. Roy Brown left the group for health reasons after the second single and was replaced in May, 1964, by Mick Blythe from Albrighton group The Tremors, who started out as a skiffle group in the late 1950s called Red Rebel. Other names to emerge from The Tremors were Johnny O'Hara (The Californians), Mac Bailey (Tommy Burton) and Martin de Vries (The Strollers). Andy Maclachlan, the bass player with The Tremors was also the boss of Domino Sound Studio – a professional recording studio situated at number 16, High Street, Albrighton, where The Redcaps (like many other Black Country groups) were to record a number of demo discs.
The Tremors eventually morphed into Zuider Zee in 1965. In March, 1964 the aforementioned Midland Beat had carried an advert inviting people to join the Official Redcaps Fan Club. The ad was posted by fan club secretary Cheryl Skipp from Handsworth, not far from their regular haunt, The Plaza.
Like The Beatles, and most all other Mersey Beat groups for that matter, The Redcaps "were influenced by material not usually heard in the UK," according to Mick Walker. "Our American influences were The Bill Black Combo, and all the black R&B artists including the much-covered Chuck Berry. "In the UK one of our main influences was Johnny Kidd and The Pirates. Much of the elusive American material was brought in by merchant seamen via Liverpool docks which culminated in the famous and unique Mersey Sound."
As someone who was an aspiring musician in 1963, the author has had the privilege of experiencing The Redcaps perform first hand on many occasions at The Ritz, and later appeared with them as a support group (The Fleetwoods) at The Brum Kavern. And I have to say that they WERE special, and it was well worth going out of your way to see them perform. As well as (along with his bandmates) being a serious musician, Mick Walker started to emerge as a comedian and would augment the group's set-list with his unique brand of humour which earned them the nickname of The Madcaps.
"There will never ever be a repeat of those wonderful days," said Mick. "People still come up to me with their collections of Redcap memorabilia and ask me to autograph it. It was great travelling all over the country with a van covered with messages scrawled in lipstick – it was a hectic time where we worked continuously and all the days have rolled into one continuous period, but the fans seem to have greater memories of what we did than we do!"
After The Redcaps disbanded in January 1965 following an acrimonious contractual dispute with Decca records, Dave Walker went on to form a band called Beckett along with Pete Oliver, Don McGinty and Colin Tomlinson, and from 1965 to 1969 had a residency at the popular Rum Runner night club in Broad Street, Birmingham, where brother Mick was the manager.
In the 1970s Dave went on to play with The Idle Race, Savoy Brown Blue Band, Fleetwood Mac and Black Sabbath. He is still in the music business and now lives, plays and records as The Dave Walker Band in America.
Mick Walker formed his own jazz/comedy trio in 1969 and did a 10 month season at the prestigious Pigalle club in Piccadilly, London, before then touring the UK cabaret circuit and doing a season on the QEII. He has since worked as a movie stuntman and also as a personal bodyguard to both Elton John and Freddie Mercury. He has worked on BBC comedy shows with Tom O'Connor and, up to his retirement a couple of years ago, was in much demand working as an after dinner speaker. Mick now lives out in the sticks ... just outside Bridgnorth.
Mick Blythe, who lives just outside Wolverhampton, has played in various dance bands. He has also played in groups with Mac Broadhurst, who now lives in Burton Upon Trent.
Drummer Alan Morley now lives in Bridgnorth. Over the years, Alan has continued to play in various bands including Stan Webb's Chicken Shack, and today he drums with a local functions band called Rock Steady.
During 2013, Mick Walker, Alan Morley and Mick Blythe, along with a local guitarist Steve Field, re-formed as The Salopian Dudes – a very popular R&B band much in the same vein as Muddy Waters, The Yardbirds, Cream and, Pete Green's Fleetwood Mac.
All of the 'Dudes' are excellent musicians and articulate purveyors of purist 'Chicago Blues' which is proving immensely popular wherever they perform.
Listening to them, you could say that they are well and truly a Recap of The Redcaps!
To hear The Redcaps' songs just type the title into your computer search engine eg: "Talkin about you Redcaps Youtube"
Both Brian and the Bugle would love to hear from readers who can recall The Redcaps at The Plaza Old Hill and also any readers who have any snaps of the lads. If Mac Broadhurst or Roy Brown read this, please get in touch with The Bugle.