MUSICALLY speaking, 1963 marked the arrival of the Beat Boom in Great Britain, generated by the 22nd March, 1962 rush-release of the first Beatles album, Please Please Me, recorded between 7am and 10.45pm on Monday 11th February, 1962.
It was to become a major influence on the decade in which innovative pop music would provide the soundtrack for a social revolution within the UK. This revolution was actually born in the mid-1950s USA, with the proliferation of black American rhythm & blues and its 'discovery' by white teenagers on both sides of the Atlantic.
However, the music did actually die at the end of the 1950s. We lost Buddy Holly and Eddie Cochran; Elvis Presley was in the army, Chuck Berry was in jail, Little Richard threw in the towel in favour of preaching and Jerry Lee Lewis had fallen from grace on marrying his 13 year old second cousin.
1960 to 1962 was a fallow period for exciting music, but it probably cleared the decks for the arrival of a breath of fresh air!
Meanwhile, in Birmingham during October 1963, the first sell-out issue of Midland Beat hit the news stands with the headline, 'BRUM BEAT HITS CHARTS – Midlands Groups on Radio and TV Too'.
The article went on to report: "The Brum Beat is in the hit parade – The Bruisers (Birmingham) and The Redcaps (Walsall) have been leading the way with their singles Blue Girl and Shout respectively, and both have made progress in the Melody Maker and New Record Mirror Top 50".
Noticeably, provincial groups were quick to jump on the bandwagon of the new wave of R and B pioneered by The Beatles via ballroom tours and regular BBC radio shows, and The Redcaps were amongst the first to cash in on the new Beat Boom, as it was called.
By the way, 'Brumbeat' was a blanket term given to our geographical area (Black Country, Birmingham, West Midlands) by London-based record executives and promoters.
So, where did the name Redcaps originate?
"We admired The Blue Caps – Gene Vincent's backing group," recalled bass player Mick Walker, "so we plumped for Redcaps, as simple as that."
During their musical career, which spanned 1960 to 1965, The Redcaps shared the billing with "every national group you could think of – and we also backed many solo artistes who appeared at the Regan ballrooms, including Gene Vincent and Stevie Wonder. And we were opening act for Jerry Lee Lewis, Four Seasons, Adam Faith and The Roulettes, Dave Berry and The Cruisers and ... The Beatles".
The growing reputation of The Redcaps soon earned them the nickname of 'the Group's Group' amongst local musicians, who made a point of seeing them perform on their nights off. The first incarnation of The Redcaps was twin brothers Mick and Dave Walker who, like all other young musicians of the period, had cut their teeth playing skiffle under the inevitable influences of Lonnie Donegan, The Vipers Skiffle Group and Chas McDevitt and his Skiffle Group, to name but three. The twins began their musical journey via piano lessons at the age of seven and continued for five or six years until they passed their classical music exams.
Mick tried the trumpet, no doubt influenced by Eddie Calvert, but that was short lived … "I had no lip for it!" recalls Mick.
The twins bought two cheap second-hand acoustic guitars and, along with a couple of mates who played tea chest bass and basic drums, began the inevitable foray into the skiffle craze whilst at its peak in 1957.
At the time, two other brothers in Walsall, Roy (guitar) and Ronnie Brown (vocals) were also doing the same as the Walker twins, so they approached Mick and Dave and proposed a merger into what became, in 1961, Ronnie King and The Redcaps; managed by Roy and Ronnie's dad. Walsall drummer Jimmy Richards and saxophonist Mac Broadhurst from Norton Canes completed the line up.
Roy and Ronnie's dad secured some lucrative regular work for the group. Every Saturday night they played at Bloxwich Baths and every Tuesday and Thursday at Mid Cannock Miners Club. They also were regulars at The Bridgetown Tavern in Cannock. Remember, in those days Cannock was a thriving coal mining community and the social club was the focus of the community seven nights a week.
One fan and aspiring star who never missed a Saturday night studying The Redcaps at Bloxwich Baths was Noddy Holder who was also a classmate of lead guitarist Roy Brown at TP Riley School in Bloxwich. Noddy would socialise with the group during the break, picking up useful tips which obviously put him in good stead for his future career with with The Memphis Cutouts, Steve Brettand The Mavericks, The 'N'Betweens and Slade. Noddy acknowledges The Redcaps' influence in his biography Who's Crazee Now?
Following a successful apprenticeship of local gigs and a recording contract to back them up, the lads turned professional in 1962 and were off to Fontenet in the south of France to entertain the troops at USA army bases. Whilst there, the Cuban missile crisis kicked off and the Commander in charge said that they would be conscripted into the US army ...
"We loaded all our gear into our Commer van and slipped quietly away under cover of darkness!" said Mick Walker. On returning from France Jimmy Richards and Roy Brown decided to call it a day and leave the group. They were replaced by Alan Morley from Blackheath on drums and Mick Blythe from Albrighton on lead guitar. On reflection, Mick said that the gigs were just as gruelling as those in Germany that most of the other groups talk about ... "we were doing eight one-hour spots a day, every day but, we heard things on the juke box that were unheard of back home."
The Redcaps were signed to Decca by Chief A&R (Artist and Repertoire) man Dick Rowe, who made a special journey from London to see them perform live at The Plaza, Handsworth. This signing was several months before the aforementioned Norrie Paramor Brumbeat campaign. Rowe was the very man famous (or infamous) for turning down The Beatles at a Decca recording test on New Year's Day 1962 – on the grounds that "four piece groups with guitars are finished" – but he redeemed himself by signing Brian Poole and The Tremolos and The Rolling Stones. Nevertheless, the quality of all six Redcaps sides proved that Rowe was no slouch when it came to record production even though, as Mick Walker recalls, "musically speaking, Dick didn't know a crotchet from a hatchet!"
The Redcaps' first Decca single, Shout was a cover of an Isley Brothers US hit, which was then covered by Lulu and The Luvvers – some twelve months after The Redcaps' release.
The flip side of The Redcaps' version was Things You Do written by Mick and Dave Walker and then lead guitarist, Roy Brown – marking the boys' first foray into serious songwriting.
The second Decca single was Talkin' About You c/w Come on Girl. The A side was a cover of a Chuck Berry hit and composition and the B side by Bert Burns of the Isley Brothers. The third Decca single Funny Things was written by new lead guitarist Mick Blythe in the van on the journey to London and the B side Mighty Fine Girl was written by Chris Andrews, perhaps better known for his 1965 hit, Yesterday Man.
Mick Blythe's Funny Things was covered by The Retreads and their version went to No 2 in the German charts on the Fontana label.
"I was paid £25 in royalties," said Mick (worth around £500 in today's money).
"I told Mick Walker that my favourite Redcaps side was Talkin' About You, and asked him how it was recorded.
"We did the whole song in just two takes on a four track recorder," he recalled. "Producer Dick Rowe used a couple of microphones over the drums and the whole thing was done in just over an hour."
Next Week: Playing Ma Regan's dance halls, and entertaining the Yanks with Ringo Starr!
We're always keen to hear your stories of seeing, meeting or playing in bands on the local circuit, whether they were home grown bands or international stars paying the Black Country a visit. Share them with us: pay us a visit, give us a call, write in or email gjones@blackcountry bugle.co.uk.