I picked up my first guitar in 1957. It was for a school play at Colmers Farm Secondary Modern School in Birmingham. I picked up my second guitar in 1960 when I first realised that girls liked boys in groups…
I had been in full time education for nearly eight years without getting into a scrape. Then, at the age of thirteen, I managed to pick a fight with one of the hard men of the school. He wasn't totally hard like 'Masher' Mallet or Big Chris Dickenson, but he was in the second tier and not to be messed with. I wasn't particularly strong, or brave for that matter, but dad had been an amateur boxer and had taught his kids to stick up for themselves. We weren't ‘tough guys’ but we could take care of ourselves. I can't remember why the argument started or got so heated but after a couple of minutes, the usual playground pushing and shoving gave way to actual fisticuffs. I swung at him and missed, then he hit me square on the chin. I can remember thinking "If that's the best you can do mate, this is going to be easy". Just then, everything went black. I’ve been a pacifist ever since.
Onlookers said I was out cold for five minutes but two of those minutes had been me lying still, with my eyes closed, trying to work out what had just transpired. Plus, I was hoping all the girls had moved far enough away to not see me crying. I got over the embarrassment quickly enough, but something else had happened. I started to have panic attacks. Every day, I would get up ok, I would eat breakfast ok, I would walk to school ok, then not be able to walk into the building. I know now that it was all in my head, but at the time it felt like a physical barrier.
If I persevered and forced myself through the door, I would actually throw up right there. The caretaker and me were on first name terms. This occurred every school day for five months, until the rehearsals for the school play took over all our lives and I just got over it. I hadn't a clue why. Many years later I realised it was probably the loss of self-esteem after the fight that started the attacks and the confidence boost of being in the play that stopped them. I can't explain the sensation as the curtain swished open on the first night of that play and I saw that sea of parent's faces, but the feeling has stayed with me all my life. Incidentally, so has the smell! A mixture of stage makeup, Nivea Cream and flatulence.
Born in Birmingham in 1944, to Catherine and Frank Price. Dad, known as dad. Mom, known as Kate. I had three brothers – Geoff the youngest, Fred the oldest and Phil the middlest. One sister, Jean. Jean's husband Don was a very keen photographer and must have taken a gazillion pictures of me as a baby. We all lived in Northfield until I was eight years old. We then moved out to a new estate in Rednal, on the Worcestershire border with Birmingham. It was a magic place for kids – we had the whole of the Lickey Hills to play on. New school, new neighbours, new friends, new enemies.
The new school was a brand new, purpose built place with a fair share of fresh faced, eager young teachers. Mr. Thomas was the biz. He was the 'modern' one that knew all the words to the Johnny Ray and Guy Mitchell hits of the day. I was always singing or whistling in class and Mr. Thomas was the only one who wouldn't ask me to stop. He'd occasionally join in. He even taught me some of the words to 'Walking My Baby Back Home'. There was always music at home as well. Both older brothers played piano, one of them played violin. All my uncles sang. Mom and dad must have hoped that I would be a musical child. They even tried to send me to piano lessons at the age of six. I lasted two sessions before I revolted, and I've been revolting ever since.
Our new neighbours were the MacDonalds. Old Charlie (the dad) was a quiet Scotsman who ran the local Post Office sorting depot. Jessie (the mom) was known as 'Mac' to everybody in the street, including all the kids. 'Mac' was a diamond. The person everybody put upon. She was a great support to my mom, particularly during her many spells of ill health. The MacDonald kids were called Charles and Delise. We hit it off from the day we moved in.
Malcolm Turner (also called Mac) lived at the other end of the street but we met at school and we became inseparable best mates until we were eighteen or so. We were the classic 'school buddies' who shared their first alcoholic drink, their first Woodbine cigarette and their first snog (not with each other, of course) with a dark-haired beauty from another estate. I'd take her to the cinema and then he'd walk her home. I was confused about girls. I still am.
New enemies? Well, that would be the old folks. Halfway up the street, there was a purpose built, manicured green area about the size of a football pitch. Perfect for playing games on, except that the council in their wisdom thought it would be a nice place to build a dozen 'Old Folks' bungalows. The bungalows ringed the park area. To us kids, the inhabitants were just miserable old buggers. To the old buggers, us kids must have seemed like the spawn of the devil. I mean, when your nine years old you just can't play quietly - It's not natural.
A bunch of young adventurers, at the age of eleven or twelve we were convinced that one of the old residents was a Witch. She would stand on her doorstep and shout abuse at us. What we heard was "I know where you live – I'll call the council" or "I'll have your foot off". This second comment was the most worrying because we'd sneaked a look through her kitchen window and all of us were convinced we'd seen body parts in jars!!
It turned out she was just a lonely old woman who was spending her few remaining years pickling fruit for what was left of her estranged family. What she was actually shouting was "I'll ring the council and have you put off". What imaginations we had.
I'm going to sound like an old git now, but in my day…… Well we made most of our entertainment for ourselves. Family get-togethers, singing around the piano. Even sadder, singing to the radio set. The exception to this was the Saturday visit to the local picture house. There was only ever a vague semblance of a queue and it cost sixpence to get in. It was known as the 'tanner crush'. The program was always the same: a cartoon, a short feature (usually a cowboy film) and a cliff-hanger serial. If the cliff-hanger was Superman, every boy that left that cinema thought he was the super hero. Hundreds of young hooligans running home in different directions with the sleeves of their navy blue raincoats tied around their grubby necks. Jumping off garden walls and climbing trees in strangers' gardens. Bloody Kids.
As my brother Geoff was four years younger than me, I was in charge of the cinema money. We had sixpence each as admission money and sixpence between us for 'some sweets'. We could, for example, get a Mars Bar for four- pence and four 'a'penny chews with the rest. A Cadbury's Cream Egg was a luxury at sixpence. One Saturday we decided to share one. Having broken many a Mars Bar in half, I didn't foresee a problem. So, on the way to the cinema we set about separating the two halves of the egg. Not being a scout, I didn't have a pen-knife. I did, however, have a sixpence!! Geoff held the egg while I sawed it. By the time we'd finished, there was chocolate and cream (both white and yellow) stuck all over our hands, our clothes and our admission money. I would now like to sincerely apologise to the poor woman that sold me the tickets.
At home we had an old Dansette record player and a few 78's, but next door the MacDonalds had a proper radiogram the size of a sideboard. This is where I first heard the Tommy Steele recordings of "Rock With The Caveman" and "Singing The Blues". My own record collection was a bit thin and not very promising. I had "The Indian Love Call" by Slim Whitman and "Sixteen Tons" by Tennessee Ernie Ford. Pretty cool eh?
Mac Turner and me managed to con our respective folks into buying us both an acoustic guitar. Mine cost five quid and his was eight pounds ten shillings. There were ten of us would-be guitarists in the school play, which was directed by Mr. Smith, the maths teacher. Mr Walsh, the English teacher, taught us to play guitar. Well, he showed us three chords, dressed us as cowboys and made us play 'Please Sell No More Drinks To My Father'. Fortunately our encore was a rousing version of 'Rock Island Line' or we might all have been emotionally scarred forever. I believe Mr Walsh regularly formed a guitar club for years afterwards.
To help buy more records I took on two paper-rounds at Clay's newsagent in Edgewood Road, Rednal. The managers name was Bill Argyle and the owners were Mr and Mrs Scott. The Scott's always needed someone to run errands and Bill regularly gave me the jobs. The Scott's were also very good tippers. I often earned more from their tips than from the paper-rounds. The shop closed at seven thirty every night, after which I swept the floor – another five bob a week! This time next year Rodney…..
On a Friday, flush with wages I would take a bag of American Gums and my five quid guitar and serenade Jennifer Howlett on her front lawn. Her dad would put up with it for an hour or so, but she was always called in before dark. Smart dad or what? Jennifer was my biggest schoolboy crush.
As well as records and American Gums, the paper-round money came in useful for buying clothes too. Mom used to run a clothing catalogue for family and friends and in the 1958 Brian Mills book, there was a pair of 'drainpipe' jeans to die for. Would she let me buy them? Over her dead body. I wanted them so bad that I had to get a friend to order them for me and give him the money. The jeans were black with a fancy turn-up piped in white. The turn-up looked like the top of a cowboy boot – cool. Oh, and ridiculous. I wore them to one dance at Edgewood Hall – not many people took the piss.
By the late fifties my musical influences were Bill Haley, Elvis Presley, Eddie Cochran, Buddy Holly, Cliff Richard and Lonnie Donegan. At the age of twelve, the first time I ever escaped my parents on holiday in Weston-super-Mare – I found my way into an amusement arcade and the jukebox was playing his recording of "Rock Island Line". The track behind the vocal consists of just acoustic guitar, stand- up bass and washboard but it really rocks. Put it on a 50's juke box and crank it up over the sound of flippers and flying ball-bearings and it really comes into its own. In a nostalgic moment, I visited the same arcade again recently but the smell of oil and dirty pennies had gone. It was totally NOT the same.
I had to wait until 1972 before I managed to see Lonnie Donegan play live, and although he had probably passed the high point of his performing career, it was still magical. Legend has it that Lonnie was only paid a normal session fee of three pounds ten shillings for the job of starting the whole UK rock & roll bandwagon.
A PROPER JOB
September 1960, I had just started work at Radio Rentals in Kings Heath and was being trained as a TV service engineer by Ray Williams and Bob Watkins. In the beginning, after my mom had taken out my bus fares, I was earning ten shillings a week less than on the paper-rounds that I had just given up! My shop manager was called Mr. Simpkin. A nice enough chap who put up with a lot from me, but he constantly played Shirley Bassey records - pooh! Well, pooh! at the time – I don't mind her now. In fact, I think she's brill. Bob Watkins on the other hand, had made his own electric guitar and could play it through his radio set! This meant that he could tune to Radio Luxembourg and play along to Cliff and The Shadows on a Tuesday night. My hero. This sounds positively pre-historic now but it was serious, cutting edge stuff in 1960. Once I had heard the noise that Bob could make with this invention, there was no going back. Within days, I had my Grundig tape recorder and my old acoustic plugged into Moms radio. Feedback heaven.
I pestered my Mom and Dad until they cracked under the strain and bought me an electric guitar and amplifier etc. I didn't realise at the time but my Dad must have spent the best part of ten weeks wages on that first piece of proper kit. It consisted of a Futurama guitar, made in Czechoslovakia (forty two pounds ten shillings and sixpence), a Watkins Dominator amplifier (forty nine pounds nineteen shillings and sixpence) a Watkins Copicat echo unit (not sure of the price) a mic and stand and an Italian suit. Apart from the suit, all purchased from Jones and Crossland, which was the music store in the 1960's. The shop was about twenty yards from Alex's pie stall, which was the pie stall. We were just beginning to see pictures of Hank Marvin with the red Stratocaster that CLIFF had given to him. Plus, suddenly, The Shadows sound was taking shape with the addition of complicated echo effects, so everybody had to have an echo unit. My first setup certainly wasn't the red Strat and Vox amp that we all lusted after, but it did the job.
My first band all plugged into my little blue amp for rehearsals, turned up flat out, it must have sounded like shite, but we all felt so hip. About this time, I went to see The Shadows at Birmingham Town Hall and the biggest surprise was how quiet they were. I was in the fifth row back and I could hear Bruce's pick hitting the strings!
By 1963 (just over two years into my apprenticeship) I broke my parents hearts by swapping my "job with prospects" for a driving job, with Wrensons the Grocer. I had decided that this would allow me to spend more time practising and rehearsing with the band. I had to face it, although I'd been messing around with radio sets since I was five years old and it had been a life long ambition to work in the industry, I was crap at being a TV service engineer. I could do all the practical stuff in my sleep. It was the theory that I just couldn't get. The first year at college I managed to get 51% which was the minimum pass mark. The second year I managed 85% but everyone else was up in the high nineties. The end of term report makes sad reading, the only place I got 100% was in the attendance column.
Mom and Dad were choked when I first left Radio Rentals. They had made a lot of sacrifices to get me an apprenticeship, so a sudden change of tack from a stroppy eighteen-year-old must have been difficult to deal with. (Please note: A normal eighteen year old in 1962 had about the same civil rights as the average eight year old does today). Eventually they warmed to the idea, and they were both totally involved in my so-called career from then on.
Dad was a terrific organiser and great at carrying gear and setting it up long before we knew what a road manager was. Mom was the caterer from heaven. Almost every memory I have of the time includes loads of, mainly, home-made food. Ask my brother Phil about Cal Denning and the Jaffa cakes! Cal was such a dapper dresser and so fussy about his appearance. He spent longer than a woman in the bathroom, but he ate like a camel with a cold.
It wasn't just Mom and Dad who helped though - my brother Phil became our manager. My brother Fred recorded our early efforts on a machine built by a chap named David Fouracre. We set the whole band up in my Mom's lounge and Fred set up the recorder in the kitchen. David Fouracre was part of the team at Streetly Electronics that later developed the Mellotron. I've searched every nook and cranny but can't find any of those old recordings.
My Uncle Frank became a promoter. We did Frank's gig once a week. It was usually in a village hall in Harborne, Birmingham. I met my first grown up girl friend at that gig. Her name was Margy Ellis. She knew the harmony line to every Everly Brothers song ever released. I loved her so much that, for the sake of an extra cuddle, I would regularly miss my last bus home which left me with a six-mile walk. No, really! Then I met my second grown up girl friend. Her name was Susan Green, she was best friend to my cousin Anne. I'd fancied her for six months before I got up the nerve to ask her out. On our first date, we ended up alone in her parents house but I was so nervous that I ran away. That was it for Susan and me.