Wednesday, 17 November 2010

EXTRACT: Jive, Twist and Stomp

Johnny and the Strangers, 1963–65

Bill Elks vocals 1963; John Mills rhythm guitar; Graham Nicol lead guitar; John Hendrix bass 1963; Murray Thomas drums 1963; Johnny Young vocals; Maurie Pearson drums 1963–64; Warrick Findlay drums 1964–65; John (Scotty) Gray bass 1964; Don Prior bass 1964–65; John Eddy rhythm guitar 1965; Tony Summers lead guitar 1965

The first midnight stomp!

By Graham Nicol

Before Johnny Young there was Bill Elks on vocals. Bill lived down the road from me in Angelo Street, South Perth and became the first singer with the newly renamed Strangers, formed from the Valiants, aka Thin Men — John Mills, John Hendrix, Graham Nicol and Murray Thomas. Bill was probably an unlikely pop star, but had plenty of energy and a touch of theatricality; at an early Battle of the Bands (it really was a sort of sport back then) Bill brought an old violin that he’d picked up at a hock shop onto the stage, launched into a maudlin rendition of ‘Old Shep’ before smashing the thing on the front of the stage and powering into ‘Hound Dog’! Naturally we won first prize!

Bill had a Renault 750 in which he almost went places. One day we almost got as far as the Gaiety Theatre halfway down Angelo Street before it expired (again). His next car was an enormous pre-war Chev that could have carried the Renault in the boot! And it was in the Chev that we explored the possibility of performing at the Trocadero in Rockingham.

Rockingham was sleepy hollow back in the 60s, home to retirees, fisher folk and holiday shacks. Why Bill thought that Rockingham would welcome a rock & roll dance, at midnight no less, was a mystery then and now. But we went to it, printing posters and sticking them up all over Fremantle’s lamp posts and running an ad in the papers. Ross O’Reilly was to man the door, protected by a Dutchman of Bill’s acquaintance who had a black belt in Judo or something — macramé? We’d hired a caravan to kip in after the show, just down the road from the hall.

At ten o’clock that night we were standing outside the hall confronting disaster. There was no sign of patrons and the local chapter of the Royal Order of the Buffaloes was holding a meeting within the hall. When we politely enquired as to when they would vacate to allow us to set up our gear, we were told that it would be when they were good and ready. We could see their hats with the horns stuck on parading back and forth through the windows. At eleven thirty they were still parading, but by then there was a long stream of headlights back along the road to Fremantle, our audience! Soon there was a crowd of bodgies and widgies (real and wannabe) standing on the footpath. ‘When are you gonna start playin’?’ asked one sideboarded duffle jacket who obviously got his way often. We explained the situation re the apparent importance of the rituals being performed by the horned hats inside. Promptly, he and his mates burst into the hall and carried the entire local chapter out onto the pavement, hats, apparatus and all! We quickly set up and the joint was packed and rockin’. The more enterprising patrons were coming in through the windows, to be caught by the Dutchman and thrown back out again (some two or three times)! They were thick on the floor and perched on anything horizontal, including the hall piano which had seen better days and which was getting its remaining life kicked out of it in time to the music.

In the wee hours after the show, we sat in the caravan counting the pile of coins, we made over £17 each! We were on our way to stardom!

Jive, Twist and Stomp (December 2010) is available from Fremantle Press.

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