TOM JONES DAYS – By Ari Niskanen
In 1964 Micky started to play with a Welsh band Tommy Scott and The Senators. He quit his day job when the band headed to London in the June and he was to be a full time musician from then on. When they reached London they changed their name to Tom Jones and Squires. But in the beginning life in London was rough living in a lousy basement flat in Ladbroke Grove, that the bands manager Gordon Mills had got them. Plus they were only given £1 a day each to live on, and most of the time they were starving.
The band didn’t get much money from gigs either, as they played old 1950’s Rock ‘n’ Roll music and it was difficult to get gigs. Micky: “It wasn’t very hip to be Welsh in those days. If you were Irish or Scottish, or best of all from Liverpool, you had a bit of credibility, but Welsh groups were unfashionable. All the other groups we met used to sneer and put us down, ’oh no, anything but bloody Welsh.’ We were definitely not the in thing. Welsh kids were then so naive, and we were more naive than most. We used to support bands like the Rolling Stones and all the other hairy groups and Tom would come out with his hair slicked back in a DA and wearing tight trousers and a frilly shirt. We would be in our little Marks and Spencers shirts that Gordon had got us, so we hardly looked like we came from the same planet. Worse still we had weird and wild looks so we had to have our hair dyed black to match Tom’s.”
Things changed when Gordon Mills and Les Reed wrote a tune called “It’s No Unusual”. Originally Mills wrote that song for Sandie Shaw and he wanted Tom and the Squires to make a demo recording of the song for her. Micky: “Gordon played it for me, he was a good musician, and straight away I smelled some interesting chords. I thought ’Yeah that’s for us. That’s nice, that’s different.’ But Dave Cooper and Vernon, rhythm guitarist and bassist of the Squires, couldn’t get it all. They couldn’t learn it, they were great blokes, but not great musicians. So we went in and recorded it without Dave and without Vernon, with no bass and no rhythm guitar. Tom sang, Chris Slade the drummer played tambourine, and I played lead and dubbed in some rhythm.” “After recording it we all went to the pub and I said loud and clear that I wanted Tom and the Squires to record it.” Finally Gordon agreed to give the song to Tom if Sandie Shaw turned it down. Fortunately Shaw did reject the offering so the song was handed back to Tom.
But Gordon had not failed to register the Squires’ musical limitations. He made Tom go into the Decca studios and record it again without any of the Squires playing. In fact it was Jimmy Page who played guitar on “It’s No Unusual,” which was released in January 1965, before Tom and the Squires started a nationwide tour with Cilla Black and Tommy Roe in February 1965. Tom had no promotion organised for the record, but one or two radio shows played it, and he started to get acknowledged both on air and on the tour. Then as he crept into the charts he got moved up another notch on the tour billing.
In March the song reached the number one spot in UK and Tom and the boys could afford a more comfortable life style. They moved away from their Ladbroke Grove flat in Spring 1965, and Tom bought himself a mansion in Shepperton whilst the Squires were rehoused in a modest, rented, semi-detached house in Hounslow. The Squires can actually be heard, from this time, on a Tom Jones Live EP, which was also released in 1965.
Micky later recalled the days of success: “At first it was great. Most of the times we would just get pissed and knock off birds whenever we could. Even when Tom was number one and we were touring on circuits like the Top Rank, and before we went on, you would find us up in the bar pouring beer down our throats and holding court in our mohair suits.” “We would have eight, nine or ten pints and then go on, so we were real pissheads. It was a bad habit to get into and I had a real problem for a time, as it got out of hand. In a way it was not surprising as we were living in Swinging London at its height and we had more booze and girls than we could handle.” “I remember I was twenty-one and I went to the doctor and he said, ’if you keep drinking at this rate by the time you’re thirty you’ll be twenty stone.’ Even so I was around thirteen stone. But it got worse when we went on tour to Australia, you would buy a round and get a great jug full.” But his whole time with Tom badly affected him as Micky recalls, “I remember Tom decided that because he had black hair all the rest of us had to have black hair. I’m sure that’s why I’ve gone bald, all that dyeing your hair is not good .”
Back when Tom and the boys lived in poverty, everything was shared equally but now only Tom got the big bucks. That really annoyed his band. Micky: “After the number one I would often complain about our treatment but Gordon would always tell me, ’there are plenty more guitarists in Wales, Micky.’” However, after this first hit the Squires got £10 a week and in 1967 they earned £40 a week.
Following “It’s No Unusual” Tom had many other hits like “What’s New Pussycat” and “Green Green Grass Of Home”. Micky: “Once Tom was famous I was made musical director and Tom used to fly me out to places like Bermuda to work on routines with him. But I only got the job because none of the others could read music. Tom found his best-known song, ’Green, Green Grass Of Home’ on a Jerry Lee Lewis album, ’Country Songs For City Folks’, and he gave it to me to write out the chords for the boys. Tom said, ’that’s a great song, I want to do that,’ so I just sat in a hotel in Wigan and wrote out the chords and said, ’there you are, lads, we’re doing that tomorrow night’. When I met Micky in 1990 he told me that he can’t read music, but that it is possible to write out a song without the ability to read.
On one particular Bermuda trip Tom and Micky were supposed to continue to the USA. Micky: “When we got to Bermuda, Tom and I were supposed to be going on to Los Angeles where Tom had some more concerts booked. More than anything in the world it was my ambition to meet Elvis Presley and I kept saying to Tom, ’let’s meet Elvis’ but Tom scoffed. He didn’t think it would be possible. He didn’t think we could get to see Elvis – but I did – and I kept on at him, and telling him that he had had a big hit in the United States. I remember telling him, ’how can you think about just lying on the beach when Elvis is only a few miles away?’ I knew we could fix it.”
“But then Linda, Tom’s wife, said to me quietly one night, she was supposed to be flying back to Heathrow, that she wanted to go with Tom to LA. She asked if I didn’t mind swapping tickets with her and I could go home? Mind! I minded like hell! I was devastated but what could I say, I couldn’t refuse her, as she hadn’t seen much of Tom for months. However, he didn’t seem bothered either way. Anyway, I flew back to Britain and then I remember a week later I was in the house in Hounslow when Tom came in and proudly showed me a picture of him with Elvis. I was green with envy.”
Today Micky feels that “It was fun while it lasted, but even after all that happened with the boys and that, I would never take away his singing ability. He had a remarkable voice and even in the van when we were going to a gig he would be singing Jerry Lee Lewis, Chuck Berry and Salomon Burke in that amazing voice.”
Micky played an Epiphone guitar when he was with Tom, and this is one of the few times that he played a different guitar to his trusty old Telecaster. He bought that guitar from his brother Thomas in the 1960’s. But his Tele is a hard-wearing instrument, and Micky likes that because it will take knocks many times over when he plays gigs on the road, and Micky knows that he can trust his Tele because it won’t break down.
Micky has never been a snob when it comes to equipment and in 1983 when he did a session for Phil Everly and Cliff Richard the lead guitarist was Mark Knopfler. There was Micky with his little Session amp and Telecaster, and on Knopfler’s side of the studio was a full range of guitars, amps and gadgets. Knopfler went over to Micky and said “Is that all you are going to use?”. Micky just looked at him and said “that’s all I f&#?ing need”!
(this is just one chapter from Ari Niskanen’s biography of Micky Gee
hopefully more chapters will follow – Phil Morgan)