SCHOOL DAYS AND AFTER – By Phil Morgan
I went to a school in Rumney Cardiff which was then called Caer Castell and which was and is situated on a council estate on the then eastern outskirts of the city. This was all newly built and most of us had lived elsewhere in the city, usually in old rented accommodation. Now families had their own front door and we lived next to green fields and farmland.
In this school therefore you had a strange mixture. But nevertheless, there was aways this one guy still stuck out from the rest. He never wore school uniform or carried any books, football kit etc.. But he would often be seen carrying an old acoustic guitar, hung on a cord across his back. It was nothing special, but was still unusual as us kids didn’t own any musical instruments.
During break times he would wander off on his own and sit crossed legs out on the playing fields. Then very shortly afterwards others would trek over to see what he was doing. He would be oblivious to those watching, unless they had something to say about the music they had heard on the wireless or television the night before. So, we all wondered how could someone be that focused? The sounds he made weren’t great, anyway not to our ears. This was Michael Gee!
Caer Castell had a music room but the kids didn’t have any instruments. It was a specially built room upstairs at one end, and it was larger than the other classrooms, and had a piano.
The music teacher eventualy, allowed the lucky ones with instrments to take them in at lunchtimes, but we were never given any lessons. Some kids from the the well off end of Rumney known as the village had piano lessons, violin, cello, etc. in the evenings so we would try and jam with those. It never worked. However when Micky started showing up he was able to show us a few things. This was during his last few years at school, and he left in 1959 but by then he already had a band! These were called The Searchers … nothing to do with the Liverpool band of the same name. They played in the youth club a couple of times per week. For some reason I was always intriged by the bass player, Frank Smith,who played a Tuxedo bass guitar, which looked like it was plugged into an old wireless set with the valves exposed, and coupled to a large speaker. The rhythm guitarist had a small Fenton Weil and his nickname was Chuffa, and Les Rockey played the drums. I remember his kit had a huge bass drum from a marching band and recovered in blue sparkle to match the rest of the kit.
Youth Club started after night school at 9.00pm. This was brilliant as the hall was huge and had a full sized stage with all the latest curtains and lighting, and which was often used by drama groups from throughout the city because it was the latest high tech. It also had a good PA which was also used for playing our 45’s.
Micky’s band looked fantastic on this stage, often playing on the stage apron in front of the red curtains. Whilst, at other times, perhaps for school dances, more than one band would play. So that behind the curtains would appear a mystery band. Sometimes The Solid Six played. These guys later changed their name to The Gary Edwards Combo and appeared on Thank Your Lucky Stars with Brian Mathew.
They were a little older than Micky and had minor hits later with ‘If Litz Could Do The Twist’ and ‘Twistful Thinking.’ Gary ‘Duffy’ Cooper, who was Gary Edwards, is Charlotte Church’s Grandfather, and today can be seen in The Robin Hood pub in Canton usually on a sunday evening.
I don’t know if there are any photos of Micky’s first band, but there is a photo of Micky with the Burns Guitar he played in that band that was taken in the front room of his house in Harris Avenue. He could make it talk and there was something very special about the pickups on that guitar.
So in the Searchers Micky played this cherry red Burns, Vibra-Artiste as it was called. It had three Tri – Sonic pickups just like Brian May would use on his guitar in ‘Queen’ many many years later. British made, they were in production 1960 – 62. It was Burns first solid and had a short scale that suited Micky. He wasn’t that bothered even then about the tremolo arm simply because he was able to bend the strings easily to get that effect, and too even greater effect!
He had this guitar at the time of Man of Mystery by The Shadows, and before he even had an echo chamber he could get the sound of this track near perfect. But it was the track on the B side that he went to town on. This was The Stranger. Here on this instrumental he played it in a raw way and totally different to Hank Marvin. His rendition has stayed in my mind all through Micky’s career. Because the style then with The Stranger, and that sound, could still be heard in much of what he did afterwards. The attack and the way he made that tune his own, he repeated over and over in everything he played from then on!
In that known photo Micky can be seen with his Burns and playing through a Selmer Truvoice echo chamber, but this was a borrowed one I seem to remember. Micky actually had the first all valve Watkins Copycat echo chamber. Which was two tone blue and white. I remember this distinctly because our lead guitarist in the Square 4 was so impressed with Micky Gee’s set up when he performed at the youth club, that he went out and bought both the very same Burns and the Watkins echo chamber.
I’ll mention amplifier’s again. This photo also shows Micky’s incredibly thick hair and in the truly rock n roll style of the day. Nobody today would believe he could have had such thick curly hair. He was set and ready and determined to be an ace rockabilly guitarist. He knew what he wanted but the rest of us were in awe and a little mystified by him.
The Searchers were given a room in the school to practice whilst night school was on, where they could rehearse the numbers they would later play in the youth club. This was at the extreme end of the school which was the geography room. The Searchers were getting louder and this was out of earshot. Our band the Square 4 would also practice here in the hour after Micky and he would give us some tips.
Micky now had a Dallas Rangemaster amplifier, as did Chuffa for rhythm guitar. These were red and white with a sloping back panel, and we thought them loud. They were just 15 watts!!! However, they were all valve and Micky was also using an echo chamber with it mainly to increase the volume.
They needed this volume because by now they had a drummer with a full set of blue sparkle drums and they also had an electric bass guitar. Which was the first electric bass we had ever seen. In the years just gone skiffle groups had been the big thing, and often The Alleycats skiffle band had played in the village church hall. No amps then and a tea chest bass!
Another later addition to The Searchers was the vocalist, as Micky Gee didn’t sing in those days, and various singers would step forward to sing a song through the school’s P.A.. No surprises here that the most popular number was Johnny B. Goode and sometimes singers would double up for this. The Chuck Berry LP titled “Chuck Berry” in mono 1962 was the most popular album and Johnny B Goode was on this. Ironically, another lifelong favourite track of Micky’s was here too “BETTY JEAN”. When I walked to school with Micky he would often be singing ‘Up in the morning and off to school’ a line from Chuck Berry’s “SCHOOL DAY” from his album. We would cut across the fields together until the farmer installed an electric fence to stop his cows getting out. Soon though around 1960 this particular field was sold to the council for more housing. These were cast concrete and went up very quickly. Another name from rock n roll was to move in here and that was Lincoln Carr who was later to become Micky’s bass player in Memphis Bend. Only a young lad then.
The places Micky hung out in Rumney were first and foremost The County Cinema followed by the Village Cafe followed by the Chip Shop. Micky would still return to school for the youth club and three other bands had started to play on our patch. The Chevrons, The Graduates, and The Strangers. The Strangers had a talented lead guitarist called Bilgy who was soon be snapped up by the Ronnie Keene Orchestra (Terry Greenslade from the Tequilas and Heartbeats was on bass), who had recently supported Buddy Holly on his UK Tour. Great though these bands were they all had something in common, they resembled Cliff and The Shadows. With matching guitars, suites, etc.. The Strangers had matching Burns guitars and sported Gambler Ties. The other two had similar gimmicks!
Micky and the band had left school by now and Micky had tried painting and decorating with his uncle in Llanrummey. That uncle had given him his first guitar lessons. But Les the drummer was driving a lorry for Brains Brewery and Les was able to get Micky a job as a drivers mate. This introduced Micky to the valleys where he would experience other bands. The Searchers would travel around for bookings even though they only had a small van, an Austin A35. But were in for a shock closer to home. There was often a dance at the Rumney Village Memorial Hall on a Friday night and a band that played there on one occasion would herald a major rethink.
The band who played in the village Memorial Hall one Friday was the Raiders. Probably these dances were to raise money for the drama group or the general hall up keep or something similar. This band was Dave Edmunds band, and they were loud! But there was only three people in the band. Edmunds on lead/vocals and probably Nicky Still on bass and Ken Collier on drums. That was it and nobody else and more cash to be earned shared between three. They looked smart in red jackets and they played all the tunes of the day. Sweet Little Sixteen stood out as this was rock n roll as Micky liked it. Eddie Cochran’s Summertime Blues and Come on Everybody. Other stuff they did was by Joe Brown, Dark Town Strutters Ball and Shine. Johnny Kids Shaking All Over, or Duane Eddy’s Caravan. Not just great vocals but sizzling guitar playing too as demonstated by numbers like Hava Nagila when Edmunds would play his guitar behind his head. The Searchers were floored and Micky knew he needed a great vocalist and fast.
We saw a bit more of Micky at this stage as many of his friends had gone to work in London with the band the Gary Edwards Combo. One of Micky’s best friends Dusty Miller was their lead guitarist, and Dusty had had the first Fender Stratocaster we had ever seen. It was a sunburst one just like Buddy Holly’s. It was just a short walk for Micky to Dusty’s house who lived near the village cafe. I remember Dion was on that juke box at that time with Run Around Sue and I personally always selected that but it was very very popular.
This juke box was a main attraction for Micky and we puzzled how the bass sounded so loud. The large speakers that they had actually over emphasized the bass sound and the fact that they were large hollow structures. We hadn’t known this then, and bass players all over the country were building large speaker cabinet’s to try and get that sound. Bass players might have been the most limited musically but it helped if they had carpentry skills and a little eletrical knowledge.
The Gary Edwards Combo had signed to Oriole, so they weren’t coming back for a while. They consisted of Dusty on lead guitar, Gary on guitar, Mally on electric bass, Mac Todd on drums, and Earl Toots Watson on saxophone. They had been joined in London with Cardiff’s Tony Sheveton, who later had a minor hit with A Million Drums, and who was also signed to Oriole! They appeared on TV’s Thank Your Lucky Stars compered by Brian Mathew, performing If Litz Could Do The Twist. The twist was big at that time! They released at least four 45 singles before splitting up to do other things in the music industry.
We found out they were to be on TV from Mally’s uncle who was an insurance collector and rode a bike to collect the weekly contributions. Its hard to think now how bad communications were back then. There were few homes with a telephone, so Mally’s uncle’s news was vital in keeping in touch. They also played at the 2′I’s Coffee Bar, and The Flamingo.
Another way of keeping in touch with the scene was wth the weekly trip to the music shop. We had Gamblins on City Road, and Hendersons in an arcade in town, where Edmunds had a part time job. Strings were always breaking in those days, so perhaps that helped because you had to make lots of trips, usually on a Saturday. But we also had to make the payments on our instruments. Everything was H.P. in those days. I liked these trips and the basement at Gamlin’s had a double bass I could play on. Bands would have rehearsals down there and eat lunch together at Dyers or the Excel cafe and fish n chip shop’s outside.
At Gamblins you could try out instruments and have a jam with others. As well as a double bass down there, there was new drum kits. You might find out from posters here that Cal Ford was to play our church hall which he did, or Tommy Miller, no relation to Dusty, with his Rebels. They would travel over from Roath or Splott. By the way Cal was a geat country singer, and we thought him american because of his accent. Micky was very friendly with Cal even though this was “country and western”. But country was to offer something crucial for Micky’s style when Dave Timothy, who lived on the top road and also a country singer and friend of Cal, lent Micky an L.P. by Merle Travis.
Micky still didn’t have a rock n roll singer, and one of the singers from The Searchers had joined the merchant navy. That particular singer bought a motorcycle whilst home on leave and that too was a sign of the times. It was a HONDA the first anyone had seen. The motorcycle gang down the cafe all rode British Bikes. It was a Red Honda Dream 250cc just like Elvis had been seen riding in those disappointing movies. Micky had seen all those movies at The County Cinema. It was cheap to get into the flicks as the films had already been shown in town and they often got shown over and over. We would be watching for any clues connected with guitars, chord changes etc.. But one film we all had to see many times over was The Young Ones.
Micky wasn’t that fussy on the Shadows by now, however, his favourite member was Bruce Welch. It was well known that Micky could play all the Shads stuff. You only had to walk to the shops, near where Micky lived. He lived opposite the shops and to the left, so even shoppers could hear him. If he was practicing then there would be a crowd of kids sat on his garden wall. He liked the scene in the cafe from The Young Ones where the Shads played Peace Pipe. Bruce played rhythm on an acoustic guitar, a Gibson. He also liked the cream Telecaster that Bruce had on the cover of the Shadows album.
The Square 4 had a practice once when we were trying to learn The Savage and Micky came along and sat in with us. He must have been bored as we tried to get the chords sorted out. Whilst we were doing this he was picking out other tunes in the corner. He was listening to the TV in the other room, and an advert was playing. It was the Fairy Liquid advert…..”Hands that do dishes can feel soft as your face with mild green Fairy Liquid”…………Micky had picked up the tune on just one listen, and was playing it perfectly. It sounded better than The Savage! Well he had given it the same treatment. We were still working on the chords running down and along the neck from A major. He then turned to us and said “this is how Bruce played the chords in one position”. He respected Bruce’s playing a lot and Micky had already learnt all he could from them.
It was at jams like this that he showed us how he used his electric guitar. With his Dallas amp, which was only 15 watt, he would turn everything up. The tone controls would reduce the volume so they would be turned right up to get max volume. He then controlled his sound from the guitar. He would stick to that method over the years and that gave him his unique sound. He shunned all pedals and effects, always preferring to keep things simple. But he would always keep a sharp eye on the new equipment coming out. He came along once when we had a loan of Joey Escott’s Blue VOX 20 watt amp. Joey had been in The Solid Six and was making a name for himself as a singer guitarist performing Bobby Darin songs like Lazy River and Multiplication and other similar songs of that vogue.
However Micky still needed a singer to rival Edmunds and he had seen an advert for a guitarist wanted for Tommy Scott and The Senators, a valleys band and this attracted him. He had seen Edmunds going from strength to strength often playing at The Kennards Ballroom, which was a short trolly bus ride from the bus depot near Rumney river. Both the Edmunds brothers played here. Dave in the Raiders and Geoff in the Heartbeats. Geoff was the older brother and they had it sewn up between them. They played other ballrooms too including the Victoria Ballroom across the other side of town. Perhaps because the Edmunds brothers had taken part in the Carol Levis talent show at the Gaumount cinema in town most teenagers were aware of their talents and they had a massive following, and were well promoted.
One show Dave Edmunds did that I remember going to was at St Peters Hall in Roath near to Orbit Street where the Edmunds brothers lived. This was a dance in aid of The Youth Clubs of Wales, and teenagers came from all over. The Raiders were at their peak and the sound was better than ever. Ken Collier the drummer had built amplifiers for the band which were huge for their day. Ken was a loud drummer and he was good with electronics. On bass now was Rockhouse who had the not unusual blonde hair. Still only a three piece they were without doubt Cardiff’s top band and probably the best in Wales. It was this three piece sound, I believe, that forced guitarists to develop and build up their style, and this can be seen in both Edmunds and Gee to compensate for not having a rhythm player and other musicians around them.
Micky answered the advert for guitarist for The Senators, auditioned, got the job, and also got that singer and voice he needed. Little did he know that this singer would go on to be world class and become a friend and rival to Elvis the King!