60s Today contributor Ian Mole recalls the experience of seeing the Tremeloes live in 1969.
In late 1969, I was a self-conscious 15-year-old and was well into very hip bands like the Doors and Captain Beefheart, but I ended up going to see a show featuring the Tremeloes, who were a very poppy group. I wouldn’t have paid to see the show, but my mother worked at the Empire Theatre in my hometown of Sunderland and she’d often get free tickets for undersold events. In those days, all manner of acts would end up together on the same bill, and that night we also saw Desmond Dekker and the Aces, as well as Barclay James Harvest.
I may have imagined this, but I think the first act that night was a British group called Gypsy, about whom I can remember almost nothing. I wasn’t acquainted with Barclay James Harvest but I enjoyed them as they had an unusual sound, a large part of which was, I believe, a mellotron. It produced a very spacey sound that I’d never heard before. They were just starting to break through then but would later become a very successful alternative band. They’re still going today but in two different formats.
Desmond Dekker had come to prominence in the UK in the spring of 1969 with his number one hit ‘The Israelites’, which I’m pretty sure was the first ever ska number one in the UK. He’d also had a substantial hit in 1967 with ‘007 (Shanty Town)’. That night he performed ‘The Israelites’, of course, as well as the follow-up hit ‘It Mek’. Most of my mates and I had found the words to ‘The Israelites’ hard to fathom – people were wondering what ‘bretsa’ was -, but ‘It Mek’ was totally baffling. I really liked both songs though. Desmond had a strange look on his face when he sang as he kept twisting his mouth sideways all the time. One of the Aces was a very tall guy with a deep voice and he supplied the “Ai-it Mek” backing vocals, amongst others. Desmond kept on making records, without much commercial success in the UK ,until his death in 2006. A version of the Aces continues to do tribute concerts.
In January 1962, Decca Records decided to give a record contract to Brian Poole and the Tremeloes rather than some unknown band from Liverpool… What was their name again? Oh yeah, the Beatles.
The Trems, as they were called, had a number of hits, although they were never in the major league. After Brian had left to try a solo career and eventually become a butcher, they enjoyed much greater success from late 1966 onwards. They were always on Top of the Pops and came across as a bit of a cheeky, good-time group. I remember seeing them performing on one show and after singing the line “Even the bad times are good”, one of them followed it with: “Ave a banana!” On another show, Dee Time, they backed up Sammy Davis Junior on what at the time seemed like an impromptu version of ‘This Guy’s in Love with You’. I rather liked some of their songs such as the Cat Stevens composition ‘Here Comes My Baby’ and ‘Silence is Golden’, which was an old Four Seasons song, while ‘Helule Helule’ had been transformed into a popular chant at Roker Park as we accused the opposition’s fans of being “Hooly Hooly Hooligans!”
I also liked their most recent hit at the time of the concert, ‘(Call Me) Number One’, which was written by band members Alan Blakley, who was one of the twin lead guitarists with Rik Westwood, and Len Hawkes, who played bass and was the father of 90s star Chesney. I always thought Rik Westwood looked like actor Alfie Bass. ‘(Call Me) Number One’ was a rather freaky song, unlike their other hits, which were often versions of hits by other artists. The only thing that I didn’t like about it was that the lead vocal was by drummer Dave Munden. I don’t know why, but back then I always thought it was a bit daft that drummers sang lead.
They were good musicians and I rather enjoyed their set, which was basically a run through of their numerous hits plus one or two covers; ‘Games People Play’ by Joe south rings a vague bell. They were heckled by a guy in the audience who kept wolf-whistling at them, but they took it very much in their stride, saying: “Oh, there goes that canary again!”
Alan Blakely passed away in 1996. Chip Hawkes and Dave Munden are still working today, though in different bands.
Ian Mole is a teacher of English to overseas students and a walking tour guide in London, specializing in music-related tours.