We gave people music they wanted to hear. In return they kept coming back to see us. Promoters wanted to book us. Our diary was never empty. It was a fantastic time.
The band were so professional. Very good at what they did and were great entertainers. We all got along really well, everyone had a great sense of humour and that made it fun.
We also had a fantastic roadie in Colin Hart from South Shields. He was definitely the sixth member of the band. Very efficient and did his job well. So well that after we broke up, he went on to work with Deep Purple and Ritchie Blackmore’s Rainbow.
Through contacts that I made with Toby Twirl and songwriting, when the band broke up we kept in touch. That eventually led to a job offer in London working for a music publisher. I also worked for Radio Luxembourg running their publishing company and produced many records for EMI, Sidewalk, Sonet Records etc. I’ve had over 50 songs recorded.
I worked for RCA and Polydor Records in promotions and worked with many famous artists including Eurythmics, Starship, Bruce Hornsby, Mr. Mister, Lionel Richie, Stevie Wonder, Rick Astley, Five Star, Vanessa Paradis……..the list is long.
How did Toby Twirl get together ? Barrie, Stu and Jim Routledge (original drummer) got together at Rutherford College in 1963. They were joined by Norman Errington on guitar and Graham Bell singer. This band was called Shades of Blue. Graham soon disappeared to London and was replaced by Dave Holland and Norman left, replaced by Nick Thorburn. I joined the band late ‘67 as Richie McConnell was getting married and didn’t want to do all the travelling. The band had three drummers over the time, Jim Routledge, Richie McConnell and myself.
Who were your influences and did you come from musical families ? At the time I would say The Beatles had the most influence on us but anything in the charts that rocked our boat left a mark on us. We sang some pretty good harmonies and did a very good Hollies medley which is on the CD we released last year of old recordings.
I don’t recall any of us coming from what you would call musical families. Barrie was the only one classically trained. My mother played piano and sang in the church choir so there was music in our house on a regular basis. Just not my kind!
I think in the 60s we were typical of many young guys who were bewitched by the music of the day and wanted to play and emulate all the bands that were having hits. Also, worth remembering that there were literally hundreds of clubs around the country that employed bands most nights of the week. I remember that Sunderland alone, at the peak of the working men’s club era, had over 200 clubs that had acts on every night of the week.
Did you have a manager ? Initially we were managed by Mel Unsworth and then signed a management agreement with The Bailey Organisation who owned all The Bailey Clubs. At their peak, they had 26 clubs around the UK!
What venues did you play and what other bands were about then ? Working men’s clubs were the order of the day but occasional club dates like The Cellar Club in South Shields, Club A Gogo in Newcastle and La Cubana in Sunderland. There were the Junco Partners, John Miles Set (The Influence), to be honest, we were working almost every night and never had the chance to see other bands.
Any funny stories from that time…One story that sticks in my mind is we used to play a week’s cabaret at The Casino Club in Stockport. The owner also had a bingo club which was an old cinema with proper stage and lighting. We played there on a Sunday when The Casino Club was closed.
As I was on drums at the back of the stage I couldn’t see too much of what was going on up front. Half way through our act, the entire audience (mainly pensioners) rose to their feet and rushed towards the stage. It certainly wasn’t Beatlemania but were freaked out by the invasion!
We kept playing and giving each other strange looks until Nick leaned forward and started to laugh. At the front of the stage was an old orchestra pit. Through the doors to the pit came caterers with trays of pies, mashed potato and mushy peas. The pensioners were after their free supper which was included in the admission price and they weren’t going to miss it for some group. It certainly brought home the old saying The pies have come.
Can you remember the photo session on the Lawe Top in South Shields ? To be honest, none of us really remember this session. It was a pretty crazy life and there was something going on most days. If not a photo session then a rehearsal or travelling to the next gig. I am in the photo, blonde hair, scarf and stripy blazer. I have no idea where that came from as I didn’t wear scarves. Might have been part of the props the photographer had.
Others in the photo are Holly on a bike, Barrie with a cuddly toy Nick with his guitar and Stu. None of these items other than the guitar are anything to do with us.
Until recently I would not have been able to tell who the photographer was, but thanks to Facebook, his daughter, Julia Northam posted the photos on our page. She informed us that they had been taken by her father, Freddie Mudditt who worked for Fietscher Fotos, who did freelance work for the Bailey Organisation. She reckoned we were appearing at The Latino, South Shields in October 1968 and that is when he was asked to do the shoot.
How did the record deal come about ? Before I joined the band, Barrie sent a demo of their song Utopia Daydream to Wayne Bickerton at Decca Records. He liked the track, saw the band and signed them. This track ended up as the B side of our third single for Decca, Movin’ In.
The band had three singles out on Decca. The only release we actually played on as musicians, was the second single Toffee Apple Sunday / Romeo & Juliet 68. The other tracks were played by session musicians and we just added the vocals. All tracks were recorded at Decca Studios in West Hampstead, London.
Interestingly, the single that garners the most attention is the second single Romeo & Juliet 68. It’s regarded as a psychedelic classic. If you manage to find one, they sell on Ebay and other sites for between £850-£1000. It cost the grand sum of 6/8d when it was first released.
Why did the band fold ? A variety of reasons led to the break up. Frustration that our records never got any decent airplay yet we were filling clubs every night and going down a storm. As there were five of us and a roadie, a van to maintain and living costs, solo acts supporting us were getting over twice what we were earning individually, yet we were top of the bill and packing them in!
We knew without a chart record we couldn’t raise our fees significantly to make a difference. The final blow was when Stu was drowned off the North East coast in Tynemouth in a canoeing accident. That knocked the stuffing out of us. We tried to carry on but realised it just wasn’t working. Our last gig was in Hartlepool late 1970.
What has music given you ? Music has always been very special to me. I guess it got me out of the mundane jobs I could have ended up doing. I was following a dream that became a reality.
I am grateful to music as it has given me a whole life doing what I love and not many people have that opportunity.
Contact Toby Twirl on their Facebook page.
Interview by Gary Alikivi February 2019.