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My heart skipped a beat, and my chest swelled with pride, as Leicester took the world stage with the discovery of King Richard III’s rickety, old skeleton in a council car park bang in the centre of the city, just the other week.
Even though the bones were discovered in a car park, the tragic death is not thought to be the result of a motoring accident. He is believed to have been killed at the Battle of Bosworth Field in 1485, quite some time before the invention of the motor car, which was invented almost exactly four hundred years later by Karl Benz in 1886 (funny that, isn’t it?) Nobody has turned up to claim the bones so far.
I was born just a few miles from Leicester, so took huge pride in the opportunity to bathe in such an historical moment of great glory.
Global recognition at last. No matter the great bard, Will Shakespeare, cast the last Plantagenet king as a murderous, cruel, hunchback with a withered arm. To people with Leicester’s rich blood coursing through their veins, he’s our very own murderous, cruel, hunchback with a withered arm. Every city needs someone to look up to.
My very first visit into the city itself – my first visit to any city in fact – and I knew Leicester had to be the most magnificent metropolis in the world. There again, I was only four-years-old and knew not one other with which to compare it. One of the most magnificent things about it was the flashing neon Bovril sign above Timothy White’s, by the Clock Tower. Alas, no longer flashing. Alack, no longer there. And then, at the age of five, I heard about neighbouring Nottingham and its Robin Hood. That was a bitter blow, knowing Robin Hood and his Merry Men had their own telly series on ITV.
From that moment, I endured an entire boyhood in the shadow of Nottingham, one of the most recognised and luckiest cities in the world. You cannot imagine how it feels to see Leicester getting one over its eternal rival. At last! At last! Gloating day is here. Not to mention Coventry, the naked Lady Godiva and Peeping Tom. I said not to mention them.
Sherwood Foresters can stuff Robin Hood and Little John up their collective tradesman’s entrance. From now on, the world’s historical spotlights are focussed on Leicester. Everybody in the world may think they know how dastardly the Sheriff of Nottingham was, but King Richard III was even dastardlier. He murdered his two, poor, tiny, innocent, little nephews. How much more dastardly can you get than that? And we’ve got his bones. Then there’s the small matter of Robin Hood being killed at Ashby-de-la Zouch. In Leicestershire, I might add. Probably by a Leicester man. But you don’t hear so much about that.
And that’s not all. When it come to someone really big to brag about, we Leicestercians win hand over fist. That Friar Tuck was fairly fat is little more than Nottingham Goose Fair tittle tattle, Leicester’s Daniel Lambert was much, much, much fatter.
At the time of his death in 1809 he weighed 52 stone (330kg). So fat was he that six normal sized men could all fit inside his waistcoat. By the look of the picture, six or seven could probably fit into his underpants. I bet all the Merry Men put together, including Little John and Friar Tuck, never weighed nearly as much. And I bet they would all have died to get into Daniel Lambert’s underpants. Typical Nottingham. Especially Wil O’ Scarlet. As for Friar Tuck, he would’ve got lost in Lambert’s underpants. Not that a Nottingham monk would’ve been given the chance to try. Unsurprisingly, he became a goalkeeper. Not Friar Tuck, Daniel Lambert. I bet not too many balls got by him. Or was that a gaol keeper? Must take another look at Wikipedia.
Anyway, Leicester’s new claim to fame has led to the city fathers anticipating a boom in tourism, so I thought I might take this opportunity to list a few more of the East Midland metropolis’ famous sons. Rather than for their royal connections, I chose them for their contributions to the world of popular music. So visitors have something to show off when engaging the locals in chit-chat.
So Leicester’s not all about sitting round tables in gloomy pubs, during never-ending winters, crunching Walkers’ salt n’ vinegar crisps and swilling back pints of Everard’s Original to make thing seem ‘not ’alf so bad, after all’.
And just to add to all the excitement Robin Pizer, formerly of Leicester bands Legay and Gypsy (scroll down), has just recorded this tribute to the event entitlted King Richard III Song Well, not quite so good as the ones you did with Legay and Gypsy, Robin, and a little opportunist. But I like it. Then again, my article is quite opportunist.
Arguably the first ever boy band in the whole wide world, The Dallas Boys were famous all over the place in the late 1950s. They came from Leicester.
Hardly out of my nappies I clearly remember seeing them on ABC’s pop programme Oh Boy! a couple of times at the very least. To know they came from Leicester allowed me to bathe in their glory wherever I went, even though I hardly ever left the county.
To get a taste of one of their smashing tunes click here.
I mustn’t forget Leicester’s Engelbert Humperdinck. This is a clip of the old crooner singing his cringeworthy Please Release Me back in his heyday. Gives a clue as to why housewives used to throw their panties at him during performances. According to legend, well, according to what my mam said, Engelbert’s mother-in-law used to buy her stockings and tights from our shop in Syston’s High Street called The Stocking Box. Living in a small place like Syston that almost felt like getting a Royal Warrant from the Queen. And talking about Royalty, the day after Princess Alexandra opened Coventry Market on Nove 4th 1958 a photo of my mam and dad’s legs appeared on the front page of the long defunct Daily Sketch. They were sitting on top of dad’s stall by the entrance as Princess Alexandra walked by. Although nobody else knew who those four knees, calves, ankles and feet belonged to, my three sisters and I did. We glowed with ill-concealed pride for days. Another bit of fascinating, hard-to-believe trivia is that Jimi Hendrix once played for Engelbert Humperdink after his lead guitarist failed to turn up.
Then there was Family, Leicester’s contribution to 1960s underground music. Lead guitarist, Charlie Whitney was an old whisky mate of mine. We were at the Blind Faith Hyde Park free concert together on June 7th 1969. More of that another day. I often saw Family play live. Singer, Roger Chapman, had a bit of a hard man image in those days. It was helped by ex-boxer, and club owner, Alex Barrow, who used to turn up at their gigs to play bongos, whenever he felt like it. Alex’s short-lived club, near London Road Station, was called The Roaring Forties. Here’s The Breeze from Family’s groundbreaking, debut album Music in Doll’s House released in July 1968.
Family started off as The Farinas. In 1962 they recorded this demo All you gotta do under the original name. It’s awful. For a short while in the mid 1960s they called themselves The Roaring Sixties. The film Bonnie and Clyde had been released and 1920s fashions became all the rage. The band all wore gangster Zoot suits for a while. My favourite Family gigs occurred at Wednesday night’s Jazz Club at Loughborough University’s Edward Herbert Building. Followed by greasy hamburgers at the Green Onions café on campus.This little clip of Family playing How Many More Years (You Gonna Wreck My Life) at the Speakeasy in London gives a flavour of just how brilliant they were.
Charlie’s girlfriend at the time, Jill Eisner, a fashion design student at Loughborough College of Art, was crowned Rag Queen in the university Union Building in 1967. Along with the honour she got to appear on Top of the Pops. As the BBC link hasn’t been updated since 2006 the face of disgraced Jimmy Savile still appears on the main page. Don’t think I’ll bother to tell them.
Rob Dickens, now Rob Dickens CBE, who went on to become a big noise (the biggest) in Warner Music UK, was also a mate of mine then. He ran the Entertainments Committee at Loughborough University and I got to help him choose bands some times.
Black Widow were another Leicester band I knew well. Or, at least I knew a few of the personnel in the early days before they were widowed. Bass player and vocalist, Geoff Griffiths studied graphic design at Loughborough Art College at the same time I did. One of Geoff’s bands, Arnhem Bloo, featured Jim Gannon on lead guitar and Mickey Suart on drums. Mickey lived just down the road from me in Syston, and used to give me a lift into Leicester each morning in his Anglia van when I worked as a graphic designer at HJB Plastics in Abbey Park Road. We went to the same junior school.
Arnhem Bloo mostly did Cream covers, and did them brilliantly. Geoff once asked me to audition for the band. Losing my nerve, I never turned up. Geoff and Jim were reuinted in Black Widow, which Jim had joined under its previous name of Pesky Gee! after the departures of sax player, Alan Hornsby and guitarist, Chris Dredge. They recorded an excellent cover of Vanilla Fudge’s Where is my Mind. They also did a mean version of Peace of Mind from Family’s album Music in a Doll’s House. The sax opening is pure ska, pity there wasn’t a bit more. Hear Family’s original here: Peace of Mind.
I saw Jim some years later on London’s Hampstead Heath. It was the blistering summer of 1976. Ironically, he told me he had left Black Widow and joined some weird New Born Christian sect type thingamagig, as far as I could make out. Jim also played with Broodly Hoo, another 1960s Leicester band.
It appears Jim left the sect not so long after I saw him. Nothing to do with me. He now seems to live as far away from them as possible in Sydney, Australia. I read that he still gigs and does lots of sessions. It doesn’t surprise me. He’s a fantastically talented guitarist, probably one of the most underrated of the 60s. One of Black Widow’s most popular tracks was Come to the Sabbat. Even though they probably became one of Leicester’s most commercial successes of the 1970s, I never rated that hocus-pocus stuff.
What odd names some Leicester Bands had Broodly Hoo, Pesky Gee! and Arnhem Bloo. If you added the Oodly-Boodly to them – which was the actual name of a Leicester club – you’d have the making of a poem. Not a very good one, admittedly.
Perhaps there was a band that had more commercial success than Black Widow in the 70s, though of a much different type. Dave Bartram was another musician hailing from Syston Parochial Junior School. He went on to become hearthrob lead singer of Rock n’ Roll revivalists, Showaddwaddy. My youngest sister was in the same class. Here’s Dave and the band doing their thing. I only got to be a classmate of his older brother. It’s not the same. David, who was still singing with the band up until 2011, now acts as their manager.
Legay, later to become Gypsy, had that almost undefinable quality that most times makes the crucial difference. In a parallel universe, somewhere, things probably turned out a lot better for them. And I’m probably a successful novelist. In this universe none of us were quite so lucky. Sometimes, there are moments I feel it’s all my fault.
To my mind, they could have been one of the biggst bands in Britain. Looks, style and music, like David Bowie, they had virtually everything. All they lacked was that final, tiny bit of musical polish, and a really good producer.
Guitarist, vocalist, songwriter and founder of the band, Robin Pizer,was in my class at Syston Parochial Juniors. Apart from a small interlude, when I was committed to a school in Leicester, we attended the same schools for most of the rest of our school lives. Though we were never what you could call best of friends we communicated at times. We were probably also at the Infants’ school in Syston’s High Street by Walker’s woodyard together.
Robin once got shamed in front of morning assembly with Billy Walker, who used to sit at the desk in front of mine. They were caught after throwing stones at a lamp outside St Peter and St Paul Church and breaking it. He was Jack the Lad personified. He told me his uncle was teaching him to play guitar when he was about ten. Was I jealous. Robin once dissected a stickleback in front of my eyes with a pen knife under the bridge at Syston brook, when we were nippers. He definitely made an impression, I was horrified.
We were in the same year Longslade Comprehensive School. Most of the rest of Gypsy went there too. The band was called Legay after their first drummer, Legay Rogers. Unfortunately, Legay died young.
For a virtually unknown band outside Leicestershire, Legay had huge female following. Girls loved them. Even their roadies were sexy. Well, at least Ray, Rod Read’s brother was, I don’t know about Mick Reynolds so much. And talking of Mick reminds me of Keep on Trying from Gypsy’s first album.
Well, since writing that and having had Mick Reynolds track me all the way down to my manor down on the Costa de la Luz this year, I suppose I better be a bit nicer to him. I can’t be sure he still doesn’t have that rabid gang of newspaper delivery lads from Goadby’s hiding somwhere. He now owns a gaff got not to so far away from me in Andalucia.
Truth is, Mick, his wife, and I spent a great time by the beach, talking about Legay over a beer. I got the feeling he never really got the credit he deserved for the devotion and inspiration he put into the band. I could see by his eyes how much he loved reflecting on those times. So do I.
Mick was very aware of what might have been their greatest failings, management and production being two of them. The third might have been Robin, his own greatest enemy. I always thought of Robin as being the real powerhouse behind the band. But his flawed genius probably led to him not listening to advice as much as he should. According to Mick, Robin taught nearly all the other band members to play their instruments, that done, maybe he probably should’ve let them get on with it.
From village paperboy hoodlum to executive with houses in both England and Spain, Mick seems to have become quite the diplomat with age. Overall, he might not have been as appreciated by the band as much as he might’ve been, from what I could gather. His career successes since those heady days seem to have proven he had all the qualities of making an excellent manager. All in all, it was good to see the philosophical side of Mick. He shows no bitterness at all. I got the feeling he still wants Legay to achieve some recognition, even after all these years, and is helping Shaun Knapp with his book with that end in mind.
With Another Mick, my best mate, Mick Kouzaris, I saw Legay play their very first gig at the Casino on Leicester’s London Road in 1966. Mick had drummed with Robin a couple of times in the short-lived Route 66 and was keen to see them. That first Legay gig, Robin strummed his guitar so hard the strings broke and he finished with fingers bleeding.
I once asked Family lead guitartist Charlie Whitney what he thought of Legay. He told me he’d offered to manage them but they turned him down. It surprised me, Family were doing vey well at the time with Weaver’s Answer in the charts (fantastic live version) and appearances The Old Grey Whistle Test as well as Top of the Pops. There again, Charlie wasn’t in the management business, as far as I knew. But apparently he was, recent information gleaned from the internet by Rob Townsend, who drummed for Legay at one time, reveals he managed Broodly Hoo.
Legay’s 1968 New Year’s Eve gig at The County Arms in Blaby, will never escape my memory, though it appears some details (like the location, which I’d come to thing was Braunstone) did. Mick Kouzaris, Dave Thurbon, Stuart Milton – I think his name was – and I went to see the band. Along with the legendary singer, Paul Bell, Stuart played with Broodly Hoo, that’s why should remember. Paul Bell was also another whisky mate, who knew Charlie Whitney too.
As midnight approached at The County Arms in ’68, I tried to get a little nearer Julie Bainbridge. Julie was Rod Read’s girlfriend. And, like virtually every, young red-blooded male in Leicester I’d harboured a secret crush on her for ages. I thought we might just, well, just like see each other, and fall into each other’s arms on the stroke of midnight for a New Year’s snog. It didn’t happen. I was trying to recover from the disappointment when Stu, started to take the piss out of a local’s suede, Levi-style jacket. I knew it wasn’t a good idea.
Stu thought the matter settled, when the guy said it was okay, I wasn’t convinced. As we got outside, we heard a shout, only to see what looked like a gang of Teddy boys rolling up their shirt sleeves, literally. When they ran at us I realised the best thing to was to fall down at the first punch and curl up like a hedgehog in the hope the kicking wouldn’t be too bad, or I would die swiftly. It wasn’t and I didn’t. Yet I can still feel the remains of a lump at the back of my head where one boot hit home. Rod, Robin, Dave, John, and the rest of the lads, seemed almost more upset than I was. My view was that you don’t go to places so near the Saffron Estate and laugh at their kit however dopey it looks.
Almost forgot a night at The Latin Quarter. A tiny, cellar club in Belgrave Road it was one of Legay’s early gigs. Before they even went on, they discovered their manager, a Scotsman, if I remember rightly, had run off with the takings never to be seen again. Obviously, he didn’t have the confidence of a Brain Epstein or Andrew Oldham to hang around and wait for a bigger payday.
And while I’m at this Leicester music scene thing, have a look at this Pretty Things video Come See Me bearing in mind drummer, Viv Prince came from Loughborough, Leicestershire. He’s pissed out of his brain in it. The Pretty Things were great. I saw them at London’s Roundhouse in the mid-1970s on a bill that included Reg Presley. I’d never been a fan of the Troggs as such but Reg was a fantastic live performer.
Anyway, a little bit more research, while desperately looking for Legay’s The Fantastic Story of the Steam Driven Banana (well you have to with a title like that) I found the single No-one on Youtube. There´s more than a hint of the Tomorrow Never Knows from the Beatles Revolver about it, and it ain’t tooo bad at all. Love the pounding drums. And here’s something on the band from the Leicester Mercury: It’s the hippy hippy shakes. I would love a link to Steam Driven Banana if anyone has one.
And talking of Daniel Lambert, as I was a whole lot of paragraphs ago, there was Mick Pini, who I’ve been trying to Google for ages. In about 1962, Mick Pini was also sentenced to a couple of years schooling at Mill Hill in London Road, Leicester. Another one of my old schools. At more than 13 stone (almost 83kg), Mick was the fattest boy in class. And in the whole school, most likely. Back in the days when I thought McDonalds was something to do with Old MacDonald Duck, we English were rather thin for lack of hamburger. English hamburgers were actually sold under the brand name ‘Wimpy’, so you can imagine how weak and wizened most of us looked from a very early age. With the nicknames Tiny and Titch, as you can imagine, I was smallest in the class. For some horribly weird, bullying, small boy reason, I used to punch Mick, who was incredibly friendly. It used to make him giggle and laugh to my immense annoyance.
It wasn’t until a decade later, the early 1970s I recognised him in Camden High Street. Maybe it was in a queue outside the Roundhouse. It was probably a Taste gig. We didn’t have much to say one another. Though big, he wasn’t fat anymore. His hair was frizzed out so much it resembled one of those great tumbleweed bushes you see blowing down Main Street in Westerns, after the townfolk have been slaughtered, or the gold at the mine has long run out. He told me he was in a band.
And then I never saw him again until today, when I came across this youtube video of him playing the blues. Excellent! Even if a good deal of that tumbleweed has whitened, or blown off to another town:
And, what can I say? Kasabian, maybe the most famous of Leicester’s rock ’n roll global sucesses ever. I leave you with Man of Simple Pleasures. Is this the best Leicester can do? Is this really what today’s rebels round the world want? Christ alive!
Perhaps I should’ve turned up for that audition with Arnhem Bloo, after all. Geoff, if your still out there, here’s me singing a song called Don’t go out tonight on Spanish telly. It’s a blinder. Mind you, you have to get your head really close to the speakers to hear me properly. What with that woman an’ all, talking over my music all the time, I don’t think the camera crew could hear too well. So what does she know about really good music? I mean, who wants to listen to her gabbling on in Spanish when I’m doing one of my songs? I bet Englebert Humperdinck never had that problem.
To finish up, another famous son of Leicester that nobody’s heard about was Simon De Montfort, 6th Earl of Leicester. Though he wasn’t in a band, or known for robbing very rich people – which everybody would like to do today – he invented parliament. What could be more boring than that?
If you got to the end of that, you might like to read this The Very First Rock Festival in The World. And, despite what you might believe, it was a lot closer to Leicester than it was to San Francisco.
Une fois. Encore.
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