The Music of Portsmouth in 1963

Every Saturday, Clarence Pier Ballroom featured Arthur Ward's Resident Orchestra and there was also the 'exotic' resident Club Cabana Latin American Orchestra, which was also led by Arthur. There was also a guest 'beat' group starting in 1963 with Nick Troy and the Trojans then Salisbury's Dave Dee & the Bostons. There was late transport with an 11.45 pm finish and an entry charge of 5/- (25p). One of the best British rock & roll acts Johnny Kidd & the Pirates appeared there in what seems to have been a 'one-off' event. Clarence Pier in January 1963 would have been a chilly experience because the winter was the longest and coldest for years.
The Savoy and Kimbells offered dance bands on Saturdays and there was "Old Time Dancing" on Fridays at the Co-op Hall in Albert Road. The Savoy also featured British pop stars like Eden Kane, Marty Wilde, Kenny Lynch, Peter Jay & the Jaywalkers, the King Brothers, the Spotnicks, Mike Berry and the Brook Brothers supported by local groups like the Vigilantes, the Dynamos, the Rivals or the Fleetwoods. Occasionally they booked future chart acts like Duke D'Mond and the Barron Knights or Freddie & the Dreamers and nurtured the next generation with its Saturday morning sessions. Liverpool beat group Gerry & the Pacemakers entertained these juniors before appearing again that evening and the following night. Ricky's Club still offered modern jazz, usually pianist Bill Cole with soloists like Danny Moss or Bill Le Sage but they also presented Dave Dee & the Bostons, Pete Stroller and the Drifters, Mike Devon & the Diplomats, the Argonauts and Anthony Hurley & Fay Saxton. Hillside Youth Club featured acts from out of town including Kevin Scott & the Kinsmen and Dave Dee & the Bostons. The Star Club, above Burton's in Commercial Road featured local beat groups most weekends including the Sabers, the Teenbeats and the Talismen.
Bigger name pop and jazz acts appeared in concert at the Guildhall with all seats under 10/-. Ella Fitzgerald and Oscar Peterson were there on 14 March and other spring visitors from the USA included pop acts Johnny & the Hurricanes, Brian Hyland, Little Eva, Brenda Lee, Chris Montez and Tommy Roe - the latter two, part of one of the most important pop package tours ever to visit the city. Among the British stars booked were Joe Brown, Shirley Bassey, the Tornadoes, while DJ Jimmy Saville hosted a selection of 'impressionists' known as "Juke Box Doubles" well before the emergence of tribute bands. Cliff Richard was also due but was too popular to allow telephone bookings and the newspaper reported queues outside the Box Office with two teenage girls, "skipping school", arriving at 2.30am to be first for tickets. Most fans were young women but the reporter found four young men who, when asked "what is the attraction?" replied "the Shadows". The girls told reporter Kay Stanhope that "everyone screams. It's only natural". Subsequently, the letters page ran complaints that front row seats had not been available to those who queued through the night.
On Thursday 17 January 1963, the Evening News launched a "new and controversial series covering all fields of jazz". "Off Beat" began with features on Duke Ellington ("a dream of what a big band should be"), Brubeck's saxophonist Paul Desmond and the suggestion that "skiffle is back - but in disguise". This concerned the rise of folk clubs in Portsmouth - in particular "a shy but purist brother (whose) name is American folk". The column offered a detailed look at the local folk scene, reporting that two clubs in the Fratton area offered, "an amazingly wide range of the styles grouped under this general heading" of folk although neither club had any skiffle players - apparently a thing of the past. They did identify folk ballads, blues and "many hybrids" with the Broadside (Monday nights) presenting British, southern Irish and Appalachian songs as well as those from the southern states of America, sea shanties, modern nonsense songs and melodic tunes with a chorus for the whole audience to join in. The Broadside published a newsletter and welcomed local 'floor' singers and occasional guests - in the previous week Colin Wilkie & Shirley Hart. The other club, Folkways, was described as having some evidence of the "normal jazz club" atmosphere. The authors listed guests including bluesman Long John Baldry, Alex Campbell and (again) Colin Wilkie & Shirley Hart. Folkways, in a larger venue, attracted a bigger audience than the Broadside, but the Jazzmen complained about a noisier environment - "especially talkative young women" and wished the two clubs might combine the best features of each.
The Jazzmen often used their column to assert the superiority of jazz and sometimes folk, over other popular music. The jazz they favoured was certainly not British 'trad' although it might be the more 'authentic' revivalist approach of someone like Ken Colyer. They refuted accusations of a "strong leaning towards modern jazz" and regretted that jazz is too often "torn by internal controversy and dispute". In March, they suggested the 'trad' boom died "some months since", disapproving of its "brash" sounds and ensnarement by the "net of commercialism". One correspondent suggested Ray Charles was "at his best only when singing sentimental numbers" and was sure that Charles had fooled the "beatniks". The Jazzmen regretted that the great jazz performers were now ageing but again criticised the work of younger experimental jazz musicians like Archie Shepp, Sonny Rollins and Eric Dolphy. During the year they praised blues singers like Bessie Smith, Muddy Waters and Lonnie Johnson, although they were less enthusiastic about the new British rhythm & blues acts. The folk scene was growing and the Jazzmen warned that like the "nasty taste" of the 'trad' boom, so Tin Pan Alley was now "catching on" to folk. They suggested folk singers "have, of necessity, to stay pure" because "folk on an electric guitar is just not folk" and were even concerned about the rise in club memberships since that suggested commercialism. However in June they approved of a Guildhall performance by Ewan McColl and his wife, American Peggy Seeger, leading figures of the traditional British folk movement. McColl "delighted the audience with his pure brand of singing", despite some unfamiliar songs, they encouraged their audience to join in the singing and expected "complete concentration and participation". Nonetheless, there was humour and some children's songs.
In early 1963, the Rendezvous met every Saturday on the South Parade Pier or occasionally, the Dockyard Club in Onslow Road, often featuring a London band like the Riverside Jazzmen, the Back O'Town Syncopators, the Bourbon Street Six or Rodney Foster's Jazzmen. On Sundays Kimbells launched a new club with the Downtown Syncopators and the Crescent City Jazzband. The final Top Ten 'trad' hit Kenny Ball's "Sukiyaki" enjoyed a few cold weeks in the charts in early 1963 but New Orleans-style jazz still had a reasonable following live, including local pubs with the Crescent City Jazz Band at Milton's Oyster House, the Solent City Jazzmen at the Pure Drop in Middle Street and the Stane Street Jazzmen at the Railway.
In Copnor, teenage rock & roll caused a controversy with the presentation of a modern nativity at St Alban's Church featuring unexpected pregnancy, a coffee bar, motorbikes and "beat music". The Evening News ran a feature "Rocking in the Nave" about this "explosively controversial religious drama", revealing that the girl star had been banned from appearing by her father. The controversy continued with a letter complaining that churches are not right for "rock, skiffle and plays". The Evening News attended the performance and under the headline "Coffee Bar Nativity Play in Church Wins Approval", the verdict was that in the "packed" church, "not a voice of protest was raised".
Spinner's first February column published the local singles Top Ten with the top three all British instrumentals - by Jet Harris & Tony Meehan, the Shadows and the Tornados - but the main feature predicted a bright future for a group who offered a "challenge" to the established acts. Spinner praised their "harsh exciting sound" their "good, rough singing voices" and their "simple, compelling guitar work", which gave them a "definite edge" over their rivals. The group who had just released their second single "Please, Please Me" were the Beatles.
March 1963 opened with a "Dancer's Rendezvous" at the Savoy featured Benny Freedman & his Orchestra and the John Barry Seven starred at the same venue, followed by Peppi & the New York Twisters. Shirley Bassey and Matt Monro visited the Guildhall with the Evening News describing Bassey as "one of the world's most controversial and dynamic singers". On Friday 29 March, as the icy weather eased, the Evening News carried a few column inches under the heading "Swinging Evening". It told of American rock singers Chris Montez and Tommy Roe playing two shows the next night at the Guildhall along with "Britain's newest and most exciting group, the Beatles".
The Beatles played in the city for the first time on the night that the clocks changed for British Summer Time. There were two shows and while they were promoted to top the bill on some gigs on the tour, here they closed the first half with the Americans playing after the break. On Monday the newspaper carried a report of the gig headed "Britain Wins Pop Tussle at Guildhall". It reported the evening as an "opportunity to judge the state of pop singing on both sides of the Atlantic". The verdict was that the two Americans were "overshadowed" by the Beatles and even by the comic impersonations of the Viscounts. Chris Montez, a "wild, energetic rock & roller looked far from happy" although Tommy Roe was "more polished". Spinner suggested Liverpool was now "Britain's second music capital". Chris Montez remained in Portsmouth and appeared at the Savoy on that Monday and Spinner was more positive about this performance, suggesting that in the ballroom his "direct attacking singing met with approval" because "the dancers like hard and beaty music".
On Saturday 6 April, Arthur Ward's Orchestra and Club Cabana were as usual at Clarence Pier with pop act Vicki Page & the Midnighters as Gerry & the Pacemakers enjoyed the first of three consecutive number ones with "How Do You Do It?" For the next 14 weeks, they shared the top spot with fellow Liverpudlians the Beatles and Billy J Kramer - 'Merseybeat' had arrived. Shortly after the Beatles' Portsmouth debut, the Evening News previewed the weekend's city shows. At the foot of the page was a small piece "Trad band at Savoy", informing readers that the Clyde Valley Stompers were playing that evening, with a Saturday morning "Teenbeat" session. It also mentioned briefly "on Sunday the Beatles would make their first appearance at the Savoy, supported by Mike Devon & the Diplomats". The evening ran from 7.30-11.45pm and entry was 5/-. This coverage could hardly be more low-key.
The story of the Beatles' second Portsmouth appearance has been told before, not least by Keith Francis. He recalled that Ringo had a drum problem and borrowed the Diplomats' kit - not quite as simple as it might sound since the Savoy had two stages and for the Beatles set they had to carry the kit across the ballroom, set up and then take it back for drummer Terry Wiseman to play the final set of the evening. Keith told of a couple of local 'groupies' who entertained the stars, of Paul having a broken tuning peg on his famous Hofner bass guitar and of the large crowd that broke the official limit of 2,000. He revealed that George Turner, recognising the Beatle's promise some months before, paid a fee of just £50! The Beatles got an excellent reception and their "haircuts and black roll-neck sweaters gave them a completely different look from what was usual in young men at the time".
Colin Wilkinson, bass guitarist with the Diplomats has interesting memories of that gig in terms of the way groups were developing. He had started in the 1950s as a rock & roller with the Rhythmic Five and the Hot Rods. The Diplomats began as a purely instrumental four-piece with a large repertoire drawn entirely from the Ventures, Shadows and Spotnicks but with the influence of Cliff Richard, they recruited singer Mike (Beacon) Devon and began playing the fairly melodic pop songs of the early 1960s. By March 1963 the Diplomats had begun to cover some Beatles' songs from the first LP but Colin was surprised initially by their live performance which opened with "Kansas City" and included an unanticipated number of rock & roll songs which he felt were rather old hat. On the other hand, their rhythm & blues/Motown covers of the Marvellettes, Isley Brothers, Arthur Alexander and others offered a new approach for local groups.
So the Beatles appeared in Portsmouth twice in less than a fortnight in the spring of 1963. A couple of weeks later, Bob Dylan played his first major solo concert at New York's Town Hall and on the first day of May, Andrew Loog Oldham and Eric Easton signed the Rolling Stones to a management contract which led a couple of weeks later to a recording deal. A new generation of fans were following new sounds but this did not mean the immediate demise of older styles and there was a considerable variety of entertainment in Portsmouth. On Easter Saturday the Guildhall offered the Max Bygraves Show with Scottish folk singers Robin Hall & Jimmy McGregor and guitarist Bert Weedon. Jet Harris & Tony Meehan starred there too in a British pop show with John Leyton, Mike Sarne, Mike Berry and Billie Davis, followed by Billy Fury, the Tornadoes, and Mike Preston and then the 'cool' modern jazz of Gerry Mulligan/Bob Brookmeyer - but with poor ticket sales. Brian Poole & the Tremeloes were at Kimbells on Easter Sunday supported by Johnny Devlin & the Detours. On Friday 10 May, Americans Del Shannon and Johnny Tillotson played the Guildhall with the Springfields - including Dusty.
In early summer, the Rendezvous moved to the Railway Hotel in Fratton presenting the Keith Smith Climax Band and Alexander's Jazzmen among others. Around the city, a big band mix of professional and semi-professional musicians known as Portsmouth Jazz Workshop played the music of Kenton, Dankworth, Miller and others. They included Brian Wilson (tenor sax), Derek Wade (drums) and Tony Bliss (trumpet). The Portsmouth Club in Hampshire Terrace featured the Cellar Playboys, Pete Stroller & the Drifters and Chris Ryder & the Southern Sounds. The Star in Commercial Road continued to present local groups like the Storms or the Teenbeats and in June celebrated its first birthday with Dutch guitarist Wout Steenhuis, plus the Rivals.
One of the new rhythm & blues groups, the Blues Brothers were appearing at a residency at the Railway Hotel, every Thursday. In July, the Jazzmen were uncomplimentary but predicted "big things". They described the band playing "the loudest and most blatantly commercial" rhythm & blues which offered only the "vaguest relations with jazz". They were critical of the "fairly moronic and unimaginative" organist Manfred Mann although they felt the harmonica playing of Portsmouth-born PP Jones (Paul Pond) had "brief intervals" of the blues. They knew no way "to judge material such as Chuck Berry's 'Sweet Little Sixteen'" but a few weeks later Spinner offered a defence of the group, predicting success in the pop market. He suggested their first single "Why Should We Not?" under their new name Manfred Mann was "exciting and original". Singer PP Jones had become Paul Jones.
Johnny Dankworth, Gerry & the Pacemakers and Tommy Bruce & the Bruisers returned to the Savoy plus the Hollies, just ahead of their first hit "Searchin'". The Savoy summer season offered organist Brenda Bartini in the Festival Bar, humorist Glen Arthur (piano) in the Crystal Lounge and the 10-piece Benny Freedman Orchestra in the Ballroom Bar. The South Parade Pier's first summer season of 1963 starred Frankie Howerd with pianist Mrs Mills and vocalist Al Saxon. Then came Arthur Askey with Mike & Bernie Winters and later David Whitfield, comedians Jewel & Warriss, Bert Weedon, Billy Cotton, Kenny Ball and Dick Emery. After the 'pop' excitements in spring, the summer was quieter. The Classics played Thorngate, the Vigilantes the Star Club and the Teenbeats supported hit singer Billie Davis at the Savoy, which the following weekend presented the Dutch Swing College Band and American singer Johnny "Mr Bassman" Cymbal. Jazzman Ken Colyer played the Savoy in mid-June on the same weekend as the Bachelors and Ketty Lester.
July 1963 opened with Kenny Ball and Eurovision singer Vince Hill in the city, the Crescent City Jazzmen were at the Oyster House and Liverpool beat group the Big Three were with the Strollers at the Savoy. There too were British jazzmen Johnny Dankworth and Chris Barber and beat groups Russ Sainty & the Nu Notes and Shane Fenton & the Fentones. Among the local support acts were Pete Stroller & the Drifters, the Rivals and from the Isle of Wight, the Shamrocks. The Blues Brothers continued to appear at various venues every Thursday promoted by Southampton's Concorde Club, including the Railway Hotel, Fratton and the two Kimbells in Commercial Road and Southsea where on special nights, "Ladies" were admitted for 2/6d (12.5p) before 8.30pm. Screaming Lord Sutch arrived late at Southsea's Co-op Hall - covered by Ritchie Peters and the For-Tunes. August Bank Holiday saw the Vigilantes and the Midnighters at the Star, and Chris Ryder & the Southern Sounds in Hampshire Terrace. The Guildhall concentrated on light classical music with the British Concert Orchestra. There were some jazz acts playing fairly regularly, notably the San Jacinto Band but the Jazzmen identified more evidence of the dying 'trad' scene with the decline in sales of instruments like trumpets and clarinets.
In August, ITV launched a new weekly pop show Ready Steady Go with the slogan "the weekend starts here" - sadly Southern TV broadcast it on Sunday afternoons. It would become the media focus of the new mod subculture although their deadly rivals the rockers were first to cinematic representation with The Wild One and a recent British film The Leather Boys. The mod movement emerged in London and southeast England, and while the Beatles and other Mersey groups continued to enjoy pop success, in the capital a number of new groups with roots in blues and jazz were beginning to compete. The pioneers were Alexis Korner's Blues Incorporated and they and others followed the Blues Brothers as regular visitors to Portsmouth clubs. The Rolling Stones were the first to enjoy broader popular success with their debut single, the Chuck Berry cover "Come On". Spinner suggested it might be "the south's answer" to Merseybeat and in early August, it entered the NME charts. A week later, Spinner reviewed the new Beatles single "She Loves You" suggesting that the group had "changed the face of British popular music". On Saturday 24 August 1963, a newspaper headline revealed "Girl (14) took drugs, drank beer in bar at Southsea". The drugs included Benzedrine and reefers and it was one of the earliest reported prosecutions of this kind in the city. There would be more in the next few years.
As autumn approached, "She Loves You" topped the British Hit Parade, and the summer shows at South Parade Pier and King's Theatre came to an end. Magician David Nixon starred at the King's Theatre where one of the supporting acts was vocal group the Freemen. They were Brian and Stuart Mugridge and Alf Grainger, London-based but all originally from Copnor, Portsmouth. Constance Snook of Chiswick was 'crowned' Miss Southsea and the Leslie Collin Band Show were entertaining on the Pier. Despite the beat boom there were still a number of venues advertising old time dancing including Southsea's Co-Op Hall, the Crystal Palace Hotel on Fratton Bridge, the RMA Club Eastney, Unity Hall and the Rock Gardens. 'Trad' might be in decline but Acker Bilk was back at the Savoy.
In early September 1963, the Folkways Club featured Scottish singer Rory McEwan plus two American performers connected to rising star Bob Dylan - Ramblin' Jack Elliott, like Dylan, influenced by Woody Guthrie, and Carolyn Hester, a participant in New York's Greenwich Village scene. The Evening News reported that Ramblin' Jack showed himself a "master of the folk idiom" but the "show was stolen by Hester". In October, the Jazzmen warned again that the commercial pop world was moving into folk with "atrocious" results. They related how the new interest in American folk had grown partly from skiffle and suggested a "revival" in "hard to swallow" English folk. One particular local success was the Ballad & Blues Club. While the local folk scene grew in the 1960s, it was never 'purist' or obsessed with traditional English music. By contrast, the Jazzmen reported that Portsmouth was now "off the jazz map" with acts often playing elsewhere. A particular problem at the Guildhall was that first houses began too early to sell well. In the clubs, the Keith Smith Climax Band appeared at the Railway but the weekly Rendezvous jazz gigs had ceased for the time being. By the end of October the Jazzmen repeated their view that jazz in Portsmouth had been "eclipsed by folk" and reported the success of one of a number of city visits by Alex Campbell as well as the "old time country style" of Malcolm Price Trio. Highbury College students did their bit to keep jazz alive opening a new club featuring traditional acts like Solent City, Back 'O' Town and Bourbon Street Six.
In late September, the Evening News ran a photo of Billy J Kramer for his impending visit supported by the Fourmost, Dennisons and Tommy Quickly and identified the Guildhall show as "Portsmouth's First Taste of the Liverpool Sound" - despite the Beatles, Gerry & the Pacemakers and Big Three already appearing in the city. The newly named Manfred Mann continued to appear every Thursday at Kimbells, and on Friday 20 September, the Rolling Stones appeared at the Savoy with the Vigilantes for 5/-. There was little publicity although the Evening News reported that the group were "currently riding high in the hit parade". Nonetheless, this was one of the first live appearances at a Portsmouth venue by one of London's new wave of rhythm & blues groups. Over the next three years, British rhythm & blues would dominate the local live scene in Portsmouth and have a strong influence on local groups. The impact of performers like the Rolling Stones, the Yardbirds and the Animals challenged the more melodic beat groups - especially at live venues. The Guildhall presented Gerry & the Pacemakers and Cilla Black plus Del Shannon and the Tony Meehan Group - minus Jet Harris.
The Shamrocks, Vigilantes and Strangers provided autumn entertainment at venues like the Savoy, Co-op Hall and Oddfellows Hall. Recording groups Brian Poole & the Tremeloes, the Swinging Blue Jeans, Peter Jay & the Jaywalkers and Cliff Bennett & the Rebel Rousers were at the Savoy, which also welcomed Tommy Roe's return to the city. American Johnny Burnette and the Spotnicks were at the Savoy in early November and Alex Campbell returned to Portsmouth's folk scene.
The Beatles were due at the Guildhall again and when tickets went on sale, some fans complained about the distribution. On Friday 8 November the newspaper announced "B-for-Beatle day minus three" and informed readers that 12/6d tickets were now two guineas on the black market. On Tuesday 12 November, the day of the Beatles' third appearance in Portsmouth, the newspaper produced a four-page supplement titled "Those Fabulous Beatles". During the day the newspaper picked up a rumour that Paul McCartney was unwell but John Lennon told them that "the show must go on". By early evening around 2,000 young people gathered in the Guildhall Square but the Beatles were in hiding at the Royal Beach Hotel and the concert was cancelled. "Disappointed teenagers filled the coffee bars" in the Guildhall Square and Kay Stanhope reported that girls were "weeping". A spokesman hoped they could rearrange the booking.
Delmonico's Coffee Bar in Osborne Road opened a 'Cavern' Club on Sunday evenings. The Fenman were on South Parade Pier and jazz guitarist Diz Disley joined Derek Sergeant for a local folk gig. Just weeks after optimistic messages about the folk scene, the Jazzmen reported that while folk music was "booming" across the country, in Portsmouth "a gittar-picker (sic) finds it hard to earn his bread" and audiences were "dwindling". Colin Wilkie and Shirley Hart had played what was expected to be the last night of the original Broadside Club.
On 20 November 1963 the Guildhall presented Billy Fury, Joe Brown, the Tornadoes, and Marty Wilde and four days later, American Gene Pitney. The Beatles appearance was re-scheduled for Tuesday 3 December although there was a new scare when their car broke down on the A3 but they arrived, performed to a "fantastic, screaming welcome" after which "screaming girls mob Beatles' car". They had tried to make their escape after the second show while the audience called for an encore and the management played the record of "She Loves You". The performance included "I Want to Hold Your Hand" and "Money" and fans ignored requests by the MC not to throw jelly babies - reputedly the group's favourite sweets. By Saturday two Beatles fans were writing to complain about the "jungle-like cries and screams of this hysterical mob" that drowned the music. Spinner interviewed the group and George refuted the idea that their life was "a strain". One member of a supporting group was frustrated that the fans showed no interest in the other acts, suggesting they were too young to be "discriminating". Local fashion students Vicki Mitchell (16, Paulsgrove) and Bernice Goodall (18, Hilsea) responded to an invitation from Paul McCartney to design new clothes for the 'fab four', managed to meet the group, showed them their designs and watched the boys eating fish & chips.
In that first week of December 1963, Hughie Green rehearsed for Cinderella at the King's Theatre, BBC's Come Dancing was at the Savoy, and the Cheynes, Eagles and Sabers played at Kimbells, the Strangers at Delmonico's Cavern Club and Manfred Mann at Kimbells Corner House, Commercial Road. London folk duo Dave & Dick were at the Folkways Club at the Cobden Arms in Arundel Street and local jazz musician Cuff Billett returned from a visit to New Orleans reporting enthusiastically that the musicians "played as they have always played". He sat in with some bands and described it as "exhilarating".
In the following week the Tony Meehan Combo were at the Savoy and Stan Bennett's Quartet began a residency at the Star Club but gigs in Portsmouth were fairly low-key. Among the visitors at various venues were Nick Troy & the Trojans, the Solent City Jazzband, Gerry Brown, the Ivor Gordon Quintet and Ritchie Peters & the For-Tunes. Despite this quiet period, the Evening News ran a promising advert on 28 December about the re-opening of the Rendezvous from February 1964. Old memberships would be valid but the former traditional jazz venue was promising a new-style rhythm & blues club at the Oddfellows Hall in Kingston Road, with acts like Cyril Davies, the Animals, Downliners Sect and Jimmy Powell & the Five Dimensions. Spinner's end-of-year reports had been gloomy in the early 1960s, but he summed up 1963 as "A Fantastic Year", which had "belonged to the Beatles". He mentioned the success of the Tremeloes, Gerry & the Pacemakers, Searchers, Hollies and Rolling Stones but regretted "girls cannot make an impression" as Helen Shapiro had faded, Susan Maughan had not realised her potential. Kathy Kirby was perhaps the "brightest" hope and Cliff and Elvis were still popular although Elvis looked "on the way out".

NOTE: This is an edited version of Dave Allen's research. The full version can be found at Mick Cooper's website