In 1956 the only record player in our house was an old wind up model with a sound box directly above the needle which had to be changed every time you had played about five records. The record collection consisted of a few old 78s like, “The Sabre Dance” and “Buttons and Bows”. One day my father came home with the latest “hi tech” arm for our record player, and this could be plugged directly into a radio. We had to update our record collection so with my hard earned pocket money I bought my favourite record of the day “The Dam Busters March”, while Mum bought the latest record by a certain Lonnie Donegan called “Don’t You Rock Me Daddy-O”. Soon I was playing “Don’t You Rock Me Daddy-O” most of the time, and when Lonnie’s next record “Cumberland Gap” was released, and reached number one in the charts, I was hooked and began buying everything he had ever recorded.
When I bought Lonnie’s first album “Showcase” I found a track that has always been one of my all time favourites, “Frankie and Johnny”. It’s such a heavy track, and I’ve always likened it to Ravels “Bolero”, fourteen verses that build to a frantic crescendo at the end and Nick Nicholls opening drum pattern is heavy enough to grace any modern day Rock track. It was the first track recorded along with most of the “Showcase” album on 22nd August 1956 and in those days there were no overdubs, you went into the studio, recorded the performance and that was it. The performance on Frankie and Johnny is amazing except that at one point Lonnie forgets who is doing what to whom, because he says that Nellie shot Johnny when in fact it was Frankie.
In 1957 around the time of Lonnie’s next release, the double sided number one hit
“Putting on the Style” / “Gamblin Man”, I was in hospital with a serious kidney complaint. When I got out of hospital I had several months off school and by now all I wanted to do was play the guitar and sing like Lonnie. I pestered my father for a guitar and he, being a woodworker by trade, decided to make me one. A few months later the guitar was finished and I started to learn how to play. At first I would tune the top two strings until I thought they sounded OK and bash out Lonnie’s songs before buying a book (not Bert Weedon’s) which taught me how to play the chords properly. I would practise every spare moment I had playing and singing along to Lonnie’s records. Sometimes I would be Lonnie singing and playing rhythm guitar and other times I would be Denny Wright or Jimmy Currie. (Lonnie’s lead guitarists) and concentrate on playing the lead guitar parts.
Lonnie Donegan was at the height of his popularity and I decided that I wanted a Skiffle Group. I recruited my brother Nigel, who was only eight at the time, to play washboard and Colin Hurst, a school friend, on tea chest bass. We called ourselves the Satellites which was a pretty cool name at the time as Russia had recently launched the first ever space satellite called “Sputnik 1. My father worked at De Havillands aircraft factory in Hatfield and secured our first booking playing for the children’s Christmas parties in the works canteen. We performed on three consecutive Saturdays playing the same three Lonnie Donegan songs, “My Dixie Darling”, “Gamblin’ Man”, and “Jack O’ Diamonds”, and paid three pounds between us. I was well impressed thinking that at the age of 13, I was already a professional musician.