The Bluebottle Boys: Birmingham & Edgbaston: January

The Bluebottle Boys – Chapter 6, Part 2 – Birmingham & Edgbaston, Winter 1961-1962: January

[Note: The featured picture is a triptych consisting of (left to right) a UK pressing of “My Bonnie” by Tony Sheridan & the Beatles, Alex’s Pie Stand (after hours mecca for the Birmingham rock scene in the early to mid 1960s) and a cinema poster for “The Boys.”]

Birmingham[A bit of classic rock trivia for those who enjoy such things (those who don’t, feel free to skip to the next paragraph, where this part of the story begins). Keith Powell & the Vikings (mentioned in the story below) did ultimately replace Keith with “temporary” front man Carl Wayne. In 1966, Wayne and two other members of the band left to form the nucleus of a new band called “The Move,” which, due to the lyrical and musical content of its songs was dubbed “The Birmingham Beatles” by the rock press (and who, at least in their early psychedelic days, had a Who-like reputation for smashing not only their guitars, but TV sets and the occasional automobile, as well as for taking axes to dummies of politicians). By 1971, Wayne had left the band, but his successor, Jeff Lynne, along with the remaining members of The Move, formed the nucleus of yet another band, called “Electric Light Orchestra” (ELO). Only in Birmingham . . . .]

It had snowed heavily on the last two days of 1961, so perhaps it was simply a matter of Baby New Year finding it difficult to navigate around all of the snowdrifts. Maybe they delayed his full arrival, or maybe the cold grew so biting that it caused a cessation of all sentient activity. Whatever the reason, it would be generous to say that 1962 crept in like a lamb – it more seeped in and lay there like a slug.

“Moon River” was at the top of the record charts as the year began. The Beatles auditioned for Decca Records on New Year’s Day, to be rejected with the dismissive, if perennial, bit of wishful thinking that haters of guitar bands seem to have: “Such groups are on the way out.”

Four days later, Polydor Records released “My Bonnie” in the United Kingdom, featuring the Beatles as the backup band for Tony Sheridan. Already a hit in West Germany, “My Bonnie” became their first (albeit non-exclusive) surfacing on a commercial recording.

It was a hometown hit in Liverpool.

It stiffed everywhere else.

And, it certainly was a perfect metaphor for how the year began, the “calm before the storm:” One ensuing when no one was paying attention, when there was universal vacuity, and when no one was at the wheel.

Everything remained placid – dull really – on the surface; life plodded on. But in mid-January I’d “got even” with Stan when I grassed him out to the ABC Cinemas’ management; now he stood on the proscenium, in his faux nonchalance, as the gathered horde sung “Happy Birthday” to him.

Auntie Gene had intended to take Stan and me both to a screening the following weekend, while Mum and Dad celebrated Dad’s birthday privately together, but the Guptas had other plans. So, she and I went together to a screening of “The Boys,” a courtroom drama involving four well-dressed Teddy Boys on trial for murder. It was the first thing close to an adult-like film and I really enjoyed it, especially Robert Morley’s closing speech, near the end of the film.

Afterward, we went to a coffee bar for a biting strong cup of coffee each, and thence on to Alex’s Pie Stand. There wasn’t much to the place: a frame façade from which to dispense food and drink, in front of a narrow kitchen with stoves and ovens brining warming up a fair few of the best pies anywhere and a constant flow of hot beverages. We chased away the cold with an ordered two chicken and mushroom pies and hot tea.

“And now, we wait,” she said. “Eat slowly, Reggie.”

“For what?” I wondered to myself – but I didn’t have to wonder long. It turned out Alex’s Pie Stand was one of the main after-hours hangouts for rock musicians all over the city. Soon, members of Keith Brett & the Mavericks, The Tremors, and The Modernaires (who’d just taken on a new lead vocalist) were all there, ordering pies and talking music. Then members of Keith Powell & the Vikings arrived – functioning without Keith Powell, a chap named Carl Wayne acting as what they said would be just a temporary front man.

Birmingham/s too individualistic a place to ever have a single, unified sound, the way Liverpool did, and too independent to abide by London’s rules. Its rock ’n’ rollers had drifted in and out of a score of bands, and were always comparing notes on new riffs, new sounds.

I wasn’t wholly into rock yet, not knowing how to have real access to this strange and wonderful music that had been banned by the BBC, but it was fascinating all the more for it, and I was in heaven listening. Perhaps on another occasion they’d have taken me to task for eavesdropping, but the night was so cold that they huddled in little clusters, scarcely looking around. It was only the high spirits of the night that made their conversations loud enough for me to listen in, To the extent they looked our way at all, it was only to give Auntie Gene a gander. I remained happily invisible,

The coffee eventually wore off, I grew too cold and tired and we had to go home.

But, I’d been “taping” in my mind all the while, much as I’d been “filming” at Stan’s and my cinema. In the days and weeks that followed, I “replayed” what I’d heard, and tried to play some of their licks on Gramfer’s guitar. Over time, I found that its magic worked much better than I’d expected.

© 2017, 2016, 2015 G. H. McCallum and Duvanian Press, all rights reserved.

It’s here! Here at last! The first edition of Volume 1 of “The Bluebottle Boys,” second novel of the Reggie Stone series, is now available from Amazon.

Yes, I’ll continue to serialise the novel (after all, we’re still in the “getting-up-to-speed” chapters necessary to the tale, but with the “main story” just on the horizon). Not only will I serialise all the “promised” chapters, I’ll be expanding the serial to include at least a few more chapters — maybe more than a few (how many more to be determined) — just for letting Reggie and his friends into your life.

They thank you, and so do I.

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G. H. McCallum

G. H. McCallum is author of the Reggie Stone series, the first of which, Walking Backwards for Christmas: A Tale of Woe from Soggyhall, was released on 12 December 2014; look for the second, The Bluebottle Boys, in late spring of 2016. He blogs principally on the 1960s, Victoriana and magic realism.