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MICK GREEN, JOHNNY SPENCE, FRANK FARLEY

Lead Guitar - 1961-1964;  Bass, 1961-1966;  Drums, 1961-1966

Mick Green, Johnny Spence and Frank Farley's careers, often intertwined, are all dealt with here.

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Mick Green is easily one of the most original guitarists to come out of this country. From joining the Pirates in 1962, his days with this legendary outfit alongside bassman Johnny Spence and drummer Frank Farley are not finished yet.  The band still pull in many dedicated fans at the smaller, more intimate venues they prefer to play these days when all three get time for a get-together in between commitments.  Green's talents have also been heard behind many top-flight acts, more recently Roxy Music star Bryan Ferry shanghaied him for lengthy tours.

RED E. LEWIS & THE REDCAPS - the singer is flanked by Spence (left) and Patto.

 

Green was brought up in Wimbledon, and in the same block of flats as his future Pirates. He reckons that he was only about 10 or 11 when all three met up together as a group for the first time.  Before that, he'd made a big impression on Frank Farley - literally - the first time they met when falling out of the tree he was playing in, he landed on Frank's head.  Johnny Spence later recalled his slightly less fraught first meeting with Green:

"This little kid in short trousers turned up on my doorstep one day - we were both fourteen - holding a guitar and saying, "I'm told you know the opening bit to 'Cumberland Gap'. Can you teach me?" That was Mick Green."

They'd all known each other since childhood and formed a good working relationship during 1956 and 1957 when Green, along with Spence and Farley formed the Wayfaring Strangers.  Their music was, as were most youngsters bands of the era, based on the popular and cheap and noisy Skiffle craze that washed over the UK during this time.  Their line-up featured the obligatory tea-chest bass and washboard, plus a Spanish guitar.  Even then they made quite a good little outfit, even entering a competition at the Tottenham Royal Ballroom where they managed to reach the finals.  They came second to a band that had come all the way from Liverpool called the Quarrymen, the very same group that a while later evolved into the slightly better-known Beatles.

The trio's next band was the Ramrods, an outfit interesting in that Johnny Spence was lead axeman and Mick Green was the rhythm guitarist.  Green and the pianist Bill Darling splintered away and Spence and Farley teamed up with Johnny Patto to become the semi-professional Redcaps behind singer Red E. Lewis in 1958-9, then after leaving Lewis they provided backing services for Cuddly Dudley, the UK's first black rock 'n' roller.  Also in this line-up was Vic Cooper, the keyboard man who would later join the Pirates for the "Lost Album" sessions in 1964.  They had a single to their credit with Dudley, "Sittin' On A Train."  Around this time in 1961, Johnny Kidd toured the UK alongside his Idol, Gene Vincent.  When the tour played the Kingston Granada on February 27th, Green, Spence and Farley (plus a young Jimmy Page, then with Dean Shannon and the Crusaders) sneaked in for free to watch their heroes.  When Kidd was left high and dry by his then Pirates (Alan Caddy, Brian Gregg and Clem Catinni, his mates Nero and the Gladiators recommended the Redcaps who (minus Cooper) were backing him live by the summer of 1961.

Frank Farley. Johnny Spence, Johnny Kidd and Mick Green can't wait for a shave.

 

When ill-health precipitated Patto's departure, Spence and Farley then brought in their old mate Mick Green and Kidd's re-shaped Power Trio was in place for the next round of live dates plus a single release.  "A Shot Of Rhythm And Blues" and "I Can Tell", the latter Mick Green's first recording, made a startling eye-opener of a single that showcased the triumvirates' talents perfectly.  Spence and Farley would provide the driving, solid, 'powerhouse' rhythm section that allowed Green to play his trademark staccato rhythm interspersed seamlessly with savage attacking solos.

"We didn't have a rhythm guitarist and our sound needed filling out. You can only play that way with a trio, you can't play like that with another guitar or a piano. It's achieved by bashing out the chords loudly and twiddling around with the strings. It's quite an easy thing to do, there's nothing magical about it." - Mick Green

All three understood each other so well, that recording sessions often required the minimum of takes to obtain a master track.  This quality also made their recordings -albeit polished - have that bit more of a 'live' feel than recordings by some contemporaries.  Johnny Kidd and the Pirates cut moody figures onstage all dressed in black leather and coupled with a stronger R'n'B edge the old hits absorbed a new power.  This powerful sound had been honed by the band's trip to the Mecca of the Liverpool bands, Hamburg, in July 1962.

Frank Farley - "Hamburg is not  place for the squeamish.  It was seven nights a week in one place and we were competing every night even though we were top of the bill.  Every band (Kingsize Taylor & The Dominoes, The Undertakers, The Big Three) wanted to blow us off the stage.... We were a typical beat group and then we heard all these scouse bands playing rave stuff like "Castin' My Spell" and "A Shot Of Rhythm And Blues".  When we came back to England we were a different band entirely.  In fact our own 15 minute set which we used to play before Kidd came on stage, was always far more Rhythm And Blues slanted."

Johnny Spence - "The three of us would play together, everything would seem to come across quite natural and I believe that to be the secret.  Mick could do whatever he wanted in the knowledge that Frank and I were always there right behind him."

THE DAKOTAS 1964: Mick Green, 2nd lfrom left

THE DAKOTAS (L-R) - Tony Mansfield; Green; Mike Maxfield; Robin MacDonald.

 

The increased discipline led to some excellent and effective recordings.  "I'll Never Get Over You" returned Kidd to the top 5 and they enjoyed a popular twelve months with Kidd's revived fortunes.  The trio also enjoyed a powerful release of their own "My Babe" / "Casting My Spell", but which failed to chart.  This coincided with Kidd's hits drying up when what would have been his debut album was being recorded, which as a result remained in the can.  The band recorded the unsuccessful "Jealous Girl" single in 1964 and appeared on the the Big Star Show on the South Pier, Blackpool, following a dog act.  Green was stuck in his bed-sit feeling not a little miserable when he got a call from Robin MacDonald of the Dakotas - they were off to Hawaii and Australia.  As it sounded a better prospect Green upped and joined the more solvent Billy J. Kramer with the Dakotas.  As he said, he couldn't be in both bans at once!  His arrival beefed up an already strong Dakotas sound somewhat and the re-aligned group played on the memorable "Trains And Boats And Planes" which hit no.12 in 1965, the same year the group toured the States to rapturous receptions wherever they appeared.  Interestingly, a handful of Kramer cuts that were never released - probably because Parlophone thought them out-of-character for the conservative Kramer - still allowed Green to shine, such as the genuine rocker "Sneakin' Around".

Johnny Spence and Frank Farley meanwhile remained with Kidd through a few more singles with new guitarist John Weider, including a re-make of Kidd's no.1 smash, retitled as "Shakin' All Over '65".  It failed to ignite the charts second time round though, and more good recordings including a fascinating take of "This Golden Ring" were consigned to the vaults.  Then back at Blackpool in late 1965, Weider split to be replaced by Jon Moreshead.  Continued lack of success saw Spence, Farley and Moreshead split from Kidd in April 1966, leaving Vic Cooper to go his own way.  They were allowed to retain the name "the Pirates" legally, as Kidd was now to be a solo star.  This was not a new idea, in fact most of Kidd's managers had suggested ditching the group before, but this time it was a more natural departure.  After one solo release and another miss he recruited a new crew of buccaneers (whom would have to be called the "New Pirates") for another crack at a return to the top.

Johnny Spence - "We decided to walk the plank, and sink or swim by out own efforts as The Pirates to try and get into the Big Time."

Press announcement for the Pirates' solo release at the start of 1964.

 

A deal with Polydor saw a solitary single release on Polydor, "Shades Of Blue" / "Can't Understand" (a copy and/or lyrics wanted please!).  Frank Farley recently quipped that this psychedelic, reflective piece ".....had clever lyrics, but the song was crap and certainly not us."  It possibly suffers by not having the Guv'nor as focal point and was a not the best of sellers at the time; today, it swaps between collectors hands for a neat 40 and was even played recently on "Sounds Of The Sixties" on BBC Radio 2!  Moreshead jumped ship for the up-and-coming Shotgun Express just before a six-week stint at US bases in Germany, leaving a budding guitarist called Mike Taylor to be press-ganged in and rehearsed up to speed on the train journey!  After a gig at the Tip Top Club in Morecambe and following the single's failure to do anything, the trio called it a day in July.  When drummer Tony Mansfield resigned from the Dakotas, Frank Farley replaced him, teaming up once more with his old shipmate Mick Green.

Johnny Spence meanwhile, messed around with a couple of groups, one of which featured the multi-talented Dave Mason in his pre-traffic days.  He then joined Julian Covey and The Machine, in a line-up alongside Jon Morshead.  A single was released, "A Little Bit Hurts" / "Sweet Bacon" and they were offered a five-year contract with Island records which came to nothing when the group imploded in 1967.  Spence decided to call it a day and retired from the music scene, taking to time to build up a lucrative second-hand motor business.

Since leaving Johnny Kidd at Blackpool in the summer of 1964 Mick Green had added more power and searing solos to the already accomplished Dakotas behind Billy J. Kramer (whose sweeter vocals could now legitimately sound that little bit tougher).  He'd also featured on a nice little 12-bar rave-up instrumental by the Dakotas on their own which started life as "Rat Fink" but escaped as "Oyeh!".  It appeared a year after their last such outing "Magic Carpet" and sounded like it was fun to record, coming complete with comical speeded up voices and a superb display of string bending from Green.  That wasn't a hit so efforts now concentrated on their singer, and although there were no more hits for him there were some classic cuts still to be savoured from this talented outfit.  Tracks like "I'll Be Doggone", hidden away as the flipside to "Neon City" in 1965 show a confident band with a solid sound. Even more indicative of this direction was "Sneakin' Around", a surprising "vault victim" as it is an uncompromising rocker with an insistent, nagging riff from Green who breaks into as searing a solo as he ever recorded in the sixties.  In the hands of Johnny Kidd, it might have been priceless.

Green had also flourished as a songwriter, compositions co-written with bassman Robin MacDonald making quite a few flipsides with numbers as diverse as "Take my hand", a ballad adorned with strings, to numbers like "That's The Way I Feel".  The latter is arguably a forgotten mini-classic, with a flute and vibes flowing in and out of the mix, a strong enough cut that enabled Kramer to track his voice just the once and Green play a nicely underscored solo on acoustic guitar.  Without Kramer, the Dakotas also managed two more "solo" singles, "I'm an 'Ardworkin' Barrow Boy" / "7lbs Of Potatoes" for Page One in 1967, and "Can't Break The News To Myself" / "The Spider And The Fly" on Philips the following year.  The b-sides of both have been described as "experimental psychedelic" and "Spider" in particular stands up as a good example of what we now know as late 1960's "Freakbeat".

The Dakotas split from Billy J. Kramer and backed Billy Fury for three months.  Working in a club, another act on the bill was a magician who used copious amounts of trained pigeons and Billy decided to give them their freedom.  Fury, one of the UK's premier rock 'n' rollers in the late fifties with the classic "Sound Of Fury" 10' LP to his credit had suffered declining health for years with a weak heart.  Green produced Fury's final album before his untimely death in 1982.

Mick Green - "Billy was great, a one-off, one hell of a guy.  He was a real animal lover.  One morning, Billy arrived early to rehearse and decided he didn't like to see them cooped up inside their cages so he let them out inside the club.  They were flying about for half an hour until they all managed to fly out of a window.  The magician was shocked and annoyed to find his pigeons gone, raving about how he couldn't carry on his act without his birds."

Frank Farley and Mick Green (along with Robin MacDonald) joined the Cliff Bennett Band in June 1968, during which time they recorded a wild version of the Beatles "Back In The USSR".  Farley remained beating the skins for Bennett before pulling out of music full-time in July 1969 to get married.  Green had already gone by this time to back Engelbert Humperdinck in Las Vegas and stayed in America for four and a half years, taking time to learn to read music.  Green returned to England in 1974 and formed Fresh Meat which evolved first into Hard Meat and finally emerged as Shanghai.  After that band he backed the zany Liverpool comedian Freddie Starr for a spell.  Green, Spence and Farley regrouped to hoist the Jolly Roger once again as the Pirates in 1976, just beating Nick Simper and Roger Truth who were about to attempt recording under the same name.  The revitalised trio's new lease of live and recording life from 1976 challenged Punks' aimless rock with vibrant renditions of R&B that outgunned almost everyone, and led to the legend that no-one should follow them onstage.  Although breaking in 1982, assorted line-ups occasionally came and went until 1999's on-off reunion gig became a second show, and so on - they continue today doing choice gigs, and their website is found here.

The final word on Mick Green, Johnny Spence and Frank Farley's spell behind the Admiral Of The Beat should be left to famous Rock historian Spencer Leigh, who saw many, many bands at the Cavern Club in Liverpool in the 1960's.  An acknowledged expert on Merseybeat, he stated in his book "Let's Go Down The Cavern in 1984:

"When Johnny Kidd And The Pirates combined Arthur Alexander's "A Shot Of Rhythm And Blues" with Bo Diddley's "I Can Tell" they made one of the best double-sided singles of all time.  That single, more than any other, marks the transition of British rock 'n' roll to Merseybeat."

 
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