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Members: BRIAN GREGG

Bass Guitar - 1960-1961

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Brian Gregg

 

Brian Gregg started off as so many did in the heady rock 'n' roll industry of Britain in the late 1950's. London was the place to be if you wanted to get on, and Brian made friends with one Terry Dene at the HMV shop in the Oxford Road, both having started the same day in 1957.  At the Cats Whiskers club Gregg persuaded Dene to sing onstage with the band and in Brian's own words "he tore the roof of the place".  Dene went on to sing at the "Two I's" coffee bar and was later picked up by Decca records.  This made Gregg all the more determined to make it himself.

One day at HMV, he was approached by two guys who wanted some pointers as to some suitable songs in the skiffle and blues vein, and Brian duly helped out.  On their return to thank him he enquired as to who they were, which was the (then) rather chic-sounding "Les Hobeaux" (whose line-up featured star drummer Rory Blackwell) who had the residency at the "Two I's".  On the night Brian went to see them the band's bass player handily failed to appear; naturally Brian took his place and he became their full-time bass-player.  The "Two I's" was run by two brothers and was originally called the "Three I's" before the third brother decided to pull out of the concern.  (Not a lot of people know that.)  It was one of the hottest places to be - singers and bands from the provinces who wanted to make the Big Time travelled to the Big Smoke to be noticed.  It was no coincidence that all the major recording companies were all based in London. 

Gregg's appointment with this band as his first professional engagement meant his ability soon became very much in-demand.  He left Les Hobeaux to join Colin Hicks (Tommy Steele's brother) and his Cabin Boys.  On a tour to Italy they appeared in a film which helped the group become very popular there.  (Hicks featured many good musicians through the ranks, one line-up evolving into Nero And The Gladiators.)  Gregg quickly expanded his horizons with other outfits including a spell backing Tommy Steele, and later his mate Terry Dene (now labelled as Britain's "answer" to Elvis), during which time Gregg played alongside future Pirate drummer Clem Catinni - both appeared in Terry Dene's film "The Golden Disc" which was released in March 1958.  He also played spells in the Vipers, who'd previously featured no less than (soon-to-be Shadows) Jet Harris and Hank Marvin, and also Georgie Fame's group Blue Flames.  In August 1959, this led to a spot in the Beat Boys, backing the Larry Parnes stable of artists that included the likes of Duffy Power, Vince Eager and Johnny Gentle, not to mention Billy Fury.  Once again, Gregg was teamed up alongside Catinni.

Johnny Kidd and The Pirates (Brian Gregg, left) in high-kicking action to the beat.

 

Larry Parnes was notoriously frugal regarding his contracts with his roster of artists and both Gregg and Catinni left the Beat Boys in the December of 1959.  Johnny Kidd was re-organising his backing band the Pirates around this time, retaining only the services of lead guitarist Alan Caddy.  Gregg and Catinni joined, intending to stay till something better came along.  Kidd's intention was to round off the new group's sound in the usual way by bringing old friend Frank Rouledge on rhythm guitar. It didn't quite work out though, as Caddy, Gregg and Catinni in full flow had already gelled sufficiently at rehearsals, leaving Kidd to tell Frank he was no longer required.  The new economic line-up played on the band's biggest hits during this period including the ground-breaking chart-topping classic, "Shakin' All Over".  Kidd's blues-tinged vocals were probably at their most powerful, as Gregg remembers.

"Johnny was performing great blues before most others. He was just brilliant on Willie Dixon's "I Just Want To Make Love To You".

Brian was a bit of a practical joker in the group.  On one tour date to Scotland they decided to book into an expensive hotel with every intention of living it up for once after a long trek to get there.  For the next morning Kidd had asked to be woken at eight so as to be in time for a posh breakfast.  He was called at six, which could only have been changed at Brian's request.  No matter, there was a bit if time so Kidd drifted back off to sleep.... and awoke in time to race downstairs and see the Pirates finishing off the last of four 'fabulous' courses, thank you very much, and needless to say, Kidd was just a little bit mad!  It wasn't all grand though.

The hits subsided though and the trio left Kidd, taking up a good-sounding offer to join Colin Hick's Cabinboys, and were plunged straight into a tour of Italy where (as previously mentioned) Hicks was popular.  The six weeks wasn't a personal success for Gregg or his old shipmates and once their obligation had been completed returned home, exhausted.  Gregg then successfully auditioned for the Rhett Stoller Band.  Stoller was a fine guitarist who'd tasted success in 1961 with the nimbly-picked "Chariot", which featured his double-tracked lead guitar and hit no.13.  After this, Gregg toured with Top Ten artist Eden Kane for a spell.

In March 1963, the studio group that Catinni and Caddy had joined after their return from Italy had developed into the Tornados, who'd subsequently enjoyed stardom with the massive instrumental hit "Telstar", witten by their recording manager Joe Meek.  Before too long, Meek instigated his plan of removing the blond bassist Heinz, and groom him toward the solo billing Meek thought he deserved.  As a result, Gregg was drafted in to join old cohorts Caddy and Catinni, both of whom considered that Heinz was getting in the way of the music anyway.  During his time with the band Gregg recorded the "Tornado Rock" EP (co-singing on three of the numbers) which reached number 14 in the EP charts, contributed Flycatcher" to help finish off the Tornados debut album "Away from it all" and appeared on the band's final chart entry "Dragonfly".  The Tornados, by now competing with the Mersey bands, had lost valuable momentum: the album appeared almost a year after "Telstar", and recording manager Joe Meek was devoting his energies and time toward the blond ex-bassist Heinz who'd just hit the big-time with "Just Like Eddie".  After "Dragonfly", Gregg departed in August 1963, precipitating regular line-up changes that was the norm in the band's final years.

The Pack had originally hailed from Wiltshire, being formed in 1962, and had a strong following in the West Country.  After moving down that way, Gregg joined the group alongside guitaists Bob Broadway and Roger Hartley, plus drummer Bob Duck and Andy Rickell on harmonica and guitar duties.  In 1965, they recorded a cover of The Lovin' Spoonful's "Do You Believe In Magic" for Mickie Most, which was released on Columbia Records (who co-incidentally also had the Tornados and Heinz on their books by this time) with "Things Bring Me Down" on the flip.  Although enjoying modest success, the single failed to chart and nowadays is hard to find and consequently quite collectable.  A tour with Pianist Wee Willie Harris (he of the pink hair, even then) took Gregg through Malta, Cyprus, Tobruck, Tripoli, Paris and to various cities across Germany but fed up with the travelling life moved over to session work and managing bands instead.

Brian Gregg at the Johnny Kidd 20th Anniversary Tribute Show.

 

1986 saw Brian Gregg team up with old shipmates Clem Catinni and Alan Caddy for a one-off reunion gig at the twentieth anniversary Johnny Kidd Tribute show at London's Rock 'n' Roll Club, based at the rear of the Olde Cherry Tree Inn in Southgate.  Although the greatest honour of the evening went to Dave Sampson ("Sweet Dreams" in the early 1960's) who sang vocals, and which led to his appearance at the '87 Weymouth Rock Festival alongside Gene Vincent's famous Blue Caps, the Pirates seemed never to have been away.  The Rock 'n' Roll magazines of the day gave the show rave reviews.

In more recent times, Gregg could be found on various rock 'n' roll revival shows and tours, including a one-night-only reunion of Terry Dene's Dene Aces group.  They backed the singer at the multi-national 15th Annual Rockers' Reunion held at Battersea Town Hall on the last day of January 1998 where upwards of 1700 people from as far as Europe and America gathered on a bitterly cold night to see legendary artists in action.  He also lined up in the group "Pioneers Of Rock 'N' Roll" alongside other luminaries like guitarist Big Jim Sullivan, Pianist Nero (Mike O'Neill), Vocalist Earl Sheridan, saxophonist Brian Jones of the Undertakers, and even venerable drummer Frank Farley.

In 2006 Brian Gregg and Clem Catinni teamed up with Joe Moretti to form a Pirates-type Line-up.  They were often found backing Johnny Kidd tribute artist Kidd Kane, a singer who actually looked and sounded a bit like Johnny Kidd.  Most reports of the time stated that they were an excellent band that could send the "Shivers up your backbone".  Some die-hard 'fans' even referred to them as the "Real Pirates", which spawned some lively debate amongst many of the Pirates fans in general.  That groups like these are still popular today - even to those who weren't born first time round - are a testament to the enduring appeal of early British Rock 'n' Roll, and show that England was not quite the cultural wastleand that other writers would have us believe.

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