Johnny Kidd - Epilogue
With the benefit of hindsight the recording career of Johnny Kidd and his various Pirates can now be seen within its own framework. Kidd was not just an excellent singer, but also an intuitive judge of material, be it rock, pop, soul or R&B. He enjoyed the respect of Britains' finest musicians, and in Mick Green, launched the recording career of one of rock's most gifted talents. One listen to those pivotal 1964 sessions should confirm how exceptional this particular group could be. "He was one of the best rock 'n' rollers to come out of England," Clem Cattini later declared, and there's no denying the sheer quality of his work. It was a shame, then, that the songwriting talent that had kick-started their career with HMV, and gave the group (in part at least) "Shakin' All Over" and others was not further capitalised on. Both sides of the debut single plus one on the next four bear Kidd's name yet after 1963's "Then I Got Everything" (with Mick Green) any Kidd-written title was a re-recording of a previous hit. The voice was still there and in great shape but as time wore on and the Sixties really got into gear threatening to leave him behind, the enthusiasm behind it seemed to dim a bit as a possible resurgence in fortunes seemed to edge further and further away.
And there was the rub: with a bit more understanding and push from one or two of his managers, and the record company the story may have been a bit different. Kidd & co had always put on one hell of a show onstage when many singers simply stood at the microphone and delivered the song straight. Together with arguably the first "classic" Pirate line-up he achieved great success, singing excitedly and throwing his cutlass and accompanied by various Pirate line-ups that seemed to improve and refine with time. He topped the charts with the highly original, fresh and sinister sound of "Shakin' All Over" before falling from the all-important charts and remaining absent for two years. Despite this setback, he continued grafting animatedly away onstage with a second "classic" Pirates lie-up who wielded their axes menacingly and kicked in time with the music, just as previous line-ups had done except with a harder R'n'B edge to it.
The main difficulty lay in translating that live act energy intact onto cold, impersonal vinyl. To a good extent Kidd and his groups managed this, re-creating the powerful, live-ish feel on many cuts thanks to the well-rehearsed Pirates needing few takes to achieve a releasable recording. Many of their records with minimal messing around and overdubbing actually sound close to how they were heard onstage. The fact that times were becoming fickle in Popdom meant Kidd opted to clone the Merseybeat sound with "I'll Never Get Over You". The Pirates had the class to restore Kidd to the charts but managed the Top Five with this Merseybeat styled beatster. Unfortunately he was a step behind the Beatles at al and losing ground all the way, with it ebbed some of the credibility of being one of the first UK R'n'B-flavoured artists in to reach popular heights. Then, to be unable to regain a foothold in the embryonic R&B scene that all but buried the Mersey bands must have been difficult to come to terms with. Not that his status amongst fans was affected too much - it's quite possible that, had he lived, his act could have found a lucrative niche on the cabaret circuit.
The group had appeared on various television programmes ("Jukebox Jury" and "Crackerjack", amongst others) but sadly nothing has been unearthed in recent years. During the 1970s the BBC and to a lesser extent the ITV companies purged their archives of recordings deemed to be of no further commercial value, especially the black and white material. Before it was halted, the clearout was so thorough that for many well-remembered series virtually no footage has survived. Finally, in 1978 the BBC appointed an Archive Selector to start the long-haul process of reorganising and searching for missing episodes of many classic series and individual programmes. Some desirable material has been rediscovered via foreign television stations and other archives including private collections. Pop-wise, "Top Of The Pops," its contemporaries and precursors all suffered appallingly and for many artists fine performances (in some cases the ONLY performance) appear to have been lost forever, including Johnny Kidd and The Pirates.
A renewed call for footage for the Kidds' entry in the "Jukebox Heroes" series on BBC1 in late 2001 still turned up nothing. This was one of a series of six boigs by Paul Perriot following on the success of a similar on on Billy Fury. Originally planned to follow the 10 o'clock news it was rescheduled to the "graveyard" slot (after midnight). Yet the Kidd's programme captured a sizeable audience and served as a fitting tribute, featuring interviews with various Pirates and his widow Jean, plus live footage from a recent Pirates gig at Dingwalls. The tantalising sound of a few of the Kidd's radio recordings could be heard playing in the background (some of which have finally seen the day - Cheers BBC!).
The story didn't quite end in 1967 - over the ensuing years judicious packages confirmed the original group's lasting appeal. On 9th October 1976 the Edwardian Club in Brixton put on the Johnny Kidd Memorial Show which featured a version of the Pirates which featured Nick Simper and Roger Truth. The same year saw the reformation of the 1961-4 Pirates line-up - Frank Farley, Johnny Spence and Mick Green – who barnstormed a new generation with their brand of intimate yet exciting music as their debut album "Out Of Their Skulls" and several ensuing albums attested. Having naturally developed as musicians the Pirates (unlike some contemporaries) should not be regarded as simply a nostalgia act. They play a wide range of songs, Kidd classics included, in their powerhouse style which really gets the adrenalin going. And Juliette Heath - Kidds niece - keeps the family name in the music business with her Divided Opinions, a strong folk-rock-cum-indie band who are worth checking out. Also, here.
Read about the Read about the post-Kidd Pirates story here.