6: 1976-on: The Legend
the split from Johnny Kidd in April 1966 Jon Morshead,
Johnny Spence and Frank Farley (organist Vic Cooper went
off to join Tom Jones backing group the Squires) kept the rights to
the Pirates name and even managed to have a single released on Polydor,
"Shades Of Blue". It sold poorly, making it one of the rarest
items in the Pirates back catalogue and is currently valued in the
region of £40. Frank Farley has recently been quoted in his
description of this psychedelic(!), reflective piece that ".....had
clever lyrics, but the song was crap and certainly not us.", yet it is
not forgotten, managing a hearing on Brian Matthew's BBC radio's
"Sounds Of The Sixties" toward the end of 2003.
six week stint at the US Army base in St. Nazaire, France, was lined
up but two days before they were due to leave, Morshead dropped a
bombshell: he wasn’t going. Instead, he
passed through Shotgun
Express (Rod Stewart) and Julian Covey & The Machine before ending up
in Aynsley Dunbars' Retaliation.
With little option and
even less time Frank Farley did what anyone would have done and
scoured the classifieds in the back of ‘Melody Maker’. He
contacted a guitarist looking for work and they arrived at Victoria
Station to meet Mike Taylor, a guy "in his
early twenties with rather a lot of hair and a home made guitar".
With only a passing knowledge of Kidd's back catalogue from the
instant of boarding the train, the journey was spent in frantic
routining! Johnny Spence remembers that the opening
night's first two numbers were all over the place but then it all
clicked into gear. Collective opinion was that here was a huge
natural talent with the ability to pursue a long time career in music.
However, lacking the focal point they had with Johnny Kidd and with
bookings declining in number, they decided to call it a day in July.
simply vanished from the music scene altogether,
apparently returning to his academic pursuits -nothing has been
heard of him since. (If anyone knows where he ended up, let us
know!) Frank Farley replaced Tony Mansfield
as skin-basher in the Dakotas,
rejoining old shipmate Green in the process.
few singles which culminated with "Can't Break The News"/"The Spider
And The Fly" (The b-side of which is a superb example of British 'Freakbeat')
they were picked up by Cliff Bennett who'd been left high and dry when
his long-serving Rebel Rousers cleared off as the Roy Young Band.
The streamlined Cliff
Bennett Band released a few singles during 1968 including
Lennon & McCartney's "Back In The U.S.S.R." (Parlophone R
5749). After this Robin MacDonald and Mick Green went into the
world of cabaret to Las Vegas and related venues with Engelbert
Humperdinck. Frank Farley stuck it out until he left to get
married the year after, leaving Bennett to form Toe Fat (with the
questionable album covers).
Anniversary Memorial Show at the Loughborough Hotel, Brixton.
The early 1970's was the era of the colourful and noisy 'Glam Rock',
the age of Slade, T-Rex, et al with its noisy, colourful glare. But there were also those who remembered their roots and
had no desire to forget them. The
Edwardian Club based in the Loughborough Hotel in Brixton, London, had
been slowly growing in status and popularity when on 9th October 1976
it played host to the Johnny Kidd Memorial Show, marking the tenth
anniversary of Kidd's untimely death. The evening had been
meticulously planned for weeks and when the night finally arrived the
bars were packed with another two hundred people from all over the
country queued outside. Equipment was being checked and all
arrangements are run over for one last time before getting underway.
Flashback play their second set of the evening to nods of approval all
round, then Timespan Disco intensify the expectant atmosphere by
playing as many of Kidd's records that they can. Then the time
Onstage are five men -
including Nick Simper, Kidd's last right-hand man - and once Wee
Willie Harris is welcomed onstage the scene is set for non-stop rock
'n' roll. Roger Truth even emerges from the crowd to take over
the drum stool who set about the drums with a venom that got the crowd
roaring with approval. After 40 minutes, Harris left the stage
and Nick Simper took over the vocals. He played the famous
bassline that to introduced "Shakin' All Over" and the crowd went
wild. Once the applause finally died down Lord Sutch introduced
Johnny Irving who gave an emotional tribute to Johnny Kidd before
another half dozen numbers were belted out before Geoff and Stu
brought the show to a close. Although a slightly sad occasion
Johnny Irving, Nick Simper and Roger Truth delighted in meeting up
again, the latter two talking about getting the Pirates on the road
again. Indeed, only the previous year had seen Simper approached more than
once to set up a Pirates again, but this time he and Truth were beaten to it....
Simper: "Roger and I were talking about getting the Pirates back on
the road. I used to sing a few numbers so I was quite confident
about re-forming but Dave (Lord) Sutch informed us that Mick Green,
(Johnny) Spence and (Frank) Farley were about to re-hoist the Jolly
Roger. So Roger and I were not so jolly. Although they
returned a super-heavier trio they always missed having the Kidd on
vocals. He really was a super front man, no-one else could
four and a half years with Humperdinck Green wanted to get back to
some semblance of normality and returned to the UK to form the
short-lived Shanghai, which featured Bennett and John "Speedy" Keen"
in its ranks.
left Engelbert because I was losing touch with reality. When you
spend half of every year in Las Vegas with just about everything you
want laid on you feel you are in Disneyland. Life becomes too easy
for your own good. I returned home in '74 and formed Fresh Meat who
later became Hard Meat before evolving into Shanghai. I (even)
learned to read music when I was with Engelbert."
Farley and Johnny Spence had already begun playing together again and
a one-off Pirates reunion gig was arranged in late 1976, probably
prompted in part by the successful Johnny Kidd Memorial Show earlier
that year. The date was
so successful the trio got back together on a semi-permanent basis and
also landed a recording contract with international distribution with
Warner Brothers. Their debut album, "Out Of Their Skulls"
(featuring a studio side and a live one) showed a group with purpose;
a clear approach to R&B with powerful performances, Farley and
Spence providing solid backing to Greens' dexterous, savage axe attacks helped the album make the UK charts at no. 57. From this
promising start the Pirates became one of THE hot live attractions
with a wide reputation for their handling of R&B with Rock 'n'
Roll, blues and punk overtones during the seventies and early
eighties. Other groups were warned not to follow the Pirates.
the meantime, long-time fan and friend of the Kidd Alan Wheeler set up the fully official
Appreciation Society in April 1978 with the blessing of Jean
Heath. Six newsletters were produced, all of which have been
preserved as a PDF file for download and contains fascinating snippets
of info. The
release of the "Best Of..." collection on EMI with
sleevenotes by BBC Radio's Geoff Barker (who'd been at the Memorial
Show) showed that interest in
the original group was there, but despite Alan working hard at digging
out nuggets of information for the newsletters it was hard
work. Contacting organisations didn't always bear fruit and on
many occasions he was blanked in his quest to increase Kidd's profile
for a new audience. Alan battled on until rising costs led to
his drawing the
Society to a close in 1980.
"Skull Wars" in 1978 and the following years' "Happy Birthday Rock'n'Roll"
consolidated the success of the re-formed Pirates' debut and although neither charted
they sold steadily, cementing the happy reunion, even if the backdrop of a lighted galleon was missing. The
recordings continued with further releases of 45's and albums that managed to build on the early success and
continued spreading the word that made their live appearances eagerly awaited by
the faithful in pubs, clubs and larger venues. Indeed the so-called Sound and Spirit of Punk was shown up
to be nothing new to those who were lucky enough to witness them in
action the decade before - one listen to both sides of their
ultra-rare "solo" single from 1964 proves that. Their
success was not limited to these shores, indeed they have played across
Europe. On 19th February 1979 they appeared on the German Rock show
going through a seventeen-song set which should really be made
available to a new, appreciative audience. weary
after six years of incessant touring, the "official" Pirates disbanded
for the second time in 1982. They remain, however, one of British pop's most enduring
acts and a revised line-up emerged in the late 1980's, responsible for the little noticed "Live In Japan"
(still popular over there) and "Don't Munchen It! - The Pirates Live In Europe".
In September 1999 the trio got together once more, ostensibly for a
single performance at the Grey Horse. The interest gathered a momentum
of its own and resulted in second gig at Dingwalls a few months later
and history repeated itself.
The rest of 2000 saw more gigs, then in the winter they jetted off to
Japan, playing British flavoured R&B to an enthusiastic
audience, some of whom were still in their teens - proving that this
is no mere nostalgia act! Gigs were deliberately limited in
number owing to all three having interests outside of the band and
this has helped keep the interest and enthusiasm up.
can still catch the Pirates at one of their
occasional gigs at
such as the Borderline and Dingwalls, interspersed with forays into far-flung
territory such as Blackpool and Wimborne. 2002 saw the lads record three
songs at BBC Television Centre in London for "Top Of The Pops
2", although as Frank was unable to attend the dependable Simon Holdgate deputised. "Shakin' All Over" was the first aired, and
"Honey Hush" hit the screens on Tuesday 18th February 2003. The third song
was a version of "Peter Gunn". 2005 saw their first
"new" album for eighteen years, the "Skullduggery" CD.
Frank Farley has now retired due to ill health but Mick Green and
Johnny Spence look after their own bookings; their website can be found
website can be found here where you can find more details of the CD.
Green has been recognized one of British rock 'n roll's elder
statesmen, but remains a busy working musician, playing with figures
as different as Paul McCartney,
Van Morrison and Peter Green in the 1980's and
1990's. One of his more recent
ventures with Sir Paul saw him playing alongside Pink Floyds' Dave Gilmour. What some may have thought to be an unlikely coalition turned out to
be a very effective one instead. In particular, the McCartney gigs
on the so-called "Russian album" and several of the former
Beatle's subsequent rock 'n roll ventures, have given Green more
mass-exposure than at any time in his career, and introduced his name
to at least a portion of the Beatles' following. Mind you, it
nearly didn't happen; Green didn't return a call from McCartney's
office for nearly a year as he thought it must be a wind-up! Along with reissues of
Johnny Kidd & the Pirates' early '60s work and the Pirates' latter-day recordings, and
his music with the Dakotas, the McCartney rock 'n roll sides comprise
Green's most visible work. After all that, when Mick was once asked as
to whom he preferred to play with it wasn't surprising when he
answered "The Pirates".