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6: 1976-on: The Legend Lives On

Press promo


After 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. 

A 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.

Taylor 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.  After a 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).

10th 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 comes. 

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....

Nick 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 compare."

After 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.

"I 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."

Mick Green


Frank Farley and Johnny Spence had already begun playing together again and with Green 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.

In the meantime, long-time fan and friend of the Kidd Alan Wheeler set up the fully official Johnny Kidd 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.

Frank Farley


Meanwhile, "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 "Rockpalast", 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. 

Johnny Spence


You can still catch the Pirates at one of their occasional gigs at favourite venues 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.

Mick 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".

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"Cabin Down Below"


That is not yet all.  Arron Kane has been busy over the last twenty years building up an act (mainly in the West Country) which heavily features Kidd numbers, in more recent times as Kidd Kane and the Buccaneers.  One of Kane's ambitions was to have fronted a Pirates line-up - in 2005 he got his wish when Brian Gregg, Clem Catinni and Joe Moretti (son of THE Joe Moretti) came together as his Pirates.  All gigs where they played were rapturously received and the increased profile actually led to Kane's website receiving too many hits!  This partnership cut a CD, called "Cabin Down Below" - it is well worth seeking out for the many Kidd numbers featured - naturally - however other classics are also tackled such as "Brand New Cadillac" which Moretti's father Joe was also the featured Lead Guitarist.  Any appearances they may do in future will be strictly limited so catch them while you can! 

All in all, the time has never been better for remembering Johnny Kidd through his Pirates.  However, Fred's niece Juliette solely continues the Heath family music line, plays in her band Divided Opinions ( a complimentary site is found here) which has its folk-rock roots way back to 1990.  Quite a few re-shuffles of members saw the right mix in a stabilised group that received increasingly good reviews.  After Juliette recovered from being gravely ill, she clawed her way back to health and the current band are reputedly better than ever with Juliette's violin playing to the fore.  Listen to the songs available on their home page and judge for yourself - they aren't half bad.

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1956-59      1960-61     1962-63     1964-65     1966-67     1976-on     Epilogue

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