Derek J Ripley presses his flares and heads down memory lane to explore Lancashire’s poptastic past.
PUBLISHED: 00:31 13 June 2013
Every schoolboy knows that the Industrial Revolution started in Lancashire, powered by the three Cs – Cotton, Coal and Chips. But there’s much more to Lancashire than the Industrial Revolution
Pop for example. Not the refreshing, fizzy beverage which is the favourite tipple of young Lancastrians - particularly when it’s mixed with a shot of vodka - but pop music. If one includes the metropolitan boroughs of Greater Manchester and Merseyside (cruelly annexed following local government reorganisation in 1974), Lancashire has probably contributed more to popular music culture than any other county. (If one excludes them, few counties have contributed less, apart from Lincolnshire and East Sussex)
Yet pop stardom can be fleeting. Yesterday’s pop idol is today’s minicab driver. Who today remembers classic songs such as Westhead Girls by The Chip Shop Boys or Gravy, Love by the Chorley all-girl trio, The Superbs?
Mention The Morrisons or The Spatchcocks to youngsters today and you will most likely be met by blank expressions. Sadly, the Ashton-on-Mersey Sound is long forgotten and few recall the golden days of the 1970s when all day tea dances at the Wigan Casino Bank attracted busloads of OAPs, lured by the promise of a free supper of freshly caught northern sole and chips.
And what of Blackpool rock? Not the sticky boiled sugar confection for which Blackpool is renowned, but musicians such as The Dave Blunt Five; Dave Lee, Dopey, Squeaky, Vic and Mitch and Eamonn Horner who, for a brief period in the 1960s, made Blackpool the rock and roll capital of the Fylde.
I recently had occasion to visit Blackpool to attend the annual general meeting of the Tripe Marketing Board. The town has changed a lot since I last visited in 1964 but one thing hasn’t - the trams. They are the ones on which I travelled as a child and almost certainly the ones on which the Lancashire troubadour Wally Gutteridge rode from Starr Gate to Fleetwood during the Great Depression, composing songs such as his famous hymn to Lancashire -
This Lancs Is Your Lancs:
This Lancs is thy Lancs, this Lancs is my Lancs
From Bury market to the Blackpool Tower
From the Trough of Bowland to the Fylde Coast waters
This Lancs was made for thee and me.
Close your eyes and you can almost hear the sounds of Gutteridge protesting as he is thrown off a tram for refusing to pay his fare and his banjo being smashed by the irate conductor.
Taking refuge from the driving bank holiday rain in a promenade café, I dunked my sports biscuit in a cup of strong Lancashire tea. As I watched the cyclist’s head slowly dissolve and melt, I was transported back to the summer of 1964, when Blackpool sweltered in temperatures approaching 60°F and there was hardly a cloud in the sky for an entire afternoon.
The soundtrack to this childhood holiday was the West Coast sound of The Beat Boys, whose slightly off-key harmonies capture perfectly the sounds of a Lancashire summer - burgers sizzling, bingo calling and torrential rain.
Byron, Clive and Derek Watson grew up in a Bispham boarding house run by their parents and together with their cousin Mick and next door neighbour Alf, a part-time candy floss salesman, cut their first disc in a make-your-own-record booth on Central Pier at the age of 12. They rose from playing the working men’s clubs of Blackpool to the Darby and Joan Clubs of St Annes in just 25 years. At the height of their fame in the late 1960s they appeared at The Lytham Palladium performing some of their greatest songs such as I’ll Get A Round, Oven Chips Are Nice and Thornton Cleveleys Girls.
Their decline began in 1970, when Byron Watson, the band’s driving force, became addicted to cleaning the house and refused to go on tour. They reformed in 2006 and now perform as a tribute band to The Pleasure Beach Boys, themselves a Beat Boys tribute band.
Sadly, their records are no longer available but if you are lucky you might just find a dusty copy of their finest album, Pit Sounds, or their compilation album, Endless Winter, at a car boot sale near you.