BIRMINGHAMBill Dixon rhythm guitar, vocal
The Boll Weevills were one of many young local groups formed in the early 1960s. The recent passing of former Black Sabbath member Geoff Nicholls makes them particularly significant in rock music history as the Boll Weevills were Geoff's first documented band. The group also had acclaimed drummer Mac Poole who went on to bigger things. I'm grateful to founding member John Rowlands (of The Exception) who has written the story of the group in his own words as follows:
John; I first started to play when my mum and dad bought my brother Ken and myself a guitar each for Christmas when I was 13 years old. Mum sent us both for a lesson with an Italian tutor by the name of "Tamburo" who operated above Jack Woodroff's music shop.
The lessons were two and sixpence for each of us for an hour. We both enjoyed our first lesson and I was looking forward to the second lesson when mom tells us she could only afford to send one of us from then on. Ken was the chosen one and mom said he was to show me what HE had learned upon his return. After the third lesson, Ken lost interest and so did my mom and I was left to my own devices.
At school, I did a few end-of-term 'gigs' with a couple of lads but this never came to a long term thing. After leaving Hastings Road School, I got a job in Erdington developing and printing films. NOT quite music to the ears but very soon I was approached by an old school mate who together with his cousin and cousin's mate wanted to start up a group and was I interested? Now that WAS music to my ears.
My old school mate had a guitar, his cousin a singing voice, and the cousin's mate was a drummer. Well to be kind - my old mate had got no sense of timing and didn't know one note from the other. The cousin was totally tone-deaf, and the cousin's mate had no drum kit and also no sense of timing. However something good did come out of this. These lads knew a man who could play drums so I arranged to meet him. ENTER - Peter Webb but alas, minus a drum kit.
Peter was very keen and thanks to his grandma, soon acquired a brand new set of drums all of his own, BUT we still needed a couple of members. Peter said his cousin played guitar so we ask him to come along to see how things could work out. ENTER - Billy Dixon who looked a little like Buddy Holly but more like Freddy Garrity. He seemed to be keen and we got on fine but there was still something missing - we needed a bass guitarist.
Billy told us he knew a lad who played guitar so I asked if he would be interested. ENTER - Geoff Nicholls. Geoff turned up for his audition in an old Morris 8 red convertible with guitar and amp on the back seat. Needless to say, we all seemed to gel and soon got to grips with a sort of repertoire which was music to our ears. "THE BOLL WEEVILLS" were hatched. But - we found we had three rhythm guitarists and NO bass player. Yours truly decided that I would step into the role. But this time two items missing - a bass guitar and amplifier!
With a couple of bookings (gigs) already in the bag we decided that this was only a minor setback and off we went on stage with ME playing what could have been the first 6 string bass which was in fact my trusty electric guitar and amp with all the treble turned off and bass control full on, sounded quite good at the time. After a short while, I traded in my "Old Trusty" down at Yardley's music store at Snow Hill for "The Real McCoy" which felt so good.
The Boll Weevills soon became very popular on both pub and club circuit playing around the local scene but I felt that we should be doing a lot more. SO, I phoned Mrs Regan and asked if she would give us some work on her circuit ie - The Plaza Handsworth, Old Hill, The Ritz Kings Heath, and Brum Cavern Small Heath.
Mrs Regan replied by saying she'd not heard of us and therefore would like to invite us around to her house "Mount Pleasant" in Edgbaston. We were to take all our own equipment along and to wear our stage gear in order that she could get a good and proper idea of our stage presence.
We turned up on Sunday afternoon and were met by Mr Joe Regan who straight away set to work helping unloading our gear and setting things up for us. Once changed into our stage gear we did our sound check and then into their lounge enters Mrs Regan. She said "Right boys, I like what I see. Lets hear what you sound like" so off we set to impress with our stage act. After four numbers Mrs Regan said "OK lads I like you very, very much and I would like you to play next Saturday night at The Plaza Handsworth." Well - we were chuffed to say the least!
We turned up that Saturday to find five other bands advertised on the bill together with 'Tom Jones and The Squires'. Mrs Regan met us saying; "Look lads, this Tom Jones chap has let me down. He's been on Juke Box Jury tonight and is not going to appear. Because you are new to my circuit we are going to introduce you as 'The Star Act - The Boll Weevills from London'. You will then go on to The Plaza Old Hill, then The Ritz and finally, The Brum Cavern."
We were told that we would be paid extra for our services and asked had she got a deal - Well I ask you WHAT DO YOU THINK? At the appointed time we walked out on the stage to the words from Gordon the compare. "Tonight ladies and gentlemen, instead of Tom Jones we introduce to you a group all the way from London - the fabulous, the incredible - Boll Weevills."
The crowed surged forward it was a little bit frightening really but exciting at the same time. At the end of our act the crowd wanted more but the other gigs called. We were treated like stars - all our gear was carried out, loaded and unloaded at each gig. We also received the same audience reaction throughout the night and early hours. Needless to say, this was just the beginning of our association with Mrs Regan.
The Boll Weevills went on to play alongside top names; - The Who - The Yardbirds - The Swinging Blue Jeans - Gerry and The Pacemakers - The Pretty Things - The Zombies - The Searchers - The Fortunes - The Nice - The Time Box - Jimmy Cliff - The Mersey Beats - Tony Jackson Combo - Tony Rivers and The Castaways - Unit 4 plus 2 - The Rockin' Berries - The Kinks - The Big 3, and the list goes on, not forgetting loads of local bands.
The group received a bit of a blow when Billy Dixon decided that due to a business commitment working with his dad in a gents hairdressing business he would have to leave us. We decided we continue as a 3 piece - "The Boll Weevills 3" John Rowlands (bass/vocals), Peter Webb (drums/vocals), Geoff Nichols (guitar/vocals).
Adding more agents and more venues we became so busy that we loosing time from our day jobs to travel to gigs. Another blow came when Peter Webb told us that due to working and personal comitments he too was leaving us. Peter did stay on with us to honour bookings and until we could find a replacement. ENTER - Tony Thompson who fitted in well.
At this stage we were only able to take local bookings in the week with long distance gigs on weekends. The introduction of keyboards into our line-up was a good idea in theory but for Geoff, who took on the role alongside his lead and rhythm guitars, it proved quite difficult on some of our numbers. And so ENTER - Trevor Neath on lead guitar.
The bookings continued to roll in and we all felt that the time had come for an important decision - "WORK AND MUSIC OR FULL TIME PRO" ?? Then another blow. Tony Thompson chose work - wanting to further his career as a printer. We need to find ourselves a replacement drummer and quick!
Several answers to our adverts found good drummers or good vocals but not the two together until one young man phoned me and asked to meet up which we did at The Surf Board Stop in Constitution Hill. Over coffee, the young man asked what type of music did we do. We explained that not only did we do current numbers, we mainly concentrated on Beach Boys - Four Seasons, and close harmony numbers. There and then the young man tapped on the table and off we all went into Beach Boys 'Barbara Ann'. The harmony was perfect - music to our Ears.
The young man explained that he owned a full Ludwig drum kit and that he had been playing with Derri Ryan and The Incas until they had recently split. He had been approached by Robert Plant to join Led Zeppelin (at that time called "The New Yardbirds") but had turned down the offer as he prefered vocal harmony bands.
We soon met up again complete with YEP! the Ludwig kit, when the young man came along to the Community rooms in Birdbrook Road that we used for our rehearsals. After several numbers we all agreed that we had a great addition so, ENTER - Malcom "Mac" Poole.
It was agreed with ourselves and all our agency's that we would "turn professional". It was also decided that we should take on a new name for the band and call ourselves "THE SEED". Travelling further afield, we played universities, colleges, London clubs and still enjoying Birmingham clubs alongside the big names.
Sadly, after months of hard work and hundreds of miles on the road, Mac Poole decided he was going to leave and this was the biggest blow of them all. The unrest led to Trevor Neath also deciding to leave us to join the army (he was later accepted to join the parachute regiment).
A date was set for "The Seed" to be sown for good and boy what a sad day that was. Although still standing - myself John Rowlands, and Geoff Nicholls. By this time I was getting a little fed up with trying to keep a band together and suggested to Geoff that we separated for the time being and if we couldn't find ourselves other bands to team up with, that we would perhaps get back together.
A couple of days later both Geoff and myself went along to The Cedar Club - part of the "Brum Circuit". We were just mingling with mates when Geoff said that Alan "Bugsy" Eastwood" and Roger Hill of The Exception were in the club asking about me. Coming over from the bar Roger and Bugsy asked if we could have a chat. They asked if I was fixed up with a band yet and I told them I was still looking around. They told me Dave Pegg was about to leave The Exception and would I be interested in having an audition with them?
The following morning, Roger and Bugsy appeared at my home together with copies of their records and asked me if I would learn the numbers and join them for rehearsal the following day at the famous community rooms in Birdbrook Road. On the day there were several bass players awaiting to be auditioned. I set my gear up and did my bit. Both seemed to be impressed but asked me to wait until they had heard the rest of the lads.
After some time they said "Right John, can we go through the numbers again?" and so we did - then they said "Ok John. When would you like to start?" music to my ears. We got together all that week and rehearsed and rehearsed and then it was time for me to take over from Dave Pegg. Dave went on to join The Ian Cambell Folk Group and later became a pivotal member of the acclaimed 'Fairport Convention'.
As for the ex Boll Weevill/Seed members, Malcolm "Mac" Poole has been with various bands since The Seed. They are; Young Blood, Dangerfield Band, Big Bertha, Marsha Hunt, Warhorse (with Deep Purple founding member Nick Simper), Stan Webb's Broken Glass, Orkestra with ELO's Kelly Groucutt and Mik Kaminski, and his brother Clive Poole & O'Boy band Rocking Horse.
In 1980, Malcom was diagnosed as having mouth cancer and was treated, given the all clear, only to have the cancer return this time to his lungs and brain. He underwent more treatment. Mac passed away on May 23, 2015.
Geoff Nicholls joined The World of Oz, and then Johnny Neal and The Starliners. Geoff then formed 'Quartz' - joined up with Cozy Powell and then went on to play keyboards with Black Sabbath. Geoff passed away due to cancer on January 28, 2017 (see BrumBeat Geoff Nicholls feature).
In the early days of The Exception, I met my wife to be Sheelagh when she turned up to see us at the Chateau Impney. You can say that it was love at first sight. After leaving The Exception I became employed in The "DIY" industry going on to become self employed together with Sheelagh owning our own Business "CASTLE KITCHEN AND BATHROOM DESIGN".
successfully supplying and Installing products into customers homes for 29 years, we made the decision to retire from our business when Sheelagh was diagnosed with bowel cancer in 2006. Thankfully the treatment Sheelagh received worked well and we trust that when she goes for her next scan will show still clear.
Having been married now for 42 years, we enjoy life by getting out and about in our motor home. Sheelagh does tend to nag a lot though by saying "Please play your guitar for me John, it would be music to my ears!"
Copyright © John Rowlands
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