WOLVERHAMPTON - WALSALL
revised January, 2018Steve Brett (Davies) lead vocal, guitar
Steve Davies (Brett) who grew up in Wolverhampton, was a talented and popular singer in the West Midlands during the late 1950s and early 1960s. He and his backing group 'The Mavericks' were winners of the "Big Beat" contest held at the Gaumont Cinema in 1962. Steve Brett and The Mavericks are significant in rock music history as one of the earliest groups to feature future Slade vocalist "Noddy" Holder.
The 1962 line-up of the Mavericks were bass guitarist Rick Dene, drummer Gary James, and lead guitarist Rob Nelson (Lightwood). Steve Brett and The Mavericks were broadcast on Television during the early 1960s, appearing regularly in the program "For Teenagers Only" which raised their profile considerably throughout the area.
Steve Brett and The Mavericks went over to Germany in 1963 where they performed at the same clubs that a little-known Liverpool group called The Beatles had been booked at only a year before. At this time, the Mavericks bass guitarist was Dave Holland from Wolverhampton who would later go on to become world famous in jazz music circles as bassist for Miles Davis amongst many others.
By the end of 1964, the original Mavericks had split so Steve Brett enlisted a new Mavericks backing-group consisting of a Walsall band, previously known as "The Memphis Cut-Outs". The origins of this group go back to the early 1960s in Walsall, West Midlands when some school friends formed a group called "The Phantoms". This line-up was Mick Aulton on drums, Phil Burnell on rhythm guitar, Kenny Holland on bass guitar and Neville "Noddy" Holder on vocal and lead guitar.
Noddy Holder was born on June 15, 1946. His father liked to sing in the local pubs and his mother played the violin. An early significant influence on the young Noddy was American singer/performer Al Jolson whom he imitated from an early age. When Noddy was twelve years old, his father bought him an old spanish guitar. With the advent of rock 'n' roll, Noddy took some lessons from local jazz guitarist Freddy Degville before forming The Phantoms who would play 1950s style rock 'n' roll and Shadows numbers, performing mainly at youth clubs.
Despite being involved with his band, Noddy persevered at school and managed to obtain six 'O' levels before deciding that a music career was what he wanted. Upon leaving school, group members started to go their separate ways with Kenny Holland being replaced by Pete Bickley and Mick Aulton leaving to be replaced by Gerry Kibble.
Noddy Holder took a job in a car parts firm to the dismay of his teachers and parents who wanted him to stay on at school for 'A' levels, but Noddy wanted to "turn professional" and the Phantoms became "The Memphis Cut-Outs". He said; "When they saw how determined I was, they gave in, although I don't think they ever believed I could make music my profession." Terry Taylor joined on saxophone and the group secured regular bookings playing three or four shows per week.
Noddy's day job enabled him to purchase a better guitar and amplifier. He also picked up additional guitar technique from Roy Brown who played with a well known local group called The Redcaps. By 1964, the Memphis Cut-Outs were earning about 8 pounds a week each which Noddy felt was enough to give up his regular job.
In late 1964, singer Steve Brett asked the Memphis Cut-Outs to become his backing group as his previous one, The Mavericks, had split up. Steve Brett was well known locally and had appeared on TV so the Memphis Cut-Outs jumped at the chance thinking this would be their big break. The Memphis Cut-Outs became the "new" Mavericks who under Steve Brett, began playing almost nightly throughout the Midlands as his backing band.
Noddy recalled; "Joining the Mavericks gave me my first real taste of the music industry. We were featured in the local papers a lot, usually in 'The Express and Star' in Wolverhampton and occasionally in 'The Birmingham Mail'. I could tell my mum was impressed!"
Steve Brett's vocal style and preference for ballads contrasted with The Maverick's rock 'n' roll/rhythm & blues leanings so The Mavericks were usually allowed to do their own set first and to be joined later on-stage by Steve Brett and act as his backing group. Noddy said; "Our job was to basically warm up the crowd before Steve appeared so we played a good-time party set. I did all the singing and could chose our own songs which included a lot of R 'n' B, Motown, Little Richard, and Fats Domino covers. We always went down well although at some gigs in the beginning it was really just Steve people wanted to see."
Steve Brett, who also wrote songs, obtained a recording contract with Columbia Records in 1965 resulting in The Mavericks recording several tracks at the Hollick & Taylor Studios in Handsworth, Birmingham. Noddy; "None of us had ever been in a studio before. We went in for half a day and recorded three or four tracks. All the songs were from our live set and we played exactly as we did every night on stage. The only difference was there were mics set up between the amps."
Columbia issued three singles by Steve Brett and The Mavericks including 'Sad Lonely And Blue' and 'Candy', but the best known recording by the group was probably 'Sugar Shack' released in December of 1965. An unreleased song, 'Hurting Inside', featured Noddy Holder singing back-up, possibly his earliest recorded vocal track.
Hollick and Taylor was not the only recording experience for The Mavericks. The group went down to London to meet with legendary producer Joe Meek with whom Steve Brett had arranged a recording session. Noddy recalled; "When we got there it was all a bit of a let down. He lived in a rented flat above a shop with just one shoddy little bathroom where all the amps were set up. I remember thinking how on earth has this guy ever produced a hit record in this place? I couldn't even say what songs we recorded with him but none of them were ever released."
Steve Brett and The Mavericks were signed to the Wolverhampton based Astra booking agency whose clients also included The 'N Betweens, a group that included guitarist Dave Hill and drummer Don Powell. The 'N Betweens were known throughout the Midlands as a hard rocking R&B styled outfit and had quite a large following.
The Mavericks and the 'N Betweens often shared the same billing and Noddy Holder got along well with Don Powell although Dave Hill liked to keep to himself. Coincidentally, these two groups were selected at the same time by the agency to undertake some bookings in Germany. While crossing the channel on the ferry, Don and Dave mentioned to Noddy that they were dissatisfied with their band and were thinking of leaving.
The Mavericks played shows in Cologne and Frankfurt with the group members being paid 25 pounds per week each - good money in those days. Noddy recalled; "We took over from a band which included Noel Redding who went on to play with Jimi Hendrix. Musically, every band that went to Germany improved ten-fold. We already had quite a wide repertoire, but we still had to add dozens of new songs to our set every week. Those gigs were a great lesson in learning how to entertain an audience. You couldn't go on, stand there and just slum it all night. The Germans expected a proper show. The madder you were, the better their reaction."
Every night, The Mavericks played five or six sets of 45 minutes each with a fifteen minute break in-between. On weekends, they started at two pm Saturday afternoon and played until four in the morning. Sunday was on-stage at 4 in the afternoon until 2 in the morning. The audience included many Americans from the local air bases.
Noddy remembered; "We played a lot of requests. Whenever I sang a song one of the Americans asked for, they would buy us beer and cognac. We could only drink in the fifteen minute breaks so when we came off stage there was a table of drinks waiting for us. Often, we had to knock back six or seven beers and brandy chasers in a row as if you didn't finish them, the waiters would clear them away. You can imagine the worsening state I was in as the show went on!"
The German nightlife was an eye-opener for Noddy and he was said to have returned to England very "worldly wise". He said; "I had never been a serious drinker until then and I'm sure that's what started me off. I was out of my head every night. Plus, the German women were all over us. They loved English bands. I think all of us pulled on the first night."
During the return trip back to England, the Mavericks' van broke down outside of Frankfurt. Steve Brett along with two other group members continued to England leaving behind Noddy, Phil, and Gerry to deal with the situation. They had to get money sent over from England to pay for the engine repair. This experience made Noddy resentful towards Steve Brett whom he thought was supposed to be in charge.
Back in England, Noddy Holder played several more bookings with the Mavericks and then left along with Pete Bickley and Gerry Kibble. Replacement Mavericks included saxophonist Peter Bryan, drummer Steve Green, and bass guitarist Graham Franklin. Noddy borrowed his father's window cleaning van and took on a job as roadie with the West Midlands group Listen whose lead singer Robert Plant would find fame several years later with Led Zeppelin.
The Mavericks with Steve Brett continued for a while with plenty of bookings. Steve Green their drummer recalled; "We had TWO tenor saxes – quite the thing for the Soul Sound that was around at that time!" Steve still plays drums today in a pit orchestra doing musicals.
During this time, Noddy Holder met up by chance with Dave Hill and Don Powell in Wolverhampton. They told him that the 'N Betweens had split up but were planning to re-form the group with a new bass player named Jim Lea. Noddy was invited to join but further personnel changes would take place before the final and most famous line-up of the 'N Betweens was set in place (see The 'N Betweens).
Steve Brett continued to perform throughout the Midlands during the 1960s and later relocated to Blackpool where he still works to this day as a successful country & western singer.
An excellent CD compilation titled "The Genesis of Slade" that includes rare recordings by Steve Brett and The Mavericks is available for purchase from Amazon or can be ordered from your local record dealer. Original release by The Music Corporation in 1996. Issued on Cherry Red Records in 2000.
Sources: 'Slade' by George Tremlett 1975; 'Feel The Noise' by Chris Charlesworth 1984; 'Who's Crazee Now?' by Noddy Holder 1999; 'The Genesis Of Slade CD' John Howells 1996; plus assistance from Mike Bryan and Steve Green.
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