Last updated May, 2009Mac Broadhurst saxophone
Musically speaking, 1963 marked the arrival of the "Beat Boom" in Great Britain. The year also saw the release of the first Beatles album, Please Please Me which was to become a major influence on the decade as music provided the sound track for a social revolution. This revolution was born in the mid-1950's with the discovery of black American rhythm & blues by white teenagers on both sides of the Atlantic.
Meanwhile, in Birmingham U.K. during October, 1963 the first sell out issue of "Midland Beat" under the editorship of Dennis Detheridge, hit the news stands with the headline; "BRUM BEAT HITS CHARTS" - Midlands groups on radio and TV too". The article went on to report; "The Brum Beat is in the hit parade. The Bruisers and The Redcaps have been leading the way with their records Blue Girl (Bruisers) and Shout (Redcaps). Both groups have made progress in the 'Melody Maker' and 'New Record Mirror' Top 50."
The article also announced that five other Brum groups had been given recording contracts by Norrie Paramor following auditions at the Old Moat House in Digbeth - just five minutes from Birmingham's famous Bull Ring. It was Norrie who came up with the name Brumbeat - a generic 'brand' name for the whole of the Midlands area pop music scene. This resonated with the already established (in 1960) local Liverpool music paper "Mersey Beat" and its promotion of the "Mersey Sound".
The nucleus of Walsall group The Redcaps, was twin brothers Mick and Dave Walker, and Roy Brown who, like all other young musicians of the period, had cut their teeth playing skiffle under the inevitable influences of Lonnie Donegan, The Vipers, and Chas Mc Devitt - to name but a few. The photograph from the front page of the December 1963 Midland Beat shows the well-heeled Redcaps line up at the height of their popularity. From left to right we have Dave Walker (lead vocal/rhythm guitar), Mick Walker (backing vocals/bass), Mac Broadhurst (saxophone), Alan Morley (drums), and Roy Brown (lead guitar). The boys are seen here celebrating at a Christmas gig and if you look closely, you may spot Santa Claus joining in the fun!
Where did the name Redcaps originate? Mick Walker; "We admired The Blue Caps - Gene Vincent's backing group - so we plumped for Redcaps, as simple as that". During their musical career which spanned 1960 to early 1965, The Redcaps shared the billing with; "every national group you could think of - and we also backed many solo artistes who appeared at the Regan ballrooms including Gene Vincent and Stevie Wonder" says Mick.
So, where does The Redcaps story actually begin? The original line-up in 1961 was lead guitarist Roy Brown and his vocalist brother, Ronnie Brown who then recruited the Walker twins (Mick and Dave) plus sax player Mac Broadhurst and drummer Jimmie Richards. The group was originally managed by Roy and Ronnie's dad and they went on the road as "Ronnie King and The Redcaps" - the typical (at the time) "him and them" outfit with a frontman and backing group. It was this line-up that went to France in 1962. Jimmie Richards soon left the group to be replaced by John Ewing (who, by the way, was a cousin of one of the Four Seasons in the USA). Ewing stayed only a few months whereupon Jimmie Richards re-joined only to leave, yet again-and be replaced by Alan Morley in late 1962. Morley remained with the group until they disbanded.
Roy and Ronnie's dad secured some lucrative regular work for the group. Every Saturday night they played at Bloxwich Baths and every Tuesday and Thursday at Mid Cannock Miners Club. Remember, in those days Cannock was a thriving coal mining community. One fan and aspiring star who never missed a Saturday night studying The Redcaps at Bloxwich Baths was Noddy Holder who was also a classmate of lead guitarist Roy Brown at TP Riley School in Bloxwich. Noddy would socialize with the group during the break picking up useful tips which have obviously put him in good stead for his future career with with The Memphis Cutouts, Steve Brett and The Mavericks, The 'N Betweens, and Slade.
During an on-stage "misunderstanding" between Ronnie and Dave one evening regarding when to come in with the vocal following an intro, Ronnie stormed off never to be seen again. 'Ronnie King and The Redcaps' now became 'The Redcaps' with the soulful and very able Dave Walker taking on all lead vocals as well as rhythm guitar. They were no longer a "him and them" type group but a self contained unit - just like The Beatles - who they went on to support on four separate occasions. It was this line-up that recorded the first two singles for Decca.
Like The Beatles and most all other Merseyside groups for that matter, The Redcaps "were influenced by material not usually heard in the UK" said Mick Walker. "Our American influences were The Bill Black Combo, all the black R&B artists including the much covered Chuck Berry. In the UK one of our main influences was Johnny Kidd and The Pirates. Much of the elusive American material was brought in by merchant seamen via Liverpool docks which culminated in the famous and unique Mersey Sound".
The Redcaps were signed to Decca Records by Dick Rowe who made a special journey from London to see them perform live at The Plaza, Handsworth. This signing was several months before the Norrie Paramor Brumbeat campaign. Rowe was the man famous (or infamous) for turning down The Beatles at a Decca audition a year earlier. Nevertheless, the quality of all six Redcaps' sides proved he was no slouch when it came to record production. The Plaza Ballroom in Handsworth was owned by Redcaps' manager Mary Regan (or "Ma Regan" as she was affectionately known). She also owned The Old Hill Plaza, The Ritz in Kings Heath, and The Brum Cavern Club in Small Heath. She was ably assisted by her husband Joe Regan who always acted as MC when international groups appeared at one of the ballrooms.
The Regan ballrooms were open Wednesday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday evenings from 8.00pm until late and regularly featured top chart groups and solo artists from the UK and USA. Ma Regan managed other groups in addition to The Redcaps and generously supplied them with the latest Vox AC30 amplifiers. Before the trio of Vox amplifiers though, The Redcaps, like all other groups of the time, originally assembled their own sound systems from basic Linear amplifiers (manufactured by Northern Transformers Ltd) coupled with home made speaker cabinets since the cost of Vox, Fender or Selmer amplifiers was prohibitive. Mick said; "We started with Linear amps and then Selmer and finally Ma Regan's Vox amps". As for guitars and bass, Mick said "We started with Hofners, then Burns, Fenders, and finally Gibson".
With each venue also having the latest state-of-the-art PA systems the sound quality was first class for the time. Mick Walker; "Playing the Regan circuit could be a gruelling experience. It was quite common for her own groups to be expected to play at three of the ballrooms in one night. Imagine, starting at The Plaza, Handsworth for a 45 minute spot and then on to The Plaza, Old Hill for the same and then finishing at the Ritz, Kings Heath - think of all the packing and unpacking of all the gear!" The Redcaps did all this as well as fulfilling other gigs outside the Regan ballroom circuit. Drummer Alan Morley was reported in Midland beat as continually grumbling about the constant unpacking and packing of his drum kit. Compared with guitarists and bass players who really just plug and play, drums on the other hand are a tedious operation, to say the least!
"There were no roadies in those days" said Mick. "You did all the lugging yourselves". The Redcaps however, were well trained for this type of hard graft having served their apprenticeships at a USA army base in Fontenet, France during 1962. "We were doing eight hour spots every day" said Mick. "It was just as tough as those gigs in Germany that all the other groups of the era talk about". The boys were playing for the regular soldiers whereas, the sergeant's mess was graced with the the presence of Liverpool group "Rory Storm and The Hurricanes". This group had a drummer by the name of Richard Starkey who went on to fame and fortune with The Beatles.
The Redcaps' first Decca single, Shout was a cover of an Isley Brothers' hit which was then covered by Lulu and The Luvvers some twelve months after The Redcaps release. The flip side of The Redcaps' version was Things You Do written by Mick and Dave Walker and Roy Brown, thus marking the boys' first foray into serious songwriting. The second Redcaps Decca single was Talkin' About You c/w Come On Girl. The A-side was a cover of a Chuck Berry composition and the B-side by Bert Burns of the Isley Brothers.
Roy Brown left the group for health reasons after the second single and was replaced in May, 1964 by Mick Blythe from Albrighton group The Tremors who started out as a skiffle group in the late 1950's called Red Rebel. Other names to emerge from The Tremors were Johnny O'Hara (The Californians), Mac Bailey (Tommy Burton) and Martin de Vries (The Strollers). Andy Maclachlan, the bass player with The Tremors was also the boss of Domino Sound Studio - a professional recording studio situated at number 16, High Street, Albrighton where The Redcaps were to record a number of demos. The Tremors eventually morphed into Zuider Zee in 1965. In March, 1964 the aforementioned Midland Beat had carried an advert inviting people to join the 'Official Redcaps Fan Club'. The ad was posted by fan club secretary Cheryl Skipp from Handsworth in Birmingham.
The song chosen for the Redcaps third Decca single, Mighty Fine Girl was written by Chris Andrews (perhaps better known for his 1965 hit Yesterday Man) and the B-side, Funny Things was by the then new Redcaps' lead guitarist Mick Blythe who wrote the song in the van on the way to a London gig. I told Mick that my favourite Redcaps side was Talkin' About You and asked him how it was recorded; "We did the whole song in just two takes on a four track recorder. Dick Rowe used a couple of mikes over the drums and the whole thing was done in just over an hour."
As someone who, as an aspiring musician in 1963, has had the privilege of experiencing The Redcaps perform live on many occasions at The Ritz and later to appear on the same bill as a support group (The Fleetwoods) at The Brum Cavern, I have to say that they WERE special and it was well worth going out of your way to see them perform. As well as along with his bandmates being a serious musician, Mick Walker started to emerge as a comedian and would augment the group's set-list with his unique brand of tasteful humour which earned them the nickname of "The Madcaps". Mick said; "There will never ever be a repeat of those wonderful days. People still come up to me with their collections of Redcaps memorabilia and ask me to autograph it. It was great travelling all over the country with a van covered with messages scrawled in lipstick! It was a hectic time where we worked continuously and all the days have rolled into one continuous period, but the fans seem to have greater memories of what we did than we do!"
After The Redcaps disbanded in January 1965, Dave Walker went on to form a band called Beckett along with Pete Oliver, Don McGinty and Colin Tomlinson. From 1965 to 1969 they had a residency at the popular Rum Runner night club in Broad Street, Birmingham where brother Mick was the manager. In the 1970s, Dave went on to play with The Idle Race, Savoy Brown, Fleetwood Mac and Black Sabbath. He is still in the music business and lives in America.
Mick Walker formed his own jazz/comedy trio in 1969 and did a ten month season at the Pigalle club in Piccadilly, London before then touring the UK cabaret circuit and then a season on the Q.E.II. He has since worked as a movie stuntman and also as a personal bodyguard to both Elton John and Freddie Mercury. He has worked on BBC comedy shows with Tom O'Connor and is currently in much demand working as an after dinner speaker. He is currently promoted by Elcock Entertainments whose boss is none other than Jake Elcock - former bass player with Finders Keepers and The Montanas. Mick now lives "out in the sticks" just outside Bridgnorth, Shropshire. Redcaps drummer Alan Morley lives in Bridgnorth, Shropshire and plays in a jazz trio.
Acknowledgement: A special thanks to Mick Walker for agreeing to meet up with me on 18 November, 2008 at The Brasserie in Bridgnorth to be interviewed for this much awaited and exclusive Redcaps bio. Also, his wife Mirta for the provision of the two 'priceless' photographs of The Redcaps at a live gig. (copyright: Mick Walker). Other images copyright: Dennis Detheridge (Former editor of Midland Beat). Author: Brian W. Nicholls.
Copyright © Brian W. Nicholls 2009
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