The Paramounts: Gary Brooker, Robin Trower, Chris Copping, Mick Brownlee / Club Riga: Westcliff-on-Sea, Essex: Saturday 17 December 2005
Well over forty five years ago a Mr and Mrs Trower opened a café in Southend-on-Sea, Essex. It was called 'The Shades' and was located on the seafront just up from the Golden Mile, before you reached the gas works, right next door to the '77' biker's caff. In the basement the Shades put on live music. Many bands displayed what they had to offer but the group that made that venue its own was the Paramounts.
The Paramounts, formed in 1961, were the first of the Essex delta bands to achieve fame and recording success from the land of 'kiss me quick ', winkles and mud. As is well documented, the Paramounts eventually mutated into Procol Harum but after a recent flurry of nostalgic interest in the local press it was decided to try and arrange a once-and-forever Shades night with the re-formed original Paramounts. The original Shades building has been long demolished so the night was to be staged at Club Riga, the long established, live music venue of The Cricketers pub at nearby Westcliff.
The evening started by introducing the man who started it all, Len Trower with Shirl, his son Robin's stepmother. As the all-standing audience's cheers faded, shuffling on to the stage came the Rockafellers kicking the evening off with a set of rock'n'roll standards. These boys were another group of Shades regular bands and the capacity crowd gave them a good reception. They knocked out Jerry Lee, Chuck, Roy Orbison, etc., in front of the only surviving artefact from the Shades, a huge, crude cartoon of a 'beat group' that used to adorn the dank walls all those years ago.
The cartoon in question, 'restored' by RC from BtP
After a short break, to thunderous applause, the curtains swept back to reveal a combined 240 years of Southend R'n'B history, the original Paramounts! Before the Feelgoods, before the Kursaals, the Hot Rods, et al, were the Paramounts.
There sat now silver-haired, rugged, keyboard front man Gary Brooker. Len Trower's baby boy, Robin gripping his custom-made Stratocaster. Just a few hours in from a flight from his home in Melbourne, Australia, bass man Chris Copping and behind the wallopers, Mick Brownlee.
No "Hellos" or "Nice to be backs", just straight into Old Black Joe, Brooker's vocals sounding good, with the band right behind him. Rock me Baby was next up. This number featured Trower's guitar. Sublime. He plays with such ease and beauty. A Coasters' tune was going to be next. Brooker went straight into Searchin'. Unfortunately the other three were expecting Young Blood. Lots of laughter as the keyboard man readjusted and restarted. No problem. It's only rock'n' roll. The Leiber/Stoller/Pomus classic sounded terrific.
Brownlee and Copping were keeping it together, the latter sideways on to the audience probably to keep half an eye on what Brooker was doing.
"The Paramounts were never much on backing vocals," said Gary. "So please help us out on this next one." Obligingly the crowd all joined in on Maurice Williams's Stay. More great, gritty vocalising and guitar work on the Ray Charles standard, Black Jack, followed. Trower still displaying his Hendrix influences to great effect with the accompanying grimaces. This was followed by the second hiccup of the night, a keyboard malfunction. Quickly sorted out, it was on with the band's only UK top forty hit Poison Ivy. Back to Ray Charles and more audience participation with What'd I say. Fats Domino's Walking to New Orleans came with the suggestion it should now be re-titled Swimming…. St James Infirmary was renamed, Fred Spring's Bar Room, as Fred Spring, legendary 'guvnor' of the Crickets for as long as we all can remember was there right at the front, grinning from ear to ear. Jerry Lee's Breathless was next up. Pumping keyboards and soaring guitar. Trower's solos evoking a frisson with every note. No wonder he's the Strat player's Strat player.
Then what to finish? Lucille, Mr Penniman's plea to his straying squeeze. That did it. The house went crazy as the Paramounts left the stage. We all knew they'd be back and they were.Elvis's Santa Claus is Back in Town was their bluesy, seasonal encore. At the finish the four walked as one to the front of the stage, a little bow, a wave and then they were gone. Gone. Never to return in that line-up, never to perform as the Paramounts again.
© David Elvin, December 2005
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