Southend’s Rock’n’Roll Years …
Ripples from The Standard’s run of nostalgic stories about the golden days of the rock’n’roll era in Southend continue to spread far and wide. This week Standard editor Tim Aves talked to one of the key players from the local scene… rock legend ROBIN TROWER, guitarist with The Paramounts.
Decades on from his initial success with The Paramounts, Robin Trower still has a huge worldwide fanbase and tours constantly.
One indication of his standing in the music world is the fact he was recently awarded what many guitarists might consider the ultimate accolade – Fender is to market a Robin Trower signature model Stratocaster.
|Hit band – an early picture, left, shows Robin with The
Diz Derrick, Gary Brooker,
But it was the early days of the late Fifties and early Sixties – back when a whole band would often plug into one tiny amplifier – that we focused on, when Robin called for a chat.
“Goodness me, it seems such a long, long time ago,” he laughs. “It’s actually quite hard to believe how long it really is. I must have been about 15 or 16 when we started the band.
“I suppose the person that got me going was [fellow Southend High School pupil and original Paramounts bass-player] Chris Copping. He taught me a few chords and things.
“The big influence on us was this band from Romford that Pete Tobin used to put on in the Palace Hotel ballroom, called The Rockafellas. They were fantastic. I think they were actually called The Fabulous Rockafellas and they were just that – fabulous. Their lineup was guitar, bass and drums, with a piano-player who sang – and that was the template for The Paramounts.”
Early gigs included appearances at the Cricketers (now Club Riga) and the old Palace ballroom, but the venue most often associated with the band was the legendary Shades coffee bar on Southend seafront, owned by Robin’s dad Len.
“We played the Palace a couple of times with a band called The Shades, who modelled themselves after The Shadows,” Robin says. “That’s where we got the name for the coffee bar. So far as I remember, it was actually my dad’s idea to have the band playing in the basement.
“I don’t remember asking him to let us play there – I’m pretty sure he was the one who suggested it. It was a fantastic place for us to play and we had so many great times there.”
|Seafront frolics – Robin, front, with Gary Brooker
smoking two cigarettes, and Chris Coppin [sic]
wearing shoes round his neck!
What is Gary wearing?
By then, the band boasted not one, but two amplifiers – Gary Brooker had one for his vocals, plus the microphone he stuck in his old upright piano! Bassist Copping (later Dizz Derrick) and young Robin (or Rob, or Robbie as he was usually known in those days) shared an old Selmer valve amp, while Mick Brownlee’s drums needed no amplification in the crowded confines of the basement club.
“We were playing very much the same kind of stuff as The Rockafellas,” says Robin. “It was rock’n’roll – Jerry Lee Lewis and Chuck Berry songs, though that changed as Gary got more and more into r’n’b. We started playing a lot more Ray Charles and James Brown stuff.”
|Robin, in sunglasses, outside Shades in a rare colour picture
Note the sign on the scooter.
Gary Brooker later identified this be-shaded character as Kellogs, not Robin.
After a couple of years, the band was doing well enough to turn professional – a move which led to the departure of drummer Mick Brownlee and the arrival in the traps of BJ Wilson. In 1962, the band recorded a demo with a young engineer called Glyn Johns, who would go on to work on many classic recordings by great bands including The Beatles and The Rolling Stones.
The result was a version of the classic Coasters’ tune, Poison Ivy and it was good enough to land the band a record deal with Parlophone.
“That demo we did with Glynn Johns was a really good recording,” says Robin. “I always thought the demo version was far superior to the version they ended up putting out on the record!”
For all that, Poison Ivy’s success took Robin, Gary, and the boys onto TV, with appearances on Ready Steady Go and Thank Your Lucky Stars. A little later, under the wing of Beatles manager Brian Epstein’s NEMS company, they would also tour with the Fab Four.
In 1966, The Paramounts disbanded and Robin got the call from Gary Brooker to join him and BJ Wilson in a new band – Procol Harum – that was about to [sic] release a rather grand-sounding single, called Whiter Shade of Pale.
“Gary had another guitarist in the band, but it wasn’t working, so he asked me to help them out,” says Trower. “We really didn’t realise it would end up the way it did.”
More than 40 years on from those early days in the Shades, some things have changed. Time has taken its toll on Robin’s coiffed blond locks, much in evidence in those early photos – and the long, golden mane that was a trademark during his Seventies guitar-hero phase is certainly a thing of the past.