We have had some very sad news this month, with the passing of Tony Wilkinson (Wilk) on Thursday 14 February last. My most sincere condolences go out to his wife Pam and his daughters Colinda and Tracey Lee together with the other members of Tony's family.
Some would ask, who was Tony Wilkinson? We don't know him. To those people I would say, ‘Tony was someone who was very special'. If you are, or were, a resident of Southend and the surrounding district, what Tony was, and what he stood for, may well have touched you. Tony was a gentleman to all who came into contact with him and if you passed him in the street you would never have known that Tony represented to Rock & Roll and Soul music, what perhaps Radio Caroline stood for in pop music when it was broadcasting.
Tony knew more about American popular music from the 1950s and ’60s than perhaps anyone else in this country. Many, many people will have heard the record A Whiter Shade of Pale from Procol Harum, fronted by Gary Brooker, also from the Southend area. Indeed it topped the charts for weeks and weeks in the 60s. Procol, who are still playing today, came into being as a result of an earlier line-up featuring Gary called The Paramounts. ‘How is all this relevant to Tony's memory,’ you may ask.
Situated on Southend seafront was a coffee bar called The Shades. Young people from all over Essex and from London used to congregate there, with their scooters – it was a Mods’ retreat – to listen to the Paramounts, who played live music in the cellar of the Shades. They performed music originally performed by artists like Jerry Lee Lewis, Fats Domino, Chuck Berry and Ray Charles. The person who was instrumental in introducing this type of music to the Paramounts was Tony Wilkinson.
The juke-box in The Shades was made up with records from Tony's endless and timeless collection, a collection that was still being added to up to his very sad passing. Tony, through his association with the Paramounts, and by placing his own records in Shades’ juke-box was, although he might not have known it at the time, shaping the music preference for hundreds and possibly thousands of people for the rest of their lives. He made them aware of artists like Otis Redding, Gladys Knight and – before even the Beatles had recorded Twist and Shout – the original performers of the track, The Isley Bros.
Tony is being laid to rest on Thursday 28 February in Great Wakering in Essex, where he lived. I am very proud to have been a friend of Tony Wilkinson and on behalf of everyone whose lives have been made better from either knowing him or from dancing to or simply listening to his choice of music I say, ‘Thank you Tony, you were a one off'.
The author of this piece is, in his own words, ' ... the same James Rawlinson that Gary sings about in the St James Infirmary track on the Paramounts DVD recorded at Club Riga in 2005
Roland from BtP adds: 'Chris Cooke introduced me to 'Wilk' when I was
researching material for a – currently shelved –
Liquorice John Death
project. His encyclopaedic recall came over very strongly during a generous
hour's telephone conversation in March 2011. Gary Brooker had already told me
"Tony Wilkinson had an ‘R&B ear’. You’d go there on Saturday afternoon, and he
had an ear for a record. You heard the record, you didn’t borrow it. You heard
what you thought were the words ..." and this was amply borne out in his
conversation. A quantity surveyor by trade, he also wrote for
'In Wilk's words, '... Shades people were of the Moddish tendency, but nothing virulent in dress sense. Not heavily into scooters and suchlike'. It was a music community; they hired a coach and went to Croydon’s Fairfield Halls in [May] 1963 to hear Jerry Lee Lewis. All the way there Wilk played records on a battery-operated record player he’d borrowed from a girlfriend. [The 18 year-old] Rob Trower was blown away by Who Do You Love by Ronnie Hawkins, the guitar solo on that [which is by Robbie Robertson]. He played it eight or nine times. Wilk recalled that From Me to You was No 1 at the time. He thought Gary Brooker was probably on that coach as well. Wilk also knew Chris Copping at the time, and he was in the same school year, though not the same class, as Dave Mundy, co-author of Procol Harum's Well I .
'Clearly this was a man whose history was deeply interwoven with that of the musicians and characters to whose exploits 'Beyond the Pale' is dedicated. A sad loss to us all, therefore.'
More about The Paramounts