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Robin’s whiter shades of nostalgia

from The Southend Standard, 16 September 2005

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 Paramonts.


Diz Derrick, Gary Brooker,
BJ Wilson, Robin Trower

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.

Full page layout“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. 

For all that, he’s still in good shape – and, on the evidence of his most recent album, Living Out of Time (which also features Leigh’s own Dave Bronze on bass) – playing better than ever. 

“I’ve been touring quite a bit this year, including some dates in the UK, and I’m back on the road in November,” he says. “I still really enjoy playing live, though of course it’s a world of difference from what it used to be like, playing down in that little basement at the Shades.”

Will the tour include a Southend date? Unlikely, he says, explaining:  “I don’t really think there’s a place locally that’s the right size for what we do.”

After many years living in the area where he grew up, Trower moved away a couple of years ago, but he says he still returns to south Essex quite regularly to visit the family and for the behind-the-scenes work that goes into touring.

“We rehearse in a studio in Rayleigh, which is really handy for us,” he adds. “It’s always good to come back here and catch up again.”

Thanks, John; and Jill, for the typing

More about the Paramounts