We were young and indestructible. Health warnings there were none. We drank, smoked and whatever else we could get up to through the early 1960s. We discovered life and eventually became adults.
While clearing my mother’s house I came across a photograph that I had forgotten existed. I have only a vague memory of it being taken and even that may be wishful thinking, but I suspect that it was in the upstairs room of the Black Horse at Monkseaton. This is the ‘Danny Green Blue Five’, a group name that, overwhelmed by what we considered to be a witty interplay between the name ‘Green’ followed by the word ‘Blue’, we were ludicrously satisfied with. One of the small satisfactions of pretension I suppose, but there it is. Looking at it from the distance of half a century it all seems rather silly, but we were all inordinately pleased at the time.
This is the original line up of the group as it was formed in about 1962. On drums – Johnny Blake; on keyboards – Danny Green; on bass guitar – Don Kane; on lead guitar – Bill Bradley; on lead vocal – myself, Alan Hildrew. At 16-17 years old, not being old enough to legally enter and drink in a public house, I had somehow managed to contrive myself a job playing Rock and Roll-Boogie Woogie piano with a trio in The Grey Horse public house at Shiremoor. Danny Green and Johnny Blake turned up in the audience one night and asked me to join as vocalist a group that they were forming to play American Rhythm ‘n Blues. The only other group in the area doing this at the time was the Alan Price Combo, later The Animals, most other groups were playing Cliff and the Shadows copies and American Rock ‘n Roll. There were some good groups working in the North East at that time. Liverpool is largely accepted as being the birthplace of the British beat boom. This is mainly because the success of the Beatles focused attention on that city drawing in the agents and record companies hoping to cash in on the new trend.
Excellent though many of the Liverpool groups were, there were groups all over the county that could hold their own with any of them and that includes the North East. Apologies to any that I’ve forgotten, these included The Wildcats, the group that Hilton Valentine worked with before he became an Animal, The New Vikings, Tex Leon and the Tynesiders, The Sixteen Strings, The Vostox, The Invaders and many more.
We worked mainly in working men’s clubs playing American Rhythm ‘n Blues to audiences from a generation largely bought up on the excellent but different music of Frank Sinatra, Bing Crosby, Nat King Cole, Glenn Miller, Alma Cogan, Dickie Valentine, Ronnie Hilton, and others of that era. These audiences, with the exception of younger members, received us at best tolerantly unless we were booked into a teenage dance night. We played the hops or unlicensed dances for youngsters who couldn’t get into clubs and bars. We played for dances in church halls. Public houses were better as they sold alcohol. They also catered for young people who had little in common with working men’s clubs, were old enough to drink and were prepared to travel and pay to hear live music. Most music was live in those days, the disco had yet to rear its head.
The night spots were another thing altogether. Club A’GoGo above the bus company offices on Percy Street, Newcastle was absolutely the place to go and the place to play. Licensed premises, open until long after midnight with music and gambling, the club attracted a good cross section of local people and was very popular. Consisting of a young set room where alcohol was not allowed and a licensed club room complete with legal gambling, it was popular for many years and attracted big name professional acts. The Rolling Stones, Georgie Fame, Jerry Lee Lewis, Alex Harvey, The Nashville Teens, Zoot Money and the Big Roll Band, Sonny Boy Williamson, Memphis Slim, the names go on, all took the stage at this venue and it was from here that The Alan Price Combo went to London to become the Animals. Near old Manors Station on Carliol Square was the Downbeat. No alcohol, at least officially, this was a little down market from the A’GoGo but had an atmosphere of its own and seemed to stay open for as long as anyone wished to stay. It was in the Downbeat that I saw Eric Clapton with the Yardbirds. He stood out then although we hardly knew who he was.
The Danny Green Blue Five worked these venues along with the other groups and we attracted a following. We lasted, with some personnel changes, for about four years and then moved on. My memories are of fun. We had a blast. We were young and indestructible. Health warnings there were none and we drank, smoked and whatever else we could get up to through the early 1960s. We discovered life and eventually became adults. We howled at the moon, well not literally, but I know what I mean and if you were there you know as well. I now understand that every generation goes through this phase and truly believes that they invented it, but it’s still fun at the time.
We all had high hopes. The Animals became international stars and I became a local authority worker. Retired now I have no regrets, well a few, but it’s all gone now, another future opens up before me but with a shorter time span.