Friday, 9 March 2018

THE BEATSTALKERS WERE SCOTLAND’S BEATLES




Beverley Lyons
THEY were known as the Scottish Beatles,  mobbed at airports and train stations and having their clothes ripped by thousands of frenzied female fans, closing down Glasgow’s George Square, selling out fourteen nights at the iconic Barrowland Ballroom, and even having three songs penned for them by David Bowie.
Now, almost fifty years on since their sudden split in 1969, mod band The Beatstalkers have lifted the lid on their incredible encounters with the Fab Four, Bowie, Freddie Mercury, The Kinks and even the notorious gangster Arthur Thomson.
In a brand new book with writer Martin Kielty, then ‘boyband’ members singer Dave Lennox, bass player Alan Mair, rhythm guitarist Ronnie Smith, keyboard player Eddie Campbell and drummer Jeff Allen talk of a five year long period of Beatstalkermania which saw them perform on TV’s Ready Steady Go! and sell out a six week residency in London’s Marquee club before splitting suddenly after their van was stolen in London with all their musical gear inside.
Alan Mair, 70, who started the group at Shawlands Academy with school mate Eddie Campbell in 1962 ages sixteen admits: “We were the only band back then that could match the mass hysteria of the Beatles, actually being banned from venues because of the mayhem.”
Introduced as ‘the Scottish Beatles’ to John Lennon and Ringo Starr at London’s Scotch of St James Club, Alan added: ”Ringo told us to come over and we sat down with them for five minutes. John indicated he had heard of us and was very civil and wished us good luck.”
Filling miners clubs, nightspots like the Lindella club, run by Betty Allan, Lulu’s aunty, Baillieston Cafe Club and Shawlands Scout Hall where they had their first ever gig, the group’s reputation for blasting away the competition like The Yard birds (Jimmy Page and Jeff Beck) who they supported at Paisley Ice Rink, was solidified - but the real recognition from the press came after they managed to close down George Square,  Central Station and even Glasgow airport with Beatstalkermania.
Alan recalled: “We’d blast other bands off the stage - like Herman’s Hermits at the Barrowland. The Pretty Things were hard to blast off the stage, but we stood our ground. The English bands were starting to say, ‘Watch out for the Beatstalkers – make sure they’re not supporting you because you'll have a tough time.’
The band’s life changing jam packed  George Square concert in ‘65 followed quieter gigs there by Chris McClure, and Dean Ford and the Gaylords .


Alan said: “There was hysteria. People were going mental, screaming, and the two policemen there were on their radios calling for backup. That was before we’d even played! Suddenly there was a helicopter above us and the press were there. People were getting crushed. The chief of police said, ‘You need to stop playing. The stage is going to collapse.’ “
The police got the band into the City Chambers, where they had to escape through underground corridors from the 7000 strong crowd of hormonal fans.
The incident made the front page of most papers and Alan said: ”The Scottish press were like, ‘Finally we have our own rock stars, we don't have to keep writing about English music.’
Similar situations occurred at Central Station where the band’s manager was called up by a concerned chief of police who asked them not to depart from Central Station again. An alternative of Glasgow Airport saw thousands invading  the tarmac.
The band even had to employ major security in the form of the notorious Arthur Thomson.
Alan explained: “After George Square the gang thing got really bad. A lot of the gangs were getting aggressive because their girlfriends were watching us and screaming, so they didn’t like us.
Backstage, some gang members would turn up and quite flamboyantly show you the latest razor they’d bought. We hired Arthur Thomson, who was known in Glasgow as ‘The Godfather,’ and one of his associates. For our protection we put hammers, big files and things inside the amps – things that couldn’t go down as weapons.”
“Those riots started going on everywhere we played. In Coatbridge a show was stopped and we were banned. We were paid in advance for six concerts and they paid us not to come back after the first one.”
Recording Ready Steady Go! saw the creative Scots perform first single Everybody’s Talkin bout My Baby alongside The Who, and meet The Small Faces who loved their homemade clothes. Alan said: “They were all over us – ‘Where did you get the clothes? You can’t get them in Carnaby Street.’ We went, ‘We made them!’ To save time we were all using Gerry and the Pacemakers’ drumkit, but then The Who went on, and what does Keith Moon do at the end? He kicks the drums all over the place. So big Freddie Marsden was kicking Keith’s head in. ‘My drums!’”
Signed down south with Decca and then CBS, the boys were assigned a songwriter by their manager - in the form of David Bowie - then known as Davey Jones - who wrote three tracks for them - and they were not impressed.
Alan said: “Ken Pitt our manager brought in Bowie. We were thinking, ‘What’s he got to offer? He was just a budding writer, writing kind of slightly odd songs at that point. Silver Tree Top School For Boys is not really a Beatstalkers-style song. That was a very strange time. He was trying to teach Davie to sing ‘When I’m Five’ in an English accent.”
Davie added: “It was embarrassing to sing a song like that. I felt like Bernard Bresslaw from the Carry On movies. I had to actually act it. I remember Bowie trying to get me to sing the line ‘Silver Tree Top School For Boys’ in a particular way, and I just couldn’t get it. The feeling stays with me till this day: ‘Bowie, I’m going to lamp you. Your song’s rotten. School for boys? I’m from f****in’ Govan!’”
I mean, the song’s reflective of a story about boys smoking dope in a posh private school. It was quite clever – but no’ mah thing. All Bowie’s songs were nightmares. We should never have recorded them.
The management were totally wrong to even consider Bowie as our songwriter.”
Alan who remained in touch with Bowie during his post Beatstalker career - as clothes designer  - said: “In retrospect I like the idea of David Bowie being around at that time – but only with history. At the time we thought, ‘He's alright for B-sides...’ and that’s how we approached it. But Bowie had unbelievable confidence. He would come in and go, ‘I’ve got this song,’ and he’d sing it like he was on stage, and he’d sell the song by being so confident.”
Marc Bolan also agitated the band and their friends The Kinks  during a TV gig in Germany.
Alan remembered: “Mark Bolan would sit playing guitar on the floor for soundcheck. And he said ‘There’s a spider - someone take the spider away’ and we thought ‘Are you serious?’ It was too affected for us and he left the stage and the Kinks were like ‘Get on with it.’ We had to hold them back.”
Despite Scottish success with seven singles  and regular trips to London where they performed well, the band felt they were delivered an unfair hand by management regarding song choices and a jaded Alan admits the theft of their van and equipment coincided with a feeling that at 21 he was becoming too old to be in a boyband.
He had a real passion for making clothes and his band mates also felt it was time to move on.
He opened up a stall in Kensington Market where he had none other than Freddie Mercury work for him.
He said: “After The Beatstalkers  broke up I made clothes and leather trousers for Bowie and The Marmalade, and Freddie Mercury who I met at Kensington market, became my full time manager.  He talked about  getting a band together called Smile then changed the name to Queen. He’d ask me to go to his early gigs because I’d been in a successful Scots band  and the rest as they say is history.”
The Beatstalkers reformed for reunion gigs in 2005 and 2013 and following his fashion career Alan went onto perform in The Only Ones while his bandmates pursued their individual careers.
Jeff Allen stayed in music bands like East of Eden and John Martin while  Eddie campbell went into events management for the Queen, Pope and Prime Ministers. Ronnie Smith became a tailor and David Lennox was singing and performing in various places too.
Alan said: ”We all ended up self employed which was quite funny. We’d all bought flats in Scotland, at seventeen or eighteen years old, which was remarkable really. So that was something. We’d achieved everything we’d hoped for and more in our homeland, which was the most important thing to us.”

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