Review from Thanet author and music historian Peter Checksfield
The Covid pandemic has been tough on everyone, not least the music artists and venues. I personally hadn’t been to a concert since early 2020, when I witnessed excellent performances by Joe Brown at Canterbury’s Marlowe Theatre and Fairport Convention at the same city’s more intimate Gulbenkian. The annual ‘Sixties Gold’ tour was originally scheduled for late 2020, but was of course postponed until now.
I worked at the wonderful Winter Gardens for a few years during 2007-2011, so it is always particularly poignant to return and catch up with old friends still working there – especially as the last time I saw them was at the recent funeral of someone who had worked at the venue since 1963 (R.I.P. Jean Cuckson, you are missed).
Before the show started, the compère made a couple of announcements: both Steve Ellis (ex-lead singer of Love Affair) and Liverpool legends The Merseybeats wouldn’t be playing due to illness. Besides being consistently great live acts, I have a personal connection to them both: Steve Ellis contributed to my most recent book, ‘Top Of The Pops: The Lost Years Rediscovered 1964-1975’ and had in fact already told me he wouldn’t be on the tour, while both Steve and The Merseybeats’ Tony Crane also contributed forewords to an older book, ‘Channelling The Beat!’.
The opening act was Gerry’s Pacemakers. In 2017 I saw a wonderful show by Gerry and The Pacemakers at Margate’s Theatre Royal, followed by a less impressive performance on the ‘Sixties Gold’ tour a few months later. Now, following Gerry Marsden’s retirement and subsequent passing, and led by long-term keyboardist Tony Young, the band are carrying on his legacy. Their new singer Tee Green vaguely sounds like Gerry, though has none of his on-stage charisma (and rather annoyingly wears a guitar which remains un-played throughout). All the hits were there – ‘How Do You Do It’, ‘I Like It’, ‘Don’t Let The Sun Catch You Crying’, ‘I’m The One’, ‘Ferry Cross The Mersey’, ‘You’ll Never Walk Alone’ – but by the end of their set I was itching to see a genuine ‘60s legend or three.
Gerry’s Pacemakers remained on stage to back the next three acts, the first one being Sheffield’s unique Dave Berry. Dave is a rather sprightly 80 year old, and remains in strong voice, as well as coming across engaging, likeable and witty (after the first song he said “I bet you were expecting a much older man!”). His 4-song set consisting of ‘Memphis, Tennessee’, ‘Mama’, ‘Little Things’ and ‘The Crying Game’ was far too short, but nevertheless he remained one of the evening’s absolute highlights. From the sublime to the ridiculous, next on was Mamas and Papas UK. Neither looking or sounding like the US group they were supposedly paying tribute to (though the atrocious sound during their set probably didn’t help), I certainly wasn’t the only one glancing at my watch waiting for them to finish.
Back in 2018, one of ‘Sixties Gold’’s highlights was P.J. Proby (and another legend who kindly contributed to my latest book). Looking at least a decade younger than his (then) 80 years of age, he was agile, engaging, and in remarkably strong voice, while performing a nice selection of hits and misses. This time, he sadly looked a little lost (and rather portly), and whilst his voice remains powerful, the bizarre decision to perform half a dozen hits in one long rather confused medley didn’t help matters. Hopefully he’ll return to doing full versions of his hits next time.
Closing the first half were Scotland’s finest ever group, The Marmalade. Fronted by energetic vocalist and guitarist Sandy Newman (and also featuring his son John James Newman), they are always highly entertaining, though original members such as Junior Campbell and Alan Whitehead – who both sent me amusing anecdotes for my ‘Top Of The Pops’ book – left the band decades ago. The many highlight included ‘Rainbow’, ‘Cousin Norman’, the Glam-Rock of ‘Radancer’, ‘Reflections Of My Life’ and the inevitable 1969 chart-topper ‘Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da’, though due to Covid restrictions there was no band reappearance at the merchandise table afterwards (and no repeat of Sandy kissing my other half Heather’s hand, as he did 2 years earlier!).
Usually during the interval I meet and chat to various musicians, but with none of that this year there was little more to do other than a quick dash to the loo and buy ice-creams – as well as people watch, with quite a few audience members making the effort to squeeze into the stylish outfits of yesteryear.
Originally scheduled to open the 2nd half were The Merseybeats, but as a last minute replacement, Vanity Fare were brought in. Regulars on the ‘Sixties Gold’ tours, they are always excellent, and didn’t disappoint with nice versions of ‘I Live For The Sun’, ‘Early In The Morning’ and ‘Hitchin’ A Ride’.
Peter Noone left Herman’s Hermits half a century ago (and now pursues a successful solo career in the USA), but original drummer Barry Whitwam still continues with the group to this day. There is no real front-man as such, but the other band members – Tony Hancox, Geoff Foot and Jamie Thurston – do a more than reasonable job between them. Opening with ‘Sunshine Girl’, the many hits performed include ‘I’m Into Something Good’, ‘No Milk Today’, ‘A Must To Avoid’, the US chart-topper ‘Mrs. Brown You’ve Got A Lovely Daughter’, ‘My Sentimental Friend’ and ‘Wonderful World’, finishing with ‘There’s A Kind Of Hush’.
Back in 2017, the ‘Sixties Gold’ highlight for me was Brian Poole and The Tremeloes. Consisting of Brian Poole, Dave Munden and Len ‘Chip’ Hawkes, there was a real chemistry between them, and they sounded like they were having the time of their lives performing their many hits. Since then, Brian Poole has retired (though I remain in touch with him – indeed, he also contributed to my last book), and Dave Munden has passed away, but Chip Hawkes still fronts a version of the band.
However, we were in for a shock: due to health issues, he has had to pull out of the tour (as his wife Carol told me, “He did try to do the tour but was not well enough to continue!”). So, quickly flying in from a beach in Portugal that day, was his son “The one and only” Chesney Hawkes, fronting The Tremeloes for the first time in his life! A confident and charismatic performer who looks a good 20 years younger than his half century, he slotted in surprisingly well. Ably backed by a great band that includes his younger brother Jodie Hawkes on drums and early Tremeloe and former Rubette Mick Clarke on bass, tight yet fun versions of ‘Here Comes My Baby’, ‘Call Me Number One’, ‘My Little Lady’, ‘Suddenly You Love Me’ and ‘Me and My Life’ were amongst the songs performed. Finishing with a semi-acapella ‘Silence Is Golden’, they were a fine closing act to yet another memorable ‘Sixties Gold’ night.