by Frank Torpey
My first band in 1962 was an instrumental group mainly Shadows, myself, Mick Tucker (drums), John Neighbor (bass) and Fred G (guitar). Next band 1963 /64 Dino and the Diamonds semi pro outfit. We worked fairly decent venues. We supported Shane Fentone, The Hollies (just one look no1 in the charts) The Animals (baby let me take you home – 28 in the charts) and Dave Berry (crying Game etc). We recorded at the world famous IBC studios and Regent Sound, no releases. Next band 1964 The Tribe, releases on Shel Talmy’s (he recorded The Who, Kinks and Ronnie Woods band) Planet label. Next label RCA.We played Europe including La Locomotive (Paris), residency in Copenhagen. We supported The Troggs (no 1 at the time with Wild Thing), The Small Faces, Overlanders, Marmalade, Brian Auger/Julie Driscoll, the list is endless. We had a great time In Copenhagen, everybody made us welcome. We worked a very big club (Le Carousel), disco, at the top of the building with an elevated stage in the main part. There were 2 bands on most nights with some bigger names coming over to headline. I remember Chris Andrews was on with us, he had a hit with Yesterdays Man. It was the place to be seen, you could see the rich and famous, miss Sweden and miss Denmark would be there plus all the young aspiring actors / actresses. Playing every night knocked us into good shape. We were there for 4 weeks ! I can remember the stage high up in the air, amazingly not the biggest stage in the world but you could get 2 bands worth of stuff on there.
We played one of the first festivals ‘Woburn Abbey’. We changed our name to The Dream. On the Bill The Who, Move, Jeff Beck, Denny Lane, Small Faces, Eric Burdon, it goes on and on. We played virtually all the major clubs in London and the UK including The Scotch, Speakeasy, Cromwellian, Ealing club, Eel pie, Flamingo, Glenlyn, Starlighter etc etc. The big one a 3 month residency at the Marquee summer of 67. Our support acts included Love Affair / Bad Finger / Ten Years After. Our Band The Tribe changed name in August 67 to The Dream, mainly because it was the summer of love and the whole flower power thing. We continued our residency at the Marquee drawing big crowds. Yet it was held at the height of the and was one of the first festivals to challenge the established held at Windsor. Perhaps it was the lack of overseas name bands in the line-up that has caused it to be overlooked. The Band broke up and we went our separate ways. I was going to continue my education, but all the people around me were like children plus I was running out of money. I phoned around looking for gigs, Mick Tucker said we need a guitarist and I was in the band, no audition required as I had records, radio play and worked in a name band.I was in Wainrights Gentlemen a semi-pro outfit, easy gig as there were two guitarists to share the load. I hadn’t been in the band 5 minutes when I got the sack last gig 20th January 68. I was to be replaced by Robin Box a friend of the bass player. Mick and Brian were not happy so they phoned me about starting up a new outfit. Our first meet 6 days later in the Swan Ruislip, diary entry says: ‘Looks good’. By the 5th of February we had Stevie in the band. This was the formation of The Sweetshop (Mick’s idea for the name).As soon as the Sweetshop formed we had immediate interest in the band, gigs came in thick and fast, Stigwood and Starlight artistes (two of the biggest agencies after NEMS) were both keen to book us. We had a loose association with Paul Nicholas (the actor musician) as our manager. Things went well, we shortened our name to Sweet (easy to cross out shop and initial the contracts) Robert Mellin’s idea as our name had been hi-jacked by another group.We had several record companies interested and were doing quite a lot of demo’s. By this time the band had a pretty strong local fan base, also in the audience would be other bands that would come to see us and a few weeks later would have our material in their repertoire. Paul (Nicholas) worked with Phil Wainman in Mellins office, he came to see us and soon after took charge of the band.Initially this was not a bad thing as he was keen for success, but when he got an agent from southend (a pal I suspect) we started getting bookings for youth clubs after school disco’s. These were not our only gigs, we did get some decent clubs but they became significant in number. We were due to play The Starlight (a local venue, big club and chart acts worked there). Phil pulled the gig and we did a wedding for his mate, final nail in the coffin for me. I was ready to quit, I didn’t see the point. We were going backwards not forward. I formed the band with Mick, Brain and Stevie in February 1968 and left in July 1969, by my reckoning about 18 months. Some radio 1 sessions, a single on Fontana (Slow Motion) and loads of miles in a van on motorways, time for a change. After Sweet I knew exactly what I wanted to do. A prog Rock band was what I wanted. I was listening to Yes, Jethro Tull, Family etc. One band Spooky Tooth was a favourite. Funnily enough as soon as I left the band I got a call from a woman she was running a new band called Quatermass, a trio that needed a guitarist. After several phone calls to arrange a meet, they decided to stay as a three piece (great band) Another band the remnants of Honeybus and the bass player from the Nashville Teens, were looking to get together we had a few rehearsals but never got further. In 1970 Someone must have waved a magic wand over my my head, I was about to have the best ten years of my life. I got up when I woke up and went to bed when I wanted. Apart from my prog rock band I got everything I wanted, life was easy, travel, cars, you name it. I got a call from Carlo Little (R I P) could I play with his band, back to old fashioned R’n’R. This was a nice easy gig mainly local stuff, suited me perfectly. I never knew he was the first drummer the Rolling Stones had (Found out after reading Keef’s book, took him to the Caribbean) also that he taught Kieth Moon to play ! Because I was working with Carlo I did some work with (Screaming) Dave Sutch, nice to have on your CV as he had Jimmy Page and Ritchie Blackmore in his band at different times, in fact Ritchie came to one of our gigs. In 1971 I bumped into an old school Friend Ian Baldwin, he had been in The Flies and got a hit a few years earlier with ‘I’m not your stepping stone’ He had Kennie Simon (now with Hot Chocolate) in the band and they were resident Fridays and Saturdays at Manor house, I was in and we had a cracking little band. The House band at Manor house went through a few changes. My old bass player from the Tribe, subsequently The Bonzo Dog Doo Dah Band (Dennis Cowan) was now with us. He was also doing the first Rocky Horror show down in Chelsea. Pete Moss was now on keyboards, it was an easy life compared to being on the road. All seemed to be going well when I fell out with the manager and got fired, a shame really as it was the easiest gig I ever did. Next up I was gigging with a band I had no intention of joining in Watford (The New Penny) A band were in the club having a few beers and remembered me from my days in Sweet and needed a guitarist. I had a look at them, was offered the gig and I was now in ‘Easy Virtue’ Roger Semon (vocals) he worked for RCA records alongside Simon Cowell, Ray Brown (Bass) John Frost (Drums) and me guitar. Frostie (drums) joined a vocal harmony band. We got in Colin McKye, on the kit. He turned out to be a good comedian, so we pushed him out the front. We would finish the set with him doing a Ziggy Stardust impression to Gene Genie, sometimes Hendrix to purple haze. Our manager suggested a name change to Crackers which we did, he got us some real quality work. We did some TV work and this pushed the price up . Then we did some recording at Decca then EMI Abbey road. The single Judy, Judy, Judy was never released in the UK but it was released in a few European countries. By this time we were on the lucrative Top Rank circuit, big venues 1500 plus, always packed out. The van had been replaced by a Jag XJ6, we got to venues swiftly and in comfort. Colin our drummer quit, not good, a big loss he was a mainstay of the band. Roger Willis (Capability Brown) wanted to join, Roger slotted in seamlessly superb at harmonies and sold as a rock on the kit, a lifeline for the band, we continued…..Around 76 Punk Rock became big news, like marmite you either loved it or hated it. I saw the musical anarchy as real fun. We put together a band on the side ‘Horrorcomic’ we wrote three songs and Lightning records paid for the recording session, the record made the alternative charts. Lightning were pleased and decided to pay for studio time at Surrey Sound Studios (same studios as The Police first album) Myself and Roger (Semon) wrote the tracks and off we went. second single ‘England 77’ and ‘I don’t Mind’ were released on Lightning and we made some noise. Our third single was ‘Jesus Crisis’ this was released on B + C records, yes the reggae label, I knew the commercial manager there and he agreed to press and release it. The Horrorcomic album was shelved and thinking was, that was the end of it. Crackers gigs started to dwindle and by 82 the band folded. I had a brief stint with Johhny Quantrell and The Confederates a proper R’n’R band, the lead singer in the mold of Jonny Kidd, my old mate Pete Moss on bass, Mac Poole drums. Fast forward to 86/87 ish, I picked up a copy of the melody maker and saw Sweet were on Marquee that night, I said to my wife I’ve a good mind to go and see the lads, I jumped in car and set off. The irony was not lost on me, I was 20 years old when The Tribe were resident at the Marquee, twenty years on my old band The Sweet were doing a one night stand there. As I walked in the club I could see this little fella with blonde hair two girls with him. It slowly dawned on me this was Brian, as I walked behind him I said Brian ! He turned around and said Torpey !!! My god you do look well. We got chatting at the bar and was amazed to hear he was no longer in the band, not only that, Stevie wasn’t either. The band struck up with ‘Action’ we heard a few more numbers, but there was no point in me staying to say hi, as the only guy in the band I knew was Mick. We exchanged phone numbers and both went on our way. We met up in a local live music pub, the Horse and Barge in Harefield, not far from a recording studio where we had recorded a song written by Ian Gillan and Roger Glover over 20 years previously. Brian was keen to record some new stuff and I had a few songs written. We used the Horse and Barge as a meeting place (I would have a few pints while Brian nursed a soft drink) We were full of good intentions to get something on tape, but every time we booked a studio something went wrong. Around 1994 my garage resembled a run down recording studio, I was up to 8 track with reverbs, delays, compressors etc. I was recording some demo’s, I took a punt and released an album entitled ‘Over The Limit’ I didn’t make a fortune, but more importantly didn’t lose one. It occurred to me I needed some young blood I then started using people half my age to record my songs along with simple videos. Brian came over to have a look, I think this spurred him on to do some recording. Out of the Blue Brian phoned and said any chance to come over and put something down. I got to work and put together ‘Sharrontina’ Brian turned up, I had the backing track already down. I sang the song to him a verse at a time with a simple chorus, middle eight, then out. He did the song once through then said, shall I double track it which he did. The idea was to re-record drums, bass, guitar and put a synth on it, but I never got around to it. Brian became increasingly withdrawn and insular due to his deteriorating health . As we know bad news travels fast, I got a call to inform me of his death. We could all see Brian wasn’t in great shape but somehow I saw him soldiering on, but it wasn’t to, be. At his funeral I saw Stevie but no sign of Mick, later on, in the pub I found out Mick was in hospital with leukaemia. Another big shock, which accounted for his absence. I decided to keep the song (Sharrontina) as it was, with no plans to publish. A memorial concert for Brian at Camden Palace was arranged and I was asked would I attend, of course was my reply. As there are some die hard Sweet fans I decided to put ‘Sharrontina’ out just as we had recorded it. I got an old pal of mine Ashley Holt (he had been lead singer with Rick Wakeman 3 albums and 3 world tours) to record a couple tracks, with some odds and sods I had an album. I decided on the title SWEETER as a one off loose association with the band, a pun if you will, no hard sell just for this event, like a T-Shirt to take away as a reminder. I knew there were some people who have all Brian’s collection including the first single (Slow Motion) and would like his last.
At this time I was still writing, recording and producing my young acts, but with no success. Life wasn’t bad for me as the house was bought and paid for and I had a few bob in the bank. So what next ? My phone rang, it was Mick (Tucker) He told me of his trials and tribulations with his illness, but he was out of danger and well on the road to recovery. Would I like to come to his afternoon garden party in a week or so time. We got there, it was a red hot summers day. Mick looked in good shape, Jimmy Searle and Jan Frewer (ex Wainrights who I hadn’t seen since my last gig with them) were there. It was meant to be an afternoon party but we stayed till after midnight, what a belter that was. As I look back over the decades, the 60’s, this was a time I learned my craft. We worked and learned from the best. We were on the bill with bands from A To Z (literally) Animals to the Zombies. The 70’s was my favorite decade, life was easy and I got everything I wanted, travel, cars (Alpha’s, Jags, I even bought a Jensen Interceptor) By the 80’s I had a proper job and found working for a living wasn’t that hard. Two boys by 1983, I settled into family life. Into the 90’s, life was pretty good, I was settled, I had it all mapped out before me. My luck ran out in 1992 I was made redundant. From bad to worse, I was nearly killed in a car crash just before Christmas 95. 2000, the new millennium, I had a business interest in an employment agency, paid the bills and kept me in readies. 2010, Little Ray, Brian and Mick all gone (R I P) I was still writing and recording. I had even written a Rock Opera (not likely to see the light of day) At the moment I have several projects on the go. One with my youngest lad, Frankie and one with Jonny Edwards and Kassy Moore. For me my greatest achievement was to not just play the Marquee, but to get offered a three month residency, witch we did in the summer of love. To be in the company of Jimmy Page, Jeff Beck and Ritchie Blackmore was not a bad thing to have on your CV either, we all played in the Savages.