Saturday 1st June 1963
'Great fellows, that’s really good!'
Despite arriving back in London after midnight, the group showed up at the BBC Paris Studio by 9.30am to record the first of two four-hour sessions for “Pop Go The Beatles.” In the morning, before breaking for lunch, they recorded A Shot Of Rhythm And Blues, Memphis Tennessee, A Taste Of Honey, Sure To Fall (In Love With You), Money, which they had performed on “Saturday Club” on May 21st, and From Me To You. After an hour’s break, they began recording a second episode, performing Too Much Monkey Business, I Got To Find My Baby, Youngblood, Baby It’s You - the second and last time they performed it on radio, Till There Was You and Love Me Do, before finishing at 5.30pm. (Paul had learnt Till There Was You from Peggy Lee’s version, given to him by his cousin Bett.) The morning session aired on June 18th, with guests Carter-Lewis and the Southerners, and the afternoon session on June 11th, with the Countrymen. Aware that the first show was going to air on Paul’s birthday, the rest of the group sang a raucous version of “Happy Birthday To You” between Memphis Tennessee and A Taste Of Honey.
Epstein, present at the sessions, introduced them to Beat Instrumental’s publisher Sean O’Mahony, who had plans to start a monthly Beatles’ magazine. The pair had previously met for drinks at the Westbury Hotel in February with Epstein telling the publisher, “The Beatles are going to be very, very big.” O’Mahony later recalled, “As soon as I shook hands with John, Paul, George and Ringo, I realised this wasn’t going to be one of their jokey encounters with the press. Editing their magazine meant that they would have to admit someone new to their inner circle and put up with me in their dressing rooms, recording studios, homes - in fact, virtually everywhere they went ... Paul McCartney asked most of the questions. His main concern was what I was going to put into the magazine to fill it every month. Rather funny in view of subsequent views.”
As soon as the session finished, the group drove south through rush hour traffic over the Vauxhall Bridge Road to Mitcham Road in Tooting, where they arrived just in time for the 6.45pm performance at the 3,104-seater Granada cinema. The shows, with ticket prices between 4/6 and 8/6, had sold out more than week earlier. Interviewed for the Newsman’s Diary column in the Balham & Tooting News & Mercury George said, “I’ve got ’eadache after that. This audience is one of the best we have had,” while Paul, named as McArtney, commented, “We don’t mind the screams though, because we know the show’s going down well.” Following the 9.00pm show, they returned to the West End.
“None of my family were really anything to do with music, but we always ended up singing. We had a great love of harmony. I had two brothers, and my mother and father sang very well. We’d just always burst into harmony. I was fortunate to go to a really good school, Waverley Grammar, in Birmingham, which was very enlightened at the time. They had a jazz and blues society, and a couple of the teachers organised operas every year. It was there that I met Ken Hawker. We formed a skiffle group together, much to the disapproval of the headmaster! Ken played piano and I played guitar. We managed to get a concert organised at school, featuring the group, which was quite a feat. We called ourselves the Waverley Inns or some such thing. This would have been in the mid-’50s. We thought, ‘Why not start writing songs together?’ which is what we did. I was inspired by Buddy Holly and a lot of jazz and blues artists - I was collecting blues stuff before I even got into pop. As soon as I heard Buddy Holly, I thought ‘That’s it. I want to write songs like that.’ That was really the start of it I suppose. Ken and I would go to jazz concerts at Birmingham Town Hall featuring Chris Barber and Lonnie Donegan. He was the banjo player in that band, and he did a spot in the middle of skiffle. Then he switched from banjo to guitar and Chris Barber played the bass, and I thought ‘Wow, this is the new music!’
I left school and went to work for ICI in Birmingham as a lab assistant while Ken joined the Civil Service. But I had it in my head that I wanted to work in the music business, so we would write in the evenings and at weekends. One day we decided ‘OK, come on, let’s go down to London.’ We really wanted to see if we could interest anyone in our songs. We bought a return ticket by coach - the cheaper option! We knocked on the doors of all the publishers in Denmark Street - a lot of doors - and they mostly said, ‘No, no, go away,’ but one of them at Noel Gay’s, Terry Kennedy, at last said, ‘Come on in, you’ve brought your guitars, so play something.’ We’d brought perhaps five or six songs, but only played a couple, and Terry said, ‘Yeah, I’ll get the boss down.’ He listened, and said, ‘Yes, we may have to do something. I’ll let you know.’
That evening we went to Ken Colyer’s Jazz Club and then back to Birmingham. We had just got back when Terry rang. He said, ‘You’ve got a deal.’ It was a songwriting contract, with Terry acting as our manager. We moved down to London more or less immediately and stayed at Terry’s house. He was married and had a room going, in fact I think we stayed on the floor for a while. Within a few months we could afford to move into a flat somewhere. After a while, Terry left Noel Gay and went to work for Southern Music, taking us with him. In our early days down in London, we were given an audition by the BBC. When we passed, we were so delighted. We started doing shows like ‘Easy Beat’ and ‘Saturday Club’ which were really big shows at the time. We always tried to put a group together to play, so Terry said, ‘Well let’s call you a group now. You can be Carter-Lewis and the Southerners.’ It sounded better than Hawker-Shakespeare (my real name) and the Southerners so we said, ‘OK!’
We would do these shows for the BBC, and sort of became known as the ‘weird’ group. Nobody knew what we were going to do. We’d take old songs and do them in a Buddy Holly style, we’d take folk songs and do them in a rock style, we just wanted to experiment. We were then asked to guest on ‘Pop Go The Beatles.’ We were aware of the Beatles - and thought they were brilliant. We didn’t see them in the light of the stars they became, and say, ‘Oh it’s so nice to meet you’ etc. It was just all musicians together, and that was it. For the ‘Pop Go The Beatles’ sessions, you were more or less on your own - they just recorded you doing your own stuff, but I remember this day particularly, because the Beatles came out to listen to us. They were obviously going to do their bit later, and they came out and sat down and listened to us, and said, ‘Great fellows, that’s really good!’ We chatted for a while, just about music - George was definitely the nicest.
Terry took one of our recordings to John Schroeder at Oriole Records. We always recorded independently - we never got signed to a label as such. Our first hit as writers was ‘Will I What?’ by Mike Sarne, followed by ‘Can’t You Hear My Heartbeat’ by Herman’s Hermits. That came about through Mickie Most, who I’ve always admired as a producer and A&R man. We thought it would suit them, so we sent it to him, they recorded it, and it was a hit here, and went to number one in the US. After that, we could always get our songs to him. We’d ring up and say, ‘We have this song,’ and he’d say, ‘Come round straight away.’
I hated live performances, and once we’d formed Carter-Lewis and the Southerners we were getting lots of radio exposure, and the money was there to go and tour. Terry said, ‘You must go and do this,’ so we did it for a while and Jimmy Page came out on the road with us. In Tin Pan Alley there was a café where everyone hung out who wanted work. So if we had a gig, we would go there and say, ‘Do you fancy doing a show tonight?’
We’d bump into Jimmy a lot in the studios, and got to know him quite well. We’d always go for a beer after the session, and one day we asked him if he’d like to come out on the road with us and he said, ‘Yeah, I’d love to.’ We had a lot of fun, but I thought, ‘This is not for me. I’d rather be at home writing in the studio and recording.’ That’s why we disbanded really. We were getting more and more offers for session work, and for me it meant good money, without having to be out on the road. Terry suggested getting another voice in and doing really good three-part harmonies. He knew Perry Ford, who was working in a little studio in Denmark Street on his own, and he suggested him. We approached him, had a little practice to see if it worked, and it did. So Terry said, ‘Fantastic. We’ll make some records with the three of you,’ and he thought of the name of the Ivy League. We made a record which wasn’t a success at all, so I thought, ‘Well that’s that out of the way,’ but then Ken and I wrote ‘Funny How Love Can Be,’ and Terry said, ‘This is great; I think you should record this yourselves.’ We’d written it for the Rockin’ Berries, and they did record it, but he said, ‘You should record it yourselves.’ So we did a version and it turned out all right.
We’d get three, maybe four sessions a day in London, and from that, we found we really sang well together, and that was the beginning of the Ivy League. We sang with Mick Jagger on Chris Farlowe’s ‘Out of Time,’ and backing vocals on Jeff Beck’s ‘Hi Ho Silver Lining.’ Mickie Most called me up and said that Jeff couldn’t reach some of the high notes and I just went along and helped out. By 1967 we were recording as the Flowerpot Men, and we’d had a hit with ‘Let’s Go To San Francisco.’ I sang the lead vocals but didn’t want to go out on the road again, so Tony Burrows came in and took over. He was going around from one group to another at the time, all hugely successful.
The Flowerpot Men wanted to go on to more poppy stuff, so they became White Plains, recorded by Roger Greenaway, and that was fine by us. In 1970, I wrote ‘Knock Knock Who’s There?’ with Geoff Stephens which Mary Hopkin sang in the Eurovision Song Contest. I used to do all of Geoff’s demos because he wasn’t a musician. He’d write great songs, but he didn’t know how to demo them - he didn’t know the chords, so I sorted out a lot of his songs, and I did the demo of ‘Winchester Cathedral.’ He thought it was either absolute rubbish or could be a Top Ten hit. I thought it was quite unusual, and we ended up recording it ourselves, with me doing the vocal, just as I had done it on the demo. It was released under the name the New Vaudeville Band. He couldn’t afford to pay me as the budget for the recording had run out, so he asked if I’d accept £10 and a share of the royalties, and I agreed. It turned out to be a good decision! My wife Gill and I also wrote ‘Beach Baby,’ which was a big hit for First Class, which was me, Tony Burrows and Chas Mills.
I spent most of the ’70s writing advertising jingles for George Martin’s company, writing a huge amount of stuff for them up to the ’80s. It was about the time that CDs were coming out, and I had so much material I could put together - I’ve never given away records, just licensed songs, so they’ve always come back to me. I have been lucky to make a living out of writing for 50 or so years, but they were the glory years. You don’t make much money out of it any more! I can’t give up music. I’m currently writing and recording with a Brazilian guy, Salomao Hamzen, and it’s amazing to still be doing that. We just met at an open mic evening and started writing together because we appreciated each other’s guitar playing. It worked out very well - we have an album out and are working on our second one. The first album is called ‘A Friend In Need’, and we call ourselves Hamzter, a combination of our two names.”
JOHN CARTER, SINGER, SONGWRITER, PRODUCER, RICHMOND-UPON-THAMES, SURREY