How my show business career began.
Writer and musician Sue Barton writes for us here in UK Cabaret. Sue lets us know how her show business journey began. If you would like to write for us and let us know how you first ventured onstage, we would like to hear from you.
I think it was the pan lids that did it. And if they didn’t well they certainly played a big part. In retrospect, I suppose you could say that my musical career started at the tender age of seven with a descant recorder, and as time passed by I progressed, if you could call it that, to the scratchy tones of an out-of-tune violin. But the pan lids changed all that. They altered my life from the course it was supposed to take, for they were the catalyst for my Clubland launch.
My only sibling, Rob, at fourteen years old and in the throes of teenage rebellion, had decided he needed a set of drums. I knew without even mentioning it that there was no way that my parents would buy him any, he hadn’t even felt inclined to play the recorder, so there was clearly no great pop career waiting for him. Rob would not be outdone, he had the inclination, and was a lot more cunning, he took over the garage, erecting a complex display of upturned plastic bins and biscuit tins, an elaborate frame of broom handles hung with pan lids, and basically, anything else which could create a noise.
Like many novice drummers, he tended to follow the melody rather than the beat, but I had a plan. In my class at school was someone whose father was a drummer so it was blatantly obvious in my fifteen year old mind, that as his son, he would know how to play. How simple! I invited him to come and meet Rob. Years later, a newspaper report told how Tony was the group mentor, and indeed he was but we were not to know that at this time, in our ignorance we were not even sure what mentor meant. There was no doubt that he could play the drums, or at least had a fantastic sense of rhythm which he imparted to my brother, but, most importantly, and unknown to me, he also had an excellent knowledge and feel for music. He had been a musician from an early age with the local brass band and had an uncanny and sophisticated sense of timing and harmonies. It was unsurprising that before long he would introduce a guitarist and so he did. Pete had his own guitar and with Rob on the drums and Tony singing they learned to knock out one or two hits of the day. Eventually Tony got his own guitar which meant that the band only needed a bass player.
I had sat in the rehearsals up to now and immediately saw that this may be my only chance to join in the fun.“Get me a bass and I’ll play it for you” I challenged.
I had never played a bass guitar before and knew without asking my parents would not buy me one, but somehow I knew that, by hook or by crook, this was the one project that I just had to be part of. Accordingly, the garage became the birthplace of the second instrument, a home-made bass guitar. A large piece of wood was shaped into a guitar shape, we settled on modelling it on a “Rickenbacker” as we felt they had a nice sound, though how we were going to achieve a sound only Rob knew. Fret wire, knobs and all the electrical parts were bought from a music shop and the whole thing was painted in a bright, metallic blue car spray. It was really robust. Crafted from a nice piece of thick oak it was really heavy, but I couldn’t wait to have a go. In our ignorance we had spaced the fret wires at strategic points on the guitar neck and not bothered finding out the notes they would produce. Inevitably when I played an F, the sound that emerged matched a G on Tony’s guitar. It was no problem to me, I was desperate to join. As long as I could work out the keys and the sound matched theirs, I was in.
It was apparent that we needed to buy equipment, so although we were still at school, and clearly under age, we managed to get employed packing Christmas Hampers. We worked in the evenings after school for about four hours and all day at the weekend. The money was a pittance, but we were all together, and at least we could see a way forward. We worked all the hours that were available to us, spending every penny of the wages buying pieces of equipment.
The rehearsals paid off and just after Christmas we thought that we were ready to perform. There was a small club in the village which was pretty run down but we called in to see the committee and they gave us a ‘resident position’ on a Saturday night. We couldn’t believe it, every Saturday for the princely sum of £3.
We performed at the club for two Saturday nights but when we arrived for the third week the concert secretary took us on one side. The miners had begun a strike on the 9th February and as the village relied on mining for its employment, there was little money available for entertainment. The miner’s strike of 1974 only lasted for four weeks but even after it was over we never got reinstated. Whatever the reason we were not retained by the club , we knew that the time had come and we had to move on.
And move on I did! Recently I celebrated 40 years in show business, which all started with the pan lids.