You would have thought that after our experiences as a group, at Chapel Allerton’s Methodist Hall, we would have realised that maybe we weren’t going to make it, but we soldiered on with optimism and arrogance. It is true that we practised constantly and, as with most things, practice leads to improvement in skill. There were better bands around at the time, as far as musical virtuosity, but as we primarily wrote our own songs, there was no one who sounded quite like us.
We were always hampered by lack of equipment and in particular a PA system. The microphones were just fed through an amp into a basic speaker and there was little room to add effects. In reality, the amp was always on full volume in a vain attempt for the vocals to be heard over the drums, guitar and bass. John was on keyboards and did most of the singing with me adding additional vocals. All bands suffer from tensions between the members and ours was no different. Peter and John were in many ways opposites. Peter wanted a rawer, rock sound and John was into melody and maybe more subtlety. That is a basic explanation of the complexity that has remained to this day. The tension between the two did add dynamism to our writing and playing and we probably benefitted from it, even though it led to many arguments and personnel changes. The funny thing is that they have continued playing together for most of their lives and are still good friends.
As our early performances had shown, there was no lack of excitement at our gigs. We had stuck with the name Atlantis for the band, after the title of one of our most enduring numbers, and we were starting to get a following. We had our regulars who were the girlfriends and friends of the band. These came from Roundhay and Alwoodley mostly and, like us, they were a motley crew. I am not sure what our image was, probably poor man’s hippy in the late sixties. Trench coats, tie-dyed T-shirts, loon pants or jeans and, at one time, leather and wooden clogs. Hair was particularly long and unkempt and there was the occasional moustache, sideburns, beard or other teenage signs of manhood.
Peter and John were no longer at school. John was working in printing and as such was the most affluent of us all. This even manifested itself in his purchasing a new Ford Capri, bronze colour and with a vinyl roof. You could see why that would impress the girls! Peter was a little directionless at this time, but this was soon to change when he found his vocation. I was still at Roundhay School and so my hair and facial accoutrements had to pass the rigours of teacher inspection. Long hair had to be hidden down the back of the shirt collar when there was an inspection. Luckily I had wavy hair and so the actual length was not so obvious. Alas! My luscious locks and waves were about to wave bye-bye as my genes were set to make me follicly challenged for my adult life. At the time I would have done anything to retain my hair and anyone who has lost theirs, knows the stake that is driven into one’s ego and confidence. It must be many times worse for women, but in the sixties baldness was stereotyped by the ‘Up and Over’ hair of the Hamlet advert, the Bobby Charlton or the orange toupee that gave the appearance of a dead hamster on the head. I have a lot more I could tell about this, but I will save it for another tale.
Back to the band! We had a gig booked at St Edmund’s church hall and we were feeling quietly confident. We had built up our repertoire and enjoyed some success, in the first half acclaim of the Chapel Allerton riot night, and now we were ready to sock it to them. I believe we played twice at St Edmund’s, but I can’t be sure. On one of the gigs we had a support band and that was Trident and was made up of three Roundhay lads. They used some old piece of short wave radio to produce quite an eerie sound as they tuned it, a bit like the Theremin that was used on the Beach Boys’ Good Vibrations. As they were the support act they were set up in front of the stage, I seem to remember, and, as the headline act, we were on the stage.
I think that must have been the second gig as our first concert there consisted of two sets, the same as at the Chapel Allerton riot gig, but without the agro. We set up during the afternoon and did a run through, sound check, and for some reason we were feeling chilled and confident. The stage curtains were drawn and the doors opened and the crowds of teenagers poured in. Now, maybe it was just a quiet weekend in Leeds, but the place was packed with a swarm of teenagers who seemed in a good mood and were ready to enjoy themselves. I am not sure if they were quite prepared for the assault on their eardrums and eyeballs, but they appeared up for it!
There must have been a disco running, to fill in the spaces between our sets and the throng were soon taking up their gender roles, the girls dancing in circles and the boys standing around, attempting to look cool, but really looking like spare parts. Socials such as this were an opportunity for pairings and whispers of who liked who led to couples forming and breaking up. I am sure that social occasions over the generations have seen similar pattern of coupling with just changes to the situation, location and time. In the sixties these were the more colourful but unkempt years. Looking back at some of the photographs at the time I cringe at the fashions, but I am sure that the current trends will be equally cringe-worthy in the future. The youth club organisers must have been very pleased with the attendance and soft drinks etc. were doing a roaring trade.
It was our turn to play. We were plugged in, turned on and tugging at the lead to start. Paul Muddiman was still doing the lighting, so we were all in danger of electrocution, but that just added to the buzz, or was that just a shorting guitar lead? The curtains opened and we headed off at breakneck pace. We had decided not to start with John’s solo slow number and hit them with a rocker. I think it was ‘Going’! I think Reg was drumming at this time and having a great beat helped enormously. For some reason everything seemed to gel and at the end of the first number there was more applause than we had ever had before. The rest of the set also was warmly received and at the end there were clamours for more. I think we had planned about two half hour sets and we had some decent material saved for the second. The curtains closed and the DJ took over again.
We looked at each other and smiled. It was the best reception and start that we had had, which boded well for the second half. We joined our crew out in the audience and there was a lot of positive chatter. After a while we returned to the stage to prepare for the second half. There was a growing nervousness. Would the second set be as well received? We had seen what could happen at the Chapel Allerton gig, but as the curtains opened to the cacophony of the first number, we lost our apprehension and just got on with the performance. The lights were quite effective and there were no casualties as a result. At the end of the first number we were again greeted with good applause. This was new territory! A successful gig! We bashed on and finished our numbers. The audience wanted more, but we had nothing left unplayed. We hadn’t considered an encore! Not to be put off, Pete suggested we do ‘Get it Up!’ a parody of the T-Rex ‘Get it On!’ with lyrics that put into question Marc Bolan’s personal habits. I think that he thought the audience wouldn’t remember we had already played it and he was probably right, or at least they didn’t care. It was fortuitous that the vocals were almost inaudible as the lyrics might have raised concern from the youth club organisers, who were still smiling at the success of the event.
This number went well and they still wanted more. We gave them an impromptu blues number with John singing anything that came into his head, and we finished with that. The curtains closed and we basked in our glory. A successful gig! We’d done it and therefore we could continue doing it and building on the material. It should have been so simple. Creative differences have a way of spoiling a mood and the euphoria was short lived. There were two sides, those of us, including me, who wanted to gradually build on what we had achieved, and those who wanted to make major changes and throw out old material. Peter was the main leader to make some changes. He felt we needed an additional guitarist and, in hindsight, he was probably right. He also wanted to take the band beyond just rock and roll and delve into more challenging genres. Was he right? Probably! But the truth is, it shook the tree and more people created more challenging dynamics.
Still, it was a good night and good enough for St Edmund’s to book us for another gig a few weeks later.
Parts 1 to 14 of my audiobook, Blaze, are available to listen to free on the Soundcloud player. A new part is added each week.