With kind thanks to Phil Knight, who here tells the story of the Layabouts:
The Layabouts set out to present themselves as an unadulterated, rip-roaring, rousting rock band in the combined style of their heroes of the time, Bill Haley, Jerry Lee Lewis, Little Richard, Gene Vincent, Elvis Presley, Eddie Cochran etc.
The Layabouts’ early gigs were in the Winter Gardens and the ‘El Greco’ night club in Penzance Tim Knight joined up with founders Ricky, Kit , Wally and Dave for the first gig and although he had never attended a practice with the band, he added a new depth to the band with his finger-picking, having come from a folk background. Wally had to be admired. He had never picked up a bass guitar but self-taught and with plenty of help from Kit, he went on to develop a punchy style that lent much to the band’s sound. John Adams, Owner of ‘the Wints’, was very helpful in providing gigs that helped the band to pay for equipment. ‘Managers’ John Greig and Dave White (actor ‘Dave Shaw’) both lent their support and helped in turn to find the band many of their earlier gigs.
Tim recalls, “There was this chap – he was quite a nice bloke - who promised us a season of gigs on the Roseland somewhere but, like many down here, he made the mistake of starting his season too early and we were virtually playing to an empty hall. At the end of the evening he couldn’t reward us in cash and apologized for paying by cheque. Ricky said jokingly, ‘As long as it doesn’t bounce!’ and the bloke looked affronted and said, ‘I wouldn’t say that too loudly in here if I was you!’ so Ricky couldn’t resist it and, cocking his head and cupping his mouth, ribbed him by unwisely repeating it in a whisper, ‘As long as it doesn’t bounce!’ Unfortunately, we lost about six gigs there as a result but you had to laugh!”
On that first occasion at the Winter Gardens, however, as Kit owned just a small Dallas amplifier/speaker, and Dave his Ajax drumset, they were obliged to hire a P.A. from Warrens (not the Cornish Bakery firm) which then owned a small message-record business in the centre of Penzance at that time (where Kit and Ricky had recorded the Ying-Tong song one day for a laugh). Faced with no transport, the band wheeled all their gear and instruments down to the ‘Wints’ in a handcart!
Barn Club, Penzance. 1963
Terry (Tell) Mann (vocalist in country and folk style) performed with the band on a few occasions - once at the Rock & Roll championship of Cornwall at Truro Town Hall and once down at the Winter Gardens where Ricky and he were advertised as ‘the Singing Sweethearts’! Ricky dressed up in drag as the woman to fulfil the hoax. The band also played occasionally at the ‘El Greco’ nightclub in New Street (Penzance). Phil Tutty [Stage name Mark Stevens] was an itinerant vocalist who later sang at a handful of gigs with the Layabouts a few months after the group had formed. He also sang with the Bandits.
As time went on, the band members wore a uniform: a black, v-neck, velveteen doublet over a white shirt and a bootlace tie, and light blue trousers. Another adopted effect, probably the first of its kind in Cornwall, was the use of ultra violet lights to bring out the white shirts. The band would start each performance with its own 12-bar instrumental theme, “Layabout Rock” before Ricky took to the stage. Later, in the second set, he would come out after the first two songs dressed in a blonde wig, shades and an Elvis-style, gold lamé suit and the effect had a striking impact on those attending. This occurred when the band played ‘Please don’t touch’ a well-known number by Johnny Kidd and the Pirates.
St Just Feast Week, 1965
An enjoyable annual gig was the Arts Ball at the Wints. Invariably, the Layabouts were called upon to support famous jazz bands at the time including Acker Bilk, Terry Lightfoot, Humphrey Littleton and the Mike Cotton Sound. The event was in themed fancy dress and the Layabouts would not disappoint. On one occasion, Wally really went to town making a horse body out of wire and papier-mâché which he climbed into, and wearing a huge, flamboyant turban on his head like an Arab horseman. Another interesting and unusual gig was in Viv Bartle’s Skating Rink, Camborne, which had sort of pier running out from the stage which was useful for raving it up! The band would sometimes play while skaters wheeled all around them. The Layabouts were supporting act twice for the Who, the first occasion being in this venue, the second later at the Flamingo, Pool.
Other regular gigs followed. It should be placed on record that the Layabouts were the first group to play at the Barn Club (Penzance) when it opened. Other fairly frequent venues were the Masonic Hall (Hayle), the Buffalo Club (St Ives), Tabbs Hotel (Redruth), the Flamingo (Pool), the Skating Rink (now the Corn Exchange, Camborne), Princess Pavillion and the Drill Hall (Falmouth), the Blue Lagoon (Newquay), Carlyon Bay (St Austell) and many community and church halls, for example, St Just, Porthleven, Helston, Mullion, Tresillian, Grampound, Roskear and Lanner among many others. The Layabouts were perennial supporting act for such names as Tom Jones & the Squires, the Bachelors, Screaming Lord Sutch, Johnny Kidd & the Pirates, Manfred Mann, The Pretty Things, Mike Sarn, Paul and Barry Ryan, the Zombies, the Fortunes, the Who, the Nashville Teens, Neil Christian and the Crusaders, the Giants, the Mac Sound etc. The Layabouts built up a considerable local following in the process.
Buffalo Club, St Ives. 1964/5
In 1963, the band were recommended to impresario, Larry Parnes, of Decca Records, and at the company’s written invitation they travelled to London for an audition and studio recording test over Easter, March, 1964.
Of this Kit says: We were totally unprepared and I voted against going up too soon but was outvoted. When we got there, none of us felt happy having to play separately in compartments or booths of the recording studios, one at a time. We had no money and had to sleep in the van overnight that weekend. Knut (our Swedish drummer) was almost crying with the cold as he was still only a young kid really. In the evening, we went to a nightclub where a named band was playing and thought ‘we’re better than that!’ Afterwards, we bought a Chinese take-away from a seedy old place. It was so grotty, the rice was grey and it was lagged in grease so that nobody could eat it except Wally who said, ‘Here, give it to me!’ and he devoured it all himself while we all sat around in disbelief!
After the recording sessions, the Studio were keen to use a recorded cover of ‘Money, Honey’ for their first single. The band members at that time all had steady jobs and, asked to remain in London by Parnes and do a round of the clubs for a month in the city to see how they got on, the penniless members decided it would be too much to risk, throwing up their jobs and, without guaranteed income, stay in the city for a month. Sadly they were obliged to return to Penzance, having missed out on the opportunity of making it big, but with their sound now recorded on tape. A month or so later, a few people in Penzance said they had heard ‘the band’s new single’ on Radio Luxembourg the night before but nothing ever seemed to come of it.
At that point in time, the band had an enthusiastic following. Swedish drummer, Knut Strindlund, had taken over from Dave Pryor on drums for some time. On returning to his native Sweden, he went on to achieve considerable success with a top band (The Few) there and attributed this success to his tutoring with the Layabouts. He was replaced in the Layabouts by Phil Knight in mid 1964 (making it three brothers in the band). Kit, the eldest of the brothers in the band, felt that with Phil, the band began to achieve its tightest sound.
He says: Over the years (about ten altogether), we had a lot of influences from Rock and Roll, ‘Flower power’ and the ‘Surfing Sound’, Soul Music, the Beatles and the Rolling Stones. We tried to incorporate them all in our overall sound in some way. When Phil came in as the Beatles had just hit the charts, he astounded us all with his ‘double foot-pedalling’.
At that time, girls used to scream and grab the band’s Reslo ribbon microphones by their leads during gigs at the Tabbs Hotel in Redruth! Flattering though it was, Kit would launch his foot out at the over-enthusiastic females to discourage them! At that same era, the Layabouts were the supporting band for Tom Jones at the vast Flamingo (A hall the size of a aircraft hangar since flattened to make way for Safeway and now Morrisons). Touring with his own band the Squires at that time, he paid the Layabouts the compliment of saying they were the only authentic rock band he had heard on his tour and lent them his hi-tec microphone for their second set.
Welcome though fairly brief additions to the band were ‘Rowly’ (proper name unknown), and Canadian, Dennis Ray, who played the tenor saxophones. They specialized in playing ‘Mack the Knife’ and ‘The Swinging Shepherd Blues’. Tall Dennis amused the rest of the band during one of Kit’s guitar breaks by patting on the head one undersized roadie who would play the tambourine on stage as we played. At this time, Chris Sewell (a Methodist minister’s son) managed the band and found the group gigs. Several of our photos were taken by him. As already said, Tell Mann and Mark Stevens had long ceased to be members of the band in the early days but Ricky Barnes remained as sole lead singer.
Ricky Barnes, 1965/66
Overall, as Kit says, Ricky was the best singer throughout, though guitarists, me and Tim, and Phil, also lent a vocal or two. Having a superb range and stage persona, Ricky was sorely missed when he left the band to pursue his musical career along different lines in about 1965.
(Ricky’s musical career as vocalist (and guitarist) took him around the world until finishing in about 1994 owing to ill health). Locally he recorded several cassettes and played in groups such as Rubbish (with Jeff Cooper and Terry Houlston).
Meanwhile, the rest of the band continued simply as the Layabouts. Mick Maguire (drums) came in about 1965, so the band had two alternating drummers which allowed Phil to do a number of lead vocals.
When Phil left to go to college in 1966, the band continued with Mick as drummer until ‘Rab’ Bennetts came in on drums, and Kit continued as lead vocalist. The band went on to perform at holiday camps etc until finally fading out some time around the end of the 1960s. Each of the band members has continued to play sporadically with other bands or individually ever since.
Vocalist Ricky has also added these anecdotes:
“One other thing was that Tim's guitar string bust at the Flamingo when we were supporting the Bachelors so one of the guys came on and lent Tim his Gibson to use while he changed the string for him.
Also the night we played in Falmouth, Kit was dancing around the stage doing one of his lead breaks when he fell down a hole in the stage but still kept playing. Then when we stopped playing after that to take a break, a girder came crashing down right across the drum set. Had Dave been sitting there he would have been killed!
Another night when we were playing at Porthleven, we had with us a tape recorder. I had put the tape recorder on with a song we had recorded from a previous gig to start playing over the speakers. I had also plugged in a kettle to boil up as we played along with the tape. As soon as the kettle had boiled, we all sat on the amps and had a cup of tea while we let the tape carry on. All the audience were oblivious to this and carried on dancing.”
“We were playing beside the Helford River one night and it was an open air do. The chap whose party it was had asked us to keep the sound down so we tried our best but how do you play quietly as a R & R band. We were repeatedly asked to turn down till you couldn’t turn down any more and I had resorted to lagging my drumskins with rags to dampen down the volume. Whatever we did, we couldn’t stop the sound bouncing across the river creek. It got too much for some impatient neighbours who decided to come and turn the power off and suddenly I found myself playing a solo!
Ricky had a wicked sense of humour. I remember him doing the dramatic Conway Twitty ballad ‘It’s only make believe’ which began slowly with ‘People see her everywhere - They think she really cares - but myself I can’t deceive-I know it’s only make believe.’ That wasn’t good enough for Ricky. He would sing, ‘People see her underwear - they think she really cares – but myself I can’t deceive – ‘cos they hang down to her knees!’
On one of those rare occasions when reaction wasn’t forthcoming after a good number, a sarcastic remark by Kit or Ricky to the audience, such as ‘Thank you, cabbages!’, would draw belated applause surprisingly!”
Tim had this tale to recount:
“On one occasion during a gig at St Austell, in the enormous hall at Carlyon Bay as it was known then, Ricky had a brush with some guy, who had nicked our tambourine so Ricky nicked it back! We thought that was it until we came out to leave after our performance and found him with his mates, about thirty St Austell Hell’s Angels, waiting for us. We thought, ‘This is it!’ I can’t remember exactly how we made it away in the van but I reckon it was the fact that we faced them off. I suppose we must have looked a bit of a hard bunch so they let us go! It was a big relief to get away unscathed though!”
There was the time when we were playing at an end-of-year Sixth Form dance at the Penzance Grammar Schhool. Our Swedish drummer Knut had been to the dentist and had been given gas for an extraction earlier in the day. In the middle of a number, he suddenly collapsed over his drum set and Ricky had to take over! ”
When Ricky was singing, he didn’t take kindly to people insulting him by not taking his singing seriously. We used to do Roy Orbison’s ‘In Dreams’ and one night in a local village hall as he began, ‘A candy-coloured clown we call the Sandman…,’ he took exception to a few yokels at the back who were being a bit rowdy and stopped and stared at them. The loud individuals paused and Ricky struck up again, ‘A candy-coloured clown we call the Sandman…’ and stopped again. The folk at the back had started up once again so Ricky told them to shut up or leave. This stunned them momentarily into silence and for a third time, Ricky began confidently to take to the mike: ‘A candy-coloured clown we call the Sandman…’ The noisy element at the back made the mistake of ignoring Ricky for a third time. He jumped down from the stage, strode down to the back of the hall, thumped the ringleader and returned unruffled to the stage and started again: ‘A candy-coloured clown we call the Sandman, tiptoes to my room every night, just to sprinkle stardust and to whisper, go to sleep everything is alright…etc’ No-one interrupted him after that!
Kit has also a few comical tales to tell:
“We were playing in the village hall at Porthleven when some drunk bloke, flailing his fists, began to chase another in the middle of our performance. The guy being pursued, ran up the stairs at the side of the stage looking for an escape route. The bloke chasing him made the mistake of following him across the stage in the middle of our playing. Ricky grabbed him around the neck, I thumped him in the belly, and Tim kicked him up the backside, sending him flying down off the stage. The funny thing was, he came back later and apologized!
I remember a time when we had a gig in rural Ludgvan, having to trudge across a muddy cabbage field, knee-deep in mud, carrying all our gear to a hall on the other side!
When we came back from London, we each brought back some really grotesque, flubber mask, something new to the eyes down here then. It so happened that we were doing a lot of original material at the time and one of our songs was called ‘Night of the Ghouls’. Tim would start it off with a monstrous howl and then we would go into the song. I particularly remember using our masks for the first time. We all jumped out from the side of the stage, and it was all we could do to play. Everyone was in stitches behind their mask but nobody could see anybody else’s facial expressions.
I remember playing at the Drill Hall, Falmouth and tuning up at the beginning of the evening, I couldn’t hear anything coming out of the speakers. I asked Ricky to listen for me, I fiddled with the amp and the volume control but still nothing. Ricky had his ear to the speaker when I suddenly realized I hadn’t plugged the jack plug in and put it in and began to play. Well, I blasted poor old Ricky who’d been craning forward, his ear against the speaker, standing on a chair to reach the speaker and he stood back so hard that he went through the seat of the chair.
We decided one night to start with our theme tune ‘Layabout Rock’ by coming in one at a time after a few bars of the fairly repetitive 12-bar riff, starting with Wally on bass – only once Wally was out there, we didn’t make an entrance but let him carry on extemporizing around the riff until he became desperate as he’d exhausted all the possibilities. We were always sending each other up and poor old Wally was often the scapegoat. All the same, he could come back with a great rejoinder and one day, returning in the van, when Ricky was mocking him by quoting a TV McFarlane Lang ginger biscuit advert: ’You can almost see a smile on that small brown, wrinkled face!’ Wally came back at him with ‘I’m not going to listen to Britain’s oldest and baldest teenager!’ He was a good sport, kind-hearted and full of good humour. But he took his bass guitar playing really seriously and always gave his all.*
One night after a gig in the Town Hall at St Just, we were tired and sitting in Wally’s old banger of a Ford Thames pulling away for Penzance when a policeman tapped on the window so Wally slid the window back. The policeman asked if he was aware that one of his rear lights wasn’t working. Wally (who, unbeknown to us all, was suffering from the beginnings of a persecution complex), replied impatiently, ‘Oh! Why don’t you go and look for Biggs!’ and drove off in the midst of roars of laughter from inside the van!*
In the summer, one year, we had a regular gig in some holiday place in Hayle when it was in the middle of the Flower Power craze. We had the crazy idea one day of stopping the van en route and gathering all these wild flowers from the roadside and festooning ourselves with them for a spoof which we did.
One night, a friend of the band, Des Hannigan, came along with us. While we were playing a particularly raving version of ‘It’s all over now’, Des decided to help the band out during one of my frenetic guitar solos by flashing the stage lights on and off by the switch. The effect of this was to blow the fuse and all the lights and sound went off in this hall at St Buryan, and I think part of the village too!”
The Layabouts are still remembered fondly by most of their contemporaries as a raw and raving rock band that played all the rock classics, presented them with vigour and humour, and assured a lively dance and atmosphere.
Lamorna Cove, 1962
One gig stands out for all who were around as proof of that. It was when the band did a free open air dance/concert in 1962 for all the young folk who traditionally visited Lamorna Cove on foot on Good Friday each year from Penzance and the surrounding area. A long cable was set up and ran from the café to the end of the small pier and treated the thronging ‘pilgrims’ (probably fuelled by under-age tipples from the inn known as the ‘Lamorna Wink’) to a rocking good afternoon. The Layabouts made their mark that day all right!
*(Sadly, Wally passed on prematurely some years ago, when, after some years of having been treated for schizophrenia, he suffered a sudden heart attack.)