Thanks to Mike Messenger, here's the story of the Zodiacs, Messengers and the John Austin Band
Unlike many of the local musicians at the time, Mike wasn’t either in/or straight out of school. He had served in the merchant navy for 9 years sailing all over the world. During this time he also indulged heavily in his passion, music, playing guitar in many makeshift bands on the ships with other crewmates and friends. One of the many ships he sailed on was the Ocean Monarch, which sailed from New York to Bermuda. The band he was playing on the vessel played a lot of calypso music and was so popular that when they arrive in Bermuda they were taken into the radio station to play a live slot!
Mike, far left during his Navy days. 1954
After his time in the navy Mike returned to Newquay. His passion for music continued and he would regularly take his guitar with him to the pubs, where he could be found singing and performing. This attracted fellow musicians, eventually leading him to meet up with Roy Grose. A group was soon formed, The Zodiacs, which also included local musicians Ken Dumpleton, Sid Morris and Manny Cockle, who Mike would share vocals with.
Playing the hits of the day, including many harmony rich The Beach Boys numbers, they were one of the very first rock bands to play around the Newquay area and were soon getting gigs at Pentire Hotel and St Brannocks in Newquay, the Riverside Ballroom in Padstow, City Hall in Truro, many of the local village halls as well as a residency at the Pleasure Haven Holiday Camp in Newquay.
It was at the holiday camp they were spotting by Derek Bater. Derek had just started up Newquay’s first nightclub, Tall Trees and he was looking for entertainment. He initially asked Mike and Roy to perform as a duo in the small bar area. The venue was small at the time, but as it became more popular Derek applied for planning permission and built a side room with a stage area.
Although performing as a duo at Tall Trees the Zodiacs has still been playing around the local area as a full band. Now with a larger space available at Tall Trees they were asked to become the house band. With a few line-up changes the band would become resident band for a couple years and were the only band that played the venue in those early days and were incredibly popular with the locals and visiting holiday makers.
Although not billed in the programme The Zodiacs entered the 1964 Rock & Rhythm contest in Truro, won that year by The Jaguars.
In 1965 a further extension to Tall Trees was built, creating an upstairs area, and this is when it really took off. A few more line-up changes took place, with Roy and Bob leaving to form another band. Amongst the new recruits was Mick Jackman, an Australian who was married to owner of the Blue Lagoon Barry Costa’s sister.
By now the venue was a hive of activity, with 600-700 people on any given night. The band decided it was time for a change of name and using Mike’s name they became Mike & the Messengers. They had become so popular at the venue that they now played only at Tall Trees and no other venues. A few further line-ups changed occurred, with Brendan Joyce replacing Vic on Bass.
The Zodiacs, early days at Tall Trees
L-R: Mike Messenger, Sid Morris (drums), Bob Threadgold, Roy Grose
Sid Morris, Tall Trees
Mike Messenger, Tall Trees. 1964
Practicing harmonies at Tall Trees
Zodiacs recorded live at Tall Trees, 1964
Around 1967 Derek Bater decided to fund some recordings of the band, which could be used to secure more high profile gigs, a record deal or even to sell the copyright of songs to major performing artists. Derek financed the services of Wadebridge Sound Studio, who had also recorded The Reaction and The Onyx Set. They set their gear up when the venue was empty and recorded six songs by the band, all but one being band originals (itself quite unique at the time in Cornwall).
Final rehearsals at Tall Trees for the recording
L-R: Brendan Joyce, Colin Paul, Mick Jackman, Sid Morris, Dave Godber, Mike Messenger
Records were pressed up (with the band called ‘Bater’s Lot’ on the label!) and a small quantity distributed to the band members. Sadly a lot of the quality of the recording was lost when pressed onto the record, resulting in a somewhat muddy recording. The original tapes (now long lost) showed the band to their full potential, with crisps harmonies and a couple of great guitar breaks. The songs themselves stand confidently alongside much of the material that was being released at the time. Unfortunately nothing would come of the recordings.
Not long after this the band were joined by local musical legend Spike Hooper on Tenor Sax, alongside Johnny Beard on Alto. Both were experienced musicians and had worked in the big bands, as well as with rock and roll groups. With a full 8 piece line-up they now filled Tall Trees with sound and got everybody jumping. They could switch between ballads, motown and beat, and were hugely popular draw at the club.
Wearing stage gear, Tall Trees
In 1967 Derek built the Wig Wam club in the basement of the venue. This would operate as a cabaret club, with club singers, comedians and a casino. Derek brought Mike in to compare at the Wig Wam, so he would alternate his time between upstairs and down. If he was working the Wig Wam club the band would continue to perform, billed as the Mick Jackman Quartet.
Messengers, minus Mike. Wig Wam Club.
L-R: Mick Jackman, Johnny Beard, Spike Hooper, Sid Morris
Mike left the club and the band in 1969 and the Messengers folded. He would continue as a solo singer, performing in the bar area of the Blue Lagoon for a summer season backed by the Mick Jackman Band. He would then join the Danny Curwen Trio, with Spike Hooper, playing around the clubs and hotels of Newquay.
The Trio held a residency at the ever popular Trevelgue Club at the Trevelgue Campsite in Newquay, where Mike also compared. Downstairs was a live venue with the cabaret club upstairs. Often the comedians were drowned out by the likes of Safron playing at full volume in the club downstairs!
Mike winning a talent contest at the Cabaret Club, Newquay
After a couple of years Mike left the club and joined the John Austin Band as vocalist. Cornwall’s premier big band and one of the county’s top entertainment acts, initially Mike was terrified about the idea of leading such a renowned act. He was asked several times to join, turning them down each time, before decided to give it a go.
Although experienced as a cabaret performer and solo singer he was unfamiliar with the music of the big bands (Glenn Miller, etc.) so had to learn all the standards quickly, but he was soon confident enough to lead the band of seasoned and professional musicians.
John Austin was running two bands at the same time, the Show Band, which included a smaller set of performers who were more adaptable to playing smaller venues, and also the Big Band. The Big Band included the full cohort with brass, etc. and required a much larger venue to perform in, so where somewhat restricted in the number of venues they could perform in the county. They held a long residency at the Princess Pavilion in Falmouth, where they would become something of a resident band.
L-R: Mike Messenger, Dave Farr, John Austin, John Woolams, Alan Blackett
Hotel Bristol, Newquay
Princess Pavillions, 1972
Mick Jackman, John Woolams and Alan Ross
Live with the John Austin Band and The Altones
The Big and Show bands played all over Cornwall over the years, entertaining thousands of people at many different venues, from St Ives Rugby Club (a popular haunt) to Plymouth Guildhall. They also played many hotels, balls, galas and formal events. A professional and popular act venues knew if they wanted good quality act for an event or a show then the John Austin bands would fit the bill.
L-R; Basil Tait, John Austin, John Woollams, Bob Crooks, Mike Messenger
They would remain a popular draw for many years. In 1996 Mike left the band and they continued for a few more years with different singers, before finally calling it a day. Unlike many Mike Messenger has able to carve a successful career in music. He still continues to perform.
Mike with Phil King Trio - River Board at Helford Passage
Phil King (Keyboards), Dave Freeman (Bass), Jimmy French (drums)