Roger Brokenshire is something of legend within the Cornish music scene, with a career in music that has lasted a lifetime. He was there when rock Ďn roll kicked off, starting one of the first clubs in Cornwall, sang with the 60s beat bands, including fronted The Reaction and was instrumental in launching karaoke to Cornwall. Now in his 70s he still continued to perform and shows no signs of giving up his lifelong passion to perform and entertain people.
Like many, Roger started his singing career at home in front the gramophone, singing along to his favourite records. Then as a youngster he was taken along to the annual Miss Cornwall Contest, which was taking place at Redruth's Recreation Ground. As part of the days entertainment visitors were invited up onto the stage to sing and Roger seized the opportunity to show off his vocal prowess. In front of a crowd of around 1000 people he sang "If I Were a Blackbird", a song made famous at the time by Ronnie Ronalde. The crowd stood somewhat in awe at Roger, who was around 10 at the time, and you could hear a pin drop. Not bad going for a first public appearance!
He now had the bug for performing and took up singing in a variety show which would travel around Cornwall playing the village halls and other local venues. The show contained dancer, ventriloquists, magicians, etc. and Roger would perform a solo spot.
Roger now clearly had a talent for performances and in 1952, now aged 12, entered a talent contest run by Holman's, the mining equipment manufacturer. The event was compared by Richard Maddock from the BBC and a clearly delighted Roger can be seen with his winning certificate.
Still at school, Roger continued to perform in the local variety shows over the next couple of years and then aged 13 auditioned for a talent show run by Radio Luxemburg and compared by Carol Lewis from the station. Auditions took place at Truro City Hall, with Roger taking centre stage and making front page news locally. Roger wouldn't win the talent show, but wowed the crowd with a rendition of "Rag's to Riches". So impressed where the crowd he performed it three times in a row and was labelled "Cornwall's Johnny Ray" in the local papers.
He was now starting to gain bigger slots in shows. When Alan Gail brought his "Reach for the Stars" variety show to Cornwall Roger was given a starting role as a solo singer, performing at the Pavilion in Penzance. In the early 50 variety shows were an extremely popular form of entertainment and the Regal Theatre in Redruth put on regular nights, run by Mr Parker who was running the venue at the time. Acts were brought in from all over the UK, one being the soon to be famous ventriloquist Ray Allen. Roger's role was to introduce the evening (sporting his smart top hat!) by singing a song about the Regal. He would then walk on stage with his board and introduce the acts.
some of the acts at The Regal
As the 50s progressed television came in and the variety show's of old started to fade out, certainly in a live setting, people would now be content to watch the shows from the comfort of their own living room. Many of the performers from the shows Roger performed with would make the transition to television but for the singers it often less easy.
Roger had now left school and worked in a variety of jobs, including laying cable, butchery and working for Devenish Brewery. At time he was still fulfilling his passion for performing, but it wouldn't be his main source of income. He was performing all around Cornwall singing at such venues like the St Johnís Hall and Hi-Fi club both in Penzance. Ever the showman Roger had a green suit made for the St Johnís gig. He would also perform at the then prestigious Palais De Danse in St Ives (now the Barbara Hepworth Museum).
The Palais in it's heyday
and in more modern times
At times he would go pro, although it was still hard going making a living from entertainment so he would go back to his jobs when the gigs dried up. During the 50s Roger would adopt his first pseudonym, being billed as 'The Screaming B'.
By the mid 50s Rock and Roll was on the scene and teenagers finally had their own outlet. Like most his age Roger embraced Elvis, Bill Haley and the rest. Alongside the rock and rollers the likes of Lonnie Donegan were becoming more popular, soon Skiffle bands started to come in and out were the entertainers and solo performers.
One of the early venues to move into the rock and roll field was Tabbs Hotel in Redruth. Located above Tabbs arcade (now Iceland) the hotel had a dance hall for ballroom and the members club (Bamboo Club). Roger convinced the owner Reg Williams that rock and roll was where it was at and Reg offered Roger his own night, where Roger would MC and play Rock and Roll records. The night turned out to be extremely popular and was packed to the rafters. It became a regular night at the venue.
As well as MC'ing, Roger was also back singer, performing at venues around Cornwall with various local and visiting bands.
The Rock and Roll nights at Tabbs really started to take off and soon Roger was also putting on bands, including the likes of Manny Cockle and the Staggerlees. Being one of the first venues for young people in Cornwall teenagers were soon coming from all over the area, which resulted in quite a few fights between groups from different towns. Dances ran from 7.30-10.30 and there was no bar, it was purely a coke and crisps affair.
While running the dances at Tabbs Roger was also asked by Joy Hone at the Flamingo to perform as a solo singer in the venue's lounge club memberís bar. Performing to an older crowd, he would sing standards and classics to a civilised crowd.
Tabbs would continue into the mid-60s, putting on both dances and bands. As the sixties progressed bands would start coming down from Plymouth and London and the venue was running a regular Saturday Night Beat Dance. While Roger was running the dances Reg was booking the bands. Before long Roger would also team up with Eric Langman, Frank Rogers and David Stevens who were running the highly successful Teen Promotions, running dances throughout Cornwall.
In the early 60's Roger had the opportunity to travel to Torquay. He knew Lionel Digby through Tabbs and the Flamingo and Lionel asked him to sing with various bands he was managing in Devon. Roger travelled up to Torquay where he sang with the Rockin' Ricardos and Sandy & The Beach Boys (who were in fact all from Cornwall). While based in Devon the bands would play throughout Devon and Cornwall as Lionel had good links with the Cornwall scene, running dances himself or supplying bands for Teen Promotions and others.
Sandy and the Beach Boys
The Rockin Ricardo's
During his time in Torquay Roger would have the opportunity to perform on the same bill as Gene Vincent at Torquay Town Hall, a cantankerous character well remembered by all who were involved with him around that time, as were his gun wielding cronies!
After Torquay Roger returned to Cornwall in 1965 and was back working in day jobs while still performing in the evenings as much as he could. Like most music fans in Cornwall he attended the annual Rock and Rhythm contest at Truro City Hall. He witnessed the 1965 contest where he met with The Reaction back stage after the event. The band, with Johnny Quayle (aka Grose) singing, had come 4th that year. Although they were still young, he could see they were committed and had potential.
Sometime later, Johnny failed to show for a performance, choosing to watch the latest Elvis film instead. The band remembered Roger and gave him a call. Despite being in semi-retirement from performing he decided dust off his gold jacket and accept the gig at short notice. A true performer he dazzled the crowd and put on a great performance, which also gave the band a great positive boost. Roger was a big fan of soul music, which suited his performance style and voice perfectly, and brought many soul numbers to the bands set list.
He would perform with The Reaction for about a year. They were often billed as The Reaction featuring Sandy, harking back to his ĎBeach Boysí days. In 1966 the band entered the Rock and Rhythm contest again and with Roger out front they wowed the crowd and judges and took the top prize.
The Reaction at the 1966 Rock and Rythym Contest
After leaving The Reaction in 1966 roger returned to Torquay, once again working with Lionelís bands as well as taking odd jobs, such as renovating an old cinema Lionel had recently purchased. He remained in Torquay for three years, before returning to Cornwall for good at the end of the 60s.
Around 1970 he would form The Globetrotters and was joined by Mike Bray. The band would last for about 15 years, performing throughout Cornwall and Devon as well as trips out of the county, including the Northern Club Circuit. The band would have a successful live career pulling in good crowds. The full story on the Globetrotters can be found here - The Globetrotters.
After the Globetrotters Roger would sing with a number of other bands in the early 80s, including The Rocket, with whom he sang for with for 12 months before Peter Lawson from the band moved to Australia and band called it a day.
Around this time Roger starting performing as solo artists singing along to backing tracks. He had spotted this new device on Tomorrows World that allowed you to sing along with a pre-recorded tape and spotted its potential. Roger would be one of, if not the first, to use the machine in Cornwall. After performing at Trevithick Day the local pubs and clubs saw the reception he was getting and he was soon regularly performing around Cornwall in pubs, clubs and hotels (one engagement at a Newquay Hotel would last 20 years!). To begin with he was going out as Roger Dee, later Rockin' Roger Dee.
The natural progression from singing to backing tapes was Karaoke, which started to become popular in the UK in the early 90s. Roger purchased some of the equipment and started taking his show around Cornwall. Always the showman and not one to turn up somewhere just with a machine, Roger had a set made and took his karaoke road show on the road, playing at pubs, clubs, hotels and the always popular holiday parks. This was before machines where in every pub and club, Roger's road show would remain extremely popular and draw in the crowds.
In 1991 he accepted the offer to perform with a band again playing Teddy Boy rock and roll with The Pink Cadillacís. This engagement would last six months and took him to Portugal, where they had a great time playing the summer season.
Through the 90s and much if the 00s he continued to perform with his karaoke road show as well as still going out as a solo performer, usually billed as Rockin Roger Dee. He was still drawing in good crowds, whether it be a local social club or running karaoke nights with groups of college and university students.
Thornsby Hall, Manchester with Robbie Williams' dad
Roger put together a reunion for the Flamingo Ballroom in 1995, hosted at the Bellevue Club in Redruth. Many of the old patrons from the famous venue attended, including former owner Joy Simpson (nee Hone).
Roger with Joy
Old band mate Roger Taylor remembers Roger B
Despite now being in his 70s Roger continues to perform as part of the Rockin 5, including Tony Lean of 60s band Confusion on guitar, and still belts them out!
Did you play in this band? If so please get in touch!