Soul Society


Years active:




Main St Austell


Band Members:                                         

Will Coon (lead vocals)
Nick Dower (rhythm then lead guitar)
Joe Stephens (bass guitar and backing vocals)
John Lean (drums)
Roger Hancock (lead guitar and backing vocals then organ)
on 11.12.65 and thereafter, Nigel ‘Spike’ Hooper (sax)     


Thank you to Roger Hancock, Will Coon and Nick Dower and for their recollections of the band, which are reproduced below. (Please read the Del Sparton and The Dominators page for more)

Will - Nick - Roger - John - Joe

At the end of 1964, Will Coon was asked to write a song for The Dominators to perform at Truro City Hall in the annual Rock Band contest in February 1965. Del Spartan left during this time and John Lean (The Dominators’ drummer) invited Will to join as lead singer. Will accepted and soon the band got a new name from an LP, a jazz collective, that John Lean had, and became, ‘The Soul Society’.  This name reflected the shift in musical genre that those in the band were seeking. This can be identified as Rhythm & Blues, Soul, and ‘Motown’ – a style of soul music that was still to become popular in Britain. However in those days in Cornwall, Soul was considered almost underground, and we were being adventurous, even risk taking by playing it. For inspiration and ideas, we were listening to Motown Label artists like The Miracles, Mary Wells and Smokey Robinson as well as British bands like The Animals and The Spencer Davis Group. The sound we produced as a guitar band proved to be very successful. However, this sound became more soulful to us and others when Roger Hancock switched from lead guitar to organ (Nick Dower taking on lead guitar) and, a little later, Spike Hooper came in on tenor sax. This combination of instruments marked a shift from being a purely guitar band to enable a richer, more interesting soul sound.

Reg’ mark 2 was a second hand Comer van. The name on the side caused some confusion, even suspicion. ‘Were we religious? some villagers would ask. One of us worked for a firm of accountants in St Austell and was told not to park the van outside the offices in Tregarne Terrace lest it offended clients.

Numbers we played: ‘Moanin’, Hallelujah and  I love her so’, ‘My babe’, ‘Water melon man’, ‘Jump back’, ‘Treat her right’, ‘Mighty crowded’, ‘My girl’, ‘Mr Pitiful’,
‘Midnight hour’, ‘Work song’, ‘Searchin’, ‘Dancin in the street’, Summertime’, ‘Slow
down’, ‘Rockin pneumonia’.

Gear we used: Fender Jazz bass guitar, Fender Stratocaster, Gretsch Tennessean, Pioneer drums, Hohner 320 twin manual organ, Vox AC 30 bass amp, 2 Vox AC 30 lead amps, Selmer 60 watt PA system, 2 Watkins Copycats, 3 Sure mikes

Venues we played: Roller Skating Rink (Camborne); Town Hall (Wadebridge); The
Barn Club (Penzance); Public Rooms (Penzance); Flamingo Ballroom (Redruth);
Goldophin Hall (Helston); Penmare Hotel (Hayle); Seahawk Club (RNAS, Culdrose,
Helston); Duporth Holiday Camp (St Austell); New Cornish Riviera (Carlyon Bay);
Community Hall (Perranporth); Watergate Bay Hotel (Newquay); Frithelstock Stone School Hall (Torrington); Okehampton Community Hall; Truro City Hall; Bodmin Grammar School; Town Hall (Torquay); St Brannock’s Hotel (Newquay); Tall Trees Country Club (Newquay); The Institute (Rock); Quay Club (Plymouth); Rolle College (Exmouth); The Heavy Transport Club (Par); The Pavillion (Exmouth); St Georges Hall (Exeter); The Majestic (Camborne); Public Hall (Liskeard); Queen’s Hall (Barnstable).

Bands we featured with: ‘Them’ with Van Morrison (New Cornish Riviera Lido, Carlyon Bay, 5.6.65);  ‘Johnny Kidd and the Pirates’ (New Cornish Riviera Lido, Carlyon Bay, 12.6.65); ‘The Poets’ (Flamingo Ballroom, Redruth, 10.7.65); ‘Herman’s Hermits’ (New Cornish Riviera Lido, Carlyon Bay, 28.8.65); ‘The Fortunes’ (Town Hall, Torquay, 18.9.65); ‘The Enid’ (Flamingo Ballroom, Redruth, 9.10.65); ‘Alan Bown Set (Flamingo Ballroom, Redruth, 30.10.65); ‘The Voids with Jackie Smith’ (New Cornish Riviera Lido, Carlyon Bay, 19.11.65); ‘Trendsetters Ltd’ (Flamingo Ballroom, Redruth, 20.11.65); ‘Shaun and the Shondells’ (Truro City Hall, 9.12.65); ‘Them’ without Van Morrison (New Cornish Riviera Lido, Carlyon Bay, 11.12.65); ‘The Quiet Five’ (Flamingo Ballroom, Redruth, 12.2.66); ‘The Mike Stuart Span’ (The Blue Lagoon, Newquay, 26.2.66); ‘The Cyclones’ (The Blue Lagoon, Newquay, 5.3.66); ‘The Law’ (Rolle College, Exeter, 19.3.66); ‘The Spartans’ (The Pavillion, Exmouth, 22.4.66); ‘The MT Vessels’ and ‘The Intentions’ (St Georges Hall, Exeter, 23.4.66); ‘The Harlequins’ (Queen’s Hall, Barnstable, 5.5.66); ‘The Meddy Evils’ (The Blue Lagoon, Newquay, 7.5.66).

Memorable event: When we played at St Georges Hall, Exeter, on 19th September 1965 we spent the night around the van high up in a newly built multi-story car park at the centre of the city. During the night the night watch-man was assaulted and robbed. We slept through this Exeter drama.

Watergate Bay. 30th July 1965

(Photograph by Nick Dower)

We were booked for an outside gig by the Watergate Bay Hotel on 30th July 1965. In this picture there are four Soul Society members: Will Coon, Joe Stephens, John Lean and Roger Hancock. Goff Parsons (Strollers) and Bill Gill (various bands) are also present.

Foxhole.  April 1965

(Photograph by John Lean)

Nick, Joe, Will and Roger pose on the Comer (plus Tonkin Bird – a sexual motif) outside a butcher’s killing house in Foxhole. An uncle, Henry Lobb, who was a butcher let us use this facility and its concrete interior gave a great reverberation. When we had a practice we surely gave the village a damn good blasting but no-one ever complained which, looking back, was a sign of 1960s adult tolerance towards our youthful pleasures.

The first Soul Society line up changed briefly after 11th, June, 1966, when Will Coon left, but he returned after about two months and was replaced for that short absence by singer Phil Bassett.

In July 1966, Roger Hancock left to train as a teacher in Sussex, soon to be followed by Nick Dower, who later joined a thriving St. Austell band called ‘The Dissatisfied’.

The Soul Society then reformed late in 1966 and went back on the circuit in March 1967. The new line up was Spike Hooper (tenor & alto sax), Will Coon (lead vocals and guitar), David Coon (vocals and alto sax), Anthony Collins (organ), Graham ‘Dicky’ Dale (trumpet and valve trombone), Joe Stephens (bass and vocals) and John Lean (drums).

This line up lasted until Joe Stephens left to work in London in August 1967. He was replaced on bass guitar by a one-time ‘Dissatisfied’ member, Kenny Higman. The band finally broke up soon after October 1967 when Spike Hooper left to join a resident jazz ensemble in Newquay. A half-hearted attempt was made later that year and into January 1968, with Will and David Coon, and John Lean, being joined by Brendan Joyce, on bass guitar, but it failed to find any enthusiasm without the horn section, and we finally gave up.

Soul Society set list
(Compiled in 1967 by Will Coon)


Postscript: In January 1992 a brand new Soul Society, was re born. This lasted until May 1998, when first, Will Coon, suffered a serious accident that forced him out of action, and sadly, when later, Spike Hooper became ill with cancer.  Spike died on July 16th, 1999, and with him, The Soul Society.

Over the years, a number of guests played or depped for The Soul Society, and they included Nigel Uren, Malcolm Hooper, Bill Gill (drums), Roger Taylor who later, of course, was to play drums with Queen, Mike Grose, (bass guitar and guitar), and Robin Cocks (valve trombone).

The above accounts of The Dominators and The Soul Society could not have been put together without the detailed records that Ron Best and Will Coon kept and kindly made available. All thanks to them for helping to keep our band stories alive. Our message to any newly formed Cornish bands visiting this web site is to keep a record of your band lives and adventures - you never know, me ansomes, who might be interested to read about you in future times.


Appendix A

What was it like to be in a band?
by Nick Dower

The Cornwall Rock scene in the early 60s through to the 70s can only really be described as an exciting time. We were pioneers and stepping into the unknown. Early inspirations were bands like The Shadows and Ventures growing through that decade with new influences from Soul artists such as Otis Redding and Gino Washington.  Then came the Liverpool sound of The Beatles and Gerry and the Pacemakers and London bands such as The Who, The Stones and The Animals and everything changed again. There’s a huge jump there but you get the picture. So, in short during that period we were covering everything that came along. Many bands also started writing their own stuff, some of it good and some bloody awful.  Contrary to popular belief we weren’t just a bunch of kids who learnt three chords and formed a band. This stuff had to be learnt without access to guitar tabs or internet or YouTube or anything to make life easy, or electronics to fill in any hard bits. Many band members had either had guitar/music lessons or a local brass band training.

I was 15 years old when I did my first gig with Del Spartan and the Dominators – imagine that today.

Venues varied. Some were very basic village halls where the girls would sit down one side and the boys would just try to look cool and eye them up for a possible move in the second half. If a gig was good we would actually get some dancing in the first half but mainly that didn’t happen until well into the second. Usually all this would be in a fluorescent lit atmosphere with plenty of drinking and smoking. With due respect, people did make some effort to present themselves well – even the fellas with plenty of Brylcreem and winkle pickers.

Other venues were downright hard – by that I mean trouble. You could guarantee that a fight would break out and the best place to be was up on that stage and just keep the music going and let the bouncers sort it all out but there were no weapons carried and usually just a bloody nose and dented pride was the outcome. The rule seemed that once you were down you were down and the fight was over and the music carried on. Never any police.

Other venues which we aspired to as we got better were actually quite nice with proper lighting and some were quite large with names Like The Winter Gardens or Flamingo Club and these usually (but not always) featured a main band and a support band; the main band, invariably from London, or maybe even Liverpool with us in support. Some of these were also big names by the late 60s when Rock had firmly taken off in the UK.  But just to show what a fiddle it all was we were once billed as a London band when we played in North Devon with a bunch of local boys supporting us. We had to try to talk in London accents and our idea of that was cockney. You can imagine what a mess we made of it with our Cornish twang. Del insisted on using a Liverpool accent because it was the only one he could do but it probably sounded more Irish than Liverpool. Del is sadly no longer with us and is missed.

There was great camaraderie between the bands as well and we would often meet after a gig in one of the few all night steak houses which we had learned the whereabouts of and blow all of our fee.  We also occasionally borrowed another band member to fill in. This was where, on later occasion, we had Roger Taylor stand in because our drummer was sick.  I remember that we weren’t too impressed at the time because his style made us work harder.

I have half a memory of a mini tour we did with a couple of other local bands into Devon with a coach. We decided to have a bit of fun and armed ourselves with potato guns and a bag of spuds each. Unfortunately there was a leak and all three bands did the same. By the end the coach was ankle deep in potato pellets and a healthy tip had to be given to the driver before he would bring us back home.

Girls – yes we actually had girls at the front in some places giving us the eye. That was a real education to me and something I found quite scary initially but soon grew into. It was always better when there was a double bill because you could have a chat or whatever when the other band was on. Many was the time when a band member would almost miss the start of the second set and just make it somewhat ruffled!

In hindsight I don’t know how we managed what we did. We all had day jobs and mine as an electrical apprentice started at 8.0 am SIX days a week and on top of that we were doing up to 3 and maybe 4 gigs a week on a couple of occasions but we almost always had at least two. This permitted 2 or 3 hours sleep before ‘work’ and on a couple of occasions I went straight to work from the gig and long trip home complete in my flares and paisley shirt.

A word about standard equipment used.  On the whole in the earlier years we all aspired to Vox AC30 valve amps for the guitars, a Vox AC60 for the bass and a PA System. We had no man at the back mixing or balancing and never did a sound check but the music had a passion, enthusiasm and rawness and each band had a sound of their own. You can’t achieve this if you turn up and use installed systems mixed by others as found in many venues today. Our initial guitars were cheap and cheerful but soon replaced with original USA Fender Strats. Later, other equipment and makes started to appear but this was the basic gear we used for most of the time. We were also all in hock up to our eyeballs with terrified parents and relatives having to stand as guarantors to such a level that in my case at least the HP Payments were more than I earned at my day job – so we HAD to gig.

So there’s a brief insight into what we all consider to be a fantastic time which not one of us would have missed for anything. I have known some great guys and great musicians during my time and many from that era. Some made it quite big, others hung up their guitars and called it a day and others sadly have gone to the big gig in the sky and are sadly missed. I wouldn’t have missed it all for the world and it’s given me a lifetime of pleasure and am happily strumming once again with a couple of very old very good mates.

Anyone reading this who remembers get in touch, or any up and coming youngsters who fancy treading the same boards – Just do it.

Keep Music Live.




Links to other bands:

Roger Hancock and Joe Stephens played with The Rapiers and Del Sparton and The Dominators

Will Coon and John lean played with The Burnettes

Nick Dower played with The Dissatisfied

Did you play in this band? If so please get in touch!