Willie’s Cult to Jimmy Powell – A Brumbeat Short Story

After a brief email exchange with local musician Alan Shepherd regarding our article ‘Birmingham’s Oldest Recording Studios Rock On‘ (Hollick & Taylor), Alan has kindly reminisced in a nice little exclusive on his memories of the local and UK music scene in the late 1960s.

Willie’s Cult to Jimmy Powell

It was 1967/68! I play sax and joined a Coventry soul/pop outfit called ‘Willie’s Cult’ (‘Cult’ was the buzz word for bands in the 60s!), named after Willie Morris, the bass player. We played the usual youth clubs. One afternoon I was in Willie’s house when the phone rang  – it was Jimmy Powell from West Heath. Willie passed the phone to me – Jimmy wanted a band for that night at a University somewhere. We’d heard of him and saw him play at the R&B night at the Leofric Hotel in Coventry. So we motored off and met him in the dressing room – compared which songs we did (Midnight Hour, I Got a Woman, usual R&B stuff), went on & backed him with no rehearsal. He was professional to pull it off!

Anyway Jimmy was looking for a backing group so we agreed to join him. He was a bit of a star to us – he’d played Germany, London and already made a single in 1962 ‘Sugar Babe‘ (Decca 45-F.11447) written by the musical director Charles Blackwell and produced by Jack Good. He’d played with The Rockin’ Berries and he’d appeared in a pop film ‘Just For Fun‘ in 1963.

His early claim to fame was moving to London and joining The Five Dimensions – who had Rod Stewart – an unknown singer at the time.  (Rod mentions this in his autobiography but it was missed out on the TV documentary about him). Anyway, Rod soon took off, met Long John Baldry and the rest is history. But back to 1967/8.

Jimmy lived in Hopwood, near Birmingham, so we played pubs & clubs in the area, also Chateau Impney Droitwich, which had an R&B club. Also ‘Tiles’ club in Oxford Street and Flames in Stoke on Trent.

One memorable tour took us to Scotland – a 17 hour journey in a cold panel van. We played at Strathpeffer and Glasgow (Glasgow on New Years Eve!) The 5 dates turned into two! The disc jockey was Stewart Henry who had just secured a BBC contract.

Our best gigs were Universities, certainly a challenge to some more famous acts. We appeared with many groups including Fleetwood Mac, The Nice, Alexis Korner, Georgie Fame, Troggs, Alan Price, The Nice, Small Faces etc.

In 1968 we cut four tracks at Hollick & Taylor which came out on two Decca singles. Jimmy Powell And The Dimensions: ‘Unexpected Mirrors’ b/w ‘Time Mends Broken Hearts’ in September 1967and ‘I Just Can’t Get Over You’ b/w ‘Real Cool’ in 1968. We also recorded a track for Cummins Diesel Engines but guess that’s long gone. I still have old tapes of unreleased stuff we did.

At that time we had a manager who was St.John Howell – he was a well-known BBC TV presenter. He fixed it for us to appear in a BBC TV soap series ‘The Newcomers’ – about a London family who moved to the country. We were the group in the pub. It was recorded at BBC Gosta Green Studios. Lots of teenagers were drafted in to be the dancers and we mimed to our latest single. They even played it over the closing credits but it wasn’t a hit!

Another recording took place at the BBC in London for the Johnny Walker show. When we went to the cafe for a break an official-looking man with a brief case met us – a Musicians’ Union rep. So we had to join the union and the broadcast was postponed a week until the forms went through! One high spot was on July 2nd 1968 when we appeared at the Savile Theatre in Shaftesbury Ave, London. Brian Epstein presented Sunday shows there. That night the other bands were Cream, John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers, The Jeff Beck Group (with Rod Stewart!). I still have the programme for that night.

Eventually we parted company due to financial problems, so I guess we paid for these experiences in one way! Jimmy moved to Northamptonshire and carried on singing and appearing in local pubs (lots on YouTube). Sadly of course, Jimmy passed away in May 2016.

Cheers! Alan

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