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Feature: Musical OEs, from Skiffle to Indie

The below article has been reproduced from The Rose and Portcullis 2018 (Emanuel's alumni magazine), pages 26-28.

Author: Tony Jones (Senior Librarian & Archivist)

Emanuel has a fascinating mix of alumni who have had success in the cut-throat music business, whilst others never got beyond a few gigs or dreaming of stardom from their bedrooms. This article takes a roughly chronological look at both the famous and the dreamers.

When rock and roll was in its infancy, skiffle was still a force to be reckoned with. Andrew Hallinon (OE1951-57) entered his band into an all-England skiffle contest, coming second in the Tooting run-off section, losing out to a skiffle version of the future rock and roll classic “Great Balls of Fire”. Tel Monks (OE1951-60) recalled “We did at least three gigs..complete with tea-chest bass and washboard percussion.” Skiffle was soon forgotten and the youth moved on.

Two OEs from the same school era were to have much more success in the early 1960s. Firstly, Bernard Colin Day (OE1953-60) became one half of The Allisons who were runners up in the 1961 Eurovision Song Contest with the UK NME pop chart number one single, “Are You Sure?”. They never repeated their early success but remained a popular revival act. In an interview the band recalled playing huge venues such as the Hammersmith Apollo whilst still sharing bedrooms with their siblings! Alan Caddy (OE1951-55, below left) an ex-Emanuel choir boy, played lead guitar in Johnny Kidd and the Pirates and more successfully The Tornadoes, who were the first band to score a number one hit in both the UK and America with Telstar. Sax player Elton Dean (OE1956-62, below right), who performed with cult band Soft Machine from the same school period, also played with Reggie Dwight in Bluesology and when Reggie changed his name he used ‘Elton’ from Elton Dean – becoming the mega star Elton John!

When it comes to Emanuel School bands, The Thyrds are absolute royalty. This four piece recorded a solitary single “Hide and Seek” (1964) which was reviewed in the legendary music magazine ‘The NME’. Paul Ellis (OE1957-64), Johnny Malcombe (OE1957-62), Mick Teasdale (OE1957-64) and Michael Hughes (OE1958-63) had a brief moment of fame when they qualified through several televised heats into the final of the TV music show “Ready Steady Win!” They played many local gigs but decided not to pursue careers in music and instead headed off to university. Dave Price (OE1958-65) recalled participating in impromptu jams with The Thyrds at school and became a professional guitarist in the States. Perhaps Michael Hughes got a taste for potential stardom when he earlier performed with The Hellcats (pictured below, left), a band which featured Graham Nichols (OE1957-62), Dick Tarlton (OE1957-64), Rik McDonell and CJ ‘Josh’ Coomber (OE1961-63).

The 1960s and 1970s saw many other short-lived bands come and go. Martin Trent (OE1961-67) played in The Spirits and gigged regularly in South London in the late 1960s. Martin influenced and inspired Tim Douglas (OE1963-70) to form his own band. Although they had more than one name, their longest lasting was The Quick. Tim and other members Ray Davis (OE1963-70), Dave Bernez (OE1963-70) and Michael Harvey (OE1963-70) were delighted to meet up at the 1970s Reunion last year.

1968 saw the rise of Molten Light (below, right) featuring two brothers from Marlborough House, Martin Rickman (OE1961-69) and Simon Rickman (OE1964-72). After failing to win the 1968 House Music Competition where they diversified into blues and jazz with Geoff Tipping (OE1965-72), they played schools, church halls and other venues.

In the 1970s the musical landscape evolved and progressive rock was eventually superseded by punk. Teenage terror Paul Slack (OE1968-75, pictured below left) became the bassist in the legendary punk band The UK Subs. School contemporary Andrew Pearce (OE1967-72) noted “Paul Slack was always in trouble at school!” but Paul himself countered “It's true....however I was made a sub-prefect in an effort to curb my waywardness!” The UK Subs remain one of the true giants of 1970s punk and have gigged the world for forty years. Paul left the band in 1981, but re-joined in 2008 for a couple of years.

Pete Saunders (OE1971-74, below right) relocated to Birmingham when he was fourteen and in 1978 joined Dexy’s Midnight Runners. Although he had left the band by the time they had their biggest hits, he has periodically returned to play the keyboards. Down the years Pete has been involved in many other bands including, very briefly, The Damned, and in recent years has diversified into cabaret and burlesque.

Chris “Merrick” Hughes (OE1971-76, below left) was a lifelong prog-rock fan but did not join Adam and the Ants until they had been playing for a few years in 1980. After his arrival, this post-punk band had its most successful period with huge-selling singles in which “Merrick” played drums, sometimes keyboards and produced much of the material. In subsequent years Chris has produced many bands including the mega-selling 1980s band Tears for Fears. In his school days Chris was a prog-rock fan who once watched a version of the prog super-group Egg play the Hampden Hall in February 1972.

Whilst some OEs were taking root in the charts others were content to play school halls and discos. David Rees (OE1967-75, pictured below right) and his band featuring Graham Mantle (OE1968-76) and Chris Prout (OE1968-75) enjoyed causing metal mayhem and were even featured in the Wandsworth Borough News. In the same period vocalist Andy Witney’s (OE1970-77) band The Blue Elephant were gigging around south London with Steve Elster (OE1970-77) and Emile Lobo (OE1970-77) also in the band.

For longevity you really cannot beat Easyskanking, a ska band formed in the late 1970s, which is still going strong and whose origins lie in playing school discos. The current incarnation includes Adrian ‘Squeaky’ Smith (OE1975-80), Nige Reid (OE1974-79) and Rob Middlecoat (OE1972-79) and they still perform their brand of easy-listening ska regularly.

School discos were the ultimate breeding ground for bands dreaming of stardom, including the rather unsavourily named Chuck McKee (OE1974-81) and The Sweaty Helmets. The latter played a school disco with Storm Petrel featuring Mick Waller (OE1973-80), Dan Goodwin (OE1973-80) and Richard Polgrean (OE1973-80). Dan later drummed for cult indie guitar band The Kitchens of Distinction who in their most productive period of 1986-96 recorded four albums, released many singles and played big venues and festivals across the world. They epitomised very cool 1980s indie music which deserved to sell way more records than they probably did.

In more recent years there have been many further examples of OEs working successfully in the music world. Nick Annand (OE1989-95, below, top left) is better known as DJ Deekline and is a highly successful DJ of dance, break-beat and garage music with a large club following. Former School Captain Rufus Miller (OE1997-03, below, top right) plays guitar for Sting, Jamie Graham (OE1995-2000, below, bottom right) has moshed in two heavy metal bands and now works in the industry for a record label, Ellie Rose (OE2005-09, below, bottom left) played at Glastonbury and is a singer-songwriter going places, Cole Salewicz (OE2000-08) has seen some success as vocalist of indie band Savage Nomads and Dom Whalley’s (OE2003-06) dance band Jungle was nominated for a Mercury Award in 2014. And for something very strange Azim Keshavjee (OE1981-82) heads up Comfortably Numb, one of Canada’s most successful Pink Floyd tribute acts and has been gigging for over 25 years.

And from the strange to the totally unique, hats off to Matthew Raymond-Barker (OE1999-07, below left) who won the French X-Factor whilst he was an exchange student! Finally, let us not forget James Atashroo (OE2002-07, below right) who plays trumpet in the Renegade Brass Band. They might be brass, but they sure have the rock and roll spirit!

2017 was a big year for The Maccabees (below, left), the highly successful indie guitar band which featured both Hugo White (OE1997-02) and Rupert Jarvis (OE2000-02), who split up at the peak of their powers with a huge farewell show at Alexandra Palace last summer. As they exited stage left they passed the Emanuel musical torch to Shame (below, right), an indie guitar band which snarls with attitude and a riotous live act which promises stardom and the possibility of crashing and burning in equal measures. Featuring Josh Finerty (OE2008-15), Eddie Green (OE2007-13) and singer Charlie Steen (OE2008-13), the band swaggered across the 2017 European festival circuit, including Glastonbury. We spoke to Josh about the band when he was still a pupil and he said “we sound like early UK Subs”. Little did he know UK Sub Paul Slack was also an OE!