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Exeter folk and friends in their own words - << Previous storyNext story >>

Mike Ewing - life as a 'pop' drummer


My first introduction to the pop scene was in the early 1960’s when my parents bought me a snare drum and cymbal. I remember the drum had real pigskin heads and cat-gut snare. I used to bang away at home causing annoyance to my mother, father and the neighbours. Anyway, I kept ‘banging’ away and after a while I wanted to progress, and, after much deliberation my parents agreed to let me have a drum kit, purchased at Bill Greenhalghs shop in Fore Street Exeter. I remember it only had drum skins on one side only and the cymbals (were) all battered. Anyway it was a start of something I would never regret.

I was living in Exwick at the time and in my early teens. I would catch the old ‘B’ bus from the terminus at Exwick (close to the fish & chip shop) into Exeter and pay a visit to Bill's shop. I’d meet up with other youngsters like me admiring the latest gear on offer and, if Bill agreed, try out some of it.

As time went on people would often meet at their homes for a ‘practice sessions’, and it was from there and other venues that many of the early bands in Exeter came into being.
It was around the early to mid 60’s that I met up with John West, Derek Holmes, Barry Reeves and Roger Richards. John was a lead guitarist, Derek on rhythm, Barry on bass and Roger lead singer, and me on the drums. I can’t remember how it all started but I do recall my father getting involved as Manager – and as things progressed we needed somewhere to rehearse and managed to use the old Exwick Infants School down the bottom of the Villas where I lived.

Equipment became an issue, and, although I had no idea about what was needed Derek and John did. I can remember the old Vox AC30 amplifiers they had, together with PA speakers and amplifier, and a box with a continuous magnetic tape. It was an Echo Copycat. a novel creation back then designed to give an echo sound through the PA speakers. I think most bands ended up with one, or something similar.

Our first gigs

As time progressed and with the introduction of the name “The Cordettes”, we started to get the odd gig. Most were local youth clubs with the odd village hall. That meant transport was needed, so bass player Barry's dad came to the rescue by way of his car and trailer. In addition to that, the band needed to look the part. Enter the light grey suits with velvet collars – all very smart except – there were no pockets in the trousers. How did we cope you may ask!

After a while Barry the bass left, and along came Ian Street (known as bud). My father continued to get bookings for us which meant traveling to North and East Devon, as well as the Plymouth area, and as Barry had left his dad also called it a day, therefore alternative transport was needed. We obtained an old SWEB (SW Electricity Board) Bedford van which was ideal for the equipment and for all to travel in. The only problem was the sliding doors – they kept falling off! Many a time we had to get them back on the runners before we could go anywhere.

International fame

One of more notable events came, following a suggestion from my Grandfather, Charlie Ewings, a city councillor for Exwick back then. The idea was for the band to be part of the twinning celebrations with Rennes in France. Exeter & Rennes had close links for several years and it was Exeter's turn to visit Rennes so the Council arranged to take local people there for a week as part a twinning festival/exchange. For us teenagers it all sounded like one big adventure, as most of us had never been abroad before. I remember a problem regarding passports. As some did not have one we had to apply for short term ones, valid then for 6 months.

Everyone met at Exeter Airport, where we had all our equipment crated and loaded onto the aircraft, but there was a holdup. The plane was too heavy due to the equipment, therefore, some fuel had to be taken off before we could fly (or so we were told).

On arrival in Rennes we were met by various dignitaries and a double decker bus driven there from Exeter! Our equipment was put into a van resembling a corrugated shed on wheels. We were taken to Rennes University where we were accommodated for the week. We were ferried around on the bus with the equipment following in the ‘shed’. I remember playing at various venues, including a theatre full of screaming girls (and boys !). We also had an interview on radio, but as our French was non-existent it was down to Ian Street and his limited ability of the language to save the day.

On the final night we played at the Town Hall. I remember the room was upstairs, and hung on the walls were very large mirrors. We set up in front of one mirror where I noticed a crack with holes in the glass. When I asked what had happened I was told the damage was caused by bullets fired during the second war and that it was left as it was, as a reminder of darker days.

More gigs

Back on the home front the band we were rather busy. I’m now somewhere around 1965/6. Several notable venues spring to mind. One particular venue was Exeter University where the band played many times in what was then called ‘Devonshire House’. Some famous names appeared there over the years and we were there as a support band. Some of the famous names included The Mersybeats, The Graham Bond Organisation, The Small Faces and Zoot Moneys Big Roll Band (Zoot is still around and sometimes makes guest appearances around Bournemouth where he lives).

Another venue was called The Riverside Club, situated just off the old Exe Bridge in Okehampton Street. The premises were once the occupied by Ferodo who supplied brake parts, bearings, fan belts etc to the local motor trade.

The original owner of the club was Bill Goldsmith, a local transport operator/ haulier. Together with his son Tony they built up a popular club business. There was however one controversial situation when they brought what was thought to be the first female stripper to the City. Needless to say it was a success as far as things go, and, I believe there were several similar acts over a period of time. I believe Bill sold the premises later and emigrated to Australia. The club changed its name to the Powerhouse and today it’s a Christian Centre.

The Kinks fly in

On another occasion we did an open air gig at Pinhoe, a first for Exeter. The event was organised by Exonian entertainments and was billed as a ’Bumper Beat BBQ’, with tickets priced at 6 shillings (30p) or 7/6 on the gate. Top of the bill were The Kinks, supported by Trendsetters Ltd, Exeter band, The Variations, together with the Codiaks and ourselves.

I remember that The Kinks arrived by helicopter and were late for their performance. There was also a problem with the power system breaking down which stopped them from giving a full performance. When they finished their spot they walked back to the waiting helicopter and flew off, not saying anything to anyone.

The Trendsetters Ltd, originated near to where I now live, just outside Bournemouth. They disbanded in 1966 and the Gibbs brothers, from the band, advertised for new members to start a new venture. Along came a Richard Fripp from Wimborne, and eventually King Crimson were created.

The Grenville Club at Kennford

Another popular venue, although not in Exeter was the Grenville Club at Kennford. The club was a large country house in its own grounds situated off the bottom of the old Haldon and Telegraph Hill junction. This venue was privately owned by George Farr and his wife Reene. George was a large imposing gentleman, always smoking a cigar and dressed in an evening suit. Saturdays was the main night for entertainment with most of the members attending from the Exeter area. Those who remember it will recall George standing by the large open fireplace in the entrance hall. Off to one side was the bar area and on the other the dance floor, which was a large room with bench seats all around. To get the equipment in we had to go through narrow French windows onto a small raised area with hardly enough room to stand on.

Many local Exeter bands played at the club over a period of a few years. It was eventually sold with George and Reene moving to Cornwall to take over a holiday camp at Holywell Bay. They retired from that but remained in the area for the rest of their days.

Another memorable venue was the Royal Marine Training camp at Lympstone. We played there on several occasions in the Sergeants and Officers mess. We turned up for one gig at the officers mess only to bump into Bill Greenhalgh, who was there with his band. Bill was an accomplished musician, and played clarinet and saxophone. It was a bit of a feather in his cap as virtually all the equipment used that night was supplied via his shop.

The end of the Cordettes

As timed passed the existence of the Cordettes became an issue, so it was decided to call it a day following a gig at the RAF Station at St Mawgan in Cornwall.

I, together with John West met up with Alan Maggs and became the Son-Set, but that didn’t last and I later joined a group of students from the teacher training college at St Lukes. They were known as ‘Jims Inn’, a 5 piece band playing around the student venues in Exeter and at Rolle College in Exmouth.

I didn’t stay with them long as I was approached by Dave Sercombe and Derek Luscombe to join them in The Rejects. This was sometime during 1967. We used to play at most venues already mentioned, but there were also the trips into the country – places such as Widdecombe-in-the-Moor, Moretonhampstead, Chagford etc. Also, more locally, were places like Wheaton's Social Club on Fore Street. We had to carry the equipment up the fire escape into the club and set up just inside, then afterwards, carry it all back down again. (health and safety was never an issue back then!)

We used to travel around in a Morris van which was pretty crammed with all the gear. Later we progressed to a transit van – a bit of a status symbol then. One of the better venues was at a club in Paignton. Dave and I would travel to Newton Abbot and pick up Derek, then drive onto ’Penelopes’ night club on the sea front at Preston. There we supported other famous names such as Hot Chocolate, Dave Dee, Dozy, Beaky, Mick and Titch and Marmalade. There were others but names fail me.

Whilst with the Rejects I exchanged my Premier kit for a Ludwig Super Classic kit in white oyster pearl with a Ludwig chrome snare. These days that kit is collectable and now worth a lot more than what it cost back then. I also upgraded the cymbals to Zildjian & Paiste and I also got hold of a set of 14 inch Ufip high hat cymbals. I remember Bill saying he’d never had them in stock before, and as they were new to him, asked me to let him know what they were like – well just for the record they were brilliant!

I stayed with the Rejects until 1972 when we split. Derek went to play with Vic Palmer and his band. A little later I was asked by Mike Emery to meet up with him and Newton Abbot based Mike Johnston. At the time their drummer was the late Pete Greenham – he was leaving, so I stepped in around late ’73. It was shortly after that Mike left and Geoff Hawkey from Paignton joined. Known as the Mike Johnston Trio we were busy in and around the Torbay area, and in 1973 we did it full time playing 6 nights, including residencies during the summer at Beverley Park holiday camp in Paignton and the Templestowe Hotel in Torquay. Those were the best days of my career in the music business.

One notable gig was a function at the Langstone Cliff Hotel in Dawlish Warren. Arranged by the Teignmouth Round Table, it was billed as an ‘All Knight Ball’ with, as the name suggests, a medieval theme. The event started at 9pm, and ended up with a cooked breakfast about 6am next morning. It was certainly a (k)night to remember. I’ve still got a programme from that night. Other bands performing there were the Royal Marine Dance Band, The Teign Valley Stompers, and The Bavarian Combo Oompah Band.

It was late in 1975 when I called it a day and moved away from Devon. I stopped playing for many years and lost touch with the music scene in Exeter.

Other local bands

What about the other bands of that era?. Well there were too many to recall them all so here are just a few I can remember. Gary Kane (Mike Parr) and the Tornadoes, The Variations, The Mustangs, The Spartans, Graded Grains, Bluesounds, Last-Tik-Band, Four Steps Beyond, Hip-Hip-Hooray-Good Times Band and Midnight Blues. The list is endless.

There were also the agents such as Exonian Entertainments, Starline Entertainments (Brian Roberts) Lional Digby and the Trevor George Agency. I remember too the meeting place for bands after their nights gig. Between the Guild Hall and Queen Street was a narrow road called Goldsmith Street. Parked in the road was a hot dog stand who would be there sometimes until 2am or later. Many bands would meet up after their gig for a hot dog and chat about where they had played etc. All very friendly from what I recall.

Looking back on those days, I think its fair to say that bands of the early 60’s played a major role in shaping the live music scene in Exeter. It was something I was very glad to be part of. Even now I am aware of the bond that developed between band members and the various bands of the time, so much so, that many of the old musicians meet on a regular basis to chat about old times.

For me, this is just a small personal view of my involvement over a period of about 15years of playing in and around Exeter. It was a ground breaking time for Exeter back then, and as previously stated it was something I was, and I’m sure many other musicians of the time, were proud to be part of.

© 2011 Mike Ewings

The Cordettes at St George's HallThe Cordettes playing at St George's Hall for an Oxfam Charity gig. Courtesy Derek Holmes.Poster for the Pinhoe gig.The Cordettes supported the Kinks at Pinhoe. Courtesy Derek Holmes.Jim's Inn at St Loyes.Jim's Inn at St Loyes. Courtesy Mike Ewing.

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