Thursday, 4 February 2010

The Essex Brothers.... At Last!

Well, finally, here is the last chapter of the saga about those 40+ year old 'reel-to-reel' tapes that were found in a family members loft. The tapes were marked 'Mick and Don' which implied they could contain recordings of my late uncles who were a singing duo in the late 50's and early 60's (the full post of the first part of the story here).

After much investigation I found a place in East Acton who would be able to restore the tapes and transfer any recordings to CD. After baking the tapes for several days, the company phoned me to say they had found approximately two and a half hours of recordings on the tapes and offered to convert some or all of it to CD. No knowing how much (if any) of it was relevant, I asked them to go ahead and do the lot (the full post of the second part of the story here).

At the back end of 2009 I picked up the completed CD's, and I must admit that I was a little nervous when I finally came to play them.... The results were not quite what we were expecting, and it turned out a little bit 'good news\bad news'.... but boy, was the 'good news' part a shock! (for me anyway).

When we were told that there were two and a half hours of recordings on the two tapes, we naturally assumed that it would be two and a half hours of my uncles... sadly, it wasn't. There were family recordings of children reciting nursery rhymes, another family member playing the electric organ, and lots of random shows recorded off the radio... comedy programmes, chart rundowns etc etc All very interesting in its own way, but not quite what I was expecting! After over an hour there was no "Mick and Don". It suddenly dawned on us that perhaps these tapes once had them on, but were subsequently recorded over, leaving only a sticker on the box as a reminder of what they once contained.

I have to say I was getting rather anxious when after and hour and a half, the CD lurched into yet another show recorded off the radio... this time a BBC music show called 'The Talent Spot'. By this time I was only half listening, already convinced that no recordings of my uncles remained on the tapes.... then just as that moment, the host of The Talent Spot says these words....

"1961 was a great year in our business for brother singing teams. Of course the Everly Brothers were always near the top of the hit parade, and the Brook Brothers got into the hit parade. We on Talent Spot hope that 1962 will be a great year for two twin 19 year olds, who are about to make their very first broadcast right now. Ladies and Gentlemen, The Essex Brothers!"

It's them! It's really them!! singing a lively cover of 'Happy Birthday Sweet Sixteen"! I never even knew that they had performed on the radio, and even if I had, I'd never of thought there would ever be a chance of hearing it, but here it was!! and considering it had been sitting hidden in a loft for over 40 years, the sound quality was great! But the best was still yet to come... All the acts on The Talent Spot performed two songs, and right at the end my uncles reappeared to play their second song....

"here now are The Essex Brothers with their own composition, and it's a very apt title for such a late stage in our show, Running Away!"

My dads face lights up, and a broad grin stretches from ear to ear.... "I wrote that for them" he calmly informs me!!! How come I never knew my dad wrote a song??!! One that was performed on national radio no less!!

After all these years of being told about my uncles being a singing duo, it was weird to finally hear what they sounded like. The name everyone used to say they sounded like was The Everly Brothers, and as it turned out that was pretty accurate, and the harmonies on these two performances were very 'Phil and Don'.

Since obtaining this recording, I've been busy creating CD's of the whole show for the family. This episode has also resulted in me hooking up with long lost cousin Mark (Don's son). Apparently we had met once before when we were nippers (and my father has the photographic evidence to prove it!), but neither of us remembers it. So it was an absolute pleasure to finally meet Mark and his family, and I look forward to keeping in good contact with them from now on.

In the downtime I've also registered my dad as a member of the Performing Rights Society (PRS), and formally logged him as the composer of 'Running Away'.

Well, there you have it! Not at all what we were expecting, but at the same time, far exceeding what we dared hope for. It was perhaps initially a little disappointing to only get two songs out of all that tape, but not in my wildest dreams did I expect to find a live broadcast of my uncles performing on national BBC radio!! Mondo summed it up brilliantly when I told him the news later that day... he said discovering an hour or two of home recordings would have been nice, but ultimately, may not have been something you would perhaps play over and over. However what we actually uncovered may well have been the highlight of their career, and it's now safely preserved in the family vaults at Piley Towers.

So, very nearly 50 years after it was first (and almost certainly last!) broadcast, here are The Essex Brothers!!

Happy Birthday Sweet Sixteen:

Running Away:


Whilst sorting out his old records, my uncle Tony found a 78RPM single recorded by my uncles, as well as a small 5" 78RPM that they made in a recording booth on Southend seafront in the 1950's as teenagers (he also found another that my father recorded in the very same booth!). He also discovered a mini album that Mick recorded sometime in the 1960's.

My Uncle Alan too managed to locate a 78RPM recording of The Essex Brothers, containing the songs 'Takes a Worried Man', 'That'll be the Day' and another recording of 'Running Away'.

Meanwhile my cousin Mark is convinced that a copy of the album they made still exists in an attic somewhere, and has upped his search for it...
Mick's partner Kath has unearthed a collection of 11 cassettes of Mick singing in the 80's and 90's. I'm currently in the process of transferring them all to CD for her, and there is some fabulous stuff on them. Mick really did have a beautifully rich singing voice, which matured as he got older. The sound quality on these tapes is really good too. Kath also found this letter that was sent to the boys in March 1962, thanking them for attending an audition:
My father also recalled that the boys were booked by (and performed for) the Kray twins when they had a nightclub in Soho in the early 60's.


Since discovering these recordings I've done a little research into BBC radio at that time... It's hard to imagine now, but at the start of the sixties there was no commercial or local radio in England. All that existed were just 3 BBC national networks:

"Home" (a legacy that started with the Home Service, launched in 1939)

the "Light Programme" (launched in 1945) and
the "Third programme" (launched in 1946).

That was it!!! The British youth were not catered for at all by these stations, but the boom in 'pop' music forced the BBC to review their strict playlist policy. At the beginning of the 60's, the BBC started to experiment with 'specialist' pop programmes featuring rock n roll music with titles such as The Beat Show, Easy Beat, From Us To You, Here We Go, The Ken Dodd Show, On The Scene, Parade Of The Pops, Side By Side, Steppin' Out, Let's Go, Swinging Sound '63, Teenagers Turn and The Talent Spot. These programmes often featured live music from a selection of acts as opposed to playing records. As most of these shows were broadcast live, a large number were never actually recorded by the BBC.

History remembers The Talent Spot (which was broadcast on the Light Programme) more fondly than some of the others, mainly because The Beatles performed on it three separate times. In fact, the earliest known performance of the Beatles performing Twist and Shout was on The Talent Spot in November 1962... a recording of which alas does not exist.

The Talent Spot was recorded at the Paris Theatre (also known as The Paris), 4 - 12 Lower Regent Street, London SW1. The BBC took over this former cinema during the war and converted it to a theatre. They were particularly keen on it as the auditorium was underground, thus broadcasting could continue when London was bombed. The Paris was the very first BBC performance studio to be equipped with stereo. The Beeb continued to use The Paris right up until 1995, when they finally replaced it with the purposed built Radio Theatre in Broadcasting House.

So what happened to those three BBC radio stations? Well, in 1967 "Home" was renamed Radio 4 and The "Third Programme" became Radio 3. All the 'pop' shows were taken away from the "Light Programme" for broadcasting by a brand new BBC station called Radio 1, after which The Light Programme was renamed Radio 2.

Here's the Beatles outside the Paris Theatre:
This photo was subsequently 'tweaked' to make the cover of the 'Beatles Live at the BBC' album:

And finally..... here's a picture that's been discovered of my dad (obviously on 'shore leave' from the Merchant Navy!) with the young twins.


Axe Victim said...

Fantastic! I'd like to hear the whole show!!!

Kolley Kibber said...

Oh, wow - that's real 'lump in the throat' stuff, isn't it? What a fantastic family artifact. Little Piley's heritage! I'm so glad you persevered in getting it all re-formatted.

Piley said...

Am still 'net-less' at the mo, so apologies that my comments are likely to be sporadic... also don't take offence if i've not commented on your blog for a while!!! same reason!

Thanks Col - the full show is a very mixed bag to be honest... nobody of any note on it (imagine if it had turned out to be a recording that happened to include a missing Beatles performance!). I am really pleased to have the whole show though as it puts the whole thing into context.

ISBW - indeed! I've made sure there are plenty of copies kept on various hard discs, CDs etc etc. Don't want to lose it again now! It's turned out really well I think, and well worth the effort.


NoIdea said...

Absolutely worth the effort!! I didn't see my father for the first 20 years of my life and he was dead by the time I was 26. What is more I only ever heard him sing once. So to actually have such a treasured possession of him singing live on Radio is wonderful and I can't thank you enough.



P.S. It's great to be in touch and look forward to meeting up for that beer in the spring.

E F RICE said...

Great end to the story Piley. As I said on your other post regarding the Xmas CDs (which I now realise I put my foot in it, I am really sorry about that!) I enjoyed the Essex Brothers track a lot.

office pest said...

Absolutely fantastic result Piley, well done.
So great you got in touch with another part of your family as well under such happy circumstances.

(Word verification tonight is 'zonal' - I kid you not - who are one of the last remaining manufacturers of reel to reel tape. That's synchronicity for ya.)

Anonymous said...

Amazingly terrific quality, especially "Running Away". Just cant get my head around Piley senior penning that. Well done fella, top stuff.


Piley said...

Cheers Marco - I'm so pleased it all came off, and even more pleased that it has meant so much to you.. Looking forward to that beer mate, but you're in the chair!!!

EF - Nah, was no secret!! I've alwas subscribed to the view of "why do one post when you can string it out to 2"!! Glad you liked the track - look forward to seeing it turn up in a future DJ set of yours perhaps??!

thank you OP - you provided me with some invaluable info early on too. Yes it seems like ages since it all started, but a brilliant result! Spot on re my cousin too, I'm really thrilled to have met him and his family, and will be sure not to lose contact again.

Warble - Yes you are right about the quality, very clear. I have no idea how it was originally recorded either.... am assuming there was no such thing as 'leads' to link up a reel-to-reel to the radio, so it was probably a mic up against the radio. Very clear. FX ran some software through it to clean it up, but from my point of view, i was shocked there was even anything on it after 40 odd summers and winters in a loft! I bet a DVD-R or CD-R wouldn't last as well in the same conditions! Running Away is a cracker isn't it?! And I'm not being biased (well maybe a little!)... After hearing it just once I knew it! Very catchy!


Mondo said...

It really is an incredible story P. And great having the complete the show - it frames the brothers in the full context of the time and is a perfect piece of history. Top stuff.

Furtheron said...

Fantastic - what a story.

1962 what a year for music... ;-)

Cocktails said...

Ah, I love this story and it's like we've all been with you on the way, itching to find out what's on the tapes as well!

And the Running Away track isn't too shabby is it. Did your Dad ever write anything else? What else hasn't he told you about?! The mind boggles.

Heff said...

Really cool to find shit you thought long gone or never existed in the first place, eh ?

Mrs Mondo said...

Brilliant stuff Piley - what a lovely find that turned out to be. Love that letter from Rediffusion too "Dear Essex Brothers" ! (Always liked that logo).

Piley said...

Thanks Mondo, you are right, having the whole show really makes it. It doesn't matter that there's nobody of any note on there, it just enables you to get a feel of the whole time. It's just as likely that someone could have recorded just those 2 songs, makings it all out of context. Also it's handy having all the intros because I was able to timestamp it by what he was saying fairly closely... either last week or two of 1961 or very early 1962.

You are right there Further!! Thanks also for youe e-mail, just replied to that.

Cocktails - It was getting a bit nerve wracking for me towards the end!!! Especially when it looked like there was nothing of any interest on the tapes!! Glad you liked my dads song! I don't think he wrote any other stuff no, which is also a bit weird!! Wrote one then retired at the age of 30!!

Hey Heff! I shoulda come to you first for the title of this post "shit you thought long gone or never existed in the first place" woulda been much better!!! I STILL can't get access to your blog y'know...

Hello Mrs M!! - Haha! Funny enough "Dear Essex Brothers" made me smile too!! You'd think they might have bothered to find out their names!!


phsend said...

I prefer the Essex Brothers to The Beatles - they should have been bigger than Jesus :)

Dan said...

I am always impressed with the extraordinary amount of research you put in to your blog posts, Piley. Another incredibly impressive, fascinating and touching one.

Keep up the good work, Sir.

Heff said...

My blog is shut down for the time being. NO ONE has access right now. Don't take it personally.

Piley said...

ph - and there's me thinking you didn't have taste!!

Dan - why thank you kind Sir! Glad you enjoyed it.. I just can't help myself sometimes, but I owed this one to my uncles and family to do it right.

Heff - Whewww, thanks, I was! I won't any more tho!


John Medd said...

Forget Rat and The Holy Grail! This is how metal detectors must feel when they unearth Viking artefacts. My BBC radio claim to fame is when Phill Jupitus and Phil Wilding broadcast their 6 Music Breakfast Show in 2005 from my house - like you, I made CD copies of the 3 hour programme (not highlights!) for friends and family.

Piley said...

Hi John - nice to see you over here!

I think my family looked after that broadcast a bit better than the Beeb did that's for sure!! Still not got confirmation, but don't think they even recorded it.

How on earth did Phill and Phil end up broadcasting from your gaff??! There's a blog post straight away!


spud said...

Bit late in the day but just wanted to congratulate your dad on writing such a seriously catchy pop tune (just played a bit of the Families podcast and heard it again). And your uncles did it proud.

You know that 'Sounds of the Sixties' show on Radio 2? There's a section in that for rarities called Playing Hard To Get. I wonder if it's worth mailing in a request with a mp3 attached to see if they might consider playing it around your dad's birthday or something? They might be interested in the backstory.

Long shot but...wouldn't it be excellent if it got a second outing on the BBC fifty years on? Or if your dad got a royalty cheque!

Piley said...

No worries Spud, always good to get feedback, and thanks for taking the time to do so!

Glad you liked the song too! The 'Sound of the 60s' idea has been mnetioned to me by someone else too, and I will look into that - will let you know how I get on!

All the best,


Unknown said...

Really glad i stumbled upon this.... my grandmother played me the cassette this summer in london.
it's an amazing discovery and lovely to have in the family
(Edwards side)

Piley said...

Hi Shannon - No idea how you managed to find me, but so pleased that you did!! There are a few more bits and pieces which may come to light soon, I'll blog them here as and when they do.

Hope you are all well,

Best wishes


Unknown said...

i was surprised myself but when i googled the essex brothers this link to your blog came up :)
it was a nice find

thank you looking forward to hearing more
and i will say to my nanny
im sure she will love to hear also and get it on cd like the last find :)

hope you are well too
best wishes also