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Kingsize Taylorno pratt
Liverpool's original rocker
b y D a v i d B r i t t o n
Interview conducted at Taylor's Butcher's Shop, Southport, August 1985
Interview conducted at Taylor's Butcher's Shop, Southport, August 1985
HERE'S A CONUNDRUM: What's the greatest British rock'n'roll album?
It's Shakers by Kingsize Taylor and the Dominoes, released on Polydor in 1964.
Let's be clear. The Holy Trinity of early English rock'n'roll records are 'Move It' (Cliff Richard), 'Brand New Cadillac' (Vince Taylor) and 'Shakin' All Over' (Johnny Kidd). That's it. Original, sizzling, blood-stirring stuff that proved that English musicians could rock'n'roll, if not quite as good as the Americans, then good enough to pass muster.
However Kingsize Taylor was a different kind of beast altogether. He had a powerhouse voice that was lacking in those first generation English rockers. A perfect voice for wringing the bollocks out of any hardcore American rock'n'roll song.
Simply, he was the best English rock'n'roll singer there has ever been. He had an original voice that oozed personality and commitment and, most pertinently, he was a stylist who imbued every song he performed with an urgent authority.
He was also the first rock'n'roll singer in that hotbed of beat groups, Liverpool. Later, his band The Dominoes endured a ferocious regime of rehearsals during their Star Club days in Hamburg that would have taxed The Magic Band under Captain Beefheart.
There are a couple of milquetoast vocals on the Shakers album provided by other band members. But those tracks featuring Kingsize and his second lead vocalist Bobby Thompson cut any competition he had with The Beatles, those Star Club rivals of the period. Two great tracks from the albumdefinitive versions of 'Money' and 'Hippy, Hippy Shake'are as perfect as early rock records get. 'Mashed Potatoes And Hot Pastrami', featuring the call and response of Taylor and Thompson, are strict lessons in the art of conjuring frenzy.
Ted Taylor in his butcher’s shop.
I'd gone to meet Kingsize at his butcher's shop with a view to not only interviewing him, but to see if I could persuade him to do what no one else had managed to do and start making records again. We had him in mind for an early Savoy Records single, 'Blue Monday', but Kingsize graciously declined saying he had no wish to go back into the business. His size and personal magnetism put me in mind of Howlin' Wolf. No wonder such a powerful voice should come out of such a powerful frame! They say you shouldn't meet your heroes, but meeting Kingsize was no letdown, the blizzard that took Dorothy to Oz was still there in him. He even sang a few verses of 'Ready Teddy' just to prove that he could deliver a song with more feeling than musical picklers such as Tom Jones or Rod Stewart could do in a month of Sundays.
In the end we used Bobby Thompson on 'Blue Monday'. It's another story how we contacted Bobby, and he came up to Peter Hook's Suit 16 recording studio in Rochdale, Manchester, to produce for us a fabulous vocal for 'Cadillac Ranch'the song we mashed together with 'Blue Monday'. (We later got him back to sing lead vocals on 'Raw Power').
Signing a copy of Savoy's The Legendary Ted Nugent.
That was the only time I met Kingsize. In the new millennium, after a divorce, he started recording again by which time the chance for Savoy to record him had gone. We queered our pitch by showing him the Lord Horror novel Baptised in the Blood of Millions in which he appears as a minor character called Big, and sent him demos of two new songs, 'Nicholas van Hoogstraten: Emissary of Beelzebub' and 'The Love of Love'. As far as we can tell, he thought one was distasteful, and the other too sentimental and pop-orientated.
So what you have here is undiluted Kingsize, telling his history the way it appeared to him at the time. In many ways it's a story like PJ Proby's in which a fantastic vocal talent burned briefly but never quite lived up to its immense potential. Both men could have out--sung almost any rock singer of the last fifty years. After they deserted the mainstream music business, voluntarily or involuntarily, they left the field clear for an army of singing twazzocks whose praise is never justified by the dismal reality.
Kingsize now lives in Germany, has returned to performing and tours and records with a new band The Brotherhood. Before this rebirth he was cautious about the interviews he gave, and to whom he gave them. I only know of twoone of them by Liverpool radio DJ and rock historian Spencer Leigh ten years ago, the other, in the middle of Kingsize's retirement, in 1985, by myself. It starts in mid-flow.
THE OPENING of the show is us making our first record in Sam Hardy's living room. But it doesn't say that. What they have done is to take incidents from a lot of groups and make them into one composite group.
Our first record was done in 1958 by Landa Records of Crosby, Liverpool (Sam Hardy still has the tape of this). We always made the claim to being the first actual Liverpool rock'n'roll band, because we had been playing rock'n'roll since 1956/7. We turned from skiffle, which was inspired by Lonnie Donegan, to rock.
The way it started. Myself and Bobbie Thompson were stood in our local chippie, and Bobbie said to me, "Don't you play guitar?"
So I said, "Yeah, I do."
"How many chords do you know?"
"Well," said Bobby. "I can play three. Should we form a group?"
And from there it went to anybody who could get hold of an instrument. We would go round on Sunday afternoons to our mate Tommo's house. We often had about twenty people in their all jockeying away. And from them we selected the best for the band.
Both Bobby and I came from Seaforth, in Liverpool. He lived in Verdis Street, I lived in Vine Grove. Our first band, The James Brothers, was the forerunner of rock'n'roll in Liverpool. We were so influenced by early rock. We really enjoyed what we were doing, nobody had to force us to do anything, and we developed a genuine feel for rock. Other bands took us as an example and began to jump on the bandwagon. The Swinging Blue Jeans did 'Hippy Hippy Shake' as if they were reading it off cue cards.
I made this statement that we used to get American records from the sailors using Liverpool docks. I'm talking about 1956/7. And apparently, John Lennon had told this American reporter that those people who used to say they got records in from America are talking a load of crap. Now, he did not know anything about it. He wasn't even on the bloody scene until 1958/59and in 1958 he was doing nothing. In 1959 he was thrown off the Brown Bull where anyone could play. The Beatles got all their early rock numbers from Kingsize Taylor and the Dominoes, there's no danger about thatbecause they sat in the front row at Lathom Hall watching us. They couldn't play, because they had turned up without a drummer. They all sat on the front row, and took a line each'Dizzy Miss Lizzy', 'Slow Down'They came to us afterwards, saying, "I didn't get that..." The next thing is, they're playing that gear. Lennon in particular copied the way I sang those songs.
I was never annoyed about anyone's success. What does annoy me is that when they don't give credit to people who were the forerunners of thempeople like Howie Casey, and Ian And the Zodiacs, who were there at the beginning. I didn't rate Ian and the Zodiacs, but they did have somethingthey originated the type of music that The Searchers followed on to. In fact, our pianist, Sam Hardy, used to play for Ian in 1957. Nobody ever credits these people.
We did not write our own material, nobody in the band could. We started at a time when there was no demand for people to write songs. We were playing songs that nobody had heard anyway. It was only later that people felt they had to write their own songs to become individualistic. In our case, we already were; we were the only group playing those hard rock songs. So we did not have that need, that momentum, to write our own material.
After us came Howie Casey. It was Derry Wilkie and the Seniors. When Derry broke away it became Howie Casey and the Seniors. In place of Derry, they got Freddie Star, although their live show still included the three of thema fabulous show. Even in those days, Freddie used to take off Elvis and Eddie Cochran. Freddie was quite influential on the Liverpool scene, because he had been in the film, Violent Playground. After that they wanted him to do Oliver in America. Some influential show business people came up to see him performing with Howie Casey, and that's how they came to record 'Double Twist'. They were the first Liverpool band to record for a major company. Later, Freddie used to do a few gigs with us over in Hamburg.
Rory Storm was a good performer. On stage he had no nerves at all. He'd have no compunction about jumping from a forty-foot balcony.
When we went to play the Star Club in Hamburg, we were originally signed by Decca of Germany who brought out a couple of records by us. Then Phillips of Germany did a couple, and later we were with Ariola, who were then doing Star Club records. We did Kingsize Taylor And The Dominoes Live At The Star Club in 1963.
We were in the Star Club, and a man came up to us and said, "Are you under contract?" We replied, "Yes". He said, "Would you like to make a record under another name. We'll give you a thousand pounds." We said, "You're on." We went down to Polydor studio, which in those days was the Rayell Film Studios. After we finished a 7.00pm-to-1.00am session at the Star Club, we jumped in a mini coach and went straight to the Rayell Studio. When we got there, we found the floor of the studio was literally covered with buckets filled with beer to help us through the session. They smuggled a sound engineer in, and we got started right away. We did all tracks on the Shakers album live, one take only for each track bang bang and then we walked out and got our money. It was just like a live show, which probably accounts for the tremendous feel on the album.
Because we were already under contract, we had to put the album out under a false name. It was going to be either Noddy and the Red Toecaps, or Boots Wellington and his Rubber Band, or The Shakers. And since The Shakers meant the same in German as it did in English that was the one they used. It was recorded in 1964 and released in England in 1965. The band did another album in Germany. They overdubbed my singing with a German vocalist called Hans Werner. It was never released in England. In fact, I did record a couple of duets with Hans, which they released in Germany.
At the time of the Shakers release, Stern magazine published that trick photograph of me with the Dominoes balanced on my outstretched arms. We did another one of just my hand, with the five members of the group each sitting on one of my fingers. I would say that this was the best period for the band. We had a very good feel. Sam Hardy on piano, Gibson Kemp was the drummer on most of the records, John Franklyn was also on drums, Howie Casey on sax, and a Scotsman Dave Wood on sax, and when Howie moved onto baritone sax a Moroccan Frenchman called Muhammad Hari joined us for a time, so that we had three saxes. Sam doubled on organ as well as doing vocals. Bobby Thompson on guitar and vocals. John Franklyn did vocals on some numbers. I played guitar and vocals, mainly on the heavy rock songs.
We were on the Polydor Alex Harvey Big Soul Band album. The guitar on the cover was mine. Alex was playing at the Top Ten Club while we were at the Star Club. We both recorded at the Rayell Studios. Alex was a good friend of ours. Our band went down to give him that bigger sound. Howie Casey was on sax, I played rhythm guitar, our drummer Gibson Kemp was on it, both me and Bobby Thompson did back-up vocals. Alex was on the phone a few years back, wanting to know if I still had the Martin guitar that he'd once borrowed.
We toured with Little Richard in Germany, playing the Star Club with him. The last tour we did in England was the Chuck Berry/Carl Perkins 1964 tour. That was a good tour. Gene Vincent joined us at Coventry, halfway through.
We split up at the end of 1964, the beginning of 1965. We did a tour over here where everybody got pissed-off. I wanted to go back to Germany, the other members of the band wanted to stay and work over here. We just disintegrated. After that I picked up another band and went back to Germany. Ron Parry was with me on drums. We had a few good musicians, we had a few laughs, but I was getting sick of it by then. Then I had to change that band, and each time I got more and more disheartened. I decided I would leave my reputation there in Germany, at the top. I didn't come down. I could have got loads of work on my own, but without the band it wasn't the same.
'Stupidity' had been No.1 in Germany. To this day I could still fill clubs in Germany. The Star Club offered me two thousand pounds and my air ticket free to play there last year, not bad money for one night, but I turned it down because I always get the feeling that there are people there just waiting to say, "What the fucking hell does this pratt think he's doing?", and then you'd have to leave them thinking you're a pratt, right?
Now, people that think back to Kingsize Taylor have never seen me to be a pratt.
It's dignity. Particularly in Germany, where I was a big name. People from Germany still come to see me, and they say, "I remember you from the Star Club".
But they remember you as you were. I hate, even now, at this late stage, for someone to dismiss me by saying, "Who's this pratt here?"
I was only in professional rock'n'roll for four years, but it was fun, I worked hard twelve hours a night.
Anyway, by 1965 I'd just about had enough. It got Big Time, the fun had gone out of it. Everything was down to contracts and penalties. It finished me. All the joy had gone out of it. The old band had gone, the musicians you got were all dick-heads. They might have been good musicians, but they had no feel.
I did a couple of records for Studio One in Liverpool, 'I've Been Watching You', and 'Never In A Hundred Years'. Bobby Thompson by this time had joined Cliff Bennett and the Rebel Rousers. He replaced the guy who now plays bass in The Searchers. I was pleased for him. We tended to see the Liverpool bands as muckers.
Cliff Bennett had the one band in the country that really impressed me. Bobby was on his hit, 'One-Way Love'. The break where it goes, "Whooooo...", that's Bobby. Stands out a mile. If you listen to Bobby doing 'Clarabella' and 'One-Way Love', it's the same great voice.
I travelled to London and made some records down there. Jimmy Page played lead guitar on 'Somebody's Always Trying' and 'Looking For My Baby', and a couple of other tracks that we did in that session. Clem Cattini on drums, a forty-piece London Symphony Orchestra, and the Ladybirds. Peter Green played the second lead guitar, but it was Jimmy who did that terrific solo on 'Baby'. We recorded them at the New Olympic Studios. I did a couple of others later.
In early 1965 I went temporarily to live in my mother's home in Crosby. I had trained as a butcher in the fifties, and so when this job came up in Southport, I took it. I couldn't stand commuting, so I bought a house in Southport. It was just chance, if I'd gotten a job in Manchester I would have gone to live there. I can live anywhere, having travelled such a lot. It makes you like that. I lived in Denmark, Holland, France and Germany. I was originally married in 1962 to a German girl, but we divorced in 1970.
At first, I worked for the butcher's in Southport, but by the late sixties I had bought my own shop. I remarried in 1973 to Barbara.
They pulled down my old house in 1966. I went back just the once. They used to have foot scrapers outside the door, but ours came out, and my granddad put a piece of lead pipe into the pavement, and that piece of pipe was all that was there. None of us went to the same school. Bobby and I were both born in 1939. He joined the Rockin' Berries, and is now in partnership in a market garden down in Coventry. John Franklyn owns his own pallet business in Liverpool. Gibson Kemp is an A&R man with Polydor as far as I know. Sam Hardy's a postman, he drops in to see me now and again. In fact John rang me recently. He still does country and western in the clubs, and when he played Southport he asked me to go along. But I don't go to clubs nowadays. Cilla Black, who played in my band before signing for Epstein, I've not seen for years. Nor Freddie Star. I knew Tom O'Connor when he was a teacher at Star of the Sea. I lived just near the school, and he used to come and see me in shows. He comes in my shop now. But he never seems to relate to the old times. Tarbuck used to come and watch us, but I don't see him either..
All this recent interest over John Lennon doesn't touch me. I couldn't give a shite what Lennon did, I was doing my own thing.
At that time, in Liverpool, I was bigger than Lennon. He used to come and watch me. I didn't go and watch him.
I never tell journalists.
What's the point? Most of them are biased, their minds never go further than from where they can make a penny. Most journalists go back as far as they need to make a crust. After that, they don't want to know. If that will do, it stops there.
I've got more soul in my big toe than people like Tom Jones have in their whole body. Anybody that can sing a record twice in exactly the same way has got no soul. You could go and watch Tom Jones tonight, tomorrow and the day after, and it'd be the same every time. To me, that contains nothing.
If I were recording today I'd still record rock. I still have the feel for rock'n'roll. It's stood the test of time.
The Beatles always took the credit for Cilla Black. When she actually played first with our band. We were the first people to take her on the road. Everybody says, "The Beatles gave Cilla Black her chance". What a load of cock! Cilla Black was an entity in her own right. She would have come to Germany with us, except for the fact that the German connection would only allow English girls over to go to bed with them. If they didn't, you could forget it.
When I finished in 1965 I never did anything professionally again. As I said, I worked for a butcher, which I had done before the band turned professional. I then got a concession in a supermarket and built up a reputation. I always wanted to be happy at what I'm doing. Which is one of the reasons I packed up singing. When I stopped I was still making good money. It wasn't because we were not getting the work. •
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