AUTHORS: Ralph Gowling and Jim Stewart, BEAT MAGAZINE
PUBLISH DATE: February 2011
Thanks to John Moroz for these articles.
Transcribed by

Beat Magazine Web Site


1. Behind the Green Room door - Ralph Gowling talks to Vanity Fare drummer, Mark Ellen about the preparations for the 2011 Solid Silver Sixties Tour

2. Jim Stewart talks to Chris Farlowe about some career highlights and the forthcoming solid Silver 60’s tour

Cliff Richard and The Shadows were the No.1 British music attraction Cliff used to leave the stage for his group to do their spot with the trademark comment: “I’ll leave you in the capable hands of The Shadows.” The Shadows, of course, were Britain’s top instrumental band but were also a vital ingredient on records and on stage to Cliff’s early triumphs.

Now Flying music is doing much the same with
Vanity Fare for the second successive year on the Solid Silver 60’s tour, starting this month. The band is entrusted with holding down much of the show by backing leading stars Chris Farlowe, Dave Berry, Wayne Fontana and former Hollies vocalist/guitarist Terry Sylvester, as well as performing their own hits. The Merseybeats are also on the bill for the 26th show, which Flying music has organised and promoted to such great effect over the years that many artists and fans regard it as the most prestigious event on the 60’s circuit.

The Solid Silver certainly had much to do with the revival of interest in Golden Oldies music way back in the 1980’s. There have been, and are, some other great tours out there, the longevity of Flying Music’s show, and the regular hoisting of the sold out sign, have earned it a special place in the minds of 60’s fans. For many it has become an annual must-see show.
This, in turn, obviously puts pressure on both Flying Music and the artists to keep producing a top-notch show, even against the backdrop of the current tough economic times, and the fact that age and health are taking their toll on the artists.

The three-month tour, starting in Aberdeen on February 23 and ending in Oxford on May 26, also places tough demands on the artists in terms of long hours on the road as they criss-cross the UK to get to venues.

Step up Vanity Fare, widely rated among their peers as a class act both instrumentally and vocally; plus they are four of the most liked people on a circuit that can sometimes be cut-throat.
Eddie Wheeler (lead guitar/vocals), Bernie Hagley (bass/vocals). Steve Oakman (keyboards/guitar/vocals) and Mark Ellen (drums/vocals) have become a band of first choice when it comes to staging a package show because of the ease with which they can rehearse up to back other artists. 

Vanity Fare, whose veterans Eddie, Bernie and Mark have roots going back to the band’s hit making heyday, were huge at the end of the 60’s and were particularly popular in the United States where they had two top five hits. Stunning vocal harmonies and bouncy and catchy tunes are their signature pieces, like ‘
Hitchin’ A Ride’ that became something of an anthem for hippies catching a lift to the next “Flower Power” gathering.
Early in The Morning’ was an even bigger hit for Vanity Fare in Britain and their first chart entry ‘I live for the Sun’ had links with The Beach Boys camp. Their run of hits continued into the 70’s across the world – from ‘Summer Morning’ in the US to ‘Rock & Roll is Back’ in Germany.
Eddie, Bernie, Mark and long-established “new boy” Steve, son of
Pete Oakman of The Swinging Blue Jeans and The Bruvvers, received accolades from fans on last year’s Solid Silver for their performances in their own right and as the backing band for Brian Poole, Mike Pender, Peter Sarstedt and Dave Berry.

Only Dave Berry remains on this year’s bill and Vanity Fare have worked on other shows with Chris Farlowe, so they start from scratch having to learn the numbers to be performed by Wayne Fontana and Terry Sylvester.

The Beat caught up with Mark to get an insight into what happens behind the scenes putting together the shows – from the hard work to the fun times.

The process starts almost as soon as the previous tour has finished”, said Mark, a proud Scotsman who will be on home territory on the first few dates of the tour.

The promoters, Flying Music, speak with various artist and agents with the aim of securing a good, well-balance line-up. Debra Franks (of DFO international Music Agency) acts on our behalf in negotiations.

“We were delighted to be rebooked for 2011, not only performing our own material but given the opportunity to provide backing for the solo artists.
“We contact the artists asking them for a pool of songs they may be performing. Although this may be whittled down by the time the tour kicks off, we get to work on all the songs the artists want.

“Each band member will do his own research with the aid of the internet. In my case I learn and write down the drum parts. I will put together a compilation CD of all the songs and pass them to the rest of the band to work on individually.

“Then the band gets together for a series of ‘kitchen rehearsals’ (at one of the group members’ homes’, mainly to nail the backing vocals. On our sound checks at Vanity Fare gigs, we will run over the songs one or two at a time.

“A week or two before the tour kicks off, the band will have full rehearsals at a rehearsal studio. Vanity Fare are spread out throughout the southeast, so London is the most convenient to all.

“Shortly before the tour kicks off, we invite the solo acts to rehearsals just to make sure they are happy with our interpretations of their songs and to get acquainted with hose we haven’t worked with or even met in the past.

“Once the dates of the shows are announced we started booking the hotels. There is a certain chain of family hotels we use. The earlier we book, the best deals we get. So the hotels will be booked at least three months in advance. Again the Internet is invaluable.

“With mileage on a tour of this size it is most important we use only one vehicle, especially in the light of rising fuel prices.

“We have to hire a vehicle and a driver/roadie suitable to our needs. It is most important that both the vehicle and driver are ‘reliable’ because if there are any problems in travelling to the shoes, it is quite probably a case of ‘no show’ as we are also backing the majority of the acts.

The public sees the artists on stage for a couple of hours or so, but what is it really like behind the scenes as touring musicians preparing for the gigs?
Behind the scenes before the show is one of the best parts. Everyone is in high spirits and anxious to get on stage and ‘rock’.
“Vanity Fare arrive at the venue three hours before show time to set up our instruments and sound check.
Perhaps we will run over a song or two with the solo acts just to make sure everyone is happy. Then hopefully grab a bite to eat.
“The travelling side of it is less appealing – hours and hours on motorways constantly checking traffic reports to make sure we avoid hold-ups, alleviated by jokes and reminiscences, most not to be related here!

But do the artists still find time for fun and camaraderie on the long tour?
oh yes …much fund and bonding. The great thing about the guys on these tours is that there are no inflated egos. We have all been around the block quite a few times.
“There is always an invite to one or more of the dressing rooms after the show for a nice cup of ‘Horlicks’, or even on occasion something stronger!”

While there is sadness at not having some of the artists that were on last year’s tour, Mark agrees there is a new buzz for Vanity Fare – and hopefully for the audiences – in having new ones on board.
Yes, I am personally going to miss The Troggs and in particular Reg Presley. Reg and I would have heated political discussion, but all in fine humour. 
“We talked on the phone with Terry Sylvester and he seems to be a really nice guy. Just wants to be one of the lads. So I am looking forward to meeting him and playing those fab Hollies hits. One of my all time fave drummers was
Bobby Elliot, so I am glad to have the chance to get my teeth into those wonderful songs.
“Wayne Fontana I have only met once, unfortunately, at
Derek Franks’ funeral, so it will be more pleasant circumstances.
The Merseybeats? We have worked with
Tony Crane and the rest of the boys over the years and always had a blast with them”.
I am in touch with
Lou Rosenthal, The Merseybeats’ drummer, working out drum kit stuff as we will both be using the same drum kit on the tour. Every drummer sets up differently so we have to make sure there is little time wasted in change overs.

Mark, like the rest of Vanity fare, is modest about the group’s prowess in holding down the whole or a major part of shows by being able to back top solo artists “just like the record” and bonding easily with them.
Well, I wouldn’t say there are no other bands who can do what we do. At least two other bands come to mind who do just this. Maybe the fact that we are in our own right a vocal harmony band gives us a wee bit of an edge.
“Shows like the Solid Silver have definitely given Vanity Fare a boost, not just in the amount of work we do but the challenge of performing our musical best for the great artists we have the privilege of working with.
“Yeh, we are all amicable guys. Anything for a quiet life!

But what Vanity Fare do to make a show stand out doesn’t pass unnoticed and quietly. Word even reached an Australian radio station about the stunning quality of the sold out show they hosted at the Amersham Rock ‘n’ Roll Club in December starring Chris Farlowe, original
Hedgehoppers lead singer Mike Tinsley, original Honeybus vocalist Colin Hare and original Foundations lead guitarist/vocalist Alan Warner. With participants like Mike Tinsley living as far away as north Wales, rehearsing had to be done on the phone and in the afternoon before the show. On top of the star-studded line up, Vanity Fare brought in a leading horn and wind section in Nick Payn and Matt Winch. BBC radio picked up the tremendous feedback after the show and yes, word travelled all the way Down Under!”

For now, though, Vanity Fare are gearing up to perform before the large audiences on the Solid Silver tour, being on stage for a major part of the shows and playing a key role in making them a success.
The audience enthusiasm on these shows is just fantastic. These folks are out for a good time and we intend to help provide it.
“Although we may be tired after five or six shows back to back, once we get into the show and get the feedback from the audience, it’s time to rock and roll!

Ralph Gowling 2011

2. Jim Stewart talks to Chris Farlowe about some career highlights and the forthcoming solid Silver 60’s tour

Spring will be here soon, bringing this year’s Solid Silver 60’s Show. Following the success of 2010’s change in format, Vanity Fare once again provide backing for Wayne Fontana, Dave Berry, Terry Sylvester and Chris Farlowe, with special guests The Merseybeats.

It’s Chris’s debut on the tour: in fact it will be his first ‘pop package’ in almost 45 years, - which was where our conversation began.
‘I’ve seen you on the ‘Maximum R&B’ tours but this is your first SS60s tour?
This will be my first 60’s tour since the 60’s, and I’m really looking forward to it. I’ve worked with Dave Berry, and Vanity Fare backed me last year, excellent band, so I can’t wait to meet the others and rehearsals to start’.

In addition to the hits, what can we expect from you?
The hits, of course, a couple of light blues, ‘Stormy Monday Blues’, one of my own ballads ‘Lovely’, some rock’n’roll, a bit of everything really.

I remember seeing you in the early days at the Bromley Court Hotel, Savoy Rooms, and Glenlyn, etc in South London: what memories do you have of those days?
I was one of the very early ones in those days, I’d started singing when I was six years old, with my mother, who was a piano player. She used to play Doris Day songs, and I’d say: ’I like that one’ and I’d be singing it with her in the pub from that age.
‘I was very lucky to have been born in London, where the American soldiers were, messing around with them. When the sixties came, people like
John Lee Hooker, Howling Wolf and Muddy Waters would come over and play clubs, like The Flamingo, and I was only a mile down the road from there. I’d hop on a bus and listen to them singing the songs. ‘I really got into them, and said to my Mum: ‘I want to be a singer, and she was very supportive and said: ‘If that’s what you want to be, go ahead and try’ – and the rest is history.

For years, it seemed like you were a ‘best kept secret’ for those in the know.
The good thing about me is that I had my band ‘The Thunderbirds’ with Albert Lee, and we built up a reputation, and people from other bands would come to see us, like Jimmy Page. They would come to the club, sit there either watching me singing, or Albert playing guitar. We’d be at The Pink Elephant with The Beatles at a table, then The Stones would come in – it was like that for years. I was very lucky to have a great band’.

Your first break was the Ready Steady Go ‘Stax’ special, how did that come about?
We were doing The Flamingo one night and, after I’d finished my hour and a half spot, I went back to the dressing room, when somebody came in and said: ‘Did you see the black guy sitting in the audience listening to you sing?’ I replied: ‘They were all the black guys from the air bases in the audience!’, and he said: ‘No, no, that was Otis Redding’. ‘I just laughed and scoffed at him, when all of a sudden the door opened and Otis Redding walked in. he said: ‘I think you’re a great singer, I’m doing a television show this week called ‘Ready Steady Go’ and I want you to be my special guest’. I said: WOW! I think somebody better pinch me because I don’t believe what I’m hearing. And that’s how that came about.

The Rolling Stones gave you the biggest break.
I’d known The Stones for years. They used to come down regularly then, one day, they said they’d written a couple of songs for me, and that’s how I got ‘Out of Time’. Then Mike d’Abo gave me ‘Handbags and Gladrags’, and I was very lucky. I mean I’d made so many records since ’61, and each time I’d be told how great they were: this is going to be the one. By ’64 and ’65 I’d take it with a pinch of salt, if it happened, it happened, if it didn’t, it didn’t but ‘Out of Time’ was the one and everything changed after that. I knew I’d make it one day, but I just needed that break.

From that day onwards Chris has never looked back, enhancing his reputation as one of our best blues singers, who will be delivering his own brand of sixties magic to the Solid Silver fans.

Jim Stewart 2011

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