Roll Back The Years Presents


Tony Jay and the Jesters

Jester Song at Twilight…(or give me two 'Baas' intro…)

A memoir of the birth of a band.
By Dave Matthews

I met Steve 'Piggy' Truelove at The Wheelwright Grammar School for Boys, in 1960. We had two things in common, both good at art, and both obsessed with guitars.
My guitar was a second-hand orange box acoustic bought for me for £5 as a reward for passing my eleven-plus, and painstakingly transformed by crudely carving 'Gibson' with my penknife into the wood of the machine head. Piggy had a Hofner Colorama single pick-up with a five-watt amplifier. Aged twelve, with such possessions, momentus collaborations are formed! Piggy had a gift for working out the chords, and I had just enough confidence to play the melodies.

Piggy was a cool dresser, with fashionably long hair and a Byronic look. I was a bit gawky and with my first pair of glasses imminent thus was anxious to look as much like Hank B. Marvin as I could. Our first gig together was at the Rex Bingo Hall, formerly the Rex Cinema, in Dewsbury. At The Rex we were allowed to mix offstage with professional bands playing in the evenings, we were thrilled. Too excited for words! mesmerised by the Fender Strats, pearl drumkits and red Lurex jackets. We worshipped The Shadows.

The owner of the Bingo hall had heard from Piggy's mother, one of his employees, that we had aspirations to perform. He was a fine pianist and wished to encourage our talent. So we were invited one afternoon to play in the break between the bingo sessions.

I took the lead with Piggy's guitar and he played rhythm with mine. I recall we played 'Kontiki' and 'Frightened City' by the Shads. The audience of mainly pensioners was bemused to say the least. The applause was brief but polite because even with the volume on maximum, five watts of amplification was barely audible in the front row. We were paid five pounds. A subsequent gig at a junior church youth club in Thornhill, Dewsbury, paid the same. The youngsters were equally bemused.

Earlier in the year a boy in the fifth form had played 'Blue Star', the TV 'Medic' theme, in a duet with another pupil at the school Christmas Show held in St Mark's Church Hall. He was called Teddy Platt. He had a cherry red Burns twin pick-up cutaway solid guitar. He played in a band called 'The Voltairs' and I admired him. He was already fine a guitarist and could read music.

By the following year Teddy had left school and our reputation for fearlessness meant that Piggy and I were co-opted to play in the Show. We persuaded a florid and bespectacled youth called Chris 'Franner' France to join us. Franner's flatulence in class was legendary, he could easily have provided a complete wind section by himself without instruments, but we needed a drummer. He was persuaded to buy a snare drum and high-hat, thus with little rehearsal we performed, being introduced simultaneously by one compère as 'The Strollers', and by the other as 'The Phaetons'.

We attempted to play 'Guitar Tango' by the Shads. It was an acoustic piece, so I played my fake 'Gibson' and Piggy accompanied me on his unplugged solid guitar while Franner rattled away at the back. During the performance I forgot how it went, and in exasperation I recall Piggy yelling at me across the stage, 'Finish!' The unamplified sound was puny, the audience bemused.

Along with a whole generation of callow youths, inspired by Bert Weedon on 'Five O'Clock Club', and The Shadows of course, I was hooked on the prospect of fame. To my parents' alarm I took all my life savings out of the Yorkshire Penny Bank, £30, and bought my first electric guitar from Kitchen's of Leeds, a Futurama II, but I had no amplifier. I practised constantly, neglecting my school work, and discovered great guitarists like Merle Travis and Chet Atkins. My parents also had some original Les Paul 78 records.

I bought a kit amplifier and made a speaker cabinet from a wooden box covered with 'Fablon'. My basic knowledge of Ohm's Law enabled me to phase and match the speakers, gleaned from a variety of sources like old radio sets. (It was probably my understanding of speaker impedances in parallel and series which eventually scraped me through my O-level Physics!) Other pieces of kit were also home-made, socket pads, extension leads, and foot switches made from old tobacco tins.

In a practice room at a youth club one evening a scratch band, including some from an embryonic rival group calling themselves 'The Bisons', had got together to jam with a prospective new drummer. I hung around and gradually picked up the courage to play one of the guitars. I could play 'Nivram' by the Shads as a solo, harmonised in fifths with some simple finger picking. The drummer seemed impressed. He was called Paul Fenton. Paul was a joiner and a few years older than me. He said he was looking for someone to play lead guitar in a new 'beat group' and he invited me to come to his house to rehearse. I went along.

Paul's house was amazing. In his front room all the furniture had been removed, the carpets lifted to the underlay, and there were two full drum kits, three amplifiers, microphones, and wires everywhere. His father, Bernard, was the manager of the professional band I already knew about, 'Sammy King and The Voltairs', and they rehearsed there twice a week. Bernard knew my mother well, they had acted together on the amateur stage and shared a similar zany sense of humour, thus my parents' approval was assured although I began to spend more and more hours away from my schoolwork, often skipping alternative activity afternoons to practise at Paul's.

We found a singer, called Gordon Shingleton, an apprentice bricklayer. He was solidly built, with bags of sex appeal and a great voice. We also needed a rhythm guitarist, but another young man had already come into the frame, Barry McManus. He had a proper job, so could afford a decent guitar, plus he could play the chords, harmonise and had a polished voice for introducing the numbers. He also provided the microphone and stand!

We needed a bass player. A friend in the same class as Piggy and me showed interest, although he had no guitar and could not yet play. His name was David 'Gaff' Tattersall. Piggy's Dad came to the rescue. Mr Truelove had a carpentry shop and built a 'Fender Bass' from scratch. From a distance it looked like the real thing and it played well enough to get Gaff started.

I was able to show Gaff how to read the bass stave and where to find the notes on the guitar. Gaff was highly talented at maths with a very determined character, each of these traits helped him to take to bass playing very rapidly. He eventually bought a Hofner Bass (now called a 'Stu Sutcliffe' Bass and highly collectable) and a 50 watt kit amplifier with a huge woofer in a cabinet the size of a sideboard. With him and Paul in the centre of the band, we had a very solid core.

I needed a better amplifier and wanted a better guitar. Neil, the outgoing rhythm guitarist from the Voltairs, who had left because of poor health, sold me his 30-watt Selmer amp and, yes, the well-used two pick-up Burns that I had admired when Teddy played at the Christmas Show. Barry also bought himself a Burns 3 pick-up, which he generously allowed me play as lead guitarist, so we swapped.
We needed a name. We had a zany manager in Bernard who, on the back of his reputation with the redoubtable Voltairs was about to get us plenty of gigs in a variety of venues. He taught us to be animated on stage so that we could put on a 'show' for a wide variety of audiences. Also, by the often hilarious process of elimination, a new name was chosen and 'The Jesters with Tony Jay' were born.

We rehearsed at Paul's house twice a week, the Voltairs rehearsing there on two other nights when they were not touring. They gigged with people like Gene Vincent and the Blue Caps, backed singers like Danny Williams, and appeared on the same bill as 'The Beatles' at the Queen's Hall in Leeds in June1963, my first 'all-night' pop concert. So we had a great stable-mate to look up to. Paul occasionally stood in for them, and on their rest days we were allowed to borrow some of their gear. On one occasion, I was allowed to borrow Teddy's Burns Bison guitar and beloved Ampeg amplifier. I unashamedly picked his brains and plagiarised the Voltairs' repertoire for numbers to play, which he generously arranged for us.

The photographs attached to this memoir date from this period, 1963, and were taken for another of Bernard's ideas, a fan club and fanzine, which attracted hundreds of mainly female members and had regular mail shots. The Beatles were our main inspiration at that time. Piggy and I discovered 'Love Me Do' at Maurice's record stall on Dewsbury Market, and Gaff had a Dansette record player at his home. We congregated there from school every lunchtime to listen to new records.

Thanks to Bernard our gigs came in thick and fast for a young band. We did all the usual local places, youth clubs, church halls, dance halls and Working Men's clubs, plus parties, weddings etc and travelled widely over Yorkshire to bigger and more prestigious venues, including the 'Oasis' Nightclub in York, Crookes Working Men's Club in Sheffield, Pudsey Baths, and The Mechanics' Institute at Slaithwaite.

One indelible date was the 22nd November 1963 when John F. Kennedy was shot. I remember being told by Gaff while loading up the van after our gig at the Ben Riley Dance Hall in Dewsbury, (later the 'Bin Lid'.) Another memorable occasion was when we became the first beat group to play at a Mayoral Civic Ball. This made all the tabloid newspapers of the day.

Eventually when Barry took over from Bernard as our manager, Piggy, who had been patiently waiting in the wings, joined the band as our brilliant new rhythm guitarist.

Despite all the great experiences and our growing reputation with gigs in some prestigious venues, the band folded in disarray when a large gang of older youths with a grudge against one of our roadies decided to make trouble at the Hanging Heaton Church Hall, one of our regular and most popular venues.

I was on stage and quaking at the knees when the leader of this gang, a huge thug, came up and started prodding me menacingly in the chest while I watched over our equipment fearing it would be damaged. The police were called to rescue us, and was I glad to see them. My abiding memory is of an even bigger policeman in motorcycle leathers firmly prodding the thug leader in the chest while the dance was called off and the audience sent home. Apparently the policeman's daughter was one of our biggest fans and was in the hall. The thugs were prosecuted and we were advised to lie low for some time until it had blown over.

During that fallow period, Paul's mother decided to reclaim her front room from the mad disruption that she had stoically endured for years. The Voltairs had meanwhile also suffered a terminal split, and we three schoolboys in the band had to buckle down to our O-levels. After the Summer we restarted the band, minus Tony Jay who it was feared still remained a target for the thugs. Fewer bands of this period had a solo lead singer. We rented a small rehearsal room beneath the Disabled Centre in a converted chapel in Dewsbury. This band we called 'The Peppers'. I still have a Nick Lucas guitar book with 'The Peppers' scribbled all over the covers, (…long before the 'Red Hot Chilly' variety came into prominence)!

Several months later, because of the pressure I was under to gain some decent A-levels and after a terrible school report from our retiring and much respected Headmaster, Winfield Bolton, I decided to leave the band. Gaff, Piggy and Paul stayed on. Piggy soon had a disagreement with the new Headmaster over the length of his hair, (daringly just over his collar), and decided on principle to leave the Sixth form.

It was after my departure that Ian 'Miffy' Smith complemented their line-up to introduce the newly fashionable organ sound. Mif had always been a 'spirited' but musically talented pupil at the Wheelwright Grammar, and made himself memorable by being chosen to play the organ by the new Headmaster in the main hall for morning assembly. Unbeknown to the Head and the other teachers, but immediately obvious to all the boys, the solemn processional music the wonderfully subversive Miffy chose to extemporise upon was… 'The House of the Rising Sun'.

Thus my part in the history of this brief, but highly formative, period comes to a close. I remember with fondness lots of great times with people who have carried on their musical careers in the public arena. Paul Fenton, eventually playing with Marc Bolan and still with T-Rex after years of great musical experiences, but always memorable to me as someone who made the rest of us collapse uncontrollably in laughter with his crazy humour on and off stage.

David Tattersall and Ian Smith, two great guys still performing, went on to start a new band, 'Inner Mind', and Steven Truelove going into acting and presenting on BBC Radio, whilst Barry McManus went into being an agent for professional performers. And Teddy Platt, (aka 'Teddy Stevens') always my boyhood hero… where are you now?

I took to studying and playing classical guitar for many years after leaving the Jesters and Peppers, and continued to play as an amateur throughout my career as a teacher, now retired. I still have the classical guitar I bought 45 years ago but regret not having kept my early electric guitars, which I sold in order to buy it, as they would now be worth a fortune. But I have also recently bought an acoustic Hofner and a little practice amp to play jazz chord melodies to myself in the quiet of my home. The circle is complete!

Your Author Dave 'Stew' Matthews 2009

Attached photos of the Jesters: the line-up:
Paul Fenton, drummer
David Tattersall, bass
Barry McManus, rhythm guitar
Gordon Shingleton ('Tony Jay')
Dave Matthews, lead guitar