Call me Sless!

Some years ago - never mind how long ago precisely - Paul Kossoff and I (The Englians) were introduced to Tony Braunagel and Terry Wilson (The Cowboys). It went something like this - ‘Howdy I’m Tony and this is Terry’ “Pleased to meet you, this is Paul and I’m Terry also ” 'I’m Terry Wilson-' “Never!..I..am Terry Wilson - Well I’m Terry Wilson-Slesser”- O.K ‘One Wilson-Slesser beats a pair of  Terry Wilsons...'Call me Koss’..well - I suppose you’d better call me Sless!

It wasn’t always that way. Peggy (Rutherford) married Tucker (William) Wilson. They had three children Denise-Terry and Paul Wilson. Tucker, a joiner by trade and sometime piano player and canny singer was in and out of work. The couple split up a few times until the final split came when Peggy picked up the children from school one afternoon and took them to St: John’s Avenue Jarrow, our new home to ‘meet the new ‘pop’.. same as the old.. sorry bout that just had an attack of Townsend.It would be wrong to be flippant about the circumstances every one found themselves in. “I can still feel that pain after one of our visits to see Tucker,when I recall looking back from the bus window as my Dad stood there waving from the bus stop at Witton Gilbert in Co: Durham.” Heart wrenching times for everyone - as it undoubtedly was for the Slesser household-Bobs’ first wife Jean and daughter Allison.

Bob Slesser, photographer, ‘chief cook and bottle washer.’‘Pop’ as he asked us to call him so as not to appear to be taking the place of our dad-wasn’t such a bad step father, despite the initial clashes of stepfather/stepson. The young Sless was introduced to the finer points of catering,taken on ships trials from the river Tyne, learning silver service and how to cook breakfast for 200, knowledge that became useful when the ‘family’ bought the first of  four guesthouses. Contractors, students from the Marine College and musicians were among the clientele. Joe D’Ambrosie and Mickey Golden “latter day heroes of mine” were in bands doing the club circuit with fellow members Vic Malcolm (Geordie) John Miles and Paul Thompson (Roxy Music). The transit vans used to pull up every night to pick the guys up for the gigs and soon Sless was the assistant roadie to Terry (big face) Bateson. Singing sessions in the van led to getting up on stage to guest with the Influence, singing Lily the Pink first (this goes no further by the way) & ‘Better by You Better than me’ (Spooky Tooth).

               The nightclub scene was booming and Bob Slesser was the ‘official’ photographer at all the nightclubs in Newcastle, South Shields and Sunderland, mainly run by Stan Henry and John Smith of the Bailey Organisation.

Bob photographed the revellers and the cabaret stars that came to the nightclubs.

He photographed ‘everyone’ from Jayne Mansfield, Tom Jones, and Englebert [Gerry Dorsey] to Bob Monkhouse,Tiny Tim and Miss World. Peggy became a croupier on the roulette tables, also teaching croupier wannabees and would take the young Sless along to soak up the atmosphere. Sandy Shaw was appearing at Club Franchi In Jarra, in her bare feet; her band was staying at our ‘Beachcomber’ guesthouse.

Local band The Influence were also playing and Peggy said something like

‘wouldn’t it be great if you could get involved in something like that.’ ..."Yes mam it’s all your fault.”

Freddy Starr was just rising and used to come to breakfast every day as someone different. John Wayne one day, ‘OWKAY thehellyuwel’ Tommy Cooper the next.. juslyktha..Freddy was a great singer and gave Sless a few tips on how to impersonate voices such as Elvis and Robert Plant. (Led Zeppelin One was on the record player constantly) I would accompany Freddy to the La Dolce Vita and the Latino, watch him perform each night; such apparent confidence he had then, a very naturally talented- born entertainer. Many 'groups' as they were called in those days spent time at our 'hotel' the Foremost- Mud and my favourite band in the right sense of the word were Bitter Suite from Sheffield. An 8/9 piece band with brass section.They did Blood Sweat & Tears/Chicago stuff with a great singer Barry (Baz) Marshall- he just sang and sang; his voice was permanently hoarse but he always delivered- total professionals and great guys especially bass player Gerry Scanlon. The ‘girls from Blackburn Lancashire’ who worked at the Latino casino, also lived with us- Liz-Mary- Lilian-Sue and “my bestest person in the world Vi”

wor Vi ~ Vi Nickson, the godmother of mine and Sandra’s twin boys Adam & Simon.

A local band heard about the ‘singing roadie’ we rehearsed and I joined my first group Zig Zag with Howard, Derek and Les. Pop signed as guarantor for my first P.A system- a vox twin combo and a Sure SM57 unidyne mic. {although I soon graduated to a Burman p.a.}Our first gig was at the New Crown South Shields-a private party for the Nobles. The group had to play two then three songs before their new singer plucked up enough courage to walk on to the stage. ‘Born to Be Wild’-far from it but never mind, “no more Lily the Pink for this guy.” ‘How Many More Times’ and ‘Communication Breakdown’ Led Zep, there was no stopping us now.

Local band West One asked Sless to stand in for their singer John Lawton (later to join Uriah Heap and Lucifer’s Friend) while he spent some time in Germany with The Les Humphries Singers. John is a world-class vocalist with the strongest voice I have heard- ever. I went to see him at the Royal Albert Hall years later doing Roger Glovers Butterfly Ball.Beckett had just lost their vocalist Rob Turner in a hit & run car accident.

John Miles went solo and the Influence asked their former roadie to be the new singer, as did Beckett and West One as John Lawton didn’t return from Hamburg. You wait for a band,then 3 come along at once.

ROADIE to FRONT-MAN

Becketts’ new singer had to learn to sing - ...rapid, because clubland in the North east of England is a very harsh life for bluffers as Terry had discovered with Zig Zag. Original guitarist Les (Lelly) Tones quit suddenly and the band members suggested another local guy to replace him. He was an alleged songwriter, certainly not in Lellys' league as a guitar player.

Les used to play ‘And Your Bird Can Sing’ ‘While my guitar gently weeps’ ‘Badge’ and practically the whole of Abbey Road.

( the triple guitar solo thing) Terry had initially objected to the ‘new guy’ but gave in under pressure from the group members over a drunken curry at the Shah Jan. This was a decision they would all come to regret.. in time.

The group built up a following and reputation both locally and eventually nationwide. Promoter Geoff Docherty saw the band and signed them. With the new manager at the helm, they got to play at Newcastle City Hall. The ambition of every Geordie group is to be on that stage-where all the 'biggies' have played; it is up-there with playing on the pitch at St:James’ Park.

We were on the bill with U.F.O. Geoff had persuaded Wilf Wright [U.F.O/ Robin Trowers manager] to promote a double-header. It was packed, Wilf introduced the group and the lads stormed their first city hall gig.  

BECKETT played with nearly every top act that came to the North East, Rod Stewart and Faces /Free/ Roy Woods Wizzard/ Lindisfarne/ Thin Lizzy and Ten Years After. This Faces gig being John Peel’s favourite gig of all time.

It was at Sunderland Locarno, Beckett stormed it and had the plug pulled out on them leaving drummer Craigy playing solo until Sless politely instructed legendary roady Birksy to replace the plug; for which he got a kick in the head for his truouble.

Rod and the boys were in a hurry to get back to Tramps and Britt. No one who was there will ever forget such an ‘electric’ atmosphere as John Peel {major UK disc Jockey) testified in his autobiography.

The group auditioned successfully for Ricky Barnes of the Top Ten Club Hamburg. Accompanying them to Germany, Geoff organised for them to play on board the ship for the ferry passage. [ typical of his brilliant wheeling dealing ]

This guy has negotiated with Peter Grant of Led Zep, negotiated contracts with The Who/Pink Floyd/Deep Purple/Santana/Van Morrison Chris Blackwell Mel Bush and so on .. the shipping company didn’t stand a chance really. Hamburg was good for the band, 8 sets each night from 8pm until sometimes 5 am. The little old lady in the gents used to sell us ‘cappies’ to stay awake. The young Sless was captivated with Ricky Barnes’ stories of the Beatles / reading Paul McCartney’s letter to Ricky asking for a gig. BECKETT returned to Hamburg  a second time, realising that the gruelling schedule was making them a better band. “Seeing your poster outside the club and 'taking in' the Reeperbahn at night was a magical time, grabbing a brockwurst and bun between sets..this was ..the life”.

Returning to the UK to do two forty five minute spots was a breeze - this is what impressed WEA records' executives Martin Wyatt and Ian Ralfini. For the record, it was the Hamburg line-up of the band that got the recording deal - not the eventual 'band of losers' that ended up on the vinyl disc.

Geoff negotiated  the acquisition of Genesis’  p.a system from Tony Stratton-Smith; complete with multi core, bass bins, Kelsey Morris mixing desk and Binson echorec 2 unit. He also negotiated a publishing deal with Lionel Conway of Island Music. Lionel is one of the 'good guys' and gave us £3000 - just enough to buy a brand new Mercedes 608D van - complete with coach-built bunk beds to save on hotels. Typically, Geoff promised to return the publishing advance to Lionel as soon as the band received a recording advance. He kept his word.

He repaid Lionel’s faith in him and Geoff and Sless have remained friends with him ever since.

There ARE.. 'SOME' good guys in the music business.... but they were not in Beckett any more.

Personnel changes sadly brought in the wrong people. People from ‘across the river’ ..Newcastle, were brought in and the chemistry of the band was DESTROYED... FOREVER....

ALL.. of the original band members had been replaced. Hence, the first album for the w.e.a Raft label.. failed abysmally. Produced by Roger Chapman of Family and George Chkiantz.

An orchestra was brought in [ brilliant arrangements by Wilf Gibson of E.L.O.]

The band disappeared behind the orchestra and the album lacked "a really great song."

'We need a Maggie May was Geoffs’ plea.' 'We need to get Terry singing in that ‘world class' key.

When it came to the credits on the album Terry decided to call himself ‘Terry Wilson-Slesser’ so not to offend his father by taking solely the name he had come to be known as over the years-Terry Slesser....SLESS.

Geoff arranged major tours with Slade/The Sensational Alex Harvey Band/Captain Beefhearts’ Magic Band.

The Alexander Palace London Music Festival with Earth Wind & Fire,

all.. with the total backing of the record company...Raft records, A subsidiary of Warner Bros.

Richard Robinson was the head of Warner’s and had taken  a real liking to the group and Geoff Dochertys' enthusiastic management style. When Geoff asked for the Slade tour and other tours; Robbie gave the go-ahead for all the financing,

in a bid to break the band. From the £9000 to play on the Slade tour to the photo sessions for the posters

and all the 5* hotels. Geoff would 'speed push' Robbie in his wheel chair down Wardour St: to the Marquee Club to see the group play. “I remember Robbie saying that he wanted to have his his legs amputated because they were useless to him but his mother didn’t want him to...what a remarkable gent he was” The memory of him only fuels my contempt for certain group members,who didn’t appreciate the work Geoff had to put in to make things happen and the faith people like Robbie, Lionel, Jack Barry and John Peel had in Geoffs' master plan. Robbies' assistant, Nick Lloyd was brilliant also; great sense of humour / he 'bent over backwards' to help Geoff in all his endeavours. We needed a Revox he got us one. We needed a vehicle for the Slade tour he got us a brand new Range Rover - with a case of the obligatory Blue Nun whenever we ‘needed’ one.

He would allow Geoff to shower and even stay at 69 New Oxford St: overnight, when necessary. Unorthodox Geoff may have been but he got results.. it has to be said. everyone concerned trusted him..and his motives. He didn’t want anything for himself. He knew that if the band ‘made it’ the reward would be in that. He saw himself as a Peter Grant type of figure I guess. To be the manager of successful rock band. He did 'everything' right but the band, as a whole I suppose, let him down. We just weren’t good enough and I include myself in that - it wasn’t all about the 'baddies' who had infiltrated this once magical group from the Norh East of England. I had my worst gig ever when Chris Blackwell (Island Records Impressario) came to see us at Nottingham University at the behest of Geoff. We ( Beckett) were on with Argent and I lost my voice.

I think I had a minor panic attack or stage fright syndrome. It was frightening - and totally disappointing as our dreams of signing to Island records went out the door with Chris Blackwell. Sliding doors- fate-destiny - Que sera!

The tour with Captain Beefheart - as unlikely a pairing of bands as you can get, was a brilliant lesson in showmanship and musicianship for the ever watchful Sless. Don Van Vleit, larger than life but gentle giant took an interest in Sless and had a well - documented discussion with Sless about microphones versus harmonicas. Zoot Horn Rollo 'who just popped in to do a little toast' with an electric toaster on his head, has an amazing guitar style. Rockette Morton and Ed marimba (Artie Tripp) drums –absolutely beyond words with his newspaper tearing ‘trick’ and that brilliant man Roy Estrada (Mothers of Invention and Little Feat) on bass. “We got on really well with Roy, a genuinely lovely man, he shed a tear at the end of the tour when we presented the band with a case of Newcastle Brown and a bottle of Drambuie for the Capt:” There were two bands scheduled to support Capt B. but he insisted that we got the whole tour. “I remember backstage at the Rainbow Theatre - I was scared to death and Beefheart came into my dressing room to reassure me, dressed in his bandana and with his gravel voice uttering ‘you got a fast ass - go get em! ...I’m bored’.

Out onstage in front of the sell out crowd a voice from the gallery yelled... ‘Howay the lads’ and we were all right”.

Legendary British DJ Bob Harris saw the group at the Ally Pally London Music Festival and asked Michael Appleton, BBC main music director to put them on the Old Grey Whistle Test {Beckett Old Grey Whistle test 1974 youtube}

Countless Marquee club appearances followed. A young Steve Harris (Iron Maiden) was watching and thinking that he too would be in a band like Beckett one day. “We would meet years later”

BECKETT became regulars at The Marquee Club. "I even celebrated my 21st there gigging. Geoff got me a litre bottle of whisky which we shared with the after gig ‘access all areas’ brigade."

Jack Barry (Marquee club boss) took a shine to the band. He liked the ORIGINAL members - some, more than others.

Jack enjoyed watching the band climb from support billing to ‘headline.’ Geoff, Terry, Birksy Jack Barrie, Kenny Bell from Chrysalis and Tony Stratton - Smith would prop up the bar many a night. Bon Scott would later join our elite ‘top bar clan’. Long John Baldry really liked the band, as did Robert Fripp. They always made a point of popping their head into the dressing rooms before and after the gigs at The Marquee. This was real encouragement for the relative newcomers to the London scene - more.. good guys. Rod Smallwood { Iron Maidens' Manager } acted as the bands agent in those days during his time at MAM agency. We would meet again also - later, with Steve Harris.

DIABOLICAL behaviour by new band members; the incessant smoking of joints,

phrases like ‘Sorry I’m late for rehearsals - but tough.’ ‘ there’s no empathy ’ and that beauty

‘we've got a message from god routine’ spelled the end of the road for the canny Geordie band that had come so far from the North East club scene to the brink of  fulfilling the dream.

'They..' even tried to get rid of Sless, but Geoff was not buying into their mantra bullshit of Lobsan Rampas’ ‘third eye’ and ‘halva diet’ anymore. Ungrateful & disgusting prima donnas who could not & have not signed to a major record label since. Even the crew of the Old Grey Whistle Test television programme disliked these people wearing dunce hats and pink guitars. "We got rid of the cancer or I should say - they.. left the band."

The deluded idiots could not manipulate Geoff any more. ........We had one more thing to do.

The original guitarist, Arthur Ramm, came back in for our final stand. The 1974 Reading festival appearance was a high point for the group. John Peel wrote that ''up to Saturday evening, Beckett were the best band on the festival'' "We kicked a football about with him backstage and posed around the hospitality tents - Steve Winwood popped his head into our tent congratulating us on our gig. Alex Harvey invited us onto the stage with him for the bag pipes finale- ..... was it all going right at last? The bubble had burst.

Even though Dan Loggins signed the band to CBS, lack of great material was the factor again.

Dan suggested that Terry sing the Wilson Pickett song 6345-789 as a single, he even played Bachman Turner Overdrives’ ‘You Aint seen nothing yet’ as an example of how a hit song should sound..

'we were clutching at straws now'.

Ian Hunter had left Mott the Hoople and CBS saw Terry Slesser as the "perfect solution" to fill that gap.

Mick Ralphs had recommended Terry to the band and Sless and Pete Watts were good Speakeasy buddies -

it seemed to make perfect sense. Sless was wooed by CBS - a 'party' was organised and meetings with the president of the record company and management took place. Terry sang a few songs at Gooseberry studios in Soho 'She Does it ’ being one of the songs......all things pointed to the deal going through.

Previously to this, Ahmet Ertugen President of Atlantic Records and his brother Neshui had been asked to come to the Marquee club by Geoff and they told him "Terry Wilson –Slesser is a potential superstar"..

Armed with this affirmation, Geoff had an 'inkling' to link Terry with Paul Kossoff of Free.

Geoff brought Koss from his Mews house in Portobello in the groups van, driven by Brian  

("I mean basically- where’s the rider?") Birksy.

“We had to buy three bottles of Mateus Rose for the journey for Koss to complete the trip painlessly to Astral House Sunderland to try to wean the extremely frail - intoxicated Koss off his dependencies.”

Geoff would him walk up 12 storeys every day/ feeding him on fish/wholemeal bread and honey to get him fit for midnight rehearsals at the Locarno Ballroom; scene of many triumphant nights for Koss and ‘Free.’