By Nick Warburton
The London Beats were the first Western rock band to tour behind the Iron Curtain and are best known for releasing an ultra-rare LP in Poland in mid-1965 and three Polish-only EPs in 1965-1966.
The London Beats, circa March 1965, left to right: John Carroll, Jimmy Smith, Peter Carney and Mick Tucker
The group underwent several line-up changes and featured several musicians that went on to notable UK bands, including Geno Washington’s Ram Jam Band, Fortes Mentum, Hamilton & The Hamilton Movement, The Flower Pot Men, The Nashville Teens, Aquila, Cressida and Tranquility.
- Frank Bennett – lead vocals/rhythm guitar
- Mick Tucker – lead guitar/lead vocals
- Tony Terry – rhythm guitar
- Sam Coaffee – bass
- Jimmy Smith – drums
- Mick Tucker – lead guitar/lead vocals
- Peter Carney – bass/vocals
- John Carroll – organ/vocals
- Jimmy Smith – drums
- Linda Fortune – lead vocals
- Mick Tucker – lead guitar/lead vocals
- Kevin McCarthy – bass/vocals
- Tony Stanton – rhythm guitar
- Jimmy Smith – drums
- Sterry Moore – lead vocals
- Mira Kubasinska – lead vocals
Led by lead guitarist Mick Tucker, the band’s roots can be traced back to Horley, Surrey outfit, The Moonriders, who were formed in early 1962.
With rhythm guitarist Tony Terry and bass player Sam Coaffee (who later assumed the stage name Sam Clifton) joining Tucker, the trio subsequently added drummer Mick Godfrey, who came in from Croydon outfit, The Deltones (Jeff Beck was their lead guitarist) and a singer whose name no one can remember. By the summer, however, singer Tony Jones had come in to front The Moonriders.
Sometime in early 1963, noted drummer Pete Chester answered an advert in the music press to replace Mick Godfrey and they became The Pete Chester Combo.
“For a while he became the band leader, because to us he was nationally famous. His dad was a big radio star. Charlie Chester was a household name in the 1960s,” explains Tucker.
“Pete was also the guy that gave Hank [Marvin] and Bruce [Welch] of The Shadows their first band when they came south to London from Newcastle.”
The Pete Chester Combo, 1963, left to right: Tony Jones, Mick Tucker, Sam Coaffee, Pete Chester and Tony Terry
A noted song-writer who co-wrote material in collaboration with Bruce Welch, Chester penned around a dozen songs for Cliff Richard, including the hit single “Please Don’t’ Tease”.
Adding South African singer Jackie Frisco (later Gene Vincent’s wife) and Mickie Most’s brother Dave Hayes (after Tony Jones had departed), The Pete Chester Combo found extensive work playing the UK club scene.
Towards the end of the year, however, Pete Chester departed and Mick Godfrey returned to the group’s ranks, albeit briefly.
Around the same time, Mick Tucker arranged for the musicians to sign for Johnny Jones’s London City Agency (the only other rock band on its books was The Artwoods) and the renamed London Beats headed out to West Germany to play the club scene.
“The London Beats was his [Johnny Jones’s] idea, particularly in Europe because it said where we from and what sort of music we played,” explains Tucker.
Back home, Johnny Jones offered the musicians a six-month deal with a promoter in West Germany, kicking off in January 1964. Mick Godfrey didn’t want to participate and left, leaving a vacant spot on the drum stool.
With further work lined up, Mick Tucker poached lead singer Frank Bennett from Crawley outfit, The Rockatones, who in turn was instrumental in recruiting the group’s new drummer, Jimmy Smith from Lewes, East Sussex outfit The Shades.
“I had met Frank Bennett several times at our gigs in Brighton and Crawley and he asked me if I would be interested in joining the band,” remembers Smith.
“Frank used to turn up to quite a few late ’63 gigs; he’d come up on stage and do a few numbers with us. I remember being really impressed by his R&B voice.”
Although Smith was still only 17 years old and work permits could pose a problem, he was more than happy to accept the offer to head to Germany.
After a month’s rehearsal and some trial gigs in north Wales, the musicians departed for Frankfurt at the end of March 1964.
The London Beats gigged incessantly in German clubs and American bases, mostly in the southwest until mid-December. By this point, Tony Terry had already returned home (to form The Strangers who became The Pack) and Frank Bennett doubled on rhythm guitar as well as lead vocals.
From January to February 1965, The London Beats returned to West Germany for two months to play at the Funny Crow and Top Ten in Hamburg, the latter alongside Howie Casey’s band, Beryl Marsden and Paddy, Klaus & Gibson.
“We did some recordings at the Top Ten, which became a studio during the day,” remembers Tucker.
“Frank Bennett and I did some backing vocals for Isabelle Bond, the resident singer at the Top Ten club – German versions of ‘Bread and Butter’ and also ‘Downtown’. Klaus [Voorman] was also one of the backing singers.”
Back in London, Johnny Jones offered the musicians a three-month contract in Poland as part of a musician union exchange with the Polish Modern Jazz Quartet.
“The Polish national agency wanted us because they’d heard through a third party at some trade fair in Poznan in Poland that we were making shed loads of money for our manager in Germany and so the Poles thought we’d like to get in on this,” explains Tucker. “They asked specifically for us even though they’d never heard of us.”
The London Beats live August 1964, left to right: Sam Coaffee, Frank Bennett and Mick Tucker
However, Frank Bennett and Sam Coaffee weren’t interested in going to Poland and dropped out.
“Where the hell is Poland I remember Frank saying,” exclaims Smith. “But Mick and I thought it would be at least interesting to be the first western pop band to tour behind the Iron Curtain.”
“My father wouldn’t let me go,” explains Bennett on his decision to leave The London Beats. “You couldn’t bring the money out, which was a problem. That was the reason. Also, I went back to Germany and joined The Statesmen, an American five-piece harmony band.”
In 1967, Bennett signed up with Fortes Mentum after responding to an advert in Melody Maker. Over the next three years, the band released three singles for Parlophone and enough material for an album (see future Strange Brew entry).
Tucker and Smith meanwhile decided to recruit an organist and bass player who would join them alongside a female vocalist, a specification in the Polish contract.
Advertising in Melody Maker, the pair recruited Hanwell, Middlesex-based Hammond organist John Carroll, who recommended his band mate from Ealing group, The Flexmen – bass player Peter Carney.
Later on, Johnny Jones also recruited a female vocalist – Birmingham-based club singer Linda Crabtree (Linda Fortune) as a solo artist with her own contract.
Peter Carney and Linda Fortune, live in Poland
The revised line up headed out to Poland in March 1965 and about a month after arriving recorded an ultra-rare LP for the Polskie Nagrania Muza label in a church hall in Wroclaw.
“The record company had trucked in a twin-track mobile studio from Warsaw because our itinerary was full and they didn’t want to wait,” says Smith.
“The equipment was pretty old and they didn’t seem to have any experience of recording rock/pop music, resulting in the sound quality and balance leaving a lot to be desired.”
Something of a collector’s item, the album regularly turns up on E-Bay and features a diverse range of covers, including Sam Cooke’s “Bring It On Home To Me”, Buddy Holly’s “Maybe Baby” and Burt Bacharach and Hal David’s “Walk On By”.
Mick Tucker has vivid memories of touring Communist Poland: “Shed loads of police turned up at our gigs and they would put down the slightest effervescence,” he says.
“The front two rows of each audience were always the mayor and the fire chief and after we’d come out for the second half all their seats were empty, so all of the kids at the back came down and sat at the front. It was quite strange.”
Jimmy Smith points out that the musicians were extremely well paid but in Polish currency, which was effectively worthless outside the communist bloc. Apart from eating at all of the best hotels and taking cabs everywhere, there wasn’t much for the musicians to spend their money on.
“One of my dad’s business associates had connections importing glass from Czechoslovakia and tried to arrange for us to buy into a UK-bound consignment,” explains the drummer.
“Unfortunately, it depended on us being able to set up a commercial account with the Polish merchant bank, which turned out, like many other things, to be forbidden for foreigners… So after being there for a while we figured what was good value that could be sold back home – Russian gold jewellery and East German camera lenses came out best.”
With the initial contract nearing its end, Pagart (the Polish agency) offered to extend the group’s stay. Before taking the offer up, the musicians briefly headed back to the UK on a cruise liner.
“We negotiated our own contract with the Polish authorities because we were fed up with the London City Agency, which had done nothing really to help us,” confesses Tucker.
“In the whole three months we were there [initially] we didn’t hear from them once. We were a bit pissed off with that, so we negotiated the next thing, which is why the name slightly changed to The Original London Beat. That was just for legal reasons.”
The quartet returned to Poland in late June but after about two months, including a big tour with Polish bands, John Carroll and Pete Carney became homesick and returned to the UK, both joining Tony Knight’s Chessmen.
Carney would subsequently become a long-standing member of Geno Washington’s Ram Jam Band while Carroll would later hook up with Herbie Goins & The Night-Timers among others and briefly reunite with Jimmy Smith.
John, Pete and Mick playing live in Poland in mid-1965
Leaving the band’s drummer in Poland, Mick Tucker returned to the UK around early October to sign up replacements. Within weeks, he recruited bass player Kevin McCarthy, who’d previously worked with Tolworth, Surrey outfits The Trends (later The 4 Degrees) and The Peasants, and Australian rhythm guitarist Tony Stanton.
“I put an ad in Melody Maker; The Peasants saw it and I was kicked out,” remembers McCarthy on his introduction to the group.
“Shortly afterwards, Mick Tucker contacted me, came over and told me about The London Beats. I played him a recording of the 4 Degrees, which must have been good enough for him to consider me for the job. We got together at his house in Horley to rehearse, where I met the new singer Sterry Moore.”
The female singer (no relation to actor Roger Moore as has been sometimes claimed) was brought in to take over from Linda Crabtree on both the recording and touring front.
However, as McCarthy points out, Tucker’s decision to bring in another guitarist came about only after he was unable to find a suitable keyboard player in time.
“He found [a keyboardist] in Melody Maker and we went to meet him. He had a brand new Vox Continental organ and he could really play it,” remembers McCarthy.
“This was Eddie Hardin, who later joined Spencer Davis and teamed up with drummer Pete York as Hardin and York. Alas, he did not want to go to Poland with The London Beats for six months.”
As the bass player continues, while Tony Stanton was an accomplished jazz guitarist, he had little or no experience with rock or pop music but was willing to go to Poland.
On 25 October 1965, the musicians boarded a B.E.A Comet and flew to Warsaw where they were introduced to Jimmy Smith.
“We began rehearsals and the agency organised photos and posters,” continues McCarthy. “They took our names straight off our passports and printed them on the posters…
“Mick was a tall guy, well-built with very long hair. I’m 5 ‘62’ and was still suffering from a butchered haircut I’d gotten for The Peasants so we must have looked very strange together. However, we were treated like VIPs.”
That winter, the reconfigured line up recorded 12-tracks on four-track at Polskie Nagrania Muza’s studio in Warsaw Old Town, which were released over the next six months over three EPs. In recording terms and quality they were far superior to the earlier recordings.
The first EP, entitled The Original London Beat, and featuring Mick Tucker on all lead vocals, came out in late 1965 and comprised the tracks, “Walking The Dog”, “Wanna Walk In The Sunshine”, “Hang on Sloopy” and Scarlet Ribbons”.
This was followed in early 1966 by I’ll Go Crazy, which featured Mick Tucker on lead vocals on two tracks – “I’ll Go Crazy” and “If You Gotta Go, Go Now” and Polish singer Mira Kubansinka on the remaining tracks, “Walking In The Sand” and “You’re No Good”.
The final EP, Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood, also released in 1966, featured Sterry Moore on lead vocals on all four tracks – “Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood”, “I Had a Talk With My Man”, “The Biggest Players” and “Won’t Be Long”.
The new line up with Sterry Moore, late 1965
Amid all this activity, Jimmy Smith had met the love of his life: “I’d met this gorgeous Polish girl called Maria from Gdansk and was head over heels in love with her,” he recalls.
“I was more interested in finding a way to help her get a passport and UK visa so I could bring her back to England than anything else at the time.”
Joined by Mira Kubasinska (who’d joined the band on some recent recordings) for an extensive nation-wide tour, the musicians traversed the country in a bus, right in the dead of winter.
“Snow was often piled high on the side of the road,” remembers McCarthy. “In the country, there were horse-drawn carts everywhere and people working very hard to survive. Cities were stark, cold and old-fashioned with foreboding-looking statues and shrapnel damage still visible on the walls of buildings leftover from the war.”
The London Beats in late 1965 with Sterry and Mira
McCarthy remembers that while The London Beats were touring in Poland, other UK groups started arriving. “We saw The Hollies and Lulu & The Luvvers at the Congress Hall in Warsaw,” he says.
With the extended contract coming to an end in late January 1966, and the opportunities to work in Poland exhausted, the musicians started to lose interest.
On 15 March 1966, most of the band flew back to London, stopping in East Berlin to change planes. Back home, and no longer celebrities the musicians had to start from scratch.
“I was fed up with living out of a suitcase by then and we had no feeling of going forward,” admits Tucker.
“We’d been for want of a better word, big stars in Poland and wherever else we’d play from there on, we’d have to work from the bottom up again. After five or six years at it, I thought I’d quit and have some happy memories.”
Back in the UK, the lead guitarist reunited with former member Tony Terry and worked the folk club circuit a la Simon & Garfunkel from 1967-1968.
Tony Terry and Mick Tucker, 1967
The following year, the pair set up a travel business driving mini buses all over Europe and North Africa. Soon after, Tucker was offered the opportunity to return to Poland but declined.
“While I was out in Morocco, my father intercepted a telegram from the Polish authorities asking me if I was interested in going back as a solo guest artist to one of the Polish groups we’d met,” says the guitarist.
“I hummed and hawed and I thought, ‘No, I don’t want any more Polish currency’ and I’d just started this other business.”
Jimmy Smith, meanwhile, stayed on in Poland for nearly six weeks until he was sure he could get his girlfriend a passport and bring her back to the UK.
Reunited with singer Sterry Moore and bass player Kevin McCarthy, the trio added guitarist Ken Ali from Hackney and rehearsed in a crypt at All Saints Church in Paddington before hitting the road. Initially billed as The Latest Results and then as The Four of Us, the quartet played clubs and American air bases all over England.
By December 1966, however, only Sterry Moore and Kevin McCarthy remained. Adding a succession of drummers and guitarist John Du Caan (who later played with The Attack and Atomic Rooster), the new formation gigged throughout the rest of 1967.
While this was going on, Sterry Moore (who’d started calling herself Mary McCarthy) was linked up with singer Mickey Clarke by Chris Hutchins, ex-NME editor.
The Four of Us
Billed as Mickey and Mary, the duo’s debut single, “People Like You”, was issued in January 1967 on CBS. A few months later, and now working as a solo artist, Mary McCarthy recorded a version of The Carrols’ “The Folk I Love” backed by a cover of The Hollies’ “You Know He Did”.
Kevin McCarthy remembers cutting a demonstration disc of The Hollies track with the singer. “I sang the Graham Nash part. We recorded a demo of this which I loaned to John Du Cann. When John sadly passed away, the demo was sold as part of his estate and then sold on E-Bay for around £400.”
Mary McCarthy’s “The Folk I Love” single was duly released in July 1967 and was followed by a second outing three months later – “Happy Days and Lonely Nights”.
When the group broke up after a disastrous trip to Hamburg in late 1967, Mary McCarthy next joined Ronnie Smith’s big band before later working with Ken Mackintosh.
Kevin McCarthy meanwhile hooked up with Surrey-based R&B outfit, Ivan St Clair & System Soul Band, which featured guitarist Mike Piggott and became a regular feature at Rik Gunnell’s Soho club, the Flamingo.
“Then sometime in 1968 I answered an ad in Melody Maker and met John Heyworth and Angus Cullen; we would eventually become Cressida and record two albums for Vertigo with producer/manager Ossie Byrne,” remembers McCarthy.
When Cressida split in November 1970, McCarthy joined Tranquility, initially as a bass player and returning a year later as a guitarist. McCarthy appeared on two albums and some unreleased tracks before moving to Los Angeles in 1976.
In recent years, he has participated in several Cressida reunions and continues to play guitar and write songs.
“Interestingly, one of my songs recorded by another artist was ‘One Way Ticket’, which appeared on The Hollies’ Then, Now, Always, album released in 2010,” says McCarthy.
A few months after leaving Kevin McCarthy and Sterry Moore, drummer Jimmy Smith received a call from former London Beats member John Carroll, who was looking to put together a new version of Johnny Kidd’s band, The Pirates with guitarist Mick Stewart and bass player Nick Simper, who later formed Deep Purple.
“The audition went ok [but] I didn’t really feel comfortable with the idea,” admits Smith. “Johnny Kidd had only been dead a few months and it seemed more like exploitation than a tribute. I honestly didn’t think it would succeed.”
Not long after, Smith received a phone call from Mick Stewart’s old friend, bass player Ron Thomas, who’d been passed the drummer’s number. There was an offer on the table – to replace Phil Wainman in singer Gary Hamilton’s band, The Hamilton Movement.
“I stayed with Gary until he gave up the band [around April 1968] and went into movie acting,” says Smith. “Co-incidentally, Tony Sinclair was replaced on lead guitar by Mick Stewart, so I’d been right about The Pirates.”
In mid-1968, Smith linked up again with John Carroll (who was working with The Flower Pot Men) and spent a short time playing a club in Essen in West Germany backing a West Indian singer alongside a guitarist called Fred and bass player Phil Childs, who would reunite with Smith in 1970 and a group called Aquila.
Back in the UK, Smith next signed up with The Nashville Teens but it was not a happy experience.
“We were constantly on the road and the money was okay but musically it was very frustrating,” he admits.
“Apart from Art Sharp and Ray Phillips (vocalists) none of the original line up remained. They had dumped the piano, leaving the three-piece band, consisting of myself, Len Tuckey on lead guitar and Roger Dean on bass.”
Thankfully, in March 1969, the drummer was thrown a life-line when his former band mate from The Hamilton Movement, Ron Thomas recruited him for the backing band for US soul act, The Fantastics, alongside guitarist Pip Williams and future Aquila band mate, Hammond organist Martin Woodward, who came in from Tapestry.
“We all seemed to hit it off personally and musically and over the next few months developed into a very tight and accomplished little band,” he says.
“To the best of my memory, we toured the UK for around six months and then did a lot of gigs in American bases in Germany and at the big NATO base in Naples. Then, we did a month in Majorca and back to the UK.”
When Pip Williams landed a job with Phil Wainman to work with The Sweet (incidentally with former Hamilton Movement bandmate Mick Stewart on lead guitar), the group slowly started to fall apart.
In 1970, Smith and Woodward linked up with Phil Childs and two new members – Ralph Denier and George Lee to form Aquila. The quartet cut a lone album before going their separate ways.
RCA publicity shot for the Aquila album in late 1970, From Left: Phil Childs – Bass / Piano: Ralph Denier – Vocals / Guitar: George Lee – Saxes / Flute: Martin Woodward – Hammond Organ: Jim Smith – Drums / Percussion
Looking back on his time with The London Beats, Smith feels proud to have been a member of the first western rock group to tour behind the Iron Curtain. He acknowledges the unique experience as being one of the most significant periods in his life and the impact the band left on Polish audiences.
“The young Poles were well aware of the music and fashion revolution that was happening in the west but were starved of its content, so our concerts felt like they were a window into the life that they yearned for and just for a short time, set them free,” he says.
“We were greeted with as much enthusiasm as the authorities would allow. There were places like the Gdansk Shipyard, a huge venue with a capacity in the thousands that we played three times. Despite the usual large police presence, the crowd didn’t seem to care, by the end of the show it was almost a riot.
“Most of the youngsters we played to back then are probably now grandparents but I know we are still remembered with affection, their first glimpse of the freedom that was eventually to come.”
Many thanks to Mick Tucker, Jimmy Smith, Peter Carney, John Carroll, Kevin McCarthy, Frank Bennett and Martin Woodward for helping to piece the band’s story together. Thank you Mick Tucker, Frank Bennett, Kevin McCarthy and Jim Smith for the photos.
To contact the author with further information, please email Warchive@aol.com
Copyright © Nick Warburton, 2014. All Rights Reserved. No part of this article may be reproduced or transmitted in any from or by any means, without prior permission from the author.