Dominic Picksley continues to reveal the full story behind cult British Sixties group The Summer Set.
Aside from a weekly residency at The Marquee, The Summer Set were also part of the conveyor belt of groups that trudged around the country, earning their corn whilst perfecting their style of music, as Rocky remembered: “Life in the band was pretty routine. Driving long distances in drafty transit vans, catching whatever little sleep one could considering our gear was pressing against us in the rear, if you were unlucky enough not to have nobbled one of the two seats by the driver in the front. In my early days with the band, we played many gigs throughout the UK.”
One of their best-remembered gigs was in Falmouth, Cornwall, where The Summer Set headlined in front of a fanatical crowd. Rocky: “Christ it was like The Beatles had turned up. They went absolutely mad for us. Surfing in the UK back in the 60s was hardly heard of, but down in Cornwall it was popular and the crowd there loved us. We didn’t get paid much for doing the show, but it was a simply brilliant night.”
The Summer Set then got a chance to go to Germany and in particular Hamburg, where they became one of two resident house bands at The Top Ten Club following a successful audition arranged by the Marquee Artists agency. The club, situated off the Hamburg Reeperbahn, was described as a ‘poor man’s Star Club’, the venue made famous by The Beatles. Apart from appearing many times in their own right, they also did a lot of work with Glaswegian singer Isabel Bond and backed her on her hit Maggie’s Farm.
“We all loved it out there,” admitted Vic. “When we got back home, we all said we wanted to go back. So two weeks later, we went back out and stayed for several months.”
Rocky added: “Our finest hours were in front of German audiences, who absolutely loved and adored us and our music. We headlined at The Top Ten Club on many occasions, becoming one of the most popular bands ever to have played there. We also played in Kiel, Hannover, Cologne and Wurzburg. We could no wrong in Germany.
“I am convinced that had Les not been such a nasty prick we could have gone on to make a shedload of money through appearances, recordings and TV work.”
The Top Ten Club had its own studio and also doubled up as a record company and The Summer Set undertook a burst of recording activity that included a couple of singles and three albums… but under a different name, as Vic explains: “It was exactly the same band, but we were not allowed to record as The Summer Set over there as we were under contract in the UK. We recorded as The Top Ten Allstars.”
One of their most well-known recordings at the time was Pim Pim Pim which, according to Dave, “was a load of crap” and “reached the top of the charts in Germany” in early 1966. While the A-side could have been one of those written-on-the-back-of-a-fag-packet type of songs, with an organ-driven, sing-a-long rhythm, but punctuated by a terrific guitar solo by Martin – a solo that was wasted on this throwaway number – its flip-side Hey Daddy was a far superior track.
Hey Daddy, a song co-written by Les and Vic, was a menacing, moody slab of freakbeat, driven along by a Peter Gunn-style backbeat, with Dave’s lead vocal adding an air of mod cool. With Vic’s bubbling sax infusing another layer of tension and lush harmonies punctuating the end of each verse, the song should be filed among the ‘lost mod classic’ section.
“As well as those two numbers, we also recorded Papa Oom Mow Mow at an Abbey Road session,” remembers Vic. “I sang the bass part on that. As far as I know it was never released, although a Hamburg recording was released in Germany. I only wish I could get hold of the last recordings we did at The Top Ten Club as they were the best we did and included a version of God Only Knows, recorded with lots of additional harmonies.”
The group recorded three albums while out in Germany, but only two of which were released at the time – Surfin’ 66 and Sweet Beat & Fun, Fun, Fun. They contained a mixture of Beach Boys and Jan & Dean covers, with the odd Beatles and Hollies track thrown in for good measure. Stand out tracks were an impressive rendition of In My Room and a great cover of Papa Oom Mow Mow, while Hawaii and Help Me Rhonda also showcased the band’s excellent harmonies.
The songs were a mixture of live and studio-based recordings as Rocky explained: “Some of the tracks were recorded ‘live’ in Hamburg and then mixed and mastered in the studios afterwards.
“All non-live recordings were made in the club studios in the very early hours after our spot in the club, starting around 4am. No wonder we took ‘uppers’ to keep us awake!”
Rocky also revealed how the band used to keep themselves ‘entertained’ in between performances and recording sessions.
“Most of us had prostitute girlfriends – this was common practice for visiting bands. On the opening night for a new band, the table next to the stage was kept free for such ladies, whose sole aim was to pick a ‘fella’ for the month. Once selected, she would coddle the guy for the period: buying him clothes, meals, drinks and other luxuries, meaning that the guy managed to save all of his salary for the month… a good gig indeed. These girls were not street workers, rather they were very clean, high-class hookers who piled their trade in the best hotel rooms and with the utmost eye for their health and safety.”
The group also recorded a third album, the name and whereabouts remains a mystery to Vic. He said: “I don’t know the name of it and I don’t know if it was ever released as we never heard it, but it was the best of the lot. We did it in the August we were there just before we broke up.”
Just after Pim Pim Pim hit the streets, the boys returned to Blighty in order to acquire a new record contract and eventually signed up with Columbia, for whom they produced just the one single, but what a disc it turned out to be.
Naturally, they chose a Beach Boys song to be the first single with their new label, with their version of Farmer’s Daughter, now considered to be a cult classic. The Summer Set, with Les on lead vocal duties, slowed their version right down, layering their recording with lush harmonies and an orchestral backing. The single deserved hit status, but sadly the charts were to evade them once more when it was released in September, although it did scrape into Radio London’s Fab Forty charts on its re-release two months later.
The B-side was a rare self-penned number, What Are You Gonna Do, a song written by Les and Vic, but not according to the credits, with the name Mason appearing alongside that of Humphries. Mason was in fact Spencer Lloyd Mason, the producer of the single and a former manager of The Mojos.
“That was a fiddle,” insisted Vic. “It was actually written by Les and myself. Mason put his name on the credits instead of mine, not that it ever mattered as we had actually broken up by then and it was never going to make it anyway. If it had’ve done then I might have done something about it.”
The majestic What Are You Gonna Do could have been a single in its own right, from Humphries’ organ-pumping intro, to Green’s soulful lead vocal, along with terrific group harmonies and yet another stinging guitar break from Jenner. This was probably the best ever track recorded by The Summer Set and displayed great promise and a mod sense of purpose. The song perfectly highlighted the tremendous talent within the group, but sadly their days were numbered and they were not to hit the big time, well not as The Summer Set anyway.
Instead of putting the group on the road to fame and fortune, the Farmer’s Daughter sessions actually highlighted a huge rift in the group, a rift that would trigger the break-up of the original incarnation of The Summer Set.
“I wasn’t in the mood for jollity at the session [Dave’s dad had just died] and neither it seemed was Les as he was pissed by the time I turned up,” remembered Dave. “We had a big orchestra with us – no expense spared – but during the tuning-up ceremony, the lead cellist called across to Les ‘could you give me a G please’. Les hissed back ‘why can’t you find it on that?’ and that set the tone for the afternoon.
“This was the final straw. He’d been a great leader for us and we’d come a long way, almost to Division One, but he was such an arsehole both on and off stage. We agreed he had to go.”
Rocky added: “The cracks were beginning to appear on our second trip to Hamburg. Les was getting more aggressive and had it in for Vic – he used to have this nervous tick which would get worse when stressed and Les used to play on it. Les was such a nasty piece of work and had a huge chip on his shoulder.
“Tensions in the dressing room were running high and the playing schedule didn’t help. We were contracted to play from 6pm until 4am the next morning – one hour on and on hour off – it was exhausting work. To overcome our fatigue, we took A1 tablets – amphetamines – provided by the ‘Mama’ looking after the toilets.
“We all started to drift away from Les and his behaviour was getting worse. On one occasion he stole an expensive camera from the back of a taxi. The police got involved, he was arrested and charged with theft. We missed getting deported by a whisker, but the taxi driver did not press charges having received his camera back and Les was released.”
The group had been booked by Marquee owner Harold Pendleton to play at the Sixth National Jazz and Blues Festival at Windsor racecourse – easily their biggest gig to date – but Dave, Martin, Vic and Rocky conjured up a way to keep the news from Les.
Appearing in front of thousands on World Cup Final day in July 1966, alongside major acts such as The Who, The Yardbirds, The Move, The Action and Cream, should have been the pinnacle of their career – instead it turned into an unmitigated disaster.
“We made a disastrous appearance – the crowd only wanted to see The Who and we got pelted with coins,” said Rocky. “It was one of the worst nights of my life. There were all these great bands due to appear and there’s us singing Fun, Fun, Fun and California Girls in the pouring rain to a huge crowd of people who were wet through and pissed off. We should never have been on the bill – we were totally out of place there.”
The band did not help their cause by turning up late for the show – after getting too engrossed in watching England beat Germany 4-2 in the studio of The Marquee. Missing their bus to Windsor, they had to make their own way to the the venue in the rain and finally appeared on stage a bedraggled mess, with the soaked, 12,000 crowd in no mood to watch The Summer Set blasting out Beach Boys numbers and pelted the crowd with basically anything they could get their hands on.
“A beer can clunked off Martin’s head, but he kept singing,” said Dave. “Our new guitarist was on his hands and knees, pleading with the crowd to stop. Coins rained down on us and were coming from all directions.”
The band failed to complete their set, hurriedly escaping the carnage mid-song, making way for The Move and as Dave summed up: “While we were playing, I looked down at the side of the stage and there were Keith Moon and John Entwistle watching us and wincing. It was the biggest rock and blues event of the year and we’d bombed.”
With their tails pinned firmly between their legs, the group headed back to Germany the next day back to The Top Ten Club, where they broke the news that Les had been ousted, news which did not go down well with the club’s owner, Peter Eckhorn. But a week later, it was all over for the group.
After hearing about the Windsor debacle, Les had approached Columbia and told them the group had folded and that he was the only remaining member. He was then asked to promote the yet unreleased Farmer’s Daughter with a new line-up and headed to The Top Ten Club, with record contact in hand, to break the news to his former bandmates.
Rocky: “We split from Les back in the UK and we returned to Hamburg only for him to follow us there, informing us that the name of the band legally belonged to him and that he was forming a new group to promote Farmer’s Daughter. I foolishly agreed to join his new band and spent another couple of years touring the UK and mainland Europe with them.”
But why did Rocky agree to join Les’ new line-up after encountering previous problems with him? “Well, it was a case of survival. I was getting fed up with the new line up – minus Les – and despite his disgusting personality and character, his musical direction was obviously missed and I only stuck it out really because of Dave. When we came to the end of the last Top Ten Club gig, I could not see any future for us as a unit and Les, together with Bob Anthony (Archer), were very convincing about the future of the new band. I did regret leaving but ultimately, they all moved on to better things.”
Les and Rocky were joined by Micky Jarvis (guitar, vocals), Alan Spriggs (vocals) and Dave Brien (bass, vocals) in the new incarnation of The Summer Set. Although this wasn’t the line-up that recorded Farmer’s Daughter they nevertheless promoted the song.
“When Les formed The Summer Set mark II, I was invited to Marquee Artist offices to meet the new line-up,” explained Rocky. “Our manager was a guy called Bob Anthony, a former professional wrestler (known as the Wrestling Beatle) and owner of the Cromwellian Club in Knightsbridge. The new single Farmer’s Daughter was earmarked to go huge and we were all pretty excited about it. It didn’t, but later we did a cover of The Flowerpot Men’s Let’s Go To San Francisco – again, our version flopped.”
They then brought out the single Overnight Changes b/w It’s A Dream in the summer of 1967, which promptly dived. Both sides were written by Les, although Rocky admits his bandmate was inspired by Pink Floyd for the B-side, adding: “It was another attempt by Les to copy other groups’ material as it was almost identical to an early Floyd song, the name I can’t recall.”
Their final single was an American-only release, with the band releasing Let’s Go To San Francisco, although it was put into the shade by it’s B-side (a recurring theme with The Summer Set) ‘cos It’s Over, a track co-written by Les and Dave Brien, which was a ‘surging collision of beat and psychedelia’ and again hinted at a potential which was never realised.
The new group were saddled with the same problems as The Summer Set mark I, as Rocky continued: “Life was never the same because Les’ attitude had not changed, if anything it had got worse. He had fist fights with our singer, Al, and on one occasion he threatened him with a knife and generally became a real pain in the arse. Like with Vic in the original band, Les had it in for Al this time, but he could handle himself and the pair of them came to blows a few times. Les finally deserted us in a little town called Kitzingen in southern Germany.
“One night, halfway through our current contract, he disappeared with his equipment, most of the PA system and his hooker girlfriend and headed back to Hamburg leaving us stranded, but committed to finishing the contract, which we did to the best of our ability. That marked the end of the band as we returned to the UK, dejected, downtrodden and thoroughly pissed off with the whole music business.”
Vic expands on the story, adding: “When Rocky went with Les, somewhere near Berlin, Les diddled them out of all their money. Rocky was on his way back home and leaving a station in Brussels, looked out of the window and saw his drum kit on the platform waiting to be loaded on the train. When he got back it was going to cost him so much to get it returned, he didn’t have the money and so quit the business there and then.”
Les would then soon join German psychedelic supergroup Wonderland, who enjoyed some chart action in Germany, before forming the Les Humphries Singers, to be joined by old Summer Set II bandmate Dave Brien in 1970 for three years, “much to the anger” of Rocky and the rest of Summer Set II.
The ‘multi-cultural choir’ consisted of a large number of singers of diverse, ethnic origins, including at one time future Boney M lead singer Liz Mitchell and John Lawton, who would become the frontman of Uriah Heep.
The Singers performed a mix of pop music and gospel covers and enjoyed several chart hits in Germany, Austria, Switzerland and the Netherlands, with To My Father’s House, Mama Loo, Mexico and Kansas City all hitting the top spot, while they had another four top-20 hits.
Rocky remembers his last meeting with Les at a Singers show in Germany in the early 70s. “I popped along with my young wife to see them and managed to get a message to Les that I was in the audience. He invited us back to his hotel, where the rest of the group were, along with the rest of his entourage. The Champagne was flowing and they were all snorting coke and seemed a world away from what I was doing at the time and I remember telling my wife a that time ‘I used to have this sort of life’. He was dripping in money and allegedly got paid in diamonds to avoid paying tax.”
In 1976, the Les Humphries Singers represented Germany at the Eurovision Song Contest in The Hague with the Ralph Siegel song Sing Sang Song, but they could only finish in 15th out of 18. Les was not on stage singing, but conducted the orchestra. Interestingly, they actually finished second in the German national final, but were the representatives due to Tony Marshall being disqualified.
The Singers split up in the late 70s, but not before they had sold over 40 million records to become one of Germany’s most successful groups ever. In later years, multi-millionaire Les became a recluse before dying of a myocardial infarction at a hospital in Basingstoke on Boxing Day, 2007.
Of the three remaining Summer Set I members, Martin was the first to get fixed up after being offered a job in a big band in Belfast, with band leader Jeff Reynolds. As for Vic and Dave, Vic takes up the story: “Dave and I didn’t know what we wanted to do. I answered an advert in Melody Maker for a tenor sax player wanted inGermany. I replied, got a phone call a few weeks later saying ‘could you meet us atVictoria, we’re meeting the midnight boat’.”
Meanwhile, Dave followed Martin to Belfast and Vic headed back toEuropeto play in the Johnny Hopkins Band.
Vic: “We played at a load of bases in southernGermany. I then came back toBritainin March 1967 and I got a telegram from Martin saying that the Jeff Reynolds Band wanted a baritone player in Belfast. I was actually booked up until the winter with Johnny Hopkins and I was in a real quandary. But then shortly afterwards, Johnny told me had had to head home as his mother was ill and so I decided to fly to Northern Ireland to join up with Martin and Dave in the 14-piece band at the Belfast Plaza.”
In July 1967, the Jeff Reynolds Band relocated to the Glasgow Locarno inSauchiehall Street. “It was a fantastic band,” said Vic, “the best music I have ever played in my life. We played dance music and non-stop pop for the weekend and we were doing loads of Beach Boys medleys.”
Dave remembered the shows at theLocarno: “The stage revolved quite quickly by a wheel at the back that was turned by hand by the least inebriated of the band. If a big fight broke out in the hall, a fast retreat was made and the flying glass smashed on to the empty rostrum. There used to be over a thousand there on a Saturday night and it would sometimes be a daunting sight.”
The Jeff Reynolds Band often appeared on the TV show Come Dancing and had in their ranks none other than future Fairport Convention drummer Dave Mattacks, who said of his time playing in the band in Glasgow: “I tell you, playing seven nights a week in Sauchiehall Street – if that’s not paying your dues then I don’t know what is. We would start at 8pm and finish at midnight or 1am on Fridays and Saturdays. Playing quick-steps and foxtrots, and everything else from Monday to Thursday, then Friday and Saturday nights I’d be slamming back beats with the Big Band with a really loud guitar, bass drums, keyboards and a brass section, playing pop tunes.”
After a couple of years with the Jeff Reynolds Band, Martin was offered a job inLondonwith the Guy Darrell Syndicate and Dave followed him once more.
“We were in the BBC studios every week recording for nearly all the Radio 1 disc jockeys,” said Dave. “Ten songs had to each have a run through – record the backing, put the vocals on and mix down in just three hours. The next group would be waiting outside so it was impossible to run overtime. Everyone from The Tremeloes, Marmalade, The Fortunes, The Dave Clark Five and Manfred Mann lined up to get much sought-after airplay time.”
The Guy Darrell Syndicate became Deep Feeling and they had a minor hit in 1970 with Do You Wanna Dance, an old Bobby Freeman number that had also been covered by The Beach Boys in 1965, as well as The Summer Set, while Skyline Pigeon also made the top 50. They released an album, Guillotine in 1971, before splitting up later that year.
Martin and Dave then formed the short-lived group Shelby, with drummer Paul Bennett and had a number six hit record in Belgium.
Meanwhile, back in Scotland, Vic stayed for another couple of seasons with the Jeff Reynolds Band before heading back to Brighton. He said: “I was about to get married and my wife-to-be did not want to go toLondon. I could have gone with Martin and Dave, but I decided there was no point and opted to go part-time. I drifted out to semi-pro, did a couple of summer seasons, along with a day job. Then I took over as band leader at the Norfolk Hotel, in Brighton, for 18 years before retiring from the business. I don’t play much these days, I’m a toastmaster more than anything else, and a season-ticket holder at Brighton & Hove FC.”
Rocky quit the full-time music business and headed back toNorfolkwhere he gigged with a local band for a time before joining the Royal Air Force.
Rocky: “In 1969 I retired from the music scene, professionally that is, and returned to my roots inKing’s Lynn. Here I met and married my first wife (long since divorced) with whom I have two lovely daughters and four great grandkids. I gigged around various Norfolk venues with a local band which was financed by a wealthy farmer from Walpole Keys, but I became completely disillusioned with the whole thing.
“I had many offers from Jack Barrie (Boz People’s manager and then manager of the Marquee, taking over from John Gee), but turned the offers down electing instead to join the Air Force.”
After 15 years with the RAF, Rocky then headed to Saudi Arabia where he drew maps for a living and formed a short-lived group called Exit Only, with a group of American ex-pats. He then went on to the United States, living in Philadelphia and Arizona, where he again formed a band before heading back to the UK.
He then emigrated to the Greek island of Lefkada after suffering a heart-attack three years ago and there he lives in peaceful retirement – and he has recently dusted off his drumsticks to play in a local ex-pat band.
After the short-lived Shelby, Martin and Dave then released Jump Into The Fire in October 1973, before Martin developed a reputation as a top session musician. He became a member of Barbara Dickson’s backing group in 1976 and later that decade became a mainstay of Cliff Richard’s band for the next 12 years, playing on many top-selling albums. Martin was a seriously in-demand session man, performing with the likes of Elton John, The Everly Brothers, Paul McCartney, Eric Clapton and Smokey Robinson among others.
In the late 1980s, Martin emigrated to Australia, where he lived in Perth and played in a band called No City Limits, with Alby Pool. Sadly, though, on May 7, 2003, Martin passed away following a two-year battle with cancer.
As for Dave, he became a jobbing musician, performing with a variety of acts including Skip Jackson, Dick Rivers Band, Mankind and Mike Morton. He also took part in many studio sessions with Billy Fury, The Righteous Brothers, The Ronettes and Georgie Fame, before becoming an author and penning three books: The Wonder Years, a first-hand account of his time as a musician from the late 50s through to the 80s; Blue Remembered Pills, the follow-up to The Wonder Years, that charts the later years of his life; and Latchkey Kid, a book that looks back at Dave’s early years.
Sadly, Dave also recently succumbed to cancer after a lengthy battle with the illness, dying on December 13, 2011, in Somerset, survived by a son Chris, who is a guitarist in heavy metal band Furyon.
My thanks go to Rocky Browne and Vic Gillam who gave up their time freely to help in the research for the story of The Summer Set.