Technique - Starting up
by Fred Wrigley
Hey, let's have a show right here...
When we cobbled the band together for a Christmas Concert in the Upper Hall at HTHS, we had only the most rudimentary of skills and virtually no equipment. I think we must have utilised the school p.a. system but the guitars were amplified though the most inept and inadequate gear you could imagine. We had no money, which is always a snag. The only equipment that we had ever heard produce noises from loudspeakers were tape recorders! One was duly commissioned for this, our very first gig. I think Derek had got a small valve amp which produced around 8 watts peak, at undisclosed distortion levels, so that was a real ‘must’. I had made some speakers for the home, using ˝” thick plywood and a mix-n-match assortment of speakers. Mel had got a couple of drums. Pete was good on harmonica and vocals and could front the band. Stu quickly bought a Rossetti bass guitar and I had eyes on the Upper Hall school piano. Easy!
For some time, Derek and I met at my house and jammed together some simple songs of the day. It was usually Jim Reeves or something easy to play, since we were both new to duet work. Derek’s father was a skilled pattern-maker and worked with Derek to make his left-handed guitar! They made the whole thing, solid body, neck, fret board, the lot! They fitted commercial pick-ups and produced what looked like a factory-made guitar, similar to the style of a Fender. A huge achievement! Derek was understandably proud of his guitar and worked hard to learn how to play it. He taught himself. So our get-togethers helped to bond us with this common fascination with music.
All set, then, for the school concert. Stu just had to learn bass guitar. Not a problem! The numbers he did not master he could mime to. Sorted! We practised a bit in Pete’s house and then launched ourselves on an unsuspecting school. Bafflingly it all seemed to go rather well. It must have sounded diabolical. But, hey, we were all having fun.
In the audience were Ron Healey and sixth-former, Bruce Fletcher. Both of them were interested in hifi and sound reproduction. I recall their saying at the time that they had never heard intermodulation distortion like it! Well, we did seriously overrun our miniscule amplifiers and the speakers weren’t up to much anyway. We were just grateful that a sympathetic partisan audience were so kind to us.
After this initial concert we were consumed with a desire to form a proper band. We desperately needed better equipment (as well as more skills). We had no income and hence little chance of affording the real stage gear. At this point, in his characteristically modest self-effacing way, Ron Healey came to our rescue. Ron had been a hifi enthusiast since his teens and had made his own hifi amplifiers, based on the finest hifi equipment in the world, namely Leak. Ron has a degree in Physics and is a very accomplished electronics wizard. He offered to make us amplifiers that would suit our needs. He pretended to be charging us for the work, but I know he did it all for little more than the cost of materials.
Ron was very fussy about quality and sourced his components carefully; usually ex-War Dept. These components were very high spec, close tolerance, highly stable and super reliable. He made the chassis himself from aluminium sheet, marked out and drilled the locations of the valves and transformers and then constructed and meticulously soldered the circuitry. He produced three of the four amps that we continued to use throughout our 15 year run.
Whilst he was building the amps I regularly visited his house in the evenings, so that we could fine-tune the gain and power outputs to our speakers. Ron must have spent hundreds of hours building these amplifiers and sourcing the components. We learned a lot about stage amps in the process and Ron reluctantly had to push the gain and power outputs of his beautiful hifi amps ever higher to satisfy our needs, albeit at the expense of a little fidelity. Nonetheless his amps sounded better than most commercial stuff of the time, and certainly removed the distortions that had dogged our first performance.
Our commitment to the band was now complete. Looking back it is hard to believe how much effort we all had to put into getting started. Initially we kept the gear in Pete’s garage on Abbeyhills Road. Hope Congregational Church allowed us to use their hall for practice rehearsals. We did not have a van, so every Saturday morning we physically carried all the gear the 380 yards from Pete’s house to the church. This took several trips. Then we practised for a few hours and then humped all the gear back again!
Our very first gigs were at local Saturday night bops at places like St Marks Church. That was a mere 350 yards from Pete’s house so we carried all the gear there, too! When we managed to get a job further away, like Hill Stores on Huddersfield Road, Pete’s brother-in-law, John Swan (Swans Florists), would lend us his van. Now we looked the business! Arriving at a gig in a van rather than carrying it all along the pavements and then going back for another lot, gave us a degree of street-cred that was distinctly absent ‘on foot’.
John told us that, whilst delivering flowers during the following week, girls would be waving at him. We smiled.
As our part-time income from Technique improved, we invested in more equipment (and a van) but without the support and help which Ron Healey gave us from the start, we would not have been able to even get off the ground.