Charting the days of South Shields group

Beckett, featuring Terry Slesser, in the middle.
Beckett, featuring Terry Slesser, in the middle.

Today local film maker and blogger Gary Wilkinson continues his look back at South Shields rock band Beckett – through the eyes of founding members Les Tones and Arthur Ramm.

Having been inspired by The Beatles, the lads went on to play with some of the top music acts of the time, including Rod Stewart and Slade, though the ‘big time’ eluded them.

On the road in the band's van.

On the road in the band's van.

On his Alikivi blog, entitled Music Matters, Gary charts the lads early days and on to their rise up the rock ladder.

Les explained how he got his first guitar, saying: “I was serving my time as a sheet metal worker in Hebburn Palmer’s shipyard when I bought a Hofner Galaxy on tick, a loan you know,” while Arthur said: “There was a shop called Savilles Brothers in South Shields and there it was in the shop window with a card stuck next to it with £7 10 shillings written on it. Eventually after a few weeks of pestering my mother, she relented and gave me the money, saying, ‘But you’ll have to pay it back’.”

Talking to the two musicians at The Word, Gary asked them where they first rehearsed.

Les told him: “Around 1964, The Jump (of which he was a member) used to have house rehearsals at Tommy Stead’s (the band leader) and played on a Sunday at Aloysius Church Hall, in Hebburn.

“The church ran it and they had bands on every Sunday and served soft drinks. The atmosphere was brilliant we used to look forward to it.”

Arthur explained how he: “Got a school band together and I was playing sort of bass notes on the heavy strings of my six-string guitar. My first gig was at a wedding in Careme House, in South Shields. It was for the guitarist’s cousin and we did about half an hour of bluesy songs.”

Following a stint with The Shadey Kisses, Arthur met up with Les (to form Beckett).

Les recalls the time, saying: “I was in Society’s Child and we used to get a lot of work at the Hedworth Hall, which was a place all the bands would go to after a gig because it was open till 2am and we’d get in free of charge. There I met up with Arthur who had just left the John Miles band. Rehearsals were in a pre-fab building near St Francis Church, in South Shields.”

They chose the name Beckett after the film starring Richard Burton and Peter O’Toole, and started gigging.

“We started off around the pubs and clubs, usually playing two 45-minute sets. The Bailey Organisation had the Latino club in South Shields and they would get us to guest before the main artist came on like Tom Jones and Englebert Humperdink,” said Arthur.

“We’d be sort of living two lives,” continued Les, “’cause we’d be in a bubble on stage, going down well and everything was great. Then I’d get in at four in the morning and my mother would be dragging me out of bed at six.”

With the band playing near and far, tragedy struck when singer Rob Turner died in a car accident. Despite the terrible loss of their frontman, Beckett recruited Terry Slesser, and battled on, as Les recalls.

“Let me tell you it wasn’t an easy decision to make. But we had gigs lined up.”

And so they continued gigging and eventually recorded an album – “We got a £10,000 advance from Warner Brothers. Think our Mercedes van was around £4,000.”

Gary wondered what drove them on?

“The time Beckett was playing was magic,” Les told him. “When we’d play the workingmen’s clubs they were queuing out the door at 6pm to get a seat to see us.

“That’s the way it was. We’d play Middlesbrough and go to a gig in Sunderland.

“We’d go in a separate car from the road crew who were in a van with all the gear.

“When we went in the club you would see lots of faces who were at the first gig, they’d travelled up to see us.

“We really appreciated that.”

But despite all the hard work, Beckett ultimately failed to make it to the very top.

And now, what are Les and Arthur doing with themselves?

“Well I can’t live without music,” confesses Arthur. “If my hands don’t work I don’t know what will happen. I listen to music all the time and I am in a band now with Les.”

Les told Gary: “When I’ve got a guitar I lose loads of time ’cause I can’t put it down. I’ve also been teaching music and I got into repairing and building guitars.”

You can read more of Gary’s blogs on garyalikivi.com