How South Shields band Beckett almost made the big time after tours with Slade and Rod Stewart

Les Tones.
Les Tones.

The music and record business is littered with groups and singers who nearly “made it”.

They were the bands and vocalists who came tantalisingly close to hitting the big time.

Arthur Ramm.

Arthur Ramm.

One such band was South Shields’ own Beckett.

Despite playing with some of the top music acts of the time and appearing on The Old Grey Whistle Test, they never quite got to the top.

Their story, recalled by band members Les Tones and Arthur Ramm, is told by renowned film maker, historian and ‘music magpie’ Gary Wilkinson on his Alikivi blog in an article entitled Music Matters.

Gary sets the scene by explaining that the ’70s and ’80s saw bands playing every night around the North East, at mainly workingmen’s clubs.

“Mostly it was two clubs a night with your first set starting at 8pm,” recalls Arthur.

“Then travelling to another club, loading in, setting up, playing a set and finishing for 2am.

“Finally back home and bed. Before you know it, your ma was shouting up the stairs it was time to get the bus for work. Aye them were the days, ha ha!”

Stories like these, says Gary, have been told many times before in smokey bars and clubs of the North East.

“But here we are sitting in The Word, the brand new cultural venue in South Shields.

“It is a large circular building, with huge glass walls and what looks like a floating staircase – as far removed as you can get from bingo, beer and bands.

“The the stories were pouring out from Les and Arthur, founding members of Beckett, a band which changed line-up many times until they called it a day in 1974.”

But as Gary goes on to explain, over the years they made quite an impression on the music scene, both close to home and further afield.

During their time, he says, Beckett had played countless gigs around the North East with stand-out support slots with Rod Stewart and the Faces.

There was a two-week residency in the Top Ten Club in Hamburg, Germany.

They notched-up 25 UK dates with Captain Beefheart; 33 with Alex Harvey and 25 with Slade.

Signed with major labels Warner Brothers and CBS, Beckett released a single and a self titled album.

They also found time to appear on The Old Grey Whistle Test, and a slot at the Reading Festival.

So how did they get into music, wondered Gary?

Les said: “My dad was a piano player, my uncles were keyboard players for the cinema.

“When I was 14 my brother and cousin had acoustic guitars and my sister played all the ’50s records.

“I’ve always had music around me.

“I used to go to the local fairgrounds and there I heard Love Me Do and other songs by The Beatles.

“I just loved the sound and that changed my direction of what I wanted to do.

“I got a guitar and I was approached by a fella called Tommy Stead, who was in a popular blues band called The Jump. So I joined the band at 15 and learned loads from them.”

Arthur told Gary how: “I was aware of The Shadows but I wasn’t really interested in that, like Les it was The Beatles that kicked me off. It was Paul McCartney, I loved the way he played, he sang, he looked.

“I just loved The Beatles’ music.”

Tomorrow: The boys talk about Saville’s in South Shields, Careme House in town and the Aloysius Church Hall in Hebburn – plus much more.

You can read more of Gary’s great blogs at https://garyalikivi.com