‘ADVENTURES IN MOD’
THE STORY OF IVAN’S MEADS
: at the Gondola Club, Hull, 1965
Ivan’s Meads came from the Manchester Mod-scene.
They never had a chart hit, but the night they visited
the Hull ‘Gondola Club’ was a night to remember. It
must have been late-autumn 1965… and I was there.
I've tracked down original member David Booker –
who now plays Blues in Denver Colorado,
for a wander through the band’s history!
The ‘Gondola Club’ on Hull’s Little Queen Street was where the scooters gather. By day, a coffee house, absolutely no alcohol, just a big hissing Italian espresso machine. By night, you walk in off the street, into a ground-level dive with intense dim-lit body-heat generated by strictly limited space, and Coke – not coke but Cola. It was late-1965, and I was crammed in there to see sharp-dressed Manchester five-piece Ivan’s Meads, and it was wonderful. They play “Please Stay”, an achingly intense version of the old Drifters’ song shot through with yearning passion that seared its way into my consciousness where it stayed, and stays. Sure, there were other versions of the song around. On 22nd February 1966 the Meads shared a bill at Manchester’s ‘Oasis Club’ with the Cryin’ Shames, who came closest to high-charting with “Please Stay”, taking it all the way up to no.26 a month later. But Ivan’s Meads is the interpretation I recall.
With neatly-fringed, sometime centre-parted hair in the Steve Marriott-style, Ivan’s Meads came roaring out of north Manchester’s Middleton area, gravitating around Ivan Oliver Robinson hoarse vocals, lead guitarist Roger Cox and drummer Alan Powell. Then there was bassist David Bowker from Wilmslow. ‘Memories? Ivan’s Meads were a great R&B Mod-Pop band’ he enthuses now, ‘fantastic – yes I have some memories’. David had grown up on both sides of the Atlantic, absorbing “Heartbreak Hotel”, and Lonnie Donegan’s skiffle as a young Manchester kid. Then spending more childhood years in Connecticut, USA, discovering Chuck Berry, Bo Diddley, the Coasters, and the lure of pure R&B. All of that, even before bouncing back to Manchester while still a pre-teen. His first gig was playing borrowed guitar at his Wilmslow School dance in 1962 aged fourteen, graduating to doing youth centres, pubs and clubs. Although not part of the formative Meads line-up, he was already off and running fronting guitar with struggling hopefuls the Drifting Hearts, then ‘round about 1963-‘64 the Hearts opened up for the Meads at Manchester’s ‘Jungfrau Club’. I was floored by the band. I went up to one of them – possibly Roger Cox, and made it clear that if ever a position came up in the band, ‘call me’. Three months later, I’m toiling away at my job at ‘Wilson Advertising’ in Manchester, the phone rings, and my mum says that Ivan’s Meads called, and want you – on bass! Within hours I was Ivan’s Meads bass player. I’d never played bass before but quickly got all the Howlin’ Wolf, John Lee Hooker, Jimmy Witherspoon, and Chuck Berry licks down pat. Shortly after I joined we got hold of Rod Mayall, and he joined on Farfisa organ!’
Together with keyboard-player Rod ‘Stan’ Mayall – half-brother of Blues-giant John, the Meads headlined all the Mod-trendiest Manchester venues, ‘The Twisted Wheel’, ‘The Blue Note’, and on ‘Oasis’ double-bills with the likes of the Measles (23rd November 1965). ‘We gigged all over the place. I recall Bury Palais was a strong gig for us. Herman’s Hermits broke big from playing there, and we were hopeful of the same thing happening. Our manager at that time was Harvey Demmy, son of Gus Demmy the betting shop king of Manchester. On one occasion, as early as 1964, we were ushered backstage at the ‘Free Trade Hall’ to meet Howlin’ Wolf, and Sonny Boy Williamson. Got a nice photo of Sonny Boy with the band somewhere tucked away, in that picture is a small bottle of whiskey we were sharing with Sonny Boy!’
Within the Mod-pantheon, Ivan’s Meads were considered pretty cool. Own up, I was never a Mod. Not properly. For a start I drove a Honda motorcycle, not the mirrored Lambretta. But I wore a mustard-hued pvc jacket with black roll-neck sweater and tight loud-check hipsters with Cuban-heeled pointed-toe boots with a row of silver buckles down the sides. And later I blew a week’s wage on a silk floral shirt because Mick Jagger wore one doing “Paint It Black” on ‘Ready Steady Go’. I was fanatically into Stax. And Junior Walker & The All-Stars. I was lured in by the cool trend-superiority of Mod, an In-crowd predicated not on wealth or class but by ahead-of-the-game awareness of subtle street-codes that shifted week-by-week. As well as the ‘Gondola’ there was the ‘Kon-Tiki’ off Whitefriargate which spun a danceable programme of Motown, but it missed out on the Gondola’s elitist hipness. We also ranged up as far as Scarborough’s two-level ‘Penthouse’ where Amen Corner did a set. But the ‘Gondola’ was where it was at… in Hull, at least. Wall-posters announced live guest-bands booked by promoter John Science, including jaunty Wayne Fontana just prior to his breakthrough with “Stop Look And Listen”, and Vance Arnold who would later become Joe Cocker, supported by local groups Tony Martin & the Mods or Eric Lee & The Aces. But, although I saw Ivan’s Meads there, I can’t be sure if they played their collectable “Sins Of A Family” at the Gondola…?
By 1965, establishing their most stable line-up, momentum was gathering across the north, until ‘the band were gearing up to go professional. And it was taking its toll on my pretty rigorous day job’ recalls David. ‘I was not ready to quit my job for the ‘big time’ so regrettably I handed in my notice to the band. After I left, a big re-shuffle occurred. Out went Roger Cox – no guitar now, and in came sax-player Pat Dempsey. Rod procured a Hammond organ. And…’ with what he generously calls ‘the classic line-up’, ‘…the Meads went on to limited success, releasing a couple of 45’s on Parlophone.’ Ironically, although replaced in the Meads by bass-player Keith Lawless, due to his reluctance to turn pro, David went on to gig around the Blues scene with the legendary Champion Jack Dupree, with Paul (Manfred Mann) Jones, and with Rock star Del Shannon, as well as playing Portugal, Beirut, Lebanon, and the Bahamas, while never quite neglecting his roots. ‘Have you been to www.manchesterbeat.com, they have a site there with pages on the Meads? I contributed a lot of that stuff.’
It must have been around, or just before the time I saw them, that they issued their debut single – a cover of PF Sloan’s “Sins Of A Family” (Parlophone R5342), recorded at George Martin’s AIR studios. It now fetches around £50 on eBay. Coming off the success of writing “Eve Of Destruction” Sloan was a happening name, a new Sloan song was a big deal, and although it was a record company/management-suits scam, and uncharacteristic of their live set, “Sins Of A Family” is a driving single. With proto-protest Dylanesque lyrics nailing moral double-standards and attacking social hypocrisy. Ivan delivers the bratty vocal-lines over a swirling keyboard-driven momentum carrying intimations of the trippy ‘new thing’ then convulsing the scene. Inconveniently PF Sloan’s own version was also issued as a single, and benefiting from a strategic promotion-slot appearance on ‘Ready Steady Go’, it charted as high as no.38 in November. Effectively killing off the Meads’ version. Anyway, they were instinctively more attuned to the kind of Graham Bond, Zoot Money Hammond organ-driven soul. A style more represented by the jazzy instrumental “Little Symphony” which they stuck on the ‘B’-side, written by newcomer Keith Lawless. Listen to that and you’re hearing a truer incarnation of their live sound (it’s on the ‘New Directions: A Collection Of Blue-Eyed British Soul 1964-‘69’ CD from Past & Present). They repeated the trick with the Booker-T groove of “The Bottle”, a group-composition on the flip of their second single, Toni Wine & Carole Bayer (Sager)’s “We’ll Talk About It Tomorrow” (R5503 – September 1966). It achieved even lower visibility, and things began falling apart after the failure of the two singles. Alan Powell quit and went on to work with Vinegar Joe, then cut ‘Warrior On The Edge Of Time’ as part of Hawkwind, while he was temporarily replaced by Drachen Theaker, then by Ian Starr. Finally Ivan himself quit music entirely, with Tommy Rigby standing in for a while to fulfil engagements, after which they finally disbanded. Rod Mayall later joined Flaming Youth alongside Phil Collins, during the band’s final free-form phase.
David, meanwhile, managed to squeeze in two musical tours of the Seychelles in the early seventies, and had what he terms ‘many uproarious adventures while part of the notorious ‘Pub Rock’ scene in London, recording a solo album for RCA in 1977’. But he eventually washed-up in Denver, Colorado in 1981 where, following a stint as a radio personality, he was soon fronting The Red Hot Blues Band named after the title of his radio show. Over the years since he’s built a solid reputation playing Blues all over the State. ‘I continue to play full time, cos’ that’s what I do. Book – mainly me, and occasionally a band of up to five members will turn up!’ So why does he work as David Booker now when he was David Bowker back then? ‘I was a member of San Francisco’s Dynatones for a while, and during that time the band changed my name to Booker. Onomatopoeia? – I went along with it. And professionally I’ve been ‘Booker’ ever since’.
Me, I could never quite reconcile the contradictions of Mod when the guy who’s name I forget, the Mod who first played me the first Who album tried to convince me that the Hull Ace Face was Rodney E who I’d always thought of as the Secondary Modern thicko, the equivalent of Nelson in ‘The Simpsons’. And after all this time, was Ivan’s Meads a failed arc of years…? Naw, they were a great little band, leaving good vibes in their stylish Mod wake, which some of us still recall with a degree of affection.