The 'N Betweens 1966

January 1st. 1966
1966 was one crazy year for The 'N Betweens with so much happening in such a small space of time. It started with a bombshell on the 6th February when it was announced that Cass Jones was leaving the group. It is commonly stated that he left to go into the wholesale fruit business but personally I find that incredibly difficult to believe. When you consider the band have recorded eight tracks for a major label and their first record has just been released in France.

With very little to go on, I suspect that Germany was not a successful venture. Hill and Powell were not happy with the band and, clearly, neither was Jones. Hill and Powell were particularly unhappy about the musical direction that the group were taking. Girlfriend issues were blamed but Howells was doing his utmost to turn them into a serious Blues Band and it was not what they wanted.

It would appear that together with all the wonderful opportunities that were coming their way, there was also a very large black cloud of despondency.

Express & Star 28th January 1966

To replace Cass Jones it was decided to hold auditions and Maurice Jones placed an advert which ran for two days (Thurday and Friday) in the Wolverhampton Express & Star. This advert has evaded the researchers until now.

Express & Star 10th February 1966

James Whild Lea was already on the road to academic success when he saw the advert. his studies were well advanced and he was expected to leave school for art college. He was not your average teenager, far from it in fact.
"I knocked about with kids who were much older than me. I was very much on my own most of the time."
'Feel The Noize' 1984
Playing violin proficiently from the age of eight, he had a place as first violin in the Staffordshire Youth Orchestra from age eleven. His interest in pop music came via The Rolling Stones appearance on tv and it eventually swayed his interest enough to quit the classical and join up with a local group, Nick & The Axemen. They were not particularly successful but evidence shows that they were playing the same circuit.
"I'd seen The 'N Betweens twice and thought they were the local equivalent of The Stones, really great. I didn't want to be in any group but theirs."
'Feel The Noize' 1984
Compared with Holder, Hill and Powell, Lea was a rank amateur but weighing against their varied and comparatively substantial experience was his mercurial talent as a musician by nature. He passed his audition for The 'N Betweens because he played a tatty bass guitar with considerably more finesse than a row of hopefuls with expensive Fender basses and wattage to spare. It's difficult to imagine just how important joining The 'N Betweens was to Jim Lea. That quote above should not be taken lightly, he meant it with all of his heart but even more important to realise is, he means John Howells 'N Betweens.

Lea auditioned for The 'N Betweens on Saturday 12th February 1966. It was held at the Blue Flame Club, now the Lafayette Casino, in Wolverhampton. His borrowed bas guitar was sheathed in a polythene bag, and tucked into his back pocket was the mimeographed list of numbers that had been circulated to all that had applied for audition. Jim had learned to play them all and transposed each song into a variety of potential keys.
"The first song I played was 'Mr. Pitiful' by Otis Redding and then a Don Covay number called 'See-Saw'. I played very fast and then told them I could play violin too and even a bit of cello and that I could sight read. I think they were impressed but they didn't tell me I had the job."
"We used the the audition to look for a bass player for us two. Quite a few people turned up but in the end it came down to two players, one who looked right and Jim Lea who played the best.

There was an atmosphere at the audition because Micky Marson and Johnny Howells were still in the band. When Maurice wrote Jim's name down Don went to the desk and looked over his shoulder and took the name down himself. It was a real snide thing to do."
Dave Hill
Noddy Holder announced he was quitting The Mavericks before Christmas 1965. Bickley & Kibble left with him and there was some talk about forming another band but nothing came of it. In fact, Pete Bickley auditioned for The 'N Betweens vacancy and was convinced he was going to get the job, mainly because of his connection with Holder.

Holder started 1966 by borrowing his Dad's van and taking a position as roadie for a local group called Listen. It was only a 'stop-gap' job (probably only mentioned because it makes a good story) and he was still looking for serious work when he ran this ad in the Express & Star on 16th February 1966.

Then he bumped into Powell and Hill in Wolverhampton High Street and they went for a coffee at Beatties Coffee Bar. They told him about their new bass guitarist, Jim Lea, and he agreed to join up with them.

A few days later they paid Lea a visit and Hill asked him if he had a girlfriend. Lea replied 'No' and Hill told him that was good because girlfriends were always breaking groups up.

"Then he introduced me to Noddy for the first time. I thought he said Nobby and I called him Nob for the next three months."
Jim Lea
He was then told that The 'N Betweens were breaking up and that Hill and Powell were forming their own band with Holder. They told him 'you could be in'

"At first I was heartbroken. Here was the group I wanted to join breaking up before I got a chance.

Then Dave told me about his plan to form a new group with two guitarists and this was an original idea for the time. I was very enthusiastic about it and couldn't understand why Noddy was so down to earth. He'd obviously been through the mill with groups and I was still all green."

Jim Lea

The Walsall Observer announced Jim Lea of Codsall will soon be joining The N' Betweens in its 3rd March 1966 edition. At this point, things must have been chaotic for Maurice Jones and Astra. Marson played a few gigs alongside Lea but felt very uncomfortable. His commitment to the band and competency was questioned and he decided to quit too.

3rd March Express & Star.

As soon as Mick Marson left the group, Noddy Holder was slotted in as his replacement. Howells couldn't understand why Holder was required because he was still out of the loop. The 'N Betweens played Walsall Town Hall on Sat 19th March 1966 by which time Nod had joined.

Johnny Howells was still with them so the gig was performed as a 5 piece, but it was the first gig where Hill, Holder, Lea & Powell took to the stage together. There is anecdotal evidence that they had rehearsed as a 4 piece prior to this at the Three Men In A Boat (sometime between 3rd -19th March). Howells probably would have left with Marson but had to fulfill the bookings made on the strength of his name.


On 28th April 1966 the Express & Star reported that The 'N Betweens were going to London, with The Soul Seekers, to test for Polydor. This is a session that would make interesting listening.

But there are no gaps 'n between
"Yet another of The 'N Betweens is leaving the group, this time their burly vocalist, John Howells. This makes three members of the original group to leave in a very short time. Manager Maurice Jones tells me that the group is not looking for a replacement.  
Johnny will leave to join Blues Ensemble when The 'N Betweens finish their tour of Devon and Cornwall at the end of June."
Express & Star: Thursday 19th May 1966

One venue which became quite a common port of call for many Wolverhampton groups was the 400 Ballroom in Torquay. It was at the 400 that the The 'N Betweens really came together, as Jimmy Lea tells us:
"The booking at the 400 Ballroom was made before the group changed. It had become an arrangement between Astra and the 400 that local groups went down there. Steve Brett and the Mavericks had done it before us. The management from the 400 demanded that John Howells sang with the group. It was great because at least it meant that we had a guaranteed week’s work."

"It was during that week that we were able to work on things because John did not perform the one night when we went to play in Plymouth. It was in Plymouth that we decided that Noddy was ideal as the group singer. By the time we had finished doing the 400 over the next few years we had become the most booked group there, beating the record of Dave Dee and the Bostons (later Dave Dee, Dozy etc.). We were there in the flower power and the skinhead days."

The 400 Ballroom was played by most of the Wolverhampton groups during the second half of the decade, as was a number of other venues in the South West.
Once again Jimmy Lea recalls a time when the group was playing in Newquay:
"It was while we were playing in Newquay that we first came into contact with an up and coming group called Queen. Roger Taylor told me that they used to sneak in and check out our equipment because they really liked the sound we were making. They couldn’t believe it when they found we just had AC 30 amps, although we did have treble boosters."
Johnny Howells remained with them for a few more months and, again, anecdotal evidence suggests that Dave, Don, Nod & Jim played as a 4 piece during their summer sojourn to Devon & Cornwall. The Cornish Tour took place throughout early June, and it would appear that Howells was contractually obliged to sing.

Midland Beat: July 1966

The departure of Howells was a major concern to all but the group. Lea can recall the night when their fan club secretary, Pam (she later married Mick Marson), poured a pint of beer into Dave Hill's suitcase after an exchange of views in their dressing room.
"All his stage clothes were in there. His jacket and bootswere soaked...Dave was very attached to his cuban heeled boots."
There was some unpleasantness at the Astra agency too but their performance went from strength to strength, re-establishing themselves as a top local attraction within weeks. By August of 1966 Johnny Howells was ready to take on London with his Blues Ensemble outfit. Astra therefore found themselves with two crowd pleasers rather than one.

Express & Star: August 18th 1966

They had three recording offers on the table. That explains the different record companies quoted in the ads but they were also often billed as a comedy group. Holder was the new boy on backing vocals?

Jim Lea considered his new band mates to be mad as hatters. Being new to this way of life, he felt quite green but nevertheless, his suspicions were confirmed when the four went shopping for stage clothes.
"Nod started doing a spasctic act in the shop. I'd never seen somebody behave so eccentrically in front of straight people before...

He put this check coat on, really loud, and when he bought it I almost died. Then Dave puts on this horrific pair of tartan check trousers... I couldn't believe it when he actually bought them... I thought... I can't go on stage with them like looking like this?

All the things that they did, all the silliness, it was with them for ever... still is."
Jim Lea
Holder loved gimmicks. His main aim was to connect and get a reaction from the crowd. His main influences were Al Jolson and Max Miller, from whom he borrowed many a gag.
"Noddy would dress up as a vicar for the Sunday evening shows at The Connaught. He'd come on and say...'Welcome The 'N Betweens Sunday Service' and then he'd give them a blessing. Then he'd go into the Max Miller gag about the red book and the blue book."
Dave Hill
The music they performed was mainly R&B and Tamla Motown. Don Powell was largely responsible for sorting out new material.
"I used to go to a record shop in Birmingham called The Diskery... I'd sit in the booth all day while the manager played them all for me...the more obscure they were the better. The manager knew me and knew the kind of stuff I was looking for."
Don Powell
Among their repetoire, The 'N Betweens were performing an arrangement of The Four Tops - Reach Out (I'll Be There) long before it ever became a hit. All there songs had a distinctive 'N Betweens arrangement, courtesy of Jim Lea, who had a talent for it. His musical ear could translate from record to guitar in minutes.
"Our arrangements were Rock versions of these Tamla songs. We did R&B covers too, things by groups like The Young Rascals that people had never heard of in England"
Noddy Holder

The main reason the guys were 'cock a'hoop about the Tiles Gig is that they had met Kim Fowley. Thing's were about to get interesting for The 'N Betweens.

New Musical Express: August 25th, 1966

In August of 1966, The 'N Betweens played at the Tiles Club in London's Oxford Street. They were the support act during their performance, a tall freaky guy in a cowboy hat became very interested in them. After the show he walked into their dressing room and announced that he was going to make them stars. The freak turned out to be Kim Fowley, who was a somewhat eccentric but influential guru cum producer.
"I'm gonna make you stars. You guys pro-ject!"
Kim Fowley
Fowley and friends (he's in the middle)

Fowley's attention span was short but his influence, quite effective. He was looking for a band to replace Them, the British band that had just had a hit with Gloria in the States but had then split up. Fowley wanted a band to tour as Them in the US where nobody would notice the difference. This may explain Holder's strange vocal on the Fowley studio recording of Need and maybe the reason he recorded Ugly Girl (basically a revamp of Kim Fowley's 'Animal Man') both of which, seem like an attempt to sound less 'Black Country'. They also recorded a version of Hold Tight (Dave Dee, Dozy, Beaky, Mick & Tich) which remained unreleased, probably because it is almost identical to the original.

Notice the PR Card is for the old band?
Although the group were convinced he was mad, Fowley took them to a studio in London. This time, Noddy Holder, Dave Hill, Jimmy Lea & Don Powell would record as The 'N Betweens. The recording session probably took place on the Monday 29th August.
"We were playing at Tiles Club in London and we noticed a strange looking feller with a big hat and feather boa. He was about 6 feet 5 inches in height so it was difficult not to notice him. He was an American named Kim Fowley. He told us he wanted to arrange a recording session for us. I was over the moon."

"We went into Regent Sound in Denmark Street to record You Better Run and Evil Witchman. The Rolling Stones had recorded there and the Beatles had done demos there so it had a pretty good track record."
Jim Lea
They recorded their own arrangement of You Better Run by The Young Rascals. Another song from The 'N Betweens live set was used for the flipside. I Take What I Want by The Artwoods but Fowley wrote new lyrics and called it Evil Witchman.

"The only problem was that You Better Run had also been released by Robert Plant’s group Listen and its production was more professional than ours, using session men and backing vocalists. Still we got plenty of airplay, if not huge sales."
Jim Lea
To these ears, Plant's version is characteristically over indulgent and lacking in bite and hook. Clearly, he learnt how to make that work but not in '66. The 'N Betweens version of You Better Run is raw and gutsy with more hooks than a fishing tackle box. It is, without doubt, the superior version.


After the split in the ranks the new group posed for a publicity shot. This was taken shortly after the recording of You Better Run.

Walsall Observer: Friday 23rd September

Kim Fowley's hasty return to the States was mostly because he had a hectic schedule but possibly also to pave the way for an US Tour by The 'N Betweens. Security was released in US on the 21st October, long before You Better Run got its UK release.

Express & Star, September 8th 1966

This informative article written in September tells us that The 'N Betweens were on top form and were very well received by the London audience on Bank Holiday Monday, a fortnight earlier. Remember that this was the Tiles Gig where Kim Fowley had seen them.

It also tells us that Johnny Howells is sounding as good as ever with his Blues Ensemble and they are ready to take on London in three weeks. Later that month, 24th September, Blues Ensemble would play alongside The 'N Betweens at Walsall Town Hall. That must have been an interesting experience.


The second half of 1966 must have more than made up for the hard slog of the previous six months. They had worked hard and now the rewards were starting to show. They played with some of the most exciting talents around at the time. Willenhall October 20th, 1966 must rate as the best though.

Express & Star: 19th October 1966
"What we did like about the Astra angency was that they could get us on the bill with some great bands. We were the only group they had who could support the likes of Cream.

Our first gig opening for Cream at Wolverhampton Civic Hall was such a buzz. They were a mad bunch... Ginger Baker... totally out of his tree... dancing on his drum kit. I thought we'd hit the big time, rubbing shoulders with all these eccentric rock'n'rollers."
Noddy Holder
Their single finally got a release on the 2nd December and they spent the next day handing out flyers to promote it.


The 'N Betweens had another encounter toward the end of 1966 . In the run up to Christmas, they found themselves at Willenhall Baths, sharing the bill with, 'ex Animal', Alan Price. Price, had left The Animals in 1965 due to his fear of flying, put a band together in early '66. Their first success was a reworking of a Screaming Jay Hawkins' number, I Put A Spell On You which reached #9 in March and Hi Lili Hi Lo reached #11 in July, both released as the Alan Price Set. The group had a number of hits between '66 and '68.

sexy divider

My undying gratitude, as always, to Chris Selby for some spectacular finds in the murky archives of Walsall. Fortunately for us, when Wolverhampton Library reopened their archives, Chris was there with his thermos and pack-up. Much borrowed from Chris Charlesworth, Noddy Holder and the excellent 2002 online book by Keith Farley. 'N Between Times: an Oral History of the Wolverhampton Group Scene of the 1960s It's certainly worth a read.

The 'N Betweens Known Gigs

01/01/1966 Parish Hall, Sedgley
03/01/1966 Willenhall Baths
06/01/1966 Willenhall Baths
(with The Fabulous Soul Seekers)
07/01/1966 Civic Hall,Wolverhampton
with Soul Seekers and The Ides of March)
12/01/1966 Mossley Youth Club
(with The Radio Caroliners)
13/01/1966 Ship & Rainbow,Wolverhampton
(with Jenny Wren & the Opposite Set)
16/01/1966 Waggon and Horses
17/01/1966 Baths,Langley
(with Eight Feet 4)
23/01/1966 Waggon and Horses
28/01/1966 Civic Hall,Wolverhampton
(with Barron Knights)
29/01/1966 Civic Hall,Brierley Hill
30/01/1966 Waggon and Horses, Wolverhampton
31/01/1966 Baths,Willenhall
01/02/1966 Woolpack, Salop Street
02/02/1966 Wulfren Hall
05/02/1966 Bilston Town Hall(with The Atlantics)
18/02/1966 Mary Dermot Parish Hall, Gough St, Coseley
12/02/1966 Wulfrun Hall, Wolverhampton
12/02/1966 Blue Flame Club
, Wolverhampton
(Audition for a Bass Guitarist)
19/02/1966 Bolero Club, Wednesbury
20/02/1966 Silver Blades,Birmingham
26/02/1966 Civic Center, Brierley Hill

01/03/1966 Majestic Ballroom, Newcastle
19/03/1966 Walsall Town Hall

Ship & Rainbow,Wolverhampton
(The New 'N Betweens)
26/03/1966 Civic Hall, Brierly Hill
01/04/1966 The Majestic, Newcastle
05/04/1966 Hen & Chickens, Oldbury
10/04/1966 Civic Hall,Wolverhampton
14/04/1966 Baths Willenhall
(with Tony Rivers ,The Castaways,Opposite Set)
15/04/1966 Civic Hall,
Wolverhampton(with Bob Miller & The Millermen, Reg Bradley Band and The Zuider Zee)
16/04/1966 Ye Olde Moat House Club
, Birmingham
19/04/1966 Woolpack, Wolverhampton
21/04/1966 Civic Hall,Wolverhampton
(with Moody Blues,Ides of March)
23/04/1966 Mecca Rollerink, Birmingham
11/05/1966 Parish Hall,Sedgley
13/05/1966 St Michaels YC,Wolverhampton
20/05/1966 Woolpack,
21/05/1966 The Disco Volante Club.Trysull
30/05/1966 South Perton Farm, Perton
(with Prim 'n' Proper and Ambassadors)
04/06/1966 400 Club, Torquay
11-17/06/1966 Blue Lagoon Torquay
20/06/1966 St Merryn Village Hall
30/06/1966 Ship & Rainbow
24/07/1966 Bel Air, Birmingham
(with Downliners Sect,MI5,Tony Barry,Sounds of 3,Blues Ensemble)
07/08/1966 Silver Blades ,Birmingham
14/08/1966 Caves,Wrens Nest
22/08/1966 Civic Hall,Wolverhampton
(with The Ambassaders)
29/08/1966 Tiles Club London
16/09/1966 Civic Hall
(with Blues Ensemble, Soulseekers and Our Generation)
24/09/1966 Town Hall.Walsall
(with Soulstirrers)
25/09/1966 The Blue Flame Club
30/09/1966 United Services Club, Bilston
04/10/1966 George Hotel,Walsall
(with Traction)
07/10/1966 Civic Hall
(with The Applejacks)
20/10/1966 Public Baths, Willenhall
(with The Cream, Listen and Factotums)
31/10/1966 United Services Club,Bilston
02/11/1966 George Hotel.Walsall
( with Animated Lime)
11/11/1966 Mary Dermott Hall, Coseley
27/11/1966 Bolero Club, Wednesbury
02/12/1966 George Hotel, Walsall
(with Small Change)
03/12/1966 Cliff & Halifax
(Promotion for You Better Run)
04/12/1966 Connaught Hotel
(with The Zero Five)
05/12/1966 Baths,Willenhall
(with Outward Bound)
11/12/1966 Bolero Club
14/12/1966 Woolpack
(with Soulseekers)
15/12/1966 Public Baths, Willenhall
(with Alan Price, The Measles and The Cobras)
24/12/1966 Le Metro Club
, Birmingham


DEMiller said...

Great blog! I added a link to this on my blog, David's Rock Scrapbook.
To see photos of Slade in the USA, check out the other blog I am helping with called Brit Rock By The Bay at -

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