The Phantoms

Walsall, Staffordshire. 15th June 1946
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Neville John Holder
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In June 1946 his arrival was announced in the Walsall Observer. Neville, the only child of Jack & Leah, grew up in Walsall. He can remember playing in the back yard of the house he was born in, 31½ Newhall Street. He used to give puppet shows to other kids and sing Al Jolson, among others, into a broom handle pretending he was on stage. One time, a night shift neighbour gave him a soaking coz he was keeping him awake.

His first public appearance on stage was at Walsall Labour Club in 1953. He sang Frankie Laine's - I Believe to a packed house, using a microphone with stage lighting. He was seven years old and yes, he was terrified.

Growing up around Walsall, he attended Blue Coat School which was connected to St. Matthews C of E Church and had a proportion of children from 'well off' families attending. Noddy got his first glimpse of how the other half lived when visiting some of these friends homes. Holder went there for a one year and I believe that's where John Robbins christened him Noddy? In 1954 Newhall Street was up for demolition and they moved to 6 Gurney Road on the newly-built Beechdale Estate. A change of school was also required and Noddy found himself at Elmore Primary & Junior School in Elmore Green Road, Bloxwich

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Notice the Prefects badge

At eleven, he joined the brand new TP Riley Comprehensive with Phil Burnell who, although almost a year younger, became a good friend. Burnell lived on Sneyd Hall Road on the Dudley Fields Estate, a ten minute walk from Holder. They were both learning to play the guitar and liked similar music. Living close by meant they could hang out a lot playing guitar together.

Noddy learnt to play on an old Spanish acoustic that his Dad bought for him. He learnt to play Cathy's Clown by ear and used Bert Weedon's 'Play It In A Day' to learn the chords. Realising he was serious, his Mum arranged for some tuition with Freddy Degville, a jazz guitarist of some standing in the Midlands. With Degville beside him, Holder purchased an F-hole guitar for £20. It had much better feel and action, enabling him to learn quickly until Holder mastered the art of singing and playing at the same time. It was at this point that Holder and Burnell decided to put a band together. It's now 1962.

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I'm told the Community Centre (white) hasn't changed much?
The first recruit was Mick Aulton who was in Holder's class at school. He lived in Dartford Road, behind Burnell's house and he had a drum kit, almost. It consisted of a bass drum, snare and cymbal so I guess it was....
Boom...Crack...Boom...Crack...Splash!
... but it was a start, they had a beat now they needed some groove. After a brief spell with Kenny Holland on bass guitar, the groove arrived in the shape of Pete Bickley recruited from Burnell's class year. Last but by no means least, John Cooper a.k.a. Tubby joined as a second singer. The Phantoms had arrived.

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With five of them sharing a single amp and not a decent instrument among them its safe to say they weren't about to set the world alight quite yet.

The group rehearsed twice a week at Sneyd Hall Road Community Centre, with the members in attendance which helps them get used to playing in front of an audience. They play Gene Vincent, Eddie Cochran, Elvis, Little Richard, The Shadows and The Everley Brothers numbers.
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They made a bit of a name for themselves and started 'playing' at local youth clubs, i.e. Mossley Youth Club on Sneyd Lane, and the dance nights at clubs and schools. They had also started taking requests.
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Walsall Observer: Friday 17th May 1963

It didn't take long for the word to spread and they began to get real 'paid' work in the local pubs and Working Men's Clubs. They ploughed their earnings into equipment upgrades and anything that would improve the band.

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They pretended to be a professional band now because these venues expected a high standard. The ruse worked because they managed to get on the much desired professional circuit.
"We played weddings, youth clubs and pubs, doing cover versions of pop hits of the day. I still see the friends I was in a band with at school.... We still get together a couple of times a year, when I come down to Walsall.... They get their guitars out and it’s like we’re back at school again – we still sing the same songs."
Noddy Holder: Birmingham Mail, 7th April 2013
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Sometime around May/June 1963, they got a regular Sunday lunchtime session at the Three Men In A Boat public house in Walsall. By September 'The Boat' had them billed as The Rockin' Phantoms. 

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 20th September 1963

PHANTOMS GOING GREAT GUNS
"One of the best equipped local groups these days are the Phantoms, whom I met the other day when making enquiries about the entertainment plans at the Ashmore Inn, Wednesfield.
The Phantoms are due for an extended contract booking at the Ashmore soon, appearing on Saturday evenings. But it is their equipment that distinguishes them from a lot of other groups.
They have £500 worth of it, ranging through all the standard group equipment to some special, and rather secret features, the ideas of Mr. Raymond Kimpton, of Pleck, Walsall.
The Phantoms comprise Noddy Holder (17), lead; Phillip Burnell (18), rhythm; Peter Bickley (bass); Mike Alton (17), drums, and John E. Blue. John Cooper (17), vocalist. Their sound is terrific, and showmanship well above the average standard. 
The group started about 12 months ago, when the members brought their guitars to school. All pupils of the T. P. Riley Comprehensive School, Bloxwich, they decided to form their own combo, and have been going great guns ever since."
September 1963 and Holder already has his secret weapon. Their sound is terrific and their showmanship  well above average but it's their equipment that distinguishes them from the rest. Ray Kimpton of Pleck, where are you now, we would like to know what special features you invented for The Phantoms?

On the day JFK was assasinated, The Phantoms were playing at The Beacon Youth Centre in New Invention, Willenhall. Christmas Eve was spent in the North Walsall Working Man's Club, Holder was  only 17 years old, Phil 'Bern' Burnell was younger still?
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Express & Star:
Saturday 4th January 1964


Around this point they decided a name change was in order. They were still using both derivatives of the Phantoms name but they were now playing a lot of US style R'n'B music.

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All additional media and background info supplied by Chris Selby who was born and bred in Sneyd Hall Road and lived yards away from the community centre but for some reason neglected to record every move made by the Phantoms.

The Phantoms Known Gigs

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1962
10/09/1962 Saint Chad’s Youth Club, Bloxwich
15/09/1962 All Saints Church Hall, Bloxwich
16/09/1962 Lea Hall Club, Bloxwich
02/11/1962 T. P. Riley School, Bloxwich
1963
06/01/1963 All Saints Church Hall, Bloxwich
14/01/1963 Hilary Street School, Walsall
03/02/1963 All Saints Church Hall, Bloxwich
10/02/1963 Liberal Club, Birchills
14/02/1963 Bloxwich Baths
(with Wilf Hayward & His Music)
21/02/1963 Beacon Youth Club New Invention
03/03/1963 All Saints Church Hall, Bloxwich
06/03/1963 Bloxwich Baths
(with The Jaguars)
14/03/1963 Hazelslade Youth Club, Cannock
23/03/1963 North Walsall Working Men’s Club, Walsall
24/03/1963 Bloxwich Lock & Stamp Social Club, Bloxwich
27/03/1963 W. R. Wheway School. Walsall
28/03/1963 T. P. Riley School, Bloxwich
13/04/1963 North Walsall Working Men’s Club, Walsall
20/04/1963 North Walsall Working Men’s Club, Walsall
07/06/1963 Methodist Youth Club, Bloxwich
08/06/1963 Hay Mills Memorial Hall, Birmingham
09/06/1963 Coach & Horses. Wednesbury
09/06/1963 Digbeth Mutual Club Walsall
14/06/1963 Beacon Youth Club New Invention
18/06/1963 Croft Street Working Men’s Club, Walsall
30/06/1963 Three Men In A Boat, Bloxwich
07/07/1963 Three Men In A Boat, Bloxwich
14/07/1963 Three Men In A Boat, Bloxwich
15/07/1963 T. P. Riley School, Bloxwich
30/07/1963 The Cock Inn, Bilston
02/08/1963 The Cock Inn. Bilston
06/08/1963 The Cock Inn. Bilston
09/08/1963 The Cock Inn. Bilston
10/08/1963
Noddy Holder watches The Rolling Stones at the Gaumont
19/08/1963
The Phantoms see Gene Vincent at the Gaumont
08/09/1963 Three Men In A Boat, Bloxwich
21/09/1963 Castle Hall, West Castle Street, Bridgnorth, Shropshire
23/09/1963 Primrose Ballroom. Walsall Wood
28/09/1963 Civic Hall. Brierley Hill
(with Nicky James & The Senators)
29/09/1963 Three Men In A Boat, Bloxwich
(as The Rockin' Phantoms)
06/10/1963 Three Men In A Boat, Bloxwich
(as The Rockin' Phantoms)
13/10/1963 Three Men In A Boat, Bloxwich
(as The Rockin' Phantoms)
20/10/1963 Three Men In A Boat, Bloxwich
(as The Rockin' Phantoms)
27/10/1963 Three Men In A Boat, Bloxwich
(as The Rockin' Phantoms)
03/11/1963 Three Men In A Boat, Bloxwich
(as The Rockin' Phantoms)
04/11/1963 Ashmore Inn. Wednesfield
10/11/1963
The Phantoms see The Beatles at the Birmingham Hippodrome
22/11/1963 Beacon Youth Club New Invention
24/12/1963 North Walsall Working Men’s Club, Walsall
1964
05/01/1964 Three Men In A Boat, Bloxwich
(as The Rockin' Phantoms)
10/01/1964 T. P. Riley School, Bloxwich
12/01/1964 Three Men In A Boat, Bloxwich
(as The Rockin' Phantoms)
19/01/1964 Three Men In A Boat, Bloxwich
(as The Rockin' Phantoms)
26/01/1964 Three Men In A Boat, Bloxwich
(as The Rockin' Phantoms)
02/02/1964 Three Men In A Boat, Bloxwich
(as The Rockin' Phantoms)
03/02/1964 The Ashmore Inn, Wednesfield
(as The Rockin' Phantoms)
09/02/1964 Three Men In A Boat, Bloxwich
(as The Rockin' Phantoms)
21/02/1964 Beacon Youth Club New Invention
28/02/1964 Bloxwich Baths,
(with The R+B Four & The Wilde Cats)
06/03/1964 Bloxwich Baths,
(with The Jaguars)
20/03/1964 T. P. Riley School, Bloxwich
22/03/1964 The Primrose Ballroom. Walsall Wood
(with Lee Stevens & The Satellites)
23/03/1964 Bushbury Arms. Wolverhampton
(as The Rockin' Phantoms)
20/04/1964 Coney Lea Hall. Codsall
(as The Rockin' Phantoms)
09/05/1964 Darlaston Town Hall
(as The Rockin' Phantoms with Mark Anthony & The Senators)
22/05/1964 Stage & Sportsman, Wolverhampton,
(as The Rocking Phantoms with Les Group Italianos)
23/05/1964 Town Hall . Walsall
(as The Rocking Phantoms with The Master Sound)

From Roots To Boots © 2008-2011
This material may not be reproduced without permission. 

Sources
Holder, Noddy "Who's Crazee Now?"
Ebury Press, 1999 ISBN: 0-09-187503-X (Pages 1-34)
Charlesworth, Chris. "Slade: Feel The Noize!" Omnibus Press, 1984. ISBN 0-7119-0538-X (Page 13-14)
Walsall Observer. "Pathfinders Hold Spring Dance"Friday, 17th May 1963 (Newspaper; p. ? )
Wolverhampton Chronicle. "Phantoms Going Great Guns" Friday 20th September 1963 (Page 7)
Wolverhampton Express & Star. Saturday, 4th January 1964

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