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."
Express And Star:  22nd and 29th July 1966
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  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.
( For more information about The Blues Ensemble, click on the BRUM BEAT site, here! )

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.

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


Sat 1st January - Parish Hall, Sedgley
Mon 3rd January - Willenhall Baths
Thurs 6th January - Willenhall Baths - The Fabulous Soul Seekers
Fri 7th January - Civic Hall,Wolverhampton - Soul Seekers and The Ides of March
Sun 9th January - The Golden Torch,Tunstall,Nottingham - The Falling Leaves
Mon 10th January - Queens Head,Erdington
Wed 12th January - Mossley Youth Club -The Radio Caroliners
Thurs 13th January - Ship & Rainbow,Wolverhampton - Jenny Wren & the Opposite Set
Sat 15th January - Queens Hall,Burslem -The Persuaders -Art Ake
Sun 16th January -Waggon & Horses,Wall Heath
Mon 17th January - Baths,Langley -Eight Feet 4
Fri 21st January -Johnson,Matthey & co ltd,Burslem,Stoke on Trent
Sun 23rd January - Waggon and Horses,Wall Heath
Mon 24th January -Civic Hall,Wolverhampton-Hells Bells
Fri 28th January - Civic Hall,Wolverhampton -Barron Knights
Sat 29th January - Civic Hall,Brierley Hill
Mon 31st January - Baths,Willenhall
Tues 1st February - Woolpack, Salop Street
Wed 2nd February - Wulfren Hall - Soulseekers
Sat 5th February -Bilston Town Hall -The Atlantics
Sat 12th February -Wulfrun Hall,Wolverhampton
Fri 18th February - Mary Dermot Parish Hall, Gough St, Coseley
Sat 19th February - Bolero Club, Wednesbury
Sun 20th February - Silver Blades,Birmingham
Sun 20th February -Garden of Eden,Birmingham
Mon 21st February - Assembly Rooms,Tamworth-Blues Ensemble
Thurs 24th February - Greenways,Baddesley Green,Stoke on Trent
Sat 26th February - Civic Center, Brierley Hill
Sun 6th March -The Westend Club,Coalville,Leicester
Mon 7th March -Baths,Willenhall
Fri 11th March -Civic Hall,Wolverhampton
Fri 18th March -Civic Hall,Wolverhampton
Sat 19th March - Walsall Town Hall
Tues 22nd March -Milano Coffee Bar,WolverhamptonThurs 24th March - Ship & Rainbow,Wolverhampton
Sat 26th March - Civic Hall, Brierly Hill
Fri 1st April - The Majestic, Newcastle
Tues 5th April - Hen & Chickens, Oldbury
Mn 11th April - Civic Hall,Wolverhampton
Thurs 14th April - Baths Willenhall -Tony Rivers ,The Castaways/Opposite Set
Fri 15th April - Civic Hall, Wolverhampton-Bob Miller & The Millermen/Reg Bradley Band/The Zuider Zee
Sat 16th April - Ye Olde Moat House Club, Birmingham
Sun 17th April - The Golden Torch,Tunstall,Nottingham -The Factotums
Tues 19th April - Woolpack, Wolverhampton
Thurs 21st April - Civic Hall,Wolverhampton -Moody Blues/Ides of March
Sat 23rd April - Mecca Rollerink, Birmingham
Fri 29th April - The Cascade Club,Birmingham
Sun 1st May - The Westend Club,Coalvile,Leicester
Wed 11th May - Parish Hall,Sedgley
Thurs 12th May -The Marlbrook,Birmingham
Fri 13th May - St Michaels YC,Wolverhampton
Mon 16th May -Queens Head,Erdington
Fri 20th May - Woolpack, Wolverhampton
Sat 21st May - The Disco Volante Club.Trysull
Fri 27th May -Waggon and Horses,Meir,Soke on Trent
Mon 30th May - South Perton Farm, Perton,Wolverhampton-Prim 'n' Proper / Ambassadors
Tues 31st May -Woolpack,Wolverhampton
Thurs 2nd June -Golden Torch,Tunstall,Nottingham
Sat 4th June -400 Club, Torquay
Mon 6th June - 400Club,Torquay
Tues 7th June - 400 Club,Torquay
Wed 8th June - 400 Club,Torquay
Thurs 9th June - 400 Club,Torquay
Fri 10th June - 400 Club,Torquay
Sat 11th June -Blue 400 Club Torquay
Sun 12th June -Blue 400 Club Torquay
Mon 13th June -Blue 400 Club Torquay
Tues 14th June -Blue 400 Club Torquay
Wed 15th June -Blue 400 Club Torquay
Thurs 16th June -Blue 400 Club Torquay
Fri 17th June -Blue 400 Club Torquay
Sun 19th June -Park Ballroom,Plymouth
Mon 20th June - St Merryn Village Hall
Thurs 23rd June -Park Ballroom,Plymouth
Sun 26th June - Silver Blades,Birmingham
Thurs 7th July - Star Palast,Kiel,Germany
Fri 8th July - Star Palast,Kiel,Germany
Sat 9th July - Star Palast,Kiel,Germany
Sun 10th July - Star Palast,Kiel,Germany
Mon 11th July - Star Palast,Kiel,Germany
Tues 12th July - Star Palast,Kiel,Germany
Wed 13th July - Star Palast,Kiel,Germany
Thurs 14th July - Star Palast,Kiel,Germany
Fri 15th July - Star Palast,Kiel,Germany
Sat 16th July -Carlton Club ,High Street ,Erdington,Birmingham - The Little People
Sun 24th July -  Bel Air, Birmingham
Wed 27th July - Tyburn House,Birmingham
Fri 29th July - The Coach House,Coleshill,Birmingham
Mon 1st August - Queens Head Erdington
Fri 5th August -Civic Hall,Wolverhampton
Sat 6th August -Parish Hall,Sedgley
Sun 7th August - Westend Club,Coalville ,Leicester
Sun 7th August - Garden of Eden Club,Birmingham
Mon 8th August - The Golden Torch,Tunstall,Stoke on Trent
Wed 10th August - The Parkstone Club ,Foleshill,Coventry
Fri 12th August - The Woolpack ,Wolverhampton
Sat 13th August -Connaught Hotel,Wolverhampton
Mon 15th August - Caves,Wrens Nest,Dudley
Fri 19th August - The County Arms ,Leicester
Sat 20th August - Kings Hall,Stoke-The Score
Mon 22nd August - Civic Hall,Wolverhampton- The Ambassaders
Fri 26th August -Parish Hall,Coseley
Sat 27th August - The Golden Torch,Tunstall,Stoke on Trent
Mon 29th August - Tiles Club London
Wed 31st August - The Tybourn House,Birmingham
Thurs 1st September - Queens Head,Erdington
Fri 2nd September -Town Hall,Loughborough
Fri 16th September - Civic Hall,Wolverhampton-Blues Ensemble/Soulseekers/Our Generation
Sat 17th September - 400 Club ,Torquay
Sun 18th September -400 Club,Torquay
Mon 19th September - 400 Club,Torquay
Tues 20th September - 400 Club,Torquay
Wed 21st September - 400 Club,Torquay
Thurs 22nd September - 400 Club,Torquay
Fri 23rd September - 400 Club,Torquay
Sat 24th September - Town Hall.Walsall -Soul Seekers
Sun 25th September -The Blue Flame Club,Wolverhampton
Sun 25th September -Gardn of Eden Club,Birmingham
Tues 4th October -Carlton Club,Erdington
Fri 7th October - Civic Hall,Wolverhampton-The Applejacks
Sat 8th October -Titos Club,Handsworth,Birmingham
Sat 8th October - Carlton Club,Erdington,Birmingham
Sun 9th October -Garden of Eden Club,Birmingham
Sun 10th October -Garden of Eden Club ,Birmingham
Thurs 20th October - Baths,Willenhall-The Cream/Listen/Factotums
Fri 21st October - Silver Blades,Birmingham
Sat 29th October -Club Pandora,Birmingham
Sun 30th October - Clayton Lodege,Stoke on Trent
Mon 31st October - United Services Club,Bilston
Wed 2nd November - George Hotel.Walsall-Animated Lime
Fri 11th November - Mary Dermott Hall, Coseley
Sat 12th November - Tiles Club,London
Sun 13th November -Westend Club,Coalville ,Leicester
Mon 14th November -Holly Bush,Quinton,Birmingham
Wed 16th November -Tyburn House,Birmingham
Tues 22nd November -Casablanca Club,Coventry
Fri 25th November -Sportsmans Arms,Coventry
Sun 27th November - Bolero Club, Wednesbury
Wed 30th November -Bulls Head,Yardley,Birmingham
Thurs 1st December -Carlton Club,Erdington,Birmingham
Sat 3rd December -Ettington Park Hotel,Stratford upon Avon
Sun 4th December - Connaught Hotel,Wolverhampton-The Zero Five
Mon 5th December - Baths,Willenhall-Outward Bound
Sat 10th December -Golden Torch,Tunstall,Stoke on Trent
Sun 11th December - Bolero Club,Wednesbury
Wed 14th December - Woolpack,Wolverhampton-Soulseekers
Thurs 15th December - Public Baths, Willenhall-Alan Price/The MeaslesThe Cobras
Sun 18th December -Bolero Club,Wednesbury
Mon 19th December -Civic Hall,Wolverhampton
Thurs 22nd December -Queens Hotel,Erdington
Sat 24th December -Le Metro Club, Birmingham
Fri 30th December -School Hall,Regis


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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