The Vendors

Bilston, Staffordshire, 10th September, 1946

Donald George Powell
Bilston, Summer 1960. The group started, as most do, as a schoolboy affair. Don Powell was introduced to Johnny Howells and Mick Marson by a guy named Dennis Horton. They were playing together and wanted a drummer. Howells was playing guitar at this point. He'd learnt to play acoustic guitar with Marson whose brother had brought home a guitar when he was demobbed. The first song they learnt to play was The Peanut Vendor, from whence came the name, The Vendors.

Don Powell was 14 at the time. He didn't have a drum kit but his friend, Dave Bowdley, had one that he didn't play and Powell borrowed it, frequently. He had been given the bugle to learn when he joined the scouts but swapped it for the big bass drum, so he had a rudimentary idea of how to keep time. The guitars had been upgraded to electric, Marson playing a Watkins Rapier and Howells on a Futurama II. They were playing Shadows instrumental music like FBI, Apache, Wonderful Land and Kon Tiki.

They rehearsed in the (large) front room of Howells' parents boarding house. They had a guy called Chalkie White who looked after their interests and got them a few gigs at youth clubs, private parties and the occasional wedding. The earliest date that has been found is 2nd of March 1963 at Shaws in Bilston They were playing Buddy Holly, Gene Vincent and Eddie Cochran songs.

Johnny Shane had heard about their band. He had been the vocalist and guitarist with Johnny Shane & The Cadillacs but they had recently disbanded. Howells and Marson convinced Shane to join them as bass guitarist. Shane wasn't a confident bassist but he gave it a go. He played bass for The Vendors up until April 1963. At this point The Cadillacs landed an offer too good to turn down and Shane went with them. Within a few weeks they had recruited Billy Diffey to play bass guitar.

At the end of that summer The Cadillacs were history again and Shane rejoined The Vendors but this time as a lead guitarist. Howells quickly realised that Shane was a far superior guitarist and stepped out. The group decided that John Howells was better as their vocalist and he was also now able to add his harmonica to their sound.

In that time honoured tradition amongst the musicians fraternity, John Howells decided his name was not exotic enough. Since the band were called The Vendors, and a vendor was a salesman, John Howells mind took another leap and found Travelling Salesman. He thought Johnny Traveller was amusing but dropping the 'r' was even better and so for a short time they became Johnny Travelle & The Vendors.

Lichfield Post, 19th July1963

Somewhere around December 1963, Chalkie White spotted Dave Hill playing guitar in a pub with a sax and piano combo. A young lad with a couple of adults, he was obviously out of place. The group would have been Big Roll 7 and Hill was playing with them because his group members had slowly disappeared. White took him to Bilston to meet The Vendors next morning.

Johnny Shane (Johnny Howells) And The Cadillacs

Dave Hill's Vendors audition took place at John Howell's home. Hill was anxious to show off his Chuck Berry style because he'd not been able to play that type of thing in The Sundowners and Big Roll 7. The Vendors were up for it though, they wanted to get raunchy. Don Powell told Chris Selby that it was Hill's Chuck Berry chords that got him into the band. Powell had left school now and was working as a cleaner. He'd also signed up on the 'Never, Never' for a £125 drum kit which was quite a sum in 1963. Hill asked if Johnny Bradford could join too, to which they agreed but he clashed with Johnny Howells. Bradford promptly went back to Big Roll 7 and told them that Hill was playing with The Vendors and they sacked him?

The Vendors with Billy Diffey

With Hill in the band The Vendors were complete. They performed quite regularly and hired a casual roadie. Howells had a gold and black Vox AC30 amplifier which Hill commissioned for his guitar. Not only was the Vox a cool looking status symbol for a young and trendy band, it also had a great sound, perfect for a lead guitar. It also weighed a hefty amount. Don Powell's friend from school joined them. Graham 'Swinn' Swinnerton would eventually become Slade's tour manager.

The group also became a bit more adventurous with their music (the Beatles having broken through with Please, Please Me) and they decided to try their hand in a recording studio. Domino Sound Studio was a recording studio in Albrighton, Wolverhampton. Many of the local Beat Groups had recorded there and The Vendors felt optimistic about their material. They recorded four tracks from their set.

Don't Leave Me Now is a self penned number. Written by John Howells & Dave Hill, it is the earliest song written by a member of Slade, the song is based on the style of the Swinging Blue Jeans who were riding high in the charts with It's Too Late Now. Take Your Time was written by Buddy Holly & Norman Petty and was one of the last songs he recorded before his premature death. The complexity of arrangements on covers such as Twilight Time (a Platters song) and Peace Pipe (a Shadows instrumental and Dave Hill favourite) had prevented many groups from attempting this kind of material and that was to work in the groups favour. It's important to bear in mind that these were recorded in early 1964.

  • Don't Leave Me Now
  • Twilight Time
  • Take Your Time
  • Peace Pipe
Express & Star:  Friday 3rd January 1964

The group had picked up a manager in the shape of Maurice Jones, partnered by Len Rowe and Stan Fielding and had signed up to the Astra Agency, who kept a watchful eye on the lads and kept them on the straight and narrow. He also got them onto the right circuit and the right gigs.

In the last few months of 1964 Billy Diffey became 'persona non grata'. He didn't appear to be committed to the band and this episode was the last straw. The group somehow got the opportunity to appear on For Teenagers Only but Diffey wasn't at home when they went to pick him up. He was not very popular after that and soon decided to leave. The band replaced him with Dave 'Cass' Jones which turned out to be a very good trade.

The Kavern in Birmingham, 1964 (from Ebay)

Chris Selby managed to track down Johnny Shane and entered into correspondence with him. His version of events is particularly enlightening regarding The Vendors rapid ascent on the local club scene. When Johnny Shane fronted The Cadillacs, they were considered a good local outfit. One of Shane's letters to Chris explained:
"In December 1962 I left the Caddys because of musical differences and John and Mick came knocking on my door to offer me the job as bass player. I wasn't very good but to be honest neither were they at the time, so I thought why not.

I did about 20 bookings with them when the Caddys got an audition for a TV programme called 6.10 with Jimmy Young...they asked me back as vocalist..I went,the audition was a disaster.

On August 18th 1963 I did my first gig as lead guitarist with the Vendors... The change in them was quite dramatic... John, Mick and Don had come on leaps and bounds... I wasn't too bad and things began to take off.

In Oct 1963 we took part in a competition at Willenhall baths to support the Hollies which we won... we supported them in December 1963.

By this time John was keen on keeping the sets fresh and kept getting new material to learn. I couldn't do it, I was standing still, there was a determination about them that I couldn't match so I jumped before I was pushed."
Willenhall Baths, and many other public swimming baths, were popular venues for music concerts.

"As I remember It was always very cold but after a few dances we soon got warmed up. I couldn't swim so I always had the fear of the floor giving way to the pool. Silly 16 year old girls thoughts. Good memories too though."
Angela Millichip
To start fresh The Vendors changed their name to The 'N Betweens (possibly because they considered their music was somewhere inbetween Rock and Blues) and the foundation of our story comes together. It's worth pointing out that during this era a group was deemed worthy by how well they copied the original style and sound of the song they performed. A band trying to perform their own material and put forward a new sound were choosing a hard route indeed.

All dates and some invaluable information supplied courtesy of Chris Selby. Some media sourced from John Haxby and John Howells as quoted in the Genesis of Slade sleeve notes, the rest can be found in Feel The Noize by Chris Charlesworth.

The Vendors Known Gigs

Sat 2nd March -  Shaws Social Club, Bilston
Mon 4th March -  Hadley Estate
Wed 6th March -  Lost City, Ocker Hill
Sat 9th March -  White Rose
Wed 13th March -  Lost City, Ocker Hill
Sun 17th March -  Royal George
Thurs 21st March -  Saint Giles Youth Club Willenhall
Fri 22nd March -  Albrighton
Sat 23rd March -  Bourne Youth Club, Moxley
Sun 24th March - British Legion, Princes End
Tues 26th March - Stonefield School
Sat 30th March - Bourne Youth Club Moxley
Sun 31st March -  Yew Tree, Walsall
Sun 31st March -  Royal George,Moxley
Tues 2nd April -  Horse & Jockey,Wednesbury
Wed 3rd April -  British Legion, Princes End
Sun 7th April - Royal George ,Moxley
Fri 14th June -  Chorley & Farewell Institute,Chorley
Sat 22nd June - Grand Dance & Social, Bourne Methodist Church, Moxley
Sat 6th Jul7 -  Gaumont Cinema.Wolverhampton (with Derek Broomhill)
Fri 26th July -  Chorley & Farewell Institute,Chorley
Sun 18th August -  Victory Inn,New Invention
Sat 30th August -  Lost City, Ocker Hill
Sun 1st September -  Bushbury Arms, Wolverhampton
Fri 6th September -  Lost City, Ocker Hill
Sat 7th September -  Victory Inn
Fri 13th September -  Bushbury Arms, Wolverhampton
Sat 14h September -  Town Hall .Bilston
Sun 15th September -  Lost City, Ocker Hill
Tues 7th September -  Trafalgar Inn,New Invention
Thurs 19th September -  Youth Club Brierley Hill
Fri 20th September -  Bushbury Arms, Wolverhampton
Sat 21st September -  Victory Inn,New Invention
Sun 22nd September -  Lost City, Ocker Hill
Thurs 26th September -  Saint Giles Youth Club Willenhall
Fri 27th September -  Bushbury Arms, Wolverhampton
Sat 28th September - Horse & Jockey
Sun 29th September - Lost City, Ocker Hill
Wed 2nd October - Victory Inn,New Invention
Fri 4th October - Bushbury Arms, Wolverhampton
Sat 5th October -  Victory Inn,New Invention
Sun 6th October -  Lost City, Ocker Hill
Wed 9th October - Victory Inn,New Invention
Fri 11th October - Lost City, Ocker Hill
Fri 18th October - Lost City, Ocker Hill
Sat 19th October - Bourne Youth Club Moxley
Thurs 24th October - Baths.Willenhall
Fri 25th October - Lost City, Ocker Hill
Sat 26th October - Sankeys
Thurs 31st October - Saint Giles Youth Club Willenhall
Fri 1st November - Lichfield
Sat 2nd November - Gough Arms,West Bromwich
Sun 3rd November - Gough Arms,West Bromwich
Tues 12th November -  Forum, BradleyWed 13th November -  Temple St. Youth Club WolverhamptonThurs 14th November -  Saint Giles Youth Club WillenhallSat 16th November -  Bourne Youth Club Moxley
Fri 22nd November - Etheridge Youth Club EtheridgeSun 24th Novemer - Digbeth Youth Club WalsallMon 25th November - Little Swan
Sat 30th November - Bourne Youth Club Moxley
Wed 4th December - Co Op, Walsall
Fri 6th December - Claregate Boys Club
Sat 7th December - Three Men In A Boat
Sat 14th December - Town Hall. Bilston
Fri 20th December - Etheridge Youth Club Etheridge
Sat 21st December -Claregate Boys Club


Fri 3rd January - Three Men In A Boat, Bloxwich
Sat 15th February - Gaumont,Wolverhampton
Wed 19th February - Victory Working Men’s Club, New Invention
Wed 26th February - Victory Working Men’s Club, New Invention
Wed 4th March - Victory Working Men’s Club, New Invention
Wed 11th March - Victory Working Men’s Club, New Invention
Wed 18th March - Victory Working Men’s Club, New Invention
Fri 27th March - Three Men In A Boat
Sat 11th April - Y.W.C.A. Warstones
Sat 18th April - Ritz Balroom,Kings Heath,Birmingham (With The Blue Stars)
Sat 13th June -Willenhall Comprehensive (With The Dennisons)
Mon 7th September - Hadley & Bilston YC
Sat 12th September - Civic Hall,Hednesford
Sat 19th September - Bilston Town Hall (with Ram Rods)
Sat 26th September - Bilston Town Hall (with M5)
Sat 17th October - Town Hall Walsall (Jeff Silvas / Four Strangers)
Sat 24th October - Town Hall Walsall  (with Four Strangers
Fri 20th November - Kavern, Birmingham


Anonymous said...

Hi !
THANKS for this very interesting Slade Blog ...

I have a question you might answer ?

I own a vinyl copy of the Ambrose Slade "Beginning" (Fontana STL 5492), but the labels are black on white !!!
(so the negative of these:

Can anyone tell me if this is an original one ?
I bought it 1989 in Germany ...

Cheers, AK.

Mickey P. said...

Hi AK,

I'm afraid you appear to have one of the first bootlegs of Beginnings. These arrived when Beginnings was selling for £100, a lot of money in the late 70's.

I suspect you will find that the rear cover is greyscale, no colour.

The original album cover has

Ambrose Slade

printed in red on the greyscale rear cover art.

Glad you like the site, bookmark it and share the link AK. We are regularly updating our information.

Mickey P. ;-)

John Pitt said...

In the Record Collector magazine #11, (July, 1980), they actually gave the track listing for the above Domino Demo E.P. as:-
Peace Pipe + Twilight Time /
It's Too Late Now + Take Your Time.

Mickey P. said...

The record in the photo is an acetate John. This copy (Don had one but I think he lost it) is the only one known to exist. There were taped copies and if I recall correctly, John Haxby borrowed John Howells tape to create 'The Genesis Of Slade' CD release. The acetate labels speak for themselves, Record Collector may have got their 1980 info without a copy for reference? :-/

John Pitt said...

Hi Mickey, yeah I now have no doubt that the info. in that old Record Collector has now been shown to be incorrect, even though it was written by a noteworthy author. But that would have been all the information that anyone had in that period of time, (which probably all came from word of mouth?).
In the article, they did not mention an Acetate, but a 12 to 15 x copies of a Demo E.P., (of which Don still had his at that time!)
Anyway, I merely mentioned it after your post to let readers know that they had printed the wrong track-listing in that old magazine.
Interestingly though, four years later, in issue #58 of Record Collector, (June, 1984), perhaps the author of a newer and more up-dated Slade discography had then known that the previous discography 's entry was incorrect, because I believe, if I remember correctly?, that there was no mention whatsoever about that "Demo E.P.?