The Vendors

Bilston, Staffordshire 10th September 1946
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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.
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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.
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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.

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The Vendors with Billy Diffey

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?
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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.

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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.

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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.

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  • Don't Leave Me Now
  • Twilight Time
  • Take Your Time
  • Peace Pipe

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.
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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.

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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."
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.


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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

1963
02/03/1963 Shaws Social Club, Bilston
04/03/1963 Hadley Estate
06/03/1963 Lost City, Ocker Hill
09/03/1963 White Rose
13/03/1963 Lost City, Ocker Hill
17/03/1963 Royal George
21/03/1963 Saint Giles Youth Club Willenhall
22/03/1963 Albrighton
23/03/1963 Bourne Youth Club, Moxley
24/03/1963 British Legion, Princes End
26/03/1963 Stonefield School
30/03/1963 Bourne Youth Club Moxley
31/03/1963 Yew Tree, Walsall
31/03/1963 Royal George
02/04/1963 Horse & Jockey
03/04/1963 British Legion, Princes End
07/04/1963 Royal George

(Johnny Shane leaves first time)
14/06/1963 Chorley +FarewellInstitute,Chorley
(as Johnny Travelle & The Vendors)
22/06/1963 Grand Dance & Social, Bourne Methodist Church, Moxley
(as
Johnny Travel & The Vendors (Hill, Powell)
06/07/1963 Gaumont Cinema.Wolverhampton
(with Derek Broomhill)
26/07/1966 Chorley & Farewell Institute,Chorley
(as Johnny Travelle & The Vendors)
18/08/1963 Victory Inn
(Johnny Shane rejoins group)
30/08/1963 Lost City, Ocker Hill
01/09/1963 Bushbury Arms, Wolverhampton
06/09/1963 Lost City, Ocker Hill
07/09/1963 Victory Inn
13/09/1963 Bushbury Arms, Wolverhampton
14/09/1963 Town Hall .Bilston
15/09/1963 Lost City, Ocker Hill
17/09/1963 Trafalgar Inn
19/09/1963 Youth Club Brierley Hill
20/09/1963 Bushbury Arms, Wolverhampton
21/09/1963 Victory Inn
22/09/1963 Lost City, Ocker Hill
23/09/1963 Trafalgar Inn
26/09/1963 Saint Giles Youth Club Willenhall
27/09/1963 Bushbury Arms, Wolverhampton
28/09/1963 Horse & Jockey
29/09/1963 Lost City, Ocker Hill
02/10/1963 Victory Inn
04/10/1963 Bushbury Arms, Wolverhampton
05/10/1963 Victory Inn
06/10/1963 Lost City, Ocker Hill
09/10/1963 Victory Inn
11/10/1963 Lost City, Ocker Hill
18/10/1963 Lost City, Ocker Hill
19/10/1963 Bourne Youth Club Moxley
24/10/1963 Baths.Willenhall
25/10/1963 Lost City, Ocker Hill
26/10/1963 Sankeys
31/10/1963 Saint Giles Youth Club Willenhall
01/11/1963 Lichfield
12/11/1963 Gough Arms, Wolverhampton
12/11/1963 Forum, Bradley
13/11/1963 Temple St. Youth Club Wolverhampton
14/11/1963 Saint Giles Youth Club Willenhall
16/11/1963 Bourne Youth Club Moxley
19/11/1963 Willenhall Baths
(with The Hollies)
22/11/1963 Etheridge Youth Club Etheridge
24/11/1963 Digbeth Youth Club Walsall
25/11/1963 Little Swan
30/11/1963 Bourne Youth Club Moxley

04/12/1963 Co Op, Walsall

06/12/1963 Claregate Boys Club
07/12/1963 Three Men In A Boat

14/12/1963 Town Hall. Bilston

20/12/1963 Etheridge Youth Club Etheridge

21/12/1963 Claregate Boys Club

(Johnny Shane leaves agian)

1964

03/01/1964 Three Men In A Boat, Bloxwich
15/02/1964 Gaumont,Wolverhampton
19/02/1964 Victory Working Men’s Club, New Invention

26/02/1964 Victory Working Men’s Club, New Invention

04/03/1964 Victory Working Men’s Club, New Invention

11/03/1964 Victory Working Men’s Club, New Invention

18/03/1964 Victory Working Men’s Club, New Invention

27/03/1964 Three Men In A Boat

11/04/1964 Y.W.C.A. Warstones

(as Johnny Travelle & The Vendors)
23/06/1964 Willenhall Comprehensive School

(as
Johnny Travel & The Vendors)
(with
The Dennissons and Johnny Tremaine)
12/09/1964 Civic Hall,Hednesford
19/09/1964 Bilston Town Hall
(with Ram Rods
)
26/09/1964 Bilston Town Hall
(with M5)

24/10/1964 Walsall Town Hall

(with Four Strangers)
20/11/1964 Kavern, Birmingham
17/12/1964 Baths,Willenhall
(with Bo Street Runners,The Trekkers)

2 comments:

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: http://i508.photobucket.com/albums/s324/TheSoulVendor/Slade%20Blog/BeginningsSide1large-1.jpg).

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.

http://sladestory.blogspot.com/1975/04/beginnings-of-slade-1974.html

The original album cover has

Ambrose Slade
Beginnings


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. ;-)