NEW WORLD IN THE MORNING
That's what it seemed like back in 1971, a year when four young Roger Whittaker fans joined forces to form their own group, Saffron. Little did we know that within one year we would be performing on stage alongside him. Funny how things worked out and how a twelve year journey around the world that most of us can only dream about became reality.
|I remember the day that the four of us, Karen, Brian, Rusty and myself went to our manager's office in Marylebone Road in the heart of London armed only with a demo tape of a song Brian||
Saffron in 1971
and I had written, Maria On My Mind, later to be released as a single in Denmark, and the perhaps naïve aspirations of clinching a deal that would give us the break that we'd spent twoyears preparing for.
The Marylebone House basement apartment and office were unfamiliar territory to us, walls covered in concert hall posters of artists Joe, our manager, was promoting. But all around were the Gold Disc reminders of the achievements of a man who had already made his mark in the music world with recordings of New World In The Morning, Mammy Blue, Mexican Whistler, Durham Town etc..
This was obviously the home base of an artist that we listened to, watched on TV and never dreamed that we would meet, let alone work alongside with. We'd worked hard for long hours, sometimes nine or ten hours a day, just developing our own blend of four-part harmony and Maria On My Mind was, at that time, the pinnacle of our achievement. Would it be good enough to clinch the deal?
Joe's old Tandberg reel-to-reel tape recorder happily played away, re-incarnating the sounds that we had so painstakingly put down on tape, but, at a speed so much slower than it should have been. The reproduction bore little resemblance of the sound of Saffron and we all felt despair, despondency, any feeling of disappointment that you can imagine. It was as if we were in a time warp and our voices were slowed down and almost coming to a halt.
Joe's foot tapped throughout and, I recall, the breaking of a smile on his face as he looked with scrutiny and reason at each of us in turn as the music played. How could he assess the true quality of the harmony, the style, in fact everything that Saffron was all about, from a playback like this? The tape ended.
Joe, still smiling, left the room to bring in someone else to hear it. Enter stage left, right wing double-blue spots, tight focus, head and shoulders only, Roger appeared. No microphone necessary, the voice could do it all, and "Hi", the first words heard by we four from a man we were to spend the next twelve years of our lives with. What would this professional think of our demo?
The outcome is obvious to the RW fans who have older recordings or who may even have been at some of the concerts we performed together over the years. It wasn't an immediate response, but after 'trials', if you can call them that, at cabaret venues and some concert venues here and there, the partnership began. So many recollections for anyone interested in the wonderful world of working with the man himself. Thanks, Roger. I still live the past.
In The Beginning
In the mid 70's the mainstay of most artists' work was on the UK cabaret circuit with the exception, of course, of artists such as Roger. He had already broken into the international scene in Scandinavia, New Zealand and French speaking Canada. Back home, on such a small isle, you'd be surprised just how many clubs there were to play and how competitive the market was.
As a group Saffron were a foursome and lacked another ingredient, a drummer. As Roger toured the country he had to employ the services of the resident house band drummer, and believe me, I can recall some forgettable evenings on stage when things didn't go as planned or rehearsed.
It was in 1972 that things finally changed and the RW roadshow became a self-contained performing unit. Outside London and the prestigious cabaret venues of the Savoy Hotel, Talk Of The Town, etc. one of the best to work at was The Talk Of The North in Lancashire. Here we worked with the resident drummer who really displayed an empathy for Saffron's warm-up spot and, more importantly, for the wide-ranging musical content of the Top Of The Bill, Roger Whittaker.
Cabaret in those days was a seven night performance at each venue, and, after two or three nights working with this drummer, Roger called a summit meeting. All of us in Saffron knew that we needed a drummer and our group became a fivesome. Quinny joined the ranks, a nickname he had acquired because of his surname, Lawrence, and the association with the saint Thomas Aquinas Lawrence. Saint? Thanks, Quinny, for displaying such mortal qualities when we worked together, you have a lot to answer for!
Intensive rehearsals began, once the cabaret scene was completed, and that was no joke. The cabaret circuit was seven nights a week and up to six or seven weeks on the run. Set-up on Sunday afternoon, seven nights performance and on the road Saturday night to the next venue. I sometimes recall the pace of life in those days, intensive, exciting, learning, but above all, fulfilling.
Working with a man like Roger was an experience. His energy, drive, enthusiasm, self-belief and professionalism inspired us all to produce the best show on the road. We worked long and hard rehearsing for the forthcoming tour in Denmark, an incentive that had some bearing on Quinny's decision to join Saffron. From humble beginnings Saffron were developing into an integral part of the Roger Whittaker show.
Being on stage, especially at entry, when you suddenly realised from the audience response, that this was a man who commanded respect and had earned his laurels, was an experience few of us can ever attain. The VOICE is still going, still entertaining people worldwide, and I'm still here, reflecting on the time I and the rest of Saffron spent with him.
Scandinavia was a dream! Tell you more about that next time.
On the 13th November we were performing at one of my two favourite Danish venues, Aalborg, the Tivoli Gardens being my other, and before the show started we had dignitaries of the theatre arrive to record our visit in concrete. I'm sure all of you reading this will know of the famous area outside the Evelyn Arnaud theatre in Los Angeles where artists sign their name in concrete paving slabs. Well, this was to be the first for the Aalborg-Hallen in Denmark. The new and still wet slabs were brought into the dressing rooms and some form of 'inscription' had to be made. Roger decide to be different! A six inch nail was found and as he placed his head over his slab I remember tracing his profile in the concrete. Not just an autograph, something different and very special. I wonder if Roger remembers this? And Saffron? A slab provided for us was marked with the outline of the Saffron flower, Colchicum family if you want to look it up, and signed with the nail by all of us. I wonder if these records of our visit still exist.
Back to the tour and the job in hand. The schedule showed days that still had to be booked when it was finally posted to us the UK. Only 3 of them? They were finally booked before we even set foot on the plane to go out there, and the tour could have been extended for several more days if other engagements for Roger were not already in place in the run-up to Christmas. The concert experience was thrilling. From the smaller venues to the big cities of 3 countries, even a package holiday might find it difficult to take in Copenhagen, Stockholm and Helsinki and all the other towns in the time we were on the road, and in the air! Roger was never one to turn down a 'gig' and returning to Scandinavia was an experience he both relished and shared.
To pick up where I left off last time, out there in Scandinavia there is some of the most beautiful scenery to behold at the time of year we toured there. Being winter we obviously had to wrap up well when we ventured outdoors. It also gave all of us on stage the problem of keeping guitars in tune when we performed in some of the smaller venues. Not all 'theatres' were as they are now, air conditioned and luxurious, and even the condensation from our breath as we sang or spoke gave concern as it headed towards the microphones!
There had been a number of instances of artists around the world being seriously injured and even killed on stage because the electrical supply had not been properly earthed. However, we all survived, and the five Saffronians had a great time working with some augmenting musicians who really showed us the true character of Scandinavia as we toured with them.
Have you ever stood on a harbour quayside at midnight, slipped a freshly landed and filleted herring fillet down you throat and followed it up with a 'snifter' of real Danish Schnappes? I said our Danish friends showed us the true character of their land! I don't suppose many have done that but it was only one aspect of what they shared with us while we out there.
Then came the Tivoli Garden Concert House performances in Copenhagen, Thursday, 16th November 1972. Two shows that night and at the second was a celebrity in his own right, John Fogerty of Credence Clearwater Revival. He had a Danish girlfriend at that time and she loved Roger's music, so, I suppose she 'dragged' him along to the show and my newspaper cutting in my scrapbook says she was "sitting and rocking in her seat". How many of you have done that!
The tour moved on to Sweden and Finland. It was an exhilarating experience, if only because I met one of my idols in a lift!! We performed in Gothenburg and moved on to the Swedish capital, Stockholm. As we arrived at the theatre, the Folkets Hus, designed for classical performances with beautiful wooden panelling to give the best sound for a symphony orchestra, not for the show that was about to take place there, I couldn't get in the lift with the rest of the band, no space.
I took the next one and stepped inside. There he was, a small man, guitar case in hand and a dusty old footstool tucked under his arm. I couldn't think straight. As the lift set off we said hello to each other and yes, it was Andre Segovia! THE MASTER of the classical guitar. He was there for rehearsals in a small studio in the building for a concert the following night. Any Classicalists amongst Roger's followers will appreciate the experience and why I recall it in my 'memoirs' of touring with Roger.
Helsinki and Finland were something else for us as it was something we'd all dreamed of in those days and never thought we'd see. I had an old Standard 8 cine camera which I used whenever I could, and, in Helsinki I took some film of the frozen lakes, tiny little children skating on them, and thinking "Why can't I do that"? I've tried it a few times since but always seem to end up on my bum in the middle of a public skating arena!
As the tour progressed and we returned at the end to Copenhagen, two things happened. Saffron made their first single recording, and, they made their first television appearance, with Roger. This man has a lot to account for, he made sure that we shared his love of countries he'd been to before, people he'd met, and above all, that we didn't leave them without a feeling that we'd want to go back there again. We sure did.
The tour of Scandinavia had come to an end but there were two memorable and exciting days' work yet to unfold before we flew back to England. I suppose it must be the dream of any stage performer to appear on TV, even if you're only in the backing group, but Roger had a show to do and Saffron were about to realise just such a dream.
Sunday, 26th November 1972, shares a page in my scrapbooks with the events of the following day, read on and you'll see why. We drove back to Aalborg to take part in a Danish TV show which had 'taken off' and was a Danish version of a highly popular show in England. Der Gulden Pille or The Golden Shot, as it was called in the UK, was a game show which had contestants shooting a cross-bow, blindfolded!, at a target, guided verbally by their partner for the occasion.
We kept well out of the way of bows and arrows and the Compere of the show, Otto Leissner, a Danish national celebrity at that time, made sure we were out of range and available to perform the songs for which we had been booked. New World In The Morning, I Don't Believe In If Anymore, Why, a formidable set of songs that had thrilled the audiences over the last few days on tour. The TV show was live and the audience response was unbelievable, ever had the hairs on the back of your neck prickle up?
Roger was so at ease with the performance, he'd been there before, but he made sure that Saffron's contribution, their first on TV, didn't go unrecognised. The 'Rookies' had come good on their first appearance. What we hadn't appreciated was that there was a growing demand for Saffron to release a record of their own, and Brian and I had finally put the finishing touches to the song that influenced Roger to take Saffron on tour with him. Maria On My Mind, thanks Joe Collins, for your foot-tapping and approval back at our 'audition' in the Marylebone Road office, and for believing in a song that now meant Saffron had to drive back to Copenhagen and pass another day in Denmark!
And what a day that proved to be. Back in the 70's Copenhagen boasted amongst its many 'tourist attractions', and not all of them were attractive, believe me, what must have been one of the first user-friendly shopping streets in Europe or Scandinavia. It was known as The Walking Street, a traffic free zone where you could just amble along, look at or buy what you wanted without the fear of being run over by some gas-pedal-happy driver.
There was a super store in The Walking Street, HAVEMANS MAGASIN, and it was certainly one to be visited in those days because it was one of the first to sell everything under the same roof, certainly the first Supermarket of its type that I'd ever visited. In perfect English the lady behind the cash register told me that she'd seen me on TV the night before with Roger. My face normally breaks glass but apparently her television had survived the experience!
I paid my bill, signed the autograph, and came away with the only momento she could lay her hands on at the time, a postcard of Havemans. It had been a good start to an incredible day.
Sound clip for you to download: Maria On My Mind 1.01MB Wave file
The Philips recording studio was the last venue on this trip for Saffron and Maria On My Mind was the main objective. Recording studios were something we'd experienced before but never with the expectation that we all felt following this tour with Roger. We'd had to pay for it all before as part of the promotional campaign we'd launched to get Saffron 'off the ground', this time it was a bit different. We'd done our stuff on stage and we were here because the response and follow-up had demanded it.
The sound of real strings, those of engineers piping what they were hearing down through your headset, it was all just a little bit overwhelming at the end of a gruelling tour. Two things remain crystal clear from that session. I was 'isolated' in a separate recording booth, a 'capsule' up in the air at the top of some steps, because they had problems with recording the timbre of my 12-string. I've still got the 'old lady', and my Gibson Humming Bird copy has never given me the same problem!
It was so hard to feel part of the harmony that was Saffron, it felt as though our 'Body (vocal) Contact' had been severed, but the empathy between us carried us through. And then there was the second crystal clear recollection. The B-side of the record was one which to this day probably remains my favourite recollection of Karen and her interpretation of lyrics. It was called PRELUDE, and even though there were releases of other tracks displaying her vocal technique, none would ever match the clarity, sincerity and dependency for support from the rest of the group to get our message across.
The recording engineer was obviously captivated by what he was hearing, and the producer must have agreed, they just about eliminated all the harmony that was going on in the background that was 'supporting' Karen to make such a great performance. At the playback even she said "Where are you?", knowing that it had been a group effort and that it wasn't the way we'd wanted the final track to turn out. But that's Show Bizz, or so we thought until we flew back to England.
There were some new acts on the scene back in '72. A group called 10CC and a new young female performer called Olivia Newton John. We, Saffron, were priveleged to be asked to appear with Roger on an ITV programme just a few days after our return to England. LIFT OFF WITH AYSHEA was the venue, recorded on December 6th and broadcast on the 27th. What an experience, bridges, white frills, famous faces and the chance to set off security alarms that made Saffron a well known name in the Manchester studio, or at least mine.
Just a couple of 'clips' from the past and present. Old times on the road making sure the scores were ready for the next day's rehearsals, and, for the true RW and Saffron followers, a small Christmas present from me to you. If Jesse, our webmaster, has the time and capacity to print it, I'd love to share a very special time with you when Roger entertained my Mum and Dad at Christmas in his home at Quendon.
The end of 1972 certainly was hectic and even following the dizzy heights of the Scandinavian tour, the first single recording and the first TV appearance for Saffron, there was still a lot to be done. The visit to the Manchester Granada TV studios brings back even earlier memories, evoked by the appearance of Olivia Newton-John, and a significant milestone from the past when our manager, the late Joe Collins, had booked Saffron as the support act on a UK tour with Marvin, Welch and Farrar.
Most people have heard of Sir Cliff Richard, especially in the 60’s when he was one of a number of British artistes up there with Elvis in the international rankings, and he had a group working with him called The Shadows. Marvin, Welch and Farrar was their stage name when they went on tour in early ’71, and, Bruce in particular had ‘connections’ at that time with Olivia. They say it’s a small world and here we were on the same TV set as her just a couple of years later.
I remember during the studio set-up that there was a white fence leading down a gentle stage slope and that this was where Olivia was to walk down for her performance of John Denver’s ‘Take Me Home, Country Road’. During the final rehearsal she appeared from the changing room in white, very frilly dress, typical of the earl 70’s and bee-bop, and headed for the set. I’d found a door that you could see from perfectly and having opened it, I immediately set off an alarm because I hadn’t noticed the red light above it. Within seconds I was wheeled away by security men and generally made to feel the novice that I was.
During this show, Lift Off With Ayshea, December 6th 1972, Roger acted as a co-host with Ayshea and they chatted between all the acts before he and Saffron had their turn to perform. What Love Is, a beautiful ballad from Roger’s repertoire and I wish I had a dollar for every time we performed it on stage over the years! And then it was on to the next ‘gig’.
December 7th, and this time the venue was the BBC studio in Pebble Mill in Birmingham. This was the third TV appearance in eleven days and again the song performed was What Love Is. Looking back on it there was a lot of hard work going on to promote both the song and Roger to the UK public. The song derived from a competition he ran when doing a BBC radio show, no surprise then that just a short while later another listener’s offering really opened up the international market for him, and the experience for Saffron, the song of course was The Last Farewell!
But 1972 wasn’t over yet although we were in December and had been travelling and working for most of it, there was more to be done and two very important venues to work. On Sunday December the 10th Saffron started their first ‘top of the bill’ engagement at the Ringmer Cabaret Club deep in the heart of the Sussex Downs. Two years previously we’d appeared there backing Roger as a trial to establish whether we could work together. Little did we know then that the ‘trial’ would lead us to years of touring the world and returning to that venue in our own right!
Following the week’s cabaret, and rapidly approaching Christmas, Saffron’s final performance of the year was one very special to all of us. It was held in the small country town of Petworth where we all lived, and, staged in The Herbert Shiner School where Brian and I had taught before ‘turning pro’ in our new careers. Saffron had always been involved in Gospel and other charitable work and this time it was to be giving something back to our own local community.
We staged a concert on December 22nd to raise money for a new Over 60’s Day Club that would bring the older and lonely members of the town together to relieve the loneliness that they encountered throughout the year. It was a night to remember for more than one reason. Guess who was top of the bill? From the glamour of the international scene to the parochial setting of a small country town, he was never one to ignore the opportunity to give something back himself, Roger was the star!
Posters were supplied by the promoter of our recent Scandinavian tour, Knud Thorbjensen, I sent out letters to all the local press, and the school hall was packed. The local Youth Club, where I’d been one of the Youth Leaders, provided the refreshments, ran a prize raffle, sold the programmes etc., and what a night it was! There were volunteers ferrying the ‘old folks’ from all round the surrounding area, proud parents of Karen and Rusty waiting to see what their offspring had let themselves in for in the world of entertainment, and backstage, using the classrooms as changing rooms, Roger and Saffron just raring to go.
If any of you can imagine having a concert in your own out-of-the-way locality starring Roger Whittaker and Saffron, in your own back yard as it were, then you’ll understand the excitement that surrounded the whole event. Just three days before Christmas it was the perfect end to a perfect year, we all felt so fulfilled with our efforts, and the funds came rolling in for the Day Club over the weeks to follow
THE LEARNING ZONE!
Following the events and experiences of 1972 Christmas was a wonderful time of relaxation and being with families again. 1973 was only a few days away but everyone needed the break to re-charge batteries. What a change the new year held in store for all of us.
Roger had already established markets in Denmark and New Zealand, and Saffron had already tasted the delights of Scandinavia so what was around the corner?
Back in the70's International touring for most artists was considered the cream on the cake, the mainstay of their work being in the UK cabaret clubs. These club circuits were well established and anyone who was anyone wanted to top the bill at the most prestigious of them. This was the bread and butter work and where reputations were made or broken.
So, in January of '74 the circuits started for Saffron and Roger, seven days a week, week after week. It was really hard work, the driving through the night from one venue to the next, the humping in and out of all the stage equipment, but there were two main benefits.
The first was making some wonderful friends with the landlords and landladies of the guest houses we used to stay in, many of whom we re-visited in years to come, and secondly, just being on stage, it was what all the hard work was about.
To give you an idea of the intensity of it all I hope the following 'itinerary' will prove an eye-opener.
Jan 30. New Tito's Club Cardiff Cabaret
Feb 2 Night Ride London Radio
Feb 13 Portsmouth Guildhall Portsmouth Concert
March Rehearsals and new stage act preparation.
April 15 Jackie Rae Show London Radio
April 17 Pebble Mill At One Birmingham TV
April 17 M.R.O.opening show Birmingham Radio
April 19 John Dunn Show London Radio
April 26 Terry Wogan Show London Radio
April 28 Mike & Bernie Winters Folkestone Concert
May 2 Lift Off With Ayshea Manchester TV
May 4 Saffron In Concert Petworth Concert
May 5 A Night With Saffron Storrington Concert
May 8 Pebble Mill At One Birmingham TV
May 10 Night Ride London Radio
May 22 Tony Brandon Show` London Radio
May 22 Wakefield Theatre Club Wakefield Cabaret
June 3 Allinson's Theatre Club Liverpool Cabaret
June 11 Townsman Club Swansea Cabaret
June 14 Sandman Club Port Talbot Cabaret
June 17 Bailey's Club Leicester Cabaret
June 24 La Dolce Vita Birmingham Cabaret
July 1 Bailey's Club Hull Cabaret
July 8 Talk Of The North Eccles Cabaret
July 15 Bailey's Club Sheffield Cabaret
July 23 Short summer break to re-charge batteries!
August 5 Bailey's Club Oldham Cabaret
August 10 Early Morning Show London Radio
August 12 Meadow Vale Country Club Tonyrefail Cabaret
Sept 4 Music To Midnight London Radio
Sept 7 Night Ride London Radio
And then…..in what should have been a week back at The Talk Of The North for another week's cabaret on September 9, something extraordinary happened.
A young lady by the name of Cilla Black was celebrating 10 years as a singer with a six week concert season at The London Palladium. Roger and Saffron were invited to take part as the Special Guest Artist act. The problem was that the first week of the show coincided with that of a week's prior booking to do cabaret in Eccles, Manchester. So an Epic, never before and never since achieved, began.
At 6.15 the matinee at the Palladium began and at 8.30 the second show started. Roger and Saffron closed the first half of the second show at 9.45. It was a mad dash to change, drive at breakneck speeds through the streets of London and the evening traffic to Elstree Airfield north of the city. Here our chartered plane waited for us and we flew off to Manchester where another car was waiting to whisk us to The Talk Of The North cabaret club.
On stage at midnight, it seemed unreal, two shows in London and one in Manchester in the same night? Even the national press picked up on this amazing commitment to honour engagements, I have the newspaper cuttings in my scrapbooks, and after the cabaret it was back into the car for the return journey to Manchester airport. We had to take off for the return journey to London before 2.00am when the runway closed for re-surfacing work.
Back at Elstree it was the final ride in Roger's Rolls Royce to the hotel in London and to what I think most would agree was a well earned rest. There are some other memories of that week that I'll pass on in the next chapter but one that stands out I'll relate now.
Heading north out of London on the first night of this Epic we came to a halt at a set of traffic lights. On the inside lane there was a Jaguar E Type sports car. Roger said "Shall we"? and of course he did. He shifted to two and half ton car into first gear and as the lights changed to green floored the throttle. The five of us in the car just burned the Jag off the road! But that was Roger, always full of the unexpected.
The remaining five weeks at The Palladium were a little less frenetic, and they had to be: we had to prepare a new show during the days for the next concert tour coming up in November. It was to be back to Sweden and Denmark and the show was based around Roger's creation of An Image To My Mind, a theme some of you may recognise in his latest CD release, Awakening.
That's it from me for now but 1973 wasn't over yet, The Learning Zone was widening even further. Till the next time and Chapter 7,