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
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.
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
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
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
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
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
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
Sound clip for you to download:
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
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
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
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
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
March Rehearsals and new stage act
April 15 Jackie Rae Show London Radio
April 17 Pebble Mill At One Birmingham
April 17 M.R.O.opening show Birmingham
April 19 John Dunn Show London Radio
April 26 Terry Wogan Show London Radio
April 28 Mike & Bernie Winters
May 2 Lift Off With Ayshea Manchester
May 4 Saffron In Concert Petworth
May 5 A Night With Saffron Storrington
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
June 3 Allinson's Theatre Club
June 11 Townsman Club Swansea Cabaret
June 14 Sandman Club Port Talbot
June 17 Bailey's Club Leicester Cabaret
June 24 La Dolce Vita Birmingham
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
August 5 Bailey's Club Oldham Cabaret
August 10 Early Morning Show London
August 12 Meadow Vale Country Club
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,
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,