This is a rare performance shot of Ferris Wheel while performing at the Black Bird in Geneva, Switzerland (click pic see street view of area today). Linda Lewis is singing with Dave Sweetnam-Ford and Michael Snow is behind the Hammond.Read more about Ferris Wheel & Black Bird in Mersey Me! A Liverpool Lad On The Loose In The Swingin’ 60s (Amazon or Barnes and Noble).
This photograph from 1972 shows the final personnel of Ferris Wheel.
This line-up recorded one album for Polydor (UNI in the U.S.)
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I’ve been meditating on Pops lately for a variety of reasons. I’ve been watching a wonderful DVD of his 70th birthday celebration, held at the Newport Jazz Festival, with a staggering array of talent on hand; the whole thing lovingly organized by George Wein (a legend in his own right). The bonus materials fill a second disc, and it’s all superb and sublime. The title is “Good Evening Everybody” from his famous catch-phrase intro, and even if jazz ain’t your bag, it’s a master entertainer doing just that . . . entertaining at the highest level.
When I was writing my book “Mersey Me!”, I revisited the occasion in Juan Les Pins where I actually got to meet him after his performance at the Antibes Jazz Festival, when he played a midnight matinee at the Voom Voom Club, where I was gigging with Ferris Wheel. He shared our dressing room and invited us stage-side for his set with The All Stars . . . talk about sitting at the feet of a master!
Mersey Me! Excerpt from “War Stories”
The defining Voom Voom memory is the Louis Armstrong moment … one year our stint happened to coincide with the Jazz Festival, so as our band didn’t hit until 9.30, Dave and I would spend the bulk of the day at the festival site, digging all the big boys, and there were some big boys there that year. My wife Patti arrived in June towards the end of the festival, so fortunately she got to share “the moment.” The club owner, an old swashbuckler from Marseilles – Rene, as I recall – had booked the incomparable Satchmo for a midnight matinee after his Festival appearance. Now, Mr. Armstrong was in his later years at this time, but had recently had the most commercial successes of his career with “Hello Dolly” and “What a Wonderful World,” so Pops was still hot (was he ever not?). We were all well pumped at the idea of seeing such a legendary musician up close, but also to catch the All-Stars, at that time with Tyree Glenn on trombone, Barrett Deems on drums, and all those other killers. It was a Friday, I believe, and we were set to wind up our set at eleven thirty, with Louis on at midnight. Now, a Ferris Wheel set was a pretty energetic affair, so we usually hit the dressing room with our reasonably elaborate costumes, and our less elaborate bodies, soaked through. A minute to get changed and compose ourselves was a virtual necessity. Well, this night we were barely off, in the stage-side dressing room, when a phalanx of French security people burst in to clear the space for “Le Armstrong.” We were all literally undressed, Diane too, when these goons made their aggressive appearance, closely followed by His Highness, who cut that shit off at the knees. “Hey boys, can’t you see these folks been workin’ their asses off? This is their room, an’ I just need a little table to set my horn on, and any old chair.” He shoo’ed the security detail off, smoked a joint with us, joking, especially with our black members, “Ofay, Ofay, never gonna go away, heh, heh” and shaking his head. Then came the magic moment … “y’all wanna sit on the stageside, ya welcome.” We did indeed, and Patti and I got to be barely feet away from Louis Armstrong for a wonderful ninety-minute performance, one of those things you can’t really put a price on, can you?
Ferris Wheel had good reasons for calling a halt: We’d ridden the crest of the “soul boom,” and had fun doing it; we’d traveled all over the UK and Europe, played festivals with the likes of The Who and Cream, solidified our reputation as a fearsome live act, and survived a possibly fatal change in personnel, to reinvent the band and give it a second go-round. So there was a certain professional pride in quitting while we were ahead. Linda and Dennis were at the thresholds of their careers, full of talent and ambition, George and Dave had been on the road since the late fifties, their children were now adolescents, and George wanted to pursue a “stay-at-home” career as a session musician and hired gun, and Terry Edmunds’ indisposition had left us playing with a string of fill-in guitarists in the last few months of the band’s existence.
For me, there had been significant changes, both professional and personal over that four years. After Patti Dyer returned to the States in the autumn of ‘65, I’d started writing to her, at first with no reply, but after a while I did get a casual note or postcard now and then. Over time, as I mounted a blitzkreig campaign of letter-writing, basically begging her to return to England, her replies were as brief and succinct as mine were long and effusive … I felt I wasn’t doing too well. Then, in the spring of ‘67, I received a note asking me to meet her at Heathrow Airport on a certain day in the immediate future, just like that! From that moment on, we were a couple, and were married on 31st August 1967. Three years later, to the day, our first child Celeste was born. With a baby around I didn’t want to be away all the time, which would have been reason enough to get off the touring grind, but I was also increasingly drawn to the “back room” world of songwriting full time and the studios, both as a player and, hopefully, a producer. I knew that to achieve any of that, I had to be in town.
The other factor was that Doris Troy was back in London, with a mews off Baker Street, a recording and publishing deal with Apple, no less, and George Harrison set to produce her. She had been in touch before she came over to check if I was free to become her musical director/pianist, which I couldn’t commit to at once, but of course I wanted to renew our musical partnership, and needed to be free of long-term commitments in order to do that.
The band had been very up front with the Gunnells, which was always the safest way to deal with them, and as I was signed to them for publishing as well as management, they offered me a job as professional manager of their publishing division, St. George Music, so I could learn the ropes of publishing and the studio and have some guaranteed money coming in, while giving me a schedule flexible enough that I could freelance some, and also prepare a solo album (the singer/songwriter vogue being the “next big thing”). It was, in retrospect, an extraordinary gesture on their part, and I was determined to justify their faith in me. We’d always got along well with those guys, despite their scary reputation, and rather than being pissed off at losing a solid commission earner, it was very cool of them to approach the situation the way they did.
The Gunnell Group had been a completely independent entity when they signed Ferris Wheel, but a couple of years in, with the profits resulting from their near-monopoly of the soul touring circuit making them a prime target for a takeover, they’d merged their operation with RSO (The Robert Stigwood Organization), which was riding high with The Bee Gees and Cream. So when I first reported for work, it wasn’t to the slightly frayed Gunnell office in Chinatown over a takeaway, but rather to the grandness of Mayfair, directly opposite Claridge’s at 46 Brooke Street. No. 46 was actually completely Gunnell turf, while the main Stigwood office was up the street at No. 67, which was fine by me as I was a Gunnell man through and through, and I had little dealings with the RSO operation at first. I had my own office, and my first (modest) expense account as I set about using all the time no longer devoted to traveling to writing, pitching songs, cutting demos, and familiarizing myself with the catalogue, which represented the compositions of John Mayall and Manfred Mann lead singer, Michael D’ Abo, some Georgie Fame titles, and various other odds and sods in addition to my stuff.
I got lucky early on, because there still wasn’t any strictly formulated way to pitch a song, and certainly no book to tell you how to do it. The network of Denmark Street/BBC connections was closely guarded, so I just hung in the clubs until I saw some artist I knew, then I’d go over and slip ‘em a tune, which back then involved a 45 rpm acetate, so you had to have big pockets if you were off for a night on the pitch. I ran into Colin Blunstone one night at the Speakeasy, and after a drink or two, during which he told me he was back in the music game after a spell as a civilian, following The Zombies sad demise, I gave him an acetate of a Michael D’ Abo song called “Mary, Won’t You Warm My Bed,” which he went on to record on his brilliant solo debut “One Year.” Needless to say, that was a feather in my fledgling cap, when the album became a critical favorite, and a big seller, due to the single, the astonishing string-quintet version of the Denny Laine song “Say You Don’t Mind,” which made the top ten. That pleased the brothers Gunnell, thank god, so I felt I was doing OK right there at the start of this next chapter.
I had a free hand with supervising the St. George demos, so as Patti and I had moved to Wimbledon, after our first idyllic year in a lovely Victorian garden flat in Putney, I started to book demo sessions into R.G. Jones, which had been the first serious independent studio some years before, and was literally around the corner on the next street. Old R.G. had long ago blown out his ears, and while a lovely bloke, was deaf as a post. But his protege Geoff was a very able young fella, and we got on famously, especially as I soon made St. George a significant account for their business. That studio had also become the favored rehearsal space for The Stones, who all lived in that neck of the woods, more or less, so I would occasionally wind up a session as Charlie Watts and Bill Wyman (always the first!) would be getting set up, and very nice they were, musos first, no bullshit, and up for a chat and a laugh.
I started putting together a bit of a session team, as I knew that the great recording centers in the US all seemed to have studio “house bands” and the only real equivalent, within the newer breed of session musicians, was Barry Morgan’s team in North London, who would go on to record as Blue Mink, featuring Roger Cook and Madeline Bell on vocals. George Ford was naturally my first choice on bass, and depending on availability, Dennis Elliott, Rob Townsend from Family, or Tony Knight took the drum chair. I shared guitar duties with Steve Kipner of Tin Tin, and I handled keyboards. The office was pleased with the heightened quality of the demos, so I started supervising demos for No. 67 as well.
Doris, being Doris, had got herself installed in her own office at Apple, and one day, soon after I started at No. 46, she called me, inviting me over to see her new quarters. I took the pleasant stroll from Brooke Street over to Savile Row and was ushered into her office. Resplendent in a high African head wrap and a floor length dashiki, she stretched her arms wide … “I gotta desk, you gotta desk, all god’s children got desks, baby … Thank you, Lord!” Summed it up, really.
To read more of the chapter – get the book at www.michaelsnowbooks.com
It’s been well documented that the sixties was the time when recording studios came of age, when the innovations came thick and fast, when the studio itself evolved into an instrument. I cut my studio teeth during that revolutionary period, at first in bands, then gradually working my way into the session game. At first, my only ambition was to set foot in Abbey Road, and once that had happened, rather quickly, I’m glad to say, I found myself drawn more and more to that side of things. Initially, the rarified world of the session musician wasn’t even a consideration. They were an elite apart, older than the rock upstarts, and protective of their hard-won turf. The string and brass players were particularly scornful of the long-haired interlopers, showing their disdain and lack of involvement by studiously poring over their reading matter, whether it be Amateur Photographer, The Racing Form, or the daily crossword, keeping one eye on the chart until seconds before their written entry, then nonchalantly hitting their marks on time. It was their way of letting us know that they were members of a club whose membership rolls were closed. The openings, though few and far between, came about when some of the new maverick producers started to realize that the stalwarts, especially the rhythm sections and lead guitarists, didn’t really sound authentic playing a lot of the new music, so those producers, god bless ‘em, began looking farther afield for appropriate musicians. It certainly wasn’t for everybody, as discipline, punctuality, and grace under pressure were just as important as the ability to deliver a good part to order. I got my first little tastes of independent studio work through Simon Napier Bell on the Diane Ferraz and Nicky Scott project, working with a very impressive multi instrumentalist named John Paul Jones, who, along with Jimmy Page, was in the vanguard of the new type of session guy, closer to the street, closer to rock. Those two were still ages away from Led Zeppelin, but were already making a mark in the studios.
I’d been able to get a great deal of studio experience during my time with Ferris Wheel, not only on the band’s own albums and singles, under the guidance of “young veteran” producers John Schroeder and Ian Samwell, but also on the outside projects that came the band’s way due to the fact that our musicianship was high quality, and we could handle ourselves in the studio. My first film dub session was with the Wheel, at a time when a film dub involved a big screen, on which the scenes were projected while the musicians synchronized to the action. The film was a “Swinging London” artifact called “The Touchables,” and the episode in question was a nightclub scene (of course), in which the action had been shot and edited to Aretha Franklin’s version of “Respect.” After they’d finished the movie, they found that they couldn’t, for whatever reason, license her version, so we were summoned to reproduce it in every detail, every nuance … a pretty tall order, if you think about it! The session was called at De Lane Lea Studios in Holborn, one of the very few facilities in Central London with film-synch capabilities, and we arrived and set up facing the big screen, as instructed. Ken Thorne, a well-known composer/arranger, who had served as M.D. on “Help!”, was the musical director for the film, so he was there to conduct us … basically, he had the synch stripe in his earphones, and we had just the band in ours, so it was his job to keep us in exact frame time. Now, soul music, by it’s very name and definition, wasn’t intended to be played to a waving baton, and Ken knew this, so he was very accommodating, knowing we had a very tough assignment. We also figured that Diane would be good for about five passes, tops, before her pipes gave out (she was singing live with the band) so it was pressure all around. The temptation to look at the nubile, half-dressed beauties writhing on the screen was intense, but we had to keep our eyes on Mr. Thorne, while he got to eyeball the screen … some guys have all the luck! That was my first experience of really being under the gun in the studio, and it was a real confidence builder when we nailed it on the third take … our version also appeared on the soundtrack album on Stateside Records, so it was a satisfactory day’s work that stood me in good stead later on when I was in the pressure cooker on a regular basis.