East End Memories


45 r.p.m. 'record covers

As I got older, I took to going down the lane more often and without my parents. Although I was brought up to go to Sunday School, I have to confess that there were many times when I would miss school and nip off down the lane for a wander and a gander! The Lane was where I would buy my Christmas and birthday presents in those days. However, these chores were mere impedances and occasionally got in the way of my real quest. I had discovered certain treasures hiding down the lane and I came ready to mine on every occasion I could.

As I have said, I was brought up with music (see Musical Evenings). My father played the piano by ear and both of my parents sang. On Sundays, we would have great fun thanks to our musical evenings where my father would play and we would all take turns to sing or else sing together. In addition, my parents, or rather my mother, had a large gramophone record collection, which was varied and had a major influence on my early musical development.

78 r.p.m. 'record covers

In those days, all records, as they were soon commonly called, were either ten or twelve inches in diameter and were played on a turntable at 78 revolutions per minute. The song or tune was cut into the groove of a spiral on the record’s surface and was transferred to an amplifier via a stylus or needle when placed in the groove. Needles were soon blunted with multiple plays and would produce a dull and somewhat muffled sound and had to be replaced. Needles were bought in quantity and generally were sold in little tins containing 10-25 units. Needles were available for sale in special Music Shops along with sheet music, musical instruments and records. In those days, Music Shops were somewhat sedate places and not the noisy places that are known today. These shops provided small booths where the patron could sit and listen to a gramophone record or two before making his or her decision for purchase. Music Shops, as they once were, had a certain charm, which the modern shopper of today might find somewhat quaint.

Record Needles

When we lived above the pie ‘n’ mash shop when I was a child, we had a radiogram. This was something thought of as quite posh in those days. It was a large piece of furniture in walnut wood and consisted of a radio and a gramophone with a turntable that allowed eight to ten records to be played, one after the other.


My mother bought our records from Paul’s Record Shop or from his stall on The Waste. The Waste is the open space opposite The London Hospital on the Whitechapel Road where, over the years, a market had grown up. Paul’s stall was almost directly opposite Whitechapel Underground Station, which was a prime pitch, since he was well positioned to attract customers coming out the station. Paul was a great fellow in my book and always treated me well (see Saturday Afternoons in the East End). I will always be grateful to him for introducing me to many musical styles and to a vast array of artists, many of whom remain great favourites of mine to this day. My mother would often take me with her when she went to Paul’s stall for some new records.

The site of Paul's Stall

Paul could always be found behind his stall rather than in his shop. I never saw him without a cigarette hanging from the corner of his mouth and wearing his dark blue donkey jacket regardless of the season. He stood there slightly hunched over with his hands dug deep into the pockets. Regardless of the weather, Paul was perpetually cold and generally had a large dustbin close by filled with burning broken pieces of wooden crates. Paul always had a record playing on the little turntable on his stall and his head would be moving slightly in time to the music.

Nipper - Trademark of His Master's Voice (HMV)
and The Radio Corporation of America (RCA) 

Whenever Paul saw my mother and me, he would raise and lower his eyebrows in greeting and then give me a wink. Paul was soft spoken and used words sparingly, being sure never to waste one. However, he did have conversations with certain people, such as his mates and also with my mother. I remember that whenever he engaged her in conversation, his lips barely seemed to move and it was only from the slight up and down movement of his cigarette along with the occasional cough that allowed me to know that he was speaking. If I listened really carefully, I could just about hear an almost imperceptible sound coming from his mouth. My mother obviously was able to follow his conversation as they would be soon laughing together. Naturally Paul’s laughter was silent too. However, I was able to tell when he was amused because his eyes would screw up, his head would bob back and forth and his shoulders would move up and down. These motions always caused me to laugh too and for this he would give me another wink. Paul was a good fellar in the best sense of the term and was fond of a joke (as the reader will know from Saturday Afternoons in the East End). He was a great favourite of mine.

Paul had a number of wooden boxes on his stall that were filled with second hand 78s. He would buy these discarded discs from his customers and then offer them to the public at a price that was difficult to refuse. Once my mother and Paul had finished their conversation, she would rummage through each box and find a few that pleased her. Once she had finished, she would hand her choices to Paul, who naturally without a word, but with a slight nod of his head, would remove the record from its sleeve and place it on his turntable. Once sound came out of the speaker, Paul would turn to me to judge my reaction (which is detailed in Saturday Afternoons in the East End).

Paul enjoyed my reaction to music, but suffice it to say that, being young and not being especially shy at that time, I would openly display any pleasure or dislike of the tune for all to see. I found that once I began to feel the music I was unable to remain still and would begin to move and would be gone, as they used to say, and I wasn’t coming back until the music ended! Paul found my response amusing and soon his shoulders would be shaking and his head would be bobbing back and forth as his silent laughter filled the air!

I was especially fond of the more jazzy type of tunes. My mother and I shared a particular fondness for Al Jolson since his songs were lively and got you moving. Although I like just about all of his tunes, my particular favourite was Swanee while my mother preferred April Showers and You made me love you.

Al Jolson   Harry Roy

However of all the artists that I liked, my all-time special favourite was Harry Roy & His Band. Harry Roy was not just a band leader – he was an entertainer. He not only conducted a great band, but sang, tap danced and told jokes. He was often on the radio and I would always look forward tohis programmes. Although I liked just about anything and everything that the band played, I was especially fond of his versions of Twelfth Street Rag and Let yourself go.

Once my mother had made her choices, she would pay for the records and we would bid Paul goodbye. He would nod his head and raise his eyebrows in answer and give me a final wink. I would be eager to get home as quickly as possible since I was wanting to hear the new records. Once home, my mother would oblige me by playing them for me and I would enjoy them and decide where they fell in my list of favourites.

My father had set up a speaker in the pie ‘n’ mash shop, which he connected to the radiogram upstairs. Periodically during the day, my mother would pile ten 78s onto the spindle of the turntable and push the little lever to set the machine in operation. Within seconds the bottom record crashed down onto the turntable and it never failed to amaze me that it did not break. Almost immediately, the arm would swing over and the needle would fall onto the outer rim of the record and soon the whole shop would be filled with music much to the joy of the customers. Soon, they would also be hearing my father singing along with the tune while he worked in the bake house.

The major problem of the 78 was that it could be easily broken. The 78 was made of a rather brittle mixture consisting of 25% shellac, a cotton filler material somewhat similar to manila paper, powdered slate and a small amount of a wax lubricant. They required careful handling, but in spite of major effects to preserve them on the part of the owner, breakages would occur much to their chagrin. I remember that in the late 1950s, a vinyl non-breakable 78 appeared.

I never saw many of these vinyl 78s and only owned one such disc myself. It was made by Mercury and was of The Platters singing The Great Pretender and Only You. I remember that I bought this record in one of those old fashioned Musical ShopsHickie’s of Slough – in 1958 shortly after we had moved out of the East End. I had been in bed for a week with Asian ‘Flu’ and this was my first day out. I needed something to cheer myself up and shake off that miserable post-‘flu’ feeling and the gloom and despair that I was beginning to feel at the thought of going back to school on the following Monday.

The Platters   Buddy Holly and The Crickets

Mercury 45   Coral 45

I had saved up a pound in small coins over the previous weeks and they were beginning to burn a hole in my pocket. Hickie’s was typical of the many Music Shops that existed all over Britain at that time. They were not especially inviting places with the front part of the shop filled with pianos and large radiograms and bulky televisions. Way down at the back of the shop was a small area where records were sold. The 78s were kept on shelves behind a small counter. There were three listening booths, each with curtains to allow a certain privacy while listening to your music of choice. In one of the booths, I could see hands and upper arms moving above the curtain as the occupants managed to jive in the confined space. Suddenly, I became frozen to the spot. This was one of those magical moments in life that one does not forget for the tune that was coming out of the booth, and which caused the couple to be dancing, was That’ll be the day by The Crickets. I could not believe the remarkable sound. When the tune came to an end, a young beatnik-like couple came out of the booth and practically ran out of the shop. Obviously they did not have the money to buy the record and did not wish to hear the complaints of the saleswoman. In those days, sales people did not look kindly on folks that just wanted to hear the tune. One was expected to buy.

I asked the sales woman for the name of the tune that the couple had been listening to. She was a snooty type and immediately asked me if I wanted to listen or buy. I told that that I wanted to do both, which shut-her-up. There in the comfort of that tiny booth, I sat and listened to the wonderful shimmering tune and was totally blown away by the sound. I still find that guitar introduction to be remarkable. That afternoon, I left the shop with my own copy along with the vinyl 78 of The Platters.

These records were also significant to me since they were the last 78s that I ever bought – not that I had bought many records at all up until then.

Multiple Bill Haley collage

The 7-inch vinyl disc, which was played at 45 r.p.m., was taking its place as the gramophone record of choice and was being produced in greater numbers now. Although these discs required a different stylus than the one used to play 78s, the turntables of the time were fitted with both so listeners were able to play both types of discs. It did not take long for 45s to soon outsell 78s and soon the major gramophone record companies were deleting their 78 library. The success of the 45 was a result of many important advantages that it had over the 78: firstly, they offered an improved sound quality; secondly, they could be treated in a truly brutal fashion before they broke; and lastly, they were smaller. 45s had a dispensable fragment in the centre, which could be pressed or pushed out and so allowed them to be held in place on the fatter spindles of the newer jukeboxes that were now appearing in cafes and clubs. The first 45 that I bought was not a rock classic, but was of Frank Sinatra singing All the way with Chicago on the flip or B-side.

Frank Sinatra   Come Fly With Me cover

For those readers that have an interest in how a gramophone record was cut and produced, I refer you to the following sites:


By the time I reached the age of ten, I thought myself quite sophisticated musically and had become very choosey regarding my likes and dislikes. I liked Guy Mitchell and Judy Garland and disliked poor old David Whitfield and Jimmy Young. I was, to my shame, damning of those singers that I did not rate highly. Soon, my whole classification of likes and dislikes would undergo a radical change for a sound was soon to appear that would shake up the worlda new wind was a-coming – and I, along with millions of others both older and younger, were more than ready to be swept along with the change – rock ‘n’ roll was coming!

Rock ‘n’ roll exploded over England and like those millions of kids and adults, when it did, the fall out washed over me and I was lost to the music and became a slave to the beat! The first rock ‘n’ roll song that I ever heard was Rock around the clock. It was the saxophone .....

Atomic Bomb   Brunswick - Bill Haley - Rock Around The Clock

.... riff that got me.This was exciting music. Over the years, this song has become iconoclastic being associated with films and a television series and is known to everyone. Upon reflection, I have to confess that it may now seem a trifle dull and the modern listener may find it hard to understand what all the fuss was about? But, allow me to say that, at the time of its first release, it was fresh, crisp and above all rebellious and exciting! Mind you, it wasn’t until the likes of Heartbreak Hotel, Long Tall Sallyand Bebop-a-Lula came along that true excitement and rebellion were really felt!

Bill Haley & His Comets Elvis Presley Little Richard Gene Vincent & The Blue Caps

Once I discovered rock ‘n’ roll, I wanted to hear it and to hear it often. But the places where it could be heard were limited, decidedly limited!

The BBC did not – and still does not – allow advertising – bless them for this! The Corporation obtained its money from a license levied on all owners of a radio set. The revenue was used to pay for programming and various sundries. The BBC was granted a charter at the time of its formation, which defined its mission and laid out what it is required to do. This includes providing information and entertainment without interference – and this means Governmental interference. During its early years and perhaps up to the early 1960s, BBC Radio was very bourgeois and middle class orientated. It wasn’t that the BBC produced bad radio, because it did not. It produced wonderful variety shows, terrific comedy programmes and excellent classical and middle-of-the-road musical presentations along with wonderful plays. However, the BBC seemed totally oblivious to the changing tastes of a large segment of society and since it was run by people who refused to recognize this change, the BBC allowed little rock ‘n’ roll to be heard. This was very frustrating for people like me.

At that time, children were thought to enjoy the stuff that was being pushed on BBC Radio’s Children’s Favourites, which was presented every Saturday morning. Well, perhaps most children were happy with Nellie the Elephant, I know an old lady who swallowed a fly, The Runaway Train and The Teddy Bear’s Picnic, but some were not. It wasn’t that I disliked these tunes, because I did not. It was just that I wanted some rock ‘n’ roll as well! In fact, I wanted a lot more rock ‘n’ roll at that time ……… a great deal more, to be honest!

Nellie the Elephant Burl Ives Michael Holliday Teddy Bears Picnic

Uncle MacThe main presenter of Children’s Favourites during its duet years was the so-called Uncle Mac. Uncle Mac, whose real name was Derek McCulloch, was the founder of Children’s Hour. He devised a catch phrase to end Children’s Hour each day that endeared him to parents and children alike. He would end the programme by saying Goodnight children …… everywhere. During the Second World War, the word everywhere took on a greater significance than before since children were living in frightening time. His voice and this expression were comforting to them especially since many had been evacuated and separated from their parents and made them feel that were not alone and not forgotten.

The Evacuation of Children from British Cities
Goodnight children, everywhere - Vera Lynn
Goodnight children, everywhere - Gert & Daisy

As a child, I was not aware of Uncle Mac’s good qualities and failed to appreciate the depths of meaning associated with the word everywhere. Sadly, I saw him as a middle class buffoon who looked down his nose at kids like me. As a result, I failed to appreciate Uncle Mac fully – I never felt that he was an uncle of mine! To my ear, he sounded ancient, although he certainly wasn’t old at that time. He gave me the impression that he had been born old and was out of touch with the wants and needs of the post-war child. To be honest and fair to him, I was not totally adverse to everything that he did. For example, I did not dislike him as Larry the Lamb on the Children’s Hour series Toytown. He was amusing and displayed a previously unrecognized charm when he uttered phrases such as Pleaaaassse Mr. Mayor, Sir together with a few bleats or when he spoke to his chum, Dennis the Dachshund. However, beyond that, in those days, I could take him or leave him and when it came to his choice of tunes for the so-called Children’s Favourites, I could definitely leave him! I remember one Saturday morning when a request for Chuck Berry’s School Days managed to get through and started to be played on his programme. After about a minute of play, the volume was lowered at the studio and Uncle Mac could be heard to say: well, I think we had heard quite enough of that! Poor Uncle Mac was not ready for what was to come. This was the last straw and poor old Uncle Mac and myself parted company for many years after this until I learned to be more tolerant and understanding. I recently learned that he had been injured during the First World War and had undergone fifty operations and spent much of his life in pain. He retired from the BBC in 1965 and died two years later at the age of 70.

Toytown - Larry the Lamb & Friends   Chuck Berry

I think that it took several years before rock ‘n’ roll received any regular play on BBC Radio. I believe that the reason for this was the result of the BBC being so out of touch and ignored the feelings and pulse of much of the populace. Tragically now, the pendulum at the BBC has moved too far to the opposite end of its swing and today it is hard to find anything but what now passes for rock! It seems that BBC Radio has still not learned how please all of the people all of the time.

Skiffle GroupRock ‘n’ roll was not the only new musical innovation of the early to mid-1950s. Skiffle had erupted onto the scene then and for a while was more influential on the youth of the time. Skiffle was an apparently simple style of music that allowed anyone unable to play a musical instrument to suddenly perform. Most skiffle instruments were homemade: what passed for a double bass was the clever combination and arrangement of an empty wooden tea chest, a broom along with some string; the beating out of the rhythm did not require a set of drums, but rather an old washboard tapped on with thimbles placed on the fingers of one hand; and the sound of a guitar could be reproduced by the strumming of a simple brown paper bag. The more serious minded musicians of the time would beg, borrow and perhaps even steal an old acoustic guitar and learn a few chords whereupon they were ready and equipped to stump along. Suddenly home-made skiffle groups in every city, town, village and hamlet of Britain. Despite my musical leanings, it did not cross my mind to join such a group.

I think my lack of interest in the skiffle craze that began to sweep Britain in the early 1950s was due to it seeming amateur and lacking in the excitement that rock ‘n’ roll generated – at least in me, that is. There were three artists/groups that enjoyed success during this craze, Lonnie Donegan, Chas McDevitt & Skiffle Group with Nancy Whiskey and The Vipers Skiffle Group. I liked Nancy Whiskey et al and found her voice to be interesting and haunting. I was sad to note that she never enjoyed the success that I felt she deserved.

However, I am sorry to admit that I never learned to enjoy Lonnie Donegan. This was not from a lack of trying. I saw him several times on stage and I fear that I never found him personable. He certainly was a versatile entertainer in the true sense of the word and always gave his audience a good show. He not only sang, but also told jokes. He style was reminiscent of the old-style Music Hall entertainer. Despite his obvious attributes as an entertainer, he did not appeal to my tastes. I found him somewhat sarcastic towards the audience, which failed to warm him to me. I have to admit that I was young when I saw him perform and could be entirely wrong in my assessment of his act. Not too long ago, I learned that he was greatly admired by many of his fellow artists and has been credited by many as being influential on their careers.

Lonnie Donegan   Chas McDevitt Skiffle Group
& Nancy Whiskey
  The Vipers Skiffle Group
Rock Island Line   Freight Train   Don’t you rock me Daddy-O

Wally Whyton with Pussy Cat WillumNow, The Vipers were another matter completely. Their rendition of Don’t you rock me Daddy-O was produced by George Martin of Beatles fame and this and Cumberland Gap were covered by Lonnie Donegan who outsold them on both occasions. Personally, and without question, I preferred their versions. What I liked about The Vipers, besides their name, was that they created a certain excitement. This came from the combination of the strumming of their guitars and the shouting by their lead singer who had a great voice, which was loud and rasping. They soon disbanded, and one member, Wally Whyton, became a presenter on Children’s Television and would entertain us with his guitar player and singing along with his interactions with Pussy Cat Willum.

During those early days of rock ‘n’ roll, the only places to hear the music was either at a record shop or stall or on Radio Luxembourg – 208 on the dial! (I refer readers to my story written about this wonderful radio station on this website.)

Record shops did not always welcome the casual, non-buying browser who simply strolled in to look and listen. Many were not in the habit of playing music in the hope of attracting their patronage. Paul was more generous minded and played rock ‘n’ roll willingly on his stall and in his shop for the benefit of passers-by, although he much preferred to play jazz. Besides Paul’s ‘Record Shop, I remember another Music Shop in particular with great affection where music blared out of the shop. It was on the Roman Road close to the old Fire Station (now the London Buddhist Centre). This shop had a large speaker above the entrance door so that tunes could be heard by passers-by. Groups of kids would stand around the shop just to listen to the music. I remember going inside the shop on one occasion and asking the salesgirl (decidedly politically incorrect in today’s parlance) if I might hear Chuck Berry’s Sweet Little Sixteen. She smiled at me and obliged and this made me very popular with the gang huddling around outside. When I came out of the shop, I got some pats on the back and someone even gave me a cigarette as a reward.

The London Buddist Centre

In those early and dark days of rock ‘n’ roll, it could only be heard with certainty each evening on Radio Luxembourg – 208 on the dial. It was here that I, like millions of others of my age and for a number of years thereafter, was introduced to the glories of the beat. Despite the often poor reception, the station introduced listeners to many wonderful artists and to many tunes that became classics and to others that should have! I shall always be eternally grateful to Radio Luxembourg since it allowed exposure – me to the music and the music to me.

The Eagle   Dan Dare

I remember hearing about Radio Luxembourg for the first time at school. A friend of mine had been given a small portable radio and had found it one evening. He was excited by the serials that were heard. He liked Dan Dare, which was featured each week in the Eagle comic. He also mentioned that the station played music. I remember that evening, I checked out the station. The reception was dreadful, but between squeaks, whistles and fade-outs, I was able to hear Dan Dare. Following this, I heard a request programme and heard the latest recordings of Bill Haley & His Comets and The Platters within the fifteen minute timeslot of the programme. I shall never forget the sheer pure unadulterated joy that I felt that evening!

Radio Luxembourg 208 Logo

208 Ad.

See You Later Alligator

My Prayer
See you later Alligator

To be honest, I cannot say that either song has become a special favourite of mine, although I do like them, but this was not the point! What was the point, and what made hearing those tunes special was firstly, I heard both songs along with other rock ‘n’ roll tunes all within a fifteen minutes time period, and secondly, and more importantly, I was hearing them for the first time! As grateful as I was to hear these tunes, but being able to hear the latest tunes sent me over the moon! Here at last was a porthole to hearing the latest tunes all in the comfort of my own bed! No longer was it necessary to hang around a Music Shop and beg some salesperson to play something for me! I felt as if I had died and gone to heaven – and at my young and tender age, what more could I ask for except perhaps actually meeting Marilyn Monroe or Brigitte Bardot? This was indeed a coup and its importance cannot be over stressed.

I remember lying in bed each night with the clothes pulled up high and listening to Radio Luxembourg and hearing gem after gem. It was here that I first heard so many great singers, outstanding vocal groups and combos (as Jack Jackson used to call them) and exciting tunes. Although I can thank an aunt of mine for introducing me to Fats Domino through his recording of I’m in love again, it was nevertheless thanks to Radio Luxembourg that allowed me to hear his other classics. I can also thank the radio station for furthering my knowledge of Little Richard and introducing me to the incomparable Jackie Wilson and for stunning me with Jerry Lee Lewis. The list could go on and on (see Radio Luxembourg – 208 on the Dial!)

Fats Domino Little Richard Jackie Wilson Jerry Lee Lewis
I’m in love again The Girl can’t help it Reet Petite Whole lotta shakin’ goin’ on

As with everything, sadly enough is never enough and soon just hearing these classics on Radio Luxembourg proved not to be quite enough for me. As grateful as I was to hearing a minute or two of these tunes, since most tunes were not played in their entirety, I soon became frustrated with the situation. I found it annoying that a presenter or disc jockey would interrupt a tune just at that crucial point when the saxophone or guitar riff was about to explode! The tune would be faded out and we would then be introduced into another one. The only possibility to combat this frustration, as far as I could see at the time, was that the classics had to be bought. Although those tunes that I considered classics were supposedly distributed throughout Britain, they in fact weren’t and proved difficult to find and in the average record shop. Also, the cost of a new record was somewhat prohibitive to a young boy with a limited amount of money. Therefore buying these discs new could only be reserved for very special occasions such as Christmas and birthdays. I remember finding this situation to be very depressing. And then one day, I rediscovered the jukebox!

Juke Box   Johnny Ray   Teddy Boys

I had seen jukeboxes that played 78s when I was smaller and had even listened to tunes played on them. I remember once in Margate standing on one side of a jukebox and listening to Johnny Ray belting out Such a night while some Teddy Boy was dancing away on the other side! In the early 1950s, such jukeboxes were found only in places like Transport Cafes on the major trunk roads, and in Amusement Arcades at seaside resorts and in the West End, where they were off limits to anyone under sixteen years of age. Tragically, none of these venues was readily available to me. However, with the advent of rock ‘n’ roll, jukeboxes that played 45s were soon introduced to Britain and began being installed in town cafes including several in Whitechapel and Bethnal Green.

These jukeboxes were generally jam-packed with gems, but in order to hear them, one had to buy endless cups of tea or glasses of soft drinks in the café. Sadly, this would eventually interfere with one’s listening pleasure, as it brought on the necessity to leave and search out a Public Toilet! As a result, this method of hearing tunes eventually proved to be less than ideal. As grateful as I was to hear music coming out of a jukebox once coins were dropped into it, I knew that life would be better if only I could own my own copy of a record. At least I would be able to hear it without having to drink endless cups of tea! And so frustration reasserted itself!

One Sunday morning, I had skipped Sunday School and gone down the lane. I remember that I was walking along with no particular place to go when I happened, luckily, to hear a great tune coming from somewhere in the distance. I remember that my ears pricked up and my steps quickened as I followed the music. I came across a stall that was jammed packed with customers. Although I could hear music, I was not sure what was being sold on the stall. I managed to ease my way between the customers to the front of the stall and there before me were wooden boxes like those on Paul’s stall, which were filled with 45s. I noticed that the removal centre piece of the records had been punched out. It was this loss that made me realise that these potential treasures were discarded jukebox 45s! I remember standing there and looking up to heaven and gave thanks! And it was on that day that my own record collection was inaugurated!

London American - Old label   London American - New Label   Columbia - Old Label

The Hollywood FlamesI started to go through the contents of the first box and I recall almost swooning at my first discovery. I had found a copy of Buzz, Buzz, Buzz by The Hollywood Flames! I could not believe my eyes. At that moment, I knew how old prospectors felt when they discovered gold! I was now ready to die and go to heaven! I had heard this tune on Radio Luxembourg and was instantly taken by it. I liked the rhythm, the arrangement and the vocal. I especially like the back-up singing, but what I liked best of all was the saxophone riff between choruses. Whenever this tune was played on the radio, I used to almost run screaming from the room as the disc jockeys never played the whole riff through. I would be treated to a taste – a sample – a tease – of that remarkable saxophone riff and then the tune would be faded out and the disc jockey would go on to another tune! It was beyond maddening. On that bright and early Sunday morning, I grabbed that disc and held on to it – no one was going to take it away from me, I could assure you! This was the find of the century as far as I was concerned!

That day I found other treasures. These discs were also extraordinary and were also great finds in the true sense of the word. However, on that day I found another disc that was in the same league as Buzz, Buzz, Buzz and which was also an incomparable gem. This record was the miraculous Wait and See by the great Fats Domino. Even now whenever I hear the intro to this tune, it never fails to touch a nerve and the hair on the back of my neck stands up! This record is an absolute classic in the true sense of the word. There is something remarkable and special about the combination of drum and saxophone during the riff not to mention the charm of Fats Domino’s singing and the wonderful simplicity of the lyrics. Not long before this finding this find, I had travelled for what felt like miles to an area of North West London to see the film Disc Jockey Jamboree. I had made this pilgrimage since I was unwilling to wait for the film to arrive in my area. I could not wait to see this remarkable tune performed in the film and also to hear and see other classics by the likes of the remarkable LaVern Baker, Charlie Gracie and Carl Perkins. I got into a lot of trouble once I got home, as I had to sit through the film twice and got home very late. The punishment was well worth it, I can assure you.

LaVerne Baker   Charlie Gracie   Carl Perkins
Jim Dandy   Cool Baby   Glad all over

The finding of Wait and See in that wooden box on the stall down the lane on that Sunday morning was not without some pain. I was overjoyed at finding it, I remember. I could not believe my luck. I was horrified that it was in a Parlophone sleeve and planned to switch it with the correct sleeve before buying it – I wanted the blue and white stripped London one. As I removed the disc from the sleeve, I noticed that the disc was buckled on one side! Buckled! I wondered if the disc would play without slipping and jumping and so miss part of the tune. I stood there – my heart sunk. I have found a treasure, yet it was blemished. What was I to do? As money was scarce for someone of my age, I did not want to waste it on a dud! But I did not want to miss this opportunity to own my own copy of this tune. I have always been fortunate in that I am able to weigh the pros and cons of a situation and quickly make my decision. Within a split second, I realised that the owning of a copy of this disc regardless of its possible faults was better than not owning it. And so, without further ado, I bought it.

Once I got the disc home, I immediately put it on the turntable and manually brought the arm across in line with the start of the record and allowed the stylus to make contact. My heart leapt with anticipation and fear as I saw the arm dance up and down as the stylus made its way around the spiral of grooves. Suddenly the sound of that haunting introductory saxophone-drum riff burst forth from the speaker and filled the room, my pulse beat in time to the rhythm. And with that, I knew that despite its superficial imperfection, the record had not let me down and that I was going to enjoy this remarkable sound for many years to come!

Top Rank 45I cannot stress upon the reader the joy that I felt that day. At last, I had found a way to own some of the classic tunes that I heard on Radio Luxembourg! Despite these finds, I must confess that I was not entirely satisfied! What more could I ask for, you might ask? Unfortunately I am a stickler for detail. Over the years, this characteristic has served me well in my chosen profession, but it can prove to be a tad excessive in my personal life. What disappointed me was the finding that the treasures on the stall were not in their original or even correct sleeves. I am sure that the reader will find this laughable, but I was shocked to find a London record, for example, in a Columbia sleeve – to me, that was unthinkable! Another London record might be in an HMV sleeve! I could not understand this mix-up. Hadn’t the costermonger noticed this gross error? As I got older, I realised that most people do not appreciate such detail and do not care about such matters. Although I have learned to tolerate such errors, sadly I have never been able to accept them, I am afraid!

I soon learned that these treasures were available for a reasonably low price. Fortunately, I had emptied my money box that morning and brought the coins with me just in case my eye caught something of value. Once I had mined through the wooden boxes containing the records, I studied those that I had chosen. I counted my money and sadly a deep and longing sigh escaped my lips. Unfortunately, I had found more discs than I could afford. I had to make a choice. Three discs had to be returned to the boxes. Which ones were to be rejected? I hate to say it, but that was one of the hardest decisions that I ever had to make. It took me a few minutes to make my choice, but only after each disc was looked at again and again. Life can be too cruel at times!

Eventually and after much pain and suffering, choices having been made and rejected discs returned to a box, I handed my finds to the person manning the stall. He took my discs, counted them and calculated the cost all without the merest reaction to the fact that he was allowing such remarkable and priceless treasures to slip from his grasp for a mere few shillings. I was stunned by his lack of reaction. That day, I bought nine discs at three for three shillings. As a result, for 45 new pence, I purchased nine discs of tunes that were, and still are, priceless to me.

Once I bought my discs, the attraction of the market – its smells, its colour, its energy – was of no further interest to me that day. All I could think of was getting home as fast as possible so I could play the discs. However, since I had skipped Sunday School, I could not go home just yet and had to wait a few more hours otherwise my mother would know what I had been up to, and this would never do.

Coral 45Over the years, I listened to Radio Luxembourg and continued to hear other gems, which I would search for down the lane. The stalls that sold retired jukebox singles came and went, but treasures were always to be found. My favourite stall where I found many remarkable discs was on Brick Lane, close to Bethnal Green Road. It was found a few yards to the right of a café, which had a jukebox. The place was always filled with youths and young girls and they kept the jukebox fed. I enjoyed mining for gems while listening to the tunes coming from the café. I remember that it was here that I first heard the remarkable Rave on by Buddy Holly and Think it over by The Crickets.

I have to confess that my concentration was interrupted at hearing each of these tunes that morning. Buddy Holly besides being a singer and songwriter was a guitarist and one of note and had been responsible for some truly startling playing on his records as well as those made with The Crickets. Both of these discs were released at about the same time and represented a major departure from the usual style of the group in that a piano featured prominently in the musical accompaniment, as it was called. I was greatly taken by both recordings and never could decide which one I preferred. I am still unable to choose and have long since given up trying.

Once my collection began to grow, I felt that it was no longer practical to continue playing my records on my parents radiogram. Thus began my campaign to get my own record player. The shops were full of such appliances at that time and I spent many hours window shopping deciding on the correct player to ask for. I would manipulate my mother into passing various shops when out shopping and would casually point them out to her and mention how wonderful it would be to have one in my room and then I would reel off the advantages of such a purchase. Naturally, my mother being no fool was not impressed with my spiel and told me that we had a radiogram and didn’t need another. Of course she failed to understand that listening to a wild, frantic rock song with one’s parents in the vicinity is not to be compared with hearing it in the privacy of one’s own room. Fortunately for me, I did get my player – a Dansette – complete with radio. It had a Monarch turntable complete with two styluses and played at four speeds – 78 r.p.m., 45 r.p.m., 33 1/3 r.p.m. and 16 r.p.m. Although I never actually saw, let alone owned a gramophone record that played at 16 r.p.m., I felt it was a necessity to have the possibility of playing one should such a disc ever appear! I kept that little radiogram for years and would have it now were it not for my parents getting rid of it years later when they thought they were going to move. I had moved out of my parents’ home years earlier, but had left a few things behind including the radiogram. I had every intention of collecting it one day. Periodically my mother would ask me when I was going to take it. I had been told to hurry up and take it if you want it ……. It’s just collecting dust where it is. Or else she would say that she would give it away. At first, I would say that I would take it once I was settled. Then I would say that I would collect it once I moved back to Europe. And then finally, once I bought a house. Its loss is my own fault that it was given away. Naturally I regret its loss, but I hope that whomever got it, appreciate it and I hope that it gave them as much pleasure as it did me.

Dansette 'Record Players and Radiogram

Between 1955 and 1961, I was a regular miner at the stalls down the lane and collected over three hundred gems. These 45s were absolute treasures to me and I kept them in a little cupboard that my mother gave to me as a present one Christmas. It had been made by someone that she knew. Over the years, each time I moved home, I took that cupboard and the records with me. When I moved to Canada, they came too. When I moved back to Europe, they travelled too. Eventually when I came to America, they came along. While living in New York City, I met some folks that proved to be even more excessive about classic rock than I did. One of them was an accountant who had filled the basement of his house with original 45s that he had purchased at yard sales, auctions and through advertisements. What I enjoyed about this fellow was that he was a fanatic in the true sense of the word. His obsessive behaviour was not without its trials and tribulations however, since his wife was not as enthusiastic as he and banished him and his music to the basement. He was very clear about his likes and dislikes and how the music should be heard. He felt, as I do that the old 45s should be played on an old fashioned style turntable since all of the crackles and pops that are heard when these old discs are played this way are as essential to enjoying the tune and being true to the memory. Nice as it is to have digital recordings taken from the master copy, these sanitized versions lack a certain something that can only be heard and felt when the old 45 is played in the original manner.

About a year ago, I uploaded my collection of classic rock 45s to computer and burned them to compact discs. I was careful not to clean up the sound and, as a result, I feel that I have the best of both worlds – I can play the disc without fear of it wearing out while still maintaining that old, slightly tiny sound that was characteristic of the times.


Once I completed the uploading, I looked around for a suitable home for my treasures. At my age, I begin to think about my mortality. It isn’t that I have any fear about dying or have many regrets about past actions or missed opportunities for I have been very fortunate in my life to have done just about everything that I had set my heart on as a young person. However, what I was concerned about when finally I did pass was what would become of these treasures? Sadly, this music is only appreciated by a certain segment of society and one does not come across them with any regularity. Luckily for me, I met the accountant and so I gave the records to him. He was overjoyed to have them and appreciates having copies of the original American pressed disc and its British cousin.

HMV 45Perhaps, sadly and with some regret, our tastes change as our horizons broaden. Even more sadly is that our tastes can be influenced by fashion and trends as well. Anyway, for whatever the reason, we move on! I have been fortunate for although I moved on, I still continued to continue to like what I once did. To me, Wait and See, Heartbreak Hotel etc are as exciting today as they were in 1956. I do not reject my old tastes. I am not embarrassed by them. Rather, I embrace them and continue to celebrate them, to use some ridiculous modern words to describe my feelings.

In 1961, I found that although I was not fond of school or of most of my teachers, certain school subject were beginning to interest me.  As a result, I became more involved with my school work.  Slowly but surely, I found myself wanting to make  something of myself, which pleased my mother greatly!  I even began to think that it might be possible to go to college.  I even began to think about travelling and in the possibility of living in various countries.  At about this time, I also began to see, and sadly accept, that the music I had loved as a child was no longer being produced with such regularity.   The airwaves were now filled with a more mellow and middle-of-the-road style of music. Buddy Holly was dead; Little Richard had retired, yet again; Fats Domino was singing standards with lush violins; Bill Haley had flopped in Britain; and Elvis had long since cut his hair, stopped gyrating and was making films of little value. Even Cliff Richard had stopped rocking! The American independent record labels, which had been so influencial in the evolution of early rock 'n' roll were being gobbled up by larger companies and the excitement generated by Radio Luxembourg was seeiming to pale. Perhaps it was, perhaps it wasn’t – I can’t be sure. In the meantime, I had discovered other music in this pre-Beatles, pre-Phil Spector and pre-Motown era – Frankie Avalon who once had produced a great rock song with a remarkable saxophone riff was no longer cutting it for me. Anyway, I was being exposed to other forms of music.

Cliff Richard   Frankie Avalon
Move It Summer Holiday   Dee Dee Dinah Why

I had discovered modern jazz and in particular, West Coast Jazz – what used to be known as the essence of cool. I had seen the film I want to live and was blown away by the soundtrack. I am still swept away by it. I used to have a copy of the original vinyl album, but it was stolen from me in 1970. This proved to be ironic, as you will soon realise.

I had just moved into a small but truly delightful apartment in the south of Paris. The views from the windows were spectacular. I could lie in bed with the French windows open and see Sacre Coeur on the horizon and Les Invalides to my right and Le Tour Eiffel to my left. Imagine that! Sadly, within a few days of moving in, someone broke in and ransacked the place. My clothes were thrown about the place and my books and records were tossed on the floor. In actuality, little was taken, but what had been taken was of tremendous sentimental value to me. The thief had obviously sufficient time to go through my things as he had looked through my gramophone albums and taken those that appealed to him. Obviously we were not completely in tune when it came to music thankfully since he only lifted two albums: Marilyn Monroe sings her greatest hits and I want to live – the soundtrack.

I was furious at his choice. Both of the albums had been deleted at the time and so could not be replaced with ease. There was, however, a touch of irony about his stealing of I want to live, as I will explain. In 1958, I had a job after school on Friday and all day on Saturday in an Electrical Appliance Shop, as they were called. These shops sold radios, televisions and other electrical appliances as well as gramophone records. Although I was paid one pound five shillings for working here, long playing records cost almost two pounds at that time. This made buying albums out of the question for me. The store had a copy of the soundtrack of I want to live and I would play it periodically much to the annoyance of my fellow salesmen since they were certainly not into Modern Jazz be it East Coast, West Coast or South Coast! I eyed and coveted this record for some time. I began moving it out of sequence so that if looked for, it could not be found. No one seemed to notice this. After several weeks of moving it further and further out of sequence, I decided that I was ready to lift it from the shop.

It isn’t that I was, or indeed am, in the habit of stealing. However, this disc had been sitting in the shop for a long time by now and I was fearful that it would soon be returned to the record distributor in exchange for a pittance of what the shop had paid for it. And then it would be lost forever. I convinced myself that it would be far better for me to take it home for safety! The idea of it going back to the distributor was too much for me to bear. And so, one Saturday evening, when I was alone in the shop for a brief second or two, I removed it and transferred it to a special bag that I had brought especially for the occasion and then walked out of the shop with it and hurried home.

I Want to Live - cover and disc

For a number of years I enjoyed listening to that disc. However, suppressed at the back of my mind was something that my mother had told me years earlier: ill gotten gains never bring luck. I could laugh at this old saying and dismiss it, but deep down, I knew that there was truth in its meaning. Instilled guilt never leaves you! And so when that horrible day came in Paris, once I opened my front door and quickly realised that I had been burgled, I instinctively knew that the stolen album would be amongst that stolen from me. I remember that when I gave the list of stolen goods to the police, I purposely left off the name of the album. My punishment for the original crime was to pass a period of some twenty years without this album before I discovered that the soundtrack had been re-released, firstly on vinyl and then on compact disc. Immediately after obtaining my copy of the compact disc, I uploaded it to my computer and then transferred it to a memory stick, which always accompanies me whenever I travel for I have sworn that I would never be without this particular album ever again. Since thieves never prosper, I know that the one who robbed me of that disc has long since had it stolen from him – and this serves him right!


During the summertime, every weekend would find a fun fair in the vicinity or else just a bus ride away. Fun fairs were great places to hear rock ‘n’ roll during its early days and it was the only place where it could be heard playing loudly. And rock ‘n’ roll needs to be heard this way to gain the full impact and excitement of the music. To my generation, fun fairs were an important part in our growing up. My rock 'n roll memories of the early years are intricately associated with memories of fairs and amusement parks at seaside resorts. I used to enjoy going to the fair at Wansted Flats, which was a huge gathering place for teenagers and Teddy Boys. My family visited an aunt who lived near the Flats and I was allowed to go to the fair there on my own even though I was only about eight years old at the time. One of my fondest memories was standing under the huge speaker on the Waltzers,that blasted out that exciting sound of Rock 'n' Roll Music. The music was loud and pulsed through me. Since then, I have always enjoyed playing rock ‘n’ roll loudly and still do and can, at times, make my house shake to the beat!

I remember hearing Rock ‘n’ Roll Music at a fairground as a kid. I begged my eldest brother to buy it but he didn’t. I have never understood why none of Chuck Berry’s early records were not massive hits in Britain. I believe School Days reached No. 24 on the Hit Parade in 1957 and Sweet Little Sixteen, only No. 16 in 1958. In my book, they deserved better! Perhaps their less than sterling showing was down to their limited radio play. They did receive some air play on Radio Luxembourg, but their sound on the radio seemed to lack the necessary punch and drive to attract an audience. Later, when I heard these tunes played on a record player at MAXIMUM VOLUME, their true excitement and frantic nature came through loud and clear! Chuck Berry went on to have a No. 1 hit in the 1970s with My Ding-a-ling! Love it or hate it, this song did put him in the forefront of music, which is where he rightfully belonged. I was fortunate enough to see him in The London Rock ‘n’ Roll Show in the 1970s and he was brilliant – a great and talented performer full of excitement!

I really liked Cliff Richard & The Drifters’ (later The Shadows) Move it. This has to be Britain’s first real rock ‘n’ roll record and marks the beginning of Britain’s assault into the field. This tune is exciting and gets the pulse racing thanks mainly to the pounding rhythm and the remarkable guitar playing of Hank Marvin.

Eddie Cochran has to be one of my all-time favourite rockers. I am a real fan as I like every one of his tunes and even have a framed poster of him wearing his black leather pants and looking totally cool! My family think that I am totally bonkers! I know I’m bonkers, but I don’t care!

One day while I was still at school, a classmate came up to me in an excited state. He said that the juke box at the Venturo Café, which was close to our school, had this new and AMAZING ‘RECORD and that I had to hear it as soon as possible. I remember that I could not wait for school to be over that day and once it was, we made our way as quickly as possible to the café for an earful! Once we arrived at the café, my mate slid a threepenny bit (pronounced FRO-PNEY and spelt F-R-O-P-N-E-Y!). The coin dropped and set the wheel rotating. Once it arrived at the record, it was grabbed and swung round onto the turntable. The arm moved over and was ready for action. It hovered above the disc for a second and then dropped into the groove. There was that slight crackling sound while we waited anxiously for the tune to begin. Suddenly, my whole body and mind was jolted ……… ‘You shake my nerves and you rattle my brains!!!!’ From that first burst of sound of the immortal classic Great Balls of Fire, I was lost! I swear that I almost wet myself from the sheer joy, excitement and frantic nature oozing from that tune! This had to be the most exciting record I had ever heard! I could not believe what I was hearing. Eventually our money ran out and we reluctantly left the café and made our way home. The music was still buzzing in my brain! ‘Too much love drives a man insane!’ I had to get a copy of that record and I had to get it soon. ‘Goodness, gracious, Great Balls of Fire!!!!’ But I had no money. I began to rack my brain for ways to come up with the loot, but the tune, the words, the sheer joy of that tune kept getting in my way. I could not think. I could not talk. All I could do was rock to that tune! Fortunately, I did not have to worry about getting the money to buy that record. Thank God for older brothers, as mine bought it the following weekend! I will always be grateful to him for this – bless him!!!

Jailhouse Rock was another of those records that blew me away the very second that I started to hear that incredible introduction. I remember I was at my mate’s house playing cards when it was played on the wireless. We both froze and listened. Neither of us could believe our ears. We were exhausted once the tune ended. Again my brother saved the day and brought this record. My eldest brother always had a bit of money. He was not lazy and would do all sorts of odd jobs to make some. He had a paper round each morning and helped the milkman at weekends. He also helped out at the fish shop. In contrast, I never had a job. How could I? I never had the time … I was too busy playing his records!

From a reader

Thank you very much for reminding me of the importance of Fun Fairs and Amusement Parks in our history of early rock ‘n’ roll. I did not go to many fairs as a child, but on one occasion, I do remember standing, just like you, by the loudspeaker of the dodgem cars and being totally blown away by Ricky Nelson’s Stood Up. The guitar riff in the middle was to say the least …… exciting. Some of the strums sounded like the cry of a whale!





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