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Acts from Suffolk towns including Bury St Edmunds, Sudbury, Haverhill, Ipswich and Lowestoft among over 1,000 featured in book on bands from the ‘50s and ‘60s

They never reached the heady heights of fame. But while the likes of Buddy Holly and the Beatles blazed a trail on the global stage a host of East Anglian bands were also picking up the beat.

Back in the 1950s and ‘60s the face of popular music was changing forever. Elvis’s mind-bogglingly mobile hips, Mick Jagger’s sexy swagger, and even the Fab Four’s mop-top haircuts were outraging the older generation and thrilling that new-fangled invention, the teenager.

But the musical revolution was also stirring in the pubs. clubs and village halls of Suffolk, Norfolk and Essex. And one man is determined the names of those bands will never be forgotten.

The Comets were based in Sudbury in the 1960s
The Comets were based in Sudbury in the 1960s

Kingsley Harris, founder and co-ordinator of the East Anglian Music Archive, has devoted countless hours to producing the most detailed-ever guide to the musicians who drummed life into the local music scene.

More than 1,100 acts cram the 280-plus pages of The Anglian Beat - a history of music in the East in the ‘50s and ‘60s - with entries peppered with anecdotes from band members themselves. And this is only volume one.

He is already putting together his second book - set to dwarf the first one - which will cover the ‘70s and ‘80s, and is keen to hear from bands from that era so he can include them. That will be followed by another based on the next two decades.

Author Kingsley Harris also coordinates the East Anglian music archive. Photo: Bill Smith
Author Kingsley Harris also coordinates the East Anglian music archive. Photo: Bill Smith

The Anglian Beat reveals that from skiffle and rock ‘n roll, through beat, rock, country and western, jazz and folk, the region’s performers were in tune with every trend.

Some of the bands were fleeting lasting a few months or even weeks. Others stayed the course for years. Often they started out as teenagers who met in youth clubs, and pretty much all would have fitted in their music around their day jobs.

Many of their names will still strike a nostalgic chord today in the towns and villages of Suffolk.

The Ketas who came from Elmswell
The Ketas who came from Elmswell

Anyone recall The Zodiacs from Stowmarket, who played on Sunday nights at The Crown in Bildeston? Keeping the audience happy would have been a priority because the Kray brothers - whose mother had a house in the village - were regular visitors.

And how about The Baskervilles from Sudbury, or maybe even The Black Zombies skiffle group from Elmswell who formed in 1957.

Meanwhile in Boxford the Box River Jazzmen were founded by local parson the Rev Brian Bird, and Hadleigh outfit The Blazes, whose first “raucous” rehearsals were held in the town’s Drill Hall cellar, were together for six years in the 1960s.

A chance meeting on a bus in 1966 led to the formation of Thetford band The Bohemians, one of whose singers Eddie Zipfel was a former head chorister. They were a big hit on the Breckland scene and were soon playing six nights a week.

In 1968, a new manager suggested a name change to The Kydds and got them a deal with Brian Epstein’s NEMs Records. In 1969 they played some of London’s top venues, and toured with the Emperor Rosko Road Show, but disbanded after Zipfel left in 1970..

Newmarket-based Blue Grass Cut-ups - a seven-piece C&W group from 1963 - was an early outing for Pete Sayers who later found fame as the Singing Cowboy.

The Blue Zone Five from Long Melford played from 1965-7, before going psychedelic and changing their name to The Bend.

Music fans around Brandon in the mid-60s could have bopped along to The Bruntones who came second in the grand final of the Great Beat Competition in Norwich in 1965.

Ipswich had The Black Aces, who formed in the late 1950s at Landseer Secondary Modern School in Ipswich and played during the intervals at the Gaumont Cinema, and Animal Farm, a group of beat veterans who performed together from 1969 into the 70s.

The Champagne Set, The Maze, the Nomads and a host of others are among the names from Ipswich’s musical past included in the book.

In Sudbury, The Comets emerged from The Streamliners skiffle group in 1963 and were originally a three-piece formed at Sudbury Secondary Modern School. A highlight was appearing on Anglia TV’s Junior Angle Club. In mid-1966, they became The Baskervilles.

Eye had The Consorts, and Diss produced the Disschords - who once appeared at the anniversary party of a Christian society where space was so limited their drummer had to set up in the pulpit.

The Eye Factor hailed not from Eye but from Haverhill. Lead vocalist Steve Ellam recalled how in the late ‘60s he was asked to try out for the band while singing at work in a carpet shop.

Also in Haverhill, The Jug ‘O Punch played numerous pubs and clubs and also busked in the High Street.

Bury St Edmunds-based Little Sydney met at the town’s Silver Jubilee School for Boys around 1965. One set piece - burning dishes of lighter fuel on top of the amps while playing Arthur Brown’s Fire - went awry at Mildenhall Carnival when a dish was knocked over sending flames across the stage.

The Ketas from Elmswell were on the scene from 1964 through to the ‘70s, won numerous competitions, and auditioned for Opportunity Knocks. Founder member John Snell recalls his mum buying his younger brother Brian a set of drums from her Freemans club book when money was tight.

In Diss, The Midnights began as an instrumental four-piece influenced by The Shadows before being joined by a vocalist, and later revamped for the beat era as The 007s

Bury also had The Raiders, who were popular in the early to mid ‘60s, The Rocking Horses, and Mood who in 1967 played at the opening of the town’s new Wimpey Bar.

Still in Bury, The Sapphires played numerous venues around the town and villages in the early ‘60s and turned professional in 1964 taking up residencies in US Air Force bases in France,

Smoke was the new incarnation of The Mood for the psychedelic era. Playing a mix of heavy covers and originals, their determination to be themselves led to one record contract being torn up. They also attempted the continuous playing record in 1970, racking up 102 hours over three days.

Another Bury outfit was born when guitarist Ray Broome withdrew ten bob (50p) from his post office account to buy his first guitar and formed The Kingfishers Skiffle Group which In 1961 evolved into The Strangers. In 1967 they became Barrie’s Magazine.

The Village Green Roadshow from Sudbury were another band who briefly turned pro after teaming up with ex-Foundations member Clem Curtis as his backing group.

Some band names were bizarre - The Gravediggers folk group played in Bury, and The Flashers from Ipswich would definitely have needed to call themselves something different today,

A band from Great Yarmouth coined the name Deep Purple months before it was adopted by another more famous outfit.

And two decades before the Scottish duo of the same name vowed to “walk 500 miles” - The Proclaimers were Yarmouth Salvation Army’s beat group playing to crowds of up to 300 on the seafront parade.

Norfolk-bred Kingsley was not even born when most of the groups in The Anglian Beat were strutting their stuff.

He can trace his passion for bands to the night his music-mad Uncle Peter took him to see a live show in around 1979.

“I was born in 1966 and didn’t take much interest in music although it ran in the family,” he says. “My grandad Stanley played banjo at all our family parties, and also played sax along with Acker Bilk records. My mum Vera played the saxophone, too.

“We always watched Top of the Pops as a family, but when I went to that first gig it was nothing like I thought it would be.

“There were no spangled glittery stage acts like Top of the Pops. It was much more integrated with the audience and much, much louder.

“The whole thing seemed to physically move through me and shake the bones inside my skin. The hairs on my neck stood up throughout the performance; I was frightened and excited at the same time.

“Going to gigs opened my eyes to a lot of music I wouldn’t have listened to otherwise. I was watching jazz, blues, cabaret bands. My uncle said why restrict yourself. You have two ears and a brain - just absorb everything you can.

“I started going to as many gigs as I could, with or without my uncle, sometimes just listening through the venue’s windows if I thought the bouncers didn’t look like they were going to fall for the blatant lie that I was 18,” he reveals at the start of the book.

“Early on I stumbled into a jazz/blues gig where the singer was clearly drunk but very talented and amusing.

“This showmanship and the ability to keep the audience’s attention only added to my curiosity. My interest had become the band dynamic, the interaction of musicians together.

“I started to make notes on index cards of bands I liked and the musicians I enjoyed watching - and later, additional notes if they had left the band to join another. It was an anorak thing to do, I know, but that’s how it all started.

“I have been doing it ever since I left school. All of my adult life I have done nothing but jot down notes. It’s a hobby gone mad, I suppose you’d say.

“I first appealed for information for this book about 1996-7. It’s impossible to estimate how much time has gone into it.

“I haven’t done it non-stop. I have got married, become a dad, taken a few months out for building an extension …

“You have to put it in proportion with the rest of your life,” said Kingsley who has a 17 year-old son with his wife, Liz, who works from home for the NHS.

“Liz and I met at gigs in Norwich in the 1990s, so we had that in common. She helps me. She does some of the research and is a far better typist than me, so she can do stuff quickly.

“When I started I had no money and no transport so I concentrated on Norwich, but since then have moved out around the counties.

“We used to spend our holidays in Ipswich watching bands.This year because we were running late with the book we ended up spending a week in Colchester to talk to people.”

Kingsley’s original plan was to put all the bands from 1950 to 2000 into one book but he soon discovered that was an impossible task.

“I set out to write a book that covered 50 years of music but got to the point where I realised it wasn’t all going to go in.”

Coordinating the East Anglian Music Archive is Kinsgsley’s other obsession. It grew out of his passion for collecting music memorabilia of all kinds and now has its own room in his home near Norwich. They are in the process of digitising their library to put it online.

He used to work in stock control and says that helps him when organising the archive - although how he knows where everything is remains a mystery to others.

Researching for his next book Kingsley, who has interviewed hundreds of musicians, wants to hear from anyone who started out playing in the ‘70s and ‘80s. “I’d like to know how they got into music, what made them tick, what made them want to pick up an instrument and play it.

“We would like musicians and promoters to help in collating material by rummaging around and digging up their memorabilia. Let’s leave a musical legacy for the generations to come,” he said.

To get in touch email info@musicfromtheeastzone.co.uk, and for more information visit musicfromtheeastzone.co.uk