The Roadsters
Iconic Scottish rock band of the early sixties
In 1960 five Edinburgh lads got together and formed a band originally called the
Roadster Rock Unit

THE MUSIC SCENE IN 1960
In 1960, rock n’ roll in the UK was barely five years old.
Bill Hailey’s "Rock Around the Clock", the first breakthrough, had come in 1955, and Elvis Presley’s first UK hits "Hound Dog" and "Don’t Be Cruel" in 1956.
Music moguls in both the US and the UK had begun to sanitise the early African-American influenced rock sounds by releasing blander tunes that appealed to a broader age group. However, teenagers were becoming a force of their own and many in the UK still craved the raw sounds of the early rock pioneers.
The years from 1960 to 1963 would be defined by this reactionary struggle to retain the harder edge of the original sound, materialising in an explosion of rock bands across the UK and culminating in the Beatles and the flow of rock music back across the Atlantic.

POP CULTURE
In 1960, television was still in black and white. Colour TV would not arrive in Britain for more than seven years. Viewers would have watched John F. Kennedy being sworn in as President of the USA, and Elvis Presley returning home from his two years of army duties in Germany. Among the most popular TV shows were "Sunday Night At The London Palladium", "Take Your Pick" and "Wagon Train". For pop fans there was "Boy Meets Girl" and later "Thank Your Lucky Stars", while on radio Brian Matthew’s "Saturday Club" was unmissable for those avidly following the pop scene. The top teenage night spot in Edinburgh was Bungy's in Fishmarket Close off the High Street where the jukebox and jive still held sway, but the local pop scene was shifting rapidly with live bands appearing in increasing numbers.

Against this background, the Roadsters formed in 1960 and were together for around three years until mid 1963. They played mainly in the East of Scotland over an area stretching from Strathpeffer in the north to the English border in the south. They became one of the most popular beat groups in the area, appearing regularly at a string of clubs and dance halls such as the Greenhill Dance Club, the Top Storey Club and the Gamp in Edinburgh, and many rural halls in the Lothians, the Borders, Fife and beyond.

THE LINE-UP

Les
Crees

Maureen
Smith

Jack
Aitken

Graeme
White
The first vocalist was Les Crees, who had just returned from a trip to the USA bringing the latest Elvis Presley releases. Then Jack Aitken joined, followed by Maureen Smith. After some months, Les Crees left and Graeme White took his place.
The backing line-up was: Gavin Pow, lead guitar (and also the band's manager), Euan Pringle, drums, and Shetland-born brothers Victor and Gordon Thomson on rhythm and bass guitars respectively.

Gavin
Pow

Victor
Thomson

Euan
Pringle

Gordon
Thomson
THE STORY IN BRIEF

Tickets were priced in shillings and pence



Greenhill Dance Club


The Roadsters at the Top Storey Club in 1962, with Jack Aitken and Graeme White providing vocal backing for headliner Rolly Daniels

The Roadster Rock Unit first performed in public at an event in Crammond around late summer 1960. The most enduring memory from that debut appearance is of equipment failures, a frequent hazard in those early days when the amplifying equipment was primitive to say the least, and a soldering iron was the most important tool in the kit. Throughout the autumn of 1960 the band worked on its repertoire. Other seminal gigs included a "Rock ‘n Roll Dance" held by St John’s Youth Club in Corstorphine Public Hall on Friday 14th October 1960, and the first of the popular “Hotrock” events at the same venue on 10th December 1960.

In 1961, the band began to win popular recognition with regular weekend bookings coming in. Instruments and equipment were upgraded. Musically the band covered a combination of rock classics and the latest pop hits. Regular venues included the Greenhill Dance Club in Edinburgh, the YWCA in Kirkcaldy, Corstorphine Public Hall ("Hotrocks"), club dances in Midlothian and West Lothian, and many other clubs and halls in and around Edinburgh and the Borders. An early accolade for the band was winning the title of East of Scotland Rock Band Champions in a competition held at the F&F Palais de Dance in Glasgow. Towards the end of 1961, the Top Storey Club opened in Edinburgh and the Roadsters became the regular band there.

1962 was the peak year for the band, when sometimes it was booked up to seven nights a week. In this year, it toured with promising young London singer Rolly Daniels - billed as the "King of Twist" - during his visits to Scotland. Other notable dates were with Johnny Kidd and the Pirates at the Edinburgh Palais and the Johnny Dankworth Quintet in Bo’ness. The Roadsters played the Pavilion Ballroom, Strathpeffer on five occasions. The second of these - with Rolly Daniels - took place on Friday 11th January 1963, just one week after an unknown new group from Liverpool then called the Silver Beatles played at nearby Dingwall allegedly to an audience of just 18.

By 1963, the band’s hectic schedule and long hours spent travelling inevitably had begun to take its toll, especially on those with day jobs. Rhythm guitarist Victor Thomson was the first to call it a day, and was replaced by Dave Smith. Then vocalist Jack Aitken left. By this time the ethos of the original band had begun to dissipate. Gavin Pow was next to leave around the middle of 1963, followed soon after by Euan Pringle. Gordon Thomson continued to play in bands for another year, but for the teenagers who had come together three years earlier to form the Roadster Rock Unit it was effectively the end of an exhilarating roller-coaster rite of passage.




Winning the title of East of Scotland Rock Band Champions at the F&F Palais de Dance, Glasgow in 1961


Maureen Smith leads the band in their eye-catching silver jumpsuits at the Plaza Ballroom, Edinburgh

INSTRUMENTS AND EQUIPMENT

(Representative pictures)

Initially, lead guitarist Gavin Pow had a 1960 Burns Vibra Artist (second left). Rhythm guitarist Victor Thomson started with a Zenith sunburst arch-top acoustic (similar to the one shown above first left) with a pickup attached, but soon designed and built his own single pickup solid body guitar (seen on the far left in the banner photo at the top of the page) which was dubbed the Bex Bissell after the cardboard box from a carpet cleaner used as a carrying case. Gordon started with a 1959 blond Hofner President Bass (third left), from Gordon Simpson's music shop in Stafford Street. This instrument was one of the early Hofner (London) instruments many of which, including this one, were less than perfect. For their amplifiers, the band used the workhorses of the early groups, 30 Watt Linear Conchords, hooked up to 12” Goodmans speakers, plus an Ampeg amplifier and Sure microphone for vocals.

As the band climbed the popularity ladder, Gordon bought the newly issued Gibson EB3 bass guitar (far right), possibly one of the first in the UK. Gavin acquired a Fiesta Red (aka "Flamingo Pink") Fender Stratocaster (second right) and a Vox AC30 twin speaker amplifier, and Victor took over the Burns for rhythm guitar. Victor built cabinets with 12" Goodmans Speakers for rhythm and bass guitars to match the size and appearance of the Vox amplifier, using genuine Vox fabric obtained from Pete Seaton's Music Shop in Newington. These can be seen in some of the later photographs.
REGULAR VENUES
In Edinburgh

The Greenhill Dance Club

The Greenhill Dance Club off Morningside Road at Holy Corner was one of the early regular venues for the Roadsters. It was a masonic hall and had various symbols painted on the wall behind the stage, including the all-seeing eye which probably helped keep dancers on their best behaviour, and may serve as a point of recall for those who went there.

Corstorphine Public Hall
The weekend dances held in Corstorphine Public Hall were billed as Hotrocks, some organised by Roadsters' manager Gavin Pow and others by Deep Six Promotions. Usually there were two bands with the Ramjets, the Strangers and the Trespassers among those featuring often. Noise was occasionally a source of complaint from the nearby residents. The entry tickets were certainly colourful and some examples can be seen in the visuals accompanying audio track No 2 below.

The Top Storey Club
The Top Storey Club was located at the very top of Leith Street at number 66, on the fourth floor above Jacksons The Tailors, all now demolished and replaced by St James Shopping Centre. Run by Robert Wilkie and Gerald Burns of Deep Six Promotions, the club was converted from a snooker hall and members of the Roadsters provided some of the muscle to dismantle the snooker tables with their heavy slate beds. Two snooker tables were used as the stage. It opened on Friday 22nd December 1961 with the Roadsters and the Dominoes. The Roadsters played there again on Sunday 24th and were the resident Sunday night band for about two years.

The Gamp
Run by Stuart Hepburn, later proprietor of Varsity Music shop in Nicolson Street, the Gamp was in Victoria Terrace, approximately opposite another well known night spot, The Place.

Greenhill Dance Club


On stage at the Top Storey Club around Christmas 1961


Maureen Smith performing with the band at the Top Storey Club. Victor (2nd from left) plays his homemade solid body guitar while its cardboard Bex Bissell case rests against the wall to the right of the stage. The stage was made up of two dismantled snooker tables!

Outside Edinburgh

YWCA Kirkcaldy
The band played regularly at the Saturday night dances held at Kirkcaldy YWCA. At that time the Forth Bridge did not exist and the band travelled by the ferry between South and North Queensferry. It was quite a rush to catch the last ferry home and there were nights when the bandwagon was the last vehicle to board, the ferry captain holding one of the two ramps down as the bandwagon raced down the slipway. If they missed the ferry, they had to take the long way round over Kincardine bridge at the head of the Firth of Forth.

Pavilion Ballroom, Strathpeffer
In 1960 the "Pavilion" recreational and amusement centre in the Spa town of Strathpeffer was refurbished and began holding dances, initially with local Highland dance bands, then a year later with rock bands. It became a favourite venue for bands from across the country and was known as the “Nite Spot of the North”. The Roadsters performed there on five occasions: 7th December 1962, 4th January 1963, 11th January 1963 with Rolly Daniels, and on 1st and 2nd March 1963.

WHAT DID THEY SOUND LIKE?
The only surviving recordings were made at a band rehearsal early in 1961 at Gavin Pow's house in Viewforth, Edinburgh. They were made on a Baird Varsity reel tape recorder (pictured below with original microphone and original tape in place and still in working order), belonging to Alastair Beaton, a friend of the band and at that time providing support with transport. To Alastair goes the credit for preserving these original recordings for 50 years. Although they were made early in the band's learning curve, and with the first instruments (Burns, Hofner and "Bex Bissel"), these recordings are remakable considering the basic equipment and the confines of the room.

Sample the tracks below, animated somewhat randomly by the existing photos.
(Browser must have Windows Media Player add-on)
(Fragment) Lawdy Miss Claudy - Jack Aitken
The Theme From Shane - The Roadsters
I Love You So - Graehame White
Mean Mean Man - Maureen Smith
Kon Tiki - The Roadsters
PHOTO ALBUM
If you have any recollections of the band you would like to share, email them to
roadsters@boreas.plus.com


Copyright © 2012 (text) G.J. Thomson, (images) G. Pow