The basic line-up for nearly seven years comprised Mike Edwards (guitar), Glyn Walden (guitar), Peter (Dick) Wing, and Dave Howes on drums. Who played bass you may ask? Therein lies the reason why the band never really hit the big time. The Blackjacks or Checkers as they were later called never could find a player who had the ability or the commitment the group so desperately needed. Two were compelled to leave to further their careers which they decided did not lie in the musical world, and a third, a talented Swiss boy called Carl working with Weasenham Farms, was refused an extended work permit. I do not propose to bore you with all the changes in personnel, but I have included a chronology to show how the band evolved. This story sets out the highs and lows to give you a flavour of what it was like trying to be rock idols.
In the autumn of '58 Mike Edwards and Robin Thompson each had a guitar, with six strings, which was four more than either could comfortably manage at the time.
Glyn Walden was on washboard, played with four thimbles because he could not afford enough for both hands, Barry Vincent was on bongos and with David Butler on tea chest bass the skiffle group was born. It was after they had seen a western at Feltwell's Rex Cinema in which there was a shifty looking bandit called Black Jack that they hit on the name of Blackjacks. Little did they know that two young Liverpool lads, Mike Pender and John McNally had been to see another western, namely The Searchers and they too hit on the idea of using the name of that film for their band. Needless to say most people remember The Searchers, but rather fewer remember the Blackjacks, or Black Jack for that matter.
Early songs included well known skiffle standards such as Greenback Dollar, The Ballad of Jesse James and The Worried Man Blues, and we took them to many a talent show; The Wheatsheaf, Brandon, where our first bassist David Butler's dad ran a night club as well as the Feltwell Co-op. It was from the same said store that we were given our first sponsored shirts. Garish cotton shirts littered with Caribbean palm trees. Hardly the stuff for a bunch of rugged hillbilly songsters to be seen in. Nevertheless they were free, and we all dressed the same. Our first performance was for free at The Wheatsheaf, playing alongside The Sputniks from Downham, and our first paid gig was at the village hall in Lakenheath, for a fee of £2.00. In old money that was 10/- (50p) each, which compared quite well with the £5.00 being paid to the main band for the evening, the Bury Bandits. It was at this event that Mike broke no fewer than 3 guitar strings, and having exhausted his only spare string and two which were given to him by the Bandits, we decided we had done enough to earn our £2.00. We politely declined the invitation to take over the main act for the evening when it was learned that the Bandit's singer had lost his voice half way through their rendition of A Pub With No Beer. Robin could also turn out a good version of the same song, but with a total repertoire of around ten songs, and 'The Pub' already gone, there was no way we would be persuaded to stretch things for another two hours.
The first photograph of the Blackjacks was taken in the old YMCA hut, opposite what was the Oak Hotel, at the Football Club Dinner in 1959, and it was roughly at this time that Peter Wing joined solely on the merits of his voice alone. Previously, Mike had been dubbed the Lonnie Donegan of Lakenheath, following our brief incursion south of the border and Glyn, who although he could stay roughly in tune, had the kind of voice that his best friend later revealed was best delivered only in small doses. He had therefore only been used as a prompt whenever Mike was lost his way with the words. At last, with Peter or Dick as he is always known, the band had someone who could sing straight songs and with a voice that had talent. Had he, or the band, had the money, with training and promotion he could have been a star. Like Elvis, Dick occasionally forgot his words, and it was quite common for him to hide the words up his sleeve. A trick which Elvis apparently copied several years later!
In 1961 Keith Butcher who had been on bass since the departure of David Butler, left for the bright lights of what is now Greater London, and Ian Down, a foreman from Weasenham Farms took over the bass and introduced the harmonica. The idea was ridiculed at first by some local cowpats, but was taken on board to great effect by Mick Jagger with the Rolling Stones. Little did people know, but The Blackjacks were actually setting the trends for others to follow. By now the band was a full blown country and western outfit, and the line-up of two guitars, drums, bass and harmonica made for a very popular sound and resulted in many regular bookings in pubs and clubs. It was whilst rehearsing in The Chequers Inn each Friday night that we decided the name of Blackjacks had to go, and henceforward with a little embroidery the band became known as The Checkers C&W Unit.
Dave Howes initially borrowed a drum from Jim Burr's son-in-law (The Oak), and then purchased a full set of ancient Vaudeville drums for £4.00 from a student in Thetford, and shortly afterwards the band went all electric. The Mersey Sound had arrived, and by 1963, Mike and Glyn sported almost identical guitars to those played by The Searchers. Mike on twelve strings and Glyn on eight! Well, why not. As was said earlier they had already copied the Feltwell boys in choosing band names. A new PA system meant we could blow Hockwold Women's Institute to smithereens at their New Year party, and how they loved it. Dave went even further by investing, (and I use that word with a great deal of caution) no less than £100 in a brand new Premier Drum kit which was to see him in his after life playing in local pubs at weekends.
By now we were rattling our way through a whole range of music which meant we could open a show with popular hits before taking the audience down memory lane with a medley of skiffle and country songs, rounding off with a string of requests which we only played if people asked!
In 1963 we had hoped to go as far as London to make a record, but as Mike put it very succinctly, "We couldn't all get in the car! We've had 5 years of bad luck," he declared with authority. We knew that without a regular bass player we could go no further. But what times we had together.
There was the night in Downham Youth Centre, when a spotty youth with greasy hair and a long pointed nose threw a sausage roll at the stage narrowly missing Butch who simply leant in the direction of the nose before it and its owner shrunk back to a size which rendered them almost invisible.
At Swaffham at a September Barn Dance the audience stopped dancing and roaring with laughter pointed in derision at the five of us. Was one of us improperly dressed we wondered looking down? At the end of the song we glanced round to see two cows looking through the barn window, before giving out a pained 'Moo', which we interpreted to be mean 'More'. Less
charitable observers said that what the poor beasts were actually saying was 'Boo, no more!'
There was the night whilst returning from a social function in Santon Downham, we saw a bloody pitched battle involving nearly 100 local and transatlantic revellers in the High Street of Brandon, from the Market Place to the bridge.
Throughout the years we had some great times; regular nights at the West End and The Oak Hotel, and the Dray and Horses, Tottenhill, where in an effort to stop a fight which had broken out Dick found himself spread-eagled across a table while the two assailants vigorously exchanged punches above his head. Weddings, parties and dances, were common, and with Malcolm Wilton on bass, borrowed from Glyn's college band in London, we had eventually achieved the sounds we sought.
Without doubt the two events which we will all remember most were when we were invited to be the warm up band playing folk music for an Easter passion play for the National Association of Youth Clubs, and at a theatre in Ipswich when we took the stage with a selection of other rock bands in which we were able to play our five best songs. The reception was tumultuous and as the audience clambered for photographs and autographs we wondered what they would have made of that back home in Feltwell.
By 1965, Mike and Dick departed for Wales to lay North Sea gas pipe lines and left us wishing they would lay the pipes in Feltwell. Mike now runs an engineering firm in Brandon, and Dick keeps the fish and chip shop in Long Lane he had always dreamed of having way back in those wonderful years of the late fifties and early sixties. Malcolm returned to his home in Hampshire, while Dave and Glyn teamed up in a band, with Vic Cooper, son in law to the Manager of Feltwell Co-op., who provided the shirts and waistcoats. History was about to repeat itself.
In 1988 The Blackjacks reformed to play a skiffle concert in Methwold to celebrate 30 years since the band's inception. The personnel on this occasion were Mike Edwards, Peter Wing, Dave Howes, Keith Butcher and Glyn Walden, and their repertoire included Sea Of Heartbreak, The Great Snowman, Putting on The Style, Devil Woman, Little Bitty Tear, Lonesome Traveller, Gotta Travel On, and Teenager In Love.
Back to 'Times Remembered'. Or go to 'The Black Hoods'