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John Coombe - author of 'Get Your Kicks on the A456'
The story of Cliff Ward And The Cruisers


Cliff Ward And The Cruisers were formed in the summer of 1962.

Cliff Ward, born and brought up in Stourport, had played in a school group while at King Charles called 'The Senators''.

With Cliff on vocals, the other two members of the trio were Bob Newton and Bob Spencer.

They managed to get a gig at Walshes Tenants Hall in Stourport supporting another local outfit 'The Vampires'. (Ray Percy - vocals, Graham Drew and John Wainwright - guitars, and a dark haired mystery drummer from Bradford!).

Cliff Ward and the Cruisers
Cliff Ward and The Cruisers at the Blackthorne Inn © John Coombe

After the gig, Cliff got talking to Graham and found out that he was unhappy in the group, so together they decided to form a new band.

Graham knew a guitarist, Rodney Simmonds, and soon persuaded him to join them on rhythm guitar, over a cup of frothy coffee in the Coventry café.

Next up was to find a bass player. This time Graham pointed them in the direction of Trevor Jones and found him in Duffy's café in Stourport, playing the pinball machine.

Trevor was told he was going to be their bass player, which was news to him. He had a six string guitar, on which Graham taught him the rudiments, until he bought himself a bass.

Rodney chose the name 'Cliff Ward and the Cruisers' and rehearsals began.

Only a drummer was missing. They eventually found him down at the Wharf at Holt Fleet, where Roger Bowen was drumming with a country and western outfit 'The Rebel Rousers'.

He had previously drummed for 'The Zodiacs'. Rodney, Graham and Trevor spoke to Roger after the gig and talked him into joining the group, telling him about this great singer they had.

So rehearsals began in earnest at the Crown in Stourport, watched over with a kindly eye by the licensees Renee and Jock Bell.

Mexican dress and gigging

Early gigs for 'The Cruisers' included Birchen Coppice Church Hall and St Mary's Hall with 'The Cadillacs'.

With Rodney's dad, Fred, as manager, the gigs started coming in thick and fast. Fred, a travelling carpet salesman, had the contacts and boundless enthusiasm; a downside of this in those prebreathalyser days was Fred's fondness for the drink, the journeys home from the gigs being somewhat erratic.

Regular venues for 'The Cruisers' were the Fountain, the Black Horse, Jon and Patti's dance school in Stourport, the Golden Cross in Alcester and Sunday nights in Henley-in- Arden.

Fred even got somebody from the Mecca Ballroom chain to check them out at The Fountain.

They were offered a twelve-month contract which Cliff refused to sign, an early sign of his stubbornness or perhaps common sense, weighing up all the factors.

In January 1963, they won through to the finals of the Midland Band of the Year contest, and in March at the Locarno Ballroom in Birmingham, they actually won the event doing 'La Bamba'.

The group, but not Cliff, dressed up in Mexican gear, Tim Jackson deputising for Roger Bowen on drums. (Roger had injured himself playing football).

This was quite an achievement, although nothing really came of it, so it was back to the regular one-nighters.

By now Cliff was making some tentative attempts at song-writing, he wanted to steer away from the standard rock and pop of the day.

A clash with Fred Simmonds was inevitable, Fred was a hard worker but lacked vision and was very domineering, coming on like Larry Parnes, trying to stop Pat, Cliff Ward's wife, from coming along to gigs.

Fred realised his time was up and left. He was replaced by Finlay Tinker as manager. Rehearsals were often tense affairs.

Cliff had a perfect ear and Trevor recalls him being a stickler for perfection. Tension had been building up between Cliff and Rodney Simmonds for some time, which came to a head with a rather unpleasant fight.

A few days later Rodney left the band. Finlay placed an ad in the local press and was contacted by Terry Clarke.

Cliff Ward and the Cruisers
Cliff Ward and The Cruisers at the Tower Ballroom Edgbaston© John Coombe

Terry, whose family ran a successful grocery business in Kidderminster, was playing with 'Alfie Knott and the AK's' at the time, (formerly known as 'The Sunsetters').

Cliff and Terry hit it off immediately, so Terry became Rodney's replacement as rhythm guitarist.

Finlay eventually tired of being a pop group manager and his place was taken by Terry Clarke's brother Phil, who secured them a working holiday playing the Welsh coastal resorts, a popular gig for semi-pro groups during the 1960s.

This signalled the departure of the original member of 'The Cruisers', Roger Bowen. Roger loved drumming in the band, the socialising, meeting girls, it was all great fun, but he had no pretensions to turning professional. In any case he was dedicated to the family butcher's business in Stourport.

So in came Ken Wright. Ken had played drums in the fading days of the local dance bands and also trad jazz with Alan Worrells 'Apex Jazz Band', so drumming for a pop group was no problem.

The tour of Wales went ahead. The De Valence Ballroom Tenby, The Fountain Café, Milford Haven, and The Tower Ballroom, Swansea.

New songs and rows

Upon their return they had a support spot on the newly started Thursday night Big Beat Sessions at Kidderminster Town Hall, supporting ex-boxer Mike Preston.

As the gigs and rehearsals continued, more obscure American numbers with vocal harmonies were replacing the rock 'n roll standards.

Learning these numbers with Cliff in charge was a form of pure torture, but they carried on although from time to time Cliff would walk off-stage in the middle of a set in a fit of pique.

I actually witnessed this myself one night standing in the audience in the Black Horse.

Anyway, they re-entered the band of the year contest at the Locarno in January 1964, coming joint first in the semi-finals with the 'Plainsmen', beating off competition from local rivals 'Tommy and the Cresta's'.

The night was somewhat spoilt by a mike, guitar and amp being stolen from the dressing room.

In the finals, they played 'Big Dee Irwin's 'Swingin' on a Star' with Trevor and Graham dressed in mule's head masks.

This time they were unplaced - 'The Plainsmen' won, and irony of ironies 'The Simonals' from Kidderminster came third, managed by guitarist Ian Simmond's dad, Fred.

Exit one more manager who, as usual, always gets the blame; Phillip Clarke didn't mind, he was off to Australia anyway.

In stepped manager number four, Roger Rowe, son of Mr Rowe of Rowe Carpets.

Regular gigs at the Park Attwood in Trimpley followed, Roger's family home bordered the hotel.

Cliff Ward and the Cruisers
Clifford T Ward in his Cliff Ward manifestation © John Coombe

Roger worked hard for the band and followed them to all their gigs before having to give up and pay attention to the serious business of making carpets for the family firm.

So in stepped management number five, Park Attwood promoters Peter Phillips and Nigel Reece.

They supervised another summer season at Tenby, the band having to sleep on the stage of the De Valence Ballroom on the first night, due to a mix up in booking rooms.

There was another dance hall close by where Birmingham 'Mike Sheridan and the Nightriders' were resident. Sometimes the bands used to get together and swapped venues without telling anybody; all good fun.

On their return home, the usual gigs followed including the Nautical William. It was there that Cliff's refusal to ever play a 'Beatles' number got them into a tight spot.

As the audience kept asking for them to do some 'Beatles' songs, Cliff of course turned them down, so the chairs began to fly, mostly directed towards the stage.

They managed to escape relatively unscathed but never played the Nautical William again!

They had an interesting gig supporting legendary rock 'n'roll stars Little Richard and Gene Vincent at Wolverhampton Civic.

'The Cruisers' were on in the afternoon and Peter Phillips recalls never having seen Cliff so nervous, and, to cap it all, one of the amps was playing up.

However he somehow managed to get through the gig.

Practise sessions continued as normal at the Crown, although on one unfortunate occasion with Ken Wright's van doors unlocked, some locals took the opportunity to steal the group's PA system, but they managed to get themselves re-equipped and the usual gigs continued.

Original material

Cliff was also experimenting with some of his own songs on tape, aided by local tape enthusiast Leon Tipler. Cliff even got together with Rodney Simmonds to help him out on acoustic guitar with some songs he'd written.

It was at these sessions that Leon instigated some comedy tapes when local beauty Teresa Oakley joined with the others to record 'The Gloria Bosom Show'.

Pop Chart
Martin Raynor and The Secrets top the charts - locally!

More serious recordings took place at the Hollick and Taylor studios in Birmingham.

They recorded four numbers, two covers and a Cliff and Graham composition 'Ooh-wee-Baby' and Cliffs own song 'Rachel'.

The demos were sent off and they actually got a positive reply from Columbia who booked them into the famous Abbey Road Studios on February 1st 1965.

They recorded one of Holland-Dozier-Holland's weaker songs 'Candy To Me', backing vocals supplied by two local girls, Peter Phillip's sister Carol and of course Teresa Oakley.

Columbia were satisfied with the record and a release date was set for May. They had one problem; they had to change their name to avoid confusion with Dave Berry and the Cruisers.

They became known as Martin Raynor and The Secrets.

From the book 'Get Your Kicks on the A456'. ISBN-0-9550482-0-6. Price £12.99. Used with the kind permission of John Coombe.
www.johncombe.com/