Get a break in music

Bob Monkhouse on Opportunity Knocks

Last updated: 23 February 2009

Young musicians have always found it hard to break into the music business; whether they make it through luck, ambition or accident, it's never less than stressful for them and those around them.

Here you can read what some established musicians have to say about their journey to success, and what really drove them to try in the first place.

Tom Jones

Tom Jones at BBC TV Centre
Tom Jones at BBC TV Centre

"I learned to play guitar because the piano players around couldn't play it. It was a music that they were not used to. If you went into a pub in Pontyprydd and there was a piano player there, nine times out of 10 he wouldn't be playing rock and roll.

"So I learned to play the guitar in order to accompany myself. I used to go to a pub called the Wheatsheaf in Ponty, and I'd take the guitar there on Friday night and Saturday night, and get up and make my own rock and roll music."

Meic Stevens

Meic Stevens
Meic Stevens

"We were playing at Manchester Students Union and one day Jimmy Saville came in. This fella came in, smart chap in a suit, and he said, 'Hey, that's good. Come and see me in my office'. This was the break. He was an agent who was friends with Jimmy Saville.

"Through Saville of course, I got contracted to perform in all the Mecca ballrooms. It was really weird, because I didn't have a band. All I had was an electric 12-string guitar."

Ricky Valance

Ricky Valance
Ricky Valance

"I talked to the guy who was doing the 'routining' [like a producer] and he said 'I understand from your biog you were you a choirboy. So, this is a hymn. Sing it like a hymn... That's it, that's the sound!'.

"From then on, that was the Ricky Valance sound."

Terry Williams, Man

"Everybody wanted to be a Beatle. I mean, I was in a school band when I was 15, and then came The Beatles and everybody wanted to a pop star in the early 60s.

"You wanted to be a Beatle. Well, I did anyway; I wanted to be John Lennon."

Dave Edmunds

Dave Edmunds

"We all used to meet up at various places. I remember that we all used to meet at the launderette in City Road, for some reason. There was the curry house up on Crwys Road bridge, that was a big hangout place, and we'd all meet there after gigs and some times we'd say, like, 'lets go to Liverpool and see the Beatles'.

"You know, we'd drive off to Liverpool. Yeah, it was crazy, it was a thriving scene, there was lots of bands, it was a very exciting time."

John Cale (talking about The Velvet Underground)

John Cale
John Cale

"A guy came up to us and said, 'Hey, you've got long hair, you look commercial. Why don't you come and play in this rock and roll band?' and it was like the magic words had been spoken.

"I'd always thought of going to New York and finding somebody who could survive in this situation. Someone with a really tough centre and in Lou [Reed] I found that person."

Mary Hopkin

Mary Hopkin
Mary Hopkin

"I found the whole thing very embarrassing. My local agent who was finding me work put my name forward for the audition for Opportunity Knocks and I was mortified, and he said 'well, just go along to the audition, because it's good experience for you', so I thought, 'oh well, there's no harm in that'.

"So I came to Cardiff and did the audition in a church hall here, and as luck would have it I got on the programme, they offered me a spot on the programme, and it seemed ridiculous to turn that down, because it was national TV."

Bonnie Tyler

Bonnie Tyler
Bonnie Tyler

"I ended up going in this talent competition, and I remember we had to go to a music shop to buy two sheets of music of songs that I liked and go for an audition with an organist in the afternoon...

"I went in the competition and I came second. I sang Those Were The Days and another song, I Can't Stop Loving You, and it was the first time I ever sang on a microphone. That was in 1969, in April, and I won a pound!"

Richey Edwards
Richey Edwards

Richey Edwards, Manic Street Preachers

"We realised as soon as we formed the band how difficult it was to come from where we come from, which is a tiny little town, Blackwood in South Wales, and straight away at the start we decided that we couldn't get out of this situation by playing local gigs.

"We just said right, we're just going to do a tape and send it off to every place we knew in London, and any band we knew, and that's what we did. ...If we started playing local gigs we'd never get out of the place, because I think that's where most bands get trapped."

Nicky Wire, Manic Street Preachers

Nicky Wire
Nicky Wire

"I wouldn't call it full-on racism because I don't think we were ever treated in a full-on racist way, but there was definitely an unbelievable bias against us because we were just Welsh, besides the way we looked and everything...

"But that gave us so much strength because it just made us feel like the scummiest people in the world... It just didn't bother us, it just made us feel stronger. It gave us... even more anger."

Stuart Cable, Stereophonics

Stuart Cable
Stuart Cable

"We played some gigs where the people had been sitting in the front reading South Wales Echo's, and haven't looked up once from their paper. And you've got to try and entertain that guy, you know what I mean, and they're sitting there with their dogs, like. It is absolutely crazy.

"We went [to London] and everybody was sh*t! Everybody was absolutely crap, I'd never seen so many bad bands in my life. And we were going, hang on, this might be easy after all."

Cerys Matthews, Catatonia

Cerys Matthews
Cerys Matthews

"We all used to just bump into each other at gigs. It was just a matter of time. We were the ones that were most persistent. We were the ones that weren't quite willing yet to give up on the idea that we could do something with the music."

Mal Pope
Mal Pope

Mal Pope

I sent [a demo] to Cliff Richard, and, because he used to have a Saturday programme. He didn't reply, but then six weeks later the other one I sent to John Peel got a letter back.

"I opened it, and it said 'Dear Maldwyn, thanks for entering your tape. John Peel has asked me to write to your Mum and Dad to see whether they'll give us a ring and let you come up to London [to] record a session for John's radio programme.'

"It was from a guy called John Walters. I mean, obviously I was over the moon. So my parents... fair play. You've got to remember that I come from a gospel hall background, and sex, drugs and rock and roll are akin to the anti-Christ!"


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