THE JIM ONSLOW INTERVIEW
By Martin Kinch
Martin Kinch: Jim, It's good to meet you and many thanks for taking the time to do this interview for my website.
Jim Onslow: No problem at all Martin, glad to be able to tell the story
Martin: You’ve obviously been part of the ‘Brumbeat’ scene for many years and a lot of people will remember you as a member of Gerry Levene and the Avengers and also Denny Laine and The Diplomats, but first of all tell us a bit about your childhood, where you lived etc and how you got interested in the music biz
Jim: I was born
in Wootton Wawen near Stratford on Avon in 1944 moving to Parkhill Road, Harborne
in Birmingham after the war was over and lived there till the mid 60’s.
Martin: Did you come from a musical family?
Jim: Not really, my Dad always wanted to be a pianist and I’m told he played really well in his younger days, but not being able to afford a piano he never pursued it.
Martin: What was the first instrument you had?
Jim: The bass guitar the bloke gave me at the shop had no name as I remember, but it was that big I could not reach the 3 rd fret in the normal playing position so I had to do a fair bit of stretching, but soon swapped it for a brand new solid hofner as soon as I could play a bit.
Martin: Did you have a ‘proper’ job or go straight into making a living playing in bands?
Jim: I sold carpets, worked on a lathe, delivered bread for the Co-op and worked in a butchers in Bournville before turning pro at 17.
Martin: Were you in any other bands before Gerry Levene and the Avengers?
Jim: With Don, we rehearsed at the local youth club with different people eventually ending up with the name Robbie Earl and the Counts with Reg Jones (Ace Keffords uncle) as vocalist.
Martin: How did you get to be a member of The Avengers, Were you all mates or was there an advert for band members?
Jim: There was an advert in the Birmingham Mail so now being the proud owner of a mini bus and a new pink Fender Precision Bass (135 guineas on the drip) I went for the audition. I still to this day don’t know if it was the pink Fender (as Sprike &John both had pink Stratocasters) and could play the bass solo in Nivram or the fact I had wheels that got me the job, but I got it.
Martin: I don’t really know much about Gerry Levene, Can you tell us a bit about him?
Jim: Gerry is just starting to do some gigs after a long time off the road doing other ventures, but still has a great voice and yes we meet up quite often. He is a great front man, loves singing and entertaining and can really put a song over; he’s just got a site up so try The Gerry Levene Website to find out more about him.
Martin: Did you know Roy Wood before the band was formed?
Jim: No not at all, I think he answered an ad in the paper after John Watson left.
Martin: Other members of the band were Mike Hopkins, Peter Cook, and of course your drummer was Graeme Edge who later went on to drum for The Moody Blues. Do you keep in touch with any of them?
Jim: I see Sprike now and again, Peter I haven’t seen from the day we split but I believe he has a pub in London, and Greame seems too busy to want to know
Martin: Did you just gig in and around Birmingham?
Jim: No, all over Great Britain
Martin: Did you play your own material or covers, or both?
Jim: Mostly covers
Martin: Can you remember some of the songs that you used to play?
Jim: In the early days it was mainly Cliff and The Shadows stuff, but after a trip to Liverpool, we were the first Brum band to play the Cavern (August 1962 - and a brick in the wall to prove it) the brylcreme was gone and songs like Twist and Shout, Roll over Beethoven, Some other Guy, Do you love me, and all the stuff that became popular with the Liverpool boom.
Martin: You say you played at the Cavern, did you ever do gigs with The Beatles?
Jim: Quite a few times
Martin: So was this just at the same time as they started to have the hits?
Jim: The first couple of gigs we worked with them was before “Love me do” had been recorded. We did a double with them in February 1963,the first was at Maney Hall in Sutton Coldfield and of course we went on first, but because we had done a lot of work in Liverpool our show contained a lot of the songs that they sang and they were our home crowd so we went down well, after our set we went to The Assembly Rooms at Tamworth for the second show, I can remember as we were getting to the end of our set The Beatles arrived, Paul and Ringo were giving Greame some grief by pulling his stool backwards as he was playing and John Lennon was standing in the wings shouting for us to sing “Love me do “ so, much to his surprise we did, all good fun and we had a few drinks after as you do.
Martin: That must have been quite an exiting time to be there as all that was happening
Jim: It was fun and exciting, as Liverpool was just buzzing with bands and exciting music and The Beatles had such a fantastic following, they had to fight their way into gigs as well as out; they even had girls camping out in their front gardens and stuff like that before they even had a record deal.
Martin: Were you getting good reaction from the crowds?
Jim: We always got the crowd going and Gerry being a good looking chap in a lam`e suit couldn’t go wrong.
Martin: Do you think that with The Beatles starting to become massive that it took the spotlight away from you though?
Jim: Not at all, they opened up a whole new world for young musicians to follow and made us realise that the ordinary lad in the street could make it.
Martin: You released a single on Decca called ‘Doctor Feelgood’ with a track called ‘It’s driving me wild’ on the B side, who wrote those two songs and where were they recorded?.
Jim: ‘Dr Feelgood’ was recorded at Decca studio’s
in St John’s Wood London in August 1963 and was written by Curtis.I.Smith who
was Piano Red’s guitarist, Piano Red was an albino Negro who recorded under the
name of ‘Dr Feelgood and the Interns’ and had a hit with it in 1961. This was
our first time in the studio and also the one and only time Roy and Greame recorded
together, Arthur Greenslade played organ and it was produced by Mike Smith.
Gerry Levene and The Avengers - Dr
Gerry Levene and The Avengers - Dr Feelgood
Martin: Did you record any other material?
Jim: We recorded ‘I just wanna make love to you’, ‘Without you’, ‘Please say yes’, ‘Twist and Shout’ and ‘Do you love me’
Martin: Do you remember if Roy wrote anything for the band?
Jim: No I’m afraid not, I don’t think he had even thought about writing at that time, if he had things may have turned out very different.
Martin: As you know, I’m a big fan of Roy’s, you were with him at the start of his career, did you think at the time that there was something special about him and that maybe even if the band didn’t make it big, perhaps he would?
Jim: I don’t really know, at that time he was very shy but still had that little bit of a crazy spark but seemed to be looking for something, I don’t think he knew what, but he kept looking and eventually found it.
Martin: Have you got any favourite memories of working with him?
Jim: The one memory is as we were talking to some people about 10 years ago and he said “you don’t know what rock ‘n’ roll is till you’ve pushed your van to the gig and home again then you’ve served your apprenticeship” and we did that when we broke down on the way to a gig but the show had to go on.
Martin: How long was Roy with the band?
Jim: Only about 9 months
Martin: Who replaced him
Jim: Peter Cooke
Martin: What made you leave and did the band carry on after you left?
Jim: The band sort of ground to a halt after the record didn’t make it and management messed us about, everybody started to do a rethink..
Martin: Is that when you joined The Diplomats?
Jim: I’d got the chance of doing some sessions in London but had a phone call from The Diplomats so London went on hold.
Martin: So did you actually replace Denny Laine?
Jim: Denny had left so they were looking for a singer and lead guitarist to complete gigs they had in the book, so myself and Sprike offered our services
Martin: Did you record anything with them?
Jim: No but we did a couple of TV. Shows “For Teenagers Only”
Martin: Who else was in the line up when you were there?
Jim: Phil Ackrill, Bev Bevan and Steve Horton
Martin: How different was this group compared to Gerry Levene and the Avengers?
Jim: Not much except we did a few things that I had not done before because I was now the singer, as in the Avengers, Gerry was the main man
Martin: Which of the two bands did you enjoy being in most?
Jim: I enjoyed them both for different reasons
Martin: So did you stay with the band until they split up?
Martin: The bands drummer Bev Bevan went on to major success with the Move and ELO, as did The Avenger’s drummer Graeme Edge with the Moody Blues, and of course Roy Wood with the Move, ELO, Wizzard etc,how did you feel watching your fellow band members hitting “the big time” and what did you think of those bands, did you follow their careers with interest, did you go to the gigs and buy the records
Jim: When I saw Greame on top of the pops with Go
Now I felt really pissed off but at that time I had retired from the biz for a
while and just got on with life as you do. I was never a massive fan of the Moodies
but have learned to like them better as the years have gone by,
Martin: So when did The Diplomats actually split up, did it come to a sudden stop or was it something that was planned for a while?
Jim: I think it was late 1964 early 1965 when we eventually split mainly because we all felt that it wasn’t going anywhere.
Martin: Was the end of the band a disappointment to you or were you looking forward to new things or just having a break from the music scene?
Jim: It was a big disappointment, being the ripe old age of 21 I felt my dreams of being a teenage idol were over.
Martin: I suppose there was quite a buzz around Birmingham when The Move and The Moody Blues started to make it big?
Jim: I wasn’t living in Birmingham at the time, I had moved to Shropshire so I really have no idea, but I would imagine it was very exciting.
Martin: I have always thought that Carl Wayne had a fantastic voice; did you ever see Carl Wayne and The Vikings play?
Jim: Carl was always destined to do it big, we worked with them a lot when they were in this country but they worked a lot in Germany.
Martin: So did you get to know Carl?
Jim: I didn’t know him that well, but I remember when Devils Canyon were playing at a Stechford club he bought his new girlfriend Sue to see us and he was known as Benny for the rest of the night, which he wasn’t too pleased about, (Sue was Miss Diane off Crossroads).
Martin: Did you ever get to see him with The Hollies?
Jim: I was hoping to go to The Symphony Hall to see them but he left us a few months before, very sad.
Martin: Mike Sheridan released some good singles; I’m surprised that he didn’t have more success than he did.
Jim: I always thought that he would as he was always top of the tree, but it wasn’t to be, like a lot of very talented people from Brum
Martin: And Danny King, Another great singer!
Jim: Why Danny never made it must be one of life’s mysteries, a very, very talented man.
Martin: You must have had loads of mates in various bands, what were your favourite Birmingham bands in the 60s?
Jim:The one’s I played in! everybody knew everybody, we used to meet up most nights at Alex’s Pie stall and pile into each others vans with a pie and a cup of tea (very rock’n’roll) tell jokes, talk about gigs and songs and a lot of times swap players, it was like an employment exchange for muso’s.
Martin: OK, so let’s get back to what you were up to; did you decide to get another band together after your “retirement”? Or did someone persuade you to get back into it?
Jim: When I “retired” to Shropshire I got married had two great girls and got a steady job to pay the bills but that didn’t work out and I came back to Birmingham to start again. Music seemed the right path to go down, but the scene had changed, I was offered the bass job in Eastwood, but after 6 months or more I realised that the heavy stuff was not for me and left to do a stint at The Rum Runner. While I was there I met with Big Al Johnson and was offered the job in Devils Canyon, a very raw rock and roll trio with Vikings drummer Dave Hollis.
Martin: Now is it right that you recorded an album with Devils Canyon for David Arden with a view to it being produced by Jeff Lynne?
Jim: Yes that’s right,with Al’s connections with Jeff and mine with Bev we were introduced to David.
Martin: And for those that don’t know, David Arden is the son of the famous manager Don Arden. Don went on to manage The Small Faces, The Move, Electric Light Orchestra, Roy Wood and more. And David’s sister is Sharon Arden, who most people will now know as Ozzy’s wife Sharon Osbourne
Jim: David was a great guy, Don was another matter altogether, very scary, while Sharon worked in the office and used to go off like a bottle of pop, if she was in the same room as Don, look out !!
Martin: Did you get to meet Don at this time, what was he like, he had a bit of a reputation didn’t he
Jim: A very professional man but always got what he wanted one way or another.
Martin: So where and when was that album recorded, is it still in the vaults somewhere? And why didn’t it get finished?
Jim: It was recorded at Philips Studio, Marble Arch
1972 and still there I believe, Rob Caiger told me a couple of years ago that
he found it in the archives.
Martin: Was it original material – Did you write anything?
Jim: Three were my own songs, one of Big Al’s and the rest were covers.
Martin: Did you get to know Jeff Lynne well?
Jim: Not that well, I once went to his house for him to show me how he did bounce downs on his tape machines.
Martin: Jeff was of course in another of my favourite bands, The Idle Race, Did you like them, Did you ever see them play live?
Jim: I like the Idle Race and know them all personally, but never got to see them live.
Martin: What a shame that album with Devils Canyon didn’t happen, with Jeff Lynne and the Ardens involved, who knows what might have happened?
Jim: Another of life’s might have been’s.
Martin: So when that album fell through, was that the end of the band as well?
Jim: No, not at all, we carried on gigging
Martin: Soon after that you ended up in a band called Rockin Rockets Road Review with you old band mate Gerry Levene, how did that happen and was it good to be back with him again? Who else was in the band?
Jim: It’s always great to work with Gerry. The Rockets was Devils Canyon plus Nick Pentelow (sax), Mike Alexander (piano) Gerry Levene, Danny King, Mike Sheridan and Brenda Bosworth (vocals) and run on the lines of the old Oh Boy show, none stop rock ‘n’ roll with impressions of Elvis, Johnny Cash, Gene Vincent by Mike and Boris Pickett by Gerry.
Martin: That’s quite a line up, I didn’t realise that you had been in a band with Nick Pentelow (who later went on to be a member of Wizzard)
Jim: Nick was a brilliant sax player and such a nice laid back guy.
Martin: In fact you spent the 70s and 80s working with lots of different people in quite a few different bands, tell us a bit more about them and which of those bands were the most enjoyable?
Jim: The bands in the 70’s were just a progression of Devils Canyon as people left they were replaced and with new members the sound changed as did direction and the name, until a drunken punch up in the dressing room one new years eve which made me decide to move back to Shropshire, I then just joined in the local scene playing pubs and clubs to earn a crust. In the 80’s I worked on the holiday camp scene backing cabaret and then was offered the bass players job with Raymond Froggatt, I then left to form my own band again and called it The Jim Onslow Experience as I’d never put my own name on anything before.
Martin: Did you make anymore records in that time, did they get released?
Jim: We had a release of the old Tommy James song Mony Mony with Boss in 72, but after that nothing by record companies, only C.D.’s to sell at gigs. In1996 I played bass on Gerry Levene’s album “In Love”
Martin: You mentioned The Raymond Froggatt band, how long were you with them and how did you become a member of that band?
Jim: About 4 years, I had done some demo’s with “H”(Frogs guitarist since the 60’s) about 12 months before so when they needed a bass player I got the call.
Martin: Is he still doing gigs?
Jim: Yes Frog still gigs but not as much as he did because of ill health.
Martin: What was the line up when you were with them?
Jim: H Cain, Roger Browne, Tom Farnell and myself.
Martin: I’ve met Tom Farnell a few times when he used to play drums for Roy Wood, great drummer and a nice bloke. .
Jim: Tom is a great drummer and a great guy.
Martin: And you played at Wembley Arena, is that the biggest audience you’ve played to?
Jim: Yes, there were 10,500 people for both shows.
Martin: So you formed The Jim Onslow Experience, Did you get the idea of the name from The Jimi Hendrix Experience, or was that nothing to do with it?
Jim: Nothing to do with Hendrix, I wanted to put my own name to it and didn’t want to call it The Jim Onslow Band and as the show was a non-stop rock’n’roll experience that name stuck.
Martin: Who else was in the band?
Jim: Mark Pemberton (keyboard), Tony Scott (guitar) and Digger Bryan (drums).
Martin: Was it much different to playing in all the other bands you had been in?
Jim: Only for the fact it was my own baby.
Martin: You even supported The Roy Wood Big Band, was that a coincidence or did he ask you to do it?
Jim: I helped Roy when he put together a band to do a charity gig at the N.E.C. in 1992 which later became The Army and we thought it was a shame after all the work of rehearsals to do only one gig, so a tour was arranged and he asked me to open the show for him.
Martin: Did you enjoy it?
Jim: Very much, a great experience.
Martin: How did you go down with the Woody fans?
Jim: Very well, they were really kind and made us very welcome.
Martin: What did you think of his band?
Jim: All top class players and all top class people.
Martin: Have you always kept in touch with Roy since the days that you worked together?
Jim: We meet at parties and shows, It's always nice to see him and have a laugh.
Martin: You also played the holiday camps again, it sounds like good fun, was it?
Jim: We played 6 nights a week for 9 months, fun to start with then you start looking forward to escaping.
Martin: Do you get a different type of audience at those places than you do when you are doing the pubs and clubs? Are the audience easier to please because they are on holiday?
Jim: Because they were on holiday they were up for it from the start, so as long as you played the right stuff they were great and every 2 weeks they all changed so you got a new audience and did it all over again.
Martin: Was it The Jim Onslow Experience doing the holiday camps or were you backing other artists, if so who?
Jim: We were the resident band so we did a set and then backed the cabaret. We worked with The Drifters, Platters, Brotherhood of Man, The Vernon Girls, Danny Williams, Tom O’Connor and many many more.
Martin: So why did The Jim Onslow Experience finish?
Jim: The lads were young and my band was their first experience of being pro so they wanted to try other things. Mark and Tony are now doing an Abba Tribute called Arrival.
Martin: What did you do after that? .
Jim: I got in my studio and put together my solo show
Martin: So you are now a solo artist, do you do many gigs?
Jim: I usually do about 150 a year so I am kept quite busy.
Martin: Do you play the same places all the time?
Jim: I have a circuit of clubs and pubs around Shropshire and the West Midlands that I appear at about 3 times a year.
Jim Onslow - Forever In Blue Jeans
Jim Onslow - Forever In Blue Jeans
Martin: Do you still do any holiday camps?
Jim: Not anymore, been there, done that.
Martin: So do you play along to backing tracks?
Jim: Yes recorded on mini disc.
Martin: Do you buy any backing tracks in or are they recorded by yourself?
Jim: I have never bought a backing track; I get so much satisfaction out of putting it together myself and adding my own vocal backings
Martin: Have you got your own studio?
Jim: Just the usual home set up, a P.C and Cubase.
Martin: Don’t you miss having a band playing with you?
Jim: Not really, you get used to being up there on your own, a band is nice but a lot of hard work keeping them happy.
Martin: So what sort of music do you play at your gigs?
Jim: Mainly 50’s, 60’s, 70’s but a good mixture to try and please everybody, also one or two of my own songs.
Martin: Do you have people that come to see you regularly and remember you from ‘The 60s’?
Jim: The places I play have their regulars, but I do have the odd one or two from the 60’s who like to reminisce.
Martin: And do you sell CDs of your music at gigs?
Jim: I have a set of C.D’s that are on sale, mostly of songs featured in my show.
Martin: You also have your own website, Is that something that you put together yourself?
Jim: Yes about 6 years ago, and it’s been very good for me.
Martin: For anyone who might want a look, what is the address of the website?
Martin: And do you sell your music on the site as well?
Jim: Yes it’s all on there for sale.
Martin: So are you interested in computers and are you a fan of the internet?
Jim: I think computers are the bee’s knees, and the internet has got to be the eighth wonder of the world.
Martin: Musically, do you have a favourite period from your life?
Jim: The 60’s was definitely a magical time; I get young muso’s asking me about it and wishing they had lived through it.
Martin: Do you have any ambitions left at all?
Jim: I still keep plugging my songs and one day you never know, but I still enjoy entertaining people and hope I can continue for a bit longer.
Martin: Any regrets?
Jim: No not really, it would have been nice to have written a hit, but it’s been great to play other peoples.
Martin: So who are/were your heroes and what music do you listen to now?
Jim: I love The Eagles and any music done by the individuals from that band, I would need a bigger sheet of paper to name them all but, James Taylor, Joe Cocker, Dennis Locorriere, The Bee Gees, Neil Diamond, Dion, E.L.O Gerry Raffety, Roy Wood, Steve Winwood I could just go on, so many great artists.
Martin: Do you like any of the young bands or artists that are around now?
Jim: Not really, you hear the occasional song that stands out, but most of it I can’t understand - perhaps it’s an age thing.
Martin: How would you like to be remembered?
Jim: With love and affection would be nice, or just remembered.
Martin: Thanks again for doing this Jim. Good luck with the gigs and the website etc and I hope to share another pint with you one day.
Jim: I’ve enjoyed it Martin and thank you, Now then was it your round or mine?
This interview is © Martin Kinch and may not be reproduced in whole or part without permission
This is a track written and performed by Jim called 'No more'