Del and The Falcons by Peter Embleton:

The seeds of Del and the Falcons first grew at Middlesbrough Boys High School in the early 60s. Malcolm Willis from Thornaby made himself a bass guitar in woodwork and together with fellow pupil Merv Jones from Thornaby on drums and Paul (Charlie) Clasper also from Thornaby on rhythm guitar, they linked up with Fred Grange from Middlesbrough to form The Blue Rockets. I was good friends with them all but hopeless at woodwork and couldn't afford to buy a guitar so used to tag along to the many rehearsals.

Playing mostly Shadows and Ventures instrumentals the group's first booking was The Oddfellows Arms in Thornaby. The night went well and at the end someone requested a song so I got up and sang a couple of Eddie Cochran numbers, "C'mon Everybody" and "Weekend". It went well and as this was the time of the early 60s beat explosion and The Beatles. It was decided that a singer was needed and I got the job. Fred then left the band (nothing to do with me!) and we recruited a new lead player in the shape of Stockton lad Paul Butler. A new name was decided upon, The Falcons was the favourite so we went to Smith's in Stockton to order business cards and asked the girl in there to pick a name for me. She was a big Del Shannon fan so Del and the Falcons were born!

Gear in those days was pretty rudimentary. Paul had a white Hofner Colorama with a Fender sticker, Malcolm had a Burns bass, Charlie a Hofner Verithin and Merv had some Premier drums. I used to sing through a Grampian mic, leak 30w amp and one 15 inch speaker, bought on tick from Watts on Parliament Road in Middlesbrough! Saturdays were usually spent lusting after equipment in Burdon’s in Stockton, followed by rehearsals in Paul's front room in Sydney Street, Stockton.

Gigs in those days were generally pubs - The Brunswick and The Sun Inn in Stockton were regular as was the Black Horse in Billingham. For Transport, we had to rely on the support of our parents and we managed like that for a while until Malcolm passed his test and we bought an old ex-Post Office van and became independent. I remember us entering the Evening Gazette beat group competition, we won our first heat but were beaten in the next round by the far superior Renegades from Whitby, who became good friends.

Charlie left the band to be replaced for a while by school friend Ken Purvis on rhythm. By then, Paul had a Strat and AC30 amp and Malcolm had a Fender Precision bass plus T60 amp and Ken also had an AC 30, so to match the all-Vox back line I got into debt and bought some Vox columns with a Vox 100 watt amp! Yes a 100 watts! Merv upgraded to a set of silver Ludwig drums, just like Ringo's! When Ken left to do A-levels we had a discussion and Paul wanted to do without a rhythm player, pretty unusual for the time, but we had seen Wayne Fontana live and a London band called Mal Ryder and the Spirits, they both just used guitar, bass and drums and it was a hard edged powerful sound which we liked, so that's what we did.

Paul bought his dream guitar, a Gretsch Tennessean like George Harrison's. Gigs by then were all over the place, we ended up with a nice Ford van with a side door and went as far afield as Egremont in Cumbria. That was a great gig, two nights at a caravan park and we stayed overnight in one of the caravans, it felt like being "on the road" in a pro band. One time we drove all the way there only to find that Paul had forgotten to put his beloved Gretsch in the van! Luckily the other band that we were on with had the same guitar which they kindly loaned us, but next morning Paul had to go all the way back home for it and drive back to Egremont for the Sunday night gig!

There were some excellent bands at that time that we admired - The Whirlwinds, Denmen, Blue Caps and the aforementioned Renegades, but our favourites were The Panthers, they were all excellent musicians and also had a great stage presence. Favourite gigs were The KD club in Billingham, The Outlook in Middlesbrough, Redcar Jazz Club, The Astoria in Middlesbrough and lots of Young Farmer's BBQs out in the countryside.

Like most bands our material was a mixture of pop covers and American R&B and as the band progressed we developed, in my opinion, a pretty good sound. Paul was a very good guitar player and enjoyed the freedom that the lack of a rhythm player gave him and Merv turned into a powerhouse drummer. We were fortunate enough to support many well known groups such as Manfred Mann, The Merseybeats, Jimmy James, Geno Washington, Zoot Money and even Freddie Starr with his band The Flamingoes.

Malcolm and I used to enjoy checking out the competition and we would often spend Monday nights at The Maison in Stockton as they would always feature two bands for us to watch. It's amazing to think now that there were so many places to go and see live music in those days. They were real fun times and the band eventually split when Merv was asked to join The Denmen, they had a harder edge then us and Merv was perfect for them with his style. He carried on playing for a long time all over the area, last time I saw him was with Nev Reed's superb band Sinister Footwear and he was still playing great.

Malcolm stopped playing completely and Paul went to college and became a schoolteacher up in Washington but never gave up his love for the guitar. I was fortunate to be offered a job with the Blue Caps but that's a story for another day!

Copyright © Stan