Recollections of a Roadie

With the sad passing of Glyn Williams, I thought it's worth posting his contribution to 'Birth to Reunion'. 

When I first read Glyn’s recollections, a few things struck me. Firstly we seemed to run out of fuel extremely often. Whether this was because we were forever broke, spending our gig money on curries, or just down to poor planning I am not sure.

The other thing is how our memories of particular incidents differ. I recollect that it was Phil who asked directions, very un-politely, in Birmingham and not me and also I believed Chippy’s van was a Commer Cob and not a Hillman Husky. The essence of our memories is usually correct, but it just goes to illustrate how difficult it is to get the details of things that happened nearly 50 years ago, correct. Still here's what he sent me:

Glyn Williams

1948 - 2019

My brother Adrian had joined with a few other lads to form what was to become a pretty popular beat combo, to use the posh idiom, in truth they became a very competent R&B/Soul group, and they called themselves ‘The Pieces of Mind’. 

I passed my driving test in May 1965 and acquired a 1960 Ford Anglia which I thought was the business, anyway I was prevailed upon by Adrian and his new friends to help transport some of the equipment for this burgeoning pop group. 

This situation continued for a while; however it became apparent that what we needed was a van. We eventually bought a Commer mini bus in a kind of army green, the Commer was the preferred van of choice for most groups. Thus I stumbled into the position of driver/roadie. I must have driven the group thousands of miles in the few years I was driving for them; we mainly did Newport and the Valleys but also went further afield to Birmingham, Cardigan, Llanelli and Hereford. 

There were many things that went on during that time although it’s hard to recall every one; I remember a gig at the Snakepit in Newport. The Four Tops had released ‘Reach out I’ll be there’ which was hugely popular with the people at the club. The group sat in the van during the break at the gig and practised the song, when they came back on for the second half and performed it the crowd went nuts. 

After a gig somewhere we went for a curry in Pontypool, which was almost compulsory after a gig. I noticed a jam omelette on the menu for 2/6d, I asked the waiter what jam it was, meaning was it Strawberry or Raspberry and he replied Robertson’s. I had never had one before or since although it was OK. One of Phil Edwards more disgusting habits, and he had few, was to pick his nose in the curry house and he would rub his bogies in the fluffy wallpaper. 

At many of the gigs around the valleys was this chap that everyone called ‘Mad Merv’. This chap’s party piece was to eat beer glasses. Anyway for some reason he seemed to take a shine to the boys and as such became the group’s resident minder around many gigs. If there was any trouble we would just mention it to Merv, and he would sort it. 

I remember a gig in either Cwm or Abertillery in a school, the group was using a science lab as a dressing room and either Andy or Ducksy or possibly both did something pretty unpleasant in the inkwells and a waste paper bin. The group never got a repeat booking for some reason. 

One night in Tredegar at The Miners Club I think, which was just opposite the clock tower in Tredegar, the band was tuning up and someone came over and said you’re too loud. The boys turned it down a bit and carried on tuning; over he comes again still complaining. In the end we all had enough of the moaning so we packed up and left and probably went for a curry. 

Another miners club in Blackwood was fun one night; it was quite a big venue with a large dance floor and stage. The boys were on stage doing their thing when a fight started. Within seconds every boy in the place was fighting, and there seemed to be hundreds and all the girls were lined up around the perimeter egging them on. I could see the boys on stage looking at one another thinking what should they do. Adrian and Ducksy had grabbed mike stands ready to repel boarders but in the end it fizzled out and order was restored and the band got a cheer for carrying on in the face of adversity. 

At some point the group decided they needed a keyboard player we ended up with this cockney sounding bloke called Dave Kubinec, who Ducksy had discovered playing a piano after a gig. In truth Dave turned out to be a top bloke, he was good musically and he was alright to have around, he had a few strange habits as well, notably his choice of smoking material. After he had been with us for a while he announced he had crabs. 

Now the rest of us weren’t too sure what crabs was but nobody was very fussy on sitting next to Kubie. Obviously he couldn’t walk to the gigs so we decided he should sit by the back doors behind all the equipment in the hope that whatever it was he had they couldn’t jump very far. After a few weeks he got the all clear and he was allowed back into the real world. 

We used to like to go to the Glen Ballroom in Llanelli; they had a revolving stage, which made it seem like the Palladium. Sometimes the Pieces were playing there and sometimes we saw a local group called ‘The Eyes of Blue’. These were an annoyingly good looking bunch of blokes but they were all OK to be around as well, they did a lot of Four Tops songs before anyone had really heard of the Four Tops. Today I think the Glen is Terry Griffiths’ snooker hall. 

As the Pieces became more established they started to support major acts, I remember Manfred Mann at the British Nylon Spinners Club. The venue was huge and the dressing room had mirrors and basins and lights, it was a real proper job. Paul Jones of Manfred Mann walked in and in his posh voice said ‘hmm not quite what I’m used to but it’ll do’, he was only joking and he was a very approachable decent chap. 

There used to be a chap we all called ginger Viv, he kept nagging on about coming and helping on a gig, eventually we agreed he could come with us one night to help. The gig was at the Afon Lido in Aberafon. We were unloading the gear and he was struggling with the effort, I don’t think he was used to work. Anyway he sidled up to me and offers me some pills. Apart from Kubie and Coco the band didn’t do drugs. What Viv didn’t know was that Adrian was in the van and had overheard him. He leapt out of the van and knocked Viv over and threatened him with more violence if he offered his little brother drugs. Viv never came with us again. 

The really big support gig though was with The Who. This was a very special night and The Who didn’t disappoint. The equipment they had was superb, most groups, even well known ones used something like 30watt amplifiers such as the Vox AC 30, whereas The Who had 100watt Marshalls which looked brilliant and sounded amazing. Pete Townshend did the guitar smashing up thing. A lot of people used to think they glued old bits of guitar together to smash up later, but these were genuine Fenders, it must have cost a fortune in guitars and speaker cabinets. 

Following The Who gig it was decided, probably by Ducksy who was the leader and could be a bit off the wall, that we should have similar speaker cabinets. Obviously we couldn’t afford anything like Marshall so we decided to build our own. So we bought several sheets of chipboard lots of screws and some sound deadening stuff and set about dismantling the existing speakers to fit into these monstrous boxes we had created; they must have been about 6feet tall by 4 feet wide and about 2 feet deep. When they were tried out they really sounded pretty good. The acid test was to come later. 

The first gig they were used was at St. Julian’s High School in Newport. We struggled to carry these bloody great boxes into the school hall, and after the gig we carried the bloody things out again. After this experience we had the brainwave of fixing castors to them and rolling them where we could. An added problem was that they were so big we could only get these 2 great pieces of construction in the van, pretty much everything else had to be transported separately. 

The next gig was in Abergavenny town hall; at the best of times it wasn’t an easy venue as the hall was on the first floor. However, undaunted, we heaved and grunted quite a lot and eventually reached the first floor, where we put the speakers down on their castors which immediately collapsed. Following this debacle it was decided that we would cut them in half to make them more manageable to convey to the various venues. This state of affairs continued for a while until sanity prevailed, or Ducksy was out voted, and we returned to the more conventional speaker cabinets. 

Also at Abergavenny town hall they always insisted on us filling in a performing rights form, we always put the top 10 from the Hit Parade, as it was called back then, and it kept them happy. 

For a while we had a drummer called Chippy Chapman, every one including his father called him Chippy. One day we were at his house and his mother said ‘would you like a cup of tea Garnett. Well we all looked at each other and burst out laughing, we all thought Garnett sounded a bit effeminate, but Chippy was certainly not a ‘girlie’. 

One day Chippy rolled up to my house in his van, I think it was a Hillman Husky, a van with windows, he said they were going for a ride and did I want to go, there were two others in the van but I can’t remember who they were. Anyway I said to my mam I was going out for a ride with Chippy. We eventually found ourselves in the queue for the Beachley Ferry, as there was no Severn Bridge back then. It was near the Army camp where the Pieces had played with a support band that had a chap called David Jones in their group. Later on for some reason he changed his name to Bowie, I wonder what happened to him. 

We decided to carry on across the river Severn and choose where to go, when we got to the other side. Eventually early the following morning we found ourselves in Newquay, in Cornwall, I’m ashamed to say we pinched milk off people’s doorsteps because we’d had nothing to eat for ages. We mooched around for a bit and I eventually got home three days later. My mam asked where I’d been and I said Cornwall and I think she said ‘oh’. 

I hesitate to include this on the grounds of decency, but I’ll let you make up your own mind. One day Andy appeared thoughtful and when I asked him what was on his mind he replied ‘if I could have one wish I would like to be a girl for 24hrs’. When I asked him why he replied ‘so I would know what it’s like to be f*****d’. This gives some insight into the mind that is Andy Gibbon. 

Andy Gibbon in deep thought 

Who am I today, a girl or perhaps I should be Superman? 

A vague memory, although I’m sure it happened, involved Coco. One night we were driving back from a gig in Cardigan when a row broke out between Coco and everyone else, it was probably something to with some green and black pills he used to use. After a while Coco shouted to stop the van and he would get out, so I stopped and out he got complete with trumpet. I’m not sure where this was, but it was hell of a long way from home. I know he got home because I’ve seen him since and he seems to have forgiven everyone. 

We used to go to Birmingham to do gigs fairly often. On one occasion we were going up the M5 when we got into a race with The Fortunes. They had a similar van to us but we won, probably because they had more gear to carry than us. 

On another occasion we were going along the M50 when we heard a kind of a rattle seeming to come from the engine, which was located beneath the middle front seat. We stopped and opened the engine cover and noticed the exhaust manifold glowing red-hot; this was just below the carburetor full of petrol. On checking the radiator we found it had boiled dry. We were still about 15 miles from the services and we had no spare water with us. 

We looked around and noticed some trees in the distance down a bit of a dip, so we thought there might be a river there; the only trouble was it was on the other side of the motorway. Luckily traffic was quite light in those days and there were no CCTV cameras, so we all gathered up any cups or bottles we had and legged it over multiple lanes of motorway; climbed over the fence, and eventually came to our river. We filled whatever we were carrying with water and very carefully took it back to the van. After a couple of trips like this we decided there was enough water to get us to the services where we could fill up properly. Happily we didn’t appear to have done any serious damage and we carried on our merry way. 

Another vague memory involves a trip to Birmingham but again I’m sure it happened. We had stopped for a break at Strensham on the M5. Eventually we got in the van to carry on. I was driving down the slip road accelerating to join the carriageway when someone said ‘where’s Phil’. We looked around, but there was no sign of him. Someone called his name and there was a faint tapping coming from the roof. I pulled onto the hard shoulder and got out to have a look and Phil was spread-eagled hanging onto the roof. The daft bugger got in and we carried on. 

On another trip to Birmingham our van broke down and we were compelled to sleep in the van. We had all taken a blanket in case of emergency so we settled down for the night. I don’t remember whether we’d been for a curry but it was quite a noisy and smelly night. I was sleeping on top of the gear and was about a couple of inches from the roof of the van. All night I had condensation dripping all over me. It wasn’t very comfortable. 

In the morning we all went to the public baths where for a tanner (2 and a half pence today) you could get a lovely hot bath in those massive cast iron baths that seemed about three feet deep. We all felt refreshed and pretty good after that. I think we did the gig and had to arrange for a taxi to get us, and our gear, home to go to work. I think it cost £50, which was about a week’s wages for the cabbie in those days. 

Another occasion in Birmingham we all thought we might not get out in one piece, we may really have been the pieces. We were lost in what seemed like one the hardest looking areas of the city that was predominantly black. I had stopped the van to try and work out where to go. Ducksy was sat in the passenger seat by the door and someone in the back shouts ‘Hey Ducksy ask that c*** the way’, incredibly Ducksy winds down the window and shouts hey c***, and this big black lad walks over. I had the van in gear ready for a quick getaway, or as quick as it would have got away. I don’t think he could have heard what Ducksy had said or he would have been dead. Anyway he was a really pleasant lad and put us on our way to the gig with no more troubles. 

One night the Pieces weren’t gigging so I went to help out with another group called ‘The Four of a Kind’. We were all friendly with one another so I was happy to go and help. After the gig we were driving home; Stan Boucher was driving, I was sat in the middle and by the door was Dave Martin. The van these boys had chosen was an Austin J2, this had sliding doors in the front, we were trundling along some quiet country road when Dave gives me a nudge and indicates for me to be quiet. He gently opened his door on the pretext of having a fag and then slipped out through the door and crept around the front of the van on the front bumper by holding on to the windscreen wipers. 

When he finally reached the other side of the van he opened the door and said ‘Hi Stan’. Stan nearly shit himself. He was absolutely terrified, but everyone else who by then had twigged what was going on thought it hilarious, although with hindsight a bit stupid. 

One day our van caught fire. I had arranged to pick Phil up at his house and as I put the brakes on, at the end of his road, a can of petrol tipped over and some leaked out. It wasn’t much, probably less than an egg cup full. Anyway Phil decided to throw a match in it just to burn it off and not smell the van out. This turned out to be one of his poorer ideas, the inside of the van erupted in flame. Fortunately the gear was elsewhere. We had nothing handy to try and douse the flames and feared a pretty serious conflagration. 

Just then this little old chap comes over with a little canister thing and asks if it would be of any use. It turned out to be a fire extinguisher and a couple of little squirts later, the flames were put out. Phil and I were pretty relieved that a disaster had been averted. All we had to show was a burnt patch on side of the van which we hand painted over with the nearest colour we could find though it wasn’t really a match, no pun intended. After that we made sure we had a fire extinguisher in the van at all times, although I don’t think we bought it. 

The group also played support to ‘The Honeycombs’ a group with a couple of top 10 hits and a girl drummer called Honey Langtree. The gig was at The Ritz ballroom in Skewen, which is a small village near Neath, Port Talbot. 

We had set up the gear ready for the night and gone over the road to a pub for some food and a drink. There were some girls in there who were going on to the gig; Phil was getting friendly with one of the girls who happened to be drinking cider. 

Soon it was time to go back to the venue to get ready for the evening and as we were crossing the road, Phil tried to kiss his new friend and she threw up all over him. Maybe she didn’t really fancy him or it might have been the cider. 

Before the gig Honey had asked if she could use Phil’s drums. This was agreed and the gig started. One of Phil’s cymbals had a crack in it and he had cut a chunk out of it to prevent the crack from travelling. When ‘The Honeycombs’ were playing, one of their songs was to finish with a big crash on the cymbal. When the moment came Honey managed to hit the bit with the chunk cut out. I think it quite spoilt the moment. 

Another girl Phil had got friendly with lived in Preston in Lancashire. One night we had a gig in the Talgarth or Bronllys area. After the gig Phil said he wanted to go to Preston and asked if I would drive him to the M50 and he would thumb from there. I knew there wasn’t a great deal of fuel in the van so a group conference was held and it was agreed that I could take Phil while the others packed up the gear. 

When I got back we loaded the van and set off home. We hadn’t gone very far when sure enough the van conked out; we had run out of petrol. It was about 2 a.m. and there wasn’t much open. The lads all got out and started pushing. Eventually we came to a slope and the van started rolling. I called for the lads to jump in but they said to just let it roll, so I carried on. The van kept rolling along for quite a long way. One mile went by and it kept going so I carried on and another mile went by. 

Eventually the van rolled into Abergavenny and came to a stop. I had rolled the best part of 3 miles so I knew I had some time to kill before the lads caught me up. I started to think where I might be able to get some fuel. I went to the post office thinking they would be open all night getting ready for deliveries. I managed to get someone to open up and I explained my predicament, he said he couldn’t help me, as all the vehicles were diesel; I’d never thought of that. 

Anyway I carried on trudging around the town looking for inspiration. I came across a petrol station with a house adjoining, however, it was all in darkness. I knocked the door anyway and after some time, someone appeared at an upstairs window. He didn’t sound too happy being woken up. I explained the problem but he wasn’t very helpful and told me to go away (that wasn’t his terminology). 

By now I had run out of ideas so went back to van to wait for the lads. After some time they ambled into town. I told them what I had tried to do and there wasn’t much we could do until things started opening up so we decided we just had to hang around. After a while a fish lorry going through town stopped. We got talking to the driver who said he knew of a filling station in Pontypool, which opened at 6 am. He agreed to give a couple of the lads a lift to get a gallon of petrol so we jumped at the offer and a two of the lads set off. This driver turned out to be a good sort because he brought the lads back as well with a gallon of 4-star petrol. We eagerly poured the petrol in the van and carried on with the journey, at Pontypool we filled the tank and set off home to get some sleep. 

One less pleasant memory for me was one night driving back from Cardigan; I was in my car for some reason. I had now progressed to a Ford Cortina Mk 1. I had Adrian, Rob & Mickey Evans with me. It was about 2 a.m. and we were at Cross Hands near Llanelli. I don’t know whether I nodded off, Rob thinks I did, but we hit another car and my car skidded what seemed like a very long way. My offside wing had come off, which we found about 100yds away, and the whole front of the car was pretty much destroyed. 

We eventually got back to Rob’s house in Ebbw Vale early the next morning. I can’t remember how Adrian and I got home, but we were all very lucky to get out without a scratch on any one. When my car was brought to the garage I used in Newport it really was in a bad way and it was touch and go whether they would write it off. I was almost on my knees begging them to repair it instead, happily they agreed and about 6 weeks later I had my car back with a completely new front end.