Ronnie Harwood biography - chapter 2

The Local Group Scene

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In 1963 there was a tremendous amount of talent in the north-west London suburbs of Edgware, Harrow and Wembley, with 'Johnny Kidd and the Pirates', 'Screaming Lord Sutch and the Savages', 'Paul Dean and the Dreamers', 'Cliff Bennett and The Rebel Rousers', and 'Cliff Adams and the Twilights' amongst the most notable bands.

A popular gig was Wembley Town Hall, regularly packing 1000 a night to see the local bands. 'Jess Hunter and The Premiers' were one of the first bands to establish Wembley Town Hall as a popular music venue. The events were run by Eddie Marino, one of the UK's very first DJs.

At this time band members were flitting from one line-up to another. It was now 1963 and the time of the Mods. Ronnie joined Johnny Apollo as bass player with 'Winston G and the Wicked' but was then asked by friend and tenor sax player Ashton 'Toots' Toothill to join 'The Ravin Savages', replacing Freddie 'Fingers' Lee. The Savages - the backing band to Screaming Lord Sutch - had left David Sutch and taken the new name.

Ravin Savages 1963

Ronnie's first gig with 'The Ravin' Savages' was in northern Germany, with the band being managed by Manfred Woitalle, a character described by Ronnie as a gangster - and meant in the real sense of the word. Woitalle was later shot dead in what was assumed to be a gangland killing. The music business at this time was not without its shady characters looking to exploit this new phenomena. For what were mostly fresh-faced young lads looking to have a good time seeking fame and fortune, being in a band in the early sixties was often a fast way to learn the lessons of life.

The Ravin' Savages were suitably 'suited and booted' and performed much of the original Savages act, including the 'fire act' from Sutch's show.

The Ravin' Savages & Screaming Lord Sutch

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It was during this time in 1963, while in Lubeck, that Ronnie clearly remembers hearing the news of President John Kennedy's assassination. And it was an eventful time for the band itself. Such was the concern at the way the band's affairs were being managed by Manfred Woitalle that the band members were driven to literally escaping in the dead of night. They loaded up the tour van in the early hours one morning and drove away as fast as the van would let them, leaving Germany and Manfred behind them.

Upon Ronnie's return from Germany he met up with old mate Paul Nicholas (Paul Dean at the time) towards the end of 1963. Paul had just left Screaming Lord Sutch's Savages, together with drummer Pete Phillips, because lead guitarist Stuart Taylor had been poached by Ray Randall to join the Tornadoes. Ronnie, Paul and Pete were joined by former Savage Geoff 'Pussy' Mew on lead guitar. The quartet was groomed by Michael Black, brother of Don Black, rehearsing at the famous Astor Club in Berkeley Square in London.

Outrageous David Sutch was desperate for a replacement Savages backing band, as regular drummer Carlo Little had quit. Lord Sutch thought that trying to replace Carlo would be a tall order, so he decided  to find a ready-made band to take over the Savages mantle. Ronnie, Paul, Pete and Geoff agreed to accompany Lord Sutch and his legendary stage act. This partnership was an interesting time that spawned films, documentaries, radio appearances and the pirate radio station, Radio Sutch. They were very much in the news.

Savages with jo meek 1964In 1964 they recorded 'Dracula's Daughter', with the B-side 'Come Back Baby', at Joe Meek's studio in London's Holloway Road. Touring, and therefore a return to Germany, naturally followed, including appearances at the now legendary Star Club in Hamburg.

As a member of the Savages, Ronnie was involved in the launch of Radio Sutch in 1964. Radio Sutch was a 'pirate' radio station described at the time as Britain's First Teenage Radio Station. It began transmitting on 27th May 1964 on 194 metres (1542khz).

The launch of Radio Sutch on the Thames in London in 1964 was a newsworthy event, although the vessel was hardly impressive. Cornucopia was a fishing trawler rented after it had finished its rounds. From midday it became a radio station! Imagine the smell. Cornucopia was used for some while until its insurance was taken away and the station moved to Shivering Sands, a long time unused offshore fort over which they claimed squatters' rights. Radio Sutch was accused of trespassing on War Office property and were about to be removed, with force if necessary. But with the press behind them, the Navy pulled back. Next day the headline was "Lord Sutch turns back the Navy!" You can imagine what the Ministry and politicians thought of that, and it just served to reinforce the hype surrounding Screaming Lord Sutch.radio sutch launch wcaption

Between 1965 and 1966 The Savages line-up changed. Carlo Little returned for a short while and Ronnie stayed on and served with a variety of side men, touring France and later Italy to rapturous applause. The Italian tour featured a very different line-up of Ronnie on bass, Pete Phillips on drums, George 'Smelly' on lead guitar, and the two Peters on baritone and tenor saxophones.

George, nicknamed 'Smelly' by the band, had a pronounced body odour problem. Ronnie recounted the time when they were about to leave Mill Hill in North London on their first tour. With everyone loaded in the van, the smell was so strong that Pete Phillips jumped out, went across to a local store and came back with a can of deodorant spray that he immediately emptied on George, who was totally unmoved!more

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