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The Orbit Four

The Orbit Four

Gary Hyde writes -

I think that the Orbit Four probably began around August/September 1962, although I joined them in October.

My first recollection of the group (we weren't bands in those days, just groups or beat groups) was when walking through Cliftonville's Lido complex and seeing a sign advertising The Orbit Four playing at the Lido Cavern. The original drummer (he stayed about two months before departing to join Oliver Twist & The Lower Third) was Paul Pinder.

Paul left and I joined in October, having done an audition for the band at its rehearsal venue, the Dane Valley Arms in Margate. The local Thanet newspaper "The Isle of Thanet Gazette" later announced that the Orbit Four's drummer had left and Gary Hyde had joined - didn't know quite how to take that.

Strangely enough my first gig with the group was at the very same Lido Cavern, and my first with such a band having spent the last couple of years playing in local hotels with piano and drums for the holidaymakers.

Like most bands in those days we had a uniform (we were part of showbiz after all) and this comprised of navy blue bolero style jacket with a rocketship badge on the pocket and a black and red striped tie. As time went on we became even more fashionable (or at least I did) by buying a tie clip with my name on it.

Some of our earliest gigs included the old Birchington Village Hall and Chislet Colliery Welfare Social Club during late 1962. We didn't have a group van - our transport in those days was Alan's motorbike, Len's dad's car and Frank's brother Ray's motorbike and sidecar but we got around, and continued to rehearse at the Dane Valley Arms.

Probably our best gig during that latter part of 1962 was a charity bash at Cliftonville's Orchid Rooms where we played alongside Oliver Twist & The Lower Third, Flint Yates and The Vampires and, I think, the Dominoes, to raise money for a local charity. If my memory serves me correctly I believe the charity was the Whiteness Manor School at Kingsgate. We had a packed house and the very same newspaper article that announced my arrival also stated the "dancers were twisting wildly to the drums and guitars of the Orbit Four".

At around that time I was working for a Kent Builders Merchant, Alfred Olby, at its Ramsgate Office and each year they would, like so many firms, hold "the staff dance" and this took place at Ramsgate's Granville Ballroom. We were booked to play there alongside the orthodox dance band (Maurice Black and his Music I think) but "alongside" in this case meant in the room immediately adjoining the stage.

Now we only had the basic gear at that time, I think that there were a couple of small Vox (or Truvox?) amps and a Watkins Dominator plus my kit. I am pretty sure that our voices at that time all went through the amps - nothing at all like today's rig even for a pub gig. Nevertheless we went down a storm with all of the younger members of staff but our close proximity to the dance band did cause a problem, to the extent that during the evening we received a message from a senior member of Olby's staff giving the compliments of the bandleader accompanying a request that we turned down!

In the early part of 1963, just before the arrival of the Beatles, Dreamland Ballroom announced a competition to find Kent's best "beat group" and dutifully we entered. We had only been active for some four months as a unit and we did find ourselves at a bit of a disadvantage in the competition in that one of the rules was that we had to be fronted by a vocalist. Another disadvantage was that we also had to play, as a competition piece, The Shadows' "Wonderful Land".

Now the very essence of our group was that we had a wonderful character in our lead singer, Lenny Barratt, who also played lead guitar, along with second vocalist/rhythm guitarist Alan Crisp. Between the two of them they eventually handled all of the vocals ranging from Chuck Berry, Buddy Holly, Elvis Presley, Eddie Cochran, Gene Vincent etc and between the four of us we were really quite a rocking little group - at least we thought so. Still, we managed to find a local singer who looked and sang something along the lines of Buddy Holly, rehearsed with him, made what we thought was a passable job of "Wonderful Land" - and got slaughtered in the contest. I think that Flint Yates and The Vampires eventually won it.

The singer then left and we got on with our four piece, rehearsing at the Dane Valley arms then moving on to the Dumpton Club.
It was around this time that we started picking up gigs at local venues such as the Marina Ballroom in Ramsgate (I think that was what it was called - it was the one with the lights in the floor if anyone remembers); the Riviera, Tower and Bali Hai Clubs along Margate Sea Front; Ramsgate Youth Club (gosh might Brenda Blethyn have been there then?); Ash Village Hall and a café in Sandwich called the Trapezium.

These were some great venues, as Molly says Ash Village Hall was always a rave and the Trapezium (this was a small café just to the right as you come over the Toll Bridge, although of course you can't turn right coming over the toll bridge but you know what I mean) was not the biggest of places. All of the groups used to play there - I think either a Tuesday or Wednesday - and we used to play in the spot where the fruit machines would usually be, having been moved for the gig.

Around this time Lenny and I started doing a little comedy routine based upon Bob B Soxx and the Blue Jeans "Zip-a-dee-doo-da". We would play the number and I would stand out the front alongside Lenny, the two of us doing silly one liners such as "Why am I going round in circles? Shut up or I'll nail your other foot to the floor"

There was also another venue in the middle of Sandwich, a church hall I think, which was a good scene and run by someone called "Pop" something or other - does anyone remember him?

By this time the group was really starting to take shape and sometime around April or May in 1963 we began playing at Cliftonville's El Chico Club, right opposite the Lido, and this turned into a full summer season. This was great in that we were working virtually every night of the week from 11.30pm - 1.30am but at that time I had been moved from my job in Olbys at Ramsgate to Olbys in Ashford. This meant that, having got home at around 2.30am each morning I would then have to be up at around 6am to catch the train to work. Most days I usually crept off to the cemetery in Ashford at lunchtime and fell asleep there for an hour or so. The El Chico was a great gig, though, and gave us leads into many other gigs. It was during the El Chico run that we met Bill Maynard, perhaps nowadays better known as "Greengrass" from "Heartbeat" but in my book always a great comedian. Many of the acts from the local theatres would come to the El Chico after the show and Bill was the one that I can remember. A really nice guy.

One gig that I well remember was at the village of Oare, near Faversham, where we played for the Miss Oare competition. Imagine being Miss Oare for a year! Still it was a good night, really hot and I recall consuming numerous of those little bottles of Orangillo.

It was at New Year around this time that we had the bad snow and the sea froze over and all of us in the group were sitting at our respective homes minding our own business when there were knocks on our doors.
The band scheduled to play Dreamland's Rendezvous Club was stuck in London due to the snow and couldn't get down - could we go and play Dreamland that night? The management sent a taxi all around Thanet to pick us up and that was our first gig at the Rendezvous Club. As I recall the band scheduled was Bobby Angelo and The Tuxedos. Well, they didn't get the Tuxedos but they certainly got our Boleros!

We played a number of times at the Rendezvous Club (I am not sure but I think that they did a mid-week session and a Sunday session in those days), also a number of gigs at a place in Deal which was originally a cinema and the groups were on a high stage to the side of the screen, or at least where it used to be. I don't recall there being any proper entrance to the stage. Just a stepladder or the like at the front. It was a good gig though.

During the latter part of our El Chico summer in 1963 we were approached by the owner of the Royal pub in Ramgsate, now a Thorley's place, to play there on a Saturday night regularly. Naturally we jumped at the chance and sometime round September started.

All went reasonably well for a few weeks but then the numbers started dropping off and the manager told us that he could not continue to run the gig, numbers were down etc, would we like to take it on ourselves. We had nothing else on the Saturday nights so we agreed to take it on, employ a couple of bouncers, just run it ourselves.

Now we had not planned anything but on the Thursday prior to our first Saturday we were playing in a big charity gig at Dreamland Ballroom, again with Lower Third, Vampires etc but on this occasion with a special guest, Wout Steenhuis and we simply did not realise what exposure this was going to give us. Not only the exposure but having had a summer season the group was in really good musical shape.

We did the Dreamland gig and the response to us was such that on our arrival at the Royal the following Saturday there were queues to get in before we were set up. This gig carried on for about three or four months until a fight broke out, the manager got rid of us, and then three weeks later there was another local group in there.

Inspired by our success at the Royal we went to London, to Regent Sound Studios and made our first demo record. We had what we thought were some of our best numbers to do and included in these was an original number by Len. The song was called "Don't come around no more" - unfortunately on the demo the printer missed out the word "around"!

That year we also did the Olby's Christmas Dance again at the Granville Ballroom. Caused a bit of a problem though, as initially the management were not going to book us but when some of the younger members of staff said that they would not go unless we were playing we got the gig. We also did another gig at the Granville during 1963 but we weren't told that we had to play waltzes etc. We had one waltz that we could manage "Around the World" (or was it "Moon River") but we couldn't keep on playing it and eventually someone saved the day by going home and getting a record player.

New Year's Eve 1963 was something of an event - we did two gigs that night. We did the first set at the Deal venue whilst the Lower Third (I think it was them) did the first set at our El Chico Club in Cliftonville and then we both switched over to do the second set at the other venue. As it happened we also arranged it so that we would be using our own gear on the second set.

During the early part of 1964 we made a contact with an agent in the Midlands and, immediately following some of our El Chico Friday nights we would race up to Coventry and work venues around that area during the week end, usually arriving back shattered on Monday mornings and going straight to work.

We kept up our regular gigs, The El Chico, Trapezium, Ash Village Hall and others for a number of months before going off to France & Germany, but that is another story.

We came back from Germany in early July and survived until October, gigging at the Riviera Club, London's 2'I's, various local gigs, one gig with the Nashville Teens and an audition at Wimbledon Palais.

Sadly we had crashed our van in France and the lack of transport and gigs became too much for us to continue so we called it a day in October 1964

 

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