Heritage: The bands which got Hornchurch bopping in the swinging 60s

 'Harmony Grass', the British pop group that changed it's name from 'Tony Rivers and the Castaways',

'Harmony Grass', the British pop group that changed it's name from 'Tony Rivers and the Castaways', pictured in London with their new disc, "First Time Loving" Back - Left to right: Tom Marshall, guitar & piano; Bill Castle, drums; Kenny Rowe, vocalist & bass guitar. Front - Left to right: Tony Harding, guitar and vocals; Tony Rivers , vocalist and guitar and Ray Brown, bass guitar. - Credit: PA

Historian Andy Grant gets his dancing shoes on to delve into the world of live music in Hornchurch during the swinging 60s. 

For a teenager, the 1960s marked the dawning of a greater sense of freedom and fewer responsibilities than were had by previous generations.

A profusion of trendy new fashions hit the market, coupled with an increase in youngsters’ spending power.

New groups emerged that took popular music by storm, some becoming overnight superstars, supported by fans displaying behaviour bordering upon hysteria.

Such were the heady days referred to as the "swinging 60s". On a local level there was a wide choice of dance venues to visit.


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In Romford there was the Wykeham Hall, the Nimbus, the Willow Rooms and a number of halls attached to town-centre pubs. In Hornchurch, the Condor Club became a much-acclaimed venue.

A small hall behind the High Street offices of the Havering Youth Service, near the King’s Head, the Condor Club was accessed on Friday nights via a passageway between the buildings.

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Resident beat group there, the Condors, was set up in the early 1960s by Clive Graham, drummer, with Johnny Milton (vocals), Paul Sevis (bass) and Rikki Smith (lead guitar).

A later change saw Mike Clarke take over bass and vocals from Paul Sevis. Although the group did not have great recording success, they appeared at venues all over the country and abroad, including spots on Ready, Steady, Go and Easy Beat.

They changed their name to the Symbols in 1965 and Mike Clarke went on to join The Rubettes.

These local clubs became great venues to see live groups, such as The Wanderers, Paul and the Pagans, The Roosters, The Avalons, the Sugarbeats, The Kinsmen, The Afex, Tony and the Tempests, Sean Buckley and the Breadcrumbs, Tony Rivers and the Castaways, and Scrooge and the Misers to name but a few.

Other live-music venues in Hornchurch were the Masonic Hall, behind the old fire station and the Bull pub. Lee Marvin and the Raiders were regulars at the Bull and when the Condor Club closed in 1965, they were one of the first groups to appear at the new Robert Beard Centre which replaced it.

The Robert Beard Centre in the 1970s.

The Robert Beard Centre in the 1970s. - Credit: Archant

In Upminster, the old Windmill Hall, the British Legion hall and the Sombrero were popular venues for live groups. The Sombrero was a café, run by Ron Purdey, opposite the Bell School and groups such as the Sugarbeats, Dave and the Strollers and others played there on Friday nights.

Local groups tended to do the rounds, circulating between venues. A very popular local close-harmony group was Tony Rivers and the Castaways, with Tony formerly from the Cutaways.

The group had been lined up to do Saturday Club on Radio 1 in January 1965, but on December 4, 1964 Brian "Shirt" Talbot, the drummer, was killed in an accident in Scotland and another member hospitalised, although Tony escaped unscathed.

Another local group, the Chasers, did a charity concert and raised £26 for the tragedy-stricken group. Tony later went on to form Harmony Grass before joining Cliff Richards, who he worked closely with for over a decade.

The Chasers were formed around 1959 in Chase Cross and featured lead guitarist, Len Tuckey. They appeared at the Robert Beard Centre in the run up to Christmas in 1965, just after releasing their first single, Hey, Little Girl.

Len went on to join the Nashville Teens and married Suzy Quatro.

Another hugely popular local group which went on to greater things was the Sugarbeats, fronted by Ken Gold.

In 1976, Ken teamed with Micky Denne, from the Upminster group Temporary Road Surface, to write and produce the number one hit You To Me Are Everything.

Offering music of a different genre, Simon K & the Meantimers were regulars at the Windmill Hall. Kennie Simon, their lead singer, later went on to become a singer with Hot Chocolate.

  • More Andy Grant articles can be found on the Romford History Facebook group. 

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