BACKTRACK

How The Bootleg Shadows came into being...and what it's like at a Bootleg rehearsal
(By ex-Bootleg Shadows' rhythm guitarist...John Harper)

Click on picture to enlarge and for captions

Dance on... Star Turn...  Baby Blue for John You don't do it like that !... Drum Roll Steve the 'sound engineer' Tony's Wallet

One too many?... Lee the roadie Play it plank Paul improvises a microphone stand solo from Tony Rehearsal end

It was during a family get-together in May 2004 that my younger brother, Paul, quite out of the blue, made a startling suggestion... "Why don't you put a Shadows tribute band together?" he inquired, to the exploding accompaniment of a Carling ring-pull. "It's a tragedy that someone with your talent and years of experience isn't playing... and I miss being out on the road." Handing me a foaming tube of amber nectar, my brother - who has given sterling service as a 'roadie' since I first performed with a guitar way back in 1968 - retreated to his seat. "You're always going on about how tuneless and unmelodic modern music is," he continued, "so why don't you do something about it? We're both huge fans of the Shads, and there are thousands of people like us out there who would love to see a proper Shadows show. If you could get the right people together, I know you'd make a fantastic job of it." "Don't be daft," I smiled, basking in this flow of flattery so effortlessly (and insincerely) heaped upon me. "The Shadows are still doing concerts...and besides, I've not played seriously in a band for eight years. But what do you mean... a proper Shadows show?" "A show like the old days," he replied. "Pop groups in the '60s didn't perform mega-bucks concerts in vast arenas - they played the local theatres, and wore matching suits and ties. The Shads were committed entertainers, they just wanted their fans to enjoy the show and go home happy. They smiled, played tunes with melody and treated their audiences with courtesy, rather than contempt. That's the sort of show I'd like to see, and a lot of other people would like to see it too...if only they could." What's age got to do with it?

My brother and I have almost identical musical tastes, and I was about to concur with his accurate summing-up of the current music scene when he exclaimed: "...and if you don't do it soon...you'll be too old!" Choking on my Carling, I spluttered something about "what do you mean, TOO OLD!" Mum, who had been listening intently but without comment, decided it was time to join the conversation. "He's right, you know...you're best days are behind you now." Hopelessly outnumbered and desperate for support, I flashed a feeble smile in the direction of my dear wife, Maureen, who was sitting beside me on the settee. "I'm not past-it at 46 am I?" "Of course you're not dear," she said in a valiant but unconvincing attempt to reassure me, "you're just not as young as you were."

Maureen and I have been together since the mid-1980s when I was in my late 20s and heavily involved with the group Split Decision. During the early years of our marriage it wasn't easy. I'd arrive home in the early hours of the morning from some far-off gig, creep into the bedroom so as not to disturb her...knowing full-well she'd been awake most of the night listening for the group van to drop me off. Seed of an idea This talk of getting 'too old' had irritated me, however, and Paul's suggestion had planted a seed in my somnambulistic brain. What few 'grey cells' I still retain were nudged out of their sluggish apathy. Our next-door neighbour Tony Cole (who, like me, is a bass player...although he is many years older than I) had some months previously remarked how unfortunate it was that, despite living next door to each other, we'd never actually played in the same band. I pointed out that having TWO bass players in the same group could be construed as a little extravagant, but I don't think he regarded this as an insurmountable obstacle. The bass line At the time Tony was playing in Joe Cocker tribute band Cockermouth, but I knew he was looking to do something different. Would he be interested in The Shadows, I pondered?

I arrived home as he was washing his car. Mentioning my brother's suggestion of a Shadows tribute band, however, had an alarming effect on his slothful demeanour, which vanished in a flash. Dropping the hosepipe and hurling his crumpled chamois into the road - just missing a passing cyclist who had to swerve onto the pavement to avoid being hit clean in the face - he began jabbering about guitars, impressing upon me (I think) how vital it was that he should go out at that very moment and add to his considerable collection of Wol basses. Equipment means everything to Tony, and anyone who does not share his passion is regarded as a lesser human being. "I must get a Precision bass...no two Precision basses," he spluttered. "I must have a spare because I could break a string...and they'll have to be fiesta red, with white scratch plates.... Oh, and they must have maple necks...the Shads usually use maple necks rather than rosewood... and I'll need a couple of Fender tweed cases to carry them in. And we'll need really good transmitters with frequencies that don't clash...and we'll need to pick up some Vox amps! "I'll see you in a bit - I'll just nip inside and check out ebay."

I looked on open-mouthed as he shot into the house, tripping over the still spurting hosepipe as he went, only to reappear seconds later with a breathless question. "What are you going to play?" "Rhythm," I replied. "I'll do the Bruce Welch bit... if you can cope with Jet Harris." A huge grin spit his face. Rubbing his hands, Tony turned on his heals and disappeared inside once more. Seconds later, he was back. "What are we going to do about a Hank?" Leading the way This, of course, was the most crucial question of all, and I was somewhat relieved that it hadn't completely passed him by. "There is only one man who can play Hank...and his name is Geg Palmer," I said. "If he's on board...we can really do this."

Geg and I go back many, many years. A fabulously gifted guitarist - and a Shadows fanatic to boot - it was whilst watching him perform with his band The Evan Lyric Sound at a family wedding in 1968 that I was inspired to join a pop group myself. I was (and am still) many years younger than Geg, but I knew he would jump at the offer to join us. The phone call was a relatively simple affair. "Hi Geg, do you want to play Hank Marvin in a Shadows tribute band," I inquired. "Yes," came the reply. That was it then.

The Sheldon factor.
What were we going to do we about a drummer? Like Geg, this required only a phone call...and I knew exactly who to ring. From 1983-96 I had been fortunate enough to play bass, and later rhythm guitar, in a group called Spit Decision, a four-piece band whose drummer was a larger than life character called Steve Sheldon. The group combined 1960s music with a bit of light comedy. A popular feature of the Split Decision show involved playing the Shadows' hit Apache, during which Steve and I would become embroiled in a simulated row after I and the other two guitarists had walked out into the audience (we had early radio transmitters) abandoning him on the stage with his drum kit. Steve would bark out a load of insults before storming off, only to return moments later from some unexpected corner playing a military side drum and sporting a Royal Marines' helmet. We'd then conclude Apache with all four of us doing the Shadows' walk on the dance floor., Split Decision broke up in early 1996, but if Steve wanted to be a Bootleg Shadow, there is no other drummer (and no nicer man) in the country better or more suited for the job. Thankfully this loveable giant - who is more than 12 months older than myself - had no hesitation. The Bootleg Shadows were up...now we had to start running. Rehearsals.

Both of my previous bands - Blue Eclipse in the late 1970s and Split Decision in the 1980s - had rehearsed in a back room at the Three Tuns Inn, Fazeley, near Tamworth. As anyone who has ever played in a group will know, finding a suitable rehearsal venue is crucial, and this function room played an integral role in the formation of The Bootleg Shadows.

I contacted licensees Bev and Pete ...and they were readily agreed to let us use the room. Two of the nicest people you'd ever find in a public house (either side of the bar) they didn't charge us, but we'd do an occasional free gig for them under a pseudonym name of The Fugitives (a ploy which enabled us to play '60s music by artists other than The Shadows).

Steve and his drum kit are invariably the first to arrive at a Bootleg Shadows' rehearsal, followed by the rest of us at close intervals. When first getting together, we of course concentrated on the tunes. Fortunately, we are all competent musicians and playing Shadows' music is second nature to us. What was daunting, however... was the 'dancing'! Geg was convinced he'd never be able to do it...Tony didn't see why he had to do it (at the same time and in precisely the same way as everyone else, that is)...and Steve, on the drums, felt no inhibitions about commenting upon how ridiculously easy it was, and that if only he wasn't trapped behind his kit...he'd show all how it was done!

"Come on girls...get it together," he'd glibly remark as one or other of us departed from the agreed steps. More than once he came near to having a cymbal stand rammed up his percussion section!

As weeks passed by, however, the music and the synchronised movements came together, so much so that, despite our initial fears, it is now almost impossible for any of us to play the music without automatically going into the appropriate 'walk'. This can be particularly embarrassing if we are standing in a pub when a Shadows' tune comes on the jukebox! Refreshing break.

Apart from acting as roadie, sound engineer, and anything else we can put upon him, my brother Paul is also one of the finest purveyors of drink in the business. Aided by Lee (the Bootleg Shadows are fortunate to have two roadies) a steady stream of Guinness, cider, Marston's bitter... and PG Tips (Geg's liquid intake is somewhat at odds with other band members) is consumed as Shadows' tunes and dance steps are honed to perfection...or what seems to be perfection after downing that lot!

And when the rehearsals are over, well, that's when Paul's original suggestion becomes reality...because that's when The Bootleg Shadows head out on the road, playing some of the finest pop tunes ever written and performing a unique fantasy concert tribute to the best instrumental band in the world...The Shadows!

John Harper

(ex-Rhythm guitarist of The Bootleg Shadows)