Almost Famous – Paul Jackson
‘So you want to be a rock ‘n’roll star
Then listen now to what I say
Just get an electric guitar
And take some time and learn how to play
And when you hair’s combed right and your pants fit tight
It’s gonna be all right.’
The Byrds (McGuinn and Hillman) 1967
Paul Jackson, his wife Zoe, and daughters Samantha and Melissa have lived in Borrowash for the past 15 years.
The couple met in 1980 and in 2014, celebrated their silver wedding anniversary.
Their first marital home in Long Eaton was ‘just a complete shell. Just four walls. It took us over a year and a half to get it sort of liveable’ and by the mid 1990s, the lack of outside parking had become unbearable and they began house-hunting in earnest.
An ideal home proved to be elusive and the Jacksons had almost determined to relocate to Derby, when a trip to a village estate agent prompted a change of heart.
In Paul’s words:
‘I looked in Everington and Ruddles which is the village estate agents. I thought, this don’t seem a bad place, next to the canal and stuff. So we came down here, looked at the place and we thought ‘Yeah, yeah – that’s great.’ So it was then we sold up in Long Eaton and we moved to Borrowash and we’ve been here ever since.’
Paul grew up ‘about five miles down the road’ in Stapleford where he lived with his parents, Margaret and Colin.
He attended three local schools, all within walking distance and was a child of his era:
‘I did what most children of my age did – rode my bike for miles, played tennis, football and cricket. Climbed trees, picked apples, pears and plums and ate them (I bet some of these activities seem alien to children nowadays). I had various paper rounds not just daily, but weekly free paper rounds. I was also given the responsible job of collecting all the monies from the paper rounds – great for tips at Christmas!’
There were other ways to make money as well, and Paul acquired an entrepreneurial streak.
He became a 13 year – old Saturday boy for a printing firm and noticed a small unused professional printing press at the office. Margaret and Colin helped him to buy it and he started his first business, printing dance tickets and letterheads and drumming up custom by advertising in a local paper.
The fledgling venture generated no overhead costs and Paul’s price list was extremely competitive – with the result that:
‘the response was overwhelming to the point that I couldn’t cope.’
On leaving school, he would later embark upon an apprenticeship as a carpenter and joiner, working alongside Colin. Paul studied for a City and Guilds qualification and has kept up his skills – but the printing experience proved to be formative:
‘Apart from 1978 to 1982 when I did my joinery apprenticeship I’ve been self employed.
If you want something, you’ve got to work for it.’
What Paul Jackson really wanted can be deduced from a visit to his garage.
Instead of predictable motoring paraphernalia, the unsuspecting visitor could expect to find:
‘All me recording gear, and I can hardly get in for guitars, to be fair. It’s that full in there!
I’ve got 30 plus … Yamaha guitars, I’ve got Gibsons, I’ve got a Gibson Les Paul , I’ve got Fenders and the acoustic ones. I’ve got the Takamines which are real top notch… nylon string, steel string, I’ve got a Dobra which is like a slide instrument, I’ve got a banjo … I’ve got a ukulele for a bit of humour.
I’m like a kid in a sweetshop when it comes to guitars….’
Zoe does not share his enthusiasm:
‘I used to go to the Music Live Fair every year and me wife says ‘Ooh, I’ll come with you’ … and that was the biggest mistake ever, ‘cos I’m standing there, looking at something for 20 minutes and if you’re not interested in guitars, it’s like watching paint dry! I mean, I could feel her eyes burning in the back of my neck!’
Paul’s daughters would agree.
Melissa abandoned the guitar ‘after about three weeks’ and the family piano, bought by their father ‘hoping my daughters would actually take it up’ remains ‘stuck in the music room, taking up a lot of space.’
Despite meeting her future husband at a rock concert, Zoe has firmly refused to partner him in a performing duo and neither sings nor plays an instrument but has always supported his determination to be a professional musician.
Joinery, property renovation and gardening have generated income over the years, but since 1982, these have been sidelines ‘between gigs and tours.’
For Paul Jackson:
‘My music always comes first.’
He started early:
‘It was through my school friend, David Greasley that I took up the guitar when I was 10.’
The 1970s, awash with ‘clever stuff, like Deep Purple’ were characterised by the ‘classic rock’ sound and Paul Jackson will not have been the only sub teen, strumming away in his garage alongside a couple of mates and a friend who drummed on paint tins.
What seems unusual is that this was far from a hobby:
‘I had a big passion for it. I used to practice and practice – sometimes eight hours a day’
and by 1978 he was studying joinery by day and lining up with his first group, Snake Jives at night.
Despite the sixties optimism of The Byrds, becoming a ‘rock ‘n’ roll star was never going to be a simple matter of picking up a guitar and learning how to play.
For Paul Jackson in any case, that would have been the easy part. He had been putting in eight hour practice shifts for over five years.
The Snake Jives were serious about music, wrote their own material and started to record it, but as Paul ruefully admits:
‘We did more practices than we did gigs. We found it pretty difficult to get gigs because – well, no-one had ever heard of us.’
It was unpromising terrain, but he was not to be deterred.
In 1982, he took a leap into the dark. From now on, the ‘safety first’ world of carpentry and joinery would be the hobby and music would be the job.
The Snake Jives persevered, tailoring their act to obtain work on the club circuit, but money was still in short supply. Paul’s fortunes took a turn for the better when a contact advised him to apply for an Equity card.
Equity is the actors’ union and in the 1980s, (and today, to a lesser extent), many jobs in film and television were only available to those in possession of the all-import Equity card.
Paul Jackson had never envisaged a career treading the boards en route to Hollywood, but taking a walk – on part might pay the bills in between gigs. He applied for a provisional card and six months later was eligible for work.
The work was diverse and best of all, there was a lot of it. One thing seemed to lead to another:
‘I did quite a lot of programmes, especially in the eighties. I must have done well over two hundred.’
Popular series requisitioning Paul’s services included Boon, starring Michael Elphick, Howard’s Way, Peak Practice and Crossroads ( ‘I was in Crossroads quite a few times, but not as Benny, as most people make out!’).
The television series The Chronicles of Narnia in which he played the Blacksmith’s Apprentice proved to be one of the best opportunities because the initial pay was good and had a habit of multiplying:
‘The amount of cheques I got through from that was amazing because they kept selling it on — they used to play it in the cinemas. So they used to say ‘Oh, this has been sold to Australia.’ A letter would come through the door and you’d open it and there’d be another cheque in there. You got royalties, you see. Even now, if it’s on UK Gold, you get another cheque!’
Some of the shows held obvious appeal for a founder member of The Snake Jives, including Bad News 2, a vehicle for Ade Edmondson, Rik Mayall and Nigel Planer.
The programme as Paul recalls was ‘about a rock band that was going to play at Donnington – and they actually played at Donnington and we filmed it on the Donnington stage.’
Years later, he relives the excitement and in 2014 can still revisit the moment:
‘What it was supposed to be was that we were supposed to be heavy rockers , storming the stage while they were supposed to be performing and it was, like, mixed with the footage of the actual concert but we stormed the stage! And that’s on YouTube – that scene where we stormed the stage.’
Paul’s television back catalogue includes working with household names Dawn French, Ruby Wax and Tracey Ullman and appearing in hits like Tom Brown’s Schooldays, Soldier, Soldier and Girls on Top.
Yet the parts were uncannily similar:
I was ‘Man at Bar’ in nearly every single thing I did. Nearly every single thing I did, I was at the bar.
The first few parts I was ‘Man at Bar’ and then I got a phone call saying ‘I’ve got a job for you.’ It was supposed to be in Southampton, but it wasn’t, it was in Birmingham ‘cos it was Howard’s Way.
He says ‘You’re a sailor.’ I says ‘Flippin ‘eck!’ I says to my missus ‘A sailor! I’ve got something different to do here. Brilliant!’
Anyway, I got down there. They put the peaked cap on, got the scarf on, and made me face red, like I’d been in the sun all day. I’ve got the gear on, I walked into this room, and I says ‘Right, where do you want me?’
He says ‘Walk over there mate, pick a pint up.’
I was ‘Sailor at Bar!’
Being confined to the bar in the cause of art rarely brought the expected compensation:
‘It’s cold tea – looks like ale but it’s tea!
But sometimes Paul struck lucky:
‘They actually filmed Boon in Beeston, in this pub called The Star and I had to go in there nearly every single episode. I was supposed to be a footballer. I said ‘Where am I?’
He said ‘You’re at the bar! In The Star!! You’ve just had the game.’ But when I looked behind the bar, there was one of my mates who was an extra.
‘Don’t worry’, he says ‘There … I’ll pour real ale! Here y’are, have that!’
We walked back into the room and the director says ‘Now – let’s do that again.’
I says ‘Right, OK’, so we went back and got a pint and went to the back of the room. Anyway, we had about 15 takes and I’m glad we caught the bus because we could hardly walk when we got out of the pub!’
Another memorable occasion was working in Birmingham on a series called Made in Spain. The star was Roger Lloyd Pack, best known as Trigger from Only Fools and Horses and high jinks were the order of the day:
‘We’d all got our shorts on and the director said ‘You’re wild men – act wild!
There’s real ale on today, because I want people to act drunk!’
So we were all supping; we were going crackers! It was unbelievable! We had a Miss Wet T-shirt competition, we were all supping like mad, and it was unbelievable. And when we were finished—we were here at eight o’clock, its ‘Right, we’re having a break for dinner.’
Half of us were absolutely sozzled out of our minds! They said ‘What we doing for dinner?’
This bloke said ‘Shall we go down the pub?’ I was glad I got the train that day. Another good one!’
It certainly was and Paul Jackson had his foot on the dramatic ladder – but no desire to upgrade from ‘Man at Bar’ to ‘TV star’.
His sole ambition was to succeed in the music world and in 1985, he set up an entertainments agency:
‘It was called Gold Entertainments. I was basically employing just small acts, small time acts around the clubs. I was still going out with the group, as well as working.’
He sums it up as ‘doing bits and pieces’ – and then came the break – at the right time but from a surprising source.
The Jackson family was close (‘Dad and I were big mates’) and a typical night out was a father and son evening at the Stapleford Conservative Club. The two were enjoying their customary of game of snooker when the phone rang. Someone was asking for Paul.
‘It was this guy and I didn’t know who he was …. He sort of says ‘A mate of yours has given me your number and I wondered if you’d be interested in this band. It’s called Brian Poole. At first I didn’t really latch on.
He said, ‘You might know it, it was formerly called The Tremeloes; Brian Poole and the Tremeloes
‘Course I thought, Flippin ‘eck – this is a bit of a move up, this, like, from just doing local clubs and stuff!’
The Snake Jives lacked the crucial ‘recognition factor’. This would not be a problem with Brian Poole.
The Dagenham band, formed in 1958, had notched up a string of hits with and without Brian Poole in the 1960s and had recording contracts with Decca and subsequently CBS.
Age and voting habits notwithstanding, it is safe to say that songs like Twist and Shout, Do You Love Me? and Here Comes My Baby, would have been as familiar to the stalwarts of The Stapleford Conservative Club as God Save the Queen.
Whether or not they liked them is another matter, as it was for Paul:
‘I was into rock, you see, being in the seventies. That was the decade for the guitarist, really. All the rock bands were there; Thin Lizzie, UFO, Deep Purple, all the rock bands where the guitarist was so important. Even things like ‘The Eagles’ and Rory Gallagher. The seventies were probably the best era for music, really.’
The glory days of The Tremeloes were the 1960s and their sound had little in common with Deep Purple, but a break was a break and Paul was on his way:
‘I went down. I met two guys in a pub in Ilkeston called The Concorde – it’s closed down now – we chatted and you used to give them cassettes. We went down to this audition and I did the business and got the job.’
The Snake Jives had played in local clubs, but the new member of Brian Poole worked a grander circuit, forsaking the Stapleford Conservative club for life ‘on tour’.
‘It was massive! We did a tour with Showaddywaddy, all round the big theatres; the big Butlins with two or three thousand people in one room.’
It was heady stuff and they were ‘only young lads, 24, 25’ who determined to relish every moment – and in particular:
‘This fantastic job – a place called Tivoli World near Marbella in Spain. It was like a Wild West town and we had the stage at the end of this Wild West town! This job, it was really to die for!’
Fantasy had become reality; the big name promoter (Stan Green), the perfect work schedule (‘we had six gigs a week at this place – one hour! We used to play from ten o’clock until eleven so we had all the rest of the day off’) and the trappings of stardom ( ‘Stan Green used to pick us up and pull up in a Rolls Royce and everyone would go ‘Wow!’ We’d all get up and walk towards the car to take us to this gig’).
Years later, Paul remains in awe:
‘It was fantastic!’
But all good things come to an end, and so it was with Brian Poole.
As a musician, Paul began to get ‘itchy feet.’
He was a guitarist and felt under-used because the lead work in the band was hogged by a saxophone player.
Fortunately, he had made some useful professional contacts during the Brian Poole years, and rose to a new challenge. Performing to an armed forces circuit was a world apart from the Showaddywaddy tour but preferable to kicking his heels with Brian Poole.
It was also enjoyable:
‘I got together with a guy from a former band and we formed this duo called Chalk and Cheese.
‘I was quite good at writing down ideas. Basically, I used to write the sketches down and he used to do the bad bits! We used to do all the RAF camps and the bass player from Brian Poole knew this agent in Peterborough and he fixed us up with all these camps. And we went down really well – we did that for quite a number of years.’
The Chalk and Cheese blend of music and comedy sustained Paul (and by now, his young family in Borrowash) until the mid nineties and might have continued indefinitely, but for a twist of fate.
Receiving the call that would lead to the Showaddywaddy tour, whilst playing snooker at the Stapleford Conservative Club was as unlikely as chancing upon another big-time sixties band advertising for a guitarist whilst glancing at a local newspaper.
But truth is stranger than fiction.
Paul Jackson, was about to add Mike Pender’s Searchers to the list of bands he had played with since exchanging the safe haven of joinery for the roller-coaster life of a professional musician.
The Searchers evolved from 1957 Liverpudlian skiffle origins into a ‘swinging sixties’ band and it is reasonable to assume that the Stapleford Conservatives, like the rest of the nation, would have been familiar with the oeuvre, including Sugar and Spice, Needles and Pins, Bye Bye Baby and Don’t Throw Your Love Away.
Mike Pender’s Searchers, did not play Paul’s preferred ‘heavy music’, 1970s-style, but the Brian Poole experience had turned him into something of a ‘sixties specialist’.
There were other advantages too; some geographical:
‘In 1985, Mike Pender left the original band and formed his own band called Mike Pender’s Searchers. The drummer used to live in Beeston and the agent, called Tony Shaw, lived in Nottingham while the other two guys lived in Liverpool.
They wanted somebody from this area who could travel to gigs in the same vehicle from this area with the drummer. So I went for the job and I got it.’
It turned out well, and for Paul, the delights of the Showaddywaddy tour paled into insignificance beside the thrills and spills of his new working life:
‘Every other week we were flying from one place to another – we did tours; we did all sorts of things. We did a tour of Japan – we did Tokyo and we had a big tour in South Africa with The Swinging Blue Jeans.’
The Penders partnered with the era’s finest:
‘There was Dave Dee, there was Marmalade – and I’ll always remember this – the compere used to be a Radio One disc jockey – it’s Diddy David Hamilton!
We did all sorts of stuff. We even did a gig in Dubai Country Club and we did gigs in Sweden. I remember flying to the Isle of Man from Speke Airport – which it was called then. It’s now called John Lennon Airport.’
Even tours on home ground were exciting and Paul became friendly with musicians like Joe Brown of Bruvvers who turned out to be:
‘an amazing guy. He plays ukulele, mandolin, squeezebox, fiddle, acoustic guitar, electric guitar and the guy takes about five hours on a sound check on every instrument.’
He had played at Butlins as a guitarist with Brian Poole, but the Pender venues were more impressive:
‘Birmingham Symphony Hall and De Montfort, London Palladium, Waterfront, built specially for the Eurovision Song Contest in Belfast – I remember Ireland won that about six times on the ‘flippin trot!’
And Paul Jackson has at least one thing in common with Prime Ministers and royalty:
‘We did a gig in ‘The Rover’s Return! It was amazing! It was unbelievable! When I show friends and family that – it was – no-one can believe it.’
What became all too apparent after five years of life on the high wire was that whilst Dubai and South Africa were beginning to feel familiar, Borrowash now resembled an outpost in Siberia.
He was never there.
‘I was away from home a lot and I’d got a young family then as well – two young daughters – so I decided to give it a bit of a breather and do more local work.’
The nature of the work came as a surprise; after another unexpected telephone call:
‘All of a sudden I got a phone call from a keyboard player I used to know in the past and he said to me, ‘We’re looking for a guitarist for this tribute band.’
I said ‘What sort of tribute band is it?’ and he didn’t want to tell me, so I thought ‘Here we go!’
‘Look’, he says, ‘We’ll be all right – we’ve got some work. We’ve got some good work, you’ll be all right!’
Anyway, he held back until a few weeks down the line I found out it was Abba.’
It was the right era but the wrong group. The only point of contact between Abba and Deep Purple was the decade:
‘I couldn’t stand them! Dressed up in all the ridiculous clothes and stuff! We put the wigs on and the pyjamas – I used to call them – like silk kimonos! And I did that for a couple of years and we did some decent work to be fair. We went to Brussels and did some gigs – we used to do largely theatres.’
Eventually, public enthusiasm for the Swedish group and all their imitators waned and Paul concentrated on his domestic priorities – but he had reckoned without his old band mates from Brian Poole and the lure of the sixties sound:
The drummer that was originally with Brian Poole all those years ago, back in the eighties – and he gave me a call. He said ‘We’re looking for a guitarist for The Dreamers….’
The original Freddie and the Dreamers was a Mersey beat group although this was a misnomer because its line-up and lead singer, milkman Freddie Garrity, came from Manchester.
By 2010, nearly fifty years had passed since their heyday, typified by hit single You were made for me and Freddie Garrity was dead – but The Dreamers had weathered glam rock, punk rock and The Arctic Monkeys and had no intention of calling it a day:
‘There’s two guys in the band – although they’re not actually original from the early sixties, they were there from the seventies as the band went on. So they were with Freddie Garrity – they did tours. They’d done some massive arenas in America. I joined them and we’ve done some really good work in the last three years.
We did a big sixties tour. We toured with Union Gap UK and Herman’s Hermits. Peter Noone left in the sixties, but they’ve still got the original drummer, that’s how they’ve been able to keep the name.’
The Dreamers are in demand on the holiday circuit:
‘We do holiday camps and Warner’s Hotels’
and sometimes a cruise is part of the package, although acquiring sea legs can be tricky:
‘Freddie and the Dreamers would feature quite a few weird dance steps … legs kicking up and down, leg flips and all this lot.
Well, we tried to do it on the first night when the boat was rocking … and we went like that and all of us went sideways, right behind the mixing desk! We all went sideways – we couldn’t do it again! It was hard enough to stand up straight, never mind about lifting your legs off the floor!’
The work is steady (‘we do about twenty gigs a year’) but Paul also finds time for his own projects, including teaching the guitar and gardening.
And The Dreamers, like The Stones are proof that a good band just keeps on rocking!
‘I’m the younger one! Alan, who’s in the band, he’s sixty six years old now, so I mean, he’s really actually old – he’s an old age pensioner! I think Brian’s sixty and the drummer and the roadie are fifty.’
Meanwhile, back in Borrowash, Paul’s family has grown up:
‘Samantha’s now 23. She is studying at Nottingham Trent University and has gained a law degree – now studying for her Legal Practice Course.’
And Melissa is 18 and has just finished at Bilborough College where she has been studying Media, Film Studies and Photography.’
And for Zoe, being married to a musician can have its advantages:
‘We had a cruise in the Caribbean with The Dreamers and since then, I’ve been back twice since, on holiday with the wife!’
Paul firmly believes that ‘absence makes the heart grow stronger and we’ve never been happier.’
As The Stones enter their eighth decade, the ‘baby’ of The Dreamers is still rocking around the clock.
And the next call just might be Deep Purple……..