Ronnie Hodge is a regular and dedicated member of the Liverpool children's music charity Merseycats. He's a keen musician with an almost unbroken history of drumming going back to the sixties. Liverpool Beat seeks to creat a lasting record of the history of music in the north west, as well as publicising "what's on" today. Please sign up and get writing or take advantage of our free publicity for your band or gigs.
After learning to play kit drums at the Boys Brigade in 1962 at the age of 13, where myself and two other members who were the lead drummers in the 52nd Boys Brigade band put together a kit comprising of the lead snare drum, the marching bass drum and two deep marching snare drums, with the snares turned off, for tom toms, we brought in a hi hat stand and bass drum pedal and used the cymbals from the marching band, all being held together by other members of the troop in their hands (must have been deafening for them), I caught the playing music, and specifically drums, bug.
After talking my father into buying me a ‘proper’ kit of drums at 14, a set of Gigster red sparkle costing the princely sum of £ 32 from Rushworth and Draper Music shop in Whitechapel in Liverpool, I started my first band with friends from school, Keith Dean on bass, who was a trumpet player in the Boys Brigade and school orchestra, and I think someone called John on vocals, I can’t remember who we had on guitar as my memory is not as good as it once was. We didn’t have a name at that time but when we started playing in front of an audience in 1965 we had chosen the name, The Xceptions was born. We played together for about a year mainly doing school dances and youth club gigs around the Netherton, Aintree and Crosby area, having to beg lifts off parents to get the gear about or sometimes even getting on the bus with all the gear, in fact once one of my drums rolled off the bus whilst going round a roundabout and we had to stop the bus and run back for it.
During 1966 I left The Xceptions to join another band based in Crosby called Mind Over Matter, with Dave Woods on guitar and Pete Mugford on bass. Dave lived in a big house right next door to the Seafield Convent on Liverpool Road, Crosby, which had a cellar that we used for practicing. We decorated the cellar with all kinds of psychedelic paintings as we were now into playing ‘flower power’ numbers by the likes of Jimi Hendrix, Cream, Pink Floyd and even The Byrds and Beachboys.
We had moved up a gear from The Xceptions and started playing some clubs in Liverpool, like The Blue Angel and were getting work from an agent, Ron Ellis, instead of just finding our own gigs.
After another year Pete, who used to play a lot of blues and jazz previously, asked if we could expand the group by bringing in his old brass section, so we did and changed the name to The Hip Hooray Band, but shortly after doing this, and a few bookings including The Cavern, Pete said to Dave and I that he was taking over the band and moving in his old drummer and guitarist, so Dave and I found another bass player and played as Mind Over Matter again.
It was only a couple of months after this that I was to join what was to turn into The Rubber Soul Band in 1967.
It started life as The Rsoul Band, but this name didn’t go down to well with Ron Ellis so we used the full name, The Rubber Soul Band.
We were Mike Davenport on lead guitar and vocals, Keith Mulholland on bass and vocals, myself on drums and at the start we had Dave Williams on keyboard and I think John Thomson on lead vocal. We played a lot of Rolling Stones, The Hollies, The Beatles and various other harmony rock type material and Mike was always trying to introduce his ‘special effects’ into our stage performances, mainly pyrotechnics. John fell foul of Mike’s explosive tricks one night at The Mousetrap, a club on the corner of Breck Road opposite Georgeson’s car showroom, Mike forgot to set off an ashtray full of flash powder during the song Jumpin’ Jack Flash, which he used to do by dropping a match into the ashtray (very primitive), so at the end of the song, John went to stub out his cigarette, everyone used to smoke on stage in those days, and he just saw the ashtray on top of Mike’s amp and put it out in there. Of course this set off the flash powder and nearly melted his hand. He carried on until the end of the set (the show must go on syndrome) but then decided that it hurt too much and took himself off to the hospital to have it seen too.
We carried on without him for the rest of the night and went down so well that we decided to stay as a four piece, especially as John was out of action and said he wasn’t coming back as he’d had enough of Mike’s explosions, but this only lasted until we could find a replacement singer.
This came in the form of Roy (Wicky) White, who we had seen playing with a rival group, The Cast. We asked him to join us and it worked out very well as his voice was the missing link in the harmonies.
We started playing quite a lot and built up a good reputation. All of us except Wicky moved into an old farm cottage in Latham, near Ormskirk, so that we were able to practice and build up our song list better but it didn’t last long as we were missing our home cooking too much.
Dave left the band at this stage as he was already married and had a baby on the way.
This was now the final line up, and we shortened the name to Rubber Soul. We were getting so much work at this time, usually playing about nine times a week by doubling up some days, that we all went professional and gave up our jobs so that we could concentrate on the success of the band (and get some sleep). We carried on playing all the nightclubs in town, being the first band to get them to pay £12.10s where previously they would only pay £8, and also started to move out across the North West and into Cumbria and Northumberland on a regular basis.
During 1969 we changed the name again to Whisper, as some venues thought that Rubber Soul just played Beatles songs, and we were far from just a Beatles band.
We were playing a lot of Air Force bases, English and American, at this time and big dance venues like this all over the country.
During this year we answered an advert in the Echo that was looking for a band to record some songs for two song writers, Jeff Daniels, from Manchester, and Colin McCourt from the Wirral, who I also knew from bands. I saw Colin again in 2010 working for a local internet radio station called Mersey Waves and was interviewed by him, strange old world. They said they were looking all over the country to find the best band to record their songs for MCA records and then promote them in our act. We liked the songs and learnt them from a tape they gave us inside a week, enough to show them how we could perform them. We got the job and started the process of polishing the songs up ready for recording.
They had six songs in all and we were to record two of them for a single and the other four would be recorded for a follow up album. We went down to London to MCA’s studios in Portland Place and recorded the two songs, Love Is A See Saw for the ‘A’ side and Isabella for the other. When the record was released we were not to get anything from the recording but we were able to get a lot more money playing and promoting the record. We also had to change our name again to Jiminy Crikitt.
Unfortunately, for one reason or another, the record was never a big success but the bands success was increased quite a lot and we toured up and down the UK headlining wherever we went. Our agent, Ron Ellis gave us over to the Stuart Littlewood Enterprises management agency, as he could not provide us with the type of venues we were now starting to play, and they sent us on a tour of Denmark in November 1970, we found out later that the record company had released the record in Germany thinking that we were going there as everyone usually did.
We drove over to Denmark on the ferry from Harwich on 5th November 1970 in a storm with the boat leaving late because of the strong winds in the North Sea, and arrived in Esjberg in the early hours of 6th, I was as sick as a dog on the ferry and then had to drive across Denmark to Copenhagen where the Danish agent's office was, only to find out that our first booking was three quarters of the way back the way we came. We played every night for five weeks while we were there and found out at our first venue, a school dance, that it was normal for bands to play for five three quarter hour sets and we had only recently been playing a one hour set as top of the bill in the UK.
We had to play everything we had ever played before and put in some long lead breaks just to play for the time they wanted.
The only time we could play our one hour show was in a special gig for us just outside Copenhagen in a place could Helsingor, where we played as top of the bill with five Danish bands on two stages in a sports stadium (or Halen to them). The Danish agent came along to see us play and couldn’t believe the show that they got when we kicked off our normal set instead of just playing to fill a night.
We didn’t get away with too much of an easy night though because we then had to pack up the gear, no roadies in those days, and drive back to Copenhagen and play another three sets in a nightclub, The Revolution Club.
Early in 1971, after coming back from Denmark and continuing to play up and down the UK, sometimes going from north to south from night to night, (well organized bookings hey), Wicky, who was married by then, gave us the news that he would be leaving ‘to settle down’. I decided that I would leave at the same time as I was engaged and planning on getting married soon so that we would only have one change of line up all at the same time and Mike and Keith could keep the band going.
We auditioned lots of singers and drummers to replace us and then found Dave Lloyd and John Mylett, who came as a pair, who were ideal. We taught them all the songs we were doing as a band and John had to go out and get a double kit of drums, to match the look of the band, then Wicky and I left at the end of February 1971. They since went on to greater things as Nutz and Rage.
I retired from playing completely at this time and sold my double kit of Premier after I got married in November 1971 to pay for a new bathroom suite in our second house as it was just lying in the loft gathering dust.
In 1977 I was working on the buses and was approached by John Smith, who was a singer in a comedy band called Gud News, and he said that he had heard that I was a drummer and that they were looking to replace there drummer who was leaving. I said that I hadn’t played for six years and didn’t have any drums now and that I didn’t know if Enid, my wife, would like me going back to all that, but he said that they could do a ‘pensioners’ do at Netherton British Legion on a Wednesday and that I could use the resident drummers kit to see how it went and how I felt about coming back.
I asked Enid and she said, “you know you’ve missed it so give it a go and see what happens” I went along and played, trying to remember how to do it and trying to play a bit quieter than I used to, and they said it was good and if I got a set of drums I was in.
So it all started again. I bought a new kit of Olympic by Premier, as I couldn’t afford a proper kit of Premier and these were actually the same as my old kit, as times had moved on a bit, and started playing with Gud News, our first proper gig was on Alinsons Cabaret Club in Bootle two weeks later. Also in the band with John and I were Alan Wright on bass, Charlie Hill on guitar and Tony (can’t remember last name) on rhythm guitar. We played nearly as much as Jiminy Crikitt but it was all local gigs so was quite easy to do.
We were the top comedy band in Liverpool at the time and were managed by Mary Wills agency, which had all the top acts at the time, so I walked back into playing in a band that was well received and it was a really good little band and the ideal way for me to get back into playing again.
It broke up towards the end of 1979 because John and Alan thought they could do as good a job as a duo, so they disbanded the group, but didn’t last long themselves.
I then joined a group called Krest within two weeks. They were Kathy on vocals, Eddie and Ted on guitars and Steve Davis on bass. We were doing a lot of disco type stuff by Donna Summer and the like and was a new experience for me going from rock to disco but my years of playing Soul and Tamla Motown music came in useful.
This changed in mid 1981 when Kathy left to be replaced by Steve Jessett on vocal as we went back to playing the more traditional guitar, bass and drums music. The two Eddies, father and son, then left to be replaced by Jimmy Nugent (who is now my brother-in-law and lives in Kent) on guitar, who was a lot better at playing guitar than the two Eddies put together.
In 1981 we replaced Steve on vocals with Barry Flanagan and took on another young guitarist called Steve Quinn. We then changed the name to Backtrack and lasted until the beginning of 1983 when Jimmy packed in to move down to Kent after marrying my sister-in-law.
I then formed a band called Sparkle with Mal Rice on guitar and vocal and John Comer on bass and vocal. I also bought a new kit of Pearl Export drums in brushed chrome effect.
Now we are in a trio situation and it’s a lot easier to book out around the clubs, as times are starting to get hard to find work, but we do very well playing a lot of harmony rock songs again. Despite John not being able to drive yet and Mal getting carjacked in Toxteth whilst stopping for petrol on the way to a gig and having all his gear and John’s bass guitar taken, we lasted until 1990 with the same line up. Again this came to an end because of people moving from the area.
Early in 1991 I formed a band with another father and son called Richie and Richard Connelly, Richie on bass and vocal and his son, 15 year old Richard, on keyboard and lead vocal. We were called RDR Good for a short while. We then took on a guitarist to supplement the sound and found Pete (the post) Gilroy, who was the guitarist I had been looking for, ever since Mike Davenport.
Shortly after Richie stood aside and we brought back John Comer on bass and vocal and we changed the name to Free Spirit in 1992.
We have had quite a lot of changes to personnel in Free Spirit, first to go was John Comer to be replaced by Tony Stott on bass and vocal, then he left to be replaced John Robinson on bass and vocal. Then after young Richard’s voice started going, we parted company with him.
Now we are back to a trio with Me, Pete and John forming the real start of the name Free Spirit.
In 1996, John had met a girl whilst on holiday in Corfu who was from Coventry and they decided to get married, the only problem was that they were going to live by her perents in Coventry. So, after commuting for a few months to play at weekends he decided he had to leave and as Pete felt that it wouldn’t be the same without him, he said he would stop doing cabaret and go back to playing blues again.
We had a really good last gig at Deapdale Labour Club in Preston and recorded and videoed it all to give John as a leaving present.
I then found two new guys to join Free Spirit, Jimmy Cave on guitar and vocal and Steve Ore on bass and vocal. They lasted until about 1999 when they left together to start a heavy rock band playing in pubs.
I then played with various people playing out Free Spirit gigs, including Mike Davenport, Keith Mulholland, Ian Bamford, and Kenny Parry until I had a call from Jimmy Cave saying he wanted to come back if we could find another bass player.
We advertised and found Mike Devlin who had been playing with his family band The Devlin’s but wanted to move away from the family situation. Free Spirit where now back in action and this line up did very well for a few years.
In 2002 Jimmy went off again to play with Steve Ore and we stopped playing, as we couldn’t find an instant replacement.
Later in the year I was looking for band members when I met Gary Mc Innes, who came along to play as a bass guitarist with another guitarist I was talking too. It turned out that Gary wasn’t really a bass guitarist but played lead guitar, but he knew of a four piece band with a female singer who were looking for a drummer. He introduced me to his brother-in-law, Steve Maloney on guitar and vocal, and I joined them. We kept the name Free Spirit as they had had some trouble with agents when they lost their drummer and let them down.
We also had Katy, on vocal, and Colin Smith on bass and vocal, another father and daughter this time.
This line up lasted until October 2003, when Katy left to have a baby and her dad left as well.
Now Steve and I were looking for replacements again. We asked Mike Devlin to come back and advertised for a female vocalist. Along came Alison Cottenham, who had never sung in a band before but had always wanted too. After about a year Mike said he wanted to leave so we asked Steve’s sister, Pat Mc Innes, if she wanted to join. She took over on bass and vocal in the summer of 2004 and brought a whole new feel to the band now that we had two female vocalists and it worked very well.
At New Years Eve 2007 Alison played her last gig and left to play in another band in Cheshire as she was now living in Chester and was finding it hard to travel up every weekend to play.
We took on Cath Goegh-Breem in January 2008 who was a solo artist, who was also a drummer, to take over on vocals and continued playing and getting great revues over the next year. Unfortunately Cath also gave in her notice on New Years Eve and left at the end of March 2009. Pat decided to leave to join her husband’s band at this time as well.
We then took on Steph Gregory on vocals and Tony Madigan on bass and vocal, still with Steve Maloney on guitar and vocal and myself, as always, on drums. This lineup lasted for a couple of years until Tony let us down one night and had to be asked to leave.
It is now 2010 and as we were now heavily involved in Merseycats, the rock & roll children’s charity, we found another bass guitarist from there, Steve Faulkner, who had been playing for a very long time, mainly as part of a resident trio, and could play just about anything you threw at him.
In September 2011, Steph decided she would leave to pursue other styles of music so we asked Karen Black, who came to Merseycats, if she could stand in for Steph to fulfill our bookings until we could find another singer.
We have now found the lovely and talented Amanda Bell (nee Chen) who was very big in her native Ireland before coming to Liverpool to get married. Hopefully this lineup with last at least until I am too old to keep hitting the skins.
Also since 2007 I have been in a 60’s band called Beatclub, running alongside Free Spirit.
Beatclub was formed by us when we were going along to Merseycats jam nights at the Old Roan British Legion. We have been playing at a lot of their charity functions, as well as the jam nights, that raise money for children’s charities.
We have played at Zoe’s Place and Claire House on their summer fetes and at the Cavern Club and will be playing at The Casbah on their 50th anniversary on 28th August 2009 and during the Mathew Street festival on the Merseybeat Stage and the Hard Days Night Hotel, over the bank holiday the same year.
We have also started to play other gigs in our own right. This band consists of Steve Maloney on guitar and vocal, Gary Mc Innes on guitar and vocal, Pat Mc Innes on bass and vocal and myself, on drums.
In 2010 I have also got an old 60’s Soul band back together, with the aid of Steve Faulkner on bass as we had been trying to get it going for several years now but could never find a bass guitarist who loved soul as much as the rest of us.
The band, Memphis Nites, consists of Roger Tinsley on lead vocal, Nick Grzyb on lead guitar, both formally of The Hunchi Band and Chris Carma Road Show, Dave Kennedy on Keyboards, Steve Faulkner on Bass and myself on drums. We also play for Merseycats on a lot of their fund raising shows and have done The Mathew Street Festival Albert Dock floating family stage, Formby Live Music Festival and The Cavern for them.
Very much back to where it all began.
And so the show goes on.