Jimi Hendrix, Robert Palmer, The Mandrakes and Me
Just over half way through my 3 year art school education in Hull, a new young band called The Mandrakes appeared for the first time at the Condor club in Scarborough. It was Wednesday January 27th 1965 and due to the long Christmas break from college, I just happened to be there that night with my camera and flash gun. This was their 3rd gig since forming and it meant that I took the first ever pictures of Robert Palmer performing on stage.
The Mandrakes evolved from a group of pupils at the Scarborough High School for Boys during the summer of 1964, practicing under the initial name of The Titans. This was at first in the crypt of a church and then a chicken hut. Allen (who become Robert in1969) Palmer joined after a successful audition and the first gig took place at the St. Peter’s Youth Club in Scarborough, right at the end of the year. They scrabbled together a few local gigs at the start of 1965 until a chance meeting changed their fortunes forever. Ron Gillette, who managed another local band The Moonshots and was known as Scarborough’s oldest teenager, met Allen when he knocked him off his bicycle on the sea front, an event captured by a local press photographer.
Following this chance meeting Ron took up managing the band, which helped by his direction had a deal more, all be it local, success. In August 1966, while I was away in Skegness working in my first job after leaving college, the bass player Keith Griffin left the band to join the RAF and my brother took over on bass. My brother Mick, who had always had delusions of grandeur and couldn’t wait to get into a band, had been a prefect at the Boy’s High School and knew the Mandrakes from there. Ron had seen my pictures of the band taken at the Condor club and while I was still returning home at weekends from college and then my first job, I photographed the band for him four times . The second time was when my brother joined.
Having decided I could no longer bear another winter’s day in the soulless deserted Skegness, I packed in my job and returned to Scarborough in the November of 1966. With a recommendation from Mick early in 1967, I took up as a part-time roadie for the band. This became semi-official on Wednesday, February 16th when I received my first £1.00 in payment for the nights work, which was a gig at the Skyline Ballroom in Hull. All the band received the same £1.00 out of the £23.00 it was paid for the booking.
Not long after this, on Thursday 9th March, at another gig at the Skyline, we played in support to Family, The Small Four, The Strollers and The Jimi Hendrix Experience. The Skyline Ballroom, which was situated on the fourth floor of the Jameson Street Co-op building in the centre of Hull, was used as a restaurant during the day. This was regularly cleared on evenings to turn the space into a ballroom and the bands used the kitchens as a communal dressing room. Usually different bands took up different parts of the kitchen but on this occasion to our delight, Jimi Hendrix mixed in with us while waiting to go on stage. He chatted openly with us and when our second guitar, Rob Southwick broke a string while tuning up, Jimi re-strung and tuned Rob’s guitar with a string of his own. To complete Rob’s incredulity, Jimi then signed the guitar. How I regret not having my camera with me on THAT night!
Then we had the dubious honour of following him on stage, so for it not to be too much of an anti-climax we came up with the idea of ending our set with a guitar fight. This encore was a great success but looking back it was fraught with danger, considering the number of artists that have been electrocuted by poorly earthed equipment over the years. A postscript to this story is that after leaving the band to go away to University, Rob left his guitar at home. Deciding to clean up his son’s battered guitar, his father sanded it down and re-varnished it, removing in the process, the precious signature.
For the next year I spent my days at work at Walkers Studios in Scarborough photographing babies and weddings and night times out with the ever more successful Mandrakes. By mid April I became a full time roadie and then took over from Ron managing the group in July. The following March I started work at Middlesborough College Of Art as photographic technician but still returned home at weekends to spend my nights out with the band. During this period I photographed The Mandrakes on numerous occasions and using these pictures helped create a high local profile for the band, while honing my group shot technique.