The Marquee Club - A tribute site dedicated to the history of the legendary Marquee club at London's 90 Wardour street.

Interview with Brian Sprackling of Neat Change

Brian Sprackling of Neat Change

Guitarist Brian Sprackling played extensively at The Marquee Club from 1966 to 1968 as a member of Neat Change, one of the most important bands of London's early skinhead scene.

What is the first image that springs to your mind when you hear the words "Marquee Club?”

The best club in London, also the best Venue to be noticed for getting you gigs all over the country. If you played The Marquee, it was relatively easy to be booked anywhere else. It seemed like the ‘rubber stamp’ of approval that you were an OK band. Also, several things spring to mind and in no particular order but I always think of the ad on the back page, top right hand corner of the NME and Melody Maker longing for the day when the band I was playing in was in the ‘Billing’. I also think it goes hand in hand with the black and white border on the ad replicating the awning around the stage, and finally it had a certain smell and when I think of it, it transports me right back to when I was playing there. Fantastic!

Do you remember the very first time you ever visited the club?

Yes, it was for an audition one Saturday afternoon to play at The Marquee. Neat Change were the last to audition. We played 3 original songs penned by our singer Jimmy Edwards and bassist Steve Smith. We were given the courteous ‘thank you’ and ‘we’ll be in touch if you’re selected’. As we were about to breakdown the kit a voice came from out of the darkness asking us to hang on for a moment. We did and then we were asked to play again. This we did and after one number Long John Baldry and Jack Barrie introduced us to John Gee. They had heard our audition (He was playing there that night) and suggested to John Gee that he hear us. John Gee asked if we were playing anywhere on the following Tuesday. We said no and he asked us if we’d like to play with Manfred Man. It didn’t take long for us to say yes. A very memorable visit.

Can you remember the first time you ever played at The Marquee Club?

Yes, but cannot remember the exact date, it was late ’66 and it was supporting Manfred Mann on the Tuesday after the afore mentioned audition. I remember John Gee introducing us as a brilliant ‘find’ by The Marquee Club and that they had heard us playing an audition and just had to get them on the stage. He also said that he knew that they were going to enjoy so put your hands together for Neat Change. We opened with a Contours number, ‘First I look at the purse’. Went down a storm and when we came off stage and went onto the dressing room, John Gee was standing there congratulating us and invited us to have a curry with him afterwards.

As a member of the audience at The Marquee Club, is there any band that you remember especially?

Yes, as playing members of The Marquee Club we got to see many groups before they became famous. Pink Floyd, Yes (when they were called Syn), The Move and Procol Harum, etc. But I especially remember arriving at the club to play one evening and Jimi Hendrix and The Who were making a video in there for some TV program. We felt very privileged to watch two great bands perform in such a fantastic setting. I remember thinking, ‘that’ll be us one day’.

Also, when we were looking for a manager, Chas Chandler came to see us with a view to managing us. All we believe he did was steel our image and give it to Slade (Ambrose Slade). So we can put the myth to bed that Slade were the first skin-head band, they weren’t, Neat Change were.

Brian Sprackling of Neat Change

Which was your most memorable night at The Marquee Club?

The most memorable night for us at The Marquee was the night John Gee banned us from ever playing at the club again. I will explain. Neat Change was a high visibility and high-energy act and we had a fantastic light show with Kaleidoscopes and Strobes (I think we may have been the first at the club to use a strobe) and stage fireworks and smoke bombs. You couldn’t do what we did then today; H&S would not permit it.

There were some 1,300 people in the club on the Saturday night and we were headlining. We always tried to outdo what we had done before when at The Marquee so as to keep the fan base coming along to see what we would do next. We always left the best till last during the last number. The last number was called ‘Mayday’ written by Jimmy Edwards, Steve Smith and myself. It was quite a long number and as the name of the number suggests, was full of energy and inciting panic. During the number we would have stage fireworks and smoke bombs strategically placed around the stage ready to be detonated by the roadies to accentuate the song. The light show was, so I’m told, phenomenal and boosted the already high level of audience expectation.

I will just add at this point, the stage fireworks were not the pretty indoor variety; they only consisted of ‘maroons’. These were specially prepared fireworks by Strand Lighting and were normally used for the 1812 overture as the sound of the cannons, so you can imagine how loud they were. Well, the number was well under way and the light show started then the ‘maroons’ and smoke bombs were detonated. We had arranged with Sonny, The Marquee lighting guy, to turn all the club lights out whilst our ‘show’ was going on so that when we finished with an almighty explosion, the club would be plunged into total darkness and we would then exit the stage. Sonny was then instructed to turn the house lights on after we had left the stage.

When we got back into the dressing room, John Gee was standing there furious as hell and he banned us from ever playing at the club again. How we got back into the club is another story in its own right but as far a memorable goes, you bet it was.

Can you remember who got your gigs at the club?

Initially a chap called John Sleet got us the audition at the club and it went on from there. He also looked after our money and unfortunately kept some of it and started ‘The Roundhouse at Chalk Farm’ renovations with it. Can’t prove it but it was a strong rumour at the time. As a consequence of this we parted company and that’s when Spencer Davis saw us and he became our manager and took us into The John Martin Agency and from there, they got us our Marquee gigs. Spencer Davis dropped us after being banned from The Marquee Club and that’s when Billy Gaff took us on.

Did you ever see other members from your bands performing at The Marquee before or after you played with them?

No, I didn’t, I saw Neat Change there after I left the band. Again, I’ll explain. Billy Gaff had taken us on and he already had The Herd. He decided that we should put out a record. It was all a bit cloak and dagger and we were told not to worry about it. It transpired that Pete Frampton and Andy Bown had written the song. ‘I lied to Auntie May’. Only Jimmy Edwards, our singer, was on it. It was recorded produced and released on Decca before any of us had heard it. We were all round at Billy Gaff’s flat and he played it to us. We, we all looked at one and other and I could see that we all thought it was terrible. Good song but just not us. Ballad with string quartet was not where we were. Never one for being ‘shy’, the band looked at me to voice an opinion. I remember telling Billy Gaff that I thought it was ‘crap’ and nowhere near what we were like as a band. It didn’t let people know what we are like and why didn’t he pick one of our own self-penned numbers. I suppose it was more money for him because he managed Pete Frampton and Andy Bown. It would have been the same difference but I suppose he thought that it stood a better chance because The Herd were charting at the time with ‘Underworld’. Well, unfortunately for me, Billy Gaff was not too taken with that type of candour so he got rid of me from the band as he thought I would be a troublemaker and not easy to manage. Shame for the guys left in the band because the record never made it.

So, in answer to your question, yes, I did see Neat Change at The Marquee as a 4 piece after I left and then once again at The Marquee with Peter Banks. Contrary to belief, Peter Banks was nowhere on ‘I lied to Auntie May’ or the B-side, ‘Sandman’. He was also sacked after about 8 weeks because he didn’t fit in.

Peter Banks told me that he was fired from Neat Change because he refused to cut his long hair to match the skinhead look of the band. Do you remember that?

Peter took my place in the band and I recall talking to Jimmy Edwards, the singer, afterwards and he confirms that that was part of the reason. I am led to believe that he also didn’t like the direction that the music was taking in Neat Change.

Peter also told me on interview that Neat Change tried to move apart from the aggressive look of the skinhead, in comparison with other tough looking bands like Ambrose Slade. He also said that, unlike other skinhead bands, your music was oriented to the West Coast American sound, right?

Peter is sort of right up to a point. Our look when we first appeared at The Marquee was parallel Levi jeans with half-inch turn ups, Fell boots, skin tight ‘T’ shirt, or Ben Sherman, and Braces. Hair was cropped very short. Music we played at the time was mostly covers of music from the States such as The Contours, Jamo Thomlinson, Don Covey, Sam and Dave etc. Plus we had our own self-penned numbers. As we became more regular at The Marquee we introduced more of our own material to our play list and towards the end it was all our own material. The ‘uniform’ did go through a fashion upgrade and we became more the type of smart skin-heads wearing suits or flared trousers with colourful skin-tight tops, but always with the cropped hair. You could say it was a half-way house to hippy. I suppose the music we wrote could have been influenced by our original play list and it’s flattering of Peter to say so. I would have said that our music at the time was very ‘London’ and quite rebellious.

Being in a skinhead band in London 1967, when the hippy thing was on it's peak, how was your relationship with long haired musicians and 'Afghan coat' audiences?

Neat Change had a following of London skinheads but towards the end of our playing days we did attract the fringe hippy audience and our relationship with other bands was fine, the music crossed all those barriers.

Did you see any of the bands of the late 70's skinhead revival at The Marquee?

No, I missed that one but Jimmy Edwards our singer played at the gig with Masterswitch and then Time UK. By the late 70’s I was well into family life but still dabbled in bands, a comedy double act and some stand-up.

Brian Sprackling of Neat Change

Do you have any particular memory about any of the managers of the club, John Gee, Jack Barrie and Nigel Hutchings?

Yes, memories of John and Jack, but not Nigel. John regularly came for a meal with us after we had played the club and on one particular Saturday night, got us a double header at the Speakeasy in Margaret Street. We went along and set our gear up and started to play. I recall there were a couple of famous faces in the audience, like Jimi Hendrix having a drink with Paul McCartney. After the first set, Jimi came up to me and said hello and that he had enjoyed our set. I asked him how I could get the same sound as he on my Strat and Marshall stack and he just told me to turn every dial to the maximum and control the volume with the guitar.

Next thing I know is that he is playing with us during the second set. He was using my Strat, wrongly strung for him but it didn’t seem to matter, and I was using my Gibson SG. So thank you John Gee for that one.

Also remember Jack’s club just up from The Marquee (La Chasse). We used to go in there for a drink before playing and rubbed shoulders with people like Long John Baldry and on one particular night, Jimmy the singer was having a drink and cigarette with a curly haired chap and after he had gone, Jack (Barry) asked us if we knew we were having a drink and cigarette with Bob Dylan, amazing!

Which other notorious people you remember seeing hanging around at Jack Barrie's club?

The only times that we really went to Jack's was when we were playing at The Marquee. Most of the other nights of the week we were playing elsewhere. On the rare nights off when we did go there we would see such people as Rod Stewart, Long John Baldry, Jon Anderson, Chris Squire and people such as the Gurvitz Brothers.

Did you get to know the owners of the club, Harold and Barbara Pendleton?

No, never had the privilege.

Can you remember if you or anybody else from your band ever signed your name on the walls of The Marquee's dressing room?

Yes, we all signed our names, Jimmy Edwards (Singer), John Lumley-Savile (keyboards), Steve Smith (Bass), Brian Sprackling (Lead), Bob Chandler (Original drummer) and Ian McLean (Drummer).

More importantly, when we were setting the gear up to play at the club, we used to use the ladies loo as well seeing as how there were none there at the time. It was a revelation to see what was written on their walls. It was far more explicit than the boy’s loo. There was a section there that measured the ‘wedding tackle’ of some bands and their members!

Is there any particular anecdote from The Marquee that always makes you laugh?

Yes, how we got back into The Marquee Club after being banned. I promised I would never tell the story so I suppose I didn’t ought too. Who cares!! I will tell.

We were all sitting in the Farenzzi coffee bar and spaghetti house and it was decided that I should be sent to apologise to John Gee for doing what we did and that we hadn’t realised how much playing at the club meant to us. I wandered the 50 yards up Wardour Street to the club and asked to see John. He came out and asked what the hell I wanted. I told him that I wanted to apologise on behalf of the band for what we had done and please would he forgive us and let us play there again. He looked at me for some time and when he finally spoke, he said that there was only one way that he would let us back in the club. I asked how, we’d do anything. It was a simple request of his; he said that he wanted to have dinner with our singer Jimmy Edwards. Is that it. I asked and he said yes.

I went back and said that we can get back in if Jimmy had dinner with John. Jimmy was a touch resistant to this, as we all knew what John might have had in mind. At first Jimmy said no so I was sent back in to negotiate. Well after several visits back and forth the deal was struck and Jimmy had dinner with John one evening. There are no details that have ever been discussed but the band was eternally grateful to Jimmy for getting us back in the club. We played there a total of 41 times, coming 10th in the league table of appearances.

Did you ever visit The Marquee Club or keep in touch with people from the club after you quit playing there?

I didn’t, but Jimmy the singer did and I think he took his other bands there, Time UK and Masterswitch.

What did you think when you heard about the demolishing of the original building at 90 Wardour street in the 90's?

Gutted. A very large part of London’s Music scene was lost to so called progress. Where will we ever be able to smell that unique odour that the club had?

If you had to define the effect that The Marquee Club had in your life or in your musical career, how would you put it into words?

Wow, how long have you got? You only have to mention, even today, that you played at The Marquee Club in the 60’s and people are all over you wanting to know about it. I would say that it was the springboard for my life in music, cabaret, comedy and the band I play with today. Without its dedication to music of the period and time, 50’s, 60’s, 70’s, 80’s and 90’s, lots of bands would not have been discovered and be able to enjoy the fruits of their success today.

Interview by K. Barroso, May 2009.
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