Rock ‘n’ Roll band born in 1950s Tameside still going strong

Our reporter Mark Quinn finds out all things music and the madness that comes alongside it with local band ‘The Emperors of Rhythm’ (now performing as ‘Everbeat’) who formed back in 1959 from the ashes of Jerry Lee and the Staggerlees – apparently Manchester’s first rock and roll group.

The year was 1959 and two young up-and-coming rock ‘n’ roll stars, Rod and Chas, are cruising the streets of Manchester in Rod’s dad’s turquoise Vauxhall Cresta convertible with white wall tyres, the radio blaring out the latest hit from Jerry Lee Lewis.

They were not out for the girls that night – far from it – they were on the lookout for a lead guitarist for their band, The Staggerlees, that Chas wanted to reform.

They had an address of a supposed “good guitarist” who went by the name of Judd Profit, his dad owned Profit Television Rentals down in Openshaw. After a while, the Cresta pulls up on the side of the road, Rod turns the radio low and says: “Is this it then Chas?”

“Well Rod my old mate, this is the street, but I don’t know what number he lives at. I’ll call at this house, number sixty-five, and ask if anyone knows where Judd lives,” says Chas climbing from the car and walking up to the front door. Chas knocks on the door with a good old rat-a-tat-tat and it soon opens with a young lad standing in the doorway. Chas looks beyond the lad to see a girl indolently slumped on the couch watching the television.

“What you want?”

“Are you err, Judd?”

“No, I’m Eric.”

“Were looking for a guitarist called Judd Profit?”

“I don’t know anyone call Judd, but I can play the guitar.”

Chas asks: “Do you?” while silently thinking that he does look the part. “Well, we’re looking to reform our band, The Staggerlees, but we want a guitarist.”

“Well, I’ve just left school, but I know two brothers; one’s a drummer and the other one can play the guitar, he plays all the Hank Marvin tunes. I tell you what, meet me here tomorrow night and I’ll take you to meet them.”

The ‘Everbeats – offshoot of ‘The Emperors of Rhythm’ band today. Photo: David McLenachan

The next night Rod and Chas are in the front seats of the Cresta and sat in the back was Eric, a young Eric Stewart, soon to be the best guitarist in the world in 1973 with the famous rock group 10cc.

Chas Barker’s love for rock ‘n’ roll started in 1955 when he was just fourteen years old, he won a talent contest at Butlin’s holiday camp where he was on summer holiday with his family. Chas added: “I was a bit of a Lonnie fan in those days so I decided to sing Cumberland Gap, a Lonnie Donegan, hitand I won! A guy called Glen Mason who was on the radio at the time presented me with the prize, it wasn’t much just a little cup and a comb and brush set.”

I asked Chas, how has the band changed over the years?

“When the original band broke up in 1963 I was going to get married and start a family, so I decided to break the band up. They wanted to keep it going but I promised and that was it. Eric kept the name for a bit but then some members of the band moved on to other bands, Eric Stewart ended up with 10cc, and Vic Steele joined The Hollies as lead guitar.”

Over the years Chas started a family and worked as a class-one welder on the rigs up in Scotland.

Chas added: “It was blooming freezing.”

Then he worked for the major company ICL but kept his love for singing going, he joined a music trio and they use to perform at “The Big Bradford” public house on a Thursday.

The ‘Everbeats – offshoot of ‘The Emperors of Rhythm’ band today. Photo: David McLenachan

I asked Chas if he’s always been the lead singer and if he can play an instrument: “I used to play the rhythm guitar but that was years ago, I still have one and practice from time to time, but I just love singing, and let me tell you the lead is not just singing, you have all the spiel.

“I’m the link between the band and the audience. In the years between The Emperors of Rhythm I was a compare at a club in Oldham called The Little Cot, it opened me up to performing all sorts of stuff, I was singing hits from Frank Sinatra, Tony Bennett, Glen Campbell, we used to do all those hits of the day.”

Chas got a phone call in the spring of 1991, they were putting a big show on at The Willows called ‘Nights of Oasis’, Dave Lee Travis was the host. It was being put together because of a book called ‘It Happened in Manchester’. 

One of the co-authors called at Chas’s house to do an interview and the book features The Emperors of Rhythm inside its covers. It is all about the big Manchester bands of the fifties and sixties. Chas left ICL and reformed the band minus Eric Stewart, but he did get in touch to wish them all the best.

Tragedy shocked the band in 2006 when bass guitarist Rod died suddenly and again the band had to undergo changes.

In 2009, the Emperors of Rhythm got their big break in the film industry when they had a part in the hit film Looking for Eric, directed by Ken Loach and starring Manchester United legend Eric Cantona. Chas added: “It’s a pretty sad film really not just about football. The main character had mental health issues and his wife left him, he kept seeing Eric Cantona in a vision who would help him overcome his illness. We played the local social club compare and stage band, we enjoyed it a lot and met some fantastic people.”

The ‘Everbeats – offshoot of ‘The Emperors of Rhythm’ band today. Photo: David McLenachan

I asked Chas what his all-time favourite songs are, either to sing or just to listen to: “There are so many, I have quite a few.” Chas went quiet for a second or more: “Hmmm, the song that got me into rock and roll and got me excited was when I heard ‘A Whole Lotta Shakin’ Goin’ On’, by Jerry Lee Lewis.

It was a great song and I thought ‘wow’. But one of the songs, and this might sound daft, what I thought epitomised the sixties is ‘Downtown’ by Petula Clark, I think it’s a fantastic song. Another song I like is ‘The Folk That Live on the Hill’ by Peggy Lee, that song touched me, it’s a very sentimental song.”

When Covid took over the world in 2020 and everywhere started closing The Emperors of Rhythm had to cancel their gigs and stay at home, Chas remembers thinking back to one spring day sitting at home in his chair towards the end of lockdown.

Chas recalls: “With friends, family and members of the band falling ill over the two-year period and not being in touch with people I’ve got to admit I didn’t miss going to do a gig and I thought maybe this is the time now that I don’t want to do it anymore and just settle down and get on with my life.

“Then I got a phone call from Andy, the drummer, and he said, are we going back out on the road? We have one outstanding gig. I said to him that maybe we can do this one and see how it goes. We had to change a few things and I do think it’s a blessing in disguise, because now it’s worked out we have the best set of lads ever and to top it all, I’ve got my old vitality back and I’m really enjoying it.”

In 2020 the band got ‘The MAMA’s’ Manchester awards for musical achievement, for their services to Manchester’s rock and pop scene from the 60s onwards.

The Emperors of Rhythm have had a fair few gigs since lockdown and have got more chalked up to come; they have upcoming gigs at The Q Bar in Stalybridge where Chas added: “It’s only a small place but the atmosphere is great”.They are also playing in Accrington, Romiley and Brinnington in the next few weeks and then the big one for the band is down in Leicester on June 4 for The Queen’s jubilee.

They were contacted by one of the biggest agencies in the UK. The agency was looking for bands to play the different decades of The Queen’s reign, and The Emperors of Rhythm will be playing rock ‘n’ roll. The gig will be held on a bandstand in a packed park, a must see for everyone.

The band have a good following these days and The Emperors of Rhythm are getting their name back on the rock ‘n’ roll circuit. The band, the best for twenty years, consists of Chas,the lead singer; Andy, who now plays lead guitar; Mike on rhythm guitar; Roy on bass; and Paul on drums.

Chas added: “Andy is a very talented musician and he was my drummer for a while, but now plays lead guitar and to top it, he’s a good apple. Paul was with the band twenty years ago and is a very talent drummer.”

I went to catch up and watch the band with David, TAMG photographer, at one of their gigs in a small venue in Tameside. On entering the bar area I could spot Chas and the band setting up ready to start, the atmosphere was loud and noisy, I needed to see this rock and roll band for myself. I made my way to the bar and got myself, Jeni my wife, and David a J20 drink and waited for the band to start.

Then they started with ‘Shakin’ All Over’, a song originally performed by Johnny Kidd and the Pirates, it was fantastic. Chas has the most powerful and in-tune voice I’ve heard for ages and the band never put a note wrong, it really got the venue rocking.Mike and Andy sang a Hollies hit and for me the night was a success. David got some cracking photographs and Jeni and I went home singing rock ‘n’ roll hits until bedtime! A great night had by all.

I asked Chas what continues to inspire him and the band to carry on in the music industry, he replied: “It’s the love of the music actually, the love of rock ‘n’ roll music and how it inspires people of our age from years past to this very day. Mores the pity that it’s dropped from many radio stations these days, there are a few that play it but dancing to rock ‘n’roll keeps you fit, doing the jive is exercise and when you watch the dancing shows on television the rock ‘n’ roll is the most popular one, it lifts the audience. So that’s my answer, the love for rock ‘n’ roll.”

The Emperors of Rhythm have played at some of the best and most well-known venues over the years including the famous Cavern Club in Liverpool and they even have their own brick on the Wall of Fame; I spoke to the director for music and events and he told me, “Yes, they do have a brick in the Wall of Fame. It is located in the main area of the wall, just above the window.” They have played at Manchester’s famous music club back in the day, ‘The Oasis Club’ on Lloyd Street, rubbing shoulders with The Beatles and The Rolling Stones.

The ‘Everbeats – offshoot of ‘The Emperors of Rhythm’ band today. Photo: David McLenachan

Unfortunately though, the club is no longer there. Chas added: “They should have kept it, and it would have been like a tourist attraction now like the Cavern in Liverpool, but there is just a blue plaque on the wall where it used to be.”

Chas remembers back to 1958, he was only seventeen at the time: “Me and my dad took the slow train to London, it was for an audition at The Starlight Ballroom, to get on the hit rock ‘n’ roll show – on what is now known as ITV – called Oh Boy! and was directed by Jack Good. 

This was before Chas was in a band. His father originally came from Paddington in London and he still had family living down there, Chas added:“My dad said if we have time we’ll call on my relatives, they live on Drink Street, just off Edgeware Road in Islington.When we got there, we were greeted with open arms, very friendly people. My great aunt worked in Selfridges and my great uncle picked up VIPs and would take them to Buckingham Palace or Downing Street. But the biggest surprise was that their son, Norman, worked for Jack Good, and my great aunt said, he’ll be here soon for dinner.”

Chas told me that it was the very first time that he had bread pudding and she had made a big dinner. Chas had to watch what he was eating because he wanted to look the part for the audition, he had a white Italian suit on.

Chas added: “The next thing Norman comes walking into the dining room with his overcoat draped over his shoulders, green suede shoes, drainpipe trousers and with this very stylish teddy boy haircut and he introduced his girlfriend to us, ‘Barbara’  well it was only Barbara Winsor from the Carry On films! My cousin was engaged to her at the time. He also had a double act with the boxer Freddie Mills on BBCTelevision’s ‘65 Special’ so he was in with a lot of people.”

Later that night Chas remembers getting to The Starlight Ballrooms where there was a big line of people waiting to get in who had drums and guitars. He was amazed when the four of them – Chas, his dad, Norman and Barbara – all went to the front of the queue and were let straight in. Chas added: “When we were inside I got introduced to Arthur Greenslade who was sat behind a piano, he was a top composer at the time and I had to sing an Elvis song, and it went down very well.

I got on the show but they wanted me to stay for a week and finalise paperwork and contracts but my dad said, can’t do that I’ve got to be back at work on Monday, so we ended up going home.” Chas had had a great opportunity but he was only seventeen and his dad was old-fashioned and didn’t really understand the entertainment business so that was that, back on the slow train to Manchester it was.

The following summer of 1959 Chas got a gig with a band in Blackpool and was singing Cliff Richard songs in the evenings, then in the day he was selling sheet music for a music publishing firm on Blackpool front for two shillings per sheet to anyone that would be interested. He was there for the whole summer and by this time Chas was a full-time musician and was putting his band, The Staggerlees, together.

They were a good group of lads and together they started getting noticed, which lead to them getting a manager who owned The Globe Café on Hyde Road, called Don Emerson. He got them all the latest and best musical instruments and even sent Chas for voice training every Tuesday where he learned how to breathe whilst singing. Chas added: “We worked for a full year for nothing to pay Don back, it was our manager that come up with our new name and changed it to The Emperors of Rhythm.”

Finally, I asked Chas if he could give advice to a more mature person who loves music and has always thought of joining a band or starting to learn a musical instrument what would he say.

Chas added: “Enjoy what you’re doing and try to get yourself some gigs in front of an audience, but the key thing is to enjoy it, because music is to be enjoyed and that’s what it’s all about.”

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