Gordon & Brian (Brothers)2022-04-29T09:25:01+01:00

Gordon & Brian (Brothers) Late 60'sEarly 70's

Music from Gordon & Brian


My brother is six years older than me and at the time, was obsessed with Bob Dylan. It was around this time that we started playing and singing together. He was always on at me to learn Bob Dylan, but I wasn’t really into it. I relented and we became a duo. My Dad used to take us around all the folk clubs of the time. I can remember, we’d go to Pete McGovern’s Club in Liverpool and he christened us ‘The Lads’. So that’s who we were. We were that and we sang and played together for quite, quite some time. Until my brother went off to art college in Edinburgh and went on to have his own folk career. I was back to singing on my own.

Gordon said “I first met Brian in September of 1953 – he was a bit bigger than I expected, quite funny and noisier too, and so things have continued!
We spent our early years in a tiny 2 bedroom terrace next to Birkenhead Park where Dad tried to school us in the important things in life – mostly cricket practice using the tree just inside the front gate of the park as a wicket. Music however always played a part in our lives, mum and both of our grandmothers played piano and all family parties were a whole evening of singing (except when Uncle Bill decided it was time for drama with his unique version of “There’s a one-eyed yellow idol to the north of Khatmandu, There’s a little marble cross below the town; There’s a broken-hearted woman tends the grave of Mad Carew, And the Yellow God forever gazes down.”)

As the whole Jones family were active in the Methodist Church the hymn singing was a big part of the repertoire but so were popular songs, music hall favourites (Nelly Dean was always in the mix) and then there were Dad’s ukulele specials from George Formby (only if Mum tuned his Uke for him) and his Bing Crosby favourites, there’d be some Goons nonsense from all three brothers and Norman, the youngest brother, would produce a guitar and there would be Spike Jones and Lonnie Donegan before the Welsh contingent would arrive and the repertoire would get serious with Land of My Fathers and the classic moment when Dad led them in Welsh with his Sospan Fach (from his days in the Welsh Guards). This was not only a wide range of material but it ran the whole range of entertainment and emotion and all sung with big voices and natural and moving harmony. So I guess we started with all these kinds of music and the sound of harmony singing as part of our lives – what could go wrong?

I enjoyed for some time being in a youth choir at the church and being particularly moved by the difference in those “hebridean” tunes that always turned up in these repertoires like Speed Bonny Boat – and Mingulay Boat song they sounded different somehow. I also sang in the school choir and that was again a bit special as I found it really easy to sing with the strength and expression that others seemed to struggle to manage, singing felt good and natural.

I struggled to find a way into playing an instrument, hated recorder lessons at school and went for some piano lessons but didn’t persevere. Meanwhile that noisy and funny little brother began to pick up instruments and just play them, he took some guitar lessons but as he simply learnt all the pieces he was taught by ear right away and the teacher thought he was reading the music that didn’t really last. He was singing and playing and entertaining everyone and his guitar was not the best so we all set off to Liverpool to Frank Hessy’s shop to look for a better instrument for Brian. Whilst we were there two things happened, the first was that Dad met the entertainer, guitar salesman and general entrepreneur Jim Gretty and I’ll leave Brian to tell you all about that and where it led. The second was that as I was not there to buy a guitar I looked around and picked up a flimsy newssheet called Merseybeat which I took home and read I’m sure a number of times. It was telling us all about the exciting bands just becoming a big thing in Liverpool and a band called The Beatles were about to return from their trip to Hamburg. This was all very exotic as we had no idea of all this happening over the river in Liverpool and I guess I was just a bit too young to have been drawn into this new music until this point – but now I was!

Whilst this was going on we also were involved in the Boy’s Brigade in Moreton – a family affair as Uncle Bill was the captain of the company and he’d talked dad into becoming an officer so Brian and I were both members and I’d started to play snare drum a bit with the bugle band. Out of the blue Dad had one of his brainwaves – that the whole Boy’s Brigade band thing would be better if it were a pipe band! This involved recruitment of a pipe major and drum major to teach our bunch of lads to play highland pipes and drums, and somehow to produce kilts, plaids and all the necessary kit from scratch. He did it and produced a fine band that went on to win awards. Of course Brian turned out to be able to play the pipes with annoying ease, whilst I played the tenor drum. Once again though I really enjoyed playing and marching to those Scots tunes and airs.

Meanwhile I’d followed up that Merseybeat story of the local bands and tried to work out just how they made that noise. In classic fashion three friends and I began to “form a band” we couldn’t play much but basically set out to make instruments – even the amps were home built. I was slowest in getting a playable electric guitar put together so had to become the drummer (I was always picked last and had to be goalie when we did football at school too!). The band actually did develop to the point where it played some gigs – with Dad driving us around in a Commer diesel van (which had tales of it’s own to tell). Once or twice Brian played in that band with us – somewhere there are photos and it is a sight as at this time he could not have been more than 12 years old and his guitar looked enormous.

So I was working away at trying to play Chuck Berry standards and copying the current chart hits whilst my little brother was actually doing proper gigs and actually played at The Cavern – but that’s a tale for him to tell. I always found myself drawn away from the mainstream so there was a natural exploration to follow from this rock, rhythm and blues music towards its roots in the blues for me to be following and that took me also to find the current growth in an American folk revival moving into the wave of singer songwriters like Tom Rush, Phil Ochs, Tom Paxton and of course Bob Dylan. I think also this fitted as the Beatles in particular had surprised the industry here by writing their own songs and this new wave of American songwriting fitted in and made sense.

In parallel to all this and I’m not sure at what exact time things shifted but Brian and I began playing folk songs together and that found a home when a “Folk club” was developed at the church in Moreton. Brian I’m sure will be explaining the history of this but for me what it did was give us some inspiration about this folk music scene and give us both support and a place to try our performance. This was the kind of place you could be encouraged to try songs you’d just learned and was again a room full of singers. One memory from this time that is resonant for me is when we decided that it was too hot to run the club in a crowded hot room and we took a group of us out to the top of Thurstaston Hill and all sang there – I have a memory of singing Four Strong Winds that night.

We started to explore the wider folk scene in the area and became regular performers at lots of now almost legendary folk venues – Jacquie and Bridie’s Coachhouse club was a frequent haunt. Dad of course was busy driving us about and the good thing was that he and Mum really enjoyed folk clubs and made many good friends there themselves. We never gave ourselves a stage name but Pete McGovern began to announce us as The Lads and that stuck for a while – we were a sight, me a skinny lanky teenager struggling a bit with guitar and Brian so much shorter and younger than me being a mini musical whizz next to me and often making fun of me. Being brothers and scoring points off each other was a great part of that and the fact that the two related voices worked tightly together seemed a bit special.

Brian was clever, funny and entertaining but I being a moody teenager was looking for a wider range of music. Being older I was able to go off to folk clubs to see artists on my own and I discovered some spectacular things one of which was a very early line up of The Watersons. To have come from the current repertoire we were hearing of American songs and Irish rousing chorus songs and hear these four people singing traditional English songs that I had never heard before, unaccompanied and in fabulous harmony was amazing. I wanted to find an English folk music that seemed to fit me and started looking for it. Alongside the tradition but strongly related was an incredible growth in acoustic guitar styles and I discovered Bert Jansch’s first album and that really gave me something to think about as here was someone taking the guitar in a whole new and exciting direction that drew tradition, blues and songwriting together. That music set me to working on guitar and whilst playing gigs with Brian I often went off to venues like Willy Russell’s Green Moose Coffee Bar in Liverpool where songwriters met and played their latest songs and I could attempt to play slightly clever guitar.

Brian and I played all over Merseyside, ran some clubs, were resident singers at a number and of course were regular guest performers. We even were invited down to another legendary venue The Count House at Botallack in Cornwall where they actually ran all night folk sessions at weekends and I watched Mike Chapman play guitar in ways I’d never seen before literally for hours. Once again this was one of Dad’s most epic drives as he took a car loaded with family camp gear and instruments from Merseyside to Lands End and back, before the M6/M5 was a reality.

I was now at the Laird School of Art and aiming to go on to Art College and once again here was a turning point that set me on a path I never suspected. I managed to get a place at Edinburgh College of Art but during that Summer before I left went to Willy Russell’s birthday party in Liverpool and there I met Tich Frier and Davey Johnstone, a duo down from Edinburgh who played scots songs and tunes (Davey was then an absolutely stunning tenor banjo and mandolin player – but now is Elton John’s lead guitarist!). Tich suggested we catch up when I got to Edinburgh.

Arriving in Edinburgh I set off for Tich’s flat and he set me up with a shared flat with a whole bunch of other musicians (and cavers – but that’s another branch of the story). I only lasted a year at Art College and I often wonder how things would have panned out if I’d settled with shared accommodation with fellow artists rather than folkies. It was not long before I found myself earning small amounts of money playing gigs with my new housemates. We set up a folk club called The Place which was short lived but was very fine musically Eddie and Fin Furey, Billy Connolly and Gerry Rafferty, Aly Bain, Hamish Imlach were among the guests. We only closed it because the venue itself was sold and on the last night we invited all the guests who could make it to return and many did but were added to by The Dubliners who had played in town and came to see the club end with a bash – most clubs then ended with The Wild Mountain Thyme – but this one ended with all those professional folksingers led by Luke Kelly and the Dubliners singing With a Little Help from My Friends. We were enjoying ourselves for sure.

At some point I found myself managing to do full night gigs as resident in pub “folk” bars singing all those chorus songs I’d learned playing around the clubs with Brian and it probably strengthened my playing and I met such a lot of the Scots folk scene whilst playing these gigs. Of course whilst playing gigs musicians also gather and session together trying things out and sharing tunes and songs and what a lot of learning comes from that. A club I often went to as a floor singing resident was The Triangle in Randolph Crescent at Edinburgh’s West End and that would become an important next step. I had moved to another flat shared with a good friend Bob Thomas, we were both guitar players and began to try to make a more serious stab at playing music. We began playing regular bigger pub gigs with scratch bands made up of a mixture of musicians – usually calling the bands daft names as they were never intended to last in that form. One night we called the Band Silly Wizard and the venue booked us back and put the name in the paper and somehow we became Silly Wizard.

The folks who ran the Triangle were about to close it down but the owners of the building were interested in continuing so Bob and I suggested we could take it on and they agreed. I’m very proud of the programming we developed that made that into an important venue for the music at that time. We were resident band and at some point during that time we brought in a very young fiery fiddle player to add some tunes to the mix. Johnny Cunningham was still at school and the band began to pick up really good gigs all over Scotland so we often found ourselves picking him up from the school gate and driving to a gig in the Highlands and returning overnight to get him back there!

Things became serious when we were offered a tour of France based from Limoges that necessitated us actually buying a van and being ready to do concerts in quite big venues. The French work was fabulous and we toured France every year the band lasted. Folk club work all over England spiralled for us and we made the decision to be a totally specialised Scots band taking on a scots singer and before long we were a six piece touring band with two guitarists, accordion, fiddle, tenor banjo and bass. We were making quite a noise for a folk band!

What memories we all have from those eighteen years of touring with that band throughout Europe and also eventually the USA. One great experience is being asked to write music, arrange for and take part in two Liverpool Everyman Theatre shows with a stellar cast of actors. Whilst doing these we set up to do a couple of memorable concerts in the theatre and for those we actually augmented the band with Brian playing his pipes to end the show with us.

Two top moments from these years stand out for me. One was the real culmination of our acceptance by our home crowd in Edinburgh when we took on our own show at the Playhouse Theatre and all 3000 seats were full for the concert. The second moment for me is when we played the final set at Winnipeg Festival to an audience of more than 30,000 and after our encore all the festival guests joined us and we led them in singing The Wild Mountain Thyme – then as it’s an anthem for Winnipeg Sylvia Tyson led everyone singing Four Strong Winds and as I sang the chorus alongside her I was remembering singing it on Thurstaston Hill on a sunny evening and Wales stretching away on the other side of the Dee.

After eighteen years the band decided to call it a day in 1988 after 8 albums we can all be very proud of, lots of great festival, theatre performances, TV and radio shows and even the theme tune to Take the High Road. Johnny, Phil and Andy went on to record lots more fine music and Phil is still touring and holding down more posts in the music industry than I can remember. Bob and I formed a folk record company and have produced and recorded over 50 albums and Martin Hadden (bass player) runs Birnam Cd which produces just about every CD of Scots music these days. The band was inducted into the Scottish Traditional Music Hall of Fame in 2012.

I’ve settled on the Edge of the Lake District where I have continued to play guitar mostly in dance bands and it’s grand to be letting the old tunes do the work they were designed to do. In doing this I’ve been part of Furness Tradition who have recovered lots of old fiddlers tunes belonging to the area and brought them back into use. It’s been grand hearing a repertoire of music coming back to life and being played now regularly in its local community again. I’ve also been running concerts and a local folk festival so never far from the music.

It’s been an interesting journey but odd how I felt interested in scots tunes early on, not sure how we all became involved in bagpipes and the like in Moreton. It’s a certainty though that the singing and just plain great entertainment we grew up with from Dad’s family gave us a grounding and a no boundaries attitude to music. The time that Brian and I spent performing together was a very important stage and essential grounding in all of this and remains as precious and indeed as musically sound as the great big shows and achievements of Silly Wizard. If both Mum and Dad had not supported us (and driven us to gigs) things would have been very different and I’m sure their voices and musicality are constantly present whenever we play or sing.”

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