The Pooterland Interviews:
The Purple Gang
22nd July 2001
The Purple Gang are the unsung heroes of the 1967 UK psychedelic underground and ‘Britain’s Best Kept Secret’ as well as being an unfortunate victim of the emerging media beurocracy and censorship of the late 1960’s. Many of you will remember their classic single Granny Takes A Trip, the anthem of the UFO club in Tottenham Court Road back in 1967.
pOoTers pSycheDelic shAcK: What is the story behind the name The Purple Gang?
Pink (Floyd) was a colour and Joe Boyd was going to produce Arnold Layne.
pOoTers pSycheDelic shAcK: When did the band form?
I formed the band at Stockport Art College in September 1965.
pOoTers pSycheDelic shAcK: Who were the original band members?
Gerry Robinson (Harmonica, Mandolin), Peter Walker (vocals), Geoff Bowyer (washboard, Piano, Vocals, Kazoo), Ank Langley (Jug) and Joe Beard (Guitar).
pOoTers pSycheDelic shAcK: For the benefit of our international readers, can you explain the concept of a Jug Band?
JUGBANDS came from the Memphis Delta area of the Deep South during the Great War 1920`s and Early 1930`s prohibition era. They were ‘poormans’ versions of early Jazzbands and capable of being danced to at Memphis (Delta) rent raising parties or barrelhouse country dances and were a form of dance entertainment band for the poor black workers. The music went beyond pure blues and more into good time stuff.
pOoTers pSycheDelic shAcK: How did you end up getting guitar lessons from John Mayall?
I was going out with Alice Flint and her older brother Hughie was the drummer in John Mayalls band. I l lived nearby where my dad had a butchery business and I delivered to the Mayall house that had a tree den where John would practice. I only had one lesson prior to a sound check at local gig at Woodford Community Centre (still a blues gig) on John’s old guitar with a piece of wood nailed on to it to hold harmonica. He showed me a 12bar in A..very useful. I also went to Manchester once with John to an Alexis Korner gig. They let him get up and join in on harmonica of which he had several in different keys in his denim jacket. I booked Long John Baldry and Cyril Davies AllStars and The Velvettes for £75 for my school dance at another gig we attended.
pOoTers pSycheDelic shAcK: How much truth was there in the fact that you had a 'Witch' for a lead vocalist? What sort of magic was he into, Black or White?
Sadly this was TRUE and the magic was Black......
pOoTers pSycheDelic shAcK: Where were you all from?
pOoTers pSycheDelic shAcK: The Gangster image seemed a bit of a strange idea (more suited to an early Sixties PR idea) what was the story behind that?
Well really We had NO IMAGE at all. So the Prohibition Era music ‘feel’ made the record label go for this image (AGAINST OUR WISHES). They insisted that we had an image as soon as possible and we all were made to cut our hair. Pete, Gerry and Ank had much longer hair than the Rolling Stones when we first hit London!!. Admittedly it was a crap idea really looking back....but you know.. jugband, prohibition music and all that..? we WERE uncomfortable about this and we were ‘rushed’ into it I suppose.
pOoTers pSycheDelic shAcK: Who do you cite as your main influences at the time?
Jugbands first and foremost, then .Blues..R&B..John Mayall, Alexis Korner, Little Walter, Sonny Boy Williamson, The Pretty Things, Bob Dylan, The Stones, The Kinks, The Yardbirds, The Beatles, The Lovin Spoonful, Gus Cannon’s Jug Stompers, Jim Kweskin & The Jugband, Muddy Waters and a little Spike Jones & The City Slickers.
pOoTers pSycheDelic shAcK: What bands were you each in before you started The Purple Gang?
We were all teenagers so The Purple Gang was our first band.
pOoTers pSycheDelic shAcK: Were you shocked when the Underground scene picked up on Granny Takes A Trip?
No, not really, we were part of the ‘scene’ ourselves..in spite of certain hacks trying to re-write history. Joe Boyd was our manager at the time , he was a key player at the UFO, was heavily involved in the 14 Hour Technicolour Dream at Alexandra Palace and also produced Pink Floyd’s Arnold Layne and we also lived with him. John ‘Hoppy’ Hopkins, of International Times, UFO and 14 Hour Technicolour Dream fame played piano on ‘Bootleg Whisky’ off our first album.
pOoTers pSycheDelic shAcK: There seems to be a small legend surrounding around the Purple Gang’s van, what sort of van was it and was it really purple?
I wrecked the first one after my 21st Birthday, it was a Ford Thames 12CWT.
Quite often we were parked in Chelsea Regents Park and Hyde Park in London and we used to have to queue at public baths for a shower. In winter our breath used to be white and some nights we slept where we ran out of gas....no hotel wrecking for us!! (that used to make us despise the pampered hotel wreckers)....we served our dues..they were spoiled. Most nights we would sing ourselves to sleep with Gerry playing the harmonica.
pOoTers pSycheDelic shAcK: There was a hip boutique in London called Granny Takes a Trip run by Nigel Weymouth and Michael English. What was first, the single or the shop and did the shop help with your notoriety?
The shop/boutique was there first but I had a lyric idea first, prior to the first visit...it was a fateful co-incidence just waiting to happen. The shop owners were delighted with the single and Nigel Weymouth ended up designing our poster.
pOoTers pSycheDelic shAcK: We paid £12 for a Mint copy of 'Granny' back in 1984, when we first heard about The Purple Gang and also out of curiosity due to the press it got back in the sixties. Looking through a recent collectors price guide it still commands a reasonable price and The Purple Gang - Strikes still fetches £30 at auctions. Does this surprise you?
It is surprising, they talk about ‘pop history’ and possibly we are part of an era that is becoming collectable like the prohibition era in the USA. There is a later release with a blue label, the 1967 one is orange. Even I have not got the original album!!!
There was also an American version of ‘Strikes’ that we were told was withdrawn but we now know from American fans that it DID come out. We never got paid any royalties for this and the PRS MCPS were of no help to us....
pOoTers pSycheDelic shAcK: Did the BBC really ban Granny Takes A Trip and were they really responsible for the demise of The Purple Gang? Why were so many other artistes not targeted in the way that you were?
Well, yes and no really!! The BBC was the entertainment organ of The State/The Establishment and they needed a scapegoat/soft target. We were an easy (acoustic) target that would ‘do very nicely’, without a powerful record company and lawyer behind them. Other artistes were with richer labels and they bought in and hyped their way into the charts and on to radio and TV afterwards.
Strictly speaking we could have expected some comment about ‘Granny’, BUT if they had played it first they should have realised it was a fun thing.
A lot of it was fixed and I believe it still is .The industry just goes along with it all but at the end when they closed the pirates down and rehired them some jocks got us on the air like Peely, Symonds, Everett and Vance.
However, the BBC have since made it up to me by playing us and now Local Radio won’t play us......the worm has turned (commercial)
The irony is that tracks like Arnold Layne, Purple Haze etc all got played. IF (as I suspect and ALWAYS did) they were on the Payola/Hype/Bung Take (as is usually admitted from time to time) (Brian Epstein - Love Me Do, Pete Jenner - Arnold Layne) then OURS would be the one to be banned.
THE ONE WITHOUT ANY BRIBE INVOLVED?????
How can a poor man like me take on the BBC by saying such things that are usually left unsaid? The record company were either poor or tight......and they were both.
pOoTers pSycheDelic shAcK: What was the date of the letter you received from the BBC?
pOoTers pSycheDelic shAcK: Who were the 'muso's you hang out with in the summer of 1966?
Jericho Jugband (Richmond) Duster Bennet, John the Fish, Mick Slattery, Pete the Brolly....some jazzband? The Police broke us up and ran us out of town.
pOoTers pSycheDelic shAcK: I know you played several times at UFO, but were you regulars down there anyway?
Yeah of course, the club was run by our manager Joe Boyd and the guy who put piano on "Bootleg Whisky" (Hoppy). I later returned after I left the band to witness everyone dancing to "Granny" and asking what had happened to us.
pOoTers pSycheDelic shAcK: What was the scene like in 1966/1967? Were you aware that a ‘revolution’ was taking place
Yes we were aware of what was going on, but the rest of the country was not. The ‘scene’ was all things to all people....I was stupid though to walk out of the band, I just seem to remember always being pissed off with our record company’s uselessness.
Prior to 1966 Liverpool was the epicentre of the music scene, then it shifted back across to the USA with San Francisco and New York’s Greenwich Village becoming the focus. You had Dylan moving into surreal Folk rock and then Jefferson Airplane and The Doors etc. Then lots of American came to London (away from the Vietnam war atmosphere?) bringing news of Haight Ashbury, LSD and Lightshows.
Then Pink Floyd started at the London Free School and Joe Boyd and Hoppy started to get things moving. The acoustic scene was still strong, even after Dylan ‘plugged in’.
Sadly then money and commercialism took over and rest is history..............
pOoTers pSycheDelic shAcK: Was the 14 Hour Technicolour Dream really THAT GOOD?
Well is WAS the best Darts & Dominoes night I have ever attended...!!
Click HERE to read Joes account of the 14 Hour Technicolour Dream
pOoTers pSycheDelic shAcK: Were you invloved with the anniversary gig a few years ago?
pOoTers pSycheDelic shAcK: Did you ever play at Middle Earth and if so who with?
NO, I think it came after we were crippled by the BBC.....
pOoTers pSycheDelic shAcK: What other London clubs did you play in?
We played The Marquee, the 100 Club, Brown Derby Club, Jack Straws Castle, Crawdaddy, Les Cousins, Maria Grey Training School, Winning Post and various pubs and clubs, also some folky clubs. We did not have any residencies anywhere.
pOoTers pSycheDelic shAcK: Did you tour outside of London?, if so who with?
No, we never toured, but we did various Universities and Colleges, topping the bill at several.
pOoTers pSycheDelic shAcK: Who else have you played with?
Pink Floyd, Tomorrow, Cat Stevens, Al Stewart, Love, David Bowie, The Kinks, Captain Beefheart, T.Rex, Slade, The Move, Family, Mott The Hoople, Long John Baldry, Graham Bond Organisation, Julie Driscoll, Jo-Ann Kelly, Cat Stevens, Yes, Tim Hardin, Colloseum, Hawkwind and Fairport Convention.
pOoTers pSycheDelic shAcK: What and when was your best gig and why?
A tough One.......UFO..cos Jimi Hendrix tried to help us out on bass, Ally Pally (14 Hour Technicolour Dream) because it was such a Freak Out and the punters accepted us as part of the scene.
pOoTers pSycheDelic shAcK: What would be your favourite song from this era? (by other bands)
ONE SONG???....surely you jest?.........Strawberry Fields Forever, Love - Alone Again Or, Jefferson Airplane - White Rabbit, Pink Floyd - See Emily Play, Incredible String Band - First Girl I Loved, Jimi Hendrix - Purple Haze, Bob Dylan - Rainy Day Women.
pOoTers pSycheDelic shAcK: Who were your favourite bands from this era?
Beatles, Pink Floyd, Love, Tomorrow, Stones, Dylan &The Band, The Kinks, The Lovin`Spoonful and the Bonzo Dog Dooh Dah Band.
pOoTers pSycheDelic shAcK: When did the band split?
After the Summer...1967 Reformed in 1970, 1981 and 1998.
pOoTers pSycheDelic shAcK: Where you involved in any bands after The Purple Gang?
A psychedelic folk rock band called the Joe Beard Band. Then I went into folk music for a quiet life and did an album on the EMI mobile here (at Poynton) with The late Trevor Crozier called "Trouble Over Bridgwater" I was also in a short lived psychedelic band called Sudden Earth in Macclesfield.
Then I wrote a Goth/Psychedelic/Folk/ Rock Suite called "The Edge " that was broadcast on Local radio then archived by The National Trust. I also did some solo folky gigs and then went to art college in Manchester where I was on the same course year as Mick Hucknell!!
pOoTers pSycheDelic shAcK: Do you still play in a band?
YES it’s called THE PURPLE GANG...and it’s more electric. We have a new CD and a website.
According to e-mails from the USA, Russia and Japan it seems there may be a chance!!
pOoTers pSycheDelic shAcK: What do you now do for a living?
I was always a painter. I am an Artist and Tutor and now keeper of the PURPLE GANG
pOoTers pSycheDelic shAcK: What are the other members of the band doing these days?
Geoff Bowyer went into Drama/Theatre and moved back to London 25 years ago,
Peter Walker is a Bookmaker’s clerk in Stockport district, he also used to paint and teach. Gerry Robinson is a Creative Director for a Macclesfield Medical Exhibitions Firm and Ank Langley has gone back to Stockport College as a Senior Lecturer in Graphics etc.
pOoTers pSycheDelic shAcK: Do you still listen to 60's/70's music?
YES of course!! although not all the time, but I DO still listen to psychedelic music.
HOW CAN WE FOLLOW THOSE DAYS OF 1967?....We can..but..lyrics are now...//????