The Early Years
One of his close friends was Bill Barret. “We used to go to Hyde Park for the Blackhill Enterprises free concerts and when Blind Faith played Alan and I were on the stage sitting against Keith Emerson’s organ. I used to skip school and meet Alan at the BBC Radio Playhouse (which wasn’t far from his school) and we used to watch the live recording on the Radio One O’clock programme. Alan got his first guitar from his sister Yvonne’s boyfriend Paul. It was a Spanish guitar and the first song he learnt was ‘On top Of Old Smokey’. Once he learnt it, he had me play bongoes and we played in a local park (we had just seen T Rex play when Steve Peregrine Took was on bongoes with Marc Bolan!)”.
“In the mid sixities we would go down to ‘Imhof’s in New Oxford Street and listen to records. You would get a record from the counter and play it in a booth, and then not buy it! Across the street was the ‘Immediate’ record company and we would go over there and get to meet some of the bands; the most famous was probably the Small Faces”.
We went to the NME music awards when the Stones were the surprise guests.
The only football match he went to was Arsenal v Leeds League Cup Final at Wembley. We were at the Arsenal end and he wanted to support Leeds!”.
Alan’s first band was called ‘Plimsoll’, which was soon re-named to ‘Blackmass’ as a tribute to Deep Purple’s guitarist – Richie Blackmore – a hero of his. The singer was Jim Hedges with Terry Eden on Bass and a drummer called Vincent Duffy who came over from Ireland with Jim Morrison. They played their first gig at the Stanley Arms in the Angel area of London. Jim Hedges remembers accompanying Alan to an audition for a band called Colosseum, he passed the audition but declined their offer despite them being a well known rock/fusion band at that time (70s).
Later Alan, (now with very long hair!) was in a 3 piece band playing Free and Deep Purple type material regularly at a London pub called the Nags Head. When this band broke up, another band called ‘Blanche’ took over their residency. One night Alan walked in with his ‘Flying V’ guitar over his shoulder and approached the bass player complimenting him on his sound. He then talked his way on stage and consequently joined the band. The band only got about £2 a night. Alan apparently never rehearsed, just turning up for the gigs. The drummer was Paul Martin who later was in the band ‘Ten Pole Tudor’.
Despite not owning an amplifier and competing against 20 other guitarists, Alan successfully audtioned for a band called ‘My Hat My Cane Jeeves’ that featured a singer called ‘Moon' who Alan had known from his local area, plus initially a female singer called Sheria. The drummer was Harry Hughes from Scotland with a band called Clouds (they were on the Island label), George Nash on keyboards and Steve Humphries on bass. They soon changed their name to ‘Mahatma’ and were managed by Barbara and Harold Pemberton – the ‘Marquee Management’ (as in the famous London Marquee club.)
When Alan was with Mahatma they were booked to play the Marquee Christmas party. One of the guests was a promoter who had just found out that the opening band for Status Quo couldn’t make a gig, so he asked Mahatma to open for them at the Mile End Sundown. Bill Barret helped the roadies take the equipment down to the East End of London and set the stuff up enabling them to play twice that day.
After a couple of years of touring around England and Germany they were introduced to Long John Baldry, and soon became his backing band for both recording and live work.
Another management company called ‘Decameron73′ took over the management of ‘My Hat My Cane Jeeves’ and in an attempt to recoup lost money, got them involved with a nude musical, playing on stage for several months (only the actors were nude!). This was during a period when the IRA were targeting London with a bombing campaign. One night there was a bomb scare and everyone was told to evacuate the theatre immediately. However the band, seemingly ignoring this, carried on playing a blues number, earning them a mention in the next day’s newspapers – “Foolish band played on!” This work rate brought the money in, but ultimately finished the band.
Long John Baldry became a long term friend of Alan, and their paths were to cross several times before Alan was established as one of the most sought-after guitarists in the UK.
Alan Murphy | Guitarist | Early Years