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Band of brothers still rockin' after 50 years; MAIN FEATURE SALLY HOBAN meets the Rayvons, one of the longest surviving bands with all original members in the country.

Byline: SALLY HOBAN

For pop music and Birmingham history a certain anniversary gig was a truly memorable night.

Picture the scene. Six, smartly dressed men about to take to the stage at Moseley All Services Club. Together they are the Rayvons and they are celebrating 50 years of playing music together.

There's a big buffet for the guests (some of whom have travelled miles to get there), plenty of room for dancing and Be Bop a Lula on the sound system to get everyone in the mood.

Over the last five rock and roll decades, the Rayvons have played with a roll call of famous musicians and stars.

They include Gerry and the Pacemakers, Gene Vincent, The Hollies, Billy J Kramer, Manfred Mann, Gene Pitney, The Mersey Beats, Wayne Fontana and the Mindbenders, The Yardbirds, The Kinks, The Swinging Blue Jeans and even Acker Bilk.

Malcolm Gamble (Gam) from King's Heath, Mark Raymond from Droitwich, Bob Bradley from Four Oaks, Colin Fortnum from Wolverley, Malcolm Hamilton (Ham) from South Yardley and Ray Humphries from King's Norton are posing for photographs around a giant glittery card.

It was made by Mick Biddle, who used to play saxophone in the group. Bob's wife Ros has had a Rayvons anniversary t-shirt printed and is sporting it with pride. "When we played our very first gig we were all plugged into one amp," says Bob, who is the lead guitarist in the group. "I can't believe the difference now.

"Here we are, 50 years later, with thousands of pounds of equipment on stage. But we're all still here playing together, it's amazing really."

"Absolutely, we're really close knit," adds Mark. "I always think of us as five brothers. We've never argued or fallen out."

They step up on stage and there's a moment's pause before they launch into Johnny be Good.

A few people are dancing by the time the second song starts and by the third tune the crowd is away.

Plenty of 1960s bands are still around in one form or another, but the Rayvons think they are the only group in the country with all the original members still in the line up.

They've come and gone over the years, and sometimes played with different bands, but they still come back together regularly to perform.

There was the night they went to a gig in Leicestershire and the gear stick of their van came off in Colin's hand and he drove all the way back to Birmingham using a pair of pliers.

There was the time when they drove round in a white van that belonged to the fish and chip shop man in Selly Oak; the night they shared the limelight with a young Paul Nicholas when he was playing piano for Screaming Lord Such; and the day they performed on a stage in the middle of Edgbaston Reservoir with Denny Lane and the Diplomats.

Lane of course went on to star in the Moody Blues and Wings with Paul McCartney.

In 1958, vocalist Ray Humphries put together a skiffle band and by the 1960s the fledgling group had evolved into Danny Ray and the Ravyons (Danny being Ray's alter ego). By 1961 the Rayvons line-up was almost complete.

Mark Raymond (real name Ken Hoban) is singing with the Rayvons for the anniversary. He lived in Dawlish Road in Selly Oak and worked at Cadbury's. Mark originally played with a rock 'n' roll band called the Wildcats but he joined the Rayvons in September 1961 for a gig at the Dell in Muntz Park in Stirchley.

"The Rayvons were a great band, one of the biggest in Birmingham at the time," says Mark later on, "so when they came round to my house and asked me to join them I felt like I'd won the lottery!"

He changed his name to Mark Raymond to fit in better with the Rayvons' rock and roll image.

"The Mark was from Marks and Spencer and the Raymond was from a bloke called Teezy Weezy, who was a sort of celebrity hairdresser at the time," he explains.

Little did he know that within a year he'd be playing at the famous Cavern Club in Liverpool.

The Rayvons met music agent Bob Wooler, who saw them perform at the Majestic Ballroom in Birkenhead. This was one of the most important venues for Liverpudlian and touring bands at the time and was hugely popular with young rock and roll fans.

"I think we went down well," says Mark. "If they didn't like you at the Majestic they soon let you know! I saw bottles and toilet rolls thrown at bands there."

He shows me a cutting from the famous Mersey Beat newspaper. On the top of page seven, in the August 23, 1962 issue, is a hand written note.

"That's Bob Wooler's address and phone number at the Cavern," says Mark proudly. "He came to see us play at the Majestic and wanted to book us for the club. No one had anything to write on except me because I'd bought a copy of Mersey Beat to read about the new Beatles line up after Pete Best was fired."

Mark also shows me an original Top Ranks advert for the Majestic, listing the bands that played between August 23 and September 6, 1962.

On Saturday September 1, the Rayvons shared the bill with the Mersey Beats and the Phantoms and just a week later The Beatles played the Majestic. So the band only just missed sharing a stage with the Fab Four.

"We used to play two hour sets back then and if you were on with a star you'd have to go back on again after that. It was hard work," says Mark. "We'd sometimes get paid a pound each for a gig which we'd use up on petrol to get there, so we did it for love really."

Mark left The Rayvons in 1963 but still sang with them on and off for the next 50 years. He replaced the singer of another band called The Cyclones who had formed in Birmingham in the early 1960s.

The Cyclones included lead guitarist Roger Marsh who lived in King's Heath, drummer Pete Dawson from Stirchley, and rhythm and bass guitarists Bernard Robinson and Phil Riches who both lived in Warstock.

In 1964, the group auditioned for Bob Barrett from Columbia Records at The Crown in Hill Street in Birmingham and he offered them a recording contract.

"One minute we were kids saving up to buy records and the next moment we were at EMI's Abbey Road studios making our own," says Mark fondly. "I couldn't believe it. I was a lad from Selly Oak who was always singing and I got to make my own single. I really did feel like a pop star at the time even though I was working on a building site as well as playing in the band."

The Cyclones went down to London and spent three days recording tracks at Abbey Road. They went into the studio immediately after Cliff Richard and The Shadows had been recording On The Beach.

One of The Cyclones' songs from these sessions became their one and only single. It was called Girls and Mark wrote the words and Roger Marsh the music. The song also featured Norrie Paramour (who was Cliff Richard's producer) playing piano.

But the band hit a problem when they realised there was already an American group called the Cyclones. So they changed their name to Mark Raymond and The Crowd just before the single was released. Despite its commercial appeal and brilliant production, Girls somehow missed out on a chart placing.

"To this day I don't know why it didn't chart," says Mark. "The production values were great. Perhaps we needed more of a push from our manager. There were a few bands around at the time that could have made the big time."

The single did bring The Crowd some fame. "I think one of my most memorable moments was when we went to Manchester House in London to Radio Luxemburg to record a spot for the station's Friday Night Club," says Mark. "Shaw Taylor was the presenter and Manfred Mann was on the same show. It was like being on Top of the Pops for the radio.

"Mark's brother Keith was 16 at the time. It really impressed my girlfriend that my older brother was in a band who'd recorded a single," he says.

"When I met her at the Lido in Bournville in 1964 we were chatting about music and I told her my brother was in a band and I'd like to play her a copy of his single. It got me another date and we've now been married for nearly 40 years.

"I remember one night when The Crowd were playing upstairs at the Bournbrook Hotel in Selly Oak," he continues. "I went outside at 10.30pm with my tiny portable radio and tuned into Luxemburg. They were playing Girls for the first time.

"I was so excited and so were the band because when I went back upstairs they'd stopped playing and gone backstage to listen to it."

Another perk for Keith was the regular supply of autographs that came home with Mark.

"I had quite a few, including a signed photo of Gene Pitney. I still have a few now but the Beatles eluded me. If I had those signatures now I'd get a small fortune for them in auction but I think I'd keep them as I love nostalgia."

Mark's mother Kathleen was also very proud. Now 85, she says: "It was lovely that our Ken was in a band but it was hard work at the time for me. He needed a clean shirt every time he went out to play and I didn't have a washing machine then of course."

Despite playing regular bookings in Birmingham and the Midlands, the members of the Rayvons and Mark Raymond and the Crowd remained semi-professional.

Mark went on to play with Jo Ward and his Orchestra, which was a big band. He remembers playing at the Top Rank Suite in Digbeth with comedian Dave Allen.

The other Rayvons continued to play too, both together and separately. Bob still plays in an Elvis tribute band in Solihull once a year and The Rayvons will be out performing together again later this year.

Listen out for the song Girls because a music producer who compiles 1960s CD collections heard it recently and said he couldn't believe that something so polished and accomplished wasn't a hit. If you want to hear it for yourself you can listen online through a link at brumbeat.net/markraym.htm.

The Rayvons finish their set and share more stories with the fans. There is so much to remember, not just about the music but the early Sixties Birmingham they lived in, a world that has largely vanished.

Mark tells me about The Snackery, otherwise known as Alex's Pie Stand, which used to stand by the Albany Hotel.

All the bands that played in the city on a Saturday night would meet there around midnight for a snack.

It would be lovely to go back there in time and help the Rayvons celebrate another successful gig.

"I think one of my most memorable moments was when we went to Manchester House in London to Radio Luxemburg to record a spot for the station's Friday Night Club. Shaw Taylor was the presenter and Manfred Mann was on the same show. It was like being on Top of the Pops for the radio

CAPTION(S):

The Rayvons at their 50th anniversary gig from left to right (back row): Ray Humphries, Malcolm Hamilton, Ros Bradley, Colin Fortnum, Malcolm Gamble. Left to right (front row); Mark Raymond, Bob Bradley Picture/HUW MEREDITH; Above and left: The Rayvons in the early days including Ray Humphries, Bob Bradley, Malcolm Hamilton and Mick Biddle; The Rayvons on stage at their 50th Anniversary gig with (left) Mark Raymond singing
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:The Birmingham Post (England)
Geographic Code:4EUUK
Date:Mar 29, 2008
Words:2010
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