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Len Ford - Lead, Rhythm, Bass Guitar & Vocals 1957 to Sep 29th 1963 (founder member)

Looking back through the first memories of my youth, the most vivid are those of places visited, people I met and presents received. For me at 12 years old 1956, I got a guitar for Christmas, it cost my mum and dad the princely sum of £7.00. (I got £4 a week when I first started work in1959 aged15). At the time this was my best present ever, so after a lot of effort and pain in the fingers, (which all budding guitarists know about), it brought about my greatest gift of all – the ability to play music and ultimately what this profile is about; I joined a group of like minded musos called -  The Hi-Fi’s

The original groups name was “The Hi-Fi’s Rock and Roll Band” line up; Ian Duncombe (lead guitar); Malcolm Wright (drums); Len Ford (rhythm guitar/bass); Brian Bennett (piano); Allan Stainer (rhythm guitar/bass); Roger Newell (vocals/rhythm guitar).

I was born 11th March 1944 in Croydon and lived in Upper Norwood, but my parents told me I was conceived in Liverpool. Dad was a Scouser and met mum in Croydon whilst serving in the army at the beginning of the war. They were both very good ballroom dancers, mum also played the piano, but only from music, I was the busking type and wished I had learnt to sight read. I had an older brother Allan by 5 years and Stan who is 2 years younger than me.

First school was Beulah Road Junior, where I met Malcolm Wright, (The Hi-Fi’s drummer) at that time we had no musical interests, but became lifelong buddies. Both of us failed the 11 plus and ended up at Ingram Road Secondary, where we later on connected with Ian (Jim) Duncombe (founding member of the Hi-Fi’s), who was also at Beulah Road.

Around 1956/7, Ian and Malcolm started playing skiffle at school with Keith Bennett (no relation to Hi-Fi Brian Bennett). He played guitar and sang, it fizzled out when Keith left to further education, and was never seen or heard of again. I got involved with a Terry Waggart (his dad played double bass in a jazz band), so he was the tea chest chappie, classmate Eddie Edwards also had a guitar like me and we thrashed out (without chords, what were they) along with Lonnie Donegan’s record “Rock Island Line”, like many other lads did in their front rooms all over the UK. It sounded great to us, but I remember my dad howling like a dog, trying to tell us something.

Luckily we passed an audition to play a regular gig in The Park Lane Ballroom, owned and run by Ed Waller and his wife. This had us playing 2 or 3 nights a week there as the main act, for 2 or 3 years. We got supported by local Croydon bands; Martin Jae & The Hi-Five; Johnny Del & The Deltones; The Strangers; come to mind. Ed also hired the passenger boat, MV Royal Daffodil for a rock-n-roll cruise which was headlined by The Johnny Dankworth Big Band and some other big names. Further details of this can be seen on an informative website, by Tom Lee:- Click here


We managed to slot in other gigs around these and got involved with dance hall promoters Ron King and his brother Fred, they held dances mainly in North London, but had weekly gigs at the Putney Ballroom and Ebbisham Hall in Epsom. We ended up on a continuous rotation of the dance halls run by Ron and Fred, (check out the gig list).Ron King became our manager later on.


Roger Newell’s mum was handy with a sewing machine, it could have been her idea for the band to wear uniforms, anyway it certainly made people aware of us, as we always had black trews, jackets of bright pink with black velvet lapels and pocket tops. The new replacements were bright orange with purple velvet lapels and then we tried lime green ones, urgh! They didn’t last. The local paper even noted it in an article about the group, appearing at the Park Lane Ballroom for another season.

Being a Liverpool group they had the entire promotion budget, plus all the attention. Must say it was a better record. We made a further two more recordings of Brian’s songs, “Giant of a Man/Part Time Lover” but the option to release them never happened, so they stayed as demos.

Very soon after this, May 1963, we accepted the offer to become a backing band on the Robert Stigwood package “All Stars 63” Tour.    

Top

The Granada, Crystal Palace.1958.

Len Ford; Vern Rogers; Ed Waller; Alan Stainer; Malcolm Wright; Brian Bennett on the MV Royal Daffodil 12th June 1960

Sadly around late 1958 Ian Duncombe decided to leave the band, detailed within his profile. So by default I got to be the new lead guitarist. This entailed me frantically trying to learn enough solos etc for the 1 hour set at the Old Greyhound Hotel. I think it was for Sainsbury’s staff dance. Well I did manage to carry it off without too many bum notes, but had another kind of tragedy - a few Dutch courage drinks helped me get through it and halfway through the set, you guessed it, a warm liquid ran down my leg and across the stage, this was caught on camera as you can see Alan Stainer (bass) and me having a laugh during the song.

Len’s brub Allan sporting Hi-fi’s original pink jacket in 1959 at The Beach Holiday Camp, in Dymchurch.

The other change that happened when Ian left, Roger Newell decided to adopt a stage name and we became Vern Rogers & The Hi-Fi’s. We worked steadily through 1959/1960/1961/1962. Then in April 1963 Vern Rogers went solo. This came about because we had auditioned for a recording contract for Oriole Records (we had already tried a few without success, even EMI Records at Abbey Road Studios).Their A&R manager John Schroeder decided that he did not want anymore groups, but liked Vern Rogers and offered him a contract.

As a group we had recently turned professional (early 1963), Vern Rogers did not want to do the same, as he had a very good daytime job and wanted to keep it if things went wrong. So we left him to it and became Brian Bennett & The Hi-Fi’s. Brian had written some songs and Ron King our agent (who had joined forces with Barry Clayman Entertainments/Don Arden), became  our manager when we went pro. He arranged for a recording session at IBC Studios in Portland Place, London. The engineer/producer assigned to us was Glynn Johns who later became legendary.                                        

This recording session, April 1963 resulted in “Take Me or Leave Me/I’m Struck” being released on the Pye-Picadilly label 18th June 1963. Unfortunately for us it was released the same month as “Sweets for Sweet” by The Searchers.  

This had to change, so I went around to Ian Duncombe’s house and got me some lessons, he showed me some chords and solos and I gawped. Being a streetwise lad I progressed quickly, with his help and Bert Weedon’s “Play in a Day” book, every lad with a guitar must have owned a copy. So it came to pass, Ian and Malcolm asked me to join The Hi-Fi’s Rock and Roll Band. Cor blimey talk about being in the right place at the right time. Our earliest gigs were local cinemas on Sundays about 7 pm between films.

Artistes we backed were - Grazina Frame-Billy Boyle-Duffy Power-Don Spencer-Bick Ford-The Four Seasons. The tour was headlined by:-John Leyton-Mike Sarne-Mike Berry-Jet Harris and Tony Meehan and Billie Davis. In mid June 1963 we backed Billie on 3 gigs in Scotland and a few other venues. Then in mid July 1963 we did a 10 day tour of Sweden as John Leyton’s backing band, John’s then manager Robert Stigwood also toured with us on the last part of the tour. These gigs all came through the Robert Stigwood Organisation (later to become legendary as a record label RSO Records and manager to the Bee Gees and Eric Clapton plus others. They were also responsible for the show Hair, Saturday Night Fever, Grease and many more)  obviously we were held in high regard and further tours were being planned involving The Hi-Fi’s, sad to say that I threw a large spanner into the works, due to the fact that on the 29th September 1963, I collapsed on stage at the prestigious Pigalle Club, Piccadilly London. (Full details in my memories page)

The Pigalle Club was my last gig with The Hi-Fi's.  I collapsed on stage during the gig. Diagnosed with a Plural Effusion (a wet pleurisy of the left lung which had a germ like TB)    I subsequently spent 6 months in the Hermitage Cottage Hospital, Upper Norwood. Malcolm Wright and Brian Bennett visited to confirm the inevitable, that I would not be returning to the band. Where-on I was told that they had found a replacement lead guitarist; he went by the name of Duane Eddy. As luck would have it, his group The Rebels could not come to the UK, due to musician union exchange rules, and so Duane needed a backing band, The Hi-Fi’s got the gig. Liquorice Locking the Shadows & Marty Wilde's  ex bass guitarist, also visited me, as it turned out to try and convert me to a Jehovah’s Witness, after he was informed that it was the wrong time and place, he was never seen again.

It took a further 6 months convalescing at home before I was declared fit and recommended not to follow the musicians lifestyle and so joined the everyday work place. The Hi-Fi's regrouped and in early November 1963 were engaged to back Duane Eddy on the tour with Little Richard. So you could say that Duane Eddy replaced Len Ford as lead guitarist in The Hi-Fi's.                 

Part 2 of my story will follow in 2015. My time with;-

Oban FM Radio

The Blacksmiths

The Chess Set

Pye Records

My retail record shops

Moving to Scotland and the Scottish groups;

Take Three

The Misfits.

Flyin’ Visit

Caledonia Express

The Sundowners

Take A Break

and playing solo gigs.

Len Ford's Memories of Brian Len Ford's Memories of Malcolm Wright