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Malcolm Lenny - Lead guitarist / Vocals from 1964 to 1967

I was Born in Shepton Mallett, Somerset 30th April 1942.

Rock’n’Roll kinda started in Britain during my last year at school in Clapham, South London I’d been playing  in my school’s “Trad Band” consisting of Accordion, Trumpet, Washboard, Tea-chest Bass and me on Banjo. It must’ve been pretty awful. Anyway, I graduated to a Skiffle Group called The Skyliners and played at the legendary “Two II’s Coffee Bar” in Old Compton Street. We didn’t get discovered by Larry Parnes or anyone else, but 2 other geezers (Hank Marvin & Bruce Welch) did. So on the   strength of their success I formed a Rock’n’Roll group called The Jokers. We did all right locally but I wanted more. I was serving a 2 year apprenticeship with GPO Telephones when I answered an advert in The Melody Maker for a Lead Guitarist “willing to Record, Rehearse & Travel”. That was The PACKABEATS. who made records with Joe Meek, the first independent record producer in the U.K. and became a legendary instrumental group. Reached No.49 with “Gypsy Beat”. I had a lot of fun with that band, we did loads of top line gigs. BBC Saturday Club, Juke Box Jury etc. (voted a Miss. What did they know?). They were all “crumblies” on that show anyway. We recorded 2 instro singles and 1 vocal with our singer Tony Holland with the legendary Joe Meek and got to No.38 in The Record Mirror Chart with “Evening in Paris” before the pressing plant went on strike for 3 weeks and killed off our chances. We’d sold 13,000 in 3 weeks. That would get you in the top ten these days. But when the Liverpool bands appeared and undercut all the existing London bands the gigs started to dry up. I joined The Hi-Fi’s after a two and a half year stint with them I got a call from Ted Harvey (who was in the PACKABEATS with me but had left after 18 months) to come and join the band he was in, The Hi-Fi’s.

Then we backed Jess Conrad. Don’t laugh! He was great fun. The record sold quite well but didn’t make the charts, so we went back into the studio to record Lennon/ McCartney’s “Baby’s in Black”. Lots of groups were covering Beatles songs and getting hits but we got a song in 6/8 tempo! Great song but not danceable. The Hi-Fi’s did quite a bit of radio [BBC Saturday Club] and television [BBC Kathy Kirby Shows, 5 O’clock Club etc.] The Hi-Fi’s played on the BBC TV “Kathy Kirby Show twice. The first time was when Kathy was singing the song for Europe called “I Belong”. It was recorded “as live” and transmitted the next day. What they didn’t tell us was that it had an audience of 13 million! I think I might have wet myself if I’d known beforehand.


After a 1965 summer season on La Duchesse Du-Normandy (a boat that travelled from Jersey to France), the work suddenly dried up and Ted Harvey the bass player/vocalist left. I phoned Gary Unwin who had replaced him in The PACKABEATS. Gary said,” OK I’ll come and join you but only if I can bring my friend Mickey Douglas”. So he did and that was the start of another chapter in the life of The Hi-Fi’s and some great friendships.

The HI-Fi’s became:-


We went almost straight away into the Philips/Fontana studio in London to record “I’m not Ready for you Yet”/ “Heaven Knows”. Both great songs.

We took a 6 week gig in Konstanz, Germany, which was excellent but when we came home to England, they wouldn’t release the single because we didn’t have much work. So we went back to Germany.


We played a few monthly bookings in Monchengladbach, Wuppertahl, Krefeld for example. We also began playing at The British army Headquarters in the various officers mess’s. All pretty good money for the time.

  

We’d also been offered a nice little earner in Duisburg, in The Rheinland.

The club was called “Tante Olga’s” literally translated as “Auntie Olga’s”.

Now Tante Olga was a formidable lady who scared the pants of us on first impression, but she grew to love us as we did her. Well she would because we were packing ‘em in every night at the club. This was happening mainly because, as Mickey would say, we used to loon about and make the kids laugh. They never knew what we were going to do next, but then neither did we half of the time!    

Top

The first gig I played with The Hi-Fi’s was in a big seafront house for a private party. (in Littlestone at the house of Brian Bennett’s girl friend) Straight away I thought," These guys are seriously good musicians!" That was Brian Bennett (organ), Mel Wright (drums), Ted Harvey (bass). Soon after, we were on a package show with Big Dee Irwin, who sang “Swingin’ on a Star” with Little Eva. After that, we went into the IBC Studios in London to record “I Keep Forgettin’ ” with Glyn Johns as the engineer, before he became famous as a Beatles & Stones producer. That came out on release, to co-inside with a 3 week tour with The Hollies topping the bill. Touring on the package show with The Hollies/Heinz/The Tornados/Jess Conrad etc, was just excellent! Everyone on that tour got on so well. I remember being out for a coffee with Alan Clarke and Heinz, when we were spotted by some fans. I say ‘we’ but I was a nobody. We had to leg it back to the theatre or  we’d have all been torn to bits, me included. I also remember opening the second half of the show in Douglas, Isle of Man. I sang  the Frankie Valli lead part for “Rag Doll”. I had a really good falsetto in those days. I’ll never forget the screams from that audience, it was electrifying.

We went back yet again to Monchengladbach simply because we liked it there and they liked us. I had a few local friends there. One was the local barber named Gunther Wimmers who helped me a lot with learning to speak German. You know what it’s like in barber shops, you talk sport, women, travel etc.


Another guy, Eric “Long” Coumans, he was very tall hence the nick-name, was a bass-player in the local band “The Shantaynes”. He had a mate called Lutz, I can’t remember his surname but these guys became disciples of The Hi-Fi’s, following us everywhere and spreading the word.   

We worked at the great little club called The Derby Club. It was all done out like a stable inside. We loved it and the kids loved us. The owner, Herr Kupferberg, was a victim of the Nazi concentration camps and showed us what he called his telephone number, tattoo’d up his forearm. He held no grudges and was just happy to be making money out of the local teenagers.


We were in Krefeld, still in central Germany, when the World Cup happened. We weren’t always able to watch many games because we were working but when it came to the final, boy did we have a time! The Boss, Herr Munz, let us, our wives, 3 Italian waiters, 4 German waiters and his family, all crush into his lounge in front of his 24” TV set. Believe me the atmosphere was like being at Wembley! They Scored.

 The Germans went mad. We scored. We went mad and so on. The 3rd goal? Don’t even talk about it! Thank God for Geoff Hurst and the 4th goal.

D’you know, if I had one German Mark for every time I had to say,” OK the third goal possibly wasn’t a goal BUT the fourth one WAS!” I could have bought a top-of-the-range BMW cash!

We heard down the grapevine that Paul raven, who was later to become Gary Glitter, went on the stage of The Star Club Hamburg, in England football kit! Now that took some courage don’t you think?  

Hamburg

Now everyone has heard about British bands going to Hamburg. The Beatles, most of the other Liverpool bands, some London bands and many big name rock’n’rollers from the U.S.A. Like Ray Charles, Little Richard, Jerry Lee Lewis etc. It was an important piece of any band’s CV to say they’d been to Hamburg.

It was hard work and John Lennon was right when he said that once you’ve got you Hamburg throat you’ll be OK. I went out there with my Beach Boys and 4 Seasons falsetto lead vocals and after 3 nights I couldn’t talk at all! Eventually it came back with a vengeance and I was OK from then on.

We first went to play in a great little club in a sub-district called Barmbeck a few miles from the city centre, it was called “The Big Apple” strangely enough and it was owned by a great guy called Serge, who’s claim to fame was that he had been the Chief Engineer on the ship “Exodus”.  That’s the ship involved in transporting Jewish people to form the State of Israel back in 1948.


A bunch of us went to The Top Ten Club in the city centre where TONY SHERIDAN was playing. Tony was the guy who The Beatles backed when they were out there a couple of years before. He was a good singer and a great guitarist. He was very well known in Germany and had lots of hit records.


TONY SHERIDAN invited us up onto the stage to join him in a couple of numbers. It was magic! I thoroughly enjoyed myself and felt it was an honour to play with a guy who had played with The Beatles.


Soon after that, we were booked to play at the world famous “STAR CLUB”.

We played at The Hamburg Star Club loads of times and I got to meet  Jimi Hendrix before he became a God.


To have trodden the boards where the likes of Ray Charles, Little Richard, Jerry Lee Lewis and of course THE BEATLES had been, was a great honour for any band.

We were destined to play quite a lot at The Star Club and we built ourselves up a good fan-base very quickly. One day, the Boss Manfred Weissleder told us we needed to make some records. So he signed us up and put us in contact with Siggi Loch, who was the record producer for The Star Club record label.

Gary Unwin used to write songs. Mickey Douglas and Brian Bennett used to write songs together and I would add bits and pieces if anyone asked me!

So the first single was Gary’s song “I’m a Box” with the “B” side “No Two Ways” written by Mickey, Brian and Me.

“I’m a Box” was an obscure song about a box that brought a bloke’s birthday present to her and was then thrown away. Don’t ask! It’s redeeming factor was the vocal backing that went “Mum-Mum-Mum”. That was the bit that the Germans liked because they could sing it!

“No Two Ways” was a bit like “Summer Holiday”. A bit sing-a-long.

It sold really well, so Siggi got us back in the studio to do a follow-up very quickly.

Both written by Mickey & Brian, this one was called “Snakes & Ladders”, a song likening a love affair to the board game. You know what I mean. Up the ladders and down the snakes. It was backed with “Tread Softly for the Sleepers”. Which came from our days of being woken up at some ungodly hour of the morning, when we lived above Tante Olga’s club in Duisburg.


The Hi-Fi’s achieved considerable success in Germany and I have a wonderful memory of walking into the foyer of The Star Club before playing and seeing the West German Hit Parade with us at number 1 and number 4 in the same week! "I'm a Box" written by Gary Unwin & "Snakes and Ladders" written by Brian Bennett and Mickey Douglas Not many bands could boast that I bet?


The Star Club always had three bands at any one time so I got to meet loads of other musicians. Some well known others destined to become big stars.

There was a great Liverpool band called “IAN and The ZODIACS” who were well established in Germany. I became good mates with Ian and we used to go drinking together at The Blockhutte across the road from The Star Club. Arthur, Charlie and Freddie were the other guys. All respected musicians.

We shared the bill with them and THE V.I.P.S, who were later to become SPOOKY TOOTH. They were a serious bunch of guys who played blues and that was that! They had a guy on organ, who was fantastic and used to rock his organ around back & forth while he was playing. He became well known later as EMERSON, LAKE and PALMER. Yes it was KEITH EMERSON.


There was a really good girl band known as THE LIVERBIRDS who had been in Germany for a long time and had had a few hit records. Mary was married to FRANK DORSTAL who sang lead for the best-known German band THE RATTLES.


We were asked to sing backing vocals on stage behind GRAHAM BONNEY for his hit song “Supergirl”. His band thought we sang the backing better than they did. Nice compliment.

Gary Glitter

THE BOSTON SHOWBAND with singer PAUL RAVEN, came for a couple of weeks and they were the nucleus of what was to become GARY GLITTER and THE GLITTER BAND.

Paul was always very showbiz and some of the other bands used to laugh at him but he didn’t care one bit. He always gave a “top-notch” performance. A born show-off if ever there was one but good fun to be around.

Mel Wright and I became drinking buddies with Paul and more than once we would have to “assist” him in getting back to his room in The Pacific Hotel where all the bands used to stay as part of their contract. That hotel was a den of iniquity and a hot-bed of risque behaviour. Once again, “’nuff said”.  


THE BOSTON SHOWBAND used to do their own spot before introducing Paul and they were pretty good. Irish Showbands were always made up of good quality musicians.

One day, they asked us to sing backing vocals on their recording of “I Believe”.

They did us the return favour of playing Brass on one of our LP tracks, “Up and Over”.

Whenever a band was playing their last night at the club, all the other bands would go on-stage with them for their last number. When it was time for Paul Raven and The Boston Showband to leave, Mel Wright went on with their drummer.  Gary Unwin made it two basses, Brian Bennett added his organ and Mickey & I borrowed a brass instrument. He had a sax and I had a trumpet. What a band! We played “Land of a Thousand Dances” which was fine for me because I only had to play 1 note all the way through.

I like to think that “Wrighty” adding an extra drummer to the band was the blueprint for THE GLITTER BAND’s future. They had 2 drummers on their first hit “Rock’n’Roll Part 1”.


Another time at the club, we were on with THE REMO 4. A brilliant band which included TONY ASHTON on keyboards. Tony formed ASHTON, GARDENER & DYKE a few years later and had a big hit with “Resurrection Shuffle”.

The Hi-Fi’s and THE REMO 4 became good mates for a while when we were working together.

Jimi Hendrix

On that occasion, an almost unknown band was booked to do two nights only. They were called THE JIMI HENDRIXS EXPERIENCE.


They were due on straight after us.

I was standing with our drummer at the bar at the back of the club. The curtains opened to a very dark stage. There was a strange noise that sounded like something was feeding back.

Where was the stage manager? I started to run down the aisle to help.


Suddenly, all hell broke loose to the song "Foxy Lady"


I'd never heard anything like it! For 45 minutes I was mesmerised.

Nothing was miked up but, by God, it was powerful!


The next day, I went to the club during the afternoon to fix a problem with one of my guitars. I could hear someone playing an acoustic guitar in the next dressing room. "That's a bit tasty", I thought. I pushed open the door and there was Jimi.

I just had to tell him what I thought of the previous night's performance. He said a very quiet, ”Thank you” and invited me in with my 12 string. I sat down, we chatted, we "Jammed" a bit. I let him play lead, naturally.

And that was that. I didn't know what he would become later. There are no photographs to prove it happened but I know it did.

It's a great memory and it's all mine. You should see kids faces when I tell them.


The Hi-Fi’s have got a couple of photos in The Star Club book too. It’s amazing to be in the same book as so many really big stars of Rock’n’Roll and some of the biggest names in the world of pop music.


We made an album titled “SNAKES & Hi-Fi’s” at Cologne University. It wasn’t a live album but we set up on the stage in the concert hall, without any audience and played as if live and the engineers recorded us as we played. This was a good bit different from being squashed into Joe Meek’s front room or the very professional studios at Abbey Road.


It was a real mixture of songs, all self- written except one called “Here I Stand”. This was our version of a “Rip Chords” record where I showed off my, shrieking high, falsetto voice.


My favourite memory of the session was a song written by Gary Unwin called “You’re Haunting Me”. Gary sang it and played classical guitar. Brian Bennett played the concert hall pipe organ and I got down on my knees, underneath Brian and played some bass notes on the foot pedals. Brian was a great organist but expecting him to play the foot pedals as well was just not on!

With a Beach Boys-style vocal break in the middle, it wasn’t a half-bad song.


While we were in Cologne, a massive package tour came to the city. Our mates, Ian and The Zodiacs were on the bill, so we went to see it. I can’t remember who topped the bill but it had THE KINKS / DAVE DEE, DOZY, BEAKY, MICK & TITCH /

THE SPENCER DAVIS GROUP / PINK FLOYD to name but a few!

The Kinks and Spencer Davis were brilliant as expected. Dave Dee & Co were very big at the time in Germany but Pink Floyd? Oh dear!

When the curtains opened, they were standing with backs to the audience, all with cigarettes, either in their mouths or stuck in the head-stock of their guitars and LOUD! My God, it was so obvious that they didn’t want to be there. They were so wrong for that tour but that’s how the promoter had put it together.

New Beginnings at an End

September ’66, my wife shocked me with the news that she was pregnant. Right out of the blue. Well, it was very cold in Germany and you had to do something to keep warm.


The baby was due to arrive in April/May ’67 so I had to make a big decision. I had to give up the band and get an ordinary job or carry on touring.

I had seen a few marriages fall by the wayside because the father was away working so I decided to pack it in and go back to England. That was a very hard decision to make and it almost broke my heart to leave but I just had to do it.


My last gig with The Hi-fi’s was at the British Army H.Q. Rheindalen, in the NCO’s Mess. It was very emotional for all of us and when it was over we all went for a massive drink with some “squaddie” friends. One of them, John Maskell, was a chauffeur for one of the Senior Officers and he said I could sleep in their billet.

Jeez, did we have a drink or what! Allegedly, I consumed about 8 pints of Double Diamond and then washed it all down with about 8 large Brandies!


On the way back to the billet, I was being helped along by John and another soldier who’s name escapes me. Walking was a bit of a problem at the time. We took a short-cut across the parade square. Unbeknown to me, personnel are not supposed to cross the square unless they’re on parade.

Well, we’re half way across, doing the Glasgow two-step, that’s two forward and one back, when up pop two red-caps with torches!

“Halt. Who goes there?”

Both the lads holding me up, leap to attention, although they were in “civvies” and reeled off name, rank and number.

I said, in my very best slurred English,

“ And I’m a F*****G Civilian”.

“Get ‘Im orf the square lads, and we’ll say no more”.

They “doubled” me off to the billet and nothing more was said.


In the morning, I was woken to the strains of a bugle, playing Reveille, followed by The Beatles singing,

“Let me take you down…… ‘cos I’m going to………..Strawberry Fields”.

The lads had a record player synchronised to go off like an alarm clock.


How the hell I managed to eat a full English breakfast after all that alcohol, but I did, and then it was time to say goodbye to my great mates, The Hi-Fi’s.

 MICKEY DOUGLAS, GARY UNWIN, BRIAN BENNETT and MALCOLM “MEL” WRIGHT. Great boys with whom I had a load of fun and I wouldn’t have missed it for the world.

We shook hands, hugged each other and they drove off on their long journey to Berlin where they were playing next. I just stood and cried for a while after I'd waved them out of sight.

Re-union

The Hi-Fi’s got back together for a re-union gig in May ‘95 and the club where we played wanted to offer us more gigs!


Sadly, the great Brian Bennett passed away in shortly after that. I still miss him today.


A few years later, a bunch of ex-Hi-Fi’s got together for a garden party for Mel & Pat Wright. That was Mel on Drums, Ted Harvey on Bass, Mickey Douglas on Guitar, me on Guitar & Keyboards and Len Ford, who was one of the first guitarists the band ever had when they first formed after school! It really was fun to play together again.

We did it again for Mel’s daughter Claire’s wedding in July 2004.

Same line-up as before. Great night but at the end of the evening, Mel collapsed and we had to get an ambulance. He recovered OK thank God and 2 days later he called me to say sorry for causing such a fuss!

Lovely guy was Mel. His real name was Malcolm but with 2 Malcs in the band, one had to change his name.

A year later, exactly to the day, he passed away too. I would like to say that I’m glad I knew Malc & Brian in my musical life. They were excellent to play with.


When the album “Snakes and Hi-Fi’s” was re-released this year on CD, all those memories came flooding back. It’s got all our recordings, plus 6 live tracks from Tante Olga’s club and the 2 that weren’t released from ’64. It’s a brilliant album.


We still have a sizeable fan-base in Germany even now. That’s why The Hi-Fi’s  performed in Wuppertal in Nov 2011. It was a huge success and have been booked for 2012 this time in 2 venues,  Monchengladbach & Wuppertal.

When I say The Hi-Fi’s, I have to explain that since we lost Brian and Wrighty to that “great gig in the sky” a few years ago. We’ve gone with my current band of 30 years, HAPPY DAZE,plus the line up of old Hi-Fi’s Malcolm Lenny Guitar/vocals & Keys) and Mickey Douglas (Guitar/vocals & Sax) and Gary Unwin(Bass/vocals who lives in Munich) along with Matt Beckett (Bass) and Diz Izzard (Drums) from HAPPY DAZE.

We’ve even done a couple of gigs in the South of England at Guildford under that name.

It’s a dammed fine band and we’re proud to carry on the Hi-Fi’s name alive for as long as we can.

Mickey Douglas passed his 72nd birthday recently and I had my 71st back in April this year. Gary will catch up soon and there’s no sign of us slowing down yet.

What with the resurgence of the Hi-Fi’s and sales of our re-issued and expanded album on CD “Snakes and Hi-Fi’s” (first issued in Germany on the star club record label as a vinyl LP)

also my involvement with The PACKABEATS in the film of Joe Meek’s life, “Telstar-The Joe Meek Story”, where they put our single “The Traitors” over the opening credits with me playing Lead Guitar, I am such a proud bloke to have been a small part of British Pop History.  

Diz Izzard (Drums) Malcolm Lenny (Leadguitar/Vocals/Keyboard) Matt Beckett (Bass) Mickey Douglas (Vocals/Guitar/Sax)