We had been asked to perform at a Church social evening; it was with some trepidation that we agreed although we weren’t sure how well we would be received. Traditionally, the event for which we’d been arranged was rather on the sombre and religious side with mournful solos and small groups of persons singing, always vocal performances, the event had never known anything else. We were different though, we were a band, a family band, the Stokes Family Band and we were going to be top of the bill concluding the evening with our unusual act.
The year was 1968 and the event was the annual gathering after the Church Harvest Festival at which the offerings of fruit and vegetables were distributed to the needy. To celebrate this there was always a harvest supper where the harvest loaves were cut up for a bread and cheese evening followed by musical entertainment. The Stokes Family Band played a strange concoction of instruments; first of all there was my mother on a little harmonium which had to be pedalled, next my brother on the clarinet, he was 15 at the time and 18-year-old me on the acoustic guitar. It was the percussion department that made up the bizarre element though as my 12-year-old sister played a bass drum that I had made from a cardboard cylindrical packing case with a tractor tyre inner tube stretched over the top which created a dull thuddy boom when hit with a washing-up mop covered in felt, and my father played the maracas, well, washing up liquid bottles filled with peas actually.
The evening concert commenced and one by one the sombre performances took place and we became more and more nervous thinking our act was probably inappropriate until suddenly our moment had arrived and we quickly set up our instruments. I could see out the corner of my eye one of the elders of the church looking stonily upon my guitar as we prepared to sound our opening notes and then we were off. Oops, Mum fluffed a note on that introduction, she must have been nervous about this performance despite the fact she was one of the church organists and played in public regularly. We had chosen Spanish Flea, a recent hit from the charts to be our first tune for the night, popular but not pop – if you know what I mean. We bravely carried on with our performance just wishing it was all over and then someone started clapping in time with the beat – that did it, they all joined in, even the grim elder was tapping his foot. When we finished, the audience erupted with applause and cheering which went on for some while before we were able to play our second piece. At last someone had broken the mould of the stuffy harvest supper concerts and they were never to be the same again.
Fortunately those moments were not lost forever, you can relive the sound of the performance as I had the presence of mind to take my small reel-to-reel Phillips portable tape recorder with me. The recording you can listen to here is not from the original tape but from a copy I made about twenty years ago onto cassette, the quality is poor with dropouts and sound peaks but it does give a flavour of the atmosphere of the evening. Only Spanish Flea is on this recording, our second piece is not included. One day I shall look out the original recording and have it digitised and remastered, probably won’t improve the performance though! As I’m not able to embed a video into this page, when you click on the picture it will take you to my youtube site where the sound clip is stored.
This is (probably) the only snapshot that exists of our family band as I think we only played that once together in public. I’m on the left, with Mum on the organ next to me and then my brother Geoff with his clarinet. My sister Sheila is on the right but we can only see her back view and not the drum she’s thumping. My father would have been on the right just out of shot. My brother didn’t play the clarinet solo in public again but took up the bass guitar and continues to play to this day in many bands in his home region of Melbourne in Australia. My mother who was a proficient organist still occasionally plays the piano but her musical ability is now restricted by arthritic fingers. My sister didn’t go on to be a superb percussionist but is now a well-respected piano teacher in our town and also an organist of some repute; as for me, I didn’t achieve great musicality like the rest of my talented family, my guitars are in the loft and haven’t been touched for years.