Gary James' Interview With Peter Langford Of

The Barron Knights

Like many '60s British bands, they played the club circuit in both England and Germany. Unlike other bands, they actually toured with both The Beatles and The Rolling Stones. The Barron Knights is the group we are talking about. They've made their name as a parody group. We'll let Barron Knights member Peter "Pete" Langford explain.

Q - Is there still a Barron Knights that performs and puts out CDs?

A - Yeah, we do about 35 to 40 concerts a year in different parts of the world, mainly the UK obviously. We've done 32 years touring Australia and New Zealand, South Africa and a lot of shows in the Middle East like Dubai and Bahrain, Abu Dhabi. We've done quite a lot of CDs. In fact, I'm in the middle of recording a new CD now.

Q - That's something you put out and have it distributed?

A - Yeah. It goes on the web and if people want to buy it that way, on iTunes or on our website. I sell and lot of CDs at concerts.

Q - Would the Barron Knights be considered part of the British invasion? Did you tour America in 1964 or 1965?

A - No, we didn't. We'd done shows in America, but we didn't do the actual invasion of the USA. We were touring with The Beatles in '63 and '64. On the last day of the tour, "I Want To Hold Your Hand" became number one in America and the lads flew off to Paris to do a show, and from Paris they then went to America, roughly 2 days later.

Q - You did the 1963 UK theater tour with The Beatles.

A - That's right.

Q - You were personally selected by Brian Epstein to do that tour. Did you have a record deal at that time?

A - No. We were virtually unknown to the British public. We were gaining a reputation for our shows in all the dance halls all over the country, whether we were in Newcastle or Glasgow or London or wherever. We were getting quite a big following because of our show. We were trying to be entertaining as well as singing lots of great harmony songs. We were big fans of any band that did Doo-Wop stuff. That was quite new to lots of the UK audiences. We also had a bit of humor into the show, which was very rare for other bands. Brian Epstein saw us in Liverpool and he asked us if we would like to tour with the lads and of course we didn't take long to agree.

Q - Why didn't Brian Epstein sign you to a management contract?

A - I think he was very full up with acts from Liverpool. He had Billy J. Kramer, Cilla Black, Gerry And The Pacemakers. There was a lot of acts that he actually got signed. We had our own management and we were quite happy with how things were going. Once we'd finished touring with The Beatles, we still hadn't gotten a record contract. In February, 1964, I wrote some new lyrics to a lot of famous hit records by people like The Beatles, The Rolling Stones and The Searchers, The Bachelors, and we recorded them. That's where we got hits. We were sort of parody artists like Alan Sherman.

Q - Or "Weird" Al Yankovic.

A - That's right. There was a rumor, I don't know whether it's true or not, that "Weird" Al Yankovic heard a lot of our stuff on a show by someone called Dr. Demento and it was listening to us that made him change the lyrics and he's been very successful in America as "Weird" Al. He hasn't done big success over here (England), but he's known over here, but in America he's done great with parities and that's fantastic.

Q - Why did you go into that parody route? Were you not writing original material?

A - It wasn't a route that we chose to take. We were wanting to do the hit parade with straight songs, but it was just by accident that the first hit was "Call Up The Groups". A guy called Les Perrin, who was The Rolling Stones' publicist, actually said we should record it. We said "well, it's different lyrics to the famous songs. It's a humorous thing for our show." And he said, "well, it's going to be a hit record." So, we recorded it not thinking that we were going to become an image, that our image was going to be sort of novelty. We didn't know that at the time. We probably never heard of the word image. Of course when we had our hit record, in July 1964, EMI, the record company, said "look, we want another one quick" and we said, "well, we want to do straight stuff." And they said, "well, no. You are known for novelty. You must do another one." So that is why we got the reputation of being a novelty band. And it's only a very small part of our show. I would say that humor part of our concert is like 20%, but the rest is all straight songs. I play classical on the guitar. That's probably why we're still going, because we've got a very nice following, especially in the UK. Everywhere we go we fill the theatres because they come to see the show.

Q - So, you carved a nice little niche for yourself.

A - Yeah, that's right. We love entertaining. We love doing a medley of our hit records, but we also work on the show, so that when you go back to the same places, like every 18 months we repeat this circuit, and we like to show the audience that we've worked hard on putting new material in. It's just lovely to know that we do something that people want to come to see. The reviews in the last 12 months have been some of the best reviews I think we've ever had. I don't know why, it's probably that we are just more experienced in entertaining.

Q - When you started The Barron Knights, like The Beatles, you played the dance halls and then you took the group to Hamburg, Germany.

A - Yeah, we worked The Top Ten Club in Germany. The Searchers were there. The Beatles weren't actually there at the exact few weeks we were there, but they were coming and going, backwards and forward. But there were so many groups that had been to Hamburg and it was very important. It was like our apprenticeship. It was four hours every night that we had to work. It was an hour on, an hour off. From 10 PM to 3 or 4 o'clock in the morning.

Q - What would you do when you weren't playing?

A - Every day we would rehearse songs to lengthen the show so that we didn't keep repeating some of the songs. I used to play something like "Guitar Boogie" every time we went on stage. That's what we would do. We were learning new songs. That was in the daytime, so in the night time we were gathering material. As I said, it was like an apprenticeship. Then when we came off stage, we used to all have a walk around the Reeperbahn and go home to have a cup of coffee somewhere and wait until the next time we went on stage.

Q - You make the Hamburg experience sounds so nice. Other people have said the clubs were a rough and tumble place to perform. There were fights, stabbings, and drugs were being supplied to the groups to keep going.

A - Do you know what? You won't believe this, but we never saw any drugs. We didn't even know about drugs in those days. I'm not saying they weren't around, but they certainly didn't come in front of us, for us to know about it. There was the odd fight and there was a couple of gunshots out on the Reeperbahn, which is quite a dangerous place, but don't forget, Hamburg was a massive seaport, so there were sailors that were on cargo ships mainly from different nations and when they docked and they had some free time and some money, they used to come down to the Reeperbahn and go inside the clubs looking obviously to have a few beers and to grab a girl.

Q - Where there plenty of girls around to be grabbed?

A - Oh God, loads and loads and loads, and the later it got the more women were around.

Q - Were these groupies or prostitutes?

A - I think quite a mixture. There was obviously women that came in with their boyfriends, women that were looking for boyfriends, but the hotel we were staying at was literally a couple of hundred yards away from the entrance of The Top Ten Club. You knew that there were prostitutes that were using the rooms in the hotel because I would often see a young lady that I would recognize from yesterday going upstairs was somebody I didn't recognize. It took me not very long to realize that she wasn't just an ordinary person. She was a prostitute, but that became very common.

Q - I take it since you were staying in a hotel, the accommodations were pretty good.

A - Yeah.

Q - Running water and a bathroom?

A - We shared rooms. There was just too of us in one room. Two boys in one room and two boys in another room. They were lovely rooms. Nice and clean. Breakfast was lovely and that was it. After sleeping and eating breakfast, what you did after that and what you ate was totally up to you in another part of Hamburg.

Q - I don't know what they paid your band back then, but could you eat lunch and dinner for a reasonable price?

A - No. We would probably eat what they call a wurst, which is like a sausage and onions, but you'd buy from a stand on the streets. On the Friday night when you got paid we all went to a restaurant which was just a little walk from the Top Ten Club called the Mambo Shanky and the Mambo Shanky served a beautiful goulash on Friday and that was our treat. Only a couple of years ago I was invited over to Hamburg to look at a concert. It was just a fantastic concert and I took my wife with me. I said, "come on I'll show you the restaurant where we used to eat on a Friday night called The Mambo Shanky." I went there thinking it's still a restaurant and it wasn't. It was a strip club.

Q - Maybe the food is still good!

A - Probably (laughs).

Q - You might have some problem digesting it while you're looking at the show.

A - Yeah (laughs).

Q - Why is it that Hamburg so embraced the British pop groups? Surely they had groups of their own, didn't they?

A - They probably did, but I think what was happening was the British groups, whether they were from Birmingham or Manchester or Liverpool, had a lot of American music in their program, Blues, early Rock 'n' Roll, whether it was from Memphis or Nashville or somewhere. Mainly the British groups knew them because of the songs that were imported from the boats, again from Liverpool. That is why a lot of the English groups went to Hamburg, because that wasn't happening anywhere in Germany or Italy or France. This is why when The Beatles and The Stones and The Hollies and The Searchers made all these hit records, it just made the pop music slightly heavier and meatier and that was an influence from the American Soul or Blues and it spread. Of course, selling millions and millions of records all over Europe from the UK, that's why the French and the German musicians tried to copy the same as what was coming out of the UK.

Q - When you performed in Hamburg, did you ever have the opportunity to go out and see other bands? Did you ever see The Beatles on stage in Hamburg?

A - No. They were never there when we were there. At the time, The Star Club was the other club. None of us ever went to see any act at The Star Club, although we did hear that Little Richard was performing there, although we didn't go to see him, probably because we couldn't afford to. But none of us went anywhere else to look at bands.

Q - Did other bands come in to see your act?

A - Yeah, quite a few bands came in. The Searchers were one of them and we used to meet up with The Searchers in The Mambo Shanky on a Friday night, which is quite a meeting point. Of all the bands that became "names", the only ones we met in Hamburg where The Searchers.

Q - When you came back to Liverpool from Hamburg, where did Brian Epstein see The Barron Knights?

A - I think it was a dance hall in a place called Witness, which is very, very close to Liverpool. The rumor was that he loved our vocal sound very much. He came into the dressing room and started to speak to us about our vocal sound. About two or three weeks later, he rang the office and explained that he was the guy that came in the dressing room to talk about our sound system and our vocals. That's when he said "would you like to tour with The Beatles?" I mean, it was just a wonderful tour. The boys were great. They were a great bunch of boys to work with. Paul used to come into the dressing room quite a lot. John was the humorous one, always doing pranks. Ringo was the joker and George the quiet one, as everybody knew.

Q - What kind of pranks was John playing?

A - Well, one of them was when we finished a song in the last part of our act, we had to smash down our guitars and run offstage in a blackout and on would run The Beatles to screams and screams from the ladies out in the audience. The lights would go up and they would open up with a song. What happened one night is, that we took our guitars off in this blackout and ran offstage and the lights went out and of course John Lennon wasn't with his guitar. He was actually cuddling Butch in our band on stage in front of 2000 screaming girls. It was as if to say "we ain't going nowhere until the lights go up." (laughs)

Q - Before 1963, how much had you heard about The Beatles? Did you hear a lot about them in the press?

A - Not really. When we were touring all the dance halls in Scotland, you'd always look at the posters in the venues of all the other bands that were on their way to do their dance holidays. The poster used to say "From Liverpool, The Beatles." We always thought that was a strange name for a band. When we told McCartney that story, he said "isn't it funny, because we used to see your poster, The Barron Knights, and we thought that was a strange name for a band as well." So, we both thought we had strange names.

Q - Did you have long hair like the other British groups had?

A - No, I had extremely short hair like Steve McQueen. Very short hair. It was called the Peanut Cut and I invented it.

Q - You invented that hairstyle?!

A - Yeah. (laughs). Everybody called it the Peanut cut because my nickname was Peanuts.

Q - Why was it that? Did you like peanuts?

A - No. I used to play "Peanut Vendor" on the guitar. I don't know if you remember the song "Peanut Vendor".

Q - I can tell you I do.

A - Oh, good. You'll also remember a group called The Four Preps.

Q - Yes.

A - Well, The Four Preps were the inspiration for me to write the new parody lyrics for songs because I'd heard one of their songs. I bought and LP and I thought that's a good idea, I'll do the same. A couple of years ago, Bruce Belland, who was the original Four Preps writer of all their hit records, e-mailed me and invited me over to Las Vegas for a Four Preps reunion. So, I flew over and met them, which was great.

Q - When you saw a photo of The Beatles with their haircuts, their collarless jackets and Cuban high-heel boots, did you think they looked different or strange?

A - No, I didn't really. There was a lot of publicity about it. That's what made it important for everybody to know. They were called the Mop Tops because of their hairstyles. But I think what I took a lot away was there music. They wrote such great songs that were number ones instantly and when they shook their heads, the mop tops used to shake. It was a real characteristic thing of the band, but I didn't really take much notice of the mop tops. It was more the music that I love. It was just fantastic. When we toured with them, all they were doing is writing songs.

Q - Had you seen The Beatles in concert before you toured with them in 1963?

A - No, never.

Q - After your set, no doubt you watched The Beatles do their act. Did you say to yourself "this group is going to be the next big thing"?

A - We did rehearsals first of all and at rehearsals it was just fantastic to hear them sing "She Loves You", "Please Please Me", "Love Me Do", "Twist And Shout". They were just fabulous singers then. When their tour started, every theater was completely surrounded by thousands and thousands of teenagers from about 3 o'clock in the afternoon. So, you knew the word "Beatlemania" was true. It seriously was "Beatlemania". We had to be in every theater very early, lunchtime. We couldn't get out of the place for a long, long time. It was just chaos. It really was. When we were on stage, they were all screaming and they weren't screaming at us. They were screaming because they wanted John, Paul, George and Ringo. But we knew it was something special. Definitely. Without a doubt.

Q - Did you get people wanting to touch you simply because you were on the same stage as The Beatles?

A - Yeah. We were getting major publicity because we were touring with The Beatles. Even today, after the concerts people come up with our new CDs and say "I remember seeing you with The Beatles in '63, '64." It's something you never forget in your life. It changed our lives. And of course from touring with The Beatles and then having a hit record; we finished touring with The Beatles in mid-January '64, our first hit record was July '64 and then we did two appearances on Sunday Night At The London Palladiom, which was like 19 million people watching every time. So, 1964 was the magic year wherever you went. We got married in 1964 and we couldn't get out of the church.

Q - You couldn't live a normal life then, could you?

A - It took a long time to calm down. I couldn't go into a supermarket or walk down the High Street without knowing someone was going to come up wanting to talk to me. They would always say "Hi Pete! How are you doing?" I'd say "oh, great. Are you well?" That sort of thing. When the conversation was finished and you walked away, my wife would say "Who was that, Pete?" I'd say, "I don't know." But you have to be so friendly and not try to come across as the big timer who toured with The Beatles and had a hit record. When we used to tour in '64, after The Beatles tour and had a hit record, our hotels were the same. They used to come to our hotels where we were staying. They'd be outside the stage door. They would be all over the place. Writing letters to you. Thank God we didn't have Internet and e-mail in those days. We wouldn't have been able to do anything else but answer e-mails.

Q - What did the fans want from you? Did they want to spend time with you? Did they want to rip your hair out? Did they want to go to bed with you?

A - I think probably most of the things you've just said. I think they wanted to be in your company, whether it was sitting on a park bench or having a drink at a bar. They just wanted to be with you because you were famous. Today's word is celebrity, isn't it? Everybody wants to be a celebrity these days and of course we were the celebrities of '64, '65. They all wanted to go back and say "I've been with so-and-so from the Barron Knights," or "so-and-so from Gerry And The Pacemakers." They just wanted to be with you, in any way they wanted to be.

Q - After The Beatles, you toured with The Rolling Stones.

A - Yup. We did two tours with The Rolling Stones.

Q - Was that in England?

A - Yeah. All around the UK.

Q - What was that like? That must have been a different experience then touring with The Beatles.

A - Well again, we never saw The Stones on drugs. We never saw them be rude and do nasty things. They just turned up at the theater, went on stage, did a fantastic show to screaming youngsters and we dined together, had a few drinks together and that was it. The newspapers blew a lot of stories up to give the image to The Rolling Stones. There was without a doubt a battle, do you like The Beatles or do you like The Rolling Stones? Some people like one and not the other. Some people liked both. Both The Stones and The Beatles were lovely, lovely guys. There wasn't one Beatle or one Stone that you disliked or avoided. They were just really, really nice. I still see Bill Wyman, who's not in The Stones anymore. I sometimes go down to the Kings Road where his office is and have a little chat, have a cup of coffee and reminisce a little bit. He's just a lovely, lovely guy.

Q - Did you spend any time with Brian Jones?

A - Yeah. It's difficult to remember everything about Brian, but he was just a very nice guy. We didn't see any of the drugs. When you think we toured with them twice, I think the most we saw them do was smoke cigarettes. There were no drugs or booze where they got drunk. Nothing like that at all. But obviously there were lots of women around. And they used to bring lots of women into the dressing room, into the theaters. That was quite normal for them. Because they were doing these fabulous songs, they were quite a sexy group to the girls, as The Beatles were.

Q - Charlie Watts was a pretty sharp dresser.

A - And still is! He was a quiet one and an extremely nice guy. Even today he's a very, very nice, quiet guy who sits at the back and just watches what goes on in the world. He never makes a comment. He says "hello, cheerio," and just talks about things. That's Charlie. He's more interested in playing drums.

Q - What year did you tour with The Stones?

A - That was in '65 and '66.

Q - Why did you want to be in a band?

A - I was just obsessed with music. The curriculum at school was dreadful when it came to music. Our music teaching was listening to classics. Then I left school at 15. I used to do errands for a very old man who lived a few doors away and his was the only house that had a television. This was in 1960. Not everybody had a television in those days. I watched Sunday Night At The Palladium and saw a guy called Lonnie Donegan one week and Slim Whitman another week and they both had guitars wrapped around their necks and I said "that's what I'm going to do. I'm going to play guitar." So, I saved enough money and went out and bought a guitar. We sort of met a few guys who wanted to be in a band and we kicked some out and some left and we ended up being The Barron Knights.

Q - Did you announce your ambition to the old man whose house you watched Sunday Night At The Palladium in?

A - Yeah. I told him "I'm going to be on the London Palladium one day." He actually saw me in 1964 on television at the London Palladium. His name was Mr. Gibbons.

Q - He did get to see your dream come true!

A - That's right. My poor father didn't. He passed away Christmas 1963, just before The Beatles tour started. He missed the success, which is very sad.

Q - Was he supportive of your career?

A - Yeah. Oh God, yeah. He knew how keen I was. He didn't sort of try to knock my spirit out of it. He was feeling very poorly for a long time anyway. He saw me on television, but didn't actually see us at the London Palladium.

Q - Was your mother supportive of your career?

A - My mother always boasted she taught me how to sing. (laughs). Sadly, she passed away three weeks ago. She was 93. She was a great singer and a very funny lady and she was very proud of how my career went and she used to come see the show a lot and just loved music. Absolutely loved music.

Q - At 15, you weren't playing bars yet, were you?

A - Yeah. We were allowed to go into pubs as long as we didn't drink alcohol. I was 15, 16 years old. We were allowed to go into pubs. I used to sing lots of the Lonnie Donegan type songs and the Slim Whitman songs and maybe the early Tommy Steel songs, Elvis songs. Just with the guitar. I used to have to work really hard to work out all the chords to make sure I was playing the right chords on the guitar, to sing all the songs, which was pretty tough in those days. I wasn't musically trained, but it didn't take very long for me to pick things up by ear reasonably quick. But it was all the pubs and coffee bars that I used to play in. In 1960 is when the actual Barron Knights started. It was October 1960, and it took us four years to have a hit record.

Q - Did your record company do a good job promoting you?

A - Yeah. They were brilliant. Absolutely brilliant. We were all over the place. There was one Saturday where we did a television show in the morning in Southhampton and another television show in Birmingham at lunchtime and then we'd have to go up to somewhere like Newcastle to do a show in front of an audience. We were young and didn't even think anything of it. It was just one of those things that you did and it was just a fantastic time of our lives. Even today, after 51 years, I look at myself and think, well it's just a wonderful job. It's my hobby and I love doing it. Winston Churchill said "if there's a job you love, you'll never work again." And he was right, because when you do your hobby, it's not work. You are forever grateful.

© Gary James. All rights reserved.