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Shropshire's Dawn kept with beat in Swinging Sixties - Drummer has happy memories of thriving music scene

Telford | News | Published:

The Pacifics. The Skylons. The Vandels. Even The Raving Mogul Horde - they are names to conjure with, bringing back memories of the Swinging Sixties for those of a certain age in Shropshire.

And providing the beat during those beat boom days which saw such a thriving group scene in the county was Dawley's Dawn Cullis, who was that rare thing even now – a female drummer in a pop group.

Today she has a host of newspaper cuttings and old photos dating back to those vibrant times which saw her turn professional for a while and, like so many, on the edge of glory.

"People I meet all want to talk incessantly about such times," she said.

The Bird 'n' B's at the Bladen Club, Broseley

"There were Mods and Rockers in the Square at Wellington with Saturday afternoon dances at the Town Hall, and a group on every avenue all outdoing each other with clothing never seen before."

The drums have gone but Dawn Rice, as she is now, still has the music in her, with a music room at her Shifnal home where she has a keyboard and recording desk, although she and husband Derek, who had been the rhythm guitarist and singer in Walsall group The Saddlers, no long perform in public, having called it a day in 2000.

Turn back the clock though and Dawn, originally from Windsor Road in Dawley, got involved like so many other Shropshire youngsters through Walton's music shop in Mill Bank, Wellington.

Dawn with some Dawley school pals with her first drum

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"Mrs Walton taught people accordion, which is what I was playing, and Mrs Rutter, who worked for Mrs Walton, taught all the guys how to play guitar.

"Mrs Walton and Mrs Rutter were responsible for most of the musicians in Shropshire. They were quite elderly ladies to be teaching guitar."

Dawn had a yearning to play the drums and her supportive parents got her a small drum to start off with. Dawn was to join a group called The Greasers – a contemporary surfing term – which played rhythm and blues music and were sponsored by the Ever Ready battery factory in Dawley.

"Most of them worked at the Ever Ready. I was working in the pet shop in Dawley and they said if I got a job at the Ever Ready I could practise in work time and Ever Ready would supply a bit of transport. They used to let us go to the canteen to practise."

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By this time, which was around 1964 or 1965, Dawn had bought a full drum set on hire purchase and having a female drummer was a talking point.

"At the time I was the only one anybody knew of. It started off with it being used as a gimmick, and everybody going to see this girl on the drums. Eventually they accepted I could play the drums.

Dawn on some of the publicity material from the 1960s

"It was a big learning curve for me. We were doing American music. I was then asked to join The Pacifics, a Newport group, who were very poppy, very charts, with pop music and also Shadows instrumentals.

"There was a lot more work with this group. We practised at the Boys' Club in Newport. We were in one part and The Tearaways – the opposition – practised in another part of the club.

"We had bookings in Stafford, at Oakengates and Wellington, and places like Terry Heath's in Wellington. There was also the June Room, which has been knocked down now, and was in Oakengates underneath the railway and was like a nightclub. There was Gower Street youth club and a few more."

Then came a split, which saw three of them form Bird 'n' B's – the spelling was to appear different ways, but that's how the group spelt it, and Dawn was the "bird" and the bees were Jim Wilkie and Ray Graham, from Donnington, who were joined by Mick Skinner of Trench and Gerry Ward of Wellington.

A mid-1960s photo taken of them in action at the Bladen Club in Broseley shows them wearing multi-coloured trousers.

Dawn said: "We wanted to be different. Everything was changing then. It was the Swinging Sixties and fashions had gone crazy. We said we would go to Wellington market and buy the brightest material we can find and have trousers made up. It was curtain material and Gerry's mum did it. I loved them."

The trousers got a write-up in the paper and the group got described as Shropshire's brightest group. Musically, they played Tamla Motown, soul and American-style harmonies – Dawn did some backing singing.

They had not one, but two fan clubs and their fans would follow them everywhere.

Chris Wallace of Donnington, came in to replace Ray, and a big moment came when they took part in a beat group competition at Ludlow Town Hall, winning their heat, and then the competition, backed by a coachloads of their fans from Telford and Stafford.

"The day after that we decided to go professional, because we had won this beat group competition in which all the beat groups from Shropshire had taken part."

Competition and rivalry was hot, but there was too an unusual meeting place.

The Pacifics pop group from Newport with their van

"An interesting thing we all used to do, these groups in the 1960s, was to come back from the gigs and we all used to go and meet outside Sankey's coffee machine in Hadley. You would drive there and have a coffee and all the other groups would come and join in."

At the time of going professional, around 1966, Dawn was working in the Clifford Williams pyjama factory in Wellington.

"It made the difference that we could spend the whole day working on songs and practising at the Dun Cow in Dawley."

They could also travel further afield to gigs, and the fans stayed loyal, with some hitchhiking to watch them.

"Once we were playing at Neeld Hall in Wiltshire and decided that in the middle of my drum solo that the lads were going to tear the shirts off one another. A load of girls swarmed on the stage. The security men got concerned and turned the foam hosepipes right across the stage, which also smothered us and our instruments.

"We spent the next day cleaning the foam from them which had clogged up the amplifiers and everything."

They would play alongside big names, like Dave Dee, Dozy, Beaky, Mick and Tich, the Pretty Things, the Moody Blues, Marmalade, The Herd, Alan Price, and The Drifters.

They also made a demo disc which included Drifters covers. For a while the group acquired a girl singer, Lesley Whitehouse of Newport, and became the plural Birds 'n' B's. Lesley was later to go solo, under the name of Louisa Jane White, moving down to London.

By the time Dawn herself left, the group had been renamed Fluff.

"The time came when we realised we were just doing the same circuit, going round the same places. Even though we were having good nights and having a lot of support, people who were living in London and the big cities seemed to get the breaks more than we did.

"And then I met Derek Rice, who was with The Saddlers. We met when he was playing at the Park Road Club at Dawley. We had a night off and always went to see the groups at the club and introduce ourselves. He was not professional, but still played every weekend, and we decided the only way we could see one another was to start our own group. So we joined forces and started Dollymixcha."

They were joined by Malcolm Smallman of Newport on bass, and singer and guitarist Geoff Mansell of Trench. Dawn and Derek married in 1971. "We were the group at our own wedding. I wasn't going to pay anybody else!" said Dawn.

  • Were you in a 1960s beat group – or were you one of those fans? Drop us a line with your memories. Write to Toby Neal at toby.neal@shropshirestar.co.uk.

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