THE JOHN HANNAM INTERVIEW
Who has been the Island’s favourite pop group of the last 50 years? There are numerous bands to choose from, but for many the Cherokees are still revered as our most popular ever and they reigned supreme for 10 years from the early 1960s.
It all began in 1957 when the original band was formed to play at venues like Newport’s Queens Hall, now the Boots store, and they had an early fan following. Ironically, none of them was in the legendary quartet that sold out every gig they played. With due respect to those who proceeded them, the line-up of Graham Betchley, Brian Sharpe, Crann Davies and Ken Young was unstoppable. They never claimed to be innovators but they could perform chart hits better than some of the original versions. It was nothing for them to buy a chart record on a Thursday and have their own version ready for their Saturday night gig. The Royal York in Ryde was their stronghold and their 69 Club was the place to be. Sadly, today it’s one of the Island’s biggest eyesores.
In Graham Betchley, who died much too early at the age of 54, they had one of the best singers the Island has ever produced. Brian Sharpe, who was a guitar icon to a generation or two of young local musicians, is still performing today. The Cherokees were packed with real musical talent. Crann Davies on bass had his own following and Ken Young was such a good drummer there were even rumours he might replace Tony Meehan when he left the Shadows. The boys also promoted their own gigs at the York. They booked acts like T Rex, the Moody Blues, Nice, Family, Yes and Fairport Convention and supported them on the night. Ken Young, who doubled as their booker, even got Gene Vincent.
In 1964 they supported the Rolling Stones in two shows at Ryde Pavilion. They also released their own Cherokees EP and quickly sold the 500 copies. Later as Wilfred – they had to change their name as there was already a group called the Cherokees – they released a national single on Parlophone. Called Candle In The Wind, it got Radio 1 and Radio Luxembourg airplay and just bubbled under the charts. Many of us thought they could have made the big time but they were not really interested. Brian Sharpe once told me: “We were just happy to play our music on the Island. We had families here and good jobs. We had all we wanted.” I was privileged to be one of those who crammed into the Wishing Well, Pondwell, in 1982 to attend their reunion. It was to celebrate Graham and Brian having made music together for 20 years. The Cherokees had disbanded in 1972 after being disillusioned with the public’s strange preference for canned disco music. This was the perfect chance to see them once again. There were traffic jams, cars parked illegally and without lights and a huge queue of fans waiting to get in. Well over a 100 were turned away.
Betch, who should have been a major British pop star, told me at the gig: “We just didn’t expect this response. The audience kept us going. Crann added: “I hadn’t played for 10 years and I loved it.” Ken Young then explained the pre show build up: “We somehow managed to rehearse 43 numbers in just 14 hours.” Those anthems like Hey Jude, Bad Moon Rising, Anthony Boy and Stewball sounded as great as ever. Brian Sharpe is currently playing in several bands and on February 11 at Lower Hyde, Shanklin, will be joined by three ageless pals, Doug Watson, Keith Roberts and Andy Skelton for a night of nostalgic music and memories.
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