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Symbol opinion vote Comment: Possibly notable. Referencing and linking should be cleaned up - I have done the first paragraph as an example - and further sources provided in order that we can establish notability. C679 22:32, 26 December 2014 (UTC)


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The Roger James Four is a Sixties pop group. They took their name from singer-songwriter-guitarist front man, Roger James, having originally formed in 1963 as The Prestons, and then recording their first titles as 'The Tops'.

Early Life

Born Roger Scarrott, in Evesham, Worcestershire on 13 May 1944, James was only 13 when, bitten by the Skiffle craze, he started playing guitar and writing songs in 1957, widening his musical tastes to encompass Rockabilly and Rock ’n’ Roll. His first professional name was ‘Dave Randal’, given to him in 1960 following a chance encounter with a small time agent he had met on the upper deck of a bus whilst travelling from Evesham to Cheltenham. Roger had no telephone, so all communication between them was conducted by letter which petered out after one gig at the American Air Base in Fairford, Gloucestershire.

Later that year he successfully auditioned for a touring Rock 'n' Roll show to be staged at Worcester Ice Rink, and was signed to a contract, thereby joining the Reg Calvert stable of touring bands, musicians, and solo entertainers. 'Home' was the Calvert family base in Southampton and, later, in Rugby, Warwickshire.

Career

In 1961, following appearances throughout Britain, Roger and other Calvert signees performed in Hamburg, Germany at the celebrated Top Ten Club, with the likes of Rory Storm & the Hurricanes, Tony Sheridan with the Beatles and many other English bands. As the guitarist and backing vocalist with Danny Storm & the Strollers, James tasted chart success in 1962 on their single "Honest I Do". It was during that year, while still managed by Calvert, that The Beatles visited and played their new single "Love Me Do". Since Danny Storm & the Strollers were already in the pop charts at that time, Roger didn't enthuse too much about the Beatles' single, instead advising them that he preferred the 'B' side, "P.S. I Love You".

He left Calvert later that year to return to Evesham where he formed the Roger James Trio, taking a chance on a local lad who, having convinced him he was a drummer, turned up for the gig minus drum sticks, but successfully borrowing a set from another band on the bill! The unorthodox percussionist was Jim Capaldi, whose cousin, Phil Capaldi - later to become a member of The Fortunes - would occasionally join them on piano.

The Trio were short-lived, as was the period he spent in Bristol with a local band. Unemployed, and sleeping rough, he was given shelter by a kindly landlady whom he knew as “Mrs Miller”, before friendship with local Top Rank ballroom DJ, Tony Prince, resulted in the music presenter tutoring Roger and placing his picture on the front of 'Bristol Beat' magazine. Thanks to that and his newly-acquired DJ skills, he was spotted by Garry Brown, a director with Top Rank, who put him on a £10 a week retainer, before posting him to their Preston ballroom where he became lead vocalist and guitar man with The Johnny Wollaston Band. Again prompted by the desire to form a band and to perform his own material, James put together The Prestons, named after the town. The initial line-up consisted of himself on guitar & lead vocal]; Andy Leigh [Bass & Vocal]: Robb Deka [Piano & Vocal] and Gene Carberry [Drums].

It was as The Prestons that they were managed by Harry Stanley, a former professional magician, who was also the father of new group bass player Bill Stanley. Harry arranged a recording session at the Tony Pike studio in Putney, where, as “The Tops”, the group cut demos of original songs written by Roger James. It was on the strength of these demos that they were booked to back Beverly Jones, who was seeking a harder edge than that portrayed on her first three HMV singles. 'The Tops' reverted to 'The Prestons' for this record, the 'A' side of which was the Martha Reeves & The Vandellas song "Heat Wave", which, whilst being a big hit in the US, had failed to chart in the UK. With no 'B' side planned, Roger wrote "Hear You Talking" especially for Beverley; a track she would later cite as her best recording. These 1964 tracks are now regarded as collectable 'Northern Soul' classics.

Following the release of this single, EMI A&R man Norrie Paramor, arranger, conductor and renowned producer of hit recordings by Cliff Richard, Frank Ifield,Helen Shapiro, Ruby Murray, and Michael Holliday, signed the group to the Columbia label, and produced their first single "A Letter from Kathy". Paramor rejected both ‘The Tops’ and ‘Prestons’ as names for his new signing, and it was decided that henceforth they would be known as The Roger James Four.

Their contract contained the standard clause that if the first single failed to achieve sales of 2,000 or more units, it would automatically be terminated. The group were in residence at 'Butlins', Bognor Regis, when the record was released in the Spring of 1965, and copies were shipped to the holiday camp to be sold on site. Their stay at Butlins was a success, both in terms of record sales and their contractual afternoon tea room sessions unexpectedly gaining them a reputation as a trendy blues band, with their deliberate playing of the slowest numbers in that genre to fill the hour . Their plan, however, backfired when the local 'Mods' caught wind of a trendy band playing cool blues in the afternoon and took to frequenting every performance, causing chaos in the tea rooms!

As their Butlins season was drawing to an end, “A Letter from Kathy” had reached the 2,000 sales figure and the band were booked to record a follow-up single. Roger had planned to record another slower tempo song, “That’s When It Hurts Me”, but members Bill, Paul Edmonds-Riley and Howard Tibble all wanted to record an up-tempo title. Roger admitted being none too happy at the time and, while seated in the toilet contemplating their future, silently thought "there has to be somewhere 'better than here'." That was it! Immediately imagining the chords in his head, he located his ukulele in the group’s camper van and, as soon as he played the opening two lines to the rest of the band, they were in agreement. The chorus was composed en route to Abbey Road from the Sussex resort and the track’s title, "Better Than Here"a recorded reference to Butlins, Bognor Regis.

The single was recorded 29 October 1965 and produced by Allen Paramor, nephew of Norrie. With the song only having just been written, no solo was planned, so Roger suggested that Bill play one on Bass as opposed to the more usual guitar contribution. It was later learned that The Who, on their recording "My Generation", had been responsible for the first ever bass solo on a pop discs, recorded just 16 days earlier. During the recording session Paul McCartney popped in to say that he would see them in the canteen for a cup of tea! Unfortunately, Allen Paramor insisted on completing the track before they took a break, so Roger and Bill wandered down to Studio 2, where The Beatles were recording their 'Rubber Soul' album, and listened as they sang some harmony over-dubs.

"Better than Here" failed to sell as well as its predecessor and became the final disc released by the 'Roger James Four'. It was to be another three years before Roger, Bill and Howard would record a third single for Columbia, on that occasion as a three piece band, 'The Hobby Shop', named after manager Harry Stanley's similarly-titled family airplane and train set model-making business. Coupling the songs "Why Does It Have to Be This Way" and "Talk to Me", both titles were written by James with Cecil Meade, who also arranged and produced the tracks.

Throughout the Sixties James was a well-known and respected figure in the music business, his many credits including playing on recording sessions with Joe Meek star Heinz, the Joe Loss Orchestra and the Les Reed Orchestra, with which he performed on lead guitar on the soundtrack album of the film Girl on a Motorcycle, starring Marianne Faithfull.

Roger went on to record two singles for the Nems record label in 1968 and 1969, the first of which, "If I Didn’t Have You" became a huge hit on Radio Luxembourg, thanks in no small part to Tony Prince who had joined that station, and then joined Les Reed's Chapter One Records in 1970, where he recorded his celebrated album 'Riding Free'. This album was notable not merely for its well-sung melodic Country-style material, but also the lavish production by Mark Wirtz, who threw everything at it, from Flugelhorn to backing singers that included Elton John! The success of the album led to it being remastered for CD in 2006, and now a stock catalogue item.

In 1972, James began working with the BBC as resident singer-songwriter on the Radio 2 'Country Club' program, writing many original songs and working with Lorne Gibson, one of his heroes of the UK Country scene. He was joined once again by bass man Bill Stanley, plus Doug Perry and Terry Doe, to form The Roger James Group, appearing on the BBC’s 'Up Country' LP in 1974, as well as recording for the BBC Records label Beeb, both as a group and solo artist. He continued to write and record for the BBC until 1980.

In the Eighties he worked as musical director on the 1983 Ray Connolly film 'Forever Young', as well as playing the role of a musician in the movie itself. He also worked in a similar capacity with Paul McCartney on his 1984 film 'Give My Regards to Broad Street' . Continuing to be musically active, James has, throughout his career, composed new song material, as well as being involved with radio broadcasting and writing commercial jingles. Still playing at regular gigs around London and the surrounding area, current plans are to record a selection of his new songs, and a few of the old, to be presented in a 'stripped back' acoustic style. He intends to market this new collection on iTunes.

References

[1] [2]

Bibliography

Kuhlmann, Manfred (2012). Some Other Guys - An Anthology of Some Other Groups That Helped Create the Mersey Sound ISBN 9781588502018 Folklore Institute (1964). Journal of the Folklore Institute Vol 1-2

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