An old 60s Retro Britsh Rock Band Called the V.I.Ps
|V.I.Ps' Drummer Walter Johnstone|
is kneeling down in above photo
In the early to late 1960s; a British rock band from Carlisle began playing at the Scotch St James club in London among many other up and coming bands. They released a few albums and had some singles, though they did not break into the UK charts. They did have some success in Europe, especially Germany and France. One of the members went on to play in Humble Pie, and for a short time after 1967, Keith Emerson was in the band, though they changed their name to Art.
The original band (The V.I.Ps) consisted of the following: Mike Harrison vocals, Jimmy Henshaw and Frank Kenyon as guitarists with Greg Ridley on Bass and finally Walter Johnstone on drums.
45 Years Later 2012
While working on the verge cutting in Essex, England during this dreadful summer of 2012, we were sent a casual worker from the job agency to help with the grass cutting. The man was retired but liked to do the odd bit here and there. He was a polite and reserved man – perhaps a little unassuming. The rest of the gang liked the retired man and he has since been called back on several occasions when a member is on leave. He has a Cumbrian accent of North England, though he is Scottish – a real Reiver from the borderlands.
|Walter Johnstone Today in 2012 |
while telling his story of the 1960s
During tea breaks, while we sat in the van having a cup of tea, we would talk to this guy, wondering why he left the beautiful Lake District of Cumbria to live in Essex, South East England. He was interesting and spoke of many things. He had been an oil rig worker off Aberdeen and served time on the platforms at sea. He had done a great many things during his working career.
He had been working with us, on and off for a number of weeks, and finally, on Friday 12th October, he told me a great story of some of the things he did during the Retro Brit 1960s decade. He said he was in a band and they toured a lot as a support band. They had released albums and had singles, but they did not break into the UK charts but were well received in Europe, especially Germany and France – one single getting to Number 2 in France. He said they had supported bands like the Small Faces and The Jimi Hendrix Experience band.
He said the band was called the V.I.Ps and he was the band’s drummer. I got out my phone and tapped his band’s name into the search engine and up came a photograph of the old rock group with today’s 69-year-old Walter Johnstone standing with other band members when he was in his 20s. He was taken aback - the long ago, faded away, the band were still on the net. They are on YouTube too, which surprised him, as Walter is not too knowing on computers. I was amazed too, looking at Walter in the 1960s next to the band members of the V.I.Ps. Walter is a modest and unassuming person and this past life of his came out casually in conversation.
Of the original five; only Walter and Mike Harrison are alive. Jimmy Henshaw, Frank Kenyon and Greg Ridley are deceased. Of course, other band members came and went when they were called Art. Walter Johnstone, the drummer and man I’m talking about, had left by the time the band was called Art.
Procol Huram Story
When Walter left the V.I.Ps, he did get a number of phone calls and requests from a man promoting a new band and this promoter said he wanted Walter to come back to London and do a session for this new band’s song - the group which was to be put together. This band would be good and he wanted Walter Johnstone to do the drums in a demo run for a song called Whiter Shade of Pale and it was to be by a group called Procol Harum. By this time Walter had left the V.I.Ps because the money was not regular enough and the band were not big enough. He was, however, persuaded to do the demo when offered £18 plus travel and lodgings back to London.
After doing the demo, he was offered the drummer work for the band, but he refused not having faith in the promoter who was guaranteeing £250 a week for the next five years. This was good money in 1967, but Walter had been on the fringes of the rock industry in Britain for a number of years now and had heard such promises before. For every band that hit the big time, there was a larger number, like the V.I.Ps, doing the support stints and earning little. The big break never came to every band and Walter had lost faith - especially when the promoter only gave him £8 instead of £18. He wrote him a cheque for the other £10 which promptly bounced when he got back to Carlisle. Of course, Walter Johnstone was shocked when Whiter Shade of Pale smashed the charts with Procol Harum. He said they were from Southend in Essex where we all now work, cutting the grass verges of the surrounding towns.Jimi Hendrix and the V.I.Ps in Scotch of St James Club London 1966
|Jimi Hendrix in UK 1966|
Walter also told another Retro Brit story about Jimi Hendrix. The V.I.Ps (Walter’s band) was managed by a man called Michael Jeffery and this man also managed The Animals – a famous British band from Newcastle. They (The Animals) had come back from a USA tour and were in the Scotch St James club in London, where the V.I.Ps were playing. It was about the year 1966. Michael Jeffery (Manager of The Animals and the V.I.Ps) had discovered someone special in the Village (A place in New York) He was called Jimi Hendrix. The Animals Bass player; Chas Chandler also had dealings with Jimi Hendrix. From what Walter said; it seemed to be a joint interest between Mike Jeffery and Chas Chandler.
|Walter is in the centre and furthest back.|
For the first song, which Walter can’t remember what the title was; Jimi Hendrix just played along rhythm. Then when they finished Jimi Hendrix asked them; “Hey can you play ‘Wild Thing’ by the Troggs.”
Walter said the rest of the band and himself replied yes, but thought it odd, for they regarded the Troggs as a pop band. People who played in the Scotch Saint James club regarded themselves as proper musicians. Walter laughed as he told me this, realising that perhaps, the V.I.Ps was a little too pretentious, even during the swinging sixties. After all; the Troggs made and sold records that got into the charts.
Well as the V.I.Ps began to play; Jimi Hendrix went on one of his whirlwind guitar solo acts and blew the V.I.Ps and the audience away. Walter said as he played the drums; he called to see the mind blowing effect Hendrix had on the audience. No one in the UK had heard or seen him until this moment, but Jimi from the village, across the pond, launched himself with great aplomb upon the unsuspecting Brit audience.
Walter laughed, “When Hendrix played, they (The V.I.Ps) almost shit themselves.” Evidently, Jimi made a big impression.
|Walter standing on the left.|