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Merry Christmas past, Coppull Working Men’s club 1979.

It was around Christmas time 1979. I was the resident organist at the now demolished Coppull Workingmen’s Club, in deepest Lancashire.

The committee would endeavour to book top line Artists for the festive period. This would usually compromise of a show band or a comedy show group. If this was the case, we, let me introduce Liam on drums, the resident musicians would have very little to do. We would play a few Christmas tunes to open the night, play “Double your money” to introduce the bingo.

The Bingo was by far the most important item on the programme. Occasionally, an announcement was made that one of the club members had passed away “Abide with me” was the tune for this sombre occasion. A couple of tunes from us in the pre-food interval. Pie and peas from the kitchen and a man going through the crowd selling, from a cinema style choc ice tray, all manner of oddments, crab sticks for instance, if you have never encountered the crab stick it’s a salmon pink and white floppy stick about the size of one those pink wafer biscuits, and contains no crab. Other delicacies on offer include cockles and muscles drenched in vinegar and black peas. Alternative snacks where available from the bar, a selection of crisps, salted nuts, packets of nuts where torn from a display card behind the bar, gradually revealing a topless woman, it was the 70s. And two other classics, the pork scratching and the pickled egg.

The pies on offer where of very good quality, and tasted delicious within the confines of the club. If you decided to take one home for a late-night supper though, all the pie tasted of was cigarette smoke, like a meat and potato ashtray, it was the 70s.

We would play a Christmassy last waltz, Silent Night the usual favourite, and that was it, we would be paid double our usual fee for the Christmas holiday period, sometimes we really earned it.

One act booked during this period was an act who would go on to have a number one hit a couple of years later, light Opera singer Renato was a solo act before teaming up with Rene for their smash “Save Your Love” did I mention it was the 70s.

There was no rehearsal, the first time you saw the artists music was shortly before the first set. Two 30min sets where the norm but three 20 mins was also an option. The drummer very seldom got more than a set list and was required to make notes on tempo and style, we always asked the artist “do you count in? There was a definite gender split here, the male artists would count in, usually in a semi dramatic way, desperately trying to convey the spirit of the song he was about to perform. Not all the musicians on working men’s club circuit were as proficient as Liam and me, and the sound they created could be astonishing.

The female artists would insist we counted in each song and then complain about the tempos.

I entered the small dressing room through a door by the stage, and there he was, Renato, a small portly chap. An overwhelming smell of nose aching cologne, probably hi Karate or similar. He wore a pullover, stretched to its maximum over his ample stomach, black slacks and shiny Cuban heeled shoes. He greeted us in a broken Italian accent, he was from Birmingham “ I ave a left my music a in a Londone , this is a my back up pad but a the a arrangements are different” that set my alarm bells ringing “ you be a ok, I explain” he continued. The opening to his show was a medley of “ Quando Quando (Bb) going into “Till”(G) Up-tempo Latin into big slow ballad “ I will a show you the difference, ok? I asked why he could not just sing to this version but he was insistent “is a easy, intro same then into verse but a we don’t a take the first repeat then a we go into middle section the back to here(unmarked then a we a take ……….” “ Im not going to remember all this” I protested

The concert chairman popped his head around the door” are we ready lads, running a tight ship tonight”

So, on we went, we played a couple of tunes, the lights where dimmed and the concert chairman announced the star billing, after reminding the audience to show respect for the act and please keep noise to a minimum. “Ladies and Gentlemen, Renato”

Renato didn’t count in, Liam gave me a clear and off we went “ Quando, Quando” Both manuals going on the Hammond and my left foot supplying bass on the pedals, da da da, da da d da, on he came, as he passed me he said “ to a fast “ I indicated to Liam to lay back a bit. “ Tell a me a when a will you be mine” he sang” tell a me Quando Quando Quando” on he went, the arrangement he was singing bore no resemblance to the one written in front of me, and very little to do with the one he described in the dressing room. I was familiar enough with the song so busked my way through, until the point where he went, without warning, into the first strains of the song “Till” the sound on him singing in G and me holding a Bb chord was not the greatest musical moment, not in this context at any rate, Renato turned to me, red in the face and said “ You a piss a pot a “……Never been called a piss pot before, or since, let alone a piss a pott a.........T.B.C.

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