Birmingham teacher turned international rock star Spencer Davies is about to play Symphony Hall for the first time – at the age of 75.

Most people remember 1966 as the year that England won the World Cup

But for a former teacher in Yardley, it was also the year his band The Spencer Davis Group knocked The Beatles’ single Day Tripper / We Can Work It Out clean off the top of the pop charts.

He might have been born in Swansea, but University of Birmingham languages graduate Spencer Davies and his band of Brummies – including Great Barr brothers Steve and Muff Winwood – were a match for the Fab Four that year.

With their own Keep On Running and Somebody Help Me topping the charts before the spring was out, it took The Beatles’ Paperback Writer in June and Yellow Submarine / Eleanor Rigby in August to catch up.

The Rolling Stones, meanwhile, spent just one week at No 1 that year with their May release Paint it Black.

For Spencer Davies – his real name ends with an ‘ies’, shortened to ‘is’ for marketing the band – they were heady times.

He was mixing with future legends, while on the road to a curious place in pop history for himself – and a lifetime of steady work sealed with a degree of anonymity which left Ringo Starr envious of his friend.

The line up of The Spencer Davis Band proved to be less stable than either The Beatles or The Stones.

“I looked at it as a bus where people could get on at one stop and off at another,” says Spencer.

“I was always the captain of the ship and never let that go.

“One of the people I auditioned over the years was Reg Dwight – the future Elton John.

“It was 1967, but while I liked his songwriting, I didn’t think he was right for us.”

Other stars he met over the years also included Jimi Hendrix and as well as touring with The Rolling Stones and The Who when they were still working clubs, he’s jammed with Charlie Watts, Long John Baldry and Jack Bruce, who died last month.

His memories are crystal clear, the stories legion, from telling of one rocker recovering from ‘wet brain’ thanks to the swollen effects of drinking, to how Baldry couldn’t be saved despite Rod Stewart covering his hospital bills.

“Reg Presley from The Troggs (Love Is All Around) smoked so many fags he needed a chimney on his head,” says Spencer.

“I had a drug problem – I couldn’t afford them.

“But there was a scene (in Birmingham) with hash or pot and I knew some of those having their fair share of it.

“The Elbow Room was the main source of supply.

“I remember driving and Brian Jones (from the Rolling Stones) shoved some amyl nitrate under my nose.

“I said to him: ‘I am driving, for God’s sake Brian!’

“But he was a talent. Brian founded The Rolling Stones, there’s no getting away from that.”

The Spencer Davis Group
The Spencer Davis Group
 

Cheltenham-born Jones died in 1969 aged just 27.

Contrary to some rumours, Spencer is still here to tell his own tale more than four decades later.

“I live between Swansea and California but had a mystery illness for four years,” says Spencer.

“I told people I’d gone fishing in The Falkland Islands.

“All the tests came back negative. I was like a canary trapped in a cage, unable to fly after clocking up a million miles with American Airlines and two million with United Airlines.

“I was a semi-colon who became a full stop.

“But having also got over a deep vein thrombosis (blood clot), I am enjoying being back out on the road again in The Sixties Gold Tour.

“Its promoter, Robert Pratt, is one of those guys whose handshake is his word. Every week, I’ve been paid on the dot.

“I’ve still got my own hair and teeth by the way and never had more fun. Everything now is a laugh.

“Ringo had heard about my leg and when he saw me recently said: ‘Hobble over here and give me a hug’.”

The tour features fellow chart toppers like Chip Hawkes (from The Tremeloes now minus the sick Brian Poole who was taken ill in Basingstoke), The Fortunes, The Pacemakers, PJ Proby and The Searchers.

“I got a call after Gerry Marsden fell ill with an eye problem and I said I didn’t play his songs.

“But they wanted me for mine and The Pacemakers are playing without him.

“It enables me to say ‘I’m playing with The Pacemakers... but I don’t need to wear one.”

The Symphony Hall date on December 2 is when the 40-date tour ends – and Spencer is looking forward to playing in one of the world’s great concert halls, even if he’s second on the bill from 8pm with what is likely to be no more than a half-hour slot.

“We helped to put Birmingham on the musical map with rhythm and blues,” says the former teacher at Yardley’s Whittington Oval Junior School.

In the evenings he would play his 12 string guitar and sing traditional blues songs at various venues in the city and for a short time formed a duo with future Fleetwood Mac member Christine Perfect (McVie).

Just like the long demolished Golden Lion of old, he is disappointed that The Crown in Station Street – where Black Sabbath played their first gig for then manager Jim Simpson – has recently been closed as a pub ready for residential redevelopment.

“When Liverpool demolished The Cavern at least they built a replacement,” says Spencer.

“But can you imagine San Francisco wanting to get rid of its street cars? Or Blackpool its trams? There would be a revolution.”

A divorced father of three with five grandchildren, Spencer lives on the 22-mile island of Catalina off the coast of California.

His partner’s daughter Ashlee Morgan Murray’s father is a well known TV editor called Bill Murray.

“Ashlee was four when I met her mum and I’ve pretty much brought her up,” he says.

“Now she’s 24 and doing very well in the voice over industry.

“She tells big artists to do more takes.”

Despite enjoying the West Coast lifestyle, Spencer is proud of fellow Welsh stars like Anthony Hopkins, Christian Bale, Catherine Zeta Jones, Dylan Thomas and Richard Burton, adding: “We used to call him Richard Bourbon.”

As such, he’s never happier than being at home in Swansea.

“I love going to the market and walking out with cockles sprinkled with pepper and vinegar.”

If there’s a regret, it’s about not taking charge of his own affairs earlier.

The Spencer Davis Group was originally managed by Island Records founder Chris Blackwell whom Spencer says sold their songs off for $180,000 to United Artists without him knowing.

The Beatles in 1966.
The Beatles in 1966.
 

“It was a classic case of the horse having bolted because I didn’t know how to lock the stable door at the time,” he explains.

“So many bands in the 60s were just delighted to see their songs on a recording but when you have one person as a agent, publisher and producer that was a conflict, big time.

“If you have written something... trust me, the red flag goes up every time someone says ‘I can help you’.

“I then formed my own management and publishing company and joined the Performing Rights Society.

“One of our singles Time Seller wasn’t a big seller despite its name, but when the Allman Bros covered the B-side Don’t Want You No More it sold six million copies.

“There’s no harm in being an eternal optimist who keeps trying.

“I’m still writing and recording today and will never stop, so the current tour isn’t about nostalgia, just a lot of camaraderie.

“When I’m in a studio, the only time I’m interested in the new bells and whistles is for editing, not recording.”

Spencer’s journey into music began with a harmonica at the age of five.

When he later asked for a guitar, his parents bought him a piano accordion.

“I can only think they must have got a deal,” he says.

Deeply disappointed, Spencer learned how to play it sufficiently well to be able to earn some money busking, buying his first guitar at the age of 16.

Fluent in German, French and Spanish, he lived at 39 Gladstone Road, Sparkhill during his University of Birmingham student days.

Not only did he already know how to put a band together, but he re-rented a room to a fellow student who was effectively paying for his digs.

“I learned things like that from my mother who was as sharp as a whip,” he says.

“My middle daughter, Lisa, is the same, she was the office manager for Neversoft, the (former) company which created Guitar Hero.”

Spencer’s teaching career was short and not always sweet.

“I found I was earning more money playing blues and moved to Sutton Coldfield,” he says.

“One day at Whittington Oval School I had a small milk bottle thrown at my head.

“I grabbed two kids by the hair and banged their heads together.

“The headteacher, whose name Entick Mapp was, I think, Scandinavian, said: ‘We’ll call it unorthodox this time’, but I knew my days as a teacher were numbered.”

Spencer had been driving himself on the Sixties Gold tour, but has given up after a nightmare journey from Leeds to Swansea.

“I thought I’d be clever and go this way and that to try get round the roadworks, but I paid for not using the M6 toll,” he says.

“I was falling asleep at the wheel where you can see endless trucks being driven on autopilot with their own drivers in danger of falling asleep.

“I’ll be on the train in future letting others do the driving.

“In my whole career, though, I’ve only ever missed one gig and that was in Germany when I took a route I’d been told not to.”

After buying out his brother’s share (he bought an SUV and went on holiday to Jamaica with his friends ‘instead of thinking about the future’), Spencer lives in his mother’s former house in Swansea, with a stunning view from the loft of The Mumbles.

He had to fight the local council to stay there after not returning from the US because of his illness, just like he had to battle the owners of his Californian apartment to make it possible to leave again once he had driven in through the gates.

“I’m Mr Activist,” he smiles.

The Rolling Stones in 1966.
The Rolling Stones in 1966.
 

Having enjoyed more good fortune in the music industry than many of his contemporaries, Spencer reveals that he has had plenty of other financial luck, too.

“We’ve had songs in various films and commercials which helps,” he says.

“I once bought a Gibson Les Paul Sunburst guitar off The Hollies’ Tony Hicks for £250 and thought I’d done well to sell it for £500 – but it’s now worth 75 grand!”

Any disappointment that he didn’t maximise profits there is offset by his dog, Dexter.

“He’s more famous than I am in the US,” says Spencer.

“He chose a $5 lottery ticket for me in 2012 and it won $250,000 – or $187,000 after Uncle Sam had taken his cut.

“I tried to claim that the dog wasn’t a taxpayer.

“Another time I was in Germany, I put a 200 euro note into a machine and won 5,000 euros.

“I put another 200 in and won 6,000.

“Everyone else in the band then put in 100 and nothing came out.

“I then put in another 200 and won 6,000, making 17,000 euros in total which I used to buy a Mini Cooper S.”

Some people say you shouldn’t wear jeans after you’ve turned 50.

But Spencer is having none of it.

“I hear these days they are selling jeans that are pre-ripped.

“I noticed my jeans had ripped at the knee only this morning so look at this... I’ve stitched it up myself.”

Now that’s rock and roll. And he still likes it.

* Sixties Gold is at Symphony Hall from 7.30pm on Tuesday, December 2, 2014. Tickets £29.50. Details www.thsh.co.uk