Nick Hudson meets Brian Yeates, one of the true ‘golden oldies’ of pop.
They say that old rockers never die, they merely get their hits out for a new generation of music lovers.
And that’s certainly true of Midlands musical impresario Brian Yeates, who can now rightly claim the title of “golden oldie” of pop.
As he and son Ashley bring the biggest Sounds of the Sixties revival show in Europe to Tamworth on August 8, he joins top-of-the-bill bands Gerry and The Pacemakers and The Searchers in celebrating 50 glorious years in the music business.
Today the Canwell-based legend surveys a glorious career spanning half a century of supporting the finest names in our recent musical history – first as an ordinary member of a group, then band leader and, finally, pop-picker extraordinaire.
He can lay claim to have had musical luminaries like Frankie Vaughan, Lulu, Des O’ Connor and Barbara Dickson pass through his hands and has played alongside or promoted everyone from The Kinks to the Kaiser Chiefs, with one common thread running through the six decades – the “Swinging Sixties”.
“They don’t make music like that any more. I’ve moved with the times – but one thing’s for sure, the old timers of the 60s scene are still very much in demand,” says Brian, now a pop pensioner himself at 65.
“It was the best musically and hundreds of thousands of people worldwide still want to see those bands and solo artistes perform today.”
Birmingham-born Brian, who at 15 joined his brothers working in a butcher’s shop in his native Small Heath, had the rhythm of life coursing through his veins.
He was determined to live out his dream of playing in a band and in 1959, aged 15, joined Birmingham’s Mickey Harris and The Hawkes as a guitarist.
Brian was hooked and in 1961 when Mickey left, he was able to form his own musical group, Mark Stuart and The Crestas.
He and the six-piece band had a good run. By day he worked in the office as agent Brian Yeates, sorting out all the UK venues for the group, and at night he metamorphosed into vocalist and band leader Mark Stuart.
“I enjoyed playing in the band and finding myself allied to the whole entertainment scene, but I suppose I loved being a music agent more,” he admits.
It was a period of huge global awakening – the time of the Cuban Crisis and, on November 22, 1963, the darkest news of all that US president John F Kennedy had been assassinated in Dallas.
“I can remember where I was that night – supporting Dave Berry and The Cruisers, who had a big hit with The Crying Game, at Kidderminster Town Hall,” he recalls.
In 1964, Brian’s Cresta sound merged into the John Bull Breed, a seven-piece band with two saxophonists.
Brian was joined by bass player John Lodge, who had started with Brum’s Moody Blues but didn’t want to go to London when the capital city lured them.
Brian’s band released a single, Can’t Chance a Break Up, penned by none other than Ike Turner.
It didn’t chart but got lots of plays and still proves popular at Mod Conventions around Europe. Today, rare vinyl copies of the John Bull Breed version, which was rereleased a few years ago, sell on the internet for £500.
The high point in the band’s history was April 17, 1964, at Coventry Locarno, when they supported the Rolling Stones, whose new release Don’t Fade Away was giving them their first UK hit at No.3 in the pop charts.
In 1967, Brian left the world of playing in bands for good and took a job at Birmingham agency ADSEL, an off-shoot of record company Polydor, as a promoter with the task of getting live appearances for acts in major ballrooms up and down the country.
As a promoter, the first record he worked on was the Bee Gees’ debut hit on both sides of the Atlantic, New York Mining Disaster 1941.
It was issued to radio stations with a blank white label listing only the song title, adding to the rumour at the time they were actually a secret codename for the Beatles.
Some DJs assumed this was the Fab Four’s new single and started playing the song in heavy rotation. It all helped the song climb into the Top 20 in both the UK and the United States.
“It all added to the mystery, as their manager, Robert Stigwood, had just joined the Beatles’ Brian Epstein’s management company,” says Brian.
He took a year out before forming Gazette Entertainment in Birmingham with former band manager John Parsons, who went on to run clubs, including Birmingham’s famous Elbow Room, and now lives in Spain.
John’s move into club management saw Brian take another huge step forward in 1969, forming his own company, Brian Yeates Associates.
In the 70s he concentrated on booking acts like The Who, Fleetwood Mac, Roxy Music, Kenny Rogers and Dave Edmunds.
The scene moved on from town halls and civic halls to social clubs and theatres. Regularly his acts filled the 500-seater Rover Club in Solihull, Austin Club at Longbridge and Dunlop in Wolverhampton.
But while music genre changed, the sounds of the 60s just wouldn’t die. Brian continued to promote acts like Gerry and The Pacemakers, The Searchers, The Swinging Blue Jeans and Billy Fury – adding a comedian and solo singer to the bill.
“They’d do early spots of an evening at the Austin or Rover clubs, then do a late show at somewhere like Barbarella’s nightspot in Birmingham,” says Brian.
In the 80s, he became an agent who moved into management, but always remaining faithful to the Brumbeat groups and his roots.
He represented for the next quarter of a century Rod Allen’s The Fortunes and also looked after the Rockin’ Berries and the Ivy League touring band, whose original members Ken Lewis and John Carter both hailed from his birthplace of Small Heath.
Next up it was the turn of Russ Abbot and the Black Abbots, The Dooleys and the UK’s first boy band, The Dallas Boys, to benefit from his promoting skills.
These acts proved a big hit in summer seasons at Butlins but as the Nineties and Noughties arrived the club scene died and cabaret disappeared. Gone were The Night Out and King’s Theatres of the region.
Taking a long, hard look at the business, Brian and his co-director elder son, Ashley, rolled with the rock as theatre became the venue for the ageless music stars.
And for nearly a decade now they have promoted Rock ’n’ Roll 50s and 60s shows at places like the Lichfield Garrick, Birmingham Town Hall and Symphony Hall.
The music of the 60s probably remains the greatest business attraction for Brian, but he admits the boogie and glam rock era of the late 70s and early 80s were the “best time for the music industry and entertainment”.
As for his favourite acts, he says: “Well that has to be The Fortunes who did me proud for 25 years – plus the Ivy League.”
n Gerry And The Pacemakers, The Searchers, The Move, PJ Proby, Alvin Stardust and The New Amen Corner play The Bowl in Burntwood on Sunday, August 9. Tickets: Adult £28/ Child £20 (01543 412121 or www.theticketfactory.com)