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The Beat Merchants
The Beat Merchants story begins in the leafy West Sussex town of Horsham, a short drive from Brighton and the south coast. In late 1962 aspiring guitarist Ralph Worman assembled a group called the Hustlers around a bunch of his schoolmates, including his cousin Geoff Farndell on bass, Gavin Daneski on rhythm guitar and Les Rogers on drums. The nervous teenagers - then aged 14 to 16 years old - made their live debut at the All Saints Youth Guild in nearby Roffey, and won a small write-up in the local paper which noted: "The Hustlers have been practising together now for six months and built up an expensive set of equipment, worth in all about £200."

The Beat Goes On album sleeve

Despite this impressive wealth of sonic hardware the group's repertoire was still instrumental, modelled, inevitably, on the Shadows. However, with the addition of vocalist Peter Toal they were soon able to expand into more vocal numbers, including a large helping of Chuck Berry songs. After Rogers broke his leg in a motorcycle accident, Vic Sendall of local rivals the Texans took over the drum seat and, often billed as Peter & The Hustlers, the group began to gather bookings aided by a local booking agency, Camida Promotions. By mid-1963 they were feeling sufficiently confident to attempt some demo recordings. Presented here for the first time they include an impressively raunchy Hippy Hippy Shake, an enjoyable, if scrambled, arrangement of Fortune Teller, the bluesy instrumental Moanin, and an early Beatles-inspired original Come On And Tell Me. The sound and performances are rough, but the group clearly had a spark, and after Camida submitted the demos to EMI, A&R chief Norrie Parramour responded with interest and promised to arrange a recording test somewhere down the line.

In the meantime the group continued to gather fans throughout the south coast region. "It was a very exciting time," remembers Geoff Farndell. "You could feel everything almost exploding from within. Everybody but everybody got caught up in it all. The kids would follow anything connected with bands everywhere - literally school-loads would go and see a band playing anywhere nearby."
August 3, 1963, was to be the flashpoint for the Hustlers' own personal explosion. That evening Peter & The Hustlers were booked at Horsham's St. Leonard's Hall as the opening act to an up and coming London group called the Rolling Stones. The Stone's first single, Come On had just entered the charts and a reported 619 people jammed into the 400 capacity hall for the gig. As hometown boys, the Hustlers got a warm reception and had every reason to be satisfied. Then the Rolling Stones took the stage. Clad in pale blue shirts, dark blue leather waistcoats, black trousers and Chelsea boots, the Stones charged into a set of high octane R&B that left the Horsham band speechless. Their worlds would never be the same. No more Cliff & the Shadows. No more Hippy Hippy Shake. That was the new direction.

The Beat Merchants

The new direction coincided with Pete Toal's decision to leave the Hustlers that September. "Pete Toal left to get married and emigrate to Australia," says Geoff, "We tried desperately to change his mind, but, regretfully, to no avail." Toal's replacement was Chris Boyle, one-time bassist for the Texans, whose tall, blond good looks made him a naturally charismatic frontman.
In their R&B image overall, the group cancelled all barbers' appointments, traded their collarless Beatle jackets in for matching wide-whale corduroy jeans and became the Merchants.

With Gavin Daneski cast in the Brian Jones role, focusing on harmonica as well as rhythm guitar, The Merchants' R&B repertoire quickly took shape. The decision to change was validated when they participated in the National Boys' Club Competition at the Brighton Dome. The Merchants blasted out versions of Come On and - in Vic Sendell's words - "some Bo
Diddley thing", and blew the judges away. Literally. "First place in the beat competition went to the lively Horsham fivesome, The Merchants," wrote a local paper, "but only after the judges called for a second hearing because, they said, they could not hear properly the first time. The group was too loud!"
The Merchants were moving onwards and upwards.

"I had just started working for a local brick-making firm," remembers Vic; "It got to the stage where we'd be playing down on the coast, so I'd get to bed at three in the morning and then have to go to work. I'd fall asleep whilst the director came round. In May '64 I saw my boss and told him we wanted to turn pro, to give the group a chance, and he just said, 'Good idea, son. If it doesn't work out, then come back in six months and the job will be yours, providing you start back at college again.'"

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"Well, it was three-and-a-half years later I knocked on his door," he adds, "and I got the job." In the meantime the group travelled to Abbey Road for their EMI recording test, where they ran through some songs, including Pretty Face, excitedly noting the Beatles' and Shadows' gear stacked in various corners of the room. A deal with Columbia was soon in the works, but then band grew impatient waiting for a commitment. "We were waiting for a contract to come through," says Vic, "So, in the meantime, we went to Mike Leander, the A&R man at Decca, who'd heard of us. We did a test-session with him too and then two days later, one contract arrived from Columbia and one from Decca." "We wanted to go with Decca," remembers Geoff, "because Leander was really on our wavelength. The version of Pretty Face that he recorded was twice as good as the one for Columbia."

For better or worse, however, the decision was made to go with Columbia, so the Leander-produced Pretty Face demo - if it still exists - remains locked in a vault somewhere. It's difficult though, to imagine a more exciting take of Pretty Face than the Columbia version, recorded that August and released as the group's debut single in the last week of September, 1964, backed by the tough bluesy Messin' With the Man. Reviews in the music papers were positive: "Sounds to me like an outfit which ought to develop rapidly into big sellers," chirped one. Others tempered their praise with a certain bemusement at the record's wild abandon: "It sets a frenzied, hectic pace, with harmonica and a crazily walloping drummer almost drowning the soloist. There is little melodic content, but you can't ignore the all-important beat." For having, "little melodic content," Pretty Face may be guilty as charged, but its stop-start hooks and energetic delivery make it inherently memorable, and its longevity has been proved in subsequent decades, with cover versions as disparate as Dr. Feelgood, the Crawdaddys, and the Stranglers' Jean-Jacques Burnel.

 

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They were bundled off on a nationwide package tour, with the Honeycombs, the Applejacks, Lulu & the Luvvers, Millie and Gene Vincent. The tour could be called 'a learning experience' for the group: "During this tour we actually began to learn how to play our instruments," laughs Vic, who picked up valuable drumming tips on the tour bus from the drummer of Vincent's backing band, the Londoners. The Beat Merchants were on the road almost constantly over the next two years. "I remember getting into the Top 10 of the local charts in Manchester and Birmingham with Pretty Face," says Geoff: "It was like Manchester one night, get in the van, Plymouth the next, drive all night and day, and get up to Brum for the following night."
The strides the band were making musically are evidenced on their second single, So Fine, on which Ralph Worman and Gavin Daneski lock together on a memorable guitar intro, before segueing into a fine harmony performance punctuated by Gavin's harp phrases and a shakin' backdrop of handclaps and percussion. 
The results didn't come easily however, and a certain amount of splicing and overdubbing was necessary in order to nail the middle break. "We never did get it quite right," laughs Vic. "We took 40 minutes to do Pretty Face," adds Geoff, "yet it took us eight hours to get So Fine." Released in February 1965, So Fine was backed by a swingin', upbeat version of She Said Yeah, based on the Animals' arrangement and featuring a great guitar break from Worman.

The group themselves, however, were not enthusiastic about the chosen A-side. "I don't like So Fine and never have done," says Vic: "I hated playing it." "You think it'll be a hit?" an incredulous Gavin told one paper at the time: "That's very nice of you. I wish I thought so too. Still, it's better than the other one." Noting that he played rhythm guitar and harmonica and sang on the record, he wondered, "How am I going to do that on stage?" Gavin was right: So Fine was not a big seller in Britain. However, it later turned into an unexpected windfall for the group when it was released in the States on the B-side of Freddie & the Dreamers' You Were Made For Me on the Tower label. The A-side went on to become a million-selling Number 1 hit, netting a onsiderable performance royalty payment for the Beat Merchants. Unfortunately the song was not a group composition or the cash rewards would have been substantially greater.

The group knew nothing of this though as they continued to slog around the live circuit in the first half of 1965. "In the first nine months, our van had done 126,000 miles," remembers Geoff, "then the engine packed up. Held together with lipstick that old van was." Ralph Worman also packed up around this time. Under pressure from his girlfriend, he left the group to get married and emigrate to Canada. His loss was felt acutely by the others, especially Geoff, "We're first cousins, our mothers being sisters, " he explains, "and because we were both 'only' kids and lived near each other, we grew up almost as brothers. Without Ralph there would have been no band - it was his idea in the first place. That's what made his parting even sadder. Sadly the marriage failed and he returned to England a few years later." His replacement on guitar was Rick MacEvoy. The arrival of Rick was closely followed by Geoff's temporary exit when he was sidelined for a month with a sudden bout of appendicitis. A friend of Rick's was brought in to substitute on bass while Geoff was recovering, and this led to some serious subterfuge within the ranks. "Geoff got ill and a mate of Rick's came in to play," recalls Vic, "and then the rest of the group decided to get rid of Geoff!" Vic was having none of it though. "This new bassist was very professional, but he had no feeling for the music," he says, "so I told our manager that if this line-up was kept then I'd leave." "Vic and I stated we would rather set up our own band and retain the Beat Merchant name," recounts Geoff. "Chris didn't seem to mind either way, but by now he also was not the friendliest of people. Vic and I, being Vic and I, got our own way. It was no secret that the 'sound' behind the band was due mainly to the blending of our bass and drums. We were a perfect match and read each other without thought or effort. It was rare! So Rick and his mate were duly dispatched and were never heard of again." Geoff returned, minus his appendix, and Alan Piggott from nearby Worthing was brought in on lead guitar. There was still dissent in the group, however.

 "Only a few weeks later, after another major row, we told Chris we could no longer work with him or his high and mighty attitude," says Geoff. "Chris was always a bit of an outsider," explains Vic: "I guess it wasn't really his fault, because being the singer he tended to get a lot of the limelight, which went to his head." "He was saying that he was a first-rate singer with a second-rate band," remembers Geoff, "whilst, if anything, it was the other way around."

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Instead of replacing Boyle, Geoff and Gavin took over lead vocals and the Beat Merchants became a four-piece. "We'd had a belly full of vocalists," says Geoff, summing up the attitude within the group at the time.

In the meantime, Columbia had decided to drop the group. "We had a two record release contract with EMI over a one year period," explains Geoff: "Then the whole thing was fouled up by our manager, who wasn't aware of the limits imposed by the contract - some manager, eh? He thought we could issue two records a year until told otherwise by Columbia. Consequently any extension of the original contract that may have been approved was totally lost and we found ourselves without a contract." The Beat Merchants were undeterred, however. Restructuring the band had given them a new lease of life. Alan's louder, more abrasive guitar sound, blended well with Geoff and Vic's powerful bass and drum dynamics, with Gavin's rhythm guitar adding strong support. "It was a period of great change for us," remembers Geoff, "and Gavin and I began writing during this period to complement and accommodate our singing."

The Daneski-Farndell songwriting team partnership proved to be a durable one, and by the end of 1965 the band felt ready to demo some of the new material. On December 14th, a session was booked at R.G. Jones' now legendary studio in Morden, Surrey where the four Merchants laid down demos of Gavin and Geoff's songs: Not Guilty, Was Before, What Have I Done, Does It Show and All She Wants Is Me. Though taken from less than pristine acetates (bearing the studio's own Oak label) the tracks presented here easily communicate the crackling energy of the sessions and the obvious chemistry between the four musicians. With its propulsive rhythm and memorable lyrics Not Guilty is a clear standout, with Geoff taking lead vocals for the cleverly constructed courtroom metaphor. However, the urgent What Have I Done - sung by Gavin - runs a close second, driven by rampaging bass and guitar riffs and infectious 'Oh-no-no' back-ups before building to a desperate, screaming conclusion. Had they been released at the time, either track would by now be considered a top drawer British freakbeat track. The other three songs meanwhile, demonstrate the more melodic side of the group, without ever being remotely lightweight. Geoff and Gavin harmonize able throughout, while Vic's skills on drums are particularly evident on All She Wants Is Me.

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The demos were shopped around to various labels, but incredibly - despite the obvious strength of both the songwriting and the performances - there were no takers. "To this day," says Geoff, "although they sound dated now, we felt the sound we produced on this particular set of records was way, way before its time. But regretfully, no record company either agreed or if they did they did not have the guts to take it up - until now!"
Just after Christmas, a few weeks after the sessions, the Beat Merchants headed across the Channel for some dates in Germany and France, playing a New Year's show in Munich.

A few months later they were back in Europe, for three weeks of gigs in Switzerland. The constant touring, and the long sets demanded in the clubs in Germany in particular, helped fine tune the group's sound still further, as was evidenced when they played a triumphant homecoming gig in Horsham in the middle of '66. "Whilst we were pro we only played once at Horsham," recounts Vic: "A lot of people thought we'd become too big-headed. We'd been out in Europe, and our manager was really raking around for work for us, and we ended up with a gig at the local secondary school, which had a huge hall. We played with Four and Seven-Eighths, who we were mates with, and they weren't a bad band, so all the kids danced and clapped to them, the curtains closed, we got our gear on, and remember we'd just come off three months of playing eight hours a day."

"We ran right through 45 minutes of material, hardly stopping between songs. Nobody danced. They all just stood there staring! I'll remember that until the day I'm put in the ground. Bloody fantastic! They just couldn't believe it! The other group had been playing at 50 watts and we used 100-watt amps, right up full. We also had better, clearer amps, and we were very tight. We totally knocked them out! And only four years earlier I'd been at school with some of those guys, dated the same girls perhaps!" The hometown victory, however, turned out to be something of a farewell gig. Disheartened by the lack of interest in the demos, Vic, like Pete Toal and Ralph Worman before him, was by now feeling the itch to get married and settle down. "Vic, thinking we were never going to succeed after all this time, decided he also wanted to marry and get a 'proper' job," explains Geoff with more than a hit of sarcasm: "It was around September 1966 and he was just 21 - well past it?"

After a final gig in Worthing the Beat Merchants disbanded. "And I" bemoans Geoff, "at the ripe old age of 19 had become 'bandless'!" After the band's demise, Geoff and Gavin decided to stick together and move to London to try their chances as songwriters. Together they wrote well over 100 more songs, and signed a publishing contract with Screen Gems. The pair recorded several demos at Regent Sound in early 1967, handling all the vocals and instruments with the exception of piano and drums, which were played by session men.

Three of those tracks are featured here, among them the catchy Rich Girl, a social class-themed period snapshot, and the wonderfully breezy romantic ballad On A Summer's Day.

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The Merseys, who'd had a hit Top 5 with Sorrow the previous April, were impressed enough to record Rich Girl for an upcoming single. However, it was not to be.  "About three weeks before it was due to be released they changed their minds and recorded something else, which I'm glad to say completely and utterly flopped," laughs Geoff: "And that was the closest we ever got to making a lot of money!" Daneski and Farndell returned to Horsham in early 1968, after 18 months in the songwriting game. Geoff teamed up with Vic again to form the three-piece Permissive Society, and they played locally through the end of the decade, before calling it a day and settling down to 'normal' jobs and 'normal' family lives in Horsham. Their years as Beat Merchants were packed and pasted away in scrapbooks, their unreleased acetates tucked carefully into boxes and cupboards, a lost legacy waiting to be claimed. Thirty-five years is a long time to wait, but with The Beat Goes On the Beat Merchants unheard legacy can now be revealed. Rejected at the time, today these tracks can now be fully appreciated by a new generation of fans. Sadly, Gavin Daneski didn't live long enough to see his work validated in this way; he was killed in a car crash several years ago.
This album is dedicated to his memory, and, even though, in his band's own words, "It won't be the same as it was before," the music was, and always will be, 'So Fine'.

MIKE STAX
Ugly Things magazine, August 2000