THE MAGIC BUS
Music was my first love...

by Douglas Kew


"Music was my first love, and it will be my last." ...John Miles

In The Beginning

I think I was singing as early as my conception! As far back as I can remember, I've always loved music.
My Mam loved to play the organ and she could sing like an angel. My Dad could play anything on the piano, from blues to classical. Although he read sheet music as easily as most people can read a newspaper, he preferred to play without it. My sisters both played piano. Not me. I didn't want to learn. I wanted a guitar! Music was a seed within me, and as I grew, so did the seed.

Twist And Shout
 I remember when I was just three or four years old, my Dad made me a guitar out of cardboard, and rubber bands for strings. I strummed that wobbly thing hard as I belted out  "Twist and shout" and "Hippy, hippy shake"! It was fantastic! Just after that, I got a real four-string plastic "Beatles" guitar. I soon lost interest when I discovered that I couldn't make it play. It would be twenty more years before I would pick up another guitar.

The Sound Of Music

There was always music in our house, my two older sisters made sure of that. They bought all of the latest records and played them with extreme frequency on their "Dansette" mono. Although I grew up listening to their stuff, which was mostly Motown, I leaned more toward rock and folk-rock.

I remember when my Mam bought "The sound of music" LP back in 1965 and played it over and over. She would sing along to that record with effortless control and precision. She could have been Julie Andrews. What I don't admit to very often is the fact that I knew the words to every song on that LP. I could sing them all with my high voice....and did! Show tunes....scary stuff! I've always had a phonographic memory. Some people remember images in great detail...I remember songs and jingles that way.

The Kit

 Being extremely shy as a youngster, I never dared to sing in public. No, I wanted to play the drums. My brother-in-law was a drummer and many an evening I would sit in awe and watch him as he, after a night at the pub, would play "air drums" perched on the edge of our settee, accompanied by Dave Edmunds' "Black Bill".

At the age of seventeen I got my first drum kit. I say drum kit for want of a more befitting name. It consisted of a marching band bass drum with no legs, a busted old snare drum complete with sticky tape to hold the wires, a rickety music stand for support, an old floor tom with pigskin, a cracked hi-hat, and a thin, bent ride cymbal....and no stool. I had no idea how to play them but there was no holding me back. I had a drum kit and was now, officially, a drummer! All I knew was that I was supposed to cross my hands, I'd seen drummers do that. But where did that bass drum sound come from? Surely not from my feet...that was impossible. Well, it was for a while.
 Much to everyone's annoyance, I practiced in earnest. I was going to figure it out come hell or high water.

The Epiphany

 Then it dawned on me. It must be the kit!
So, much to my parents' and my Fiancee's chagrin, I went out and had my Dad sign for a loan for a new "Olympic" set. Although this kit was the cheap end of "Premier's" range, I thought it was the cat's ass!
The wonderful new drums sure fuelled my fire, but guess what? I still couldn't play the damn things! More practice, more frustration.

 Then finally, one day, just like magic, it came together. I could keep a rudimentary beat. My hands and feet were working in sync....much to the delight of my weary neighbours, I'm sure.

Alright Now

 My best mate, Mik Thomas, had been playing acoustic guitar for quite a few years back then. He went out and bought an Epiphone semi-acoustic....and filled it with expanding foam to stop the feedback at high volume! We couldn't wait to jam together. Our first venue...his Granda's washhouse. We belted out "Smoke on the water" and "Alright now" as many times as we could. This was our repertoire. Eventually we upgraded our venue and moved to my Dad's garage in our backstreet. There, we made some fans I'm sure. All the residents would love our loud music, right?
I would have loved to continue my musical journey with Mik, but it was not to be.

Bad Co.

It wasn't long before I hooked up with guitarist Mick McGough from Spennymoor. We Knew each other from our apprentice jobs with Sedgefield Council. He was interested in forming a group to play "Free" and "Bad Co." stuff. We rehearsed at Spenny Rec along with my sister, Annette, on vocals, and Nigel Davies on bass.
After our debut gig at a tiny community hall, things were going great until a drunken Mick McGough fell off the stage during a rehearsal where we were auditioning for a new band member. Needless to say, the guy in the audience wasn't impressed!
The band needed to find a new guitarist.
Drums - Olympic.
My favourite song with this band, "Can't get enough" by Bad Co.
Exit stage left, Mick McGough.

 

Motorbikin'

Enter stage right, Mik Herring, the guy in the audience....and the third Mik!
The magic bus was here, so I hopped on.

 Mik Herring was an experienced and talented performer who immediately took Nigel, Annette and me under his wing. I bought a used set of Ludwig drums and AZ cymbals for four hundred quid in Jarrow and "The Suzie Small Band" was born. (my sister, Annette, on vocals, is just under five feet tall.) Our first gig was at the Cons Club in Seaham. I was so excited, I didn't even mind having to get there on the back of  Ian Peart's (our roadie/manager) Yamaha 400. There was no room in the van, and anyway, I was just the drummer!
So, with sticks safely in pocket, off I zoomed up the highway, numb with cold, my blood hot with passion.
It was a great gig. First of only three. My sister left, and The Suzie Small band was no more.
Drums - Ludwig.
My favourite song with this band, "Sultans of swing" by Dire Straits.

Slowhand

And so there were three. Mik Herring adopted the name Mike (slowhand) French, and "The Mike French Trio" was born.
At nineteen years of age, I went on to play lots of venues with this band in the tough North East club circuit. It was tough. We got "paid off" halfway through our first show! Packing up all of our gear in front of the audience was a humbling task, and one that I won't ever forget. A great lesson.
But we made it through. We got back on that wild horse and went on to play many, more successful gigs.
Drums - Ludwig.
My favourite song with The Mike French Trio, "Message in a bottle" by The Police.

Solo No More

Next stop was seasoned singer and performer, Graham Patrick, alias Graham Gibson, aka Dean Solomon. Graham was looking to expand his one-man show and stole Mik, our band leader and mentor. I soon followed! Poor Nigel was left behind. Another casualty of the ruthless music bizz.
The magic bus doesn't come around very often, so, when it does, you'd better be ready to climb on board! I leaped on.

The Dean Solomon Band is born. Graham's connections and charm propelled us to new heights. We played some really classy places, including a five year stretch in residence at The Europa Hotel (Blackwell Grange Moat House) in Darlington, Co. Durham. There, I got to rub shoulders with lots of stars. Susan George, Thora Hird, Rolf Harris, Emile Ford, Bill Fraser (Snudge), Cilla Black, and many more. Rolf Harris called me a minstrel and signed his autograph on a photo, which, when turned ninety degrees, miraculously transformed into a caricature of a kangaroo. Amazing! How did I get so lucky? I was just an ordinary kid from Trimdon. It was magic!

The Little Waster
 With Graham on lead vocal and oozing charm, we couldn't lose. Mik on bass/vocal/keyboards/lead guitar/rhythm guitar was a band unto himself, and an awesome guy, loaded with talent, kindness, and a fantastic sense of humour. His Fender Rhodes sounded beautiful.
We had solid work, and a solid reputation, for many years. I was pro!...in theory. Supplementing my sometimes lean income with part-time regular jobs...like flogging spuds door to door from the back of Tommy Redfern's wagon.
I was thrilled to share the bill with Chubby Brown and Bobby Thompson on quite a few occasions. Roy (Chubby) was a very warm and friendly bloke. He used to run his new material by us in the dressing room to see what we thought. He even gave us all free copies of his first LP. Bobby Thompson was a soft-spoken, well-dressed, gentleman...a far cry from his stage persona.

Pink Shirts And Red Roses

I learned a lot from Graham and Mik. Graham laid down the law and enforced a strict "no booze on stage" policy after I fell off my drums during one of our first gigs together! It never happened again. I was shown how to be a professional; to maintain the respect of the audience; to always be on time and to always dress for the part. Presentation was everything. For some gigs we even dressed in black three-piece suits, ties, pink shirts...and a fresh rose in our lapels. It was sweltering but had a wonderful effect! I was always learning, always keen. There was very little rehearsal. Most of our songs were learned "in situe"....on the stage. Some time later, we were joined by virtuoso guitarist Andy Power.

Bandaged And Bleeding
 Graham's repertoire was massive and we just followed his lead. In fact, his song list was so extensive it spawned the idea of performing a twenty four hour non stop music marathon. We did it. Somewhere in a club in Middlesbro'. Twenty four hours non stop without repeating a single song! All for charity. The place was packed with cheering supporters for our last hour. With bleeding and bandaged guitar fingers and blistered drum hands, I think we all slept for two days after that. Great times, great and lasting friendships. We were on the crest of a wave...but the universe had other plans.
Drums - Ludwig.
My favourite song with The Dean Solomon Band, "Make it with you" by Bread.

Young Parisians

 My wanderlust got the better of me, and after several successful years with The Dean Solomon Band, I decided to up stakes and head over to the South of France where I planned to sell Coca Cola to the tourists on the beach. What!? Never made it that far. Me and my friend, travelling companion Bob Lowe, only made it as far as Paris, where we discovered that they won't speak English...not don't...but won't!
 We settled into our campsite at the Point De Boulogne and cranked up the car stereo... I still needed music. Though there seemed to be a million campers there, we felt isolated. Nobody spoke English. Then, out of the blue, a man approached us and asked us if we spoke English.
"YES!" we said.
"Then turn down that F%$#@!ng music!'  was his French-tinged request.

St. Helier
After roaming the streets of Paris, sampling wine and ordering strange things from French menus, things that we thought were familiar but arrived at our table in a completely different guise, we packed up the Lancia and headed for St. Malo on the west coast, and on to St. Helier, Jersey, in the Channel Islands.
Bob had had enough and headed back home to England. I stayed on for a few months and lodged at my sister's place. She had moved there years before. It was great to see her and my nephews again.

Bend It Just A Little Bit

After working construction for a long, boring week...the magic bus showed up again.
I landed a job as the house drummer at a fancy nightclub in St. Helier (42nd St.), sharing the stage with "The Marmalade" and "Dozy, Beaky, Mik, and Titch, (Dave Dee had moved on...must have caught his own magic bus).
I was in my element! What luck. What luck indeed. My final week at the club would usher in another surprise....Rene and Renato! This duo was still riding the wave of success created by their recent U.K. #1 single, "Save your love". They were coming to the club to do a one-week show, and I was to be their drummer!

The Seat Of My Pants
They were a great couple, very kind. Their musical director was not so impressed after our initial pre-show meeting where, after handing me the complete sheet music for the show, I informed him that I couldn't read music. I didn't know any of their stuff except their hit "Save your love". He was horrified....I was terrified! All he could do was give me a set list of their songs and hope for the best. I'd never heard any of them.
 "Don't take your eyes off me." he said. I didn't. I monitored his every expression...from terror to relief....as he sat, deceptively calm, at his keyboards.
We made it! One whole week flying by the seat of my pants! A great experience.
Looking back now, I must have had some moxy.
In the words of Bob Dylan, "Ah! But I was so much older then, I'm younger than that now."
Drums - Tama.
My favourite song with the house band, "Just the way you are" by Billy Joel.

Lost And Found

 Upon returning home to the U.K., I felt lost. The magic bus was nowhere in sight. My former band mates had a new drummer, Dave Wilkinson, and I felt a pang of remorse every time I watched them perform.
I would do some drop-in work for various bands, but always as an outsider. I yearned for the camaraderie which comes from being a full-time band member. Where was that bus?

It showed up once more. On board were two thirds of a disbanded trio, Dave Lee Michaels and Louise Winter. I was on that bus in a heartbeat. Dave and Louise were amazing singers. Dave was a genius at the keyboard and bass pedals. Our three-part harmonies were awesome. Something just clicked, and SHAABU was born.
Finding a booking agent proved to be the toughest bit, but after a few try-outs Shaabu was being sought after by many of them. They are attracted to money like sharks are attracted to blood. No matter, we were in!
In the intense two years that followed, the work load was such that I had to request at least one day off per week. Turned out, we got a Tuesday off...the lowest-paying day.

A Van And A Love Triangle
 Toward the end of an amazing run, and during a three-month gig in Estartit, Spain, Shaabu was on the verge of break-up due to in-band conflict...me and Dave were both in love with Louise!
Dave's sudden departure from the band left us high and dry..and broke...in Spain. No gig, no money. So, along with our friend and roadie, Pete Kell, Louise and I had to find work cleaning holiday apartments after the tourists had left, and on top of that our van had a broken prop shaft. We were stranded twelve hundred miles from home.
 I think the venue was keen to get rid of us. One morning (more like afternoon!) we woke up to find that our van was miraculously repaired. We drove back to England where we played out the remainder of our  commitments. Not an easy task with all that love-triangle tension!

Another one bites the dust. Learned a lot though. Harmonies, precision, phrasing, and the odd lead vocal. All great stuff.
Drums - Ludwig.
My favourite song with Shaabu, "After the goldrush" by Prelude.

The Calgary Cowboy

One of my best mates, Garry Taylor, an extremely talented drummer/guitarist/vocalist/entertainer/magician/lion tamer/..and funny as hell...was hugely instrumental in the next chapter of my musical journey. In fact, I think he had been driving the bus for a while! It was Garry who had introduced me to Nigel Davies, Mik Herring and Graham Patrick back in the days of  The Mike French Trio and Dean Solomon Band. Now, here he was recommending me for his vacant drumming position with Calgary entertainer, Gordie West! Bless your cotton socks Garry.
Once more onto the magic bus!

Waltz Across Britain

As Gordie West's drummer, I travelled extensively throughout the whole U.K. Long periods on the road staying in motels and hotels, friends houses and fans houses (Gordie's fans, not mine. I didn't have any.) all over Britain. My favourite lodging places were with Trevor and Brenda Rhodes in Leeds, and Chalky and Joyce White in Andover. I remember there was a tame blackbird that hopped around the room at Trevor's house, he loved animals...and trains! Trevor and Brenda ran Gordie's fan club and they would show up unexpectedly at the most out-of-the-way gigs, just to lend a hand and give support. Wonderful, kind souls.
Chalky and Joyce would always request "Waltz across Texas" and would dance all night. Without fail, every time we were ready to leave Chalky's house, he would shower us with gifts which had fallen off the back of his delivery truck. Marvelous!

Atlantic Crossing
Gordie was an ambassador for the Calgary Stampede, and after playing a string of gigs at top U.K. hotels during an Air Canada promotional tour, including one at the Canadian High Commission in Trafalgar Square, London, we were rewarded with, among many other things, first-class return air tickets to Canada. Awesome!
 True to form, I got myself engaged to a girl I'd known for years, a stranger really, just before my trip to Canada. It was not to be.
Upon arriving in Calgary and meeting Gordie's hot, blonde, bass player, Patti Lynn, I was in love again!
Within three months, Patti and I were married! Needless to say, my new bride and I decided to make our new home in her home, Calgary, close to her beautiful kids. Goodbye Gordie West.
Drums - Pearl.
My favourite song with Gordie West, "The Auctioneer".

The Rose

Jumping onto the magic bus once again, this time with my wife, Patti Lynn on bass and vocals, and singer/songwriter/guitarist John McNeil from Cochrane, Alberta, and lead guitarist Frank St. Lawrence from New Brunswick..The Cherokee Rose Band was born.
For six months, playing country and country-rock, we toured for long stretches across British Columbia and Alberta until Patti and I finally admitted to ourselves that we'd had enough of the road, and the music bizz.
We left, started a snow-removal company, and at the ripe old age of thirty-one I retired from music for good....or so we thought.
Drums - Pearl.
My favourite song with The Cherokee Rose Band, "Copperhead Road" by Steve Earle.

Neil Diamond

Fourteen years passed by as the music slowly faded into the past, a distant memory, revisited only by the occasional jam with my good and talented friends Jeff Vircoe, and Mary Ellen Bruce.
God, however, with his infinite sense of humour, decided that this state of affairs was way too safe and boring. He wasn't having any of it. He drove the magic bus right up to my front door!
One ordinary day, the seemingly inconsequential collision between my voice and a karaoke track of "Love on the rocks" was witnessed by my wife Patti. An extremely creative being, and not afraid of adventure, she pounced on the opportunity to create a travelling one-man show. To my horror, I was to be the one-man!
Solitaire, a tribute to Neil Diamond, was born. Patti gave it life and form.

Behind Every Sucessful Man
Single-handedly, she assembled all of the necessary components required to build the show. Finances, venues, equipment, transport. You name it, she had it covered.
I was terrified. I'd never done anything like this before. No drums to hide behind. No excuse.
Patti had faith in me. She tirelessly coached and mentored me. She taught me about stage presence, audience interaction, and how to sing right into the eyes of the crowd. It worked. Within six months I had gone from being a relatively shy truck driver to being a black-haired, sparkly shirt wearing, rose giving performer with forty-two songs in my new repertoire! Who'd a thunk it!

Eighteen Wheels And A Dozen Roses

After selling Doug's Trucking we hit the road with The Solitaire Show travelling  thousands of miles across British Columbia, Alberta, and Saskatchewan. The show looked great, sounded great, and felt awesome! It was a hit. Each show was a three-hour performance consisting of three forty-five minute sets. Patti ran sound, lights, quizzes, sang duets with me, took stage and audience photos. promo shots, handled P.R., and a myriad other tasks needed to run a successful show.
The money was an eye-opener too. Sometimes we could earn more from one show than my present full-time monthly earnings. Tribute shows are very lucrative!
Kudos to Patti, such a sweetheart. She took a back seat in order to promote my career. Hers was always the better voice. Indeed, she had played and sang with some of the best in the biz, yet here she was, in the background, supporting me.

Laid To Rest

Not all rides on the magic bus end up at the place you'd expect.
After the sudden death of Patti's son, Dean, at the young age of thirty-five, the bus came to a screeching halt. Our hearts and spirits were broken. Everything lost its meaning. We were devastated.
After three long weeks living at the hospital, by Dean's bedside in intensive care, watching her beloved son slowly slip into an irreversible coma, Patti said her heart-wrenching goodbyes to him knowing that she had seen him alive for the last time. There was nothing more that could be done for him.

  Patti flew in to Lloydminster where we were scheduled to perform the remainder of our show commitments. I had arrived there earlier, driving out from Vancouver Island in the van with all of the equipment.
One afternoon  in February, 2005, during a family telephone conference, Dean's life support was turned off. I just can't describe the overwhelming feeling of despair.
A few hours later we had to perform a show in Qu'appelle, SK.,. Hardest show ever. A testament to Patti's courage and commitment. She still tried to sing a duet with me...even through her huge tears. I'll never ever forget that night.

After The Thrill Is Gone

So ended Solitaire. The passion was gone. The joy was gone. The meaning was gone.
We performed our final show in the place where it began, our hometown of Parksville, B.C., to a warm and comforting audience of good friends, including our dear friends Jeff, Wanda, and Chris Connelly who were our biggest supporters.
Guitars - Vantage 12 string, Yamaha 12 string.
My favourite song with the Solitaire show, "I am, I said." by Neil Diamond.

The Incredible Journey

Now, seven years on, I can look back upon my musical journey with fond memories. Good times, fun times. I didn't get famous, didn't get rich, but I wouldn't trade one second of it!
Music runs through my veins. It sustains me, comforts me, relaxes me and excites me. It brings me both joy and sadness. More than any fragrance or image, music can instantly recreate a place and an emotion from any time in my life.
I thank God for that magic bus. It's taken me places I'd only dreamed of. What a ride!

The Engineer

Well, 2016, after a recent heart attack, I thought I'd better get my original songs recorded and released. Time was something I couldn't count on any more. That beautiful bus showed up at my stop, and I'm surprised to say that I was waiting and ready to go! On the front the destination reads "Adventure" and inside the bus is my new friend and co-adventurer, Ian Stewart.
He has agreed  to help record, mix, and master some of my original songs! The first one to be released is "I'm comin' home"........The second is "Truckin' On The Ice Road"

 

 

 

 

 

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