When the discussion turns to which record deserves the title of the most authentic British rock ‘n’ roll disc ever made, one of the prime contenders is a 1960 classic sung by a north Londoner born Freddie Heath.
Except that, by then, the frontman born in Willesden on 23 December 1935 had changed his name to Johnny Kidd, and gathered the crack British musicians who backed him as the Pirates. The group included session drummer supreme Clem Cattini along with Joe Moretti on the memorable lead guitar, Alan Caddy on second guitar and Brian Gregg on bass. The song, of course, was the truly timeless ‘Shakin’ All Over.’
The group had had two lesser chart entries, including one earlier in 1960 with ‘You Got What It Takes,’ their cover of Marv Johnson’s US pop and R&B hit of the year before. But ‘Shakin’ All Over,’ recorded at Abbey Road Studios and first intended as a b-side, was a truly British take on the rock ‘n’ roll phenomenon, original and exciting rather than merely second-hand and imitative. It topped the UK chart in August 1960.
Kidd and the Pirates’ reputation was further enhanced by their dynamic live show, and the influential stage presence of their cutlass-wielding, eyepatch-wearing frontman. “When I come out of the stage door,” Kidd later told Record Mirror, “I look completely different without the patch – nobody recognises me. There are sometimes five hundred kids there, and I pass without a murmur!”
The group’s six further UK chart singles never matched the achievements of their No. 1, but they remained a force to be reckoned with even after the arrival of The Beatles. A new line-up was established featuring Mick Green, who forged a deserved name as one of the UK’s finest rock guitarists. In 1963, they scored their next-biggest hit with a song clearly influenced by the Merseybeat sound, ‘I’ll Never Get Over You.’
Another new line-up, featuring future Deep Purple Mk I bassist Nick Simper, was emerging just at the fateful point on 7 October 1966 when Kidd was killed in a car accident, at the age of just 30. Later reunions of the Pirates helped to keep his memory alive, as did the fact that practically every beat group worth their salt had ‘Shakin’ All Over’ in their repertoire, from the Searchers to the Surfaris and from The Who to Humble Pie.
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