The band, who drove to gigs in an eye-catching yellow ambulance, have been recalling the part they played in the County Town's swinging nightlife of yesteryear. Maidstone-based band The Zephyrs were among bands mentioned in an article in The Way We Were, when Maidstone man Mike Loft was recalling just a few of the bands who played to hundreds of young revellers in the town centre in the 60s.
The Zephyrs formed in 1957 as the Sharp's Creamy Skiffle Group, according to one founding member, Maurice Reynolds, who still lives in Maidstone. He said the band was formed after the co-owner of Sharp's Toffees, Edward Sharp, needed a group to play at a dance. In the coming months The Zephyrs moved closer to playing rock 'n' roll and in 1959 became what Mr Reynolds describes as a "multi purpose group".
The line-up was:
- Maurice Reynolds, the drummer;
- Norman Hoskins, guitarist
- Allan Flood, bass guitarist
- Eric Snowball, lead guitarist
- Sheila Baker and Les Beresford - singers
- Tim Hughes, Rhythm
- Alan Sweet, Lead.
- Dave Webber Tenor Sax Tamborine and Vocals
The band played in villages and at venues from The Royal Star Hotel in Maidstone, to Chiesmans in Pudding Lane, Maidstone, and alongside such groups as Manfred Mann and the Swinging Blue Jeans.
Needing a vehicle to get their equipment to the various venues, they bought an old ambulance and painted it yellow, with all the members' names on. Mr Reynolds said: "It was an area of quite a few venues. We were always very, very smart; we all went on with blue and silver suits. There were about three or four very good groups in the Maidstone area, of which we considered ourselves to be the best."
In the early days, they would take home around £10 a night, to be shared among the band, but that rose to as much as £100 a night by 1966. "We were very successful," he said. "The Big Weekend has been a big reminder of when we played at the Maidstone Carnival - it was absolutely superb."
Of the swinging nightlife in Maidstone, he said: "Maidstone was a lot livelier. The only difference from then compared with now was that everything finished at midnight." He added: "They were superb times. I think I speak for all the rest when I say that we'd never wish for anything else .W e really enjoyed it. I was really pleased when I read the article that people remember us."
Mr Hoskins, now of Aylesford, said: "I was a member of that local group and it was so nice to read that people remember us after so many years. The group played at the Kent Candy Ball in March 1962 and it was indeed a very memorable evening."
A band on the brink of stardom and another whose fame is still remembered 40 years on came together to compare notes on the music business.
The Zephyrs, a band with a massive following around Maidstone in the 1960s, and Billy Wears Dresses, who have just released their first single, were brought together as a result of an article in The Way We Were.
Ian Snowball, drummer with Billy Wears Dresses, was delighted to see his uncle, Zephyrs' lead guitarist Eric Snowball, in action in photographs featured in the Kent Messenger last month, playing in the Royal Star Hotel, Maidstone.
Costumes Eric and guitarist Norman Hoskins were reunited at ESE music shop, Upper Fant Road, Maidstone, which Eric runs, with the full line-up of Billy Wears Dresses: Ian, guitarist and lead singer Nick Spink, guitarist and vocalist Martin Loft and bass player Paul Moss.
Two other members of The Zephyrs were unable to be present - guitarist Allan Flood and drummer Maurice Reynolds.
Costumes were just one of the many talking points. The Zephyrs all wore smart, shiny green, and later blue, suits on stage, while Billy Wears Dresses wear a variety of clothes, the highlight being a fluffy blue top singer Nick got his sister to make for him when he was 16, in homage to his hero Captain Sensible, the founder of The Damned.
Names too, proved ice breakers. It was Eric who thought up the name The Zephyrs. He said: "I just used to work on them and thought it was a good name. Then I found something with logos with Zs on and put them on our stuff."
Billy Wears Dresses' memorable logo of a man in fishnets, boots and with a can of lager, was dreamt up by Nick to show, not a man in drag, but a man who looks like he's wearing a dress for a dare.
Venues, however, prove more elusive for bands today, according to Paul. "There aren't the venues like there were and people don't go out as much."But reaching an audience these days is easier, thanks to one invention not even dreamt of when The Zephyrs were playing to packed halls - the internet.
Nick said: "It is different these days. The music industry is getting used to a new way of working. If a young person gets a CD they say now "you've wasted your money". It's all about downloads." The group have their own website, kept by Mark Lawrence and Chris Harvey, in charge of their PR, while The Zephyrs' main publicity machine was their very own yellow ambulance - an eyecatching band bus they travelled around in. But neither were in it for the money.
Eric said: "I have never been out of the music business since then. We had some good times. We didn't do it for the money. We played at every village hall there was," adding: "I got hit on the head with a bottle once, but I survived." Norman said: "There used to be the odd skirmish. We weren't so much a recording band; we were a good live band. We were good with the crowd, that's how we built up a following."
Billy Wears Dresses' burgeoning following include the Billyettes, who try to get to most gigs, and the Billywatchers, but fans can also see them online. They have filmed a video, to support their single, Derek Don't Deliver, with help from media arts students at Canterbury University.
Remembered The band hope that they could follow in the footsteps of The Zephyrs and also be remembered in 40 years' time.
Nick said: "I think we aim to write songs that are remembered. If we play something that people enjoy, then that's great." Band-mate Martin added: "If we're having a good time then other people do. If you're happy then that comes across in the music; it's infectious."
Nick said: "Paul said the other day that we're too old to write about how our girlfriends have dumped us and to complain about the music industry. We just like writing songs about things that have happened to us."
Ian, who bought his first drum kit from Eric with wages he got from delivering the KM Extra, added: "There's nothing better than doing something you enjoy." Another member of the Snowball family, Ian's father Alan, was also connected to The Zephyrs, playing drums when drummer Maurice broke his arm.
Dave and Sue Webber now live in Spain and would be pleased if any of the band would like to get in touch .
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