“Where would we be without amplifiers?”
JOHN LENNON, 17 June 1963
By the early 1960’s the British pop music scene was changing. The early rock ‘n’ roll stars with the fancy names like Marty, Billy, Tommy and Vince were falling from favour. Instead of screaming at solo singers with quiffs, attitude and gold lame suits fans were now turning their attention to the latest pop phenomenon, the beat groups, who were following on the Cuban heels of the Beatles. Often writing their own material and promoting their own regional ‘sounds’ like Merseybeat and Brumbeat these guitar dominated groups were no longer limited to coffee bars and youth clubs.
The more successful were now playing to huge, noisy audiences in large cinemas and concert halls – and those audiences wanted it LOUD – loud enough to dance to, loud enough to be heard over teenage screams and stomping feet. In 1960 the Board of Trade Embargo on American luxury goods was finally lifted and the sleek American guitars that British rock ’n ’rollers wanted so badly started to flood into the country.
Fortunately British manufacturers were waking up to the fact that there was also a growing market crying out for more powerful amplifiers and PA systems to go with the larger venues. In response to demands from groups like the Shadows, the Beatles and the Who electrical engineers like Charlie Watkins, Jim Marshall and Dick Denney at Jennings began producing the amplifiers and PA systems that in a few years times would carry the ‘British Invasion’ around the world. In turn their names and the equipment that they designed and built would become an integral part of rock ‘n’ roll history.
Vox AC 30
The Vox AC30 and Dominator Amps, the Watkins ‘Copicat’ echo unit, the Marshall ‘Stack’ and the WEM Audiomaster PA system became as significant as any American electric guitar. Other British entrepreneurs like James How and Jim Burns were also listening to the complaints of rising British stars like John Entwhistle of the Who and Hank Marvin of the Shadows and began producing home grown strings and guitars that were specially designed to cope with pop.
In the few years that separated the end of skiffle in 1958 and the launch of the British invasion in 1964 there was a major shift in pop consciousness. No longer content to emulate rock stars from America British musicians were finding a voice and a style that was distinctly their own and doing it with equipment that they had helped design and promote – with an electric guitar in one hand and a saw and a soldering iron in the other. By 1964 they began taking rock back to the U.S.A from whence it came and selling it there.
“Fender, Gibson, Rickenbacker,
Epiphone and Harmony,
Les Paul, Guild and Stratocaster.
These are names worth gold to me.
Copicats and Cathedral Strings,
Selmer Truvoice, Futurama
These are a few of my favourite things”
DAISY – The Druids (1961)
The Who – talking about their generation
— from Martyn Day
Note: For more information about this exciting period in British Pop Music read “British Rock Guitar – the first 50 years” by Mo Foster published by Northumbria Press. Twangtastic!
Read part 1 of Rock Around The Embargo