For the month long tour of Australia we shared the bill with Herman’s Hermits, a lightweight group from Manchester. They had been blessed with a string of hits including, ‘No Milk Today,’ and ‘Henry the Eighth I Am.’ we were riding high at the time as ‘Chills and Fever’ had been a massive hit down under. There was a great deal of squabbling as to who would close the shows. It didn’t quite come down to a fist fight, but it wasn’t far off.
Tom stayed at the Sydney Hilton and, believe it or not, The Squires landed a very nice hotel too. It was courtesy of the Australian promoter, who had also kindly paid for our air fare. Throughout the tour, which included a New Zealand leg, we stayed in respectable hotels. It was a real turn-about from the way we were used to being treated by Gordon back in the UK.
I remember playing a massive venue in Sydney on a revolving stage. We performed bang in the centre and the stage revolved 360 degrees so that all the audience would have the opportunity of seeing us play. The place was packed to the rafters with thousands and thousands of fans. On that particular evening we appeared with The Four Tops, with not a Hermit in sight.
There was a bit of a farcical end to the evening. Tom and the band were signing autographs from the stage. Suddenly Beryl Evans jumped up and joined me on stage. Beryl was the gorgeous elder sister of my ex-girlfriend Jean from back home in Wales. The stunning blonde had emigrated to Australia with her footballer husband, Colin Gale. We were happily chatting away when I noticed Tom staring daggers at me. He was busily signing autographs as loads of attractive girls swarmed around him, but he had eyes for just me and Beryl.
The band was always aware that Tom had a jealous streak running right through him. Back in Wales he was always lusting after Beryl, he fancied her something rotten from way back. Now here she was the other side of the world, married and chatting away to me, ignoring him completely. Tom shouted over, ‘Hey Vernon, stop farting around over there and put your bloody guitar away.’
My jaw dropped and so did Beryl’s. I remember saying, ‘I’m just having a little chat with Beryl, you do remember Beryl from back home?’
‘Yeah well hurry up, they want to clear the stage. Let’s get out of here, me and the boys are off in a minute.’
The band all looked away sniggering. It was blatantly obvious that Tom was turning green with jealously. He didn’t like to be ignored and he could never disguise it. Just then Beryl’s husband joined us on stage and Tom looking sheepish went back to signing autographs.
Gordon was back in London and had decided not to accompany us on the tour. But he was busy scanning the daily newspapers back home in the UK. Virtually every day there was a news report about Tom’s antics down under. He was rubbing his hands with glee at all the publicity.
The Australian authorities were rather prudish about Tom’s sexual antics on stage. They didn’t care for his tight trousers and his thrusting pelvis was causing consternation. The British press were busily reporting that the Australian police had been ordered to mingle with the audiences and form their own opinion as to whether he was breaking any laws with his suggestive performance.
On one occasion they threatened to close the show when Tom took his shirt off and began swinging it around his head. Tom later joked to a Daily Mail reporter, ‘I only took my shirt off because it was too hot.’
The police didn’t take too kindly to such flippancy. The next performance was filmed by the Sydney police and handed over to a magistrate for inspection. It’s my guess that it was a female magistrate who studied the film, as the report back was that it just looked like Tom dancing, and the magistrate was looking forward to seeing his next performance.
On one of our nights off during our dates in Sydney, we went down town to have a nosy around. We found ourselves in a basement club in the Chinese district. Celebrations for Chinese New Year were well underway, and we settled down to watch the colourful entertainment. There were huge dragons, animated from within by crouching Chinese dancers. They circled and twisted around the dance floor to a deafening cacophony of Oriental music. We sat there mesmerised by it all, we’d never seen anything like it back home.
Later three guys appeared on the small stage, one of them was far taller than the others. They started singing three-part harmonies and playing guitars. Along with us they must have been the only other non-Orientals in the club. They were mostly singing Everly Brother’s songs and other harmonious melodies. I distinctly recall that one song particularly stood out, as it didn’t fit with the rest of their set. They knocked out Lonnie Donegan’s classic, ‘My Old Man’s A Dustman’. The roomful of Chinese didn’t know what to make of it at first, but soon got into clapping along.
I thought they were quite entertaining, although it was pretty mild non-adventurous music. After they’d finished their set they came over and introduced themselves. They were the Gibb Brothers, later to find worldwide fame as the Bee Gees, with their distinctive disco hits.
Barry Gibb recognised us and asked, ‘Hey you’re the Squires, where’s Tom?’
‘Probably back at the Hilton, chatting up some bird,’ I replied.
‘We’ve got some demos back in the dressing room, Vernon, a few songs that my brothers and I have written. I wonder if you could pass them onto Tom’s manager when you get back to London.’
I remember telling them just how difficult it was to try and get a break, having already been through the mill myself. Our ‘Calcutta days’ were still fresh in my mind at that stage. But we went back to the dressing room to get the demos, chatting about how to get on in the business. They were a nice bunch of lads and I wished them all well.
I returned to join the boys and showed them the three demos and some black and white publicity photos. I’d promised the Gibb Brothers I’d pass them to Gordon upon our return to London. I did exactly that and told Gordon they were a talented trio. But Gordon being Gordon dismissed them out of hand; he said they’d, ‘never amount to anything.’ Gordon tossed the demos in the rubbish bin. But it was his loss and their gain as they achieved super stardom. The following year, in 1967, the Bee Gees released the first of their many number one hits, ‘New York Mining Disaster’. It was all legend status after that and the hits just kept coming.
I remember bumping into them again at Elstree TV Studios in late 1967. I told them about Gordon’s reaction to the original demos. Whether they believed me or not, I’ll never know. But they were three very happy guys, everything was on the up for them. The Chinese basement club in Sydney was a very long way behind them.
Many years later I was searching through my attic in Shepperton having a clear out and I came across one of the publicity shots Barry had given me in Sydney. I remember keeping it back as a memento before passing the rest along with the demos to Gordon. It’s a good job I did or Gordon would have binned that as well…
This is an abridged excerpt from Tom Jones Just Help Yourself by Vernon Hopkins, to read more visit Amazon here, and look out for the FREE PROMOTION to celebrate the start of The Voice on BBC. The Promotion starts on Friday 12th April.
Vernon’s recollections offer a candid view of the music industry and the book is an action packed and fun filled romp through the era. Its chock full of familiar faces and incredibly evocative, Vernon’s achievement is considerable in recreating the excitement of those long dead days while revealing just what lay behind the headlines…