The Amen Corner Story
In 1965 Andy Fairweather Low, the brain child of "Amen Corner" worked at Barrett's music store in Cardiff as well as fronting his own band "The Sect Maniacs". Members included Gary "Duffy" Cooper, Charlotte Church’s grandfather.
On Saturdays Barrett's was a great hang out for the local bands to exchange war stories and play instruments, It also became a recruitment centre for Andy to throw his net to catch his new band. He had a vision. A band playing American black music in a Welsh soul way.
Clive Taylor( bass) and Neil Jones (guitar) from "The Dekkas" eagerly jumped in. Next recruit was Dennis Bryon, (drummer) from "Brother John and the Witnesses", Alan Jones (baritone sax) from Newport band "Five In Hand". Derek "Blue" Weaver also from Brother John (worked in Gamblin's Music Store, the competitors of Barrett's, and located opposite) defected and joined the band. We needed another sax player to complete Andy’s vision. We did get a student who played trumpet and did our first rehearsal with him he was good but could not make the commitment. Then we went on a mission. Enter Malcolm Davis, (tenor sax) from Caerphilly. He had the sound. Band complete. We needed a place to rehearse. A rugby club in Cowbridge, with a clubhouse, became our rehearsal base. We met with Mister Adams, the club manager who graciously gave us the keys and said, "Go for it, lads!" We promised to do a gig in return at no charge for the rugby club. We rehearsed 4 or 5 times a week at the rugby club squeezing the band and equipment into Dennis’s mini and Alan’s Dads Morris... a tight fit.
The promised rugby gig went well. Peering eyes from Dave Edmunds and Nicki Still was a plus, and gave us a boost. We felt we were ready and now we had become AMEN CONER. A few versions of how the name came about: from a James Joyce book, a place in South London, The name actually came from the Victorian Ballroom in Canton, Cardiff, Wales (the "VIC" later to become "The Scene Club"). Here Doctor Rock (Great DJ!) Spun soul records from the USA on a Sunday night. That night was called The Amen Corner. The name was adopted.
We played any gig that came our way. First one was Ritz Skewen We did all the clubs in Wales and gained a big following. It was time to take the big step and go to London.
We bought an ambulance which would be our home, sharing Ritz crackers carefully counted and shared, Sleeping in the van was OK, apart from smelly feet of which there were many. An oasis, the Madison hotel in Paddington, became our second home, when we could afford it. We would sleep three or four to a room, but compared to the van, it was luxury. The Madison was a whole scene. Bands from all over seemed to end up there. The backing band for "The Flower Pot Men", later to become "Ten Years After", and many more.
We did a gig in Bournemouth supporting "The Lonely Ones". They told their manager, Ron King (Galaxy Entertainments) that he should take a listen to us. We did a gig for him in Romford, Essex, and brought the house down. We then signed a management contract with Ron.
One of the coolest clubs in London at that time was the "Speakeasy". We gigged there doing four sets a night. Here Jimi Hendrix would jam with us. At the end of the night, around 4 AM we would pack the van and return to the Madison. The test was to stay awake until breakfast, missing that meal would mean being hungry for the rest of the day.
We did a gig for a debutante’s ball at a posh hotel in Mayfair. There was so much fine food there we all stuffed ourselves, and took a whole lot of leftovers stashed in Dennis’s drum cases. Our next break came at "Tiles Club" in Oxford Street. A Producer, Noel Walker, from Decca was in the audience. He saw Andy falling to his knees singing "Gin House Blues", contacted Ron King and we had a record deal with Deram. Things started to move very fast. We went into Decca studios in Hampstead and cut our first professional record. Bill Price was the recording engineer, later to become a recording engineer icon. The studio was very cold looking with fluorescent lights. The console had big Bakelite knobs and no faders.
We did "Gin House" in a couple of takes. The recordings were done on a 4-track analogue Ampex tape machine. In those days the track had to be laid down in one take, and if someone made a mistake it would be take 2. Overdubs were perhaps a vocal overdub or solo. The skill of recording in those days was to get the track sounding as it would on the record during recording, as there was no mixing process. The B-side of the record was hastily prepared in the studio "Satisnek the Jobs Worth". Title inspired by a packet of Kensitas cigarettes sitting on the piano (spelled backwards) and an experience with a bloke early that day. "Can’t do that more than my jobs worth". The record was released.
We rented a house in Brixton in south London, primarily a Jamaican neighborhood, and we fit in just fine. That summer we did a gig every Sunday in the Great Yarmouth, holiday resort. It was a package show starring Billy Fury and the Nashville Teens, and we were an opening act. This was the time of the pirate radio stations in the U.K. (ships in the north sea in international waters broadcasting rock music in all sorts of weather). Radio Caroline and Radio London made their income by advertising. The BBC had a monopoly and only devoted a few hours a day to popular music. The pirates along with Radio Luxemburg changed the whole radio industry in the UK.
On one of those Sundays driving to Great Yarmouth, listening to Radio London, the DJ said, "and now this week's hit pick: Amen Corner's Gin House". Dennis nearly crashed the van (a Ford Transit now, the Ambulance was retired). We stopped and relished the
moment. The pirates played it with a vengeance, and played a big part in our success. We had a great gig that night.
Gin House was in the UK charts for 10 weeks and reached number 12 in the charts in July. Our follow-up was "World of Broken Hearts", with 6 weeks on the charts, reaching number 26 in October 1967. Not quite the results we wanted. Strangely enough it was the only record we did that made the USA Billboard charts.
We started doing our first album, "Round Amen Corner". It was a mish-mash of stuff, some of what we wanted to do and other things that were thrown into our laps by our producer. The good thing was the we were on the cutting edge of music change. The Moody Blues were in the next studio recording Knights in White Satin. We came in and had a listen and were blown away. They were using a Mellotron; a tape loop based system, the predecessor synthesizer. To add to all this Noel Walker brought us a tape of Sergeant Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band, not yet released. We were gob stopped and went home. Malcolm, the youngest band member, decided he was going back to Wales to go back to school. We needed to find a new tenor sax player. Mike Smith played in a band from Llanelli, came to see us in London and joined the band.
We were doing gigs, recording, T.V. and radio shows constantly. Our financial matters were taken care of by our management, which overnight changed from Ron King, who did a disappearing act to Australia and sold us to the infamous Don Arden (Sharon Osbourne’s father). We moved into our new home, a large house in Harrow on the Hill, posh place just outside London.
We were given a demo of "Bend Me Shape Me", a song by American songwriter Scott English. US band the American Breed just released it in USA. Andy wanted to do more of an R&B version, which we did. We cut it and were all very excited. We split and went back on the road. "Bend me Shape Me" was in the charts for 12 weeks and reached number 1 in January 1968.
Package Tours were a big part of the sixties. One city a day, two shows a night with a big bill of artists. We did packages with Gene Pitney, Herman’s Hermits and others. The Pinnacle and last of the package shows in the UK was the legendary Hendrix Tour, which opened at the Royal Albert Hall: Jimi Hendrix Experience, Amen Corner, Pink Floyd, The Move, The Nice, Eire Apparent, Outer Limits, all hosted by Pete Drummond. A combination of varied talent, the likes of which that could never be put together today under one roof. There were many memorable events on that tour, and mostly are X-rated.
Good fun was on the charted flight from London to Belfast. The flight attendants just gave up on us. Carl, from the Move, took over
the intercom saying we were all heading for impeding doom an alcohol should be consumed in huge quantities. It was an opportunity to experiment with the life vests under the seat. Yes they are in fact there. Next morning, after the gig, at the hotel we saw the flight crew in a different light had a good chat and we were all good boys on the trip home.
Back in the studio
"High in the Sky" was on the charts for 13 weeks in July 1968 and reached #6. This time was another turning point for the band. Relationships with Don Arden, our manager, became strained. The big pay off that we expected never came. We managed to get out of our contract with Don.
Andrew Loog Oldham, former manager of the Rolling Stones, along with Tony Calder formed Immediate Records. They signed "The Small Faces", "P.P. Arnold", Chris Farlowe and Amen Corner. It was a chance for us to move forward and not look back.
Our first single with Immediate was "Half as Nice" produced by Shel Talmy. He produced "The Who" and many more top acts. We were touring so much our chops were in. We did it in one take, which was the record. We did another take just in case. All felt good and went home. "Half as Nice" was in the charts for 11 weeks and reached #1 in July 1968.
In June 1969 we cut "Hello Suzie" a song written by Roy Wood, from "The Move" and later "ELO". It was in the charts for 10 weeks
and reached #4. We did a Live Album "The Real Magnificent Seven" We never received one penny in record royalties from Immediate Records. Immediate did a disappearing act leaving a paper trail of off-shore companies. Our goodbye record was a tribute to the Beatles "Get Back" the flip side was "Farewell to the Real Magnificent Seven". It never made the Top 10.
It was the time to call it a wrap. ITN 10 o’clock headline news made the Amen break up the lead story of the day.
Having not received the financial rewards that we had worked so hard for, we do to this day have the wonderful memories that even the taxman can’t take away. And the close brotherhood between us that remains intact to this day. Amen.
After Amen Corner
The split up left us all in a head spin. Alan Jones formed his own band "Judas Jump". Later Alan got into the fashion biz marrying music with fashion. He ventured to Los Angeles where, with Madeleine Garai Mado created "Let it Rock" and "Flash Feet". The two stores on trendy Melrose Avenue catered to the the stars as well as the young fashion freaks. The stores eventually folded. And everyone moved on, Alan now lives in Wales promoting new music artists and is in the process of opening a new night club in Cardiff.
Mike Smith did a disappearing act and was involved in deals that were not in the interests of the band. Therefore he is persona non grata, and so shall remain so.
Andy, approached the rhythm section of Amen Corner (Dennis, Blue, Clive and Neil) to form a new band "Fairweather" The name Amen Corner could not be used as in theory we were still under contract to Immediate.
The publicists for Amen Corner, Chris Williams and Keith Altham, became our managers. We leased a wonderful home in Elstree, just outside of London. It was a Norwegian Barn that had been shipped and rebuilt on the grounds of the Edgewarebury Country Club in the nineteen forties. Previously, Sophia Loren resided there while doing a movie at Elstree Studios. This is where she lost a priceless magnificent diamond. Needless to say in quiet moments, members of the band, in various states of sobriety, did actually try to find the rock.
Indeed a wonderful residence, antique furniture, Dresden china, tennis court. A fine spot. We converted the huge loft into a rehearsal space. Dennis’ pre-band skills as an electrician played a big part in making it come together. A lot of good times happened there.
Dave Edmunds came up from Wales with a tape he had just made at Rockfield Studios "I Hear You Knocking", which we all loved and knew that it was a monster. The song was a #1 hit in November 1970.
In July 1970 Fairweather’s first and only hit "Natural Sinner" reached #6 in the charts. We did two albums "Beginning From An End". And the second one which was only released in Germany. It has since been re-released. 30 years later, "Let your mind roll on". Hmmmmm... more money to track down. After 3 years Fairweather split up and we all went on our different paths.
Andy Fairweather Low
Forged his new career as a solo artist having a #10 hit with "Reggae Tune" in September 1974 followed by "Wide Eyed and Legless" in December 1975. Since then Andy as well as his own recording successes has been a permanent fixture with Eric Clapton's Band and Roger Waters. Andy has just released a very cool CD "Soulful Music" and as the title suggests it is just that.
Took up photography as a new career. It was always a passion for him when he was with the band. His portfolio is magnificent he photos of everyone from Hendrix to the Queen. Dave Edmund's Album cover was shot by Neil at the Norwegian Barn. Neil also a great deal of 8mm film of the band. After a few years shooting London Neil returned to Wales with his family. His eye always captured the moment. His eye still does that as does his heart.
In 1974 Joined the Bee Gees and the whole world danced to Dennis’ drums on "Jive Talkin'" and all the disco hits from "Saturday Night Fever" and more. Dennis relocated from his Miami home to Nashville and concentrated on building his own home studio. Dennis is writing good songs and still rockin’.
Blue also joined the Bee Gees and shared the same success as Dennis. After that Blue played with everybody and his uncle. Mott the Hoople, The Straws and many more. Blue now lives in London and Spain.
Clive moved to USA in 1980 and formed a band that played the LA clubs. Dennis came to LA and produced a few songs for Clive... good times. At this point Clive hung up his rock ‘n roll shoes, and devoted his time to capturing sound in recording, this time on the other side of the glass. Now he does sound for Movies in Hollywood.