The Pirates pretty much spluttered to a halt after the death of Johnny Kidd in 1966. Their impact by this point had been as much on other musicians as the audiences, The Pirates were always a big live draw and there was always a suspicion that Kidd himself had the potential to be a Tom Jones type figure but he didn’t really have the ambition and was happy as a band member. The Who were later to cover ‘Shakin all over’ on their Live at Leeds Album. A decade later Motorhead would team up with Girlschool to record a one off single version of ‘Please don’t touch’. Most significantly Wilko Johnson of Dr Feelgood was notably influenced by the playing of guitarist Mick Green and the band had covered a few songs from the Pirates repertoire.Following a decade after Kidd’s death there was still considerable affection for the Pirates among rock fans and there was a chance for the band to capitalise on this and reform. There was just one problem however.
Over a dozen players had passed through The Pirates crew in the seven years of their existence some of these passed through quite quickly but the band’s existence could be broken down into three eras.
Pirates mark one had been Kidd with guitarist Alan Caddy, bassist Brian Gregg and drummer Clem Cattini. This was the band with the big hits although ‘Please don’t touch’ was recorded by a motley crew of about seven people rather than the three piece. Further complicating the matter is the fact that the awesome lead guitar on ‘Shaking all Over’ was the work of session player Joe Moretti. This version of the band didn’t actually last that long, it was a great start but the hits soon dried up. The band jumped ship (ha!) to play an Italian tour with the lamentably named Colin Hicks and the Cabin Boys. And that was the end of that.
Version two was a hard gigging band mainly comprising of Mick Green on guitar, bass player Johnny Spence and drummer Frank Farley. This version of the band went in an R&B direction which made them a popular live draw. Their only real hit ‘I’ll Never Get over you’ was a pleasant Mersey beat influence song quite different from their early rock and roll numbers. Mick Green was only with the group fairly briefly but largely through the patronage of Wilko he was regarded as the main Pirate.
Last and least was version three. The main man in this line up was bass player Nick Simper. It’s the forgotten line up by virtue of the fact that it didn’t last long and inconveniently included an organist which would have taken the band in a different musical direction. In the cruellest of ironies Kidd and Simper were driving back from a gig in Bolton which had been cancelled because they had turned up slightly late. Kidd was killed in a car accident near Bury and Simper was injured quite badly.
On the anniversary of Kidd’s death Simper convened a band to play a tribute gig. In the meantime Simper had been the bass player for Deep Purple but was replaced by Roger Glover before the hits started (he plays on ‘Hush’ which I believe was a big hit in the states). Flushed with success from the gig Simper considered there might be some mileage in reforming the band but he was about to be beaten to the punch by a reformation of the mark 2 version.
Green, Farley and Spence reunited with Spence taking over the vocals. It also appeared that they had inherited the stage costumes. In the early 60’s getting dressed up was part of the act and probably a testament to the novelty nature of rock and roll in those days and so we had the likes of The Outlaws who wore western garb and Nero and the Gladiators who dressed as..well you guess this one.
A bunch of men approaching middle age dressed as pirates did not seem luck a recipe for success but the band were so shit hot that it didn’t matter. Early on they secured a gig at the NME Christmas party. Playing for a bunch of pissed up journalists must be the sort of publicity that money just can’t buy and soon most of London was raving about the band. Wisely the band concentrated on souped up R&B classics and their own numbers which sounded like less good souped up R&B classics.
The icing on the cake would be their rendition of the two seminal British classics where Green could demonstrate his prowess namely ‘Please don’t Touch’ and ‘Shakin all Over’. Unfortunately in terms of authenticity they might as well have played ‘Apache’ or ‘Telstar’ as none of this version of the band had played on the originals.
The original musicians were still active. Drummer Clem Cattini had proved spectacularly successful as a session player having played on more hit records in Britain than anyone else. Rumour had it that he was to be approached by potential Zeppelin manager Peter Grant when the band were forming. Pre e-mail Grant had been unable to contact Cattini who was busy with session work and so offered the job to John Bonham. Bassist Greg and guitarist Caddy were less busy although the latter had a lifetime alcohol problem to keep him busy. To complicate matters more, although Caddy was always a competent guitarist the iconic solo on ‘Shakin all Over’ had been played by session man Joe Morettti.
Most of us were too ignorant or just didn’t care though, for a few years The Pirates were a top bar band and a sweaty night was guaranteed (naturally I never actually saw the band live as they seemed to play around London and the continent giving Norwich a wide berth). Other bands soon learned not to follow the Pirates onstage. Undoubtedly punk gave them a kick up the arse in terms of performance and attitude.
This is what they were capable of
As we all know, just ask Rory Gallagher, selling out sweaty live performances don’t usually translate into huge record sales and the Pirates eventually sort of called it a day. In the wonderful world of rock and roll of course no one with bills to pay ever really gets to quit, and so various combinations of the band including a bizarre version with Clem Cattin, Brian Greg and Joe Moretti’s son (What do you do for a living? – I play my dad’s guitar solo from 40 years ago) have reformed for gigs and tours. Mick Green went on to play with Paul McCartney among others but is now departed from this planet as is Alan Caddy from the original band.
And again the Pirates demonstrated the power of three, bands like The Hamsters made a living for many years with the same blueprint and this weekend, near you, it’s very likely some bass, drums and guitar combo will be getting an aging audience sweaty.