Manchester’s Playboys was a bit of a misnomer as only one member of the band was actually from Manchester. The original line-up of the band was formed in the early 1960s and featured singer Kerry Burke and drummer Mel Preston from St Helens, bass player Alan Watkinson and trumpet player/guitarist Stuart Fahey were from Newton-le-Willows, while John Denson was from Manchester. Burke had started out as singer/harmonica player with St Helens band The Denims and was invited to join Manchester’s Playboys in 1964.
Kerry Burke – vocals
John Denson – organ/lead guitar
Stuart Fahey – rhythm guitar/trumpet
Alan Watkinson – bass
Mel Preston – drums
Malcolm Tag-Randall – saxophone
Jim Warhurst – lead guitar
Peter Simensky – drums
Graham Sclater – organ
Kenny Anders – lead guitar
This tragically overlooked British soul/R&B outfit were authors of the infectious, horn driven soul classic, “I Feel So Good” c/w “I Close My Eyes”, which was released on Fontana Records in 1966.
Manchester’s Playboys – ‘I Feel So Good’. Fontana TF 745A 1966. A rare Northern Soul/Mod favourite from a group that were more popular in Belgium than in Britain!
Manchester’s Playboys – ‘I Close My Eyes’. Fontana TF 745B 1966. The B side of ‘I Feel So Good’.
“I was an apprentice electrician, (with Critchleys of St Helens)” remembers Burke. “The Playboys were out looking for a lead singer and approached me after watching me at a local gig. I turned them down as I already had a good band and apprenticeship. They wouldn’t let go and in the end I joined up. In no time at all, I had a passport, no work permit and we were off to Frankfurt for a month at the Storyville Club. As Burke recalls, the band made a number of trips to Germany over the next few years, appearing at Hamburg’s Star Club and Top Ten Club, the Savoy Club in Hanover and the Liverpool Hoop in Berlin to name just a few.
Kerry was trained as a boy soprano by Patrick Booth at St Teresa’s. He toured Rome five times, sang solo with Liverpool Philharmonic and at both the Liverpool cathedrals. Kerry went to Grange Park Tech and St Teresa’s, Newtown.
Kerry sang with The Psycho Five, The Daleks and then the Moss Bank group, The Denims.
Kerry was vocalist with Ian Traverse (lead guitar), Derek Mercer (rhythm guitar), Dave Wheelock (drums), and bass guitarist Graham Huggett (now living in Sydney, Australia). Graham joined local St Helens band, The Hurgs, alongside Jacky Bond. The earliest gig remembered by Kerry’s sister, Helen, was at the Triplex.
Alan Watkinson and Stuart Fahey in The Hot Rods which then became Cadillac & The Playboys, The Playboys and finally The Manchester Playboys! — with Malc Darwin, Mike Barnes, Stuart Fahey and Alan Watkinson.
Johnny Glover an ex-Screaming Skulls (60s St Helens band) band member remembers, “I was bass player with a local group, The Screaming Skulls (later to become just The Skulls because the screaming part put people off).”
He continues, “I knew most memebers of all the local (St Helens) groups of the 60s, The Denims, The Blackwells, The Psycho 5, The Inca’s, The Pontiacs, The Navada’s, the list goes on. We all used to get together and sometimes would get up singing with each others group. Great times they were, oh and I still do a great version of ‘Twist and Shout’ today as well.”
He added, “We played in Victoria Park on the bandstand a week after The Denims (was about 1965), we turned up in a hearse with all our equipment in. I remember everybody running to see what a hearse was doing in the park.” (18 July 2010, St Helens Connect)
Johnny’s son, Darren Glover, has carried on his musical tradition and is currently the bass player in St Helens band Marble Eyes.
Jeff Curtis & the Flames, circa spring 1963. From left to right: Malcolm Tag-Randall, Louis McKelvey, Dave Wigginton, Keith Gardiner, Malcolm Tomlinson and Jeff Curtis
During the summer of 1965 while playing in Germany, Manchester’s Playboys crossed paths with Beau Brummell & The Noblemen and their sax player and jazz enthusiast, Malcolm Tag-Randall (b. October 1942, Hendon, Middlesex), who was originally from Harrow-on-the-Hill, Middlesex, jumped ship. Tag-Randall had started out with Twickenham band, Jeff Curtis & The Flames in July 1962. Around this time, session drummer Bobby Graham took over the band’s management.
The Manchester Playboys at Avenue Studios, London. From left to right, Malcolm Tag-Randall, Mel Preston, Stuart Fahey, Kerry Burke, Jimmy Warhurst and Alan Watkinson.
In late 1965/early 1966 the band recorded a four-track EP at Pye Studios near Marble Arch on behalf of Barclay Records, a large French label. The EP featured covers of “Woolly Bully”, “Lipstick Traces” and two James Brown covers – “And I Do Just What I Want” and “Tell Me What You’re Gonna Do”. The EP allegedly topped the French charts. Soon afterwards, the band started playing regularly in Belgium, particularly at the Shark Club in Ghent.
Manchester Playboys – ‘And I Do Just What I Want’ Jay Denson played organ on this and wrote the arrangement.
The Manchester Playboys – ‘And I Do Just What I Want’ – Barclay 70 852, 1965
“We played [the Shark Club] numerous times along with Tony Blackburn as guest DJ,” says Burke. “Dave Berry was huge in Belgium due to a performance in the Eurovision song contest. He turned up at the Shark and he did get up and do a set with us.”
Not long after, Manchester’s Playboys also became the second British band to tour Romania after The Federals and spent six weeks there. While in Romania, the band recorded an ultra-rare 10″ album with Carol Kay (aka Karol Keyes) and Bobby Shaftoe, which was released as The Playboys on the Electrecord label.
“Romania was a hard place to live in those times,” says Burke. “Although we were being employed by the Government, they would try and undermine us at any opportunity via photos and articles in the press. We were deemed to be a bad example from the West. They would jam Radio Luxembourg on a regular basis and would greatly restrict the amount of tickets made available to the young people. I didn’t witness much joy there at all.”
Back home, Manchester’s Playboys played on the same bill as Manchester band, The Meteors in Oldham and asked their guitarist Jim Warhurst (Hyde) to replace John Denson who was leaving. The new line-up recorded the group’s lone UK single, an excellent blue-eyed soul number, which was released on Fontana Records.
In May 1967, Mel Preston also left to concentrate on the family business and Jim Warhurst asked his former band mate from The Meteors, Peter Simensky to join.
Simensky had reformed The Meteors with new members as The Hobo Flats. “I did my first gig at the Belle Vue in Manchester on 3 June 1967,” says Simensky. “We left for Hamburg on the 4 June. I remember the day. It was a Sunday morning and as we drove through Stockport, we heard the news that a British Midland flight had just crashed in the centre of Stockport.”
Later that month, Manchester’s Playboys saw Graham (Sandy) Sclater playing Hammond organ with The Birds & Bees at the Star Club. The two bands frequently met in the Bier Shoppe along with other musicians and it was at that time that Jim Warhurst’s father was taken ill and Sclater, who’d been playing in Germany since 1964 with a number of bands, took his place and returned to England with them.
Graham Sclater, Hamburg, 1965
“The Playboys” – Ultra Rare Romanian LP, Electrecord, EDD 1115, 1966.
Manchester’s Playboys rehearsed for a few days in Manchester before the new line-up played gigs at the Bolton Nevada, Mr Smith’s in Manchester, the Bolton Palais, The Place in Hanley and other venues around the Manchester area before traveling down to London to play at Tiles in Oxford Street and the Scotch of St James and several American bases around the UK. The band then traveled to Sweden on 16 August for a tour and for several shows they backed the female “hit” duo The Caravelles.
After the split of The Manchester Playboys Alan and Mel played together in The Kaytones. From top to bottom, Alan Watkinson, Geoff Taggart, Richard McMenamy & Mel Preston.
“In Sweden we played mainly open air gigs in volk parks,” says Burke. “Two notable events while we were there. The Swedes were in the state of changing which side of the road they drive on. At that time they used the left hand side. We went out in the van… I believe 3am… and if I remember correctly we just drove to the other side of the road. It all passed very easily without any problems.”
Ultra Rare Romanian split LP with Swedish band Stubinerna, Electrecord – ST-EDE 02696.
Ultra Rare Romanian split LP with Swedish band Stubinerna, Electrecord – ST-EDE 02696. The reverse side of the LP cover.
Ultra Rare Romanian split LP with Swedish band Stubinerna, Electrecord – ST-EDE 02696/1 – The Playboys label side with Bobby Shafto and Carol Kay.
Ultra Rare Romanian split LP with Swedish band Stubinerna, Electrecord – ST-EDE 02696/2 – Stubinerna label side.
Burke also remembers Manchester’s Playboys jamming with some special guests at the Cue Club in Gothenburg. “The owner of the club asked us to take our kit to the lift to the basement club for a party,” says the singer.
“The party turned out to be for Jimi Hendrix and his entourage. We already knew Noel Redding from Germany when he was lead guitarist with Neil Landon & The Burnetts. Noel didn’t show up but Jimi, Mitch [Mitchell], the drummer, Chas Chandler and a large group arrived at the party. We were providing the live music. Graham asked Jimi and Mitch up for a jam. They agreed and Jimi took Stuart Fahey’s Baldwin Burns guitar, turned it around as it was strung for a right hander and just played along with the rest of the band, no showmanship, just jamming.”
Back in the UK, Simensky remembers the band doing some further recordings. “We did some recordings for Les Reed; cover versions of current hit records,” he recalls. “Someone said the label eventually became K-Tel.”
Manchester’s Playboys also cut some tracks in Germany during 1967. “When we were playing in Berlin, we were approached by Hansa and asked if we would like to go in the studio and record something,” continues Simensky. “It would have to be original and the studio was booked two days hence. Alan and I wrote a couple of not very good songs which we recorded and promptly sank without trace, only to surface several years later alongside Georgio Moroder on a compilation album!”
The Manchester Playboys – ‘HUFF PUFF’ – Written by Peter Simenski & Alan Watkinson in 1967 for the German label Hansa Records.
The Manchester Playboys – ‘I’m Left Alone’ – Written by Peter Simenski & Alan Watkinson in 1967 for the German label Hansa Records.
By early 1969, however, Stuart Fahey, Malcolm Tag-Randall and Graham Sclater had all left and the remaining trio carried on briefly with guitarist Kenny Anders. Stuart Fahey and Jimmy Warhurst died a few years ago.
After leaving the band, Malcolm Tag-Randall moved to Cambridgeshire and ended up working with Red Express during the 1970s. He currently splits his time between Cambridgeshire, Ireland and Cyprus.
Of the other band members, Kerry Burke currently lives on the Isle of Wight, Alan Watkinson lives in the Manchester area and Pete Simensky lives in Duckingfield. Simensky is now a songwriter and has signed a lot of his songs to Tabitha Music Limited, which is run by Graham Sclater, who lives in Exeter and has his own website: Tabitha Books. Mel Preston now lives in Adelaide, Australia.
9 September 1965 – Red Shoes Ballroom, Elgin, Scotland
17 September 1965 – The Cavern, Liverpool with The Verbs and The Richmond Group
26 October 1965 – The Cavern, Liverpool with Earl Preston’s Realms
30 January 1966 – 76 Club, Burton-on-Trent
4 June 1966 – Starlight Ballroom, Gliderdrome, Boston with Keith Powell, Billie Davis, The End, The Humperdinks and The Ferryboys
6 June 1966 – 76 Club, Burton-on-Trent
3 September 1966 – Oasis, Manchester with The Wheels and Frankenstein
3 September 1966 – The Cavern, Liverpool with The Times, The Hideaways, The Mixture, The Dollies, The Dark Ages and The Prowlers
29 September 1966 – The Cavern, Liverpool with Georgia’ Germs
17 November 1966 – Tiles, London with Wishful Thinking
13 March 1967 – Belfry, Wishaw, West Midlands with The New Way of Life
19 March 1967 – Tiles, London
13 July 1967 – Tiles, London with Chas Stevens
20 January 1968 – University of Aston, Aston, West Midlands with Pinkerton’s Colours
Manchesters Playboys Hall of Fame Brick at the modern Cavern, Mathew Street, Liverpool.
Cadillac & The Play Boys and The Playboys Hall of Fame Bricks at the modern Cavern, Mathew Street, Liverpool.
Many thanks to the following for their generous input: Kerry Burke, Peter Simensky, Graham Sclater and Malcolm Tagg-Randall. Melody Maker, the Birmingham Evening Mail, the Liverpool Echo and the Lincolnshire Standard all provided useful for gigs.
Peter Simensky, Mel Preston, Alan Watkinson & Kerry Burke of The Manchester Playboys taken 29 October 2014 at good friend & bandmate Jimmy Warhurst’s funeral.
Original recordings, videos, artworks etc. are copyright of their respective songwriters/performers/publishers/artists or whatever is applicable to that particular work with All rights reserved.
All links accessed and working on 5 November 2017.
Rainy City Blues CD Compilation includes ‘And I Do Just What I Want’
The Playboys Ultra Rare Romanian 10″ – 2 Beatles covers – ‘Boys’ and ‘I Saw Her Standing There’ with Bobby Shafto and Carol Kay, Electrecord, ADD 1115
The Playboys – Ultra Rare Romanian LP, Electrecord, EDD 1115, 1966
Stubinerna/The Playboys Ultra Rare Romanian split LP with Swedish band Stubinerna, Electrecord – ST-EDE 02696
Mike Cadillac & The Playboys – Manchester Beat
St Helens Connect
On stage with Tina and Hendrix! A nice article about Kerry Burke and the band in The St Helens Star – 19 January 2006.
This article was created, compiled and produced by Barry Grady. 5 November 2017.
Thanks to Jayne Marsh for the pointers.
Thanks to Nick Warburton from Garage Hangover for his significant contribution.