Guide to British Music of the 1960s

July 2021

Book Review

How To Be a Rock Star by David Ambrose with Lesley-Ann Jones

This book is a very interesting read. It is effectively in two parts. David Ambrose started his music career leading to him being the bass player and a steady fixture in (Brian Auger &) the Trinity. The second part of his career saw him working on the other side signing songwriters to publishing deals with EMI and then moving across to A&R. He had been there and done it, almost made it very big, lost everything and then rebuilt in career and his life.

The book starts in familiar fashion. Ambrose discovers Elvis Presley and the blues and then music takes over against the wishes of his parents. He discovers school friends and others have similar interests and soon they are hanging out, listening to records and starting to make their own music. He played alongside some of the "greats" and early on he played bass in the Peter Bs with the drummer Mick Fleetwood. He almost became the bassist in Fleetwood Mac but Fleetwood was really after John McVie from the Bluesbreakers who eventually said yes.

Towards the end of his school life, the family moved to Notting Hill. Here he met Pete Bardens who was a major influence on his life. He later played keyboards with Them, Shotgun Express and Camel. At this time the British Blues Boom was starting and London was at the centre. With Bardens he joined Hamilton King's Blues Messengers. When the guitarist left he was replaced for a while by a North Londoner called Ray Davies. At this point in the book Ambrose describes the developing music scene in London. New clubs were opening and the stars of the future were emerging. Hamilton King's Blues Messengers supported many of them including opening for Georgie Fame & the Blues Flames at the Flamingo. When Davies left the band to rejoin his brother the end was in sight for the Blues Messengers.

At this point Bardens, and then Ambrose, met a Cornishman called Mick Fleetwood. Fleetwood and Bardens formed the Cheynes and were joined by future Fleurs de Lys and Spencer Davis Group guitarist Phil Sawyer. However, Ambrose was not in a band and had been threatened with dismissal from art college. Bardens spent some time with Them before teaming up with Fleetwood Again in Looners Limited which was also known as The Peter Bs amongst other names. They needed a bass player and turned to Ambrose who, despite now having a regular job, accepted the gig. The guitarist left after a while and was replaced by someone who showed some promise called Peter Green. Green grew with Looners Limited and, rather than being an Eric Clapton clone, started to deliver some incredible guitar lines.

The band played the London club circuit alongside major acts. At Klook's Kleek one night they were joined by a guest singer called Rod Stewart. He then joined the band full-time as did the singer Beryl Marsden. This was the start of Shotgun Express. However, with Stewart, Marsden and Bardens in the limelight, Peter Green soon left to join John Mayall's Bluesbreakers replacing Eric Clapton. Phil Sawyer even joined the band at one point but the band did not last long. Fleetwood later joined the Bluesbreakers but after he was sacked by Mayall, Mick Fleetwood, John McVie and Peter Green recorded some tracks and things progressed from there. Ambrose was approached to play bass, their third choice! He agreed but then, under pressure from his then wife, decided against it and John McVie finally relented to join.

Ambrose was the original bass player in the Jeff Beck Group but he was fired by Beck as the guitarist wanted Ronnie Wood on bass. Rod Stewart had wanted Ambrose in the band and he ended up playing on Hi Ho Silver Lining (not John-Paul Jones as many have said). Rod Stewart helped the recently sacked Ambrose by finding him a place in Cat Stevens' backing group for a nationwide package tour.

Next Dave Ambrose was asked to join Brian Auger's band the Trinity who had a gifted vocalist in Julie Driscoll. They had evolved from Steampacket that had also featured Rod Stewart and Long John Baldry. The live reputation and star names did not translate into record sales and, eventually, the Trinity developed around the nucleus of Julie Driscoll and Brian Auger. The band gigged extensively and there was a steady income which helped keep his wife happy. They had a huge hit with Bob Dylan's Wheels on Fire but, even now, this tends to be seen as a Julie Driscoll track though she was just the band's vocalist. They toured extensively including the US where they supported Led Zeppelin and played a major role in a Monkees series. However, the group fell apart. The management were promoting Julie as the "star" which was not what she wanted and it made the rest of the band seem like a backing group.

David Ambrose fell to a low when the Trinity folded. However, his fortunes changed in the mid-70s when he moved to "the other side" and to EMI Music Publishing. He discovered a new band playing the 100 Club in London and signed them to the publishing. Not longer after the Sex Pistols released Anarchy in the UK on EMI Records. Duran Duran were another of his finds before he moved fro publishing to A&R.

This book is an easy read but also a fascinating account of the 1960s scene from someone who was there and still remembers! As well as playing bass in vital but commercially less successful bands, he witnessed the emergence of huge stars such as Fleetwood Mac, Ray Davies, Jeff Beck, Cat Stevens and Rod Stewart.

Published: 4 May 2021

Little Wintry


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