Top Topham is a founding member of Kingston’s The Yardbirds, one of the early innovators of rhythm and blues based rock. Alumni of Hollyfield School in Surbiton, Top’s band would not only be a hugely influential success in their own right, but were also the launchpad for the likes of Jimmy Page, Jeff Beck and Eric Clapton. Eager to share with Kingston RPM how he and his peers changed the face of popular music across the globe, Top spared no detail as he recounted his and Kingston’s important place in musical history.
There was an element of the blues that touched your soul and enabled certain people to play in that soulful manner. It wasn’t about the head. That was different to other music.
The founding of The Yardbirds, and the early days of the band gigging on Eel Pie Island.
The importance of the blues to Top, and why the likes of BB King resonated so strongly with him.
The Kingston area as Top was growing up was a breeding ground for innovative blues inspired popular music: here he discusses playing and socialising with Jimmy Page and Jeff Beck.
Chris Arthur reluctantly began organising school dances in his teens as part of his role in the Students’ Union, which later evolved into a general penchant for organising trad jazz concerts in the Kingston area. Whether Ken Collier or Humphrey Lyttelton, Chris and his student peers attracted some of UK jazz’s biggest names to the larger concert venues, while later successes at the Bun Shop in Surbiton – after some quieter nights at the Fighting Cocks – saw youngsters queuing around the block to get in.
We had the Festival of Britain in 1951 and that was enormously exciting; that’s when we were coming out of post-war miasma – music and the arts were enjoyed, looked at, and looked after.
Chris recalls how he first got involved in organising live music nights in Kingston.
How popular culture and art evolved in the early 1950s.
How one Surrey Comet article sparked a wide interest in Chris’s jazz nights at The Bun Shop.
Margaret and Robin Willes
Margaret and Robin Willes were regulars on Kingston’s live music scene in the 1950s and 1960s, meeting at the Toby Jug in Tolworth in 1963. Highlights of their gigging life include Robin playing in a skiffle group with his schoolmate and future Led Zeppelin member Jimmy Page, catching Peter Green’s Fleetwood Mac at the Toby Jug, and meeting a certain Simon and Garfunkel at Epsom Folk Club. Over an hour, Margaret and Robin recalled all aspects of Kingston’s enormously exciting live music at the scene, from the Folk Barge to major cinema concerts, as well as reflecting on societal changes overall.
I can visualise it now. I had the homemade one valve radio that you’d tune and you could get American Forces Network. And the guy comes on and he says ‘well I’m gonna play twice this week because everyone’s requested it, Chuck Berry – Roll Over Beethoven’. And that was it. I was hooked. For the rest of your life rock ‘n roll music will be a major component.
The slightly idiosyncratic Kingston Folk Barge – a boat that “wasn’t going anywhere” run by an “unconventional chap”.
The influence of societal trends on what was worn by Margaret and Robin in the 1950s and 1960s.
How one came across new records at the time, from free magazine giveaways to listening booths.
Alan Greenwood moved to Kingston with his parents in the 1960s at the age of 18, where he got a job working in the record department of the Bentalls store. Kingston RPM was eager to tap into the insight Alan was able to offer into the record industry and how it connected to the Kingston locality, including running through how a record might find its way from production to sale via distributor. Meanwhile Alan also had a host of stories related to the various venues in town, including his experiences of managing a band who formed at the Cellar Club in Kingston, as well as insights into society at the time and popular music’s role within it.
The important thing was who was going to be on Thank Your Lucky Stars or Top of the Pops. If you knew they were appearing they would sell a lot more records so you’d get a lot more of them in.
How record shops would get a head start on the charts, and the significance of Woolworths stored Embassy records.
How Alan came to be manager of band 2/3 Left, and a typical gig experience with them.
Memories of some of the localities in the area: the Surbiton Assembly Rooms, the coffee shops of Kingston, and the Cellar Club.
An industry insight into royalties when releasing a record in the 1960s
Chris Trengove was born in the Kingston borough and played in a number of bands as a musical revolution took hold in the town and in UK society more widely, ultimately teaming up with Top Topham in R&B outfit Lester Square and the GTs. In this RPM interview Chris is able to pinpoint various key milestones in the musical narrative of the time – from the advent of rock n roll through to the shift to psychedelia via the Rolling Stones led R&B sound – as well as recalling the TV shows, cinematic films, and radio shows that helped to inspire this deep impact upon popular culture. All of this is placed in the context of Kingston upon Thames, home to many a significant venue in the region, including the Cellar Club at which Chris was fortunate enough to play.
It was hard to get hold of American stuff then but there was a shop on Fife Road which used to import them. We had one of the first Otis Redding records and I can remember carrying it home and playing the hell out of it one time after another.
Some of the most important musical memories of Chris’s childhood – namely the onset of skiffle music, and first hearing Buddy Holly in his father’s car.
A low down on an early enterprise of Chris’s, an ‘avant garde’ jazz band who ‘didn’t know what [they] were doing’.
The ‘mod’ look of Lester Square and the GTs, and a shop in Shaftesbury Avenue that specialised in American imported clothes. Warning: contains reference to recreational drug use.
How Chris and a friend visited a previously familiar club and found it unfamiliarily ‘psychedelic’.
Full Interview. Warning: contains mild language and references to recreational drug use