In the days before Tanita Tikaram finally put Basingstoke on the UK music map; one often witnessed conversations that went something like:
“Are there any pop stars from Basingstoke?”
“Err, well the Troggs; they were from Andover.”
Indeed they were and it was as if (for the purposes of portraying Basingstoke as a hot-bed of creativity) we adopted Andover as an outlying village or a twin town whose residents would give their address as ‘Andover (near Basingstoke) Hants.’ Apart from our geographical proximity, we have no legitimate claim to Andover’s cultural heritage. However, there is one key link between The Troggs and Basingstoke.
Bass-player Pete Staples moved to Basingstoke in 1978, almost a decade after his abrupt departure from the band when he was famously replaced while on honeymoon with his wife Hilary in 1969. Although The Troggs officially disbanded at that point, they reformed later that year without Pete, but thereafter survived on the reputation gained when Pete was a member and were never to repeat that success.
Pete had been in Andover bands The Senators and The Ten Feet Five during the first half of the sixties. The latter recorded a single in 1965 for Fontana; Baby’s Back In Town (TF 578). Pete doesn’t own a copy but recalls:
“It wasn’t a very good song. It was more of a death march as I remember.”
The Troggs had already formed while Pete was in the Ten Feet Five, indeed they had been cutting their teeth as a ‘local band’ in Basingstoke and elsewhere, appearing on five occasions under the auspices of the Galaxy Club between 1st August 1964 and 20th May 1965. This explains why Pete has no memory of playing in Basingstoke although The Ten Feet Five did play at St. Joseph’s Hall on Friday June 5th 1964.
By the time he and guitarist Chris Britton had linked up with Reg Presley and Ronnie Bond to form what was to be the band’s definitive line-up; The Troggs were setting their sights higher. They came to the attention (largely through the persistence of Pete’s predecessor in The Troggs; David Wright) of promoter Larry Page who had been managing The Kinks. The latter signed with PYE records and Page was looking for a band to plug the gap.
“He (Larry Page) was looking for another group. We kept going up there and asking if we could do anything and he said ‘I’ve got this song here – Wild Thing – go away and practice that. I’ve got a recording session with my orchestra next week; come along and if there’s any time left you can run into the studio and record it.’ So we practiced this Wild Thing and we went up there and sat in our van. Then he came running out and said ‘right, you’ve got twenty minutes to set up your gear and bash this number out.’ We recorded it in two takes and I think we recorded another song as well! Not that we were that clever, I mean Wild Thing was so simple anyhow.”
The Troggs’ first single ‘Lost Girl’ (Reg Presley’s first original composition, according to Pete) was issued by CBS, to whom they had been leased by Page. Their two subsequent releases; Wild Thing and With A Girl Like You and their debut album ‘From Nowhere’ were issued by Fontana in the UK in 1966. The same year, the band launched Larry Page’s Page One label with I Can’t Control Myself (POF 001). They remained there until 1970.
Pete’s three years with the Troggs were undoubtedly their most successful. Theirs was the first recorded version of Wild Thing which was written by American songwriter Chip Taylor. It reached number 2 in the UK (number 1 in the US). The follow-up ‘With A Girl Like You’ gave them a UK number 1 in July 1966. Further top ten hits included ‘I Can’t Control Myself’, ‘Any Way That You Want Me’ and ‘Love Is All Around’, the latter earning singer Reg Presley who wrote the song, some long-overdue royalties (thanks to cover versions by R.E.M. and Wet, Wet, Wet). The 1968 single ‘Little Girl’ reached number 37 in the UK and was the last chart action the band would see.
Despite successes in the UK, US and Europe, Pete never made any money from The Troggs. His story is perhaps common among the exploited pop musicians of that era:
“I can’t remember getting any money for Wild Thing even though it went to number one in America. I was working as a maintenance electrician in 1966 before we turned professional. I was doing a job in somebody’s house when I heard Wild Thing on the radio. They said it was number ten in the charts! We were all working; Reg (Presley) was a brickie and Ronnie (Bond) was a carpenter. We did a gig once somewhere near Newbury; it was a Christmas party organised by the Basingstoke-based diamond people Van Moppes. They told us that we could help ourselves to any food that was left over. Old Ronnie got his drum-cases and he was filling them up with salmon sandwiches, cakes and even Champagne. We cleared everything that they had left. We ate and drank it all in the van, it was one of the best gigs we ever did. I always remember that one because Ronnie had hardly any money at all and I know that he had (at least) once eaten porridge for his Sunday lunch because he was so hard up.”
In spite of their apparent poverty; Pete recalls that alcohol became a problem. Pete is convinced that the demon drink contributed to the premature demise of drummer Ronnie Bond in 1989.
“We drank whisky & coke; for breakfast sometimes. Ronnie was living opposite a pub where he became a bit of a celebrity.”
The Troggs toured the UK in 1966 with The Walker Brothers and Dave Dee, Dozy, Beaky, Mick & Tich.
(DD,D,B,M&T, previously called Dave Dee & The Bostons, see Winchester Lido biographies page)
“They were our mates because they were from Salisbury. We all travelled on a tour bus except Scott Walker who had his own car and chauffeur. He wouldn’t go on the bus with us!”
They began another UK tour in March 1967 with US singer Gene Pitney and they toured the US and Canada in 1968.
“We started off in Canada where we did some gigs with The Who. We got to know them quite well; especially Keith Moon. He was quite ‘way out’ and rather lonely. I remember talking to him in London and he told me he was fed up with London and all the drugs and everything. I told him he should come down to Andover where we could go horse-riding. He said he’d like that but he never did. Then, of course he died. (7th September 1978). Keith was a very erratic person compared to, say, Reg (Presley) who was very ‘calculating’ and wasn’t the kind of bloke who would blow hotel doors off their hinges or anything like that.
The strangest gig on that tour was probably in Greenwich Village in New York; the audience were all out of their minds. We thought they were looking at us but they weren’t. They were watching the psychedelic back-projections.
We went out west to California and although I can’t remember whether or not we had a gig but we went to Miami because we wanted to go to the seaside.
The beaches were packed with tanned body-builders. We were four skinny, white kids with long hair. We must have looked like we’d come down from another planet.
We were due to play in Memphis but the gig was cancelled because Martin Luther King got shot (4th April 1968) and a curfew was imposed.”
Although Pete was shocked and mystified at being sacked in 1969, he has adopted a philosophical attitude.
“They kicked me out. It was a bit of a shock because we’d been through a hell of a lot and achieved so much. I’m not sure what the reason was or who was behind it. It was also a shock because I’d just got married. I’ve always thought it was partly to do with money. They got this other bloke in to replace me (Tony Murray). They put him on a weekly wage and they took the money coming in for gigs and all that but they didn’t get many gigs so he was earning more than they were! Everything was money-orientated. I think the sad thing was that we’d all grown up in the same town and all our parents knew each other. People ask me if I’m upset that it happened and I tell them that I saw the best period of the group; I’m happy that I was on all the hits and they haven’t done much since then. If they’d gone on to have number ones and sell-out tours; I might have been a bit envious but they haven’t. The band will always be remembered for what it did when I was in it and nothing can take that away. In actual fact I think I came out better than some of them although not Reggie because he got the royalties for Love Is All Around. This is the funny thing with The Troggs; it was a complete contrast to our usual material but as long as it’s a good tune, it doesn’t matter if it’s a soft, simple song or a heavy one.”
In the years between leaving The Troggs and moving to Basingstoke at the end of the seventies, Pete turned his hand to furniture restoration, pub management and became an electrician as he had trained to do before his stint in the spotlight. Pete was employed for some years as a contracts engineer by Geoff Wheeler whose lighting shop occupied a space in a small parade at the foot of Wote Street.
“I couldn’t go back into the music industry. It had left such a bad taste in my mouth. I just wanted to be away from it.”
Nevertheless, Pete did get into some musical ventures including a band with his son Leo at the end of the nineties called The Wild Things. Other contributors to the project included drummers Leon Munkley and Peter Jenkins, guitarists Moon (Not Keith!), Andy Jones and John Fletcher, saxophonist Andy Kennedy and multi-instrumentalist Opkar Hans.
Pete even reformed The Ten Feet Five for a short while. He kept in touch with them but the only reunions with The Troggs were for the signing of legal agreements.
In January 2012 Reg Presley announced that he had lung cancer. Pete’s message board began to receive messages of good will from fans who clearly assumed they were still in contact with one another but Pete reckons to have seen Reg no more than three times since his impromptu dismissal in 1969.
Reg Presley died on 5th February 2013.
In more recent years Pete has ventured into the field of songwriting. He recalls recruiting local girl Karen Ana.
“I bought some recording gear because I was going to start writing songs and recording them, but not being a singer; it was a bit awkward. My wife said she was working with a girl who was a singer so I said ‘send her along to me and I can record her and try out the new equipment.’ So she came along and I wrote a song for her. I was working from the manual; I’m not a recording engineer!”
An album’s worth of their collaborations was posted on Pete’s website and one song; ‘I Don’t Know Why’ was issued as a CD single on Pete’s own Unique Feelings label.
Pete had actually set out to write a Christmas song but lost his mother before it was completed. Somewhere along the line he became moved by news from Iraq and he was seized by the notion of an anti-war song.
“I’d never felt as strongly about anything in my life as this bloody war. I had to strike a delicate balance because I didn’t want to blame anyone but the song was sympathetic to the people rather than saying ‘the Americans were wrong or Saddam Hussein or whatever.
We haven’t done anything for a while because Karen’s just had a baby and opened a clothes shop in Winchester, so I’ve started to take the reins and start writing and recording songs for myself.
Although Karen’s got a lovely voice and there are some decent songs there, people are interested in the Trogg bits, which I can understand so I’ll just have to do what I can. I’ve got some equipment upstairs that does wonders with your voice!”
Pete reflects that the Basingstoke home he has shared with Hilary for thirty-four years stands on the site of ‘the Rainbow Café’ which was a popular ‘stop-off’ on the A30 between London and Andover and all points south and west. He also remembers the Tower café on the opposite side of Basingstoke. These were the service stations of the day.
“Strange, I never thought I’d be living here but we don’t want to move; the house is quiet, it’s about the right size for us, as is the garden and I’ve got my little recording studio.”
Pete’s most recent opus is a song about Basingstoke, again sung by Karen Ana: