Thursday, 1 September 2016


Hiya Brummies, Brumbeaters, 60's music fans

There are great days and no so great days.

A couple of months ago I received the news from Will Hammond (The Uglys) that one of Brumbeats finest musicians had died.  That person being the great Jimmy O'Neil.    He also told me that, later on in the year, there was going to be a get-together in Birmingham of those who knew Jim.  Well that event happened a couple of weeks ago and I was a guest at a small gathering of Jimmie's old friends and family members at the house of Dave Morgan.   

A classically trained pianist, Jimmy O'Neil was an extraordinary pianist and organist, and had also played as a bassist. He started playing with some young musicians at The English Martyrs School at Sparkhill on the Stratford Road when he was around 14 years of age.

I believe his first band was The Jon Carter Image.   Jimmy had then struck up a musical friendship with Will Hammond and Malcolm Palmer and joined their band, The Yamps with whom he experienced a bit more success, playing R&B music around the country and at all those well known Birmingham venues.   

Will H:   "Although Jimmy was one of The Yamps, he only played with us if there was a piano available on the stage, we used to stick a mic inside the lid and put it through the Selmer PA, however, on those occasions he really lifted the sound of the band.  When the VOX Continental arrived on the scene Jim wasted no time getting one and we all met at Bob Stylers house (Yamps vocalist) to see and hear it.  I think we played about four more gigs with Jims VOX and then he turned up one day at my house and said "Right I'm leaving"  "I'm joining The Walker Brothers".  I was flabbergasted, The Walker Brothers were incredibly famous at the time with The Sun ain't gonna shine Anymore and other massive hits.   He never let on that he had been for an audition and in fact I don't know how he found out about it, maybe from the ads column in the NME or something I suppose".   I was surprised that I knew nothing because we were quite close but as time went by this trait of his 'private self' would re-surface a few times.
The Walker Brothers with Jimmy O'Neil right.
When the Walker Brothers decided to have a backing band instead of playing themselves Jim was set free and returned to Birmingham  The Uglys were riding high on their success with Wake up My Mind and had their sights set on recruiting Jimmy in to their fold.   Uglys drummer Jimmy Holden said "We set up an audition to see how he would get on with the group but in fact it ended up that he auditioned US!!" 
The Ugs 66, Jim second from right.
He joined the next day.   

Jimmy was not only a staggeringly great musical talent - he also had the looks and was a firm favourite with the girls.   An article in Melody Maker had described him as "the Dishy Jimmy O'Neil", from then on he was known in the band as The Dish.

Time went by with The Uglys on the road continually.   Over the next year there were a couple of personnel changes. In came Roger Hill and Dave Pegg for a few months then they were replaced by Will Hammond and Jim switched to Bass.  The band later recruited Dave Morgan to fill out the vocal sound.  The following photo would be the last one to feature Jimmy with The Uglys.

Uglys R to L Jim, Dave Morgan, Will Hammond, Jim Holden
Will H:  The day after this photo was taken, he called round to my house and said "I'm leaving the band"..."When?"......."Now" he said and he walked out of the door and joined up with the Mindbenders.  We were in a state of shock but a little bit of re-organisation in the band and we carried on regardless.  His time with that band wasn't a long one and he returned to Brum and played with a couple of  bands before departing to New York to try his hand there.   It is from there that he did his now famous disappearing trick and lost contact with his family and friends, occasionally re-surfacing for a day somewhere or other and then disappearing again. I would hear rumours of his whereabouts, at various places in the world and tried to trace him, as did Dave Morgan but we both had little or no success at all. 

Jimmy passed away whilst in the Philippines in January but it took a long time for the news to filter back".

After I had been given the invite to the get-together, a series of small, uncanny events occurred.   On BBC4's "Arena" there was programme called "1966 The Year the Decade Exploded" a documentary of the book of the same name by Jon Savage.  9 minutes into the prog, whilst talking about the nuclear holocaust threat, The Uglys track Quiet Explosion started.  The day after I was looking through the Guardian and in the middle pages was a review of the programme and a piece specifically about The Uglys.   A friend from the North phoned me to ask if I'd seen it too?   How strange I thought, not a word about the band and then along come four instances within two days.   

As I arrived at the house, on the night, there was one car parked in the street and I was shocked to see its number plate..... talk about good omens.

The get together was a small affair for those who specifically knew Jimmy.  The Uglys were there though, including Will and Keith Smart who had flown in from Spain for the occasion.   Dave Morgan and his band played a few songs including one written for Jimmy called "The Queen, The Prince and The Dish".   

Following Dave's set, Will Hammond got up with the band to play a couple of tunes to be followed by Steve Gibbons, Steve asked Will to stay on and, unrehearsed and quite frankly unexpected, they cracked into Chuck Berrys "No Money Down".  The call then went out for Jimmy Holden to join the other 3 Uglys and although he had only the Cajon to play instead of a drum kit, for the first time since 1967 The Uglys line-up that Jim had left were up playing Summertime Blues together....  There were a couple of kit problems but it was nothing short of a miracle and a joy to behold.  A fitting finale to their old band mate.

THE UGLYS - 2016
The Uglys 2016 L to R.  Steve Gibbons, Dave Scott-Morgan, Jimmy Holden, Will Hammond

There were loads of Jimmy stories and a lot of affection in the air as we all said goodbye to him...God Bless you Jimmy.



John Fox emailed 2 days ago to say that there is going to be a reunion of Brummie muso's from the 60's  (and others?) on 10 September.  Unfortunately I don't know the venue or who's going but am informed that some bands will be playing.  Sorry to be a bit vague but its the first I've heard of it.  However, if you are interested in going you can call Big Al Johnson on 0121 360 7051 for further details.

Take Care and keep your memories warm.

Copyright:  Bullsheadbob

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