The Pooterland Interviews:

The Purple Gang

22nd July 2001

The Purple Gang are the unsung heroes of the 1967 UK psychedelic underground and ‘Britain’s Best Kept Secret’ as well as being an unfortunate victim of the emerging media beurocracy and censorship of the late 1960’s. Many of you will remember their classic single Granny Takes A Trip, the anthem of the UFO club in Tottenham Court Road back in 1967.

35 years on they are back with a new album and a chance to set the record straight..!! pOoTers pSycheDelic shAcK talk to ‘Joe’ Beard, original member of The Purple Gang...

Purple Gang Flyer

pOoTers pSycheDelic shAcK: What is the story behind the name The Purple Gang?

Pink (Floyd) was a colour and Joe Boyd was going to produce Arnold Layne.
Joe was to be our manager and we played jugband roarin’ 20’s music. We were told we were to have a ‘Gangster’ image as we had NO image, so as Elvis sang in "Jailhouse Rock"..."the whole rhythm section was the Purple Gang..let`s rock" had to be that.! Obvious really..a colour PINK & PURPLE....The Purple Gang were also a Detroit gang from the Prohibition era and we were Art Students and into colours..........
We were originally called THE YOUNG CONTEMPORARIES JUGBAND !!!!! Weird or what?

pOoTers pSycheDelic shAcK: When did the band form?

I formed the band at Stockport Art College in September 1965.
I had met Pete our singer in St.Ives that summer and also the late Duster Bennett who was in a jugband...I had always followed pop/rock bands but could never afford gear such as amplifiers and electric guitars so a jugband attracted me.

pOoTers pSycheDelic shAcK: Who were the original band members?

Gerry Robinson (Harmonica, Mandolin), Peter Walker (vocals), Geoff Bowyer (washboard, Piano, Vocals, Kazoo), Ank Langley (Jug) and Joe Beard (Guitar).

pOoTers pSycheDelic shAcK: For the benefit of our international readers, can you explain the concept of a Jug Band?

JUGBANDS came from the Memphis Delta area of the Deep South during the Great War 1920`s and Early 1930`s prohibition era. They were ‘poormans’ versions of early Jazzbands and capable of being danced to at Memphis (Delta) rent raising parties or barrelhouse country dances and were a form of dance entertainment band for the poor black workers. The music went beyond pure blues and more into good time stuff.
There were several groups around at the time, but the two most well known were Gus Cannon’s Jug Stompers and The Memphis Jugband. There was a strong songwriting ethos in all the Jugbands and there would often be guest vocalists and the standard of playing was very high.

The musicians could not afford conventional instruments so substituted bass, drums and piano for Jug, Washboard and also had Guitar, Mandolin and Violin with a Kazoo replacing the Trumpet. BUT don’ t be mistaken into thinking they weren’t much cop!! They were Brilliant on their chosen instruments and really rocked/swung. People danced to them AND they wrote fantastic unforgettable good time songs.

As a band The Purple Gang did Gus Cannon’s Jug Stompers and The Memphis Jugband covers in our own particular way. In the 1960’ s there was a jugband revival and I got to learn and hear it ‘live’ then, revival bands included Jug Trust, Panama Ltd and the Jim Kweskin Jugband who regularly appeared alongside West Coast psych bands at the Fillmore Auditorium and Family Dog events at the Avalon Ballroom in San Francisco.
It is my personal belief that they were early forerunners of Rock Music.....but that is arguable.

pOoTers pSycheDelic shAcK: How did you end up getting guitar lessons from John Mayall?

I was going out with Alice Flint and her older brother Hughie was the drummer in John Mayalls band. I l lived nearby where my dad had a butchery business and I delivered to the Mayall house that had a tree den where John would practice. I only had one lesson prior to a sound check at local gig at Woodford Community Centre (still a blues gig) on John’s old guitar with a piece of wood nailed on to it to hold harmonica. He showed me a 12bar in A..very useful. I also went to Manchester once with John to an Alexis Korner gig. They let him get up and join in on harmonica of which he had several in different keys in his denim jacket. I booked Long John Baldry and Cyril Davies AllStars and The Velvettes for £75 for my school dance at another gig we attended.

I also knew his late mum and brothers Rod and Stan as we were from Bramhall, Stockport.

pOoTers pSycheDelic shAcK: How much truth was there in the fact that you had a 'Witch' for a lead vocalist? What sort of magic was he into, Black or White?

Sadly this was TRUE and the magic was Black......
He was in the Alderley Edge Coven run by Alex Saunders who was a disciple of Aleister Crowley. Pete had his arm tattooed with the "Goat of Mendes"(SATAN)
His local vicar used to plead with him to stop.

This was REAL, before all that Heavy Metal and Goth bullshit.....VERY NASTY.

He’s in denial nowadays, but it was true. I used to believe/still do, that we had ‘cursed’ bad luck in the band. This is NOT Rock’ n’ Roll.
I do believe that The Purple Gang had so much mysterious ‘bad luck’, of people neglecting us and our music that is is almost feasible that his involvement with Black Magic may have out some ‘curse’ on the band. I did once borrow some of his books to read at home out of idle curiosity some years later and so much went wrong in ONE car broke, my TV broke, there was a small fire in my house and my dog ran off!!. I ended up putting them in a plastic bag up my garden and returning them to him later. We now have a fan who is a catholic priest in Austria who I am hoping will bless the new band or ‘something’ to try and lift this ‘curse’.

In truth the Alderley Edge Witches were famous locally in this area during the 1960’s and Pete’s best friend was reputed to have received scars across his back mysteriously at one Black Mass.........he committed suicide at a very young age not long afterwards.......

pOoTers pSycheDelic shAcK: Where were you all from?

Stockport and Macclesfield area (North East Cheshire, England) although we were rumoured to come from Los Angeles, London, Birmingham and Liverpool at various times in the 1960’s!!!

pOoTers pSycheDelic shAcK: The Gangster image seemed a bit of a strange idea (more suited to an early Sixties PR idea) what was the story behind that?

Well really We had NO IMAGE at all. So the Prohibition Era music ‘feel’ made the record label go for this image (AGAINST OUR WISHES). They insisted that we had an image as soon as possible and we all were made to cut our hair. Pete, Gerry and Ank had much longer hair than the Rolling Stones when we first hit London!!. Admittedly it was a crap idea really looking back....but you know.. jugband, prohibition music and all that..? we WERE uncomfortable about this and we were ‘rushed’ into it I suppose.

Purple Gang Billboard

pOoTers pSycheDelic shAcK: Who do you cite as your main influences at the time?

Jugbands first and foremost, then .Blues..R&B..John Mayall, Alexis Korner, Little Walter, Sonny Boy Williamson, The Pretty Things, Bob Dylan, The Stones, The Kinks, The Yardbirds, The Beatles, The Lovin Spoonful, Gus Cannon’s Jug Stompers, Jim Kweskin & The Jugband, Muddy Waters and a little Spike Jones & The City Slickers.

pOoTers pSycheDelic shAcK: What bands were you each in before you started The Purple Gang?

We were all teenagers so The Purple Gang was our first band.

pOoTers pSycheDelic shAcK: Were you shocked when the Underground scene picked up on Granny Takes A Trip?

No, not really, we were part of the ‘scene’ spite of certain hacks trying to re-write history. Joe Boyd was our manager at the time , he was a key player at the UFO, was heavily involved in the 14 Hour Technicolour Dream at Alexandra Palace and also produced Pink Floyd’s Arnold Layne and we also lived with him. John ‘Hoppy’ Hopkins, of International Times, UFO and 14 Hour Technicolour Dream fame played piano on ‘Bootleg Whisky’ off our first album.

Mainstream pop didn’t really want us, Folk music didn’t want us, but the underground scene DID.
We were all in it together until the ‘Grey Suits’ divided us and ruled’s all about ££££££££££££ etc.

Joe Boyd - Purple Gang

pOoTers pSycheDelic shAcK: There seems to be a small legend surrounding around the Purple Gang’s van, what sort of van was it and was it really purple?

I wrecked the first one after my 21st Birthday, it was a Ford Thames 12CWT.
The main one was a Morris Commer 15cwt, it was black and purple with The Purple Gang and a jug on the sides and psychedelic posters on the back pasted on (now collector’ s items at auction!!). Inside it was kitted out with thick foam to sleep on, the two smallest used to have to sleep between the wheel arches. and our gangster suits hung from the sides inside.

Quite often we were parked in Chelsea Regents Park and Hyde Park in London and we used to have to queue at public baths for a shower. In winter our breath used to be white and some nights we slept where we ran out of hotel wrecking for us!! (that used to make us despise the pampered hotel wreckers)....we served our dues..they were spoiled. Most nights we would sing ourselves to sleep with Gerry playing the harmonica.

pOoTers pSycheDelic shAcK: There was a hip boutique in London called Granny Takes a Trip run by Nigel Weymouth and Michael English. What was first, the single or the shop and did the shop help with your notoriety?

The shop/boutique was there first but I had a lyric idea first, prior to the first was a fateful co-incidence just waiting to happen. The shop owners were delighted with the single and Nigel Weymouth ended up designing our poster.

pOoTers pSycheDelic shAcK: We paid £12 for a Mint copy of 'Granny' back in 1984, when we first heard about The Purple Gang and also out of curiosity due to the press it got back in the sixties. Looking through a recent collectors price guide it still commands a reasonable price and The Purple Gang - Strikes still fetches £30 at auctions. Does this surprise you?

It is surprising, they talk about ‘pop history’ and possibly we are part of an era that is becoming collectable like the prohibition era in the USA. There is a later release with a blue label, the 1967 one is orange. Even I have not got the original album!!!

There was also an American version of ‘Strikes’ that we were told was withdrawn but we now know from American fans that it DID come out. We never got paid any royalties for this and the PRS MCPS were of no help to us....

Purple Gang - Strikes

pOoTers pSycheDelic shAcK: Did the BBC really ban Granny Takes A Trip and were they really responsible for the demise of The Purple Gang? Why were so many other artistes not targeted in the way that you were?

Well, yes and no really!! The BBC was the entertainment organ of The State/The Establishment and they needed a scapegoat/soft target. We were an easy (acoustic) target that would ‘do very nicely’, without a powerful record company and lawyer behind them. Other artistes were with richer labels and they bought in and hyped their way into the charts and on to radio and TV afterwards.

Strictly speaking we could have expected some comment about ‘Granny’, BUT if they had played it first they should have realised it was a fun thing.
We had these things happen to us due to THEIR ban, so judge for yourselves........

  • Top Of The Pops cancelled
  • Appearance on Jukebox Jury TV show cancelled
  • Jane Easton Agency dropped us (they had The Stones, Hendrix, Animals, Yardbirds)
  • USA record license deal with Sire stopped
  • Touring possibilities cancelled

A lot of it was fixed and I believe it still is .The industry just goes along with it all but at the end when they closed the pirates down and rehired them some jocks got us on the air like Peely, Symonds, Everett and Vance.
So we had plenty of airplay later. We were at the epicentre, being close to Boyd and Hoppy, maybe MI5 had their eye on all the Underground scene.....?

However, the BBC have since made it up to me by playing us and now Local Radio won’t play us......the worm has turned (commercial)

The irony is that tracks like Arnold Layne, Purple Haze etc all got played. IF (as I suspect and ALWAYS did) they were on the Payola/Hype/Bung Take (as is usually admitted from time to time) (Brian Epstein - Love Me Do, Pete Jenner - Arnold Layne) then OURS would be the one to be banned.


So I always though it was double standards, it’s a music biz thing, we all know it goes on. Who’s capable of exposing it? john Pilger step forward.

How can a poor man like me take on the BBC by saying such things that are usually left unsaid? The record company were either poor or tight......and they were both.
However, the band should have written ‘In The Summertime’ (have a drink, have a drive..) I guess. There again Transatlantic Records should have re-signed or rebuilt us as a song writing reformed band, why didn’t they????
So should Joe Boyd really if the truth were known....BUT he has always encouraged me.

pOoTers pSycheDelic shAcK: What was the date of the letter you received from the BBC?

May 1967

pOoTers pSycheDelic shAcK: Who were the 'muso's you hang out with in the summer of 1966?

Jericho Jugband (Richmond) Duster Bennet, John the Fish, Mick Slattery, Pete the Brolly....some jazzband? The Police broke us up and ran us out of town.

pOoTers pSycheDelic shAcK: I know you played several times at UFO, but were you regulars down there anyway?

Yeah of course, the club was run by our manager Joe Boyd and the guy who put piano on "Bootleg Whisky" (Hoppy). I later returned after I left the band to witness everyone dancing to "Granny" and asking what had happened to us.

pOoTers pSycheDelic shAcK: What was the scene like in 1966/1967? Were you aware that a ‘revolution’ was taking place

Yes we were aware of what was going on, but the rest of the country was not. The ‘scene’ was all things to all people....I was stupid though to walk out of the band, I just seem to remember always being pissed off with our record company’s uselessness.

Prior to 1966 Liverpool was the epicentre of the music scene, then it shifted back across to the USA with San Francisco and New York’s Greenwich Village becoming the focus. You had Dylan moving into surreal Folk rock and then Jefferson Airplane and The Doors etc. Then lots of American came to London (away from the Vietnam war atmosphere?) bringing news of Haight Ashbury, LSD and Lightshows.

Then Pink Floyd started at the London Free School and Joe Boyd and Hoppy started to get things moving. The acoustic scene was still strong, even after Dylan ‘plugged in’.
The London Underground emerged and The Beatles observed the happenings, they then took it on and wore the hippy mantle and began to concentrate on albums and new sounds and so did the Stones. Suddenly this big flower opened up and spread it’s perfume everywhere!!!!

Sadly then money and commercialism took over and rest is history..............

pOoTers pSycheDelic shAcK: Was the 14 Hour Technicolour Dream really THAT GOOD?

Well is WAS the best Darts & Dominoes night I have ever attended...!!
Seriously though, it was only as good as I remember it and describe it from my point of view. From my opinion, it was meant to help "Hoppy" and "IT".. It was as good as a non-commercial industry based event could ever. The spirit of the "UNDERGROUND" was truly in ‘full momentum’ that night. We wanted to do our own thing without interference From the "Blue Meanies or The Greysuits"..IT was a "COMING OUT PARTY"

Click HERE to read Joes account of the 14 Hour Technicolour Dream

14 Hour Poster

pOoTers pSycheDelic shAcK: Were you invloved with the anniversary gig a few years ago?

Never heard anything about it...WE WERE NEVER AT THE ORIGINAL ACCORDING TO
SEVERAL SMARTASSED HACKS! See what I mean about re-writing history?

pOoTers pSycheDelic shAcK: Did you ever play at Middle Earth and if so who with?

NO, I think it came after we were crippled by the BBC.....

pOoTers pSycheDelic shAcK: What other London clubs did you play in?

We played The Marquee, the 100 Club, Brown Derby Club, Jack Straws Castle, Crawdaddy, Les Cousins, Maria Grey Training School, Winning Post and various pubs and clubs, also some folky clubs. We did not have any residencies anywhere.

pOoTers pSycheDelic shAcK: Did you tour outside of London?, if so who with?

No, we never toured, but we did various Universities and Colleges, topping the bill at several.

pOoTers pSycheDelic shAcK: Who else have you played with?

Pink Floyd, Tomorrow, Cat Stevens, Al Stewart, Love, David Bowie, The Kinks, Captain Beefheart, T.Rex, Slade, The Move, Family, Mott The Hoople, Long John Baldry, Graham Bond Organisation, Julie Driscoll, Jo-Ann Kelly, Cat Stevens, Yes, Tim Hardin, Colloseum, Hawkwind and Fairport Convention.

pOoTers pSycheDelic shAcK: What and when was your best gig and why?

A tough One.......UFO..cos Jimi Hendrix tried to help us out on bass, Ally Pally (14 Hour Technicolour Dream) because it was such a Freak Out and the punters accepted us as part of the scene.

Derbyshire Caving Club because they needed ambulances to take away the broken limbed loons and exhausted dancers.

The story goes like this.....We used to rehearse in the Derbyshire Caving Club HQ in Stockport and were sort of honorary members, the gig was Christmas 1970 at the Poynton Folk Centre and the mad dancing was to our Cossack piece we wrote called "MISHKA"..there was a broken leg, arm and finger and the ambulance came and the Management stopped the gig during "Rainy Day Women Nos.12&13" which was a UFO fave along with ‘Granny Takes A Trip’. We used to have an old Mortar bomb as a mascot that was found on a caving expedition and would throw at one another in the Derbyshire Caving Club cellar off Hillgate. One night Alan Gambol took it outside and dropped the bugger from the top of the outside steps...................IT BLEW OUT EVERY WINDOW IN THE VICINITY and me off my feet!!!!!! (I guess that The Purple Gang are lucky and not cursed at alll really).

Another good gig was York University in March 1967, because we were top of the bill in our own right with flowers and played on a balcony and treated with respect (for once)

pOoTers pSycheDelic shAcK: What would be your favourite song from this era? (by other bands)

ONE SONG???....surely you jest?.........Strawberry Fields Forever, Love - Alone Again Or, Jefferson Airplane - White Rabbit, Pink Floyd - See Emily Play, Incredible String Band - First Girl I Loved, Jimi Hendrix - Purple Haze, Bob Dylan - Rainy Day Women.

pOoTers pSycheDelic shAcK: Who were your favourite bands from this era?

Beatles, Pink Floyd, Love, Tomorrow, Stones, Dylan &The Band, The Kinks, The Lovin`Spoonful and the Bonzo Dog Dooh Dah Band.

pOoTers pSycheDelic shAcK: When did the band split?

After the Summer...1967 Reformed in 1970, 1981 and 1998.

pOoTers pSycheDelic shAcK: Where you involved in any bands after The Purple Gang?

A psychedelic folk rock band called the Joe Beard Band. Then I went into folk music for a quiet life and did an album on the EMI mobile here (at Poynton) with The late Trevor Crozier called "Trouble Over Bridgwater" I was also in a short lived psychedelic band called Sudden Earth in Macclesfield.

Then I wrote a Goth/Psychedelic/Folk/ Rock Suite called "The Edge " that was broadcast on Local radio then archived by The National Trust. I also did some solo folky gigs and then went to art college in Manchester where I was on the same course year as Mick Hucknell!!

pOoTers pSycheDelic shAcK: Do you still play in a band?

YES it’s called THE PURPLE GANG...and it’s more electric. We have a new CD and a website.
Can I finish what I started when I was 18??

According to e-mails from the USA, Russia and Japan it seems there may be a chance!!
We are now gigging locally and hoping to do something decent sometime soon.

pOoTers pSycheDelic shAcK: What do you now do for a living?

I was always a painter. I am an Artist and Tutor and now keeper of the PURPLE GANG
Flame, songwriter, player, manager and PR man! I have my own art gallery and a studio in my garden.

pOoTers pSycheDelic shAcK: What are the other members of the band doing these days?

Geoff Bowyer went into Drama/Theatre and moved back to London 25 years ago,
married a London girl and is now writing musical comedy and the like. He lives near Crystal Palace and was in "The Oily Cart Theatre Company"

Peter Walker is a Bookmaker’s clerk in Stockport district, he also used to paint and teach. Gerry Robinson is a Creative Director for a Macclesfield Medical Exhibitions Firm and Ank Langley has gone back to Stockport College as a Senior Lecturer in Graphics etc.

pOoTers pSycheDelic shAcK: Do you still listen to 60's/70's music?

YES of course!! although not all the time, but I DO still listen to psychedelic music.
I like New Order’s new one "Crystal", music of the Lebanon (Fairouz) and jugbands. I also like the Super Furry Animals ‘Rings Around The World’

HOW CAN WE FOLLOW THOSE DAYS OF 1967?....We can..but..lyrics are now...//????

Purple Gang review