I wouldn’t expect the fervour of a 1950s audience when Doug Perkins and the Spectaculars make their latest return to Chorley Little Theatre this weekend. For the sake of the team at this Lancashire venue you’d hope those days of ripped-out seats and near-riots are in the past. But there will be genuine rock’n’roll spirit, and plenty of dancing in the aisles.
As I’m always at pains to point out, I tend to steer clear of covers bands on these pages, but this likeable outfit are far more than that anyway. And as I put it to Slim Spectacular, this four-piece outfit’s drummer (his real name, Jose, gives a hint of his Portuguese roots, but it’s also a great rock’n’roll name in itself, I reckon), it’s more complicated, isn’t it?
“I guess. We do covers, but change arrangements to make them sound more ‘50s. It’s pretty much a mix of old and new, with around 10 originals and as many we’ve taken into that style – more modern songs from the likes of Daft Punk.”
That latter cover mentioned is Get Lucky, while the band also have their ‘nine-minute medley of lots of songs in the key of A’, not only a bit of Elvis Presley but also CeeLo Green, Prince and Meghan Trainor, rockabilly style. They’re a mighty live act too, judging by video clips like those filmed at The Ferret in Preston a while ago, doing a storming cover of Johnny Kidd and the Pirates’ Shakin’ All Over.
“We do enjoy those extended pieces … holding those notes.”
In my old neck of the woods in darkest Surrey, there was a band I saw regularly who did the finest Eddie Cochran and Gene Vincent covers, a fella called Spike heading up the Hog Valley Stompers and (prior to that) Inspector Tuppence and the Sexy Firemen, the latter supplying a few tracks to a winning 1987 vinyl rock’n’roll revival compilation called The James Deans of the Dole Queue – a Rockabilly Revolution. The fact that Spike used a vintage microphone added to that ’50s feel. And there’s something about those songs being played live that works so well.
“We much prefer playing live. We try and get in to record, but sometimes listen back and it never sound so good, never quite capturing that moment.”
That’s how it is with Doug Perkins and the Spectaculars, taking inspiration from rock’n’roll’s pioneers, recreating and reinventing that unique sound, while emulating the greats – from Chuck Berry, Johnny Cash and Eddie Cochran to Duane Eddy, Carl Perkins and Elvis Presley. Mind you, I was impressed by the recording of their own composition, Full-Time Rockin’ Man, on a recent live album.
“Ah, great. When we recorded that album, we multi-tracked but didn’t over-dub. We tried to do it in a 50s style, all in a big circle, pressing record and seeing what came out, track-by-track.”
That particular song name-checks a ‘part-time shelf stacker, full-time rockin’ man’. Is that autobiographical of Tarleton-based lead singer/guitarist Stu (aka Doug)?
“Yeah, Stu worked for Booth’s in Hesketh Bank. That was the first song he brought to us. We were just the seeds of a band then. We all knew each other from bands over the years, but all the planets aligned – we were all without a band at the same time, all in the pub at the same time.”
That hostelry was the Dog Inn, Whittle-le-Woods, where they used the back room to practise. Surely that sounds more Phoenix Nights than The Sky at Night though, not least considering the proximity of local luminary Dave Spikey.
“Dave’s been to see us a few times actually. I don’t know if I can say he’s a fan, but we played once or twice at the Royal Oak, close to the Dog. Anyway, Stu told us he had this idea for a rockabilly song and came with these lyrics, and the Dog Inn was our haunt at the time.”
They started out as an acoustic combo, ‘almost like a skiffle band’, Chorley-based Jose using brushes instead of drumsticks. The switch to electric came later. Of Stu and Jose’s bandmates, there’s also double bass player Chris (DB), also from Chorley, and lead guitarist Malcolm (Chet) from not-so-far-off Penwortham.
“We’re all Northern lads, as it were.”
While Stu was singing about shelf-stacking at Booth’s on that early track, he’s moved on since, and is away with his job with Evan’s Cycles a lot these days, hence Jose stepping into the breach to talk to me. In fact, Jose’s a music technology teacher at Winstanley College in Wigan. So are the band any closer to becoming a full-time operation?
“I don’t think so. It’s always been a hobby, but we like to be out there at least once a week. It was a lot more than that, but got a bit much with all our work commitments. This way we keep it fresh.”
Now and again a contemporary artist takes on a few rock’n’roll classics, Paul McCartney’s cracking 1999 album Run Devil Run springing to mind. But Richard Hawley’s the only contemporary star of note I can think of who gets away with the slicked-back hair and rock’n’roll demeanour.
“Stu’s a big fan of Richard Hawley. And it’ll never go away. Even The Arctic Monkeys have taken on a bit of a ’50s style in one or two songs, like Baby I’m Yours.”
The band don’t seem quite old enough to have seen all the 80s rockabilly revival bands. So why did they seek out rock’n’roll?
“Stu was already into that style of music. We’d played in folk or rock bands. But as a music teacher I was really interested in recording processes, how they made those records before having the technology we have today, and how we could make that sound. I think it was songs like Elvis Presley’s Mystery Train, early Johnny Cash, hearing Eddie Cochran and that rawness. It’s almost punk.”
Those same influences were heard in early Beatles recordings too, of course.
“Exactly, and the Rolling Stones and all those early ‘60s bands playing what was coming over from America.”
Talking of recording techniques, one such visionary was Buddy Holly, which brings me on to another of the band’s unique selling points – they all just happen to wear glasses. Hence the band name. For while theirs is a truly rock’n’roll monicker, there’s a neat story as to how they settled on that.
“The original name was going to be The Spectacles, but we decided we needed something more ‘50s, and for some reason looked up who was the CEO of Specsavers, learning about Doug and Mary Perkins. And we felt we couldn’t get a more rock’n’roll name than Doug Perkins.”
In fact, Doug has become a big fan, the band having played the high street optician chain’s annual party at his Guernsey HQ before now, even writing the track Love is Blind to mark the occasion. And talking of high profile backing, BBC radio presenter Mark Radcliffe said on his Radio 2 folk show, ‘if you saw that name outside a pub, you’d probably go in, wouldn’t you’.
He has a point, and I get the impression that if those punters did walk in, they’d soon be won over, as proved to be the case when the band triumphed in the People’s Choice award at the Rock the House 2014 national competition and the previous year’s Band Royale competition at the Fox and Goose in Southport.
I mention the Doug Perkins story and its link to the Channel Islands, but there’s another back-story doing the rounds, taking the tale back to the mountainous city of Gatlinburg, Tennessee, on the now nearly-forgotten Indian Gap Trail, where apparently a young cow-poke named Billy Joe Perkins met a young woman of Cherokee descent named Salali. They married and in mid-July 1934 gave birth to a son they named Douglas.
If you head over to their website you can learn a bit more about that version of the origins of the band. A fine tale it is too, although it’s slightly spoiled when you read that their current hometown is ‘Preston, Lancashire’. Or does that add to the mystique? I’ll let you decide. Anyway, what can we expect at Chorley Little Theatre this weekend? I’m guessing you attract an audience of all ages.
“Definitely, and it’s a gig that often pulls those who might not come to see us in a pub. If you book a standing venue, perhaps no one will come, but this way lots will book but then come up at the end and say, ‘I wish there were no seats, then I’d get up and dance’.”
That said, you are set to play The Continental in Preston in early May too.
“Yes, and there’s a bigger music following there. We don’t tend to play so many gigs in Preston, so that should be pretty well attended. That’s a really good venue for music, where people will take a punt on a band rather than just appealing to the locals.”
Danny and the Juniors suggested almost 50 years ago that rock’n’roll is here to stay, and you seem to be the living embodiment of that statement. What say, Jose?
“Oh, I think so. We just want to keep those sounds alive. Most of us are in our 30s, with Stu the youngest, but I think the older folk who remember it all first time around appreciate it. They tell us it’s nice we’re keeping it going, and that it’s better to hear these songs played than all that Kings of Leon and what-have you.”
And let’s face it, there are still a few old rock’n’rollers doing the rounds in Lancashire.
“Yeah, we get the Preston Rock’n’Roll Club popping down every so often, and Swingaroo Vintage Dancehall have us once a year. That’s always a cracking gig, with all that ‘50s dancing.”
Doug Perkins and the Spectaculars play Chorley Little Theatre, Dole Lane, Chorley, Lancashire, on Saturday, February 18 (7.30pm), with tickets £6 on the door, or via Malcolm’s Musicland in the town or the band’s website via this link. There’s also a Facebook link here.
They then return on Friday, May 5 (8pm) at The Continental, South Meadow Lane, Preston, supported by Djangopop, with tickets £6 again, on sale from Eventbrite or in person from the venue and via 01772 499425. There’s a Facebook page for that show too, via this link.