BARBARA CHARONE TAKES THE HIGH ROAD WITH BABE RUTH. ALL THE WAY TO WICK, CAITHNESS – A MERE CABER-TOSS FROM JOHN O’ GROATS. AND DISCOVERS THAT SATURDAY NIGHT REALLY IS ALL RIGHT FOR FIGHTING.
130 MILES UP THE A9 from Inverness, straight up the East coast of Scotland, lies Wick. A small, rural town, population about a thousand.
The last rock band that had the pleasure of playing there were the Searchers. No, not the new Searchers – the original Searchers in all their 1964 glory. A few bands play there now and again, but nothing that could remotely be called rock ‘n’ roll.
Now that was to be changed, with the arrival of Babe Ruth, playing there as part of their Scottish tour.
The gig information sheet read Wick Town Hall, yet on arrival it was found that the building holds only offices. So B. Ruth found themselves playing at the Wick Assembly Rooms, a grotty little place with a stage too small for a rock band, too large for a town meeting.
We asked about the crowd. “They’re checking for knives at the door”, someone replied. Apparently when they don’t like you, everyone circles the floor for half the show, and then fights through the rest of it.
A bit rough for a small town. But, as the song says, Saturday night’s all right for fighting.
Most of the dates on the tour have been smaller places. Sure the big bands play Glasgow and Edinburgh, maybe even Aberdeen, but that’s it. Babe Ruth is the biggest band most of these people are likely to see.
The previous night, they had been booked into a disco, drawing a crowd that favoured suits and ties. Definitely the wrong audience. Undaunted, the band looked forward to playing Wick.
Having seen Babe Ruth on a February university tour, I wondered if things had changed much. Especially after a bad traffic accident in June, since when Ed Spevock, on drums, and Chris Holmes, Keyboards, have been added to the line-up.
“I’ve tamed things down on stage.” says Jenny Haan, the lead singer. “I like to dance around but the whole thing was getting a bit too frantic. Of course, you learn all that from experience.”
Living in the States for six years did much for her aggressive nature on stage. One wondered if the children of Wick were ready for such a bold and brash little lady.
“When I was living in California, I always went down to the clubs to hear bands. I’ve always loved music. Yet for some reason, I began working in a designer’s shop on Oxford St. when I returned.
“The only trouble was,” Jenny continues, “I wasn’t any good at telling the ladies how nice they looked in some atrocious dress. And when the radio came on with something good, that’s all I thought about.”
When we arrived, an uneasy tension pervaded the hall. No one’s quite sure what to do or how to act. For the people of Wick don’t really know about concerts.
Teds easily predominate in the 250 people who fill the room. Two incredulous school girls go go to the sounds of a disco. Do you wanna be in my gang – oh yeah!
Several couples linger around the side of the room, having a bit of a grope on a Saturday night. The teds, a bit more on edge than most, circle the room, stalking about.
IT’S VERY SEEDY, not very exciting when Babe Ruth come on. The kids were downright shocked when this chick bounded on stage and stormed right into the first number.
The crowd stared at this foreign thing on stage. “Hey darling,” “You little tart,” “Hey Suzi,” and such cries were hurled at the indestructable little lady. Not till later did we realize the cries of Suzi were mock Quatro.
“Now I’ve been called everything,” Jenny said after the gig. “I’ve been compared to everyone from Janis on down the line, but Suzi Quatro, of all people!”
“All I really want,” says Jenny, a bit exasperated, “is for people to accept me as I am. I’d just like people to appreciate my singing and the bands playing.”
Did the younger generation of Wick enjoy the evening’s entertainment? It was hard to tell. Their interest was fairly captivated. No fights broke out halfway through the set. The crowd remained almost peaceful, just restless.
Frustration rules in Wick. A small town where aggressions run high. But rock ‘n roll stirs souls.
“This one’s a Frank Zappa song,” and the band were into ‘King Kong’, Frank Who? wondered the masses. Don’t think they feature him on Radio One club, do ya mate?
But Babe Ruth carried on, slowly reaching the kids, gradually bringing them out of themselver, Alan Shacklock occasionally coming out of nowhere and playing some tasty leads, while Chris Holmes added much to the band’s sound.
Most of the bigger bands would have taken one look at Wick and retreated to the safety of their hotel, but Babe Ruth are a tight little outfit with a hell of a lot of guts.
What really stunned the crowd though was Jenny’s pom-pom routine. She does a dance-bit highly reminiscent of American cheerleaders, building the act up till it reaches a suitable climax.
When it was over they stood dumbfounded. Finally our ex-patriot promoter leapt on stage. Obviously HE had been to a gig before.
“Do you want to hear more?” he bellowed.
Not knowing their lines, the audience remained silent.
“Do you want to hear more music?” he bellowed again.
The perceptive caught on, a few yeahs were heard.
Back bounded Babe Ruth, closing with a fitting ‘Jumpin’ Jack Flash’. Several people moved, some danced, progress had been made, new ground trodden.
Back at the hotel the band were quite pleased. After all, it’s not every day one gets the pleasure of playing Wick. “This 14 year old boy came up to me after the gig,” Alan relates, “and told me they liked us.”
Strange tour this Scottish Babe Ruth jaunt. Far from trendy London, far from glamour. The crowds aren’t enormous and you have to work to bring the kids around.
“I’ll tell ya,” says a rather tired Miss Haan relaxing after the gig, “an audience like that one is much more challenging for me to play than a regular Birmingham or London crowd.”
Babe Ruth went to sleep a happy band that night. Sure they’ve got a way to go yet, still being a young group. But experience makes giants out of the willing and Babe Ruth are willing. They work.
As we left Wick the next afternoon, we were heading back to reality. It would be a long time before rock ‘n roll came back to Wick.
© Barbara Charone, New Musical Express, 1 September 1973