I suppose the phrase “Pop Parade” sounds a bit outdated these days. The word “Pop” has many meanings but in the sixties, when the world of popular music was expanding and becoming more accessible to young people, “Pop” was being used extensively to describe magazine articles, films, TV and radio programmes about the contemporary music scene. There were names such as “Pop Gear”, “Top Of The Pops”, “Colour Me Pop”, “Pick Of The Pops” and “Monterey Pop”.
Saturday Pop Parade was actually a section of the weekend edition of the Newcastle Evening Chronicle running throughout 1965. It included articles about popular national and international singers and groups of the day, stories about local northeast groups and the places where they performed plus the top twenty best selling singles in the Newcastle area.
From 1965 to 1967 the four groups I was in were all based in Sunderland where I lived. I never read the Newcastle Evening Chronicle and therefore never got to see Pop Parade. Although I sometimes played gigs in the Newcastle area, my knowledge of Newcastle groups and venues at that time was very limited. Of course I knew about those groups that were performing over a wider area such as the Junco Partners, Sect and Elcort. Back in those days I used to read the Melody Maker and New Musical Express so the articles in Pop Parade about the national music scene probably wouldn’t have interested me. However, had the opportunity arisen for me to read Pop Parade I would certainly have been curious about some of the up-and-coming Newcastle groups of the day.
A lot of my research into articles and blogs for this website involves me delving into the archives of the Newcastle Evening Chronicle. Most of the site’s gig diaries for the Club a’Gogo, Mayfair Ballroom, Quay Club and City Hall are based on adverts in the Evening Chronicle’s entertainment pages. During my research for Ready Steady Gone I became aware of Pop Parade and in particular articles written by a Chronicle Journalist named Albert Watson.
Over the fifteen months or so that Pop Parade ran, its format changed several times but essentially it was a three page spread that was designed and intended as a pull-out feature. Some of the earlier versions of Pop Parade featured a large photograph of a well known pop act, which took up most of the first page. The remaining two pages contained articles about a variety of “pop” related subjects by several journalists. Later on the content relating to popular music was reduced to two pages with articles about, TV programmes, drama, Jazz and classical music taking up the third.
At the outset the main feature writer was Maureen Cleave whose weekly column was entitled “Maureen Cleave’s Pop Spot”. Her weekly articles weren’t exclusive to the Evening Chronicle though. In fact they were syndicated throughout the UK and would have been published in many regional newspapers. Maureen was a respected London music writer and journalist. She became well know because of an interview she conducted with the Beatles in 1963. She was also known for her sixties interviews with Bob Dylan and the Rolling Stones.
Following Maureen Cleave’s first interview with the Beatles she became a friend and confidante of the four members of the Beatles and in particular John Lennon. In March 1966 she conducted an interview with John Lennon. In that interview Lennon gave his controversial views on Christianity and made the claim that the Beatles “were more popular than Jesus now”. Months later the American press picked up on this remark causing a huge uproar in the States which in effect led to the decline of the Beatles popularity across the pond.
Whereas Maureen Cleave was a nationally recognised journalist based in London, the other main contributor to Pop Parade was originally from Gateshead and lived in the northeast. Albert Watson started work as an office boy at the Newcastle Evening Chronicle in the early sixties and worked his way up to being a journalist for the paper. In his teens he had a strong interest in Rock ’n’ Roll and the popular music of the era. It was probably his good knowledge of music that landed him the writing position for the Chronicle’s new Pop Parade feature.
It was apparent from the outset that Albert Watson wasn’t going to try and compete with Maureen Cleave’s stories about top UK and US performers. Albert’s first article for Pop Parade on Saturday 3rd October 1964 was about a failed UK tour called the Geordie Beat involving a number of northeast groups. In the same edition he also made it clear that his column would be biased towards northeast groups and national bands performing in the region. He invited people to write to him with any relevant stories.
Albert Watson must have had a good response from managers, band leaders and fans of local groups keen for some publicity in Pop Parade. In subsequent weeks Albert wrote about many northeast groups and solo artists. To his credit Albert didn’t just accept what had been written in the letters he received. He made an effort to actually go to venues and see groups performing as well as interviewing them. His articles were all intelligently written with Albert often adding his own slant to basic information he had been given in the first place.
On 20th February 1965 Albert Watson’s column was promoted to the first page of Pop Parade with Maureen Cleave’s Pop Spot slipping onto the second page. This arrangement continued until the end of the year when Albert wrote his last article for Pop Parade. Over the period October 1964 until 18th December 1965 his column featured many well known and lesser known local groups. Here are some of them: –
The Alibi, Bits ’n’ Pieces, Blue Shades, Caesers, Chosen Few, Colts, Concords, Consolidated Sounds, Denims, Don Juans, Four Fables, Gamblers, Go-Gos, Heatwaves, Junco Partners, Originals, Pieces of Five, Sect, Urge, Vermen and Why & Where Four. One of his favourite solo acts was a young female vocalist from Monkseaton called Val McKenna who he wrote about several times in his column.
Pop Parade made its last appearance in the Newcastle Evening Chronicle on 1st January 1966, sadly without a contribution from Albert Watson. The following week a new revamped pull-out section of the Chronicle called “Weekend At Home” was launched. Maureen Cleave retained her pop music column alongside a writer called Charles Fiske whose column was about current disc releases. Newcastle’s Top Twenty still featured on the first page followed by several pages of TV listings.
Albert Watson’s efforts to stimulate readers interest in local northeast groups through his Pop Parade column only lasted for about fifteen months. I was unable to find out why Pop Parade was suddenly pulled by the Evening Chronicle in January 1966. Perhaps the publishers thought the format of their weekly feature was becoming a bit outdated and had run its course. After all, in the autumn and winter of 1965 pop music was undergoing a bit of a change with Soul and Tamla Motown music starting to make an impression in the UK, both in the charts and in clubs and ballrooms. Not many local bands had switched over to covering that type of music at the end of 1965. A lot of Albert Watson’s articles featured the type of groups that played mainly generic pop music or standard R&B songs in Working Mens Clubs so maybe interest in his column was on the wain. Nevertheless, there’s some great information about the Newcastle music scene in his historic articles, which I’ll no doubt continue to draw upon for future Ready Steady Gone blogs.