Big beat – West Country style 

12 April 2018

from Look Westward magazine for 5-11 July 1964

TV producer and disc-jockey
reviews the weeks which have led to Thursday’s Finals of the Westward Beat Contest

The combined force of seven amplifiers turned up to maximum volume shake the very foundations of the building. Passers-by pause momentarily and wonder if, perhaps, this is the ear-splitting din that heralds the end of the world.

Inside, it is 9.30a.m., and flanked by Alan Feltham, Westward’s Press and Public Relations Officer, and Guy Baskin, the Senior Floor Manager, I am auditioning another hopeful beat group who have entered the competition which reaches its exciting climax with the finals this Thursday.

Ahead lie six hours of hard listening and watching. The groups arrive every ten minutes or so, set up their equipment, and blast through two or three numbers.

At the audition desk we concentrate earnestly. I must evaluate their musicianship, assess any originality of sound or presentation, judge the quality of any compositions the boys have written, and watch their grooming, professionalism and personality. I must be sure each group has an equal opportunity, and exercise scrupulous fairness in my marking.

For eight weeks our trio has travelled the highways and byways of the Four Counties, auditioning in vast theatres and tiny halls, some lavishly equipped and comfortable, others monastic in the extreme. But everywhere I’ve been greatly impressed by the enthusiasm and genuine talent of the West Country beat groups.

More than a hundred combos have turned their loudspeakers towards me. Some are full-time professionals; many semi-pro, who often have that older-than-their-years-look dictated by working all day, playing half the night, and sleeping for just a few hours. The remainder are raw and uncertain, bewildered by the complexity of their instruments, and completely overawed by the mastery and skill of the group that preceded them.

Looking back over the past two months, what thoughts invade my mind? The youngsters of Devon, Cornwall, Dorset and Somerset certainly take their pop music seriously. By and large they are probably better equipped than their counterparts elsewhere in the country. Maybe this is a combination of various West Country traits. As a foreigner from London I wouldn’t really know, but the boys seem to have decided that if they are to play beat music, only the best, most reliable, and up-to-date equipment will do.

I’ve grown accustomed to the sight ot £3,000 worth of drums, guitars and amplifiers being unloaded from a £1,000 shooting brake. And the day a twelve-year-old boy casually answered my enquiry about the cost of his drum kit with: “It’s second-hand, only cost 175 quid,” is one of my treasured memories! I was pleased, however, to see the care they all lavished on their instruments.

I have been impressed by the thought and originality that has so obviously gone into the stage “gear” of the groups I’ve seen. Almost all have been tastefully yet colourfully dressed, avoiding the weird excesses that seem to typify the new wave of pop recording groups.

Perhaps it is this rather conservative outlook that accounts for the slightly disappointing lack of originality in sound or arrangement that I was forced to observe so frequently. Too many groups seem content to produce an adequate copy of a current hit sound, showing little originality or adventurous spirit.

The whole purpose of the Westward Beat Contest is to discover a group potentially capable of lopping the national and international hit parades by next Christmas. As public taste is constantly changing, and this is particularly true of teenage whims and fancies, it seems to me unlikely that any group without something different to offer in sound or presentation, can possibly succeed. There is always room in the charts for good, competent musicianship, but our aims are higher. We want a world beater from the West Country.

Hearteningly, a few groups I’ve heard in these auditions either have something new to offer, or show the ability to develop along original lines.

Whatever your taste in music, I urge you to watch on Thursday the best of the beat in the West, when Alan Freeman will compere and Craig Douglas, Brian Epstein and myself will be the judges.

The winners will be given a recording contract, and have all the resources of Westward Television behind them. With the inborn West Country characteristics of perseverance and stamina, plus a little luck, how can they fail?


  • The contest was won by The Rustiks. They released two singles and a demo on the Decca label.

You Say

4 responses to this article

Joanne Gray 12 April 2018 at 12:18 pm

Craig Douglas used to be my great auntie’s milkman on the Isle of Wight before he hit the big time. My mother claimed she actually met him a few times as a child when she visited our aunt for a holiday.

Paul Mason 14 April 2018 at 4:45 am

Wonder if the Troggs, or Troglodytes auditioned on this show? The late Reg Presley had a strong West Country accent.

Arthur Nibble 16 April 2018 at 5:42 pm

Reg did indeed have a strong burr, but The Troggs came from Andover in Hampshire, which was in the Southern Television region and outside the remit of this contest.

Paul Mason 19 April 2018 at 12:12 pm

“,Reg Presley” (not his real name) didn’t need the show anyway!

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