How ‘Girlie’ took us by storm — and brought its songwriter here to liveBy Andrew London http://www.andrewlondon.co.nz/
In the mid-1990s I owned a retail business in Willis street, selling electronic keyboards to the home-enthusiast.
I sat at a desk in an office at the back, from which I had a view of the front door.
From this vantage point I would wait, like a spider, for a likely candidate to wander in…
At this point I would spring into action and attempt to persuade them that their obviously empty and unfulfilled lives could be brightened immeasurably by the purchase of one of my high-quality and favourably-priced instruments, which even someone with no musical ability could play with one finger in each hand.
I kept them all plugged in and switched on (the instruments that is) so that no time would be wasted, should they need to be demonstrated to the unsuspecting passer-by.
I looked up to try and gauge the likelihood of separating him from the contents of his wallet.
He was a small, wiry, fit-looking guy of about 50. He wore tight, new-looking denim jeans, black dress boots, and a fashionable airman-style black leather jacket over a smart white T-shirt.
He may have had a small gold chain. Short black wavy hair and darkened prescription shades.
The meticulously-contrived epitome, I thought, of the elegantly-wasted British rock musician. I put him in the mental folder marked ‘interesting but unlikely to buy anything from my store’.
He idly fingered a couple of chords on one of the electronic pianos, and I immediately knew who he was.
In swinging London, in the heady days of the late 1960s, there was a popular trio called The Peddlers who played many of the nightclubs where the beautiful people gathered to mix after-hours – often with the likes of the Beatles, the Stones, The Shadows…even the Goons, relaxing and partying after their own gigs or recording sessions.
Their line up was drums, bass and organ.
Not the rinky-dink Farfisa fun-machine style organs that I learned to play and sell in my retail career, but a proper Hammond organ….the sort of thing that Jimmy Smith and Bill Doggett played in black R & B bands in the ’40s and ’50s, and that had been picked up by the likes of Jon Lord in Deep Purple, and Steve Winwood in Traffic.
I’d been familiar with the Peddlers music since my childhood. A slightly older and hipper cousin left one of their LPs at our house once, and I thrashed it.
It was a live album recorded one night at the Pickwick Club in London around 1970 I suppose – with various Rolling Stones, Shadows and visiting Drifters actually there in the audience on the night.
The Peddlers played a few original tunes, and quite a number of jazz standards such as Hoagy Carmichael’s ‘Georgia’, Cole Porter’s ‘I Love Paris’ and ‘I Wish I Could Shimmy Like My Sister Kate’.
I knew these tunes from my Dad’s records – he was an avid jazz fan – but the Peddlers didn’t play them like anyone else I’d ever heard. Not like Billie or Ella or Frank or Nat, but in a way that somehow bridged the chronological and stylistic gap between those earlier jazz singers and the psychadelic 60s.
The singer sounded like a world-weary old black bluesman, and they really rocked.
They toured New Zealand in about 1971 and my Dad took me to see them at the Wanganui Opera House. I was about 10, and I don’t remember it well….’Live at The Pickwick’ had not yet caught my ear….still coming to grips, as I was, with the wonders of Abbey Road and Sgt Peppers.
At about that time The Peddlers had a big international hit with a song called ‘Girlie’.
It started with an unforgettable organ riff that is filed away in every baby-boomer’s consciousness just under ‘A Whiter Shade of Pale’. ‘Girlie’ was written and sung by the band’s organ player, Roy Phillips, and it was Roy who had walked into my store that day.
I approached him and accused him of being Roy Phillips. He humbly confessed to being guilty of this, and I asked him out to lunch.
We spent three or four hours (and several bottles of wine) at the window table of the Armadillo Bar on Willis street, during which Roy told me stories about working the clubs in London in the 60s, particularly the Pickwick and the Bag o’ Nails – which were owned by the notorious Kray Brothers and frequented by every English rock artist of the late ’60s and early ’70s.
He was mates with most of them and had even spent a few days recording with John Lennon at the latter’s Dakota apartment in New York, not long before the fatal shooting.
Roy was a great raconteur – he told his stories with humour and humility, and even seemed a little bemused by it all – as if it had all actually happened to somebody else.
Roy had toured the States with the Peddlers, also been down under a few times and liked it. As their international star waned towards he mid ’80s,\
Roy stopped touring and moved to New Zealand. He ran a restaurant in the Bay of Islands for a while, but then moved to Queenstown, and now lives in Christchurch.
He occasionally gets up this way and plays the odd solo gig….and although no-one really seems to know who he is, occasionally you spot the odd face in the crowd, eyes lit up and grinning from ear to ear, lip-syncing, along with me, the words to ‘Girlie, ‘