Greame at back to left of Carl Wayne.To Carl's right is Jerry Lee Lewis (with Mike
Hopkins peering between), Geoff Turton (Rocking Berries), then Gerry Levene. To Carl's
left, wearing glasses is Peter Cook.
Mike Gibbs had been a useful amateur boxer when, in 1959, he realised that he would
have more luck with the ladies by becoming a rock’n’roll singer and keeping his film-star
looks rather than risking a broken nose and cauliflower ears on the boxing circuit.
With two pals Mike ‘Sprike’ Hopkins and John Watson, both accomplished guitar players,
they enlisted the drumming talents of Alan Bennett. Spending long periods honing
their act, they eventually approached Ken Smith who ran the Say Mama club at Maney
Hall, Sutton Coldfield, begging for the chance to get their first engagement. After
some persuasion, this was granted and, without a proper band name, Ken out of the
blue announced them to the audience as Cliff Angel & The Virtues!
Fearing they would be nicknamed the ‘Virgins’, another name was needed! Keen runner
Mike (whose nickname was a concatenation of sprint & Mike) had long admired guitarist
Duane Eddy and felt his track The Avenger would be a good name for the band to which
Ken christened lead singer Gerry Levene.
For some time, friction had started to build as Alan’s dad’s managerial aspirations
didn’t quite fit with the rest of the band’s plans but, as he was charged with driving
them to & from gigs, they tried to make do.
With two guitarists, the band felt it was time to add a bass to the line-up so an
advert was placed in the Birmingham Dispatch. Auditions were arranged at Gerry’s
house and pulling onto the drive in his Austin J2 van came Jim Onslow (ex Robbie
Earl & The Counts).
Mike & John were sat, sporting their beautiful pink Stratocasters when, opening his
flight case, Jim produced a matching pink Fender Bass! The signs were looking good.
With a van and the guitar, all they needed was for him to prove he could play it.
Jim had long been a fan of The Shadows (and Jet Harris in particular) and had been
struck by the album track Nivram ([Hank] Marvin backwards), learning it note for
note, including its complex bass solo. Amazingly, for the audition, they said they’d
been working on this very track and could he try to play along?. Without hesitation,
he joined in, until the bass solo part where the lead fell silent and left Jim to
play his pièce de résistance, note perfect and to their utter astonishment.
He’d passed with flying colours and, volunteering his transport too meant that Alan
could get his cards, opening the way for a young Mr. Edge to enter the scene. ‘Graham’
had been more of a jazz player up to that point, and the 4/4 rhythm of this combo
wasn’t his most natural style but he soon got the hang of it.
Unusually for Brum acts, their spirit of adventure cast them further afield, an appearance
at the legendary Cavern Club in Liverpool, an area notoriously difficult for outside
bands to crack.
The date was August 28th 1962 and Jim recalls pulling
into Matthew Street and seeing hoards of graffiti for this band unknown to them,
The Beatles ??
Following the Avengers’ set, the Cavern DJ Bob Wooler informed them that the Beatles,
only 10 days since Ringo’s induction, would soon be arriving and before long, the
audience were in a frenzy as they made their entrance, minders forcefully parting
the fans Moses-style.
Whilst they had no record deal at the time, the reaction to the Beatles was unlike
anything they’d ever experienced. Any initial scepticism over their act was quickly
dispelled as a whole host of new songs were added to the Avengers’ set.
Spending around a month in Liverpool, including several dates at Litherland Town
Hall, the band often retired back to the Iron Door club until the early hours, in
the company of their new Beatle friends.
This friendship continued back in the Midlands as they often met up at the Moat House
when they were both in the vicinity and shared the bill again at Tamworth Assembly
Rooms on February 1st 1963.
Back in Brum, they gained a residency at the West End Ballroom playing every Wednesday
and Saturday l unchtimes 12-2. Bizarrely, the 1200 capacity venue would empty dead
on 12:55 and re-fill again at 1:05pm as more lunch-break revellers from the local
shops & factories fought to catch their favourite local band.
Another line-up change came in the form of one Roy Wood (later of Move, ELO & Wizzard
fame), sharing lead guitar with Mike, in favour of the now departed John Watson.
The Liverpool sound that they played was still quite new and set them apart from
the other bands competing for attention. It was with some repugnance then that their
arch-rivals, the Diplomats were spotted at the back of one show, noting down songs
to add to their own set. The four bright-blonde guys were not that difficult to spot!
This rivalry was not just an act, the two bands really did not get on. It was very
rare that they appeared on the same bill (with the West End being the home ground
for the Avengers). However, on one occasion, both were booked to play at the Adelphi,
West Bromwich, the centre of the Diplomats territory. John Gordon who booked the
acts rang Jim panicking that the Diplomats were stuck in Banbury, their van breaking
down after last night’s show.
Reluctantly Jim & his van came to the rescue, returning
them & their gear back home, with a stony silence the entire journey. Needless to
say, on home turf, Denny Laine & The Diplomats “wiped the floor with them”.
Being popular with the renowned Ma Regan, she assured the band that she would be
recommending them to her friends at Decca, having booked several of their acts for
her venues. Good to her word, and a helping hand from George Harrison, Dick Rowe
offered them a recording session at the Decca studios, St. John’s Wood. An EMI offer
received at the very same day was therefore declined.
It was 21st November 1963 and the band were getting ready to record when a faint
but audible rattle could be heard from Graeme’s kit every time he hit the bass drum.
Try as they might to locate it, the entire kit had to be dismantled before the offending
loose nut was found.
Finally, after several hour’s studio-time wasted, the band quickly slotted in Twist
& Shout, Do You Love Me, Without You and an original Levene composition Please Say
Yes as warm ups for the main track, finally, producer Mike Smith had Dr. Feelgood
in the can too.
Resisting offers to go solo and leaving the band behind, Gerry did take up the invitation
to return a couple of weeks later to record some solo tracks where It’s Driving Me
Wild (the eventual b-side) and Just Wanna Make Love To You were also laid down,
the former written and produced by the legendary Bert Berns (Russell). These featured
famous session-man Big Jim Sullivan on guitar and Arthur Greenslade on keyboards,
the latter previously guesting on the Dr. Feelgood session.
The band earned publicity when Mike’s beloved pink Strat was stolen from his home,
a national newspaper on May 26th 1963 related their detective work and perseverance
in tracking it down even though it had changed hands several times.
Putting their trust in the Dorothy Solomon Associated Artists agency, the clock ticked
slowly as they awaited the single’s release, made worse knowing that Gerry’s solo
rather than an Avengers’ track was to be the b-side. At the time, the Agency was
also handling the Redcaps and the Bachelors, and, as the latter’s popularity soared,
support to the Avengers was even less forthcoming.
Disappointment was heightened when Mike Smith released Brian Poole & The Tremeloes’
hit version of Do You Love Me, with the identical arrangements they had developed
for their track.
Roy Wood had always sought an outlet to demonstrate his creative & musical talents,
however Mike’s prowess left little room for him to steal the limelight, so, off to
join Mike Sheridan & The Nightriders departed Roy.
Impressed with the organ sound achieved on record, they recruited West Bromwich
lad Peter Cook (who later recorded for Joe Meek), a brilliant pianist whose blindness
didn’t dent his ambition. His sense of humour needed to be strong too for the band
on many occasions played tricks on him such as setting him up with his back to the
After several months, and, behind a raft of other versions that had been released
in the meantime, Dr. Feelgood finally hit the shops. A slot on ATV’s Thank Your Lucky
Stars was aired on 15th February 1964, the band miming to the record. Jim recalls
being on the way to a gig in Cheshire that night – they randomly knocked on the door
of a house in the area, explained that they were due to be on TV and were duly invited
inside to watch the show, and were soon on their merry way again.
Sales were however disappointing and by now Graeme’s feet were itching for pastures
new, with of all people, arch-rival Denny Laine. By April 1964 with the Avengers
now no more, Jim and Mike jumped ship as two-man replacement for Denny in the Diplomats.
For a while Gerry rehearsed with Graeme Edge and Denny Laine as precursor to the
Moody Blues 5 but, following a disagreement with Denny, he decided to leave. Taking
on The Chicanes, Gerry Levene had a new Avengers and continued to perform well into
By 1968, Gerry had teamed up with Chris Sedgewick as The Hinge, releasing one single
on RCA Victor, The Village Postman c/w You’d Better Go Home.
Staying with RCA, in 1970 Gerry then released Hold Back The Daybreak under the name
David Lincoln backed by a 50 piece orchestra.
In 1972, Bill Farley of Regent Sound put together the band Crossbones, comprising
Gerry, James Parsons, Les Fortnham and Mike Millard, releasing the single Shakin’
All Over on the Penny Farthing label.
More recently, Gerry formed his own publishing company, Sovereign Music, amongst
the many titles is a one of his own, With Love - Romantic Hits of the 60’s.
In 2005, Gerry contributed his track Hold Back The Daybreak to the One Night Only
compilation, alongside many other Brumbeat legends such as Mike Sheridan, Idle Race,
Danny King, Steve Gibbons, The Fortunes and Raymond Froggatt. The album was released
to support the Headway WM charity, dealing with Acquired Brain Injury.
Jim Onslow continues to wow audiences with his one-man show around the West Midlands
and has a long catalogue of self-published CD’s.
In 2005, one of Jim’s songs, Night Train Home, was chosen for inclusion on Volume
Eight of the popular Ride The Train series.