The Presidents always played to a full house of devoted fans at their weekly pub residency in the early 60s.
But when they kindly made way for a little-known band by the name of The Rolling Stones, the crowds dwindled to just a dozen.
Robin Mayhew, lead guitarist with The Presidents and more recently a Barnham resident for the past 14 years, still laughs at the memory.
The last laugh probably belongs to the Stones, however.
They’re still going strong nearly 50 years after The Presidents, dogged by bad luck and bad breaks, decided to call it a day.
“The band formed in 1958 in Sutton, in Surrey,” Robin recalls. “There were three founder members, and they invited me to their rehearsal because I had a Burns-Weill guitar! I was 18. At the time I was working at a company that made air circulation systems, but I had had a skiffle group before that, and both Colin and Phil (founders of The Presidents) knew me back then. I was playing guitar, strumming away in places like the Granada, Sutton. But then I bought an electric guitar, and that side came along. Things were changing, and I fancied my chances.
“The interesting thing was that our founder members in The Presidents were copying American music, but not all the regular stuff. It was the more obscure stuff that we were doing. Elvis was just coming through, but there were all these other people, and there was a different pool of music that the band was interested in. The Presidents developed playing this more obscure stuff, with a few Chuck Berry numbers thrown in as well, and we developed quite a following, starting to get quite a name for ourselves in the Sutton and Cheam area. We played a birthday party at the Red Lion in Sutton, and it was so successful we asked the landlord if we could play every Friday. They said yes because it was good for trade.
“That would have been probably 1961. We got our residency there. We played there every Friday night, and for the rest of the week we had four or five gigs through a company that had a whole circuit of gigs. We would play it and always come back to the Red Lion.
“The late Ian Stewart (co-founder of The Rolling Stones) came to see us, and he said there was this bunch of guys playing Chuck Berry stuff. He said ‘Any chance they could play at the Red Lion?’ They were The Rolling Stones.
“We didn’t want to give up on our residency, but we said we would let them play alternate Fridays for a month while we were doing other things. Colin Golding, our bass player, played the first gig with them before they got Bill Wyman. One night we weren’t playing and so we went down to see them. I requested Chuck Berry’s Sweet Little Sixteen from Mick Jagger!
“But when we played there, we were really rammed. It was so full. When the Stones played, there were about a dozen people there! It’s true, honest! The rest of the people were following us around.”
Even so, Robin detected something very special about the Stones: “They were the authentic r&b sound. They were good. They had that edge to them. Keith Richards and Brian Jones, they just had something. I know that Colin, our bass player, said that their sound just skipped along really nicely, and Jagger was brilliant. He was just trying it out. He wasn’t dancing around like he does now... so I could see they had something. Bill Wyman joined them, and then they were on their way.”
And so it was that The Presidents ended up playing as support band to The Stones at Epsom Baths Hall.
“We opened the show, and it was full. The swimming pool was all boarded over. They boarded it over in the winter. I can remember Ian Stewart, the fifth Stone who was dropped by (Stones manager Andrew) Loog Oldham because he didn’t look the part... He was there plonking away on the piano. Jimmy Page was there playing harmonica in the wings.
“We were excellent. I can remember Jimmy Page shouting out how good we were. We started with I’m talkin’ about You by Chuck Berry. It went down a storm. I can’t remember how the Stones went down. We were off with our fans!”
The Presidents started to work with engineer Glyn Johns and recorded a version of Candy Man: “Glyn took us to Decca, and Decca signed us immediately. We went for a photo shoot, and they took a number of pictures of us. A release date was set.
“But then at the last minute, Glyn phoned me and said that Decca had given Candy Man to Brian Poole & the Tremeloes because they were their star band. They did a version that was pretty tame, and it went to number eight. If our version had been released, it would have gone to the top of the charts.
“But Decca kept us on, and we recorded a follow-up. It was She Said Yeah which was written by Sonny Bono. Ian Stewart said to me ‘That song is great the way you do it.’ He said ‘I wish our guys could do it.’ So what happened? We never heard anything more from Decca, and in 1965 the Stones released an album with She Said Yeah on it.
“Decca never said to us ‘We are passing you over.’ As far as I am concerned, we are still signed to Decca!”
However, 1965 was the year The Presidents folded. It simply wasn’t to be.
But after years as an entrepreneur, Robin is delighted to say that music is now reclaiming him again, and fellow former President Tony Busson, who lives in Aldwick, is still very active with the The Ace Tones doing an array of 50s and 60s rock ‘n’ roll songs.
More details http://www.robinmayhew.co.uk/gallery/presidents.htm.
The final line-up was (the reunion photo) was Robin Mayhew vocals and rhythm guitar; Eddy Patterson drums; Tony Busson bass guitar; Martin Cowtan lead guitar; Eric Archer percussion/harmonica and trombone. At the time of Decca, the line-up was Robin Mayhew lead guitar; Ricky Tyrrell vocals; Tony Busson bass guitar; Eddy Patterson drums; Tony Finch rhythm guitar. Also playing were John Styles piano
and the late Brian Wyles harmonica.