Les Braid

Bass player with the Swinging Blue Jeans
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The Independent Online

From 1958 to 2005, Les Braid played bass for the Liverpool beat group the Swinging Blue Jeans. The group had its heyday in 1964 and has toured on the strength of its hits "Hippy Hippy Shake" and "You're No Good" ever since. Even in his late sixties, Braid gave no sign that the endless touring and the repeated playing of familiar material ever irritated him. He had a warm, engaging personality and he was as affable with the group's fans as he was in his private life. "A nurse dropped me on my head when I was nine days old," he used to joke, "and I've never been the same."

The Swinging Blue Jeans began as the Bluegenes, a mixture of a jazz band and a skiffle group formed in 1957 by Ray Ennis (guitar and lead vocals) and Norman Kuhlke (washboard), with their friends Tommy Hughes (banjo) and Spud Ward (double bass). Ward soon left and his replacement, Jimmy Hudson, found that playing conflicted with night school, so Les Braid was recruited in the summer of 1958.

Braid was born in Liverpool in 1936 and favoured music lessons at school, becoming proficient on piano, double bass and guitar. He wrote an instrumental for the Swinging Blue Jeans, "Dizzy Chimes", which they used for many years and had his own solo spot with the Rudy Vallee song "Would You Like to Take a Walk".

Another guitarist and vocalist, Ralph Ellis, joined at the same time as Braid and the group became popular on Merseyside, playing the local clubs, church halls and fetes. Most significantly, they had a residency at the Cavern Club in Liverpool, which became known as the Swinging Bluegenes Guest Night. The Cavern's DJ Bob Wooler referred to them as the "Swinging Blue Geniuses".

On 21 March 1961, the Beatles, recently back from Hamburg, made their first evening appearance at the Cavern as the Bluegenes' guests and received rapturous applause. The Bluegenes were uncomfortable with the success of this scruffy, noisy group and told the Cavern's owner, Ray McFall, to choose between them. Much to their surprise, McFall favoured the Beatles.

It is often stated that Merseybeat arose from unemployment but nearly all the group members had day jobs, as well as appearing six nights a week with the band. "I worked for the Corporation and I had to be at work at quarter to eight in the morning," Braid recalled:

Very often I never got home until half past one. We did this for two and a half years before we went professional and I was so tired during the day that I don't know how I managed to get through the work.

One day I was sent to the Town Hall to do a job on the door of the main ballroom. I was half asleep as usual. The door was catching on the carpet, and so I had to kneel down to repair the bottom hinge. I thought, this carpet feels nice and comfortable and I fell asleep on the floor. When I woke up, I finished the job and went home.

Early in 1963, Paul McCartney arranged for the Bluegenes to play at the Star-Club in Hamburg but their début was disastrous - the German beat fans did not care for their repertoire or line-up. Not wanting a second night like that, they switched to straight rock'n'roll the following night. Returning to the UK, they dropped their banjo player and became a rock'n'roll band. Braid was now playing a Fender electric bass. Their chief residency was at the Mardi Gras and they were managed by the club's owner, Jim Ireland.

As the Swinging Blue Jeans, the group was signed to HMV and recorded for the producer Wally Ridley. They had heard the Beatles' perform Chan Romero's "Hippy Hippy Shake" on stage and released the song as a single late in 1963. The Beatles first heard it on their appearance on Juke Box Jury and John Lennon accused the group of stealing the song from their repertoire. "Hippy Hippy Shake" reached No 2 in the charts, and the Swinging Blue Jeans featured in the Christmas Day edition of Z-Cars and on the first ever Top of the Pops in January 1964.

The group was older than other beat groups and in publicity material shaved years off their ages, maintaining for instance that Braid was born in 1941. Further hits were "Good Golly Miss Molly", "You're No Good" and "Don't Make Me Over" and in 1964 they released the album Blue Jeans A'Swinging.

They had commercial sponsorship from the Liverpool jeans company Lybro and had a strong following, but many fans nursed doubts about the Blue Jeans' authenticity as rock'n'rollers; during a tour with Chuck Berry, an irate Berry fan hurled a Christmas pudding at them. Ellis left in 1966 and Kuhlke in 1969 but Ennis and Braid remained as the mainstays of the group and over the years they worked with many good Liverpool musicians, including Mike Gregory and Terry Sylvester from the Escorts and Colin Manley of the Remo Four.

Spencer Leigh

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