Johnny Kidd & the Pirates

Johnny Kidd & the Pirates
Origin London, England
Genres Rock and roll, beat
Years active 1959–1966; 1976–2010
Labels HMV
Past members

Johnny Kidd & the Pirates were an English rock and roll group led by singer/songwriter Johnny Kidd. They scored numerous hit songs from the late 1950s to the early 1960s, including "Shakin' All Over" and "Please Don't Touch", but their musical influence far outshines their chart performance.

Their stage act was theatrical in a way which anticipated theatrical rockers of the 1970s such as Alice Cooper (while echoing that of their contemporaries Screaming Lord Sutch & the Savages) and included full pirate costumes, complete with eye-patches and cutlasses.

Early days

The original group was signed to HMV in 1959 under the auspices of Walter J. Ridley. Their first single was the raw "Please Don't Touch". This became a minor hit reaching number 25 on the UK singles charts in 1959. The song has since been covered many times, most successfully by the team of Motörhead and Girlschool known as Headgirl.

After this initial success the band was reorganised to streamline the sound and visual appeal. Kidd would naturally take centre-stage at the front, but with Clem Cattini (drums) directly behind. Flanking Kidd on either side would be Alan Caddy (guitar) and Brian Gregg[1] (bass). Kidd would high-kick in time to the beat. In an attempt to re-create the feel of his recordings Kidd employed an echo unit to process his vocals, one of the first instances of a UK rock act attempting this on stage.

When the group appeared on Saturday Club between 1959 and 1961 Mike West and Tom Brown shared the vocals with Kidd.

"Shakin' All Over"

Kidd and the Pirates' finest moment might have been the powerful song "Shakin' All Over", which features memorable opening guitars and solo from Joe Moretti,[2] and reached number one in the UK singles charts in 1960. The song and the group's proto-power trio line-up both made a strong impression on the Who, who would cover it in their 1970 album Live at Leeds, whose CD liner notes proclaim the original to be the UK's best pre-Beatles rock single. Canada's The Guess Who reached #1 with a cover version in early 1965. It was covered again in 1984 by the California band "Pegasus" with Tedd Armstrong and Steve Caton on their "Pegasus Takes Flight" EP. Music critics Roy Carr and Tony Tyler would later write that "Shakin' All Over" was the second-ever genuine British rock classic, following Cliff Richard's "Move It".

Despite some interesting cuts the hits tailed away in the shadow of "Shakin'". The swansong recording of this line-up in 1961, "Please Don't Bring Me Down", featured a B-side which turned out to be a minor UK rock 'n' roll classic. "So What" featured a racy piano solo from Thunderclap Jones. when the single failed to chart, the Pirates - Clem Cattini, Alan Caddy and Brian Gregg - decided to jump ship and joined Colin Hicks as his "Cabinboys" on a 6-week tour to Europe, after which this liaison ended. Catinni and Caddy joined a Joe Meek backing band who evolved into the Tornados. (Brian Gregg joined them once bassist Heinz Burt quit for a solo career.) Kidd meanwhile cut a "solo" single backed by a bigger band sound. "Hurry on Back to Love" was more bluesy than anything Kidd had previously attempted and indicated a possible new path for him.

A new Pirate trio was recruited. Johnny Spence (bass),[3] Frank Farley (drums)[4] and Johnny Patto (lead guitar), had recently backed Cuddly Dudley as "The Redcaps". Patto soon left and was replaced by Mick Green (lead guitar), who had also backed Dudley. The new line-up's first single with Kidd, "A Shot Of Rhythm And Blues" (coupled with "I Can Tell") only managed to enter the lower reaches of the chart toward the end of 1962.

Over time, a visual show had developed. The group would deck out in 19th century pirate costume in front of a huge backcloth of a pirate galleon, Kidd toying with a cutlass to great effect. Many a wooden stage received scarring from this prop until insurance cover could not be obtained for it. The group's German tours tightened their sound, as it did with many Liverpool combos who also made the trip. A projected single in keeping with the new sound, "Some Other Guy" was left unreleased in early 1963 allowing the Big Three to score their first chart entry.

The explosive rise of the 'beat groups' outshone the slow-burning R&B scene, and Kidd opted for the safety of Merseybeat with "I'll Never Get Over You", which reached number 4 on the charts in the summer of 1963. The recording session for the follow-up, "Hungry for Love", which also broke into the top twenty saw the Pirates record their own single. Both sides, "My Babe" and "I Can Tell", saw both tracks being recorded in one take. Green left to join Billy J. Kramer & the Dakotas in 1964, and was replaced by John Weider. They also added organist Vic Cooper.[5]

The later days

The hits again tailed away and the long-awaited debut album, featuring the expanded line-up with Vic Cooper on organ/piano duties, was never mastered for release. One step behind the Beatles and losing ground, Kidd abandoned dual-tracking his voice and switched back to R&B, with mixed results. Green left to join Billy J. Kramer and the Dakotas to form a twin lead guitar line-up, alongside Mike Maxfield.

Eventually the group and singer parted company. Kidd kept recording. His single "It's Got To Be You", and an unreleased version of Otis Redding's "I Can't Turn You Loose", showed that a mix of R&B and soul may have been where Kidd's future lay. Johnny Spence, Frank Farley and guitarist Jon Morshead - continued as The Pirates - keeping the name with Kidd's blessing - and recorded one single, "Shades of Blue", for Polydor before calling it a day in mid-1966.

A revitalized Kidd was on the verge of a comeback and engaged a 'New Pirates' group — Mick Stewart (lead guitar), Nick Simper (bass), Ray Soper (organ)[6] and Roger Truth (drums) — and even spoke about the possibility of recording a new album. On returning from a cancelled gig in Bolton, he was killed in a car accident near Bury, Lancashire, on 7 October 1966, with companion Nick Simper being injured.

The single "Send For That Girl" was released posthumously in November but failed to chart. This line-up of the Pirates (with John Kerrison replacing Truth at late notice) carried on in tribute, though there were no further recordings. The group split in May 1967 as the pop scene changed and bookings became harder to obtain.

Post-Kidd - The Pirates

The best-known line-up of the Pirates, and also the only line-up ever given Johnny Kidd's blessing to retain and to record under the name "The Pirates" (Mick Green, Johnny Spence and Frank Farley) reformed in 1976. They played at 'Front Row Festival', a three-week event at the Hope and Anchor, Islington, in late November and early December 1977. This resulted in the band's inclusion, alongside Wilko Johnson, the Only Ones, the Saints, the Stranglers, X-Ray Spex, and XTC, on a hit double album of recordings from the festival. The Hope & Anchor Front Row Festival compilation LP (March 1978) reached number 28 in the UK Albums Chart.[7]

This line-up did its final gig in 1983 (until reforming for the third time in 1999). After that the Pirates kept going on every now and then with many various lines-up, always including Mick Green, in the 1980s and early 1990s with John Gustafson (The Big Tree, Roxy Music) on bass and vocals with various different drummers, then in 1996-1998 with Björn Anders (bass/vocals) and Romek Parol (drums), before reforming with the Green, Spence and Farley line-up in 1999, which continued to perform until 2005. Due to ill-health Frank Farley retired from the live circuit in 2005, to be replaced by Mike Roberts. With Mike Roberts Johnny Spence and Mick Green continued a few more years.

The original line-up featuring Spence, Green and Farley recorded a number of reunion albums in the late 1970s and early 1980s; Out of their Skulls. Later more albums were made under the name Pirates with various line-ups, such as "Still Shakin'" (1987) with John Gustafson playing bass and taking care of vocal duties, Land of the Blind with the Green-Anders-Parol line-up,[8] which was released in 1998,[9] and Skullduggey by the Green, Spence and Roberts line-up in 2006,[10] The band dissolved on the death of Mick Green in January 2010.

Since then Anders and Parol have formed a new band, The Spellkasters, in 2013 with new frontman Pete Edmunds. An album Kastin' The Spell was recorded in Anders' Swedish studio for release on Angel Air Records in February 2014. The album contains new versions of Pirates tracks, "Gibson Martin Fender", "Don't Munchen It" and "Going Back Home", that Mick Green co-wrote with Wilko Johnson. The Spellkasters started a worldwide tour schedule in March 2014.[11]

Original bass player, and vocalist of the Pirates trio, Johnny Spence is still touring and recording, with a Finnish rock and roll and rhythm & blues-trio Doctor's Order. Their co-operation started in 2008, most of the concerts and tours have been in Finland, but they also performed at the International Gastro Blues Festival in Hungary in 2012. Johnny Spence and Doctor's Order have made two albums, Full Throttle No Brakes (2009) and Hot and Rockin' (2011), both on Goofin' Records label. Mick Green also recorded a six track mini-album Cutthroat and Dangerous with Doctor's Order, which was released in 2007, also on Goofin' Records.[12][13]

Another set of Pirates, with Joe Moretti (guitar), and re-uniting original Pirates, Brian Gregg (bass) and Clem Cattini (drums), has also played occasional gigs in recent years. Moretti played on "Shakin' All Over" and its follow-up "Restless". However, in this Pirates line-up it is Joe Moretti's son, also called Joe Moretti, on guitar.


The B-side of Johnny Kidd & the Pirates' 1964 single "Always and Ever" was a cover of "Dr Feelgood", by the American blues pianist and singer Willie Perryman (also known as "Piano Red"), who recorded the song as "Dr Feelgood & the Interns". The name of the song is slang for heroin. The band Dr. Feelgood took their name from the Johnny Kidd & the Pirates recording.[14]

Former members

Spin off bands

The (New) Pirates (1976)

Kidd Kane & the Pirates (2005)

Johnny Spence & Doctors Order

Current members

(*Kaj Erik Ensio Takamäki - plays harmonica on all the albums)

Former members



Johnny Kidd & the Pirates

Extended Plays

Johnny Kidd & the Pirates


The Pirates

Unreleased Album

After the band's chart successes in 1963, a number of tracks were recorded in early 1964. Not much is known about how far a Johnny Kidd album progressed. Their then-current single release "Always and Ever" failed to get into the Top 40 and EMI, already handling a good number of successful acts, may have decided to progress it no further. "Shop Around" was the only track released at the time, on the B-side of the "Jealous Girl" single (HMV POP 1309) in June 1964. Others had to wait another twenty years before being released in mono and / or stereo on various compilation albums on the "See for Miles" label.

Notes and references

  1. born 31 January 1939, in London
  2. born Joseph Edward Moretti, 10 May 1938, Glasgow, Lanarkshire, Scotland, died 9 February 2012, Johannesburg, South Africa, aged 73; Moretti also featured on the follow-up "Restless"
  3. born John Spencer Holliday, 26 January 1942, in Birmingham, Warwickshire
  4. born Frank William Farley, 18 February 1942, in Belgaum, India
  5. born Victor Cooper, 13 December 1942, in Oxford, Oxfordshire
  6. born 9 May 1941, Lewisham, South East London
  7. Roberts, David (2006). British Hit Singles & Albums (19th ed.). London: Guinness World Records Limited. ISBN 1-904994-10-5.
  8. "THE PIRATES Land Of The Blind - Angel Air Records". Retrieved 2014-04-18.
  9. Richie Unterberger. "Land of the Blind - The Pirates | Songs, Reviews, Credits, Awards". AllMusic. Retrieved 2014-04-18.
  10. "The Pirates". The Pirates. Retrieved 2014-04-18.
  11. The Spellkasters (2013-06-26). "About Us/". The Spellkasters. Retrieved 2014-04-18.
  12. "Dosctor's Order". Retrieved 2014-04-18.
  13. "Goofin Records". Goofin Records. Retrieved 2014-04-18.
  14. "Dr Feelgood Biography by Stephen Thomas Erlewine". Retrieved 2008-11-05.
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