Cyprus National Service to Rock Musician
By Margaret Sheard….
Writing about the times of British ex-servicemen who served in Cyprus during their National Service days, I had contact with Chris Black Veness who started a small band at Kykko Camp during his time in Cyprus. On one occasion Chris asked me to try and help him to locate a member of that band who he had not seen or had contact with in some 55 years. So an article was written with a plea for anyone knowing the whereabouts of Russell to let us know. This resulted in success and Chris and Russell finally met up again in 2014. To see this article click here
Since his time in Cyprus, Chris has continued with his career as a musician and is still “rocking” but it would seem that, although he has been very successful, maybe there were opportunities lost and he has provided a story which could well be one of them.
The story behind this picture started in 1955 when I first started playing the guitar. We were the pioneers of British Rock-n-Roll in those far off days of which I am very proud. It was hard going because we only had delicate acoustic guitars and put metal strings on them to get a good twanging sound, but they bent the neck up like Robin Hood’s bow, and it was impossible to play above the “A” fret because you couldn’t push the strings down as they were too high up off the fret board..
We got massive corns on the end of our fingers as an added plus, but despite all this we would not be beaten and pressed on regardless. Although Skiffle Music was our first love we got this amazing buzz when we first heard Bill Haley’s song “Rock Around The Clock” in 1956 on the sound track of the Blackboard Jungle film that was doing the rounds then. I have still got that same buzz today after over 50 years of playing !!! It was a wake-up call, like being hit behind the head with a baseball bat saying, this is the way to go son !
Just as things started to take off, I got called up in the army National Service in December 1957 and I was shipped off to Cyprus. I kept playing and formed a band called the N.S.6. I practiced really hard and loved playing, and then I went to Germany and formed a group there as well. I got demobbed in December 1959 and I rejoined my band called the “Munchers” who had waited all this time for me to get free again !
We didn’t have a bass player or vocalist at this time, and thus played instrumentals, and came second to Brian Poole and the Tremolo’s in a talent contest in 1960. This band turned into Unit 7 and we became the 7th top band in London in 1962 & 1963. I really worked hard at this, giving 100% plus to try and get a record deal, and in 1963 I got offered 8 weeks in the Star Club in Hamburg for the band. I can’t tell you how much this meant to me after all my efforts since 1955. I knew how important this gig was as the Beatles played at this venue and we could possibly have met them face to face.
I called a band meeting in my front room to give them all my career changing news, and when I told them 5 members refused to go because of their jobs. I couldn’t believe this as I expected them to jump at this chance after all we had been through together. I felt betrayed as I thought they all wanted success like myself, but how wrong I was. Don’t judge people by yourself comes to mind here. I was so sad and devastated I packed music in and put my Guitar – Brenda the Fender back in the music shop where I bought it 18 months earlier. Lucky for me I saw it in the window a month later when I was passing the shop, and went in and brought it home with me again. I had to turn down the gig in Hamburg because I could not find any musicians that played well enough to form a new band, and rehearse them in time.
I knew we had lost a golden opportunity by not going and these opportunities only come round once and you have to grab them with both hands. This proves that you will never achieve anything unless you have musicians with you that LOVE IT as much as you do. Unit 7 ended shortly after this episode as the heart went out of it all, and no wonder my enthusiasm did after this. It was by far the biggest setback I ever had in music, to this day.
In 1988 I was playing in Lennon’s Bar next to Stringfellows in London’s West End on the opening night with my band Blackcat, we had been booked as resident band by the venue owner Peter Stockton, whose partner was Cynthia Lennon. He has become a lifelong friend of mine through thick and thin !!! We played our first set and as I was walking across the dance area a lady came up to me and gave me a hug and a kiss and said “I must tell you Chris, that was the best rock-n-roll I have heard since the Beatles”.
WOW what a comment – it has never been bettered, and I was taken aback, as you can imagine. This is how I first met Cynthia Lennon, and what a lovely kind lady she was. I told her what had happened with my old band in 1963 and how I nearly went to the Star Club in Hamburg, and she said John would have really got on with me, if I had gone and met him. What a bummer – he would probably have written a song for the band, and my life would have taken a completely different course. Cynthia Lennon’s compliment confirmed that we should have gone to the Star Club back in 1963, but unfortunately for me the band were committed to their jobs and couldn’t give them up, which is understandable now, but it was my fault for assuming they all wanted success like me and I should have discussed the matter with them beforehand.
I am not at all sorry now, as I have had a wonderful and exciting life playing music and you never know what is in front, so I’ll keep rocking on whatever!
Chris Fender Black & Brenda The Fender (still an Item since 1962)
We never know where our paths will take us, Chris’s career could have been completely different but who knows maybe not for the better, he made his choices, continued with his love of music, and has been successful. This rather eccentric character is still “rocking” so perhaps he did in fact take the right road. What wonderful memories he must have.