Castle Kings to reign again at Lauder reunion

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A BORDERS rock and roll group who infuriated members of The Beatles will reunite in Lauder this weekend to play their first gig together in 25 years.

The Castle Kings packed out dance halls across Scotland during a seven-year spell from 1958 to 1965. And now four of its veteran ex-bandmates – 65-year-old guitarist John Cowan and drummer Mike Whellans, 68, both from Lauder, Greenlaw’s keyboard player Tommy Turnbull, 73, and Norman Small, 70 – have decided to host a comeback performance in the Lauderdale Hotel for their first public show since 1986.

Among the group’s favourite moments include playing in the same hall as Paul McCartney, John Lennon and George Harrison before the trio formed Britain’s most successful band.

Norman, The Castle Kings’ vocalist from Duns, said: “We played with The Quarrymen in Hawick Town Hall around 1960. The only Beatle not in the group was Ringo Starr.

“I remember they arrived in a London taxi and we thought they looked a bit rough.

“I recall that they were annoyed because we were playing all the material they were planning to perform such as Chuck Berry covers. There were barriers up all round the stage to stop people jumping up and dancing – our gigs could be wild.”

Mike Whellans said: “I remember they had just come back from the Star Club in Hamburg, but Pete Best, who was their drummer, had a German girlfriend and stayed over there.

“When they returned they played six dates in Scotland, kicking off in Hawick with a semi-professional called Dougie Moore on drums.

“We shared a small room with the Quarrymen backstage, and I remember John Lennon spoke to us but Paul McCartney and George Harrison said nothing. I think they were not happy because we had played all the Chuck Berry songs in our set.

“They were all dressed in black leather, which you could pick up cheaply in Germany.

“I remember not being impressed with the band and McCartney’s guitar sounded out of tune the whole time.

“Myself and Norman shook hands with Lennon as he left and he said ‘All the best lads’ – we have managed to get a lot of pints out of that claim to fame.

“It must have been one of their last appearances as The Quarrymen. The next time I saw them was on TV show Crackerjack and they were called The Beatles.

“Hawick Town Hall hosted a lot of big names in the 60s and Hawick was a vibrant boom town.”

Formed in Greenlaw, the Castle Kings were named after the Castle Hotel owned by the parents of a founding member, Harry Smith.

It was not long before The Castle Kings were belting out music and catching the eye of TV bosses and venue owners. They played on the same bill as American pop star PJ Proby in Carlisle, where the group also played to mark the first viewing of ITV Border in the south of Scotland.

And the Kinks, the Merseybeats and the Swinging Blue Jeans were also on the same line-up as the Castle Kings during the Borders band’s existence.

Norman added: “We made it to number eight in the Scottish charts and played from Aberdeen down to Stockton-on-Tees.

“The only time we appeared in Glasgow was to open for Lulu at the Clydeside Club and when we came second to Dean Ford and the Gaylords, who went on to have a hit as Marmalade with Ob-La-Di Ob-La-Da, in a Scottish rock band competition. We hated them for that!

“We were offered the chance to play for three months at the Star Club in Hamburg, where the Beatles famously performed for seven weeks in 1962. But we were told we would not be paid until we got home, which is why the Beatles were forced to sleep on a floor. We all had jobs and were not prepared to do that.”

The Castle Kings – whose past members also included Ainsley Purves of Greenlaw, Berwick’s Bob Smith, Ian Wease of Eyemouth and Jimmy Hay of Kelso – called time on the band in October 1965 with a farewell show at Haggerston Castle, near Berwick.

“It was an amicable decision,” said Norman, who now lives in Livingston. “Everybody was going their different ways.”

A comeback performance was held in Caesar’s Palace, Berwick, 21 years after the break-up. But Saturday is the first public Castle Kings gig since then, and is the result of demand from fans.

“There is still interest,” Norman said. “Wherever myself or Mike play we often have people come up to us and say ‘I remember you from the Castle Kings’.

Saturday’s gig starts at 8pm. Entry is free, but a collection will be made for charity.