Distinguished writer, journailst and editor of Ugly Things Mike Stax has written an in-depth profile of The Betterdays, based on an interview with original band member Mike Weston, in Ugly Things #47. Titled “Rebels from the Rubble” the article recalls WWII bomb-scarred early 60’s Plymouth where The Betterdays transformed themselves into rebel-rousing pioneers of the Great British R&B scene. There a follows a précis of the Mike’s Ugly Things piece, but for the full story, told in unprecdented detail, head on over to the Ugly Things online store and snap up a copy of Issue #47
Mike Weston, bass player and driving force of The Betterdays recounts the excitement of discovering American Rock & Roll and Blues greats such as Fats Domino, Little Richard, Everlys, Buddy Holly, Gene Vincent, Elvis and Big Bill Broonzy at a time when all of his school mates were obsessed with Cliff Richard and Adam Faith. He brought that passion to fledgling local band The Saints at a time before The Rolling Stones were breaking and the group transformed their live act into something thoroughly radical for the time.
In those early days, still called The Saints, the raucous sound and rebellious repertoire of the group caused a huge stir, with many promoters and club owners running scared of the “unusual music” and the wildly enthusiastic response of the crowds. They resorted to booking and promoting their own shows throughout Devon and Cornwall, eventually finding a regular slot at the Quay Club in Plymouth. Playing there twice a week the band gained a reputation and started pulling big crowds. On one memorable occassion in front of an audience of about 1000 people at Plymouth’s Guildhall they closed out their set with with a torrid version of Bo Diddley’s “Road Runner” and brought the house down to such a degree that the following act refused to take the stage.
As their reputation grew the band continued to evolve, with a charismatic new member and new name – multi-talented Bob Pitchner joined the band and they became The Betterdays. Pitchner was just 17 years old, younger than the rest of the group, but had innate musical ability and took to the group’s sound immediately, playing not only electric piano but also rhythm guitar and harmonica. In addition to musical talent Bob also had natural charisma – he was born with a hole in his heart and not expected live past the age of 21, so he lived his life entirely in the moment.
As The Betterdays their reputation and orbit increased and they ventured into the Midlands and Wales as well as all over the West Country. As Mike Weston recalls, “We built up a huge fan club, many thousands, mainly girls.” Throughout 1964 and 1965 The Betterdays grew – they began recording and were extremely busy playing their trademark live sets. Their reputation was considerable in many places such as York, Leeds, sheffield, Manchester, Bolton and Oldham but due to being based in Plymouth, 200 miles from London, they remained largely off of the radar of the mainstream A&R men.
Eventually in late 1965 they recorded and released on Polydor what is now noted as being one of the most ferocious Punk R&B singles: “Don’t Want That”/“Here ‘Tis”. The stars never quite aligned for The Betterdays though, because the first British R&B boom had by this time subsided and they never gained the traction nor recognition they deserved. Just after this moment Bob Pitchner underwent experimental open heart surgery and although the procedure was successful he also experienced a personal transformation and found his Christian faith; ultimately to become an Anglican minister. The Betterdays did continue into 1966 but the character of the band had changed and they were not able to keep themselves together and the members all went their separate ways with more conventional careers.
For Mike Weston though there was always a strong sense of unfinished business and by a process of referring to their original acetates and tapes and re-recording the best of their tremendous repertoire in the nineties The Betterdays legend lives on. The Ugly Things feature (don’t forget to visit http://webstore.ugly-things.com/ugly-things-47-p399.php and pick up a copy of #47) describes in fascinating detail how the authentic sound of pure British 1960’s R&B was recaptured by the original band members and is now availavble on download, on CD and as a gatefold double LP; BACKLASH.