Following on from last weeks feature on the early days of South Wales band, The Sabres, Andy Howells continues to look at the Cwmbran bands history with recollections from Rod Thomas.
By 1966, The Sabres consisting of Jim Kinnersley, John Hutton, Ian Norman, Rob Bishop, Gareth Moreton and Rod Thomas were already making their mark on Dance Hall’s around South Wales and gaining a strong following. They had also provided support to bands such as The Moody Blues and Manfred Mann at local gigs.
It was at this time, The Sabres entered Melody Maker’s National Beat Contest at the suggestion of Mike Davies.
Rod Thomas remembers, “He arranged two coaches of supporters to the Top Rank in Brighton where the heats (which we won) and the semi-finals were held. We then took four coaches of supporters and family to the final in the London Palladium. We ended up in 3rd place which was pretty good from the 150 who entered!
“One strong but rather sad memory I have from the finals at the Palladium is my Dad joining us on the stage when we were packing the gear up at the end of the show, he just wanted to tell his mates that he stood on the stage!”
Neath band, The Eyes of Blue, won the contest making two of the top three were from South Wales. The Sabres did not walk away empty handed as their prizes consisted of a Tubon (an early electronic saxophone) and a recording test with Decca.
The Sabres Record For Decca
“On our first trip to the Decca studios in London they gave us four demo discs to take away and learn,” says Rod.
All four songs, written by professional songwriters of the day were produced by Ivor Raymonde (known for his work with Dusty Springfield, The Walker Brothers, Cat Stevens, Roy Orbison and the Alan Price Set).
Ultimately it would be an upbeat and bouncy rendition of Roly Poly (featuring the Tubon Saxophone) with a rousing vocal from John Hutton and a pop ballad Will You Always Love Me? that would be released via Decca – Click on the video above to hear the single!
Roly Poly was written by Bill Martin and Phil Coulter who would later score many songwriting successes including 1967’s Eurovision Song contest winner, Puppet on a String for Sandie Shaw and 1968’s Eurovision runner up, Congratulations for Cliff Richard.
Will You Always Love Me? was also from good writing stock, penned by songwriters Michelle Grainger, Tony Hayes and Steve Wadey who wrote Black is Black for Los Bravos, a smash hit for Los Bravos.
Rod recalls, “They released Roly Poly as the A side. It wasn’t our favourite, but they thought it had a chance of being a hit. It was played on BBC Radio (before Radio 1) and was also featured on Radio Caroline. However, the B side, Will You Always Love Me? was more popular on our gigs. On that track you can hear Rob Bishop and myself playing the twin lead guitar riffs.
“We were offered a chance to turn professional at the time but a few of us (including me) hadn’t finished our apprenticeships and were engaged to be married!”
After The Sabres
The Sabres continued playing local gigs for the next few years and Rod married his fiancee Sheila in 1967, with fellow Sabre, Jim Kinnersley performing best man duties at the wedding.
Rod says, “We were playing most nights, until we decided to have a break. A couple of the boys joined other bands and I joined up with Don Stacey’s The Statesmen until I moved to North Devon with my wife and children in 1973.”
In the years since his time with The Sabres, Rod and the band met up on occasion including a 10th anniversary reunion commemorating their Palladium appearance in 1976.
Sadly, both vocalist, John Hutton and drummer, Jim Kinnersley passed away some time ago, but Rod still keeps in touch with remaining members of the band.
“I also lost my wife Sheila 7 years ago,” says Rod, “but have been lucky in meeting Anne who I married 3 years ago, and we now live in Wellington.”
Prior to the COVID pandemic, Rod was still playing live music.
He continues, “I have been playing solo for the past 20 Years or so (using my backing tracks). A couple of years ago a guy who remembers the Sabres booked me to play for his birthday bash at Pontnewydd WMC. He surprised me by inviting the other guys with their wives and we had a great night. I hadn’t played there since 1973!”
- Thanks to Rod Thomas for his help with this feature.
- Read on: Back to the 1960s With The Sabres