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                                  Bill Hastings - The Pack, Friendship, solo etc.
                                                            (A look at the career of Falkirk musician Bill Hastings from '60s beat groups to the present.)

Bill takes us from his first guitar to his first band - THE FORTHBEATS.
While at school in Falkirk, I was a regular listener to radio shows, and loved the sound of the guitar.  I heard Hank Marvin and Bert Weedon play and badgered my folks for an acoustic, and was told I would get one for Christmas.  When they gave me it, they were amazed that I could play so well so quickly.   Truth was, I had found the thing early, and had practised while they were out!  Later I talked my folks into buying me a solid body Electric Guitar which I badly needed if I was to play in a band.  This was got for me on the tick through Bells Music mailorder catalogue, based in London. I went for a sparkly Zannetti- a great guitar that I wish I still had.  My first venture was a group called The Forthbeats from the Airth / Stirling area, which was where we mostly played too. They were ; Jim Alan, Rhythm guitar & Vocals, Barry Hall, Drums, Bobby Duncan, Bass, and me on lead.

Bobby's dad was the Club Steward at Carmuirs Golf Club in Falkirk, which was where I met Peter Fallon, local businessman, who owned an electrical outlet in Falkirk.  He organised a band competition and the prize was a weeks recording in London at EMI, Decca, & Pye.   The Forthbeats were not actually involve but the joint winners were the Roadrunners, and Tommy & The Delmonts.  Anyway, I was at the golf club the night before the coach was to leave for the sessions in London and Peter Fallon asked me if I wanted to go down as second guitar in the Delmonts to allow Tommy to be more of a front man. I agreed and we had a great time.  We had a tour of EMI and just missed the Beatles by minutes but I did see Gerry and the pacemakers recording " You'll Never Walk Alone" . I also saw Brian Jones of the Stones in a clothes shop. He signed our guitar catalogues - I wish I still had that.  Fallon also bought us new instruments. I ended up with the Vox Teardrop once owned by Lonnie Donegan!  The London recording trip made me realise that there was more to playing in a local band, and I started rehearsing with, THE PACK.  Tommy went on to be a top jock with Central Radio & others.

The Pack are: left to right - Lachie, Stewart, Drew & Billy

'Based in Falkirk, this 4 piece group were one of the best around in the mid sixties. We rehearsed a lot to get to that standard. We played a mixture of blues & rock.  The band consisted of Drew Templeton on Bass, Lachie Innes on Rhythm guitar, Billy Hastings on Lead Guitar, and Stewart Buchanan on drums.  We managed to lay our hands on a lot of American Blues imports featuring artists like Sugar Pie De-Santo, Leadbelly, Hooker, Etc.   Although Falkirk based, we played all over Scotland, and were to be seen at Edinburgh clubs such as the Place & The Gamp. We also did a lot of work at the Edinburgh Art College, where we played as support to a lot of top outfits, such as Alan Price Set, The Johnny Dankworth Big Band, The Foundations, Alex Harvey and many more.  I especially remember the Dankworth gig at Edinburgh Art College. There were some students in the balcony trying to land glasses into the top of the euphonium, one or two got in. This was when they had their big hit with "African Waltz" - what great musicians.  

Around this time three local business men decided to open a club in Falkirk called “ La Bamba.”    Ian Rule, Ian Stirling, & David Dillon should receive all of the plaudits they richly deserve, for having the foresight to open a club like this, which went on to become as famous in Scotland as The Cavern was down south.  The club had a few incarnations, but the best was in East Bridge Street.  The Pack played there many times, with other local bands such as the Abstracts and the Cherokees as well as well known bands such as Marmalade, Alex Harvey, Hi Fi Combo, Dave Edmunds, Mud & the Peddlars.'  Apart from the gigs we did all over the place we could be found in the Argyle bar in Falkirk or Clarks Bar opposite Edinburgh Art College in Edinburgh when in town.'

Drew, Billy, Stewart & Lachie.

'The Pack were invited to go to Liverpool to play at 3 clubs, all in one night; the Cavern, the Peppermint Lounge & the Blue Angel.  We did the 3 gigs by taxi. The Cavern was everything we expected. To stand where great players had, was tingly, especially as I was on Lennon’s spot.  We were to do 2 x 45 minute spots, and were introduced by the compere, Bob Wooler. We had to get to the stage through basically, a hole in the wall from the dressing room. He told us if they liked you, they would paint the band name along the stage front, there must have been a job lot of brushes that night.  We used the house PA. Drew had a nosebleed the whole night, nerves !!!   The entrance was down a very steep stairway. Guess who dropped his Vox AC30 amp at the top ? Correct, me. It went down very fast, followed by me at the gallop. I picked it up, plugged it in, and it worked, great wee amp that.

The Pack were asked to do a Showcase in Glasgow for a German Tour. We blew the rest away and won the thing. We were on our way then the promoter told us we had to take a female singer with us. “ Nae Chance” was the reply, “ That’s not what we do.” In retrospect, were pretty daft, but we were young then.   Sadly, we lost Lachie in a car accident and it was not the same without him so the group wound up. I have no hesitation in saying, that had this great band survived, we would have made it to the top, whatever that means, it just seemed it was not meant to be when we lost Lachie.   I still see Drew.  Stewart & I went together to France to work for a bit but have not seen him for some time, I think he lives in Edinburgh somewhere near Portobello.  The Pack did shape me for future ventures in music though and the next one up was THE GUITAR STRINGS.   

The Guitar Strings - 

After the demise of The Pack I got a call from a friend, former Bass player with the Delmonts, Rod Harley. He told me to get over to Germany ASAP, he had a job for me with a German group called the Guitar Strings. Rod had gone over with the Delmonts, and decided to stay there, in fact he still lives in Munich. So off I went to Germany. I had no guitar, but Rod gave me his 6 string Fender Bass which I strung down, great sound from it.  The band were booked to play for the American troops in Enlisted men clubs. No women allowed, unless it they were kept out of main club and were with husbands.  We did not pay for food, drinks, digs, and we got a big fee as well. You were in each club for a month at a time and the accommodation  you were given depended on the group size -  4 piece? - 4 bedrooms.  The hair had to be a bit bit shorter given that we were playing for the American Military, it seemed the right thing to do to fit in a bit better, long hair to a serviceman at that time was a bit girlie, better for future work as well.

Above and below - Bill second left with the 6 string bass strung as a lead guitar

The Strings consisted of 2 brothers - Aly & Ernie Weisler on bass and rhythm guitar respectively, Pete Sleichert on drums and me on lead..  We had to have a female singer in the band, and we had a great one called Sylvia Finke.  After a while playing the bases we were invited to go to Italy to work and were based in Rome. We played mostly in and around the Rome area.   The owner of the Molo club at the lido had bought an old ship and cut off the top wheelhouse, and built the club around it; very unique. I was asked to get involved in doing some cabaret work there, which involved getting dressed up  - or down as it required - see pics.

While in Rome, I was going to work on the Via Veneto, when I met Keith Richards of the Stones. We had a chat for a bit, and I asked him if he was up for a jam at our club, he was keen to come but his manager said no.  Shame that.  However, I did meet up with some others who went onto better things like Jon Anderson who went onto front 'Yes'.  He even gave up his bed for me when my need was greater than his.  I also bought a Vox 335 guitar and a Fender Mustang from his guitarist which you can see in the pics of the 'Sisters' below.  After the Molo club we were taken on by one of the biggest agents in Italy, Teddy Reno.  He was married to the great Italian Singer, Rita Pavone.  I later did some writing for her as well as some session guitar work. He manged to get us onto our biggest gig ever, The Festival De Arrecia - an open air gig that brought in 30,000 folk and was televised all over Europe. See pic below.

We had been in Italy for a long time and some of the band wanted to go home to Germany but I was not ready for that until Peter the drummer asked if I would form another band with him to do the American circuit again, but better than before. I agreed, went back to Germany and began the job of putting together a bigger band.  Soul was coming very much to the fore, so we decided to go down that path, but also to include other types of music with THE BIG SISTERS.  

THE BIG SISTERS had a Turkish Bass player called Tashkan; Jan a Dutch keyboard player; Roly a London Sax player; Me from Scotland on guitar; Peter from Germany on drums and we had a double female front - Rudi from Israel and Sheila (blonde) from Manchester.  We played a lot of the American clubs, but the biggest was at a place called, 'Baumholder'. This was the biggest American camp in Germany with 56,000 troops there on training at any given time.   It's theatre was state of the art; palladium type drapes, pro lighting, manned spots and dressing rooms fit for royalty.  The place was used as an EM club - no females were allowed on the floor - they had to be in the balcony and accompanied at all times by husbands or boyfriends. It was strange to see these men dancing with each other, but they enjoyed themselves. We were there for the whole month of December.  We got the chance to work with visiting American Acts such as Brenda Lee and Roger Millar who had a great guitar player called Fingers Carlyle.  I also got to hear American records it would have taken me years to get in the UK and was introduced to 'Redeye' which undoubtedly lived up to its name, oh yes !

I also saw my first and last race riot. The population of the troops was 90 % black and 10% white and one night fights broke out in the theatre.  I saw a man being killed, and others injured and we were escorted away until the MP's cleared it out.  We were not in danger but you don't know that at the time.  A Master Sargeant Perkins looked after the bands and he was camp middle weight boxing champ so nobody messed with him.  The riot left a mark on me though, and I needed to get home.  I had been away for a few years and wanted to get back to Falkirk so I left Frankfurt soon after this.  Next up THE LEAVES.

After I came back from overseas I took some time out to regroup but it was not to long before my phone rang. I was asked to play lead guitar for a band of local lads called The Leaves. On vocals - Ian Anderson; keyboards - Gordon Leishman; my old drummer from the Pack, Stewart, and twins Eric & Melvyn Fowler on bass and rhythm Guitar. The two pics above were taken inside La Bamba.  The group pic shows the back row of me, Stewart, and the Fowler twins and in the front row - Gordon, and Ian.   We played quite an eclectic mix of music, but with the Fowlers a new door opened. They were extremely good at Everly Brothers music and harmonies,  if you closed your eyes it may have been them playing. This must have been one of the first Tribute act.  Sadly, both of them have passed on for one reason or another but what memories they left as did all of the others in this very good group which folded up after a period. I still see Ian from time to time, but I have not seen Gordon or Stewart for a while.

                                 Dave Waugh- singer;  Charlie Dye - Bass;  Hamish Millar - drums;  Frank Ferrari -  keys & Billy Hastings - lead guitar.

After the Leaves, I was asked to join Friendship. This group were very good indeed, and played all over the place, we even played at Faslane for the Americans, where my American Flag shirt did not go down to well though I thought it was the bees knees.  We had bought an old co-op Commer 'Gown van' to get around in.  The co-op used to deliver Ball Gowns in it way back - Charlie worked on putting beds into it.  We had been chatting about having a try overseas.  Having been there before, I was asked to try to put something together. I found an advert in the  Melody Maker - 'Wanted, group for Italian Record label, showcase tour.'  They wanted an opening act for a 16 day tour of Italy to showcase the major recording stars of Piper Records.  So I applied and got a call from Rome from the owner of Piper Records, Albergio Crochetta., He asked me to arrange a rehearsal room in London for the day he would be coming over. I set this up in a pub in Islington called the The Pied Bull.   We had a gig the night before this in Scotland at home but we packed the van right after it and drove to Islington in our very distinctive van. We got there, set up, had a quick run through then we all fell asleep since we were shot to bits after the gig and drive down.  The owner of the pub woke us up and said, " He's Here".  In came this leather clad guy with a blonde on each arm - seriously.  He had very little English, but we did a brief show for him after which he was impressed enough to produce contracts for us to tour Italy.  


We had to be in Via Reggio, north Italy to play 2 nights in his Piper Club there.  After Via Reggio we had to drive to Rome, park our van and get on this luxury Tour Bus for the duration of the 16 day Tour. We were were booked into top hotels on the tour which went from Milan in the north, to Bari & Catanzaro in the south.  The major acts on the Tour were The 4 Kents, an american group,
and Patti Bravo a top Italian Singer.  Among the others were Mal & The Primitives who had a couple of Scottish lads in it - including drummer Robbie Mackintosh who went onto play with the Average White Band before his untimely death. We were the opening act each night.  What a tour what an experience especially when we played in Bari Opera House.  After the tour, we came back to Rome, and did some work there  including the Rome Piper Club. While there we met up with Rod Argent, who had just formed his band Argent.  He had brought them over to tighten it up before a major british tour. What a band, with Russ Ballard Etc. Unknown to us, the Primitives head roadie, Mike, had set up their PA for us, with a built in recording desk.  We seemed very much on top form that night, with him balancing everything. Before we decided to come home I was doing session guitar work for RCA in Rome as well as writing for a singer called Rita Pavone  - but the Canta Piper Tour was our biggest venture.     

                                                                                                Left to right, Charlie, Dave, Billy, Frank, Hamish. 


The black and white above was taken on a photo shoot for an Italian Magazine inside the Colloseum. Dave got us chucked oot.  There is a huge cross to the Martyrs inside that was very revered. Guess who tried to do the dying Jesus bit on it? Nutter.   Dave has given up playing, but was in Thrush, and other bands after Friendship. I see him most days.   Hamish went on to play with 'Middle of the Road' for a bit and he still plays.  Frank still goes out as well but Charlie went to Saudi Arabia a while ago, made a fortune, and sits on his arse now.  I have just had an email from Mal Rider, front man with the Primitives, who still lives in Italy and still performs and records there. He has told me that Albergio Crochetta, the guy who took us over in the first place, had passed away.  Quite sad that, as he gave us our chance there. I for one, will be forever grateful to him for that.


After Friendship and a few ventures into clubland with a couple of local outfits, I felt a bit out of sorts with the music scene, There seemed to be too many people making money out of it but not being worth it. So, I left the music biz for a while and moved north to live.   My wife and I were in a local pub where there was an act playing and not very well. My wife said, 'You used to do that, and a damn sight better than him.' Next day I went out and bought a guitar again, and started to get back up to speed. After a bit we returned to Falkirk, and I had got the playing bug again, don't think it ever left, it was just hiding.

I went to a mate of mine who owned a music shop, bought a good guitar and a PA, recorded a few backing tracks, did a demo CD and fired it out to everyone I could think of - agents, venues etc. I was invited to do a showcase for a hotel tour company agency who looked after Shearings WA, Urquarts, etc. I must have done ok as I was immediately booked to play at their hotels and held residencies at most of them for a while.  In between, I had been also working for a few agencies and was doing a lot of holiday park gigs for them as well as clubs & pubs. Then I was approached by another coach tour hotel group, 'Lochs & Glens' to play at their hotels.  I have been with them for a while now, and hold residencies at some of the group hotels. Recently, another such group has come in for me, Highland Heritage, and I am currently doing a lot of work for them as well.  I must be doing something right as my bookings are good for the forseeable future. All in all, I am quite happy at the moment. I keep my tracks up to date, and have sets to suit every genre or venue.

Some advice for aspiring musicians - an audience does not want to look at dour faces, they are there to be entertained, thats what we get paid to do. Learn to read a room, play what your audience wants and you will not be far off the mark. When you keep being asked back to play is when you know your doing it right.  The trick is to keep on doing it night after night, in other words be professional. Buy good gear, it will enhance your overall sound, whether its solo, or in a unit. I am constantly trying to improve my sound, my local music shops like to see me coming in.   One last little bit of advice to any reader of this - join the Musicians Union.  I have found them to be invaluable to me over time and they have helped me in so many ways e.g. they will supply you with blank contracts.  This is a vital part of any gig you may play - get it in writing.  You would be surprised how many reputable venues try to renege on written agreements. The union has been of immense help to me in such situations and they can help in so many other ways.  

Oh and if anyone wants to book me, have a look at my website on ; www.billybennett.co.uk