The Roadrunners

The story of the band

The Roadrunners emerged in 1962, having previously played as the Tenabeats. In those days, there was no white R&B scene in / Liverpool, as there was in London, centred on the activities of the rather older jazz-blues guitarist Alexis Korner.

For a short period, the Roadrunners cornered the R&B market in Liverpool, as we were the only group playing the same sort of Chicago/Muddy Waters style copies as our metropolitan counterparts - very different from the sound which came to be known as "Merseybeat". Thus we became the band of first choice for University and College gigs as the "trad" jazz bands which were popular at the time were swiftly replaced by something a bit more "a la mode".

The Roadrunners' spiritual home was the "Everyman Club" in the basement of the Everyman Cinema (now theatre) known as "Hope Hall". Four hundred yards from the Art School, and backing onto the university campus, the club was the hang-out of many local poets, painters and arty types, and so we became components of many diverse "events" arranged by Adrian Henri and based on Allan Kaprow's New York Happenings.

John Willett (arts correspondent of the Guardian newspaper) described one of these "happenings" as including: "Some really good things especially by Roger McGough, accompanied by an electric-guitar group, the Roadrunners: the first time I've heard poetry and jazz that really came off... Also a very effective turn with all three poets (Gorman, McGough and Patten) reading verses to a tune of the group's, which then let its own vocalist loose... There really was something there. "

See "A Gallery to Play To - the story of the Mersey Poets" by Phil Bowen. (Stride Publications, 1999, ISBN 1 900152 63 0.) You can also read more about Hope Hall on our "Mersey Beat" pages.

At this time, the band (pictured in order top to bottom on this page) were:

  • Mike (a.k.a. Henry) Hart - Guitar, Sax, Vocals
  • Pete Mackey - Bass, Vocals
  • Dave Percy - Guitar, Vocals
  • John Peacock - Piano
  • Dave Boyce - Drums

It was this line-up which made it into the "Mersey Beat" Top 20 Poll of Liverpool bands in 1963 and also played the First Annual R&B Festival at Birmingham Town Hall on February 28th, 1964. Organised by Georgio Gomelsky, this one-night festival featured Sonny Boy Williamson backed by the Yardbirds. Supporting acts were Long John Baldry and the Hoochie Coochie Men, the Spencer Davis Rhythm & Blues Quartet (featuring a 15-year-old Stevie Winwood) and, of course, the Roadrunners. This album also features an uncredited early appearance by Rod Stewart, who was then a roadie for Long John Baldry. It is on the sleeve notes to this album that the George Harrison anecdote on our home page makes one of its first reappearances in print.

The Roadrunners were also the first band to appear on "Sunday Night at the Cavern", broadcast on Radio Luxembourg.

So, in tandem with our R&B persona, we had a career as a quasi-pop group, appearing regularly at the Cavern (often with the Beatles) and even taking over the "Fab Four's" Tuesday night residency in the wake of their national success.

An almost-complete listing of the Cavern gigs can be found in "The Best of Cellars" by Phil Thompson (Bluecoat Press, 1994, ISBN 1 872568 16 5).

Because this listing was compiled from newspaper advertisements of the 60s, it doesn't cover those occasions when the band stood in at short notice for other acts which had been forced to cancel. So the Roadrunners' total number of Cavern gigs is certainly greater than that recorded in the book.

On our return from our first tour of duty at Hamburg's Star Club (Christmas/New Year 1963/4), we were offered a deal by a major record label. However, Mike Hart seemed reluctant to get involved with "all this commercialism", and the deal fell through.

Back in Liverpool we lost Dave Percy but added two sax players - Nick Carver (a.k.a. Nick La Grec) and Johnny Phillips. This was a direct result of playing nightly in Hamburg alongside the horn-based Glasgow band the Bobby Patrick Big Six. By early to mid 1964, loads of groups were jumping on the R&B bandwagon, so we had to move on.

It was this lineup which returned to Hamburg in the summer of 1964. Each of our visits resulted in an album, and you will find more information elsewhere on this site. In brief:

"Twist-Time im Star-Club 4"
is devoted entirely to the Roadrunners (original line-up).
"Tanz-Show im Star-Club 2"
features one side each by the Roadrunners (now with added sax appeal!) and Shorty and Them.

Returning to Liverpool, we appeared on one more disc - "Pantomania" - an e.p. cut to raise money for the University rag week. (For those of you unfamiliar with the term, that's a charity fund-raising event.) We perform the Bobby Bland classic "Cry, Cry, Cry" and a version of "The Leaving of Liverpool". (A third track is credited to us, but we prefer not to talk about it!)

Mike Hart left shortly afterwards to join Adrian Henri in the Liverpool Scene and later pursue a solo career, with two albums released on John Peel's Dandelion label. The Roadrunners carried on for a while under the leadership of Pete Mackey. To find out more about the various line-ups, see the Family Tree.

Pete Mackey and Mike Hart worked together again some years later when Pete produced a demo tape for a proposed solo album by Mike. It never happened, but the tape still exists and in 2004 was restored and digitised by us for old times' sake. John Conroy, who played drums on the session, recalls that the band was pulled together in a London pub the night before the recording, which took place in Richard Branson's studio/barge moored on the Thames. Despite the unpromising circumstances, the tunes still sound good and reflect the sometimes quirky, sometimes passionate and sometimes tender aspects of Mike's talent as a singer/songwriter. See Links page for details

So, that's the brief history. Can you help us find any more of it? If there's anyone out there who has stories, photos, memorabilia, tapes or anything else connected with the Roadrunners, please get in touch.