THE HARTBEAT BOYS
Local legends of the time, and all round Hartlepool superstars, the two remaining members of the Hartbeats are sat round a table with me, unassuming and down to earth. They formed at the turn of the 60’s and wasted no time getting down to the local high street tailors to get the snazzy red suits run up that were to become their calling card to recognition.
My first meeting with John and Roly is arranged by Sandra Brauer from the council in order that they might bring in some photos and memories from that time. There is also a contingent from the council’s archives department, keen to get something digitised for the records. I introduce myself and my project and then take a back seat to allow my hosts to follow their own agenda. It soon becomes obvious though that I have more in common with the Hartbeats than anyone else around the table. It’s a band thing.
I have been in bands since I was at school, still am, and have been an avid songwriter since I was 14. Inevitably there is an understanding amongst those who play seriously. We discuss the almost fetishistic appeal of guitars. Their shapes, their colours, their status as objects of desire. It so happens that I still have an original AC30 under my bed at home – the amplifier of choice in the early days for groups like the Beatles and Stones et al. They can in fact remember owning an AC15 (15 amps as opposed to 30). State of the art sound reinforcement at the time.
Roly recalls ordering an original Fender Stratocaster, via a Hartlepool music shop, from the States and having to borrow the money from his hard working postman father. This was the period when youth culture was being invented, though they didn’t quite understand that at the time of course, and his father must have been a pretty enlightened man in his own way. He wasn’t exactly enthusiastic about the purchase and tried every which way to put Roly off, his final tactic being to take out the 50 guineas (yes guineas) from the bank and spread it out in front of Roland on the table in order to show him the enormity of the intended purchase. No-one in his family had ever seen that amount of money lying naked in all its glory in such a way. It was a scary moment says Roland, but not one that made him waiver in his resolve to be the guitars owner. Blame Hank Marvin for that.
People used to come and see them play just to look at the guitar apparently, as there were none in the north-east at that time.
Girls really did scream and shows were packed. Crowd control hadn’t been invented, stages were about 2 feet above the level of the audience, and consequently they were both exhilarating and dangerous times.
They did in fact go on to win Opportunity Knocks with Hughie Green, changing their names to The Harts Show Group. Now having turned professional, they won through on viewers votes, losing in the next round but re-appearing on the winners show.
I look at them and wonder how it sits in their lives now. Are they disappointed they never had a hit record, or satisfied with what they achieved? Pretty much the latter it seems – they didn’t make a fortune, they were toured relentlessly throughout the UK and Germany as a cash cow for the legendary string of ruthless agents that existed in those days, but they don’t seem too bitter. It was an experience that they certainly would not have substituted for a more conventional lifestyle.
I hope I can do right by all these people I am meeting. I want to make something that is in some way true to their collective histories. At the same time I am aware that their expectations, despite my caviat of artistic explanation that this is not a conventional documentary, are inevitably of something perhaps more familiar than I shall be serving up. I hope the piece will be a ‘pleasant’, rather than merely surprising surprise for them once it is born.