In the beginning

Colin Roberts - French Lessons' first drummer

Colin Roberts

French Lessons were formed in 1979 by Rob Cross (keyboards), Doug Halligan (bass & vocals) and Ron Roberts (guitar) with Colin Roberts on drums. Assembled by Rob the band were to play songs written, in the main, by Doug. Rob had previously been a member of Fallen Heroes. Before that he, Doug & Ron had played together in Cops In Disguise (CID). Colin played one gig with the band, at the Girling Club, Bebington, before being replaced by Keith Butler.

Most rehearsals were held at Dougie’s, Colin’s and Rob’s homes. At other times various studios and shop basements were used. These included a room in Birkenhead, opposite Stairways, a place in Rock Ferry (that was shut down to electrical safety issues) and a shop basement in Borough Road, Seacombe. Somewhere there’s a cassette recording of the Seacombe rehearsals, which was an audition for Colin’s replacement.

And then their were five

One of the best places to catch local bands in the late 70s and early 80s was the music room of the Dale Inn, Seacombe. At its height bands played each night from Wednesday though to Sunday. It was closed on Mondays and on Tuesdays you could pay money to see women take their vests off.

When the band wasn’t gigging Kevin spent most evenings at the Dale; hanging out with Jon Kirkman, Phil Nash and Alan Moore (no relation). Standing at the bar one evening he asked Howie, a percussion player and one of the other regulars, if he knew of any singers looking for work. Howie said he thought Tony Hall wasn’t working and could possible fit the bill. A few days later he passed Tony’s number on to Rob.

I think, at the time, Tony had decided to stop singing for a while but Rob managed to convince him to join. Tony used to travel to rehearsals by motorbike, sometimes taking Kevin who remembers hurtling along the M53, on the back of a Honda, with the wiff of aftershave up his nose.

One two, one two

The PA for the first gig was supplied by Eric Jones. It was delivered up in the back of a Rover SD1 (or something similar, ask Eric!). More memories, this time of hurtling down the M53 at 100 miles an hour with the PA in the back.

Keith Butler replaced Colin on drums for the second gig at the Ellesmere Arms, Ellesmere Port. Between joining the band and the gig Keith had only played the songs on a makeshift drum kit comprising mainly of books. All credit to him—you couldn’t tell he’d only had just over a week to learn the set!

Rehearsals continued to be held band members’ homes throughout their early career. Keith always tapping away on books and cardboard boxes.

Never met the Roadies, leave them in the van

Things settled down once Keith had joined with the band gigging regularly throughout Wirral and Liverpool. For the very early gigs the road crew was Kevin on sound and Jimmy Cuffe on lighting. The PA was the bands own now, hand crafted for them by Eric Jones. This included a snazzy multi-core that carries the lighting controls as well as the sound signals.

Later additions to the road crew included Jem, Gary, Rich and for a while Bert. Bert also played base for the band when Doug had broken his collar bone in a cycling accident.

See also: National Battle of the Bands and Radio Stuff.

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