Cult Heroes - Johnny Kidd

 

Just before The Beatles happened, Britain was as awash with manufactured pop acts as it is today: Cliff Richard, Vince Eager, Terry Dene, Billy Fury, Marty Wilde, Adam Faith, Dickie Pride and many others.

Created by middle-aged Tin Pan Alley moguls, they aped American stars (Cliff must have practised for hours in the mirror to get that Elvis lip-curl) but they were always a naff substitute for the real thing. Except Johnny Kidd. He was special.

With his backing group, The Pirates, Kidd was a pivotal figure on the British rock scene, anticipating the beat boom, the New Romantics and Glam Rock. Kidd was also a brilliant songwriter, and his 1960 hit, Shakin' All Over, has never gone away. The song has a chilling, yearning quality, and an insolent sexuality that set it apart from the mawkish pap and copycat antics of his contemporaries, and still gets plenty of airplay.

Born Frederick Heath in London in 1941, the handsome and raffish Kidd wore an eye-patch from an early age to hide a bad squint that got worse as the night progressed (without it, he'd start a gig as Johnny Depp and end it as Marty Feldman), so calling himself after notorious buccaneer Captain Kidd and naming his cohorts The Pirates wasn't unreasonable. Wonky eye notwithstanding, he was amazingly charismatic in his thigh-length boots and ruffled shirts. Sometimes he flourished a cutlass on stage.

He began his career with The Five Nutters skiffle group, and when he left the band he and fellow Nutter Alan Caddy (later of The Tornadoes) formed the first of many line-ups of The Pirates. Their debut record was Please Don't Touch in 1959, and after the success of Shakin' All Over in 1960 they had a hit with another Kidd composition, Restless.

But being a rock prophet in his own land didn't count for much a few years later, and Johnny Kidd and The Pirates were lost in the shuffle when the Merseybeat revolution took place. In the mid-1960s The Pirates broke up and Kidd fronted an assortment of groups. In 1966 things started to look up; he formed the New Pirates and had two Top 30 songs: I'll Never Get Over You and Hungry for Love.

Arguably Britain's most commercial rock writer before Lennon and McCartney, Johnny Kidd would no doubt have survived the career lull and gone on to re-establish himself as a potent force on the rock scene, but this is the merest speculation. He had become friendly with rock legend Gene Vincent, and EMI had agreed to a new album, Johnny Kidd Sings Gene Vincent.

But on October 6th, 1966, while travelling home from a performance, the car in which Kidd was a passenger crashed, and he was killed. The original Pirates re-formed and sail on around the nostalgia circuit to this day. They still play Shakin' All Over - but only Johnny could give those authentic "shivers down the backbone . . ."