Initial research John S. Stuart. Additional researh and text: Andy Davis.
An attention-shy John 'Suedehead' Deacon, in one of those legendary silk shirts,
requesting no publicity in 1966.
By spring 1966, the Opposition were playing every weekend, school work permitting. The peaks and troughs of their career are illustrated by the following memorable gigs: one at St. George's Ballroom, Hinckley, on 23rd June 1967, when just two people turned up and the band went home after a couple of numbers; and a September appearance in a series of shows at U.S. Airforce Bases in the Midlands, at which they were required to play for four-and-half hours with just two twenty-minute breaks. It was nothing if not diverse.
"It didn't seem to matter what you played," says Dave. "People would clap simply because you were making music. They never said, 'Do you do Motown, or soul stuff?'" The band's repertoire initially consisted of chart sounds and the poppier end of the R&B spectrum. "Although we were inspired by the Beatles, we never did any of their songs," claims Nigel. "But we coverd the Kinks, the Yardbirds, and things like Them's 'Gloria', and the Zombies' 'She's Not There'."
They also altered their name slightly to the New Opposition, which they unveiled at the Enderby Co-Op Hall. "The name-change was decided overnight, when John moved from rhythm to bass guitar," recounts Richard, whose diary records the date of the transition as 29th April 1966. Interestingly, though, it makes no mention of another local group also called the Opposition, long thought to have been the reason for Deacon's crew adopting the 'New'. The change did act as an impetus for further development, however, instigated by Dave Wiiliams, who soon took over as the group's lead vocalist.
"When I joined they were doing all Beach Boys stuff," he recalls, "and I think I may have brought in a little credibility. In the Outer Limits, I'd been playing John Mayall, the Yardbirds, that sort of thing, plus that group was into really good soul like the Impressions, and fantastic vocal bands from the States. So I had a broad musical knowledge by then, whereas the Opposition had been a bit poppy." Appropriately, the words "Tamla" and "Soul" were now added to the Opposition's ads and calling cards.
Towards the end of 1966, the New Opposition were enhanced further by the arrival of Ron Chester, who'd previously played with Dave Williams in the Outer Limits, as well as in an earlier band, the Deerstalkers. "Ron Chester was a bit eccentric," claims Richard Young. "He never used to go anywhere without his deerstalker. He was a really good guitarist ("stunning", adds Dave Williams). We were probably at our best when Ron was in the band."
On 23rd October 1966, the New Opposition entered the local Midland Beat Contest. They won their heat, landing themselves a place in the semi-finals on 29th January 1967. They won this, too, and steeled themselves for the finals, which were due to be held on 3rd March 1967, when they were to be pitched against an act called Keny.The stars of the show would have been the nearest the Opposition came to having a rival: an outfit called Legay. (A year later, incidentally, this band issued a now collectable single, "No One" [Fontana TF 904,£80.])
Unfortunately, for all concerned, however, the contest never took place. "That was a fiasco," laughs Ron. "Somehow we won those heats, but in fact, I don't remember seeing anybody else playing. I don't know whether we won by default or not. After that, they pulled the plug on the competition -- probably because they knew we'd be playing again!"
"The heats took place in a club in Leicester called the Casino, which was the place to play," adds Nigel. "The guy who ran the competition was an agent for the club. His company was called Penguin (or P.S.) Promotions and he walked like a penguin, too, with his feet sticking out. The final was going to be held in the De Montford Hall, which is still the main venue in Leicester. We thought, 'Crumbs, this is it, perhaps we might make the big time.' But the guy did a runner with all the money -- people had to pay to come to the heats. So the final was called off."
David Williams wasn't too fussed, as he scored another prize that night: "I remember taking a girl back to Dick's car on the strength of us winning our heat. I said, 'Can I borrow your keys, Dick?' He said, 'What for? You can't drive!'"
Were the New Opposition -- or the Opposition, as they dropped the 'New' again in early 1967 -- left in limbo by the cancellation of the Beat Contest? Having achieved the most public recognition of their talents so far, were they disappointed with the loss of the chance to prove themselves further?
"No. It was almost insignificant," reckons Ron. "We didn't really look upon it as a stairway to stardom." And what would John Deacon have thought? "Nothing really," suggests Chester. "'It's cancelled. What are we doing next, then?' That would have been about the depth of it. We were a village band, all gathering at the church hall to try and improve our abilities. The financial aspect of it wasn't in the forefront of our minds. We were more concerned with our music, and if we could get a booking doing it as well, to pay off some of the equipment, then that was a real bonus. Three bookings a week was enough for us while we were working or still at school."
Despite any dodgy dealings, history does have the Penguin promoter to thank for the only professionally-taken photograph of the Opposition. ("We didn't go much on photos in the band," remembers Dave Williams.) On Tuesday, 31st January 1967, two days after winning the semi-finals, the 'Leicester Mercury' dispatched a staff photographer over to Richard Young's parents' house in Oadby. Here, the group lined-up in the front room, looking more like refugees from 1964, rather than 1967. The only indications of the actual date are perhaps Ron Chester's deerstalker hat and the ridiculous length of David Williams' shirt collars -- seven inches, no less from neck to nipple.
"Dave was very extrovert," recalles Nigel. "But we all had those silk shirts with the great long collars made by our mums and grandmas for our stage gear." Dave admits. "Our clothes were all a bit mixed up. We had silk shirts with tweed jackets -- which were fashionable for a while -- and bell-bottoms. Musically, we were pretty good, better than most of the local bands around that time, but we had this squeaky-clean, schoolboy image which let us down. I used to get frustrated when we were billed with other bands, and they'd all play with so many wrong chords but had a better image and still the punters applauded. Were they stupid? We were still at school -- and weren't allowed to grow our hair long."
"After the mod thing," he continues, "long hair became really important. Bands were growing their hair right down their backs. I remember getting to one gig with John and Nigel a year or so later, and the other group were already on. And when they saw us they turned round and said, 'Look! They've got no hair!' We were quite upset about that.
"We also went through the flower-power look," Dave adds. "And then we got into those little jumpers without any sleeves that Paul McCartney used to wear, the ones so small half your stomach showed. And then it was grandad shirts without the collars and flares." Ron Chester: "The flowery shirts and flared trousers were everywhere. We looked like a right shower of poofters. But so did everybody else. You stood out if you didn't wear them."
1967 also heralded the arrival of an additional attraction to the Opposition's stage show: two go-go dancers. At least, it did if the existing literature on the subject is to be believed. "I vaguely remember it," admits Richard, "but speaking to Nig, neither of us can recall who those dancers were."
Dave Williams throws some light on the subject: "They were the jet-set girls of the sixth form, they came from the big houses. They came to a couple of gigs and just started dancing. Somebody who booked us for the following week actually advertised us 'with go-go girls'. But they were never really part of the show."