Vasco da Gama Logo 2007

Artistes

brown or red blob Scapegoat / Max Quad

brown or red blob Buffoon / Asghaard
        Emmanuel

brown or red blob Aftermath

brown or red blob Millionaire Penguin

brown or red blob Barracuda

brown or red blob Bloody Fasto

The Wharfebeat Sound

Wetherby, on the banks of the mighty Wharfe River which carries glacial waters from high above the Vale of York and deposits them in the treacherous fishing fields of the Nordzee, is a pokey little market town, running with rats and plagued by tsetse flies during the monsoon season in late August and is not the kind of place you would expect to find very much to interest the Rock Music historian.

Or so experts like Paul Gambo used to think but the more you dig, the more you find and there is growing evidence that this most beastly of environs - with it's rampant in-breeding and incestuous ancestries - has spawned a whole range of local bands, none of whom ever made it big outside the city walls but all of whom merit a place in the record books

These bands, as diverse as they were derivative, can be grouped together under the umbrella title of the Wharfebeat Sound - if the Scousers can have Mersey Beat and the Dave Clark Five can have the Tottenham Sound, then we can have this. The likes of Vasco da Gama, Asghaard, Millionaire Penguin and the rest, through no fault of their own (and probably against the wishes of their peers) have now been well and truly dumped here…in the Wharfebeat Hall of Fame.

It is impossible to say with any degree of certainty which was the first band to plug in it's Woolworths amps and Audition guitars but we have to start somewhere so… Martin O'Flahertyback in the dismal days of 1973 there was a duet of school chums who formed a beat combo and called it Scapegoat. These chums, Dave Knight and David Jamus-Umpleby released one album of monotone tribal chants on the Caveman Record Label. It sank without trace and is now a rarity which can sell at Collectors' Fairs for upwards of 500. That is not to say that it ever has… but it might - and that's the point.
Meanwhile in the Crypt Youth Club in Old Wath Town, Tuesday was the regular rehearsal night for a Heavy Rock Four-Piece called Max Quad. The Quad comprised Stevan Alcock on vocals, Steven Taylor on drums (red ones) Stephen Knight (major) on electric guitar and the legendary Bluesman "Mad" Martin O'Flaherty (above, right) on bass. In time the two-man Scapegoat plus Knight (major) and O'Flaherty joined forces in the new-look Scapegoat.

penguin graphic by Slippy McSlipAnother band on the Wath circuit at that time was the splendidly named Millionaire Penguin. In their early, experimental period they were clearly influenced by the popular folk rockers of the time, including the likes of Val Doonican and the Singing Nun, The Penguin subsequently embarked on a hormonal change of direction and transformed into a New York-style Punk band, modelling themselves on the Velvet Underground. They didn't have a stoned German woman moaning in the background but they did have Phil Robertson in the line-up. Robertson was an eccentric Scot whose main claim to fame had been to revolve a gourd in the window of the art block at Wath High School. Knight (major) and Robertson were on nodding terms only at this time.

Sir John Carter By the Summer of 1975 Scapegoat were no more. The Bluesman had moved on to the Harrogate scene where he was establishing a reputation as a legendary bass player, and the three remaining members had been joined by former Asghaard man John "Genesis" Carter-Hackett on guitar and Jeff "Keyboard" Duke-Ellington in Buffoon. With the later addition of Lady Antonia Patterson on 'cello, this band established itself as the most high-falutin' of all the Wathbeat groups with a sound which extended to 'cello, flute, recorders and, of course, combs with tissue paper. Sir John Staplechin, in an interview with the London Times: "Lady Antonia (was) rendered cello-less by an incident involving a bridge to a loft rehearsal room and a rather long drop. I remember the 'cello in several bits. If my recollection is correct I believe this marked the end of Buffoon's attempts at complex orchestration."

Steve KnightIn 1976 Knight (left) met Dave Atha at the Leeds College of Art during a one year dossing course. Atha was a drinking man's guitarist and his arrival on the scene signalled the beginning of the end of the Wathbeat sound - Atha hailed from Leeds and had drifted in and out of a variety of bands. By this time Knight (major) and Robertson were on well established speaking terms and it was only a matter of days before a new combo was being put together. This was Vasco da Gama. The line-up now consisted of Knight (major) and (minor), Robertson, Umpleby and Atha. Umpleby quit to go professional and was replaced by a school chum of Atha's, Dave "Sticks" Hodgson. With the introduction of Phil Hitchen (an Art College mate of Robertson's) on keyboards, and his brother Simon on bass, the group's identity was nearing completion. It only remained for Saul "Frasher" Kaye to be brought in, and the jigsaw was complete. Unfortunately Kaye was from the wrong jigsaw - he was relegated to the role of sound and lighting engineer and then dumped. Several years later he was arrested and convicted of lewd and incandescent behaviour in a ladies lavatory.
Vasco da Gama had both feet firmly in the Progressive Rock camp during those early days but as the personnel diversified this became less apparent, with musical differences bubbling under the surface. The band were pulled in several musical directions with forays into space-rock, folk and vaudeville. It was clear that something would have to give. The Hitchens had brought a keyboard based outlook - the rest were more guitar-orientated with the exception of Dave Knight who was a devotee of the descant recorder. It was Hitchen Major's insistence that Gama should pursue his organ-based sound that caused Knight (minor), the main creative song-writing talent in the group, to attack him with one of his descants. The descant was undamaged as scuffles broke out - the band had crossed that bridge and had burnt it and there was no going back. Against a backdrop of lawsuits, counter claims and legal wranglings the final act was played out as Wetherby's greatest ever rock band came off the rails…

This is a potted history of the movement from it's humble beginnings to it's ignominious decline - and who's any the worse for it's passing? The Hall of Fame would be glad to receive details of any bands who qualify for inclusion, i.e. any band who rehearsed in or whose members lived in Wetherby or surrounding villages (Bardsey, Collingham, Kirk Deighton etc) - any bands from Leeds, Harrogate or York and particularly Knaresborough…get lost!
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