By Hazel Plater
It’s not just red dust from the steelworks that has blown out of Consett, County Durham.
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A discussion on our ‘North East Music History’ Facebook group recently, highlighted THREE fascinating stories of talented performers from the town.
- Freddie ‘Fingers’ Lee
Born around 1940, Blackhill, Consett’s Frederick Cheeseman became a professional musician at the age of 15, starting with skiffle, then becoming successful as rockabilly recording artist Freddie ‘Fingers’ Lee. He played piano, inspired by the legendary Jerry ‘Lee’ Lewis. He also sang but, as is commonplace in the genre, you wouldn’t recognise a North East accent in his faux-American drawl. Firstly performing around the cinema circuit, he did a stint as the keyboardist in Screaming Lord Such and the Savages around 1962/3. Following this, he became part of the house band at Hamburg’s The Star Club, where The Beatles had earlier cut their teeth. From there, he went on to play in the bands of such luminaries as Chuck Berry, Little Richard and Gene Vincent.
No stranger to stage or television in the 70s, he starred, alongside Bill Haley, and Ray Campi, in the 1980 rockabilly documentary Blue Suede Shoes, where he is featured taking an axe to his piano towards the end of a live set.
In 2003, an article on Teddy Boys, The Guardian found Freddie ‘Fingers’ Lee in Consett, still recording and gigging in Europe, but planning to retire.
- Ruth Copeland
Back in the late 60s/early 70s, word has it that it caused quite a stir locally when, blues/folk singer/songwriter Ruth Copeland from Consett, hooked up with the now legendary Parliament-Funkadelic ‘P-Funk’ collective. At around just 20 years of age she co-wrote and recorded songs with Parliament, including tracks from their 1970 debut album, ‘Osmium’ and subsequent singles ‘Come in Out of the Rain’ and ‘Breakdown’.
She was also a performer under her own name, releasing three albums. Her debut ‘Self Portrait’ was produced in collaboration with George Clinton of Parliament and was released around the same time as Osmium. Many have said that the two records are similar in style and feel. She married Motown music producer Jeffrey Bowen, who had brought her to the Invictus label, initially recording as part of the unsuccessful vocal group, New Play.
Interestingly, she recorded with then toured with the line up of Funkadelic for her second album, ‘I Am What I Am’, after the group had officially disbanded. On this tour she was the opening act for Sly Stone, who, after some difficulties, told her to leave the tour or lose the band. She lost the band. She later signed to RCA and released a third, lighter sounding album, ‘Take me to Baltimore’, which was not the hit that RCA had hoped it would be.
- Susan Maughan
Although she moved to Birmingham as a teenager, 60’s pop singer Susan Maughan was born and brought up in Consett. She reached #3 in the UK singles chart with her version of the Marcie Blane song ‘Bobby’s Girl’ in 1962. Although this song was a cover, she, unusually for a female singer at the time, also released a number of songs which she had written herself, having learned to do so while with the Ronnie Hancox Dance band, prior to meeting her agent. She released a great number of singles and albums in the 60s and 70s and was a popular guest on television shows such as Ready Steady Go! and The Morecambe and Wise Show. She continues to tour the 60s nostalgia circuit.
With thanks to: Gary Chaplin, Tony Stephenson and Steve Wallace from the NEMH Facebook group