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The VIPs
(aka The Vipps)
Greg Ridley passed away on the 19th November 2003 in Javea, Spain. He was recently remarried and was working on a new Greg Ridley's Humble Pie album and preparing to tour the USA.
This web page is dedicated to the memory of Frank Kenyon who passed away a few years ago. The photographs and most of the information for the VIPs/Vipps pages were provided by his family.
Jimmy Henshaw passed away on the 1st May 2007. His funeral was held at Carlisle Cathedral and attended by a host of friends.

From left to right - Mike Harison (lead vocals), Gregg Ridley (bass) , Frank Kenyon (rhythm guitar), Jimmy Henshaw (lead guitar), and Walter Johnstone (drums).

The VIPs were a continuation of Carlisle’s Ramrods and went on to be one of the most successful Cumbrian band of the 1960’s achieving national and international fame. Members of the VIPs went on to other bands such as Art and Spooky Tooth and Mike Harrison is still appearing and recording today with the Hamburg Blues Band.

Jimmy Hendrix's first ever appearance in England was jamming with the VIPs in the Scotch of St.James club in London where the VIPs had a residency. A full eye-witness account of this occasion appears on the Jimmy Henshaw page of this site.

When Dave McCumiskey left The Ramrods to seek fame and fortune in London (he became the bass player in Eric Clapton’s first band "Casey Jones and the Engineers" and went on to tour the world with The Liverpool 5 ) the band reformed at the end of 1963 as the VIPs with Greg Ridley replacing Dave McCumiskey on bass.

The other members were Jimmy Henshaw on lead guitar, Frank Kenyon on rhythm and Walter Johnstone on drums.

The VIPs started to play in and around Carlisle, particularly at the Cosmo club in Carlisle where they were often supported by other local groups such as The Firebirds. Mike Jeffrey, the Animals manager, was aware of them at the time, but unfortunately other business prevented him from signing them.

Early in 1964 Larry Page signed them to a recording contract. Their first release "Don't keep Shouting at Me" failed to make the charts.

The VIPs played at the Cavern after a mad dash down to Liverpool after hearing at 4 o'clock one afternoon they were to appear at 10:15 that night!

As it had been a free night the lads were scattered around the county and had to be gathered up to set off by 6 o'clock. The band were given a warm welcome and amongst the songs they performed were "Tobacco Road" and "It's All Over Now".

The VIPs with 50's Star Dickie Valentine

Bands on Tour in Germany with The VIPs

The VIPs during a tour of Germany

At one time Mike and Frank found that they had only 1/2p between them to last a fortnight.

They survived by living on scrounged milk, stale bread and rice and and money donated bytheir friends. They remained determined not to pack it in and decided instead to battle on and not to return home to Carlisle.

After a while the lads decided to leave Larry Page and started to think about moving south.The VIPs had by this time built up a considerable following in the north and so they they made their way down to London.

They made their first recordings in a small studio in Berwick street run by Pepe Rush. Pepe was able to get them a backing gig with Vince Taylor at Rye Castle in Hertfordshire and became friends with the band (as he still is today).

Jimmy Henshaw used to work with Pepe building and installing disco gear in London clubs. Pepe built and designed both instruments and amplifiers for many of the top groups of the 60s.

Pepe installed equipment in the Scene club in London and the VIPs managed to gain a residency there. The Scene club was managed by Lionel Blake who took them under his wing.

While waiting and hoping for success the lads ended up having to take up menial part-time jobs such as dishwashing and cleaning in order to eat.

Walter Johnstone worked in the tunnels when they were building the Victoria underground line in London. He used to make the tea and get the workers cakes, sandwiches and other things and made a good living out of it.

The VIPs aiming to shoot up the charts

Their break finally came when Mike Jeffries stepped in and signed them. They had by then built up a reputation by working in venues in London.

Jimmy Henshaw wrote both sides of their debut single "She's So Good" / "Don't Keep Shouting At Me" released in 1964 on RCA records.

The band played in top London clubs during 1965 and 1966 and also appeared regularly at the Star Club in Hamburg,

The VIPs appeared on national TV on "Thank Your Lucky Stars" along with Adam Faith and Sandy Shaw having previously appeared on Border Television.

Plaque outside the Star Club

The VIPs were thrilled to perform as Bo Diddley's backing group for one gig.

The VIPs recorded a further three singles, one on CBS in 1966 "Wintertime" (on which they were renamed as The Vipps which was thought to be a more "with it" name).

They reverted to The VIPs when they signed with Island records. Their first contact with Island had come in 1965 when they provided backing on a track "Is a Bluebird Blue" for a singer known as "The Baron".

They recorded two singles on Island "I Wanna be Free" / Don't Let it Go" in 1966 and finally "Straight Down to the Bottom" / "In a Dream" in 1967.

A VIPs single was issued in the USA only in 1966 "Mercy Mercy"/"That's My Woman".

One day The VIPs while rehearsing were approached by a young lad wearing a duffle coat and national health specs, carrying a book of poems he had written. The lad suggested they might make good song lyrics. Jimmy Henshaw as guitarist and songwriter of the band tried a few of the poems and gave them back to the lad saying they weren't suitable. After the lad had gone Jimmy commented to the others "What was that supposed to mean - "We skipped the light fandango"?".
Yes, they had just turned down "A Whiter Shade of Pale"!

Frank Kenyon

The VIPs had more success with their records in France than they did in England. Their two Island singles were issued in France as EPs (extended play 45s usually with four tracks). The first of these in 1966 contained both sides of their first Island UK single plus their version of "Smokestack Lightning".

The second French EP in 1967 contained their second single plus "Every Girl I See" and "In a Dream". A third EP in 1967 contained Lloyd Price's "Stagger Lee" with "Rosemary" and "Late Night Blues".

The band then split with Jimmy Henshaw, Frank Kenyon and Walter Johnstone leaving.

A new line up was created by adding Mike Kellie on drums, Luther Grosvenor (guitar) and Keith Emerson (keyboards).

This line up only lasted a few months before Keith Emerson left to form The Nice.
This was the end of The VIPs as the remaining members changed their name to Art.

Art recorded one album "Supernatural Fairy Tales" in 1967 before adding Gary Wright in October 1967 and changing their name to Spooky Tooth.

Spooky Tooth's first album was "It's All About" which was on Island and was released in May 1968. Their first single "Sunshine Help Me" was from this album which also included their version of "Tobacco Road".

Spooky Tooth toured extensively in the UK and eventually went on to have success in the USA where. "It's All About" was renamed "Tobacco Road" and reached the lower reaches of the American album chart in August 1970.

Spooky Tooth released two further albums for Island, "Spooky Two" in March 1969) and "Ceremony" in January 1970) before they split up in February 1970.

The band had a brief revival later in 1970 with Mike Harrison, Luther Grosvenor and Mike Kellie adding Alan Spanner (bass) and Henry McCullough (guitar) (who had both been members of Joe Cocker's Grease Band) in place of Greg Ridley and Gary Wright. Greg Ridley had joined Humble Pie with Steve Marriott. See Interview with Greg Ridley on Humble Pie's site.
This lineup of Spooky Tooth released' "The Last Puff" on Island.

Mike Harrison went on to record two solo albums "Mike Harrison" in 1971 and "Smokestack Lightning" in 1972.

Spooky Tooth continue with various lineups until 1974 releasing the albums "You Broke My Heart" and "Witness".

Mike Harrison was not forgotten by his fans from his Hamburg days and was invited in 2000 to perform with the Hamburg Blues Band.

They went on to record "Mike Harrison meets The Hamburg Blues Band" and in 2002 "Touch" which shows Mike's voice to be as good as ever.

Mike Harrison at the 2002 Colne Blues Festival

Mike Harrison & SpookyTooth
Evil Women
That Was Only Yesterday