PICTURE the scene: it’s 1953, a new Queen means it’s a time of celebration for a nation struggling with post-war rationing.
And performing at one talent contest organised to mark the royal occasion is Pete Oakman, with his older brother Tony. It is the first brush with fame for a man who is known in the music trade as the Rock, due to his dependability.
The smash-hit performance gave him a taste for the stage, and before long, the bass player was at the birth of the skiffle revolution, thanks to a long-standing collaboration with Lonnie Lonnie Donegan.
He topped the bill above The Beatles thanks to being one of Joe Brown’s Bruvvers, helped usher in the swinging sixties, and performed with legends like Jerry Lee Lewis, Herman’s Hermits and Brenda Lee. Oh, and with Del Shannon, Connie Smith, B Bumble and the Stingers, The Troggs, The Yardbirds, among many others … it’s a very extensive list that also includes The Swinging Blue Jeans.
And it’s with The Swinging Blue Jeans that the 76-year-old is currently performing. He joined the line-up in 2004, stepping in the shoes of founder and bass player Les Braid.
He’s on the road right now with this year’s Sensational 60’s Experience, performing with the Blue Jeans. The bill includes Mike Pender from The Searchers, The Trems (all former members of The Tremeloes), The Fortunes and The Dakotas.
These are not tribute bands, these are the real deals – musicians who helped birth modern music.
Peter is enjoying the tour, the 10th anniversary of the show, which is coming to The Hexagon later this month.
“It’s been great, StageRight Productions always produce great tours and there’s great camaraderie between us. All the people on the tour, we’ve known each other for years,” he says. “The shows are well promoted and we get good turnouts and a good reception.
“It’s a very successful formula.”
With almost 65 years of performing under his belt, surely playing the same-old 60s songs must get boring?
No, says Peter. But there is something that grinds his gears: The travelling.
“It gets you down,” he explains. “Playing is really enjoyable, the spirit in the band is wonderful. After the shows, people come up to us and say you look like you’re enjoying yourselves – and we are.
“But the travelling, coming back from gigs travelling through overnight road closures … that drives you mad. Rock ‘n’ roll is one thing but roadworks is another.”
And there was one occasion when, due to an accident on the motorway, they were caught in a road closure for three hours, arriving at the venue 20 minutes before they were due to go on. Not a situation anyone would want to be in, let along people who need to set up, perform sound checks and get into costume.
“As soon as we got on stage and played the first notes, all the stress went away. We still enjoy playing, we wouldn’t do it otherwise.
“I never thought I’d still be doing it at the age of 76, and still at this level (top venues). I go on stage and think how lucky I am to be here.”
The teenage Peter Oakman was greatly encouraged by his musical parents – no mean feat given that he was helping pioneer a new genre.
“There support was absolutely wonderful,” he recalls. “It was a complete musical change from what was around at the time: Big bands and all these crooners.
“It was a revolution. None of us knew where the skiffle revolution was going. If you enjoy playing, you don’t think about it, but now when you look back … At the time, you’re just a kid having fun.”
But rock ‘n’ roll, despite being of its time, is timeless. The audience at Sensational 60s Experience shows features people who were there in the 60s and need to remember it, older folk who grew up with it and newer audiences who are not yet into double figures.
“It’s a nice thing when you see young people at gigs,” Peter says. “We go into the foyer at the interval and meet people. Sometimes they’re as young as nine or 10, sometimes we (jokingly) say to them, ‘What are you doing here?’ but it’s really nice, we spend time chatting with them, encouraging them.
“Maybe they’ll go on to success in music in the future.”
The show is coming to Reading’s Hexagon Theatre on Friday, March 20, a venue that Peter has performed at before: “I always have to remember how to get into the car park at the back there,” he quips.
But he can’t wait to share the show with you – the setlist includes Needles and Pins, Silence Is Golden, Storm In A Teacup, Hippy Hippy Shake, Little Children.
“There’s a lot of good music, and good songs, played with no bum notes,” he says. “There’s no backing tracks, it’s all live.
“You’ll get a wonderful sound of music, and go out feeling lifted and happy.
“People we meet time and time and time again all say the same thing: What a wonderful evening of music.”
The Sensational 60’s Experience is at The Hexagon, Reading on Friday, March 20. Tickets cost from £26.50. For more details, or to book, call the box office on 0118 960 6060 or log on to https://whatsonreading.com/venues/hexagon/whats-on/sensational-60s