In the mid sixties Nigel fulfilled an ambition and joined the merchant navy, where he stayed for almost three years. In the summer of 1967 he left his last ship and moved to London where he stayed until early 1969.
Meanwhile Rob worked in various office jobs and continued to play in bands on a semi-pro basis. By 1966 however he was working full time in the music business, traveling the country with his one man cabaret act.
1968 ended with Rob traveling to see Nigel in London with a proposition. Join forces to recreate the song writing partnership, produce records and even build a sound recording studio.
The whole idea seemed so impossible that Nigel couldnt refuse!
Robs mother Hilda, herself an accomplished pianist, donated the front room of her semi detached house in Coventry to the boys so that they could record their own demo tapes. On a simple domestic reel to reel tape recorder, a Sony TC200, which they had modified to run at double speed, (ie 15 inches per second instead of the usual seven and a half), they produced a number of fine backing tracks which would be finished off in other recording studios.
This however was costing money, so to compensate for the lack of track facilities, (there were only two quarter tracks on the TC200), other musicians were brought in to help out on the recordings.
At last complete master tapes could be made "in house".
Out of this Stavely Makepeace was born!
On August 29th 1969 "I WANNA LOVE YOU LIKE A MAD DOG" (Pyramid Records PYR 6072) became the first Stavely Makepeace record release and a new era of home recording emerged.
Rob fronted the band as Stavely
Makepeace in those early days. After 1970 however he fronted the band under his own name.
The first line up was: Rob Woodward lead singer and keyboards, Nigel Fletcher drums, Don Ker guitar and Pete Fisher on bass.
"MAD DOG" wasnt a hit despite being featured on several BBC Radio One programmes and despite gaining publicity for having the shortest ever "B" side, the 32 second long "GREASY HAIRED WOMAN".
Another Pyramid record was scheduled for late 1969, "REGGAE DENNY" (PYR 6082) but was abandoned only days before release! A reason was never given. Only one pressing of this rare record is known to survive!
Early in 1970 Steve Tayton, an excellent jazz guitarist and woodwind player was recruited and the band became five! Shortly afterwards Pete Fisher moved on and was replaced by bass guitarist/vocalist Steve Johnson.
This line up would be stable for well over a year, something rare with young musicians!
The next release, in the spring of 1970, was "EDNA" (Concord Records CON 008) and typified the bands raucous approach to music. With Rob singing the lead vocal in falcetto, and with an up beat melodic rhythm, the mini-piano sound was born. (This comprised recording a piano at half speed then speeding it up to create a resounding honky tonk sound!) "EDNA" was raved about by several Radio One DJs and even earned the band their first television appearance, on "Top of the Pops" on July 30th 1970, but bad distribution by the small Concord Record company cost the disc its place in the halls of fame. By the time Concord finally got the record into the shops only Noel Edmonds was still playing it on his show. Despite this the record managed to show at No.46 in the Melody Makers charts!
A bitter blow for Stavely Makepeace. So near and yet so far!!
At this time Decca records tried to sign the band
but contractual problems meant that more singles were still due for release on the
On October 23rd of the same year, "SMOKEY MOUNTAIN RHYTHM REVUE" came out, (CON 013) and once again a Stavely Makepeace record caused instant reaction!
1971 by contrast was a bit of an anti climax and it was a case of one rung up the ladder and two down! The third and last Concord record release for Stavely Makepeace was on April 16th when "GIVE ME THAT PISTOL" came out, (CON 018). It promptly faded without trace!
By a quirk of fate the option clause on the Concord recording contract was not exercised, on account that the girl whos job it was to see to such things had left the company suddenly. The boys held their breath for the thirty day period within which the option had to be renewed, then sighed with relief as they realised they were free of all binding contracts! It gave the band the added impetus to succeed and also to widen their horizons.
The B side of the previous Stavely Makepeace single, "SMOKEY MOUNTAIN RHYTHM REVUE", had been an instrumental song called, "RAMPANT ON THE RAGE". It featured the mini piano sound as a lead instrument. Out of this came a new idea by Rob and Nigel. Why not have a novelty band to run along side the main Stavely Makepeace band as an outlet for more tongue in cheek and instrumentally oriented music?
The idea of a second string to their bow had always appealed to the lads so they set about producing half a dozen songs using just two pianos, bass guitar and drums.
Lieutenant Pigeon was born!
As an additional gimmick they introduced Rob’s mother Hilda to the line up, which became; Rob on one piano, Hilda on the other, Nigel on drums and Steve Johnson on bass guitar.
With the recent interest shown in Stavely Makepeace by Decca Records, Rob and Nigel used the new contact to present the Lieutenant Pigeon idea for a possible record deal. Decca liked the idea and selected "MOULDY OLD DOUGH" to be the first single. The rest, as they say, is history!
Released early in 1972, "MOULDY OLD DOUGH" (Decca F 13278) eventually went on to become the biggest selling British hit single of the year and earned Rob and Nigel the Ivor Novello songwriting award for 1972!
Meanwhile Stavely Makepeace was still alive and
kicking! There had never been any intention of Lieutenant Pigeon becoming the main band,
and despite one more line up change,(Steve Tayton making way for violinist Owen John),
there were several new Stavely recordings in the pipeline. In fact less than a month after
the release of "MOULDY OLD DOUGH", Stavely Makepeace released, "WALKING
THROUGH THE BLUE GRASS" on Spark Records,(SRL 1066), in March 1972.
Rob shows off the Ivor Novello award
For a short while things had never looked so good. Two singles out and yet another television appearance for Stavely Makepeace. Things could only get better! However, a week is a long time in politics so it is said. It can be a lifetime in the music industry because within days of the T.V. appearance, (when Stavely received an ovation for their performance of "WALKING THROUGH THE BLUE GRASS"), the news came through that neither of the two singles would be playlisted by the BBC!
By the end of 1971 Owen John (violin) had replaced
Steve Tayton in the Stavely Makepeace line up
A bitter blow for Rob and Nigel. All seemed lost!
It was time to re group, re think and decide where to go from there!
Nigel decided to take up the offer of some studio work in Erie, USA and left for the States in April.
The rest of the band took temporary work deputising with other bands. A break from Stavely Makepeace seemed a good idea!
It was whilst Nigel was in the USA that Central Television, (then ATV), decided to feature the ‘front room studio’, used by Stavely and Lt Pigeon, on their local current affairs programme in the Midlands. They sent a young reporter called Chris Tarrant around to interview the boys!
The producer decided to recreate the making of "SMOKEY MOUNTAIN RHYTHM REVUE", but with Nigel in the USA and Steve Tayton having left the band, it was difficult to authenticate it exactly. Having said this, an excellent job was made by Rob, Steve Johnson and Don Ker and the publicity was most welcome!
Steve Johnson kept in constant touch with Nigel whilst he was overseas and during June of 1972 a letter was received by Nigel stating that both BLUE GRASS and MOULDY had finally ‘died’!
How wrong could Steve have been. Unbeknown by anyone at the time,(that is by anyone outside of Belgium), the recording of "MOULDY OLD DOUGH" had been used every weekday evening to introduce a Belgian nationwide news and current affairs TV programme since the spring!
By midsummer thousands of people had written in enquiring about the ‘theme music’. When the TV station announced that it was available as a single, sales began to rocket!
By July 15th, when Nigel returned to Britain, the record was climbing towards the number one spot in Belgium. In fact it was purely coincidental that a telegram from Decca Records to this effect arrived at the same time that Nigel arrived home!
"MOULDY OLD DOUGH" was re issued in the UK and this time Decca paid for some Radio Luxembourg coverage. By September it was in the Top 20 and on October 10th 1972 it went to the No. 1 spot in Britain, where it stayed for the next four weeks!
were to top the charts for a further
two weeks after this October 1972 date
It wasnt just in these Isles that the record was a smash hit either. It charted in Canada, Denmark, West Germany, Japan, Australia, Hong Kong, Holland, Spain and many many other countries. It went on to sell over two million copies!
Having Hilda, who was by now aged 60 in the line up, meant that the band would never become a full time live touring unit. Despite this Lieutenant Pigeon did several overseas mini tours and also appeared live in Britain at various venues. (Including Jimmy Saviles 'Speak Easy' for BBC Radio One and numerous TV appearances)
The novelty of having a sixty year old mum in the line up attracted much publicity and the band went from strength to strength. Hilda was quite prepared to go out "on the road" full time, but the lads, knowing just what it would entail, managed to talk her out of it.
The very last time the original four members of Lieutenant Pigeon were to play together finally came in Luxembourg in September 1978, but that was still a long way ahead in 1972.
Early in 1973, the follow up to "MOULDY OLD DOUGH", "DESPERATE DAN" (Decca F 13365) was in the charts. This was followed by two more 1973 releases, "...AND THE FUN GOES ON" (Decca F 13403) and , "OXFORD BAGS" (Decca F 13440). Neither was successful.
The band had to wait until 1974 for their next UK success. This came in the shape of "ILL TAKE YOU HOME AGAIN KATHLEEN" (Decca F 13486).
It was a different
story overseas however where there was a string of successful releases in a range of
countries around the world.
Belgium Holland and Luxembourg continued their
love affair with Lt Pigeon music, as did some other European countries. In Australasia the
band even had hits with records which werent released in this country! "THE
BLUE DANUBE" (Decca Y 10599) and "THE GRANDFATHER CLOCK" (Decca Y 11273) to
name but a couple.
saw "YOU ARE MY
HEARTS DELIGHT" (Decca F 13543), "ROCKABILLY HOT POT" (Decca F
and "GOODBYE" an appropriately titled song as it marked the bands
last recording for Decca! (Decca F 13638) issued. All were released world wide.
Another rarity. The promotional copies of 'ROCKABILLY HOT POT'
were issued by Decca on this red and white label instead of the usual blue and white.
Nigel and Rob at the launching of the second
Lieutenant Pigeon album 'PIGEON PIE'
In 1977 Rob and Nigel decided to launch their own record label, Comet Records.
Although Radio One were kind to them when it came to air plays, the boys soon realised the big problem of the distribution of records for small labels was pretty insurmountable. Within a year Comet had released its last record.
Lieutenant Pigeon had one single out on this label, "SPANGLES" (Comet U 6313) but like "GIVE ME THAT PISTOL", it is probably best forgotten!
The following year Rob and Nigel, armed with a little more experience of label management, launched another record label. This time it was called SMA Records and this time they arranged their own distribution, using various different outlets in various parts of the country. Coordination however of all these separate outlets proved to be an administrative nightmare, and once more a business venture failed! Suffice to say that money was lost!
Once again only one Lt Pigeon single was issued on SMA Records, this being "DISCO BELLS" (SMA 1501) on April 14th 1978. Again this could have been a successful record had it been delivered to the shelves of retailers because BBC Radio Two had featured it on several of their programmes.
So it was back to using other record labels. In the summer of 1978 Lieutenant Pigeon released a version of "BYE BYE BLACKBIRD" on Elver Records (SFO 21.512). Successful only in Luxembourg, the group decided this would be the last Lt Pigeon single.
Although they didnt realise it at the time, when they came off the stage in Luxembourg in September of that year, the band would never perform together again.
But before resuming the Stavely Makepeace story, it is worth mentioning that there was to be one last Lt Pigeon release. In the summer of 1981, Neville Staples,(of Specials and Fun Boy Three fame), asked if Rob and Nigel had any unissued Lieutenant Pigeon recordings on the shelf. He was about to launch his own record label and he wanted to use some well known names as label warmers. Hence, "BOBBING UP AND DOWN LIKE THIS" became the very last original Lt Pigeon track to be released. (Shack Records SHA 002)
(Some earlier titles were later re released in the 1980s and 1990s on the then new C.D. format, but there were to be no more original titles).
However back to 1972 and the parallel band Stavely Makepeace.
Naturally enough, the big Lieutenant Pigeon hit sparked off renewed interest in the original band, and Spark Records were eager to release the Stavely Makepeace follow up record to "WALKING THROUGH THE BLUE GRASS". This was called "SLIPPERY ROCK SEVENTIES" and came out on October 20th 1972 when Lieutenant Pigeon were riding high at number one! (SRL 1081).
The record was not successful, despite having been played extensively by Radio One DJ Dave Lee Travis.
Spark only released one more Stavely Makepeace single "PRIMA DONNA" in Jan uary 1973, (SRL 1085) before releasing the band from contract.
A move to Deram Records for Stavely M followed, and summer 1973 saw the release of "CAJUN BAND" (Deram DM 386). In 1974 another Deram release followed, "RUNAROUND SUE" (DM 423). Neither were successful, despite both securing nationwide TV appearances for the band.
For the next three years Rob and Nigel would concentrate on Lieutenant Pigeon plus their, (soon to be unsuccessful!) ventures into running record labels!
There would however be one more Stavely single before the eventual demise of Lt Pigeon.
In 1977, Unigram Records, who at the time were handling the distribution for the fledgling Comet Records, decided they might have a hit on their hands if they were to release a previously recorded Stavely Makepeace track called "BABY BLUE EYES". Unfortunately though they were wrong!! (Unigram U 6312). The record flopped.
Around this time the same feeling of abandonment which would be felt later by Lt Pigeon, was creeping up on Stavely Makepeace. However there were more stings in the tail yet to come!
In 1978 the drummer with the band Slade, Don Powell, who had been friendly with Nigel since the early 1970s, heard a Stavely Makepeace recording of "NO REGRETS". He played it to his manager, the late Chas Chandler and Chas immediately scheduled it for release. (BARN 2014 118).
It heralded a new lease of life for the band , and was followed up by another of Stavelys outrageous scrap iron records ! This time "THE COCONUT SHUFFLE" (BARN001), issued on Chass revamped independent version of his own record label.
By this time Rob had moved on to guitar, Mike Rayns had come in on keyboards, and both Don Ker and Owen John had moved on elsewhere !
The final Stavely Makepeace line up, with Mike Rayns far left.
In 1980 "SONGS OF YESTERDAY" (Hammer Records HS 304), appeared to be the swansong for Stavely Makepeace, but, just like Lieutenant Pigeon, after a gap of almost three years, there was to be one last surprise.
Due to the keenness,(and funding), of one Frank Lea, the record label SMA Records was resurrected to issue what was to be the very last single to come out of the stable, and on November 11th 1983,"JUST TELL HER FRED SAID GOODBYE" by Stavely Makepeace (SMA 1502) marked the end of an era !
After this Rob and Nigel would establish themselves as producers of jingles, backing beds, voice-overs and accappellas for the up and coming commercial radio scene.
But that is not the end of the story.
In the late 1980s, Steve Johnson, who by then had established his own recording studio in Blackburn, was offered a tour of Scandinavia if he could re form the band Lieutenant Pigeon. By this time there had been a resurgence of interest in early seventies music and Scandinavia was proving to be a popular venue.
Rob initially was keen but Nigel refused immediately. Hilda was fast approaching 80 so for her it was out of the question, but Steve felt that it would be a lucrative proposition so he badgered both Rob and Nigel to take part.
Rob, by now a family man, also eventually rejected the idea, but, together with Nigel, gave Steve the go ahead to recruit other musicians to front the band. This Steve did and the tour was a success.
Subsequent tours were organised and Lt Pigeon was once again "alive"!
Even when Steve left the line up in the mid 1990s the band continued to play and continues into the 21st century, albeit with none of the original members !!
Hilda Woodward sadly died on Monday 22nd February 1999
but all the other musicians mentioned in the story are happily still alive
and well in January 2000!
In the millennium edition of the rare records price guide Record Collector, all of the Stavely Makepeace records and most of the Lieutenant Pigeon are listed as collectors items. PYR 6082 has a particularly high value, as it is such a rare record.
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An autobiography 'When Show Business is No Business' was written by Nigel
Fletcher and Rob Woodward at the beginning of 2001.
It's available now priced £6 (incl. p&p), from Makepeace Distribution, 37 Moat Ave, COVENTRY CV3 6BT.
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