Page last updated at 12:31 GMT, Tuesday, 21 July 2009 13:31 UK
When beat groups rocked the valleys

The Zodiacs play the Memorial Hall in Aberdare in December 1964 - Phil Pendry, Peter Lipscombe, Roger Davies and Paul Wyatt
The Zodiacs play the Memorial Hall, Aberdare, in December 1964 - Phil Pendry, Peter Lipscombe, Roger Davies and Paul Wyatt

Phil Pendry shares his memories of playing the club circuit in the 1960s with Aberdare band the Zodiacs.

My parents bought my first guitar when I was hospitalised in 1957 at the age of 10. It was a Spanish guitar - a Fretelli Indicello that I still have. They brought it to the hospital disguised as a bunch of flowers. I couldn't play a note and did the nurses regret that day!!

Eventually, I teamed up with some local village boys and formed a 'group' in the literal sense - a cluster, crowd, or throng; an assemblage, either of persons or things, collected without any regular form or arrangement.

Phil's first electric guitar was a Broadway which cost just under 20
Phil's first electric guitar was a Broadway which cost just under 20

When we started, music had very little to do with our group. Eventually we became more proficient and bought our first electric guitars. Mine was a Broadway, bought new on credit from Victor Freed, Aberdare, for £19, 17 shillings and 6 pence (£19.87½) and the amp second hand for £5 from Dai Banjo in Hirwaun.

We started playing in the local village hall, the Hostel in Rhigos, and gradually mastered our instruments. I was trying to balance school work, working in the local garage serving petrol to pay the instalments on equipment, and practice with the group.

I was lucky; my parents were very supportive and encouraged me always.

Friday was something to look forward to, having practiced a new song or two and then performing them at the Hostel to our local friends who would judge how good they were. They were harsh judges but it made us try all the harder. The better we played, the less fights would break out!!.

For these early performances, we started off not getting paid, but as we grew better and the crowd got bigger, we were paid £2 for the four of us.

It was then that I bought my second guitar and amp - all were on hire purchase as money was so tight. I think the guitar was £50 and the amp £19 10s (£19.50). This was in 1963 and this was a fortune; I thought I'd never pay them off!!

Then we started getting more bookings in dance halls and clubs in the area, our first club being the RAFA in Glynneath. We secured this booking because we practised in the Glynneath School Youth Club and one of the parents saw us and booked us.

At the time, we didn't have transport, so it was public buses and occasionally a parent would take us all in their car. Eventually, I passed my driving test in 1964 and bought a Ford 15cwt van for £35. The group was free to go anywhere, as long as they paid the petrol - four gallons (18 litres) for a pound in those days!

The highlight of those days was in 1964 playing with the Merseybeats in the Memorial Hall, Aberdare. They had a hit in the charts at the time, I think it was Wishing and Hoping.

I remember being green with envy, them turning up with brand new Gibson guitars and amplifiers and I couldn't afford the Watkins Westminster Copycat Echo that at the time was £37. That would have given me the Hank Marvin/Shadows sound that all guitarists copied - that came later. Due to the local support, we held our own and played at the Mem a number of times after.

Advert for the Zodiacs 1964

As the group got more popular, we travelled further afield. There were no breathalysers in those days, so whoever drove the van was in the same round of six pints (four in the band plus two roadies) so how we got home some nights was a miracle. How young and stupid we were! On the good side, we never took drugs. After drinking six pints of snakebite (half beer and half cider) we didn't need them.

From the non-licensed dance halls like the Coffin in Ynysowen, Treherbert, we progressed to the Friday/Saturday night dances, mostly at rugby clubs, the hazards being from irate players taking exception to their girlfriends' interest in our singer Roy Williams, who was a good looker and moved better than Tom Jones. (By the way he could sing better than Tom Jones - our opinion only, Tom Jones fans!) We played mostly covers of 60's groups - The Animals, Geno Washington, Wilson Pickett, Small Faces, Kinks etc.

We then progressed to playing in a number of gigs on the Top Rank Club circuit - Cardiff, Swansea and Bristol, once in the latter with the Dallas Boys who were popular at the time. We were petrified the first time because of all the people there. Our entrance after the resident band finished their spot was on a rotary stage which we nearly fell off, due to the Dutch courage we had drunk first.

I can also remember playing a regular gig, every other Thursday night in a private club in Tynte, Abercynon. We played three weeks on the trot to cover Tommy Scott and the Senators, who went to make a record, Chills and Fever, in London. They later changed their name to Tom Jones and the Squires. We got their fee for the night, £32.

Concrete and clay - the Zodiacs strike a wacky pose in front of the Hirwaun flats under construction
Concrete and clay - the Zodiacs strike a wacky pose in front of the Hirwaun flats under construction

As time went on, we moved away from the dance circuit and did the working men's clubs. The money was better because you could play Friday, Saturday, Sunday morning (mostly with a stripper or a blue comedian) and Sunday night. The performance time was shorter - bingo first and two x 40 minute spots - but we needed to be slicker and more professional.

We wore matching outfits - red and black paisley pattern smoking jackets bought from Polikoffs in Treorchy, plus black trousers, dickie bows and shoes. This was boring for 20-year-old "mods" and took a lot of fun away from our performances.

You couldn't improvise as we had done on the dance circuit, making some three minute songs last ten minutes plus as the audience was enjoying it so much and laughing off any mistakes we had made during the extended version.

I remember entering one working men's club, guitar in one hand and suit carrier in the other, being stopped by the doorman demanding that everyone signs the book and pays to enter the concert hall. We also paid kids in the Gurnos Club, Merthyr to "look after" our van.

The travelling also got longer with regular trips to Birmingham, Hereford and further afield - don't forget there were no motorways or Heads of the Valleys roads in those days so journey times were much longer. I can remember doing the Hen Lane Social Club in Coventry on a Sunday night finishing at 10.30pm and arriving home at about 5.30am on Monday morning with the dawn breaking, to be in work at Cam Gears in Resolven by 7.10am.

It was pretty hard work doing both jobs and attending night school for my engineering qualifications.

The group was getting paid around £60 a night in those days with up to £120 a night on New Year's Eve when we normally played in the Ty Newydd Club, Treherbert, as it was quite near over the Rhigos Mountain.

It was about this time that we met a young singer in a Barry club who was just starting his band - Shakin' Stevens and the Sunsets. I thought what a good name!

Eventually a decision had to be made. I'd got married to my wife June in 1969 (we celebrated 40 years this year), work commitments had gotten greater, I had promotion in Cam Gears and travelled quite a lot, sometimes abroad at short notice.

We had been offered a full time contract as a group which meant a lot of time touring but the starting money wasn't brilliant (£40 a week each). We discussed it and quickly decided to stay semi-professional.

The Zodiacs circa 1970 featuring singer Roy Williams at the Ysgubor wen nightclub in Aberdare
The Zodiacs circa 1970 featuring singer Roy Williams at the Ysguborwen nightclub in Aberdare - the venue is now a nursing home

I look back and think "if only" but have never regretted that decision. I don't think we were good enough musicians at the time to make it big as a group, but our singer Roy may have been.

We played semi-pro for a number of years after, but finally family and work commitments got greater and I hung my guitar up permanently. Or so I thought - a couple of months later our singer Roy finished with the Zodiacs and we went out as The Roy Duval Duo for 2 years.

After that, I played with a Swansea Valley group for a couple of years. We were called Long Distance - I think it was because I lived in Glynneath and they lived in Ystalyfera (no, only joking).

Musically they were not as good as the Zodiacs but were great fun to play with; my biggest problem with them was trying to understand Welsh which they spoke all the time. We played a lot in the Swansea and district night clubs (Valbonne, Bryn Thomas', Barons, Four Sevens etc) when Bonnie Tyler was starting her singing career.

Eventually work took over. I became a Manager in TRW Cam Gears and my paid public playing finished. I still play now and given the chance have been known to join up with musicians when working away and on holidays.

I have played in Portugal, France, Germany, Canada, USA, Thailand, Cuba and the Dominican Republic all free and for my enjoyment only - I can't say for the people who listened, however.

During the years, I have kept as many instruments, amplifiers and effects as possible, including:

• 1957 Fretelli Indicello Guitar,

• 1960 Broadway Guitar,

• 1963 Hofner 175 Guitar,

• 1969 Fender Stratocaster Guitar

• 1963 Vox AC30 Amplifier (courtesy of Max Boyce)

• 1974 Fender "Silverface" Pro -Reverb Amp.

• 1975 Dynacord Mini- Echo

• 1963 Vox Wah-Wah pedal

• 1968 Vox Jaguar Keyboard.

• Spanish Nylon Stringed Guitar

• Gretsch Pro Jet Guitar

• Gretsch Tennessee Rose Guitar

• Danelectro Longhorn Bass Guitar

• Ovation Celebrity Electo-Accoustic Guitar

• Fender Thin-line Telecaster Guitar

• H&H IC 100 Amplifier

• Fender Princeton 65 watt amp

How my wife puts up with all the equipment, I don't know. I've tried to convince her it's my retirement fund.

Finally, I've read the book Death by Rock and Roll - well I call my story Life through Rock and Roll.

Phil keeps his hand in playing in a Bangkok bar with friend Lee Edwards in February 2008
Phil accompanies his friend Lee Edwards at a bar in Thailand in 2008

I've been to loads of places, seen places I'd never have gone to (Tenbury Wells RFC for one), found out who your true friends are when times are hard, and gained some talent for playing guitar which helps at parties.

I've met and played with stars including the Merseybeats, Bert Weedon, Shakin' Stevens, Dave Edmunds (Love Sculpture), Tom Jones and a lot more whom I don't remember as they weren't stars at the time.

Roy lives close to me in Glynneath and we keep in touch - his voice is as good as ever. We've threatened to do a charity show in Glynneath RFC (president Max Boyce) but never found a drummer or bass player to join us for the night. Don't fancy using backing tapes - I'm a "keep music live" supporter.

What more can I say? There is no greater challenge or thrill than performing live in front of an audience. The bigger the audience, the bigger the buzz - it lives with you forever.

Phil Pendry - Glynneath - July 2009

Do remember the Zodiacs or other local bands from the 1960s? Are you a contemporary of Phil's who could play bass or drums for a reunion gig? Send an email to

Steve Jones, Oakland, California, USA
I was in The Comets - Tony Taylor and I have just reunited after 40+yrs via Facebook ... we knew The Zodiacs as well. We were all friends at some point as we all played the same gigs back to back. The Mem as it was known was almost a regular gig for us. We played there with The Merseybeats back in the day and remember the New Years Eve gig well. I have great memories of The Comets - growing up in Aberdare means a lot to me and the other band members, so big thanks for listening to my quest to find the old Aberdare Comets.

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