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Travelling Man

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Travelling Man

On the Road with the Searchers



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Travelling Man by Frank Allen
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In June 1989, Cliff Richard gave me two of the best nights of my life. But before you go dashing off to the Sunday tabloids in an attempt to sully the name of the stainless one I have to tell you that the place was Wembley, the home of English football, and there were approximately 150,000 witnesses. To celebrate a remarkable thirty success-crammed years in show business Cliff, almost a mere mortal in those pre-knighthood days, had gambled slices of both his considerable fortune and even more considerable reputation by taking on the vast 75,000 capacity venue and we were guesting along with "Gerry and The Pacemakers", "The Shadows", "The Kalin Twins", "The Dallas Boys", "Cathy McGowan", "The Vernons Girls and Aswad". Cliff had always been one of the top dogs in pop with a pedigree that guaranteed sold out shows everywhere. But with one shrewd move he had catapulted himself into the midst of that elite band that could call themselves stadium rock acts. The line-up of artistes appeared to be pretty sympathetically linked although I did consider the reggae outfit Aswad a bit of an odd choice. A bit like livening up a Pavarotti concert with half an hour of Rolf Harris, but ours was not to reason why. The first day had sold with an almost indecent haste and an option was taken up for a follow up show. The sun shone throughout the two days with intensity and a brilliance that was rare for Britain, even in summer, but I did not keel over with shock. If Cliff didn't have influence then who did? Friends in high places indeed. I stood and watched him on the first night as a hydraulic platform lifted him high above the crowd, looking like a junior messiah and bathed in spotlights, which glinted on the spangles of his pure white suit. Surely the only rock star that could wear that colour with any degree of honesty. If he was indeed a rock and roll messiah then he was preaching to the converted, committed Clifftians every one. Actually, I do believe there was a lady somewhere in the middle who came only to hear The Searchers and did not give two hoots about Cliff Richard. But she was quickly apprehended by men in white coats who speedily whisked her back to her maximum security twilight home with a minimum of fuss, where she will no doubt live out the rest of her days crafting pretty little macrame table mats while whistling the guitar riff to Sugar And Spice. To be honest, that little piece of self-deprecation was both unnecessary and untrue. A Cliff audience naturally gravitates towards the same heritage of melody and harmony that has always underlined a style that is the hallmark of our own work. They took us to their hearts and made us feel good. The sound of nearly 80,000 people singing When You Walk In The Room is a humbling experience. As I watched Cliff hold sway over that vast arena I remembered the pink-jacketed youth whose autograph I had queued up for at the stage door of the Chiswick Empire in the late fifties. Thirty years on he was looking, if anything, slimmer of hip and still young enough to be refused a drink at the backstage bar. It was all so unfair. At home I kept a portrait in my attic, which was growing younger every day. His voice had altered through the years from an angry youthful growl to a silky smooth purity of tone that served the older performer well, and with a pitch that was as true as the gospels whose creed he adhered to. It occurred to me that if they were to release a live recording of this event there would be no need for any overdubs. Re-recording Cliff's voice would be like putting tits on a bull. An interesting cosmetics exercise but one that would serve no useful purpose whatsoever. During our postage stamp of a slot in the proceedings we pounded our way through Needles and Pins and When You Walk In The Room looking immaculate in our dark suits and high-buttoned collarless shirts. I was, however, hiding a secret. I might have looked like Doctor Kildare from where the crowd stood but from the rear I looked more like Worzel Gummidge. My jacket had recently undergone surgery and the scars were still showing. A couple of nights before we had performed at the Rolls Royce Club at the factory in Crewe and somewhere between the end of our performance and the get-out by the roadies my suit had mysteriously acquired several haphazard slashes down the back. My jacket left the home of the elegant Rolls Royce motorcar looking like the sartorial equivalent of a Wartburg. There was no time to repair or replace and the only solution I could come up with was to stick the ragged seams together from the inside with gaffer tape, the adhesive bonding whose standard form of use is to stick down the microphone leads to the stage. It did not look good. If anyone wondered why I never turned my back towards them that day, the truth is out. If an audience of this magnitude was our shining hour I had also seen the other side of the coin. On the whole a bad night is a rare occurrence for us but I can still remember times when the approval was not so great. I have vivid memories of our performance at a social club in Middles borough at the outset of the eighties. Our support act, a very, very blue comedian called Chubby Brown had appealed to their sense of the more than risque and won tumultuous applause. His career and financial fortunes were soon to rocket into the stratosphere as the purveyor of material that pushed at the existing boundaries of decency before breaking through them with all the power of a stampeding herd of elephants. Chubby, as his name suggests, rather resembled a stampeding elephant himself. I think that maybe he had meant to go on the Rosemary Conley diet and had ended up on the Rosemary Clooney diet instead. Our own show, as headliners, was very well received I recall, although maintaining the attention of the soup in a basket crowd was never easy at the best of times. Far too often they had come out simply for a chat and a pint with their mates and we were hardly more than an unwelcome interruption. I had a couple of friends tagging along with me that night and after the show one of them was mistaken by one of the audience for our lead singer. 'That was you up there on stage, wasn't it?' the guy asked. My friend decided to play along. 'Yes.' He answered and stood waiting for the inevitable compliment.'Well, you were shite.' Gosh. What endearing cheeky chappies they are up there. They do not mince words in the northeast. Why waste time wounding when you can maim? Is their motto? My chum was stuck for a suitable return. The slice of rapier wit that would crush this belligerent fellow refused to find its way onto his tongue.'You were shite as well then.' It takes a rare talent to come up with a brilliant reply like that one, you have to agree. It was the verbal equivalent of a five year old sticking his tongue out. 'Aye, maybe. But at least I don't parade my shite,' came the final devastating put-down. He had to admit he had a point, although the audience reaction had not been quite as negative as his opinion would indicate. In football terms it had been a nil-nil draw. But I was glad to have avoided the confrontation suffered on my behalf by my friend. Life in a group, on the whole, has been a wonderful casserole of experiences, a variety of flavours and tastes to satisfy my hunger for experience. But I think I might be leading you slightly astray. Both of the occasions I have chosen to include in this introduction took place on home soil and yet this is a book about travel, more often than not beyond the confines of Great Britain's shores. And lest I should further mislead you, neither is it a biography in any real sense, although certainly I have given thumbnail sketches of our origins and early days when good luck and circumstance paved the way for a modest degree of fame and an even more modest degree of fortune. I have only managed to include a limited selection of our journeys around the globe and you won't find it running in any strict chronological order either. It jumps about like a kangaroo on a bed of coals. But that's the way my mind works now. I have to take my memory as I find it. Along the way I have slipped into tales of our trials and tribulations through the changes and break-ups without necessarily dwelling on the minutiae of details or the ferocity of the conflicts. This book is meant to be a humorous, sometimes wry and certainly irreverent, but random look at a life of travel through the eyes of a sixties pop musician. If, having digested my explanation, you are still intrigued enough to continue through the pages of this my first, and possibly last, book, I hope you enjoy the fruits of my labours. If, on the other hand you now realise that it is not quite the work you were expecting, then why not buy it anyway and make an old musician happy.
Release date NZ
March 1st, 1999
Foreword by Cliff Richard Foreword by Mark Knopfler
100 MONO photos
Country of Publication
United Kingdom
Aureus Publishing
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