Becoming a successful musician is all about lucky breaks and well-used opportunities. For Preston-born veteran singer Bob Eccles, who has sang in various bands, such as The Bobcats, Nashpool and The Prestons, his career could have been so different, without two tragic missed chances.
The 72-year-old, who adopted the stage name Robb Deka, moved down to London when he was 19 and had been invited to do some solo recordings with Joe Meek in 1967.
But sadly this never took place following the record producer’s untimely death.
Robb got a second chance in the form of Beatles manager Brian Epstein, but he too died that year.
It was third time unlucky when Robb was asked to work with producer Ray Davies, but following a string of domestic and management difficulties, Ray moved to America.
Robb says: “I knocked on Joe’s door and said we wanted to do a recording with him.
“He replied ‘you and thousands others’. But he told me to get a band together and come back.
“The first band I recorded with at Joe Meek’s studio was The Bobcats, but this was only a demo, and Joe changed their name to The Puppets – and recorded them separately.
“I signed a individual recording contract with Joe Meek in 1963 and recorded tracks, produced by Joe Meek with a Preston band, The Prestons, but these were unreleased due to the band splitting.
“I recorded tracks in 1964, produced by Joe, with Liverpool band The Nashpool. These again were unreleased due to the band splitting. That August we went to Hamburg and played along some big names such as Ray Charles and the Everly Brothers at the famous Star Club during a three-month stint.
“Shortly before we embarked to Germany I had to turn down an offer from legendary producer Mickie Most as we had already signed a recording contract with Joe and recorded four tracks for release on completion of the Star Club booking.
“Looking back, it was one of the worst things I did. But I had signed a contract with someone and I just couldn’t break it. Joe was a very powerful person who would get us somewhere.
“I had done lots of backing vocals for Joe, and was also a member of various bands signed to Joe Meek; eg The Embryonic David John and the Mood, Flip and the Dateliners, The Prestons, and Mersey band The Nashpool.
“In the autumn of 1966 I spoke to Joe and he wanted me to do some solo recordings.
“This was very exciting as it was very difficult to be a solo singer – most artists were associated with a band.
“He said he had a song for me – Only You – but I wasn’t too sure. We were set to do something in January the next year.
“I came back from Germany in late January and he had shot himself on February 3 after killing his landlady,
“That was really hard luck. I had been knocking about with lots of bands, but this would have been my big solo break.
“I went to auditions and one day I got a phone call from Brian Epstein’s secretary telling me he liked our demo and asked us to sing.
“We did three or four songs and he said we could go to Abbey Road, but he died two weeks later and it never happened.
“I must be a curse. I thought I had enough of this.”
Despite Robb missing his big breaks, he had carved a successful career.
He had worked with Preston bands, The Crusaders, Robb Deka and The Strangers, The All-Stars and Peter Illingworth’s Falcons, which morphed into recording Blues band David John and The Mood.
He was also a member of The Third Eye, which played a season at the prestigious Marquee Club, in Soho, in the summer of 1967.
It was during this time that producer Ray Davies asked to work with Robb but due to disagreements between management, this was also shelved.
Deciding he had enough, Robb hung up his microphone and opted for a totally different direction, by doing charity and social work.
He says: “I was tired of touring and getting stomach ulcers. I never enjoyed travelling.
“So I took a break and went to LSE to do a degree in social work.
“I practiced as a social worker and I worked my way up.
“I was asked to do a couple of sessions at Childline and I got offered a job as the first head of counselling operations. It was wonderful.
“I was also seconded for a brief period to assist in the setting up of the new NSPCC phoneline.
“At the end of my contract I chose to return to local authority employment, until I retired in 2011.”
Not wanting to completely lose his talent, Robb dipped in and out of music and he changed his persona to Robb Shenton.
He recorded Lonely Joe as a tribute to Joe Meek, which was released in 1980 on vinyl, produced by Clem Cattini.
It reached number one in the UK charts and received wide exposure on both the BBC and commercial radio stations.
Ahead of a Telstar, a film about the life and work of Joe Meek, being released in 2008, he re-released his son which was re-mixed by the original production team.
The following year, he produced and recorded two singles for 16 year-old Marney Webb, co-produced by Clem Cattini.
With plenty of time on his hands following retirement – and with a pang of nostalgia – Robb decided to go back to music. He plays as part of an eight-piece band at selected major gigs, including Borderline in London and four day festival, Americana.
He says: “Music was my first love. I have lot of fond memories of it – I once supported Elton John in his early days, which is a great addition to my career. There is only so much you can do when you retire, so I kept my hand in music, doing part-time bits at the ABC Cinema and at other gigs, and helping out at studios, writing for other artists collaborating with Clem Cattini. There was no pressure on me to do gigs. I would write some songs and if I got something down, that was great.
“It was nice to return to what I had done so many years before.”
The father-of-two, who lives in the East Midlands, has now released a six-track 10-inch vinyl mini-album – Rock, Roll, Jump & Jive – that pays homage to the records he listened to as a teenager.
He adds: “Five of the tracks are covers of little known American songs from the mid to late 1950s. I didn’t want to do the same old covers like everyone else does, so I wanted to find lesser known tracks.
“My producer Alan Wilson said he wanted me to write something myself.
“I was frying eggs and I wrote a song - She’s Long, Long Gone. Alan has nick-named it the Fried Egg song. I don’t know what the song has to do with fried eggs but it is a true story of how I wrote the song.”
Robb, who has two grandchildren, has been doing radio and TV interviews in the UK as well as France, Germany, Norway and Sweden to promote his new music.
He adds: “The album, by Western Star, is receiving lots of plays on Rock’n’Roll/Rockabilly radio stations and creating a lot of attention, which took us all by surprise. We knew the record/recording was good – but it was the immediate and early positive reactions that surprised us.”
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