Riversiders are Ramblin' on

In 1956 a group of fresh-faced teenagers, equipped with home-made instruments and an overwhelming enthusiasm for the new music being created by the likes of Lonnie Donegan, came together to form one of Lancashire's first boy bands.

Drawing an attentive audience from the neighbourhood as they rehearsed in a shed in Harold Dearden's Walton-le-Dale garden, the Ramblin' Riversiders were soon being booked for professional gigs around the county.

While they may not have gone on to achieve the global fame and financial success of the groups that followed in the 60s and 70s, the Ramblin' Riversiders have reached a milestone few others will.

This year the band - still featuring Harold and fellow founder member Neil Farnworth - is celebrating its 50th anniversary.

To commemorate this remarkable achievement the Riversiders are embraking on a string of live dates, releasing an album featuring brand new songs... and taking a trip down memory lane.

"Just last week I was doing a bit of sorting out at home and I found the old ration book I had just after the war," Harold begins. "It didn't interest me too much, but I just thought I would look how many sweet coupons we used to get - and there inside I found two reminders of the Riversiders' past.

"There was an old advert, which was featured in the Lancashire Evening Post in 1956, informing people about a gig at the jazz club on St George's Road in Preston and an old business card we had printed to promote the band.

"Seeing those little things really started to bring so many memories back."

The Riversiders formed when Harold and Neil were 16, following Lonnie Donegan's hit of January 1956, Rock Island Line.

"Up to that point if you wanted to learn an instrument you had to go get lessons, you had learn to read music, and if you wanted to play live you had to join a dance band. You had to play with your elders; there were not really any bands aimed at the young.

"Then Rock Island Line came out. I can't remember the feeling I had when I first heard it, but I can remember it made a great impression on me. It encouraged us to take the instruments we had at home and start to play new music together."

The band's first gigs were played in Harold's shed. The sound was naturally acoustic - guitars, a washboard for percussion and a tea chest bass - and the response from the crowds often rapturous.

They played seven nights a week - sometimes even sleeping in the shed - and soon attracted crowds from throughout Walton-le-Dale and Penwortham, which in those days was no small feat as it meant fans were taking two or three buses to reach them.

"Where we were living in those days on Hennel Lane, things were vastly different to what they are today," Harold explains. ''It was more than a lane with a few houses - it was a little community. There were a dozen private houses and a council estate. It was like an extended family.

"As soon as we started playing, the kids from the estate started listening. They would group around us. We always had this little audience. It was during our first 12 months that we started to get gigs away from the shed."

From here the band have never looked back. They have had quiet periods and lively ones of unexpected success, but they have - in one guise or another - always existed, with Harold as leader on ukulele and vocals, and Neil as rhythm guitarist

"I feel proud about being involved in the development of the rock industry," Harold says. "We were one of the very first boy bands in Lancashire. I get a real kick thinking of all that we have done.

"It has been good to keep the Riversiders going all this time. We have had periods of relaxation, when we have done other things, but it has always been there in the background."

Memorable gigs from those early days include playing at the Marine Hall in Fleetwood, the Winter Gardens in Morecambe and by request to 1,400 people for the Gujarat Society in Preston.

More recent highlights include the band's trips to the States to play at the Annual National Old Time Country and Bluegrass Festival in Missouri Valley, Iowa.

There, they were a massive hit, being awarded the title Best Old Time American Music Band at the festival on their first visit, and named A Rising Legend on their second.

"There are dozens of bands in Lancashire who would love to play in America, who have not had the opportunity," says Neil. "But I am very lucky, I have had that opportunity."

Harold added: "Our trips to America have been some of the real highlights of our career."

Besides taking them to the USA and all over the UK, life in the Riversiders has provided the band members with great friendships.

"Musicians make wonderful friends. I appreciate that. It is a big thing in my life - the number of friends I have made through music," Harold says.

"We are planning to play a number of gigs to celebrate our 50 years. We would love it if our friends from the old days could come to these. It would be great to see them again."

Over the years the band has had various personnel changes, but Neil and Harold have remained faithful.

The current line-up, also featuring Ronnie Westhead, Eddie Holden, Pat Flood and George Pritchard, is going strong, and is responsible for the new album.

To be released in mid-August, it features all new tracks and has been recorded on their own label.

"We decided not to just look for songs from our old albums, but to look at the musical influences that have come in to the band, like Cajun, rockabilly, blues and of course skiffle from the 1930s, and write our own material."