The story of Ken Levy and The Phantoms as told by Ken Levy

The beginning

I started the Phantoms in 1960 together with rhythm guitar player Cliff Gentle, and bass player David Cooke, who had come from playing with another Cambrdge band the Scramblers, and drummer Freddie Smart. Singer Johnny Culham also joined us. Robin Bailey eventually replaced Smart on drums, who due to other commitments couldn’t stay with the band.

photo of the band

We had to create our own sound by using what was available in the way of amps and guitars. I remember buying an old Hofner jazz box from a second hand shop for a few pounds. It had one pick up fixed in the neck position, it probably had a great jazz sound but this wasn’t on the menu in the early days of rock’n’roll. Beggars cant be choosers, a fifties Grampian amp and an ex army valve amp of unknown power for the bass run through a home made box with Goodman speakers was what we started with. I will elaborate on the early days at a later date.

We started out playing locally in the Cambridge area, performing regularly at youth clubs and pubs such as The Red Lion in Brinkley, Newmarket. We also had a regular Sunday slot on the Granada Theatre curcuit. Gigs, or jobs as we called them, came mostly by hiring town halls, etc and running our own dances with friends and family to help out with the basic chores of making the dance a success.

As we were becoming more and more popular and drawing crowds at most dances, we decided to go up market and get some decent gear. So one night after a dance in Haverhill at the Bigmore Hall, we went up to to London to look at the music shops. Parking outside of Selmers in Charing Cross Road and leaving the door open in the car, probably looked a bit suspicios to a pair of Met police officers who parked their Wolsley 6/80 behind our car and strolled over to four faces peering at the fantastic display of mostly Gibson guitars, everything we only dreamed about. Wolseley Police Car I remember one of the policeman saying “Ok, lads, what’s happening here?” I turned around to them and answered “We are looking at the future”, then we got talking and they went on their way while we strolled off down the road away to have a look at Jennings.

On our next trip to London I bought a 59-60 Gibson ES 335. Cliff went into Jennings and came out with a Telecaster. We also bought a Vox AC15 and a tape echo the same as what the Shadows used. Now we were on our way….. loaded with debt, but full of ambition.

One night at a gig we met two students, Paul Williams and Roger Wornell who were both composers. Under their pen names Paul de Schroeder and Lee Lenrow they wrote “Phantom Guitar” and “Cachina”, which were recorded by Ken Levy and the Phantoms at Landsdowne studios in London, originally as a demo in 1960. We later got a record contract with Palette Records in 1961, and our first single was released ( “Phantom Guitar/ Cachina”)

Early influences included The Shadows and The Venturers, a very guitar driven sound, heavy on echo. Later in 1961 Norwegian rock n roll singer Per- Elvis Granberg came to Cambridge in search of a rock band to back him during his up coming tour. Palette records had suggested the Phantoms. Norway Tours 1961The band toured Norway with Granberg from March until December of '61. Singer Johnny Culham did not join the tour.

The Scandanavian Breakthrough

During our tour in Norway, there was an opportunity for us to play at Nalen dance hall in Stockholm. That one performance would later prove to be the entry ticket to a prosperous career in Sweden.

The band returned to England and continued playing in the Cambridge area, as well as appearing on a nightly television programme, “About Anglia” several times before once again travelling to Scandinavia the following summer. This time for a two - week tour with Swedish artist Cacka Israelsson and singer Mona Grain.

By this time I had become established as the bands singer, completing the permanent line up. The repertoire now shifted somewhat drawing influences from blues artists such as John Lee Hooker, Howlin’ Wolf and Lightnin’ Hopkins as well as rhythm and blues artists like Chuck Berry and Carl Perkins, and of course the idol of all guitar players of that time, James Burton.

We were now living in Stockholm, and toured extensively during this time throughout Sweden performing at folkparks, and dance halls and concert venues. Our most visited folkpark was Gävle, where it’s said we performed some 52 times!

Poster for gig (job) in Stockholm

We also toured Finland a couple of times, including playing at the Miss Finland competition in 1962. Ken Levy and the Phantoms were on the same bill as artists such as Marty Wilde, Del Shannon, Big Dee Irwin, The Searchers, Gerry and the Pacemakers and Billy J Kramer.

In 1962 the band performed at Johanneshov in Stockholm on a TV show together with Chubby Checker and Swedish artist Jerry Williams.

The Phantoms supported The Beatles on their tour of Sweden in October 1963, just before their major breakthrough. There were two performances in Karlstad on the same evening, followed by one performance each in Gothenburg and Borås.

The Phantoms released several records on the Palette/Cupol label covering other artists music as well as recording original tunes written by me. The best selling single became our version of “Shakin’ all over” and “Twilight time”.

The Journey Ends

In 1969 the band members decided to go our separate ways as we came to the end of our musical journey together. I moved into singing big band repertoire as well as rock ‘n roll with bands like Värmländers and Carlstad Big Band. Drummer Robin Bailey started playing with Karlstad based dance band Sven-Ingvars. Robin was also “hot” in the golf community and became a fully fledged golf instructor, and run his own golf shop until he passed away in 2008. Cliff Gentle moved to Denmark where he married his one love singer Daimi. He also continued playing rock and blues. Dave Cook returned to Cambridge where he too continued playing in local rock bands.

In 1979 Robin and I came together for one final project when we released the album, Ken and Robin - “Two sides of Rock” which was recorded in Stockholm by bandleader and arranger Lasse Samuelsson and his production company Four Leaf Clover. The album had Swedish musicians Kjell Öhman and Anders Berglund on piano, Jan Bergman on bass, Björn Linder and Janne Schaffer on guitar, Robin Bailey on drums and vocals and myself on vocals.

Ken and Robin - Two Sides of Rock

All in all Ken Levy and the Phantoms came to play a major part on the music scene during the 60s in Scandinavia, and had a prosperous career playing a versatile repertoire during a dynamic time in music history.

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