Rue and the Rockets plan anniversary gig

AS WELL as taking their funfair far and wide, the Slater family have been taking audiences on a musical journey for half a century now and are marking the occasion with an anniversary concert next month.

Wednesday, 20th January 2010, 10:16 am
Updated Wednesday, 20th January 2010, 10:16 am

Alan, Jimmy and Reuben started playing together when they were still teenagers back in 1960, and would never have imagined that their debut performance on the back of a truck in Haltwhistle would lead to a career as Rue and the Rockets which has seen them play across Europe and alongside a string of household names.

Speaking to me earlier this week, Reuben, drummer and lead vocalist, said the band started out because he and his brothers loved music and 'wanted to have a bit of fun.'

Five decades on and this hasn't changed, he said.

"Our first gig was on the back of a lorry," Reuben recalled.

"We'd gone down to Haltwhistle with my dad and the funfair and we built our equipment up and just started playing.

"The local vicar came out and asked my dad if he would turn down the music as it was disrupting his church service.

"He said 'that's my boys playing' and a man that was with the vicar booked us for his club.

"That was our first paid gig and we got 6 for it, which was a decent amount of money back then."

As luck would have it, Rue and the Rockets, got their second booking courtesy of the Haltwhistle gig after an audience member from Morpeth decided he wanted them at his club too.

And from then on, word got around about Rue and the Rockets and they were soon touring the Borders and making a real name for themselves.

However, Reuben said that one of the gigs that sticks out as being particularly memorable is one that nearly didn't happen due to the crucial detail that the venue didn't have any where they could plug their instruments into.

"I remember the night well," he continued.

"We arrived at the hall, I'm sure it was in Cornhill, and we asked the guy there where we could plug our equipment in.

"He said 'I'm sorry, we don't usually have any electric instruments played here, just accordions, fiddles and drums'.

"So to be able to go ahead with the gig we had to run a cable to a nearby farm so our instruments would work!"

A few years down the line and after even the most rural of venues had cottoned on to electricity, Rueben and his brothers were sharing stages across the Borders with the glitterati of 1960s and 70s popular music, including the Bay City Rollers, Manfred Mann and even Eric Clapton, who holds a special place in Reuben's memory - and not just for his guitar playing!

Reuben continued: "Our popularity in the Borders was down to Duncan McKinnon who was with the Border Dancers at the time. He got us gigs right across the region in Duns, Kelso, Galashiels, the lot, alongside some top names.

"But everyone was the same back then, there were no big egos or lavish sets, everyone was there for the music.

"We all had a great time and were all typical lads - I remember being next to Eric Clapton on stage once and telling him to get off because he was too drunk.

"And believe it or not, at the time we were the only band with stage lights so we'd be lending them to the likes of the Spencer Davis Group."

Gigs at venues on both sides of the Border have followed over the years including a few at Duns Volunteer Hall and the Jubilee Centre, in Spittal, but Rue and the Rockets' popularity has also spread further afield.

And one of the catalysts of this international appeal was the band's song 'Sticky Vicky', about an entertainer in Benidorm.

The song led to the band playing right across Spain as well as being interviewed for a number of radio stations in the Costa Blanca.

The song topped the charts over there too and went on to be a massive seller.

And the band's ties with Benidorm led to them playing at the Benidorm Palace in 2007 and 2009, even appearing on the same bill as the star of ITV's 'Benidorm', Jonny Vegas.

These days pop groups come and go before having a real chance to establish themselves, which makes Rue and the Rockets' 50 years in the business even more of an achievement.

And Rueben said that he thinks the main reason for the trio's lasting success is that they don't take themselves too seriously and keep giving audiences what they want.

"We have always classed ourselves as entertainers rather than musicians," he continued.

"People who come to our gigs at weekends have been working all week and they just want to have fun for a few hours so our aim is to give them a good night out.

"The one thing I struggle to understand is that we've got grandads, sons and grandsons who come along to see us and I often spot the teenagers singing along even though our songs are nothing like the music they'll probably listen to normally."

And although Reuben admitted that Rue and the Rockets have had their fair share of brotherly quarrels, he said they have never come to blows, so don't expect an Oasis-style split anytime soon.

"Yes, we argue and have at times called each other every name under the sun, but we're brothers so we can get away with it.

"And our arguments are always about silly things like someone putting the wrong chord in and are always done and dusted more or less straight away."

Reuben said he can see himself playing with Rue and the Rockets, who have also shared the stage with Status Quo and Dire Straits, for the rest of his life and added that at the moment "things are going better than ever" for the band.

They have just released new album 'Crossing The Golden Bridge', which compiles favourites from their 18 previous releases and also have bookings for people's birthday parties in five years time!

If you want to celebrate Rue and the Rockets' milestone birthday with them, get yourself along to Rue and the Rockets '50 Years Young' at The Sands Centre, Carlisle on Friday, February 5.

Tickets are 11, to book or for more information contact the venue on (01228) 625222 or visit www.thesandscentre.co.uk.