John’s star-struck whirlwind of fame

JOHN Rogan’s life sounds like the plot of a Hollywood film.

If it hadn’t been for a tragedy affecting a 1960s superstar and his backing band, things may well have been different for the former Hartlepool man.

John was working in his sister Lena’s shop, Lumley Street Stores, which faced St Hilda’s Church, when number 1 artist of the day Adam Faith came on the TV appealing for musicians to audition to be in his band, The Roulettes.

The bass guitarist John Rogers had been killed in a crash and Adam Faith and The Roulettes were due to perform at the Sunderland Empire.

John says Rogers had been saving up to get married and while the rest of the band travelled by train, Rogers went by van to save money, but the vehicle was involved in a fatal smash in the Midlands.

John had been rhythm guitarist with Hartlepool band The Hartbeats, with John and the late George Hart and Roly Thompson at the time.

His niece Jacqueline urged him to go for it.

“Reluctantly I rang the number,” said John.

John spoke to Faith’s manager and he went to Sunderland the next day.

A number of bassists had already auditioned, and the group had someone in mind for Rogers’ replacement.

But despite John being a Mod and the rest of the band being rockers, he took to the stage and thrashed out his version of The Beatles’ Twist and Shout.

“The chemistry was so right,” said John.

“They said you’ve got the job.”

Then it was a whirlwind of fame for John, who was born in Friar Terrace on the Headland and went to Baltic Street and Galleys Field schools.

The dad-of-two said: “I was told we were going to be playing the London Palladium on the Sunday and we were going to Singapore.

“I was gobsmacked.”

John, the son of trawlerman Jack Rogan and his wife Nellie, said he took to fame so well.

From there, John and the group went on to have hit records and toured the world over the next five years.

Three weeks later he said he was in a hotel in Singapore, with playwright Noel Coward.

And he was soon playing on the same bill as the likes of The Beatles, Eric Clapton, The Searchers, The Beach Boys, Tom Jones and Cliff Richard.

He said: “The Beatles looked at us as being the big band. I remember meeting John Lennon, nobody knew The Beatles as such back then, it was quite bizarre.”

Even if it had not been for the tragedy that struck John’s predecessor, John believes he would still have found fame. He trained as a ballet dancer and tap dancer as a boy.

He remembers taking a young boy under his wing who had moved to the area and was also into ballet after his mother had told John’s mother how shy the newcomer was.

“It was Wayne Sleep”, said John. He trained with dance teacher Lena Whitelock and said: “Every shilling my mother got went on my future.

“I think I probably would have been in show business anyway.”

John, now 69 and living in Hoddeston, Hertfordshire, with wife Margaret, continued playing music until three years ago and now teaches young people to play the guitar and piano.

“I’ve had a wonderful life,” he said. “It was a living dream. This sort of thing doesn’t happen to little Johnny Rogan from Hartlepool.”

John was in town last week to meet up with his old Baltic Street School friends Frank Mayes and Jimmy Corner, at The Grand Hotel.

He said: “Seeing Frank and Jimmy was a lovely feeling, it was very satisfying.”John and Jimmy even used to go around the doors violin-playing instead of carol-singing.

Despite his success, John, who still has niece Jacqueline Wallace and nephews Tommy and Michael Oliver living in the town, said Hartlepool always remained at the forefront of his mind.“The only time I am homesick is when I come back, then comes that pull, and my heart bleeds,” he said.