We are in Dusseldorf, just off the early flight from London. The drivers have found us without having to hold up a sign, which is a disappointment, as I was rather looking forward to seeing one reading "Dozy, Beaky, Mick and Tich". Yes, indeed, that's right: Dozy, Beaky, Mick and Tich. You must remember. They were with Dave Dee, they had what we used to call "a string of big hits": "Hold Tight!", "Bend It", "Zabadak", "The Legend of Xanadu", ten top-20 entries in two years. No? Well, ask your parents. Or grandparents. It is, after all, more than 40 years ago now.
What happens to old pop bands, the ones that don't fall apart through artistic differences, popular apathy or some more dramatic form of destruction; the ones who had their quick set of fame before the fade? They didn't know in 1966; this was the first generation, the my generation, the one that hoped to die before they got old, as Roger Daltrey used so excitingly to sneer but, for obvious reasons, didn't when The Who helped close the Olympic games. Roger Daltrey is 68.
Dozy, or Trevor Ward-Davies, is also 68; Beaky, Tony Carpenter, is 59; Mick, John Hatchman, is 58; Tich, Ian Amey, is 68, too. As we wait for the transport to the gig to get itself together, it's harsh but fair to say they look their age, despite or because of some vintage hairstyling. But then we are in that relentless airport light, and they have been up since 2.30am.
Meanwhile, you might have some questions. The first answer is the saddest. Dave Dee, or David Harman, did die, three years ago now, aged 67. And not from anything remotely glamorous, but from that prosaic persecutor of older men, prostate cancer. Next, John Hatchman's real name does not start with Mick because he is not the original Mick, who is now a plumber. This is also why he and Tony Carpenter are younger than the rest. Tony does have a distinguished nose, although Tich says this was not the reason why he was chosen to be the second replacement for the original Beaky, who now runs a bar in Spain and plays golf. And John has been Mick for 32 years now, which is longer than the original, and, indeed, either of the other two previous Micks.
Time to go. But Dozy can't be found. He has wandered off outside—slowly, as he is not so good on his legs these days—for a smoke. Mick leads the way and opens an emergency exit door, setting off an alarm. A security official arrives, complaining, but is placated. Dozy is nowhere to be seen, and now Tich has gone off, too. Rock'n'roll, eh? Eventually, though, we are reunited, in the van and off towards Belgium and the gig. I ask Dozy whether he minds being called Dozy. Not at all, he says. "It started in the early days of the band. We were Dave Dee and the Bostons then. I got in the van one night with a bar of chocolate, unwrapped it, threw the bar out of the window and put the silver wrapping in my mouth." And so began nearly 50 years of being Dozy.
Dozy, like the rest of the band except for Beaky, is from Wiltshire. That soft burr is not a familiar rock accent; while Tich retains his cheeky-chappie mod cut, Dozy, who once stared moodily from publicity photos, now looks more like an absent-minded bishop. Mick looks like the painter and decorator he still is during the day (the original band were all painters and decorators). Beaky is a Londoner, who, before the Dozies (as they are affectionately known), was a child actor in West End musicals, and in his 50s still somehow manages to act the part: "We've got to mother him," says Tich.
We are on our way to Bree, just inside the Belgian border, where the Dozies are on the bill for the third day of a pop festival, along with a lot of other names that will prompt either happy memories or junior puzzlement: Sweet, Slade, Uriah Heep, the Animals, John Coghlan's Quo. That last name tells a tale about pop-band afterlife. Coghlan was the original drummer for Status Quo. Rows, retirements and worse affect most of these veterans: Slade, like the Dozies, have two original members left, Sweet and the Animals one apiece, the accepted minimum requirement before you become a tribute band. Rival versions co-exist more or less uneasily: there are currently two versions of Sweet, and in 2008, Eric Burdon, the Animals' original singer, lost a legal battle to stop these Animals calling themselves the Animals. This sort of thing has been with us since Will Shakespeare was a lad in competing bands of strolling players. Fans of a certain age remember the disappointment of learning that "The Fabulous Temptations" announced on the billboards were not the actual Temptations. Meanwhile, Eric Burdon has just had to cancel a tour because of his bad back.
It's the hottest day of the year as the van travels at rock-star speed along the autobahn. Dozy and Tich are remembering the early days in the early Sixties in Germany, and the Top Ten Club on the Reeperbahn, centre of Hamburg's red-light district, where other British acts included the Beatles (please feel free to add your own "legendary", "famous", or "infamous"). The boys played one hour on, one hour off for most of the day and night, and "that's not including quite a few women in between". Didn't they get a touch tired? "We were young then." The Dozies do not take themselves entirely seriously, an advantage earned through 50 years on the road and just the three years of hits.
They lived above the club, the worst place they've ever stayed, according to Dozy, who had great respect for a large bouncer called Walther and his almost equally large bulldog. "If he didn't want to let you go upstairs, you didn't argue. One day I saw the dog drag a man in by his shopping bag, followed by a noisy kerfuffle, and the man re-appearing with just the handles of the shopping bag." They've always liked Germany, where the English bands of the Sixties and Seventies were popular then and still are now. Dates are getting tougher in Britain, although special weekends at holiday camps are still an attraction. But, this spring, the Dozies have a big German tour.
And, after that, Tich says, he is going to retire. "I'm 69 next year. I enjoy every minute of it. I'd be the last person to say I won't miss it. I just feel there's a time in your life when you want to do something else. I want to relax a bit." So, I wonder, what about the last original, Dozy? He is asleep, in front on the seat next to the driver, so Tich answers for him. "No, Dozy's not retiring," says Tich.
Talk turns elsewhere: to Gene Simmons of Kiss citing the boys as a leading influence; to the stopover in San Francisco when they toured the city and visited Alcatraz while Dozy stayed at the airport; to the time they all moved to Spain and played at their own bar in Puerto Banus until the routine and responsibilities got them down and they left the original Beaky to it; and to Dave Dee, the early days, the good days, the beauty queens, his time away as an arranger, the return to the band in the Nineties, and the final struggles with the cancer that killed him, playing to 50,000 at Hamburg's football stadium with a TAP catheter strapped to his leg inside his trousers: "He never, ever let anyone down," says Mick."For the last 18 months he was still jumping around, still performing as if there was nothing wrong with him." Pop stars can be troupers, too. It's also one of those meaningless, bathetic but still poignant pieces of trivia that Dee began his working life as that antithesis of the child of the Sixties, a policeman; and, as a young cadet, attended the crash that killed the great American rock'n'roller Eddie Cochran, not in a Caddy on Route 66 but in a cab in Chippenham, Wilts. Cochran was 21.
The hotel is a modern two-storeyed affair, outside town, set in its grounds with a fishing lake. It is hotter. Up there on the balcony waving to greet us is a familiar figure, but familiar in the way a member of the House of Lords is familiar, changed, somehow diminished. Not that there was ever much of Dave Hill of Slade, pride of Wolverhampton, to begin with, except the same enormous grin. Checked in, the assembled acts sit around, shooting the breeze, and complaining about the lack of it. Dave Hill talks about growing his own vegetables; Don Powell, the other original member of Slade, who survived a terrible car crash in 1973, remembers rock-star days in the Bahamas and a working men's club in Whitehaven; Tich talks about his granddaughter. Dozy is having a lie down in his room. Gerry, a Belgian promoter, florist and fan of the Dozies, who has come to see them, says the old British bands are popular here because "they sing songs you can sing, and they have a good, what is it, ambience...they don't have a big neck, no, big head, like some of the young acts we have here." I wonder if it's the same appeal as the Eurovision Song Contest; Gerry agrees. Engelbert Humperdinck had been the best in this year's contest, the other countries had ganged up on Britain and voted for each other. Humperdinck is 76.
Gerry suggests eating some mussels after the gig. Beaky is keen. He's friendly and approachable, like the other Dozies, and eager to talk about his past, which is different, starting in "Oliver!" in the West End at the age of 11, and trouping ever since, including a spell not so long ago curating the guitar collection at the Hard Rock Café in Piccadilly, until a new manager suggested he should do the cleaning as well. He is proud to have been a friend of Jack Wild, the acclaimed Artful Dodger from the Sixties, who faltered away through drink, and shows me a picture on his mobile of Wild in what the old newspaper caption writers used to describe as "happier times". But now it's time to drive the short distance to the festival, where a large marquee and an audience of some 3,000 waits in the heat, now approaching 40°C outside and rather more inside.
Do they still get nervous, stressed? "We don't get stressed, we just follow Beaky," says Mick. "If we do start, we just look at him." Dozy is silent and unmoved on the front seat, possibly asleep. They are the first English band on, bottom of the bill in the way of the old music-hall acts, which these senior bands now resemble as they cleave to old circuits and hallowed routines. Performers are traditionally and sensibly sensitive about fees, but in Bree my understanding, at least, is that they range upwards from about €4,000 plus expenses for the Dozies, who play the shortest set, an hour. Once, they would have had gear, roadies and technicians to help with the sound monitoring; now they have not much more than their guitars. But, even so, after all these years, in all this heat, they still seem fresh with it, enjoying it, laughing at it, a long way from the despair and sympathy that, say, John Osborne conjured for his failing, falling comic turn, Archie Rice, in "The Entertainer". Take, for example, the portable cabins allotted to each act as dressing rooms.
"Did you see what Sweet got in theirs?" laughs Tich later. "Sandwiches, rolls, beer, Jack Daniel's, the lot. We got four towels and a fan."
"And she didn't say anything," says Beaky.
It is hot in the marquee, packed, and approaching 3pm. The boys go for a look while the local warm-up band is on. Even Dozy is getting worried about the heat. Down on the floor, the audience is magnificently unconcerned and good-humoured. They are mostly of an age: children of the 60s in their 60s now, or close. Banners proclaim the day's motif: "Nostalgie—what a feeling". Other Europeans affect to find the Belgians a touch on the dull side; I recommend Bree to them. Ageing bodies are happily exposed against the heat to reveal time-stretched tattoos. The hot air is filled with the familiar event bouquet of warm bodies and spilt beer rising from the sticky wooden floor. "When I was young, this was my music, this and the blues. I love them all, I love Sweet," says Leon Huyskens, 65, here with his wife Marleen, 62, who proves that you can dance to the blues. Ad Wils, 56, says he has never stopped playing this music. The few young people seem to be either dedicated aficionados—Wilco Graafmans, 20, and Sophie van Dongens, 28, who are really here for the hard rock of Uriah Heep, the headliners—or, like Peter, 18, Hendrik, 17, and Alexander, 16, here because "we got free tickets".
"We grew up with this music, watching the British groups on the TV and listening to them on the radio, they were the top groups, unique," says today's compère, Roger Schepers, 66, neat and enthusiastic. with only a passing resemblance to Herman Van Rompuy, the European Council president.
Roger gives the Dozies a big Flemish welcome, and they're on, in the innocent garish suits of another era, to a warm, even overheated, welcome, and straight into the great driving beat of "Hold Tight!" (triumphantly revived in Tarantino's "Death Proof"). The set snaps on with all their big hits and quite a few others like Spencer Davis's "Keep on Running" and Amen Corner's "Bend Me, Shape Me". The boys do a fine line in close harmony and medley, finishing with Tich giving a flourish to McCartney's "Oh, I believe in yesterday". Things are going well, despite a few minor problems with the monitors. But it is very hot, and, as he predicted, Dozy is suffering, even if he doesn't move much these days (it's a bit hard to believe that the boys used to throw him round the stage). He takes his jacket off, which is unprecedented. The one everyone's waiting for is "Xanadu". "'Xanadu', with the whip," Leon Huyskens had happily anticipated. "My special favourite is 'Xanadu'," said Francesco de Gorgio, 57 (his father was Italian). "With the whip." Everyone remembers the whip.
"The Legend of Xanadu" was the boys at their finest, an infectious confection of Coleridge and cod antics from a lost land somewhere south of the border featuring Dozy in a poncho and Dave Dee in lace with that whip, making the beat. It was written by two BBC men from Hampstead, Ken Howard, anthropology graduate, and Alan Blaikley, classics graduate (Sixties pop wasn't all lippy provincial and suburban vernacular). Howard and Blaikley wrote all the boys' hits and managed them at the time: "Xanadu", their only number one, was a follow-up to "Zabadak", in which the writers had invented their own language: "Zabadak, Zabadak, Karakakora Kakarakak". "They were so full of life," says Howard of first seeing them. "They had a wonderful stage act...very funny, very different from the other bands, great performers, which meant we could tailor little dramas for each song."
Should you venture into cyberspace, you will come across theories that Howard and Blaikley, who are gay, were Svengalis who had these innocent country boys spreading subliminal messages: "Bend It", for example, and that whip. Howard thinks this is very funny, but, sadly for conspiracists, "silly". The whip, he's pretty sure, was Dave Dee's idea, to go with the character of the man from Xanadu. Which is all a bit of a relief, frankly, as it would complicate the enjoyment of the Belgians and quite a few Dutch who are singing along uproariously as the Dozies take us all once more to that black barren land that bears the name of Xanadu, dedicated to Dave Dee, who, they hope, "is watching up there". But no whip: that ended with Dave Dee. Still, the audience's eyes and faces are telling: they are no longer in a hot marquee in 2012; they are back in the days when pop was simpler, less diverse, undownloadable, when burning was for fires and bras, and, as Howard says, you "could go down to Brighton on a hot day and everyone was lying out on the sand with their transistors and your song came on and you heard it across the whole waterfront and there was this tremendous communal feeling." Anita Verherstraeten, who's been at the front swaying and singing, uses the Flemish and Dutch word jeugdsentiment, which means, literally, "youth sentiment", a better fit than nostalgia. "Now we think we are as young here as we were then," says Anita, usually 52, "but now I'm 18 again."
It's safe to say, though, that the Dozies, who have now left the stage in echoing, raucous triumph, are feeling every bit their age. Dozy, helped down backstage by me, sits in what shade there is, recovering: "I have never been so hot in my life. I thought I wasn't going to make it." Mick has a towel over his head in the cabin. Tich is confirming his decision to retire. Beaky, that bit younger, gets over his crossness about the monitors and goes off to eat mussels with Gerry, the promoter and fan. The gig goes on. John Coghlan's Quo keep the jeugdsentiment jumping, the Animals follow on before being led off to another date, 100km away in the Netherlands, by John Steel, the drummer and only original, 71, and looking as fresh as Justin Bieber. (Well, OK, almost.) Jim Appleton, 63, roadie with Slade, says he works more often with Kenny Ball, Chris Barber, and Acker Bilk, who are all past 80. And Sir Cliff Richard, 72, has been known to make tea for everyone.
Tich and Mick, alive again, are mixing with the bands and the audience, backstage, out front, listening, enjoying. Sweet, fresh from playing in temperatures just above zero in northern Norway, go down a storm, and Slade even more so. Don Powell is giving the drums his traditional battering, and Dave Hill is leaping about in a manner some might think doesn't befit a 66-year-old; but they're not in a tent in Belgium in 40°C getting down to "Merry Xmas Everybody". Midnight is now approaching, though, and the boys feel like going back to the hotel. I go with them, leaving Uriah Heep to young Wilco.
At the hotel, Tich says that what he'll miss most is "chatting with the other guys over a beer, enjoying their company". That's what he remembers best about the hit days, mixing with the Bee Gees, the Walker Brothers, the Kinks, going on "Top of the Pops". I wonder what Mick makes of spending all these years in a band, but missing those days. "That's how life is, isn't it? You play the hand you're dealt. I've loved every minute of it." And so to bed, after about 20 hours on the go. But still perky, too, at breakfast the next morning. John Coghlan is looking forward to a new documentary on Status Quo and a temporary reunion, complete with Francis Rossi and Rick Parfitt. Dave Hill is talking about Slade's upcoming tour of Brazil, and recovering from a minor stroke on stage: "It's surreal enough being up there without suddenly finding you can't play your guitar." Dave, being Dave, has taken this not as a hint to give up, but as a warning that time is precious and he should use it doing what he enjoys, playing music on stage. Did he think this is how it would work out? "Nobody can write their own script, can they? If we could, we'd all be managers." Coghlan is showing the Duchenne's muscular condition that affects his little finger, but not his drumming.
We travel back to the airport, with talk about the iniquities of supermarket food, B.B. King, still playing the blues at 87, and one of the Tremeloes calling it a day, last gig in Croydon. Beaky shows me some more photos, including one of his wife. Dozy, last into departures by a distance, talks about yesterday and spending the rest of the time in his room, right in front of the air conditioner, and not being able to sleep all night because of the heat. The sort of thing to make you think about retiring? Beaky is quick, and firm: "Oh no," he says, "Oh no." And now the search starts for a new Tich.