It was, and still is, one of the great mysteries of its time. ‘The Bazookas’ were a rock and soul five-piece band, who, in the late sixties, simply vanished.
Books were written, documentaries made, and even a TV docu-drama was made, but they’re still out there, their legacy written in the history books. There were bands that were bigger than them, but they towered over all other bands below them. Three number ones and two successful albums saw them on tour a lot around England, including one trip to America which they didn’t quite crack, but were gearing up for a second attempt when they vanished.
They started in Wirral social clubs, brought together by their then lead singer, ‘Red Razor’, real name, Lewis O’Connell. He was quite flamboyant, wore sparkly outfits, had long hair made into several ponytails, and had tattoos all linked to spirituality and karma. Yet the music was not calm or relaxing, but upbeat, loud, and raucous.
For three years they toured these pits, these pubs, with no sign of any record contract. They always maintained that they weren’t doing it for the deal, but for the love of the music, but Red Razor began to have other ideas. He maintained that the reason they were getting nowhere was because they sounded similar to all the other bands of the day, all on the same road, trying to reach the stage to propel them to stardom, to the history books.
So many other bands never made it out of the pubs, and split, disillusioned with themselves, thinking it was their fault they were never signed, reinforcing their negativity about why, telling themselves it was because they simply were not good enough. Maybe the record producer was in the crowd at one of their gigs, had seen enough halfway through, and walked out, the band never knowing they were there. Of all the bands that make it, that get a record company to pay them to play, there are many with equal or better talent than those that do give their signatures.
It was simply circumstance, the right place at the right time. There are plenty of bands that get signed with hardly anything resembling talent, yet there are groups slaving away in pubs and clubs without a deal with far more talent, so Razor decided to change the style of music to include a more bluesy element, and even one track, introducing a violin.
However, none of the band members could play a violin, nor could be bothered to learn, so Razor paid a sixth-form music student to play on the record. The decay had set in between Razor and the other band members, with them wanting to maintain the path they were on, and forget the blues element. Razor even once suggested that they could do a rock ‘n roll country track, but they had laughed at that, and it was then that Red Razor decided he could make it on his own.
His desires were not in the Bazookas interests, so he pursued a solo career, becoming nothing more than a cabaret entertainer. He could play acoustic guitar, but being solo meant his ideas could not be realised. He tried to get together another band, but Razor had specific requirements that nobody could match, such as a drummer that could play violin, bongos, and sing.
He wanted them all to be able to sing for the harmony tracks he was intending to write. Not many could multi-task, and those that could were not matching Razor's desires. He did meet somebody that could play the trumpet and bass guitar, but that wasn’t good enough. He also wanted those he auditioned to look the part. Some were fairly dowdy, one or two downright ugly, and the rest were those he could not match musically.
It was three weeks after he had parted company with the Bazookas that he had learned that they had a new lead singer. ‘Dave’ was a rather boring, leather-jacketed-wearing man in his forties who always wore dark glasses, who didn’t strut around the stage, and simply stood at the microphone, tapping a tambourine against his leg through some tracks.
A week later, they were signed, and Razor could do nothing but simply watch as the Bazookas rocketed to stardom.
Television appearances, gigs at proper venues, and more money than they could handle, meant that for the following two years, they knew nothing but fame, and Razor had tried to tell himself that he wasn’t concerned, it didn’t bother him, but it did, and he knew it. The growing seed of jealousy had been planted when they were signed, growing more and more every time he saw them on television or heard them on the radio. As they played theatres and stadiums, Razor played his acoustic sets in pubs and wine bars, but soon even they dried up and he was playing one gig a week, then one every two weeks, four weeks, two months. It soon occurred to him that he would have to stop, that the guitar would have to go back in its case, the sparkly costumes would have to be hung up inside a dark cupboard, and he would have to find a proper job.
The proper job came in the form of a car salesman. He reluctantly cut his hair to shoulder length, but still, the appearance of a mature hippy came through despite the suit he was forced to wear. He didn’t particularly like the job but didn’t hate it, it paid the way, and dreams of stardom still pervaded his mind, and still ran riot.
He would concoct songs and rhythms as he worked, sometimes dropping what he was doing to run to the cloakroom and jot down notes in his pad that he kept in his coat. Afterward, he simply kept it with him at all times, his superiors not minding as they guessed he was fairly delusional.
After around a year since the Bazookas were signed, Razor saw that one of their tour dates was in the Wirral. It was a kind of homecoming. Tranmere Rovers football ground was to be converted for the occasion. Their home game with Walsall was brought forward a day, and it was then that Razor had an idea that could fast-track him to the top, could put him back where he once was.
An old friend, well, somebody whom he once knew. Friend is not strictly a word that could be used for him, owed Razor a favour. In their early twenties, Razor had rather a lot of money, and used a substantial amount of it to buy the Bazookas early instruments.
Lee Griffiths had always been a plastic gangster, somebody who walked the fine line between obeying, and breaking the law. He’d been arrested a few times for minor misdemeanours, but had asked Razor for a loan of exactly one thousand pounds, and Razor, in his naivety, convinced that fame and fortune was imminent, was just around the corner, gave him the money, said he wouldn’t be needing it once the wealth starts rolling in. It was a gesture of goodwill, a rarity for him, but he never forgot that Lee owed him a favour, a favour that he could call in now that the Bazookas were coming to town.
Razor met up with Lee at the outdoor tables and chairs at a local café near where Lee lived.
“Just repeat that,” he had said, continuing, “you want me to kill the lead singer of the Bazookas so you can reinstate yourself”.
“Basically, yes.” They both sat in silence for a while, Lee contemplating.
“It’s a much bigger favour than what I owe you,” Lee had said. “Much bigger. I’ve never killed anyone before. I’ve put a few in hospital, but still, it’s a big ask.”
“It’s nigh on guaranteed I’ll take his place,” Razor said, “which means I’ll have plenty of money to pay you. You can name your price.”
“I can name my price?” Razor nodded. “Then consider him dead.”
The Bazookas lead singer was shot dead after the gig. From the stage door to the coach, there was a distance of around forty metres, barriers erected to hold back autograph hunting fans. All of the band appreciated their fans, so took time on the way to the coach to shake hands and have their pictures taken.
After every gig, there were always crowds hoping to get something from their idols, but Dave was signing a poster when a gloved hand squeezed between two shoulders clutching an 8mm Beretta handgun. It fired point-blank above his right eye. The gun was dropped and Lee eased back into the crowd, waited for everybody to realise what had happened, then panicked as they did to blend in. He ran amongst the stampede, away into the cold night.
After the initial pandemonium had died down, Razor found that he did not know the whereabouts of the Bazookas, although he was convinced they were still in the Wirral. The rest of the tour was cancelled, and he knew that it was now or never to get back with them. Before they were signed, the nearest link they had to a record company was a dogsbody who worked for a small independent label, the management of whom had seen the Bazookas perform, the producer saying that the music was like, ‘Hyenas on acid.’ It was just a racket that kids loved as far as they were concerned, not the sophisticated rock and roll blues that they signed.
They were, however, seething with the purest jealousy when they became successful. Harvey Milford, who could do nothing about getting them signed, was Razor’s port of call when trying to ascertain the Bazookas whereabouts. It turned out that he knew, and told him they were staying at the Coracle hotel in New Brighton, but only for two days before they headed back to London to plan where they went from there.
Two days after the lead singer’s death, Razor put on his sparkly suit, gave himself three ponytails, and headed for the Coracle. Harvey had arranged it with security to allow him through. He found them in the lounge, all looking rather morose.
Walking in with a big smile on his face, and standing there with his hands on his hips, he said, “Hi, lads. I’m back. Now, where was I?” They all stared up at him as though he was a total stranger, but they said nothing.
“I’ll be your lead singer. We can carry on from where we left off.” The Bazookas all looked at each other, confused, silently seeking answers. The drummer took the initiative and stood up, looking at Razor.
“Nice to see you Red. Long time no see and all that, but we’ve moved on from you. Sorry.” They all then stood up and left the lounge, leaving Razor standing there like a children’s party clown reject.
Soon afterward, he was walking along the New Brighton promenade, periodically stopping to lean on the railing and look down at the River Mersey, and across to Liverpool. People looked at him curiously, but he didn’t care, he’d had his answer. ‘We’ve moved on from you,’ repeated in his mind like a stuck disc, and his dreams of stardom lay shattered, almost irreparable, and he went back to work in the car showroom, his notepad left in his coat, hardly touched.
Five weeks later, the Bazookas were back on the road with a new lead singer, much to the consternation of the press, and even fans who thought it was far too soon. The extra publicity did them no harm, and they were forgiven. ‘Rhino’, was the nickname of the new frontman. A man of forty-three, overweight, with a huge bushy beard, hardly wore anything but brown T-shirts and Khakis. Who belted out the lyrics almost as loud as he could shout, and regularly spontaneously started dancing like a dancing dad at his son’s eighteenth.
Of course, there were doubters, those who said they could not replace Dave, but most of them soon warmed to Rhino, and after the tour, they went straight into the studio to record their third album.
Razor picked up his guitar in a kind of ‘I’ll show them’ attitude. He managed to get two gigs in two pubs, but the audience, which was not there to see him, hardly responded in any way, continuing to talk and laugh amongst themselves. There was the occasional sympathizer who clapped at the end of every song, but from there to a sell-out stadium was a very long way.
After he’d played the second gig, he was sitting alone in his red sparkly suit at the bar, sipping a double-whisky when on the juke-box came a Bazooka's hit ‘Darn tootin’ baby’ and Razor simply walked out, his drink unfinished. He seriously contemplated taking his guitar to the streets and busking, but the shame of it prevented him. He felt he could not get any lower than that, except to give up, but that was something he could not consider. He was grateful that Lee Griffiths had no idea how, or where to contact him.
The car showroom paid him a fair wage until he was posted to another dealer of the same company, three miles away for a lesser salary. He had no choice but to take it, incapable of facing the dole queue. If that was the case, and he was scraping a few more coins through busking, then he felt as though he might as well throw himself under a train.
For the next four weeks, he could not get one gig anywhere. It seemed that nobody wanted a delusional fantasist with dreams of reaching for the stars, instead opting for psychic nights, quiz nights, and karaoke nights. The Bazookas appeared on television a few times, flew to Germany for a one-off gig, to return for a three-date tour before flying to America to try for a number one hit. Two concerts were to be played in London. They had sold-out within three hours, and the third gig was at a place called Trefor, on the west coast of Wales. It was to be a free outside show on a beach and underneath a large marquee. Turnout was expected to be in the thousands.
One night Razor sat alone in his flat, the light off but the television on, staring at it blankly, the changing rainbow of colours reflected in his eyes. It was the night of the people’s choice awards, and an unfunny comedian was hosting it, trying his best with one-liners and sarcastic comments, and the Bazookas were up for the top prize. Razor sighed with despair and closed his eyes when they won, and in their acceptance speech, not one of the band mentioned Razor. They exited the stage all smiles and waving, and when Razor opened his eyes again, he was looking at the television with absolute hatred.
He was going to see them again. Of that he was sure. He’ll teach them a lesson for their blatant disregard, and their seemingly successful attempt at forgetting him. Time for a little reminder, he had thought, and knew there and then what he was going to do. The gig at Trefor was where he would go, and it was two weeks before that performance.
He rang up Harvey Milford again to help him get past security, and also to arrange to change the coach driver after the show. He guessed that they would not stay overnight there, preferring more classy hotels in the near town or city. Razor told him he’d done a bit of coach driving in the past, and the lads would be pleasantly surprised to have their old friend driving them to the hotel. Harvey took it all in, believing every word, and arranged it.
So, on the night of the gig, sporting five ponytails, and his trademark glittery red costume, which he guessed may attract attention, he thought that this was who he was, and things had been arranged to the effect that the Bazookas would never see him unless he wanted them to. It was a risk he was willing to take. With fences set up around a three-mile perimeter with five entrances, Razor was standing amongst the crowd, watching the support band, a country and blues outfit called: ‘Travelling Rangers’, who he thought was rubbish. It was soon time for the Bazookas, and he could only stand there not cheering, not waving but looking with abhorrence, because he knew it should have been him up there.
When it ended, his conscience told him that they were actually quite good, but he suppressed that, his hatred boiling over again, especially when on their encore, Rhino brought out the People’s choice award and waved it at the crowd.
‘That’s mine,’ he had said, aloud, ‘that’s mine’, but no one had heard him. They were too busy cheering and shouting their appreciation to acknowledge him at all. He didn’t even look out of place in his suit. Some others wore more extravagant costumes. Razor did not wait for them to exit the stage, as he knew he had limited time. He found himself backstage while they were still out there, then out to where four coaches were parked, knowing he had to hide and wait for them to come out. A nearby overhanging tree gave him enough cover to wait.
Just over an hour passed, a cold wind slowly picking up, when the Bazookas and their entourage appeared and headed for a large black sleek coach.
None of them had any idea that they would have been waiting there for a while until they realised they had no official driver, but their driver quickly crossed to the coach and rushed into the seat.
Between stepping on and sitting down, a glint caught his eye on the front passenger seat. It was the award. The Bazookas and their hangers-on were all laughing and joking in the rear of the coach, oblivious to their driver who was positioned down enough so that even those near the front could not see him.
He realised that driving one of these things was not going to be an easy task. With the keys in the ignition, he fired it up, and quickly found that the controls were not like that of an ordinary car. It was, however, close enough which meant that he could precariously drive it, albeit, somewhat slowly.
Slowness, though, was something he did not plan. He soon found himself on empty roads trying to head in the direction of the sea, intending to drive them in, but the closer he got to it, the more he found that the land was becoming more elevated. The passengers were oblivious, and the more they laughed and joked, the angrier Razor became, and the angrier he became the harder he would press on the accelerator, but there was no beach to drive on, and seemingly no sea to drive into. This was not part of the plan. He reached the crest of a slope, and a right turn he knew was the water’s direction, because it was a down-sloping field with a few birch trees dotted around it, and darkness illuminated by a three-quarter moon.
He swung the coach onto the kerb, then onto the grass, and floored the accelerator. The passengers had lurched against the chairs and windows, causing shouts of protest. The powerful headlights picked out at around fifty metres away that there was no more grass, only thin air. Razor quickly stood up and grabbed for the award. He had picked it up and held it close to him. All faces stared at him in surprise and despair.
‘This is mine,’ he had said, ‘this belongs to me.’ He had then turned and quickly leapt off the coach before it sailed into the night air, and plummeted 174 feet into the cold water below. Razor was in a fetal position on the grass, clutching ‘his’ award. ‘Mine,’ he muttered, ‘this is mine.’
Today the mystery continues. Where are the Bazookas? By now, thirty-five years later, probably swept away to the lost city of Atlantis, or still at the bottom of Caernarfon Bay. Either way, I like to tell people who will listen what happened. It’s not a secret anymore. People just think I’m mad.
‘Yeah’, ‘right’, ‘whatever’, is what they all think. No one believes me. They nod and smile, then get up off the bench and walk away. I still have five straggly ponytails, and always wear my sparkly red suit, which doesn’t sparkle anymore like it used to.
I still cling to the award, which people think is a fake, but that doesn’t concern me, what does concern me is what I’m going to do with all the wealth that’ll be coming my way, once I get a record deal.
For now, though, I’m hoping to buy a guitar, once I get enough money. I’ve seen one in the window of a 2nd hand shop in my local shopping arcade. Life as a tramp isn’t so bad once you get used to it. I may have lost everything, but one day I’ll be up on stage where I belong. One day.