Book review: Wild Thing: A Rocky Road by Pete Staples
Possibly the most fruitful 45 minutes of their lives led to Pete Staples and his three musical mates securing chart-topping places simultaneously on both sides of the Atlantic in the summer of 1966.
Nine months after coming together from the remains of two Hampshire pop groups, The Troggs recorded Wild Thing and With A Girl Like You, one after the other, in just three quarters of an hour –little realising that the former would get to number one in America while here in the UK, the follow-up single would do exactly the same thing at the same time.
This double success was a highlight of the group’s colourful career, which saw more than its fair share of lows too, especially when Pete was unceremoniously booted out just three short years later when the hits had stopped coming.
The act of betrayal by buddies, who had gathered at his wedding celebrations a month earlier, was a bombshell blow, disguised at the time in record company PR speak as his own decision to leave, a lifestyle choice.
Yet if bass guitar player Pete was once bitter about experiencing the rocky road in the book’s title, then age has finally mellowed him.
Now 73, the committed family man admits he has only recently felt comfortable in telling the truth and saying: ‘They kicked me out’ rather than ‘I just got married and didn’t want to travel any more.’
The most refreshing thing about this autobiography is the total lack of conceit or ego on Pete’s part. But that should come as no surprise after reading his introduction in which he grumbles in graphic style about the culture of celebrity self-importance when writing memoirs.
‘I knew mine would have to be a lot more fun – but with a serious side as well.’
He is not beyond laughing at his own mistakes, and there seem to have been many naïve moves in his life. Stinkers, quite literally, include the folly of taking a 4ft dead shark for a ride on his pushbike during his teenage years working for a fishmonger.
But he definitely wasn’t alone among the four-man Troggs in putting too much trust in dodgy managers, creative accountants and record label bosses who, like the hit 45rpm singles, were all conveniently adept at spin.
In short, the Andover band was robbed hand over fist, resulting in the loss of hundreds of thousands of pounds of royalties.
Like many other bands of the 60s, Pete – together with vocalist and main songwriter Reg Presley, lead guitarist Chris Britton and drummer Ronnie Bond – enjoyed the fame but saw little of the fortune earned through recordings and extensive concert tours in the UK, Europe and, eventually, the United States.
It was during their first American visit that The Troggs came face to face with hippy culture, and Pete recalls one particular gig as being ‘like playing to a load of zombies with mouths wide open and blank expressions on their faces.’
There were psychedelic drugs everywhere, although the guitarist insists ‘our only addiction was to our Rothmans!’
But things were far from ‘love and peace’ in New York where they found themselves fleeing from a gun-toting entertainments lawyer and his entourage, returning to England not as arranged by plane but – avoiding the airports – took to the seas on a cruise ship, where they were advised to ‘go to our cabins, stay there and not look out of the portholes until we set sail.’
Thrown out of The Troggs in 1969, Pete turned his back on the music industry for several decades but, instead of going back to his pre-group trade as an electrician, he dabbled in a range of careers, earning a living as an antique dealer, woodwork factory owner and even a trainee pub manager.
The book goes behind the scenes of life lived in the limelight, giving an insight – with more than a hint of dark humour found in Pete’s anecdotes – into the manipulation that no doubt still occurs as acts vie for the publicity that keeps them noticed.
Karma, of sorts, comes with an account – in the last few pages of the book – of what Pete was determined would be his last public appearance playing on stage back in 2005.
He was invited, along with Chris Britton – the only other surviving member of those chart-topping Troggs – to perform the song that started their success, Wild Thing, alongside its American writer Chip Taylor who is brother of Hollywood legend Jon Voight and uncle of actress Angelina Jolie.
In the audience at the Lantern Theatre, Romsey, were the widows of Reg Presley and Ronnie Bond who, Pete hopes, were ‘maybe reliving those earlier happier days.’
You get the feeling that was exactly what Pete Staples was doing.
(Newhaven Publishing, paperback, £16.99)