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Kidderminster musician recalls role in landmark number one record
Ooh la la: The Tornados pictured outside the Paris Olympia in April 1963. From left, Clem Cattini, Heinz Burt, Roger LaVern, Alan Caddy and George Bellamy.
IT has been 50 years since a musician from Kidderminster helped beat The Beatles to the first number one in the United States by a British band.
Roger LaVern, born Roger Jackson, played keyboard for The Tornados on the 1962 instrumental hit Telstar.
The track was written by music producer Joe Meek to appeal to the public’s fascination with space travel.
Telstar was a communications satellite launched into orbit on July 10, 1962.
The record went to number onein the US in December 1962 after being top of the British charts two months earlier.
Mr LaVern, 75, said: “Quite frankly, I thought it sounded like Mickey Mouse music. But when the fame started, I got to like it. It went to number one all over the world.
“The time has gone so quickly. I remember journalist Chris Hutchins from the New Musical Express (NME) telling us we were 15th in the chart but he’d made a mistake. We were at number 12 and it just kept rising. It blew my head off.”
He was playing piano at a cinema in London when his German landlady forced him to go to the West End to audition.
He added: “I finally met the brilliant Joe Meek and the rest is history.”
To commemorate Telstar’s 50th anniversary, Mr LaVern, drummer Clem Cattini and guitarist George Bellamy of the original Tornados, along with Mick Abrahams and Tom Toomey, have recorded a new track
Then and now, Roger LaVern has had an extraordinary life
Mr LaVern had a life of privilege in Kidderminster, but it quickly drew to an end as a result of a crime his father committed in 1948.
He was born in the town in 1937 and spent much of his childhood with German prisoners of war, who would visit Kidderminster from Droitwich.
His father, George Jackson, owned a chocolate factory in Birmingham, which became useful in a time of rationing.
Mr LaVern’s father also liked to dabble in showbusiness at Birmingham Hippodrome, where he met many stars of the day.
By the age of nine, Roger had eaten dinner with Hollywood legends Laurel and Hardy, and comedy actor and singer George Formby had stayed at his house.
In 1948, his father shot and killed an actress, which meant Mr LaVern had to leave Kidderminster to attend a boarding school in London, which he hated.
He said: “My father was going to be hanged but he was given life in prison. He was let out seven and a half years later.
“It ruined my childhood.”
Mr LaVern returned to Kidderminster after some time in the Household Cavalry to work as an accountant for William Hill Carpets for two years.
After living in London and his time in The Tornados, he moved to Mexico and starred in a number of films and on television.
He added: “I built a beautiful house at the bottom of Volcan [volcano] Popocatepetl but every time it rumbled, cracks would appear in the building.”
Despite battling his own health problems, Mr LaVern has raised thousands of pounds for children’s charities and was given a lifetime achievement award for 46 years of fund-raising.
Two bouts of cancer and two cases of Dupuytren’s contracture, a disorder where fingers bend towards the palm, have not seemed to affect him.
“I’ve just had my ninth marriage,” he added. “I’m still dangerous. I’ve been a good boy and a bad boy.
“I pride myself on never having taken a drug. I had girls, scotch and cognac instead. In the 1960s all the musicians called me a wimp but why do you think I’m still alive?”
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