From the day young Brian Sharpe found an old family violin and strummed the makeshift rubber band strings, his life was to change for ever. Since then he has played in three of the Island’s most popular groups of all time, The Cherokees, Sharpe and Betchley and Blue Moon. His 55 year career in music has involved the Rolling Stones, Gene Vincent, Pink Floyd and Moody Blues. Now he has a bus pass and plays in Hoggie and the Sharpetones and Westward. The extremely likeable Brian Sharpe played his first ever gig in Les Paysans at the Stag Inn, Lake, alongside his local mentor Martyn Ford, Robin Young, Crann Davies and Graham White. Their early repertoire included skiffle, rock ‘n’ roll and the odd jazz numbers like Pickin’ My Way. Joining the already established Cherokees proved a master stroke for Brian Sharpe, already a budding guitarist. “They played at the Queens Hall, Newport, on Saturday nights and hundreds turned up. I’d been used to playing to about fifteen people. There was no alcohol served in those days and punters had to nip out to a nearby pub,” reflected Brian.
Later the Cherokees became the Island’s first supergroup, with their legendary line up of Brian Sharpe, Graham Betchley, Crann Davies and Ken Young. They were unique and became both show promoters and the supporting band at the Royal York, Ryde. Their top-of-the-bill acts included Family, Fairport Convention, Moody Blues and Pink Floyd. “Ken Young used to go up to London to book the acts. One day he was offered Gene Vincent, one of our real rock heroes, or an up and coming unknown group who were tipped for big things. We went for Gene and the group we turned down was Led Zeppelin.” Brian and the boys got hold of new singles on a Thursday, rehearsed the songs on the Saturday morning and performed them the same night. On many occasions, the punters heard their covers before the originals from groups like the Beatles. On one memorable occasion in 1964 the Cherokees supported the Rolling Stones at the Ryde Pavilion. The Cherokees made a local EP and sold all 500 copies. Later, as Wilfred, they made an EMI single, Candle in the Wind. They should have made the big time but were happy just to remain local stars and keep their day jobs. When the sheer musical quality of records made them hard to reproduce on stage, plus the emergence of discos, the Cherokees disbanded. Within six months Brian and their lead singer Graham Betchley formed Sharpe and Betchley to play for the new landlord at the Wishing Well, Roger Mazillius. They were in constant demand for many years. Sadly, Graham, one of the finest singers the Island has ever produced, died much too young. Blue Moon, the group of ageless Island rockers who included Brian on lead guitar, had sensational local success and drew the biggest crowd ever to the Ryde Arena. There were estimates of 2,500 present but there were quite a few more than that. Thankfully, there were no health and safety restrictions in the good old days. Brian Sharpe, an inspiration to so many young Island musicians, has never stopped playing. He’s been in Hoggie and the Sharpetones for around 20 years, was a founder member of Island folk-rock band Smoke and Mirrors and is also currently a prominent member of Westward, whose repertoire includes American and British folk music. A few years ago Brian was very ill but he’s made a remarkable recovery, aided by the therapy of his love for music. Within a month he was diagnosed with skin and prostate cancer and then suffered both a heart attack and a minor stroke. “When I was going to hospital following my stroke, I could not even remember my wife’s name. As I was about to leave the house I nipped into my music room to make sure I could still play the guitar.” Brian, in the company of Doug Watson, Keith Roberts and Andy Skelton, will play a night of 60s music at the Lower Hyde Holiday Centre, Shanklin, on Saturday February 11.