It was always a big debate in the band as to whether we should go out of our way to entertain the upper classes. After all, it was the 1980s and our thing was usually to support workers through benefit gigs – the miners, the ambulance workers, Nicaragua Solidarity Campaign, CND, Anti Apartheid, the Artificial Limb Worker’s dispute and so on. We even did Marxism ’87 at the Derbyshire miners holiday camp in Skegness, but that’s another story..
However this was a ‘charity ball’ taking place at a manor house in Sussex on Lord such-and-such’s country estate, and as we were always up for an adventure, we sad ‘yes’.
We arrived at the venue, a posh catered affair, big marquee set up in the grounds, white linen tablecloths, beautifully decorated tables, nice big stage and professional PA, generator and lighting provided. As the guests arrived we soon started being spotted by a few celebs, actors off the telly, politicians and such.
But who did we spot in the crowd?, none other than Mick Jagger of the Rolling Stones and his then wife Jerry Hall.
We were introduced. Jerry Hall wanted to announce the band and asked me what she should say. I explained that we were the Forest Hill Billies, bringing to you our version of ska, rockabilly and country-skiffle all the way from Forest Hill, South East London and that you could introduce us as such. I remember asking her to repeat what I had told her, just to make sure, and she seemed to have it off-pat.
When the time came for us to play we asked her up on stage for the introduction. For some unknown reason she just howled out “woooh oooh oooh!”, completely forgetting the previously rehearsed lines.
Marian says: “This was a great night – the power generator also broke down mid set and we did an acoustic version of Your Cheatin’ Heart while it was being fixed. Jerry Hall had a hole in her tights and Colleen and I bummed fags off her all night. She smoked menthol.”
Still, apart from a problem with the generator half way through the set, the gig went great, with the ‘Billies on fine form, especially our singers Marian and Amanda.
Amanda says: “I remember the run in the tights, sitting on the stairs chatting with Mick Jagger and lots of champagne. Wasn’t it Jerry Hall’s birthday?“
We spent the rest of the evening chatting with Mick Jagger on the sofa in the sumptiously decorated manor house drawing-room. He came across as a regular Dartford-born chap, unpretentious, friendly, modest, and a lover of good music. He told us he and Jerry had greatly enjoyed the show and gave us many kind words of encouragement.
As an added bonus to the evening, while were packing our gear into the van, the catering crew gave us a few crates of left-over Bollinger Champagne to take back to South East London, which we were to enjoy, just like the upper-classes, in Forest Hill for weeks to come.