THE PILGRIMS -Telling
Youth, The Truth...
An Interview With Derrick Phillips by Ed Nadorozny
Swinging London , Mods, Carnaby Street etc,
On any given night you could see say The Who, The Birds or countless
other groups playing all over London. One swinging scene going on,
but few people know there was another scene going on all over England.
A Christian beat scene. Bands sprung up all over the country groups
like The Crossbeats & Witnesses from Liverpool, The Persuaders
from Stockport preached the gospel to youth. One of the best of
these Christian beat groups was The Pilgrims. Just for the record,
the members of the group were Don Sanders-Lead Guitar (1962-66)&
Bass (1966-69), Derrick Phillips -Rhythm Guitar(1962-67), Ian Wilkie
-Drums, John Hubbard-Bass(1962-66), Chris King -Vocals & Harmonica
(1962-64) & Tony Goodman - Lead Vocals , Harmonica & Lead
Where were the Pilgrims from?
We lived in south east London; specifically in Lewisham (SE13),
Catford (SE6) and Lee (SE12) originally. When we got married we
started moving out into north Kent (Bromley and Orpington) and,
in fact, Tony originally came from Orpington.
How did you come up with the name of the
I'm not sure which of us hit on the name. It must have been Don,
Ian or me, because we were the original three members. I suspect
it may have been Ian. As for why - it just seemed appropriate for
a Christian group.
Before you started doing Christian songs
what kind of songs were you doing?
I was never in a secular band. Don had played around with a few
guys doing "Shadows" numbers, but I don't think they were
very serious about it. We played Christian songs right from the
start and we didn't even 'borrow' secular tunes. Initially we played
songs found in published Christian songbooks, but we quickly moved
on to writing our own.
Where did you play your first gig?
I can't remember where we played our first gig (must have been significant,
eh?) but I do remember the first practise and what led up to it.
We were at a Friday night youth outreach coffee-bar event in Deptford
(south east London - near the place where Christopher Marlowe was
stabbed) and Don came up to me saying "Guitar in tune? Voice
in tune? We've been thinking about forming a Christian rock group
- would you like to be in it?" The next morning I opened up
the church where I normally went (I had a key) and we got together
to try and play something experimentally. The first song we tried
was "It is no secret" and it worked well enough for us
to continue on from there.
Tell me about the group's development.
The three periods of the group's development were (roughly) - 1961
- 63 "Shadows" style (easy to remember, because I recall
being at a particular place, rehearsing a particular song on the
day JFK was shot) 1964 - 65/6 "Beatles" style 1966- 67
"Rolling Stones" style These dates are not exact, because
we changed gradually as we replaced repertoire with new songs and
dropped older ones. In fact, you will notice from the recordings
you have heard that some songs were recycled into blues versions.
Despite this approximation, you will be able to work out from that
roughly when each song was recorded... it would be impossible to
So what was the song that you practiced
on the night JFK was shot?
The song in question was "I Praise the Lord"... It was
a Shadows influenced number & the distinctive feature we tried
to first time on that song was to put a vocal backing to some of
the instrumental parts. The story is this- we were due to play at
a youth club run by a church in Well Hall, just off the main Dover
road leading out of the south of London. We got there early and
had a time for a bit of extra practice, so finished off that new
song well enough to play it that evening. The evening itself was
just another performance & not particularly memorable but, when
we came out some one told us the news that was just coming through
about the Kennedy assassination. Of course, the events were not
in any way connected but, as many people have said, everyone who
was around on that day remembers where they were when they heard
So how long was the first period group together?
I think it was about 2 years.
Why did Chris King leave the group?
That's a bit embarrassing. In our terms, he was not a Christian
at that time and had been brought into the group to make up a particular
format. Eventually, we had to face the fact that we didn't have
the same aims and had to separate. I guess I was the instigator
of the break and I probably didn't handle it very well. On the other
hand, the outcome was that we were a much closer team and far more
effective musically and spiritually.
Was there a bit of a panic when Chris
No. The previous fashion had a clear 'lead singer' and backup band,
but by that time The Beatles and other Liverpool groups had established
a fashion for harmony and for equal involvement by all group members.
We were already sharing the singing and, as I recall, Chris had
dropped out on several occasions - so it was pretty straightforward
to complete a change that had already begun.
How long was the second phase group together?
There was not such a clear division, as Tony joined the group gradually
and we had a period when we were playing both types of music. Tony
would sing the out-and-out R&B numbers and the rest of us would
play the older songs. The shift progressed bit by bit and some songs
were rearranged into R&B format. John died in 1966 and, by that
time we were already in the 3rd phase apart from the guitar. After
a break Tony took over the lead guitar and the change was complete.
On that calculation, the second phase was a minimum of 2 years and
a maximum of 3. I left in October 1967, so the 3rd phase was 1-2
years (depending where you draw the line).
It must have been a shock to you when
John Hubbard died?
Yes. None of us had experienced a tragedy like that, and it hit
us hard. John looked pretty good the last time most of the group
saw him; but Kathy (my wife) and I visited him on the afternoon
before he died, and he looked worn and tired - with an odd sort
of yellow colouration to his skin. Us two, plus Don and Brenda,
were together that evening at the home of Roger Forster (now a much
respected church leader over here). Ian phoned the house during
the evening to tell us the news and we were speechless. Incidentally,
John was best man at my wedding (40th anniversary next May).
When did Tony Goodman join the Pilgrims? You mentioned he was
already in the group when John Hubbard was still alive.
I'm not sure of the date, but it was not long before John died.
He joined because of his particular skills (singing and harmonica)
and his 'feel' for blues music and he easily fitted into the group.
I guess we had about 6 months with both Tony and John in the group.
How did Tony find the group? Did he go
to the same church as The Pilgrims? Was he a friend of one of the
Tony was cousin to Ian's wife and he was also at the church where
Don & Brenda Sanders used to go when they lived in their first
married home (Orpington).
What kind of clubs did you play?
Well, yeah, there was a place called the Alphabet, which was a pretty
notorious at the time. I'm trying to remember the names of some
of these places, you know years go by and you forget. Most of them
would never have been heard of now, but there was one in Waldorf
Street that I ought to remember because it was...yeah, we played
the 2i's, which was quite a small coffee bar. It was famous in it's
own way because it was the place where Cliff Richard had been discovered
earlier on, but in fact it was a pretty pokey place, and whilst
it had a reputation because of that it was very, very small. That
was in old Compton Street, one of the main parts of the Soho area.
Then of course there were places elsewhere in the country.
Did you ever play at The Catacombs in
Do you remember any of the other Christian
groups The Pilgrims would have played with?
We played a few with The Envoys. That was Geoff Shearn's band. He
later started Musical Gospel Outreach together with Pete Meadows.
MGO would put Christian beat concerts on and give advice on how
to start Christian beat groups etc.
How about the Crossbeats, did you ever
play with them?
Yeah , they were a Pentecostal group from Liverpool.
(Derrick later commented that he had mixed the
Crossbeats up with a London group)
(Later correction after finding a poster listing The Crossbeats and The Pilgrims at the same event.
"Yes, the two groups did play at the same event, but that was after I'd left the group.")
Did The Pilgrims ever do any shows with
The Joy Strings?
We never played with them, but we met them. There was an occasion
when we were helping them set up for a Youth in Christ rally in
our area and I remember helping one of them find his way out of
London as well - me on my motorbike leading him in his MGB sports
car. So we came across them. Joy Webb is the only one I remember
because her name was given the publicity.
Apparently The Salvation Army got tired
of backing The Joy Strings & they were forced to break up.
Yeah... well I think they were almost an accidental phenomenon.
I got the impression that they were more of a response to the publicity
than self-driven. In other words a bit like Dominque... The Singing
Nun. Once the press got a hold of a story they pushed it and so
it was developed in response to that pressure whereas it didn't
have an in-built pressure. Whereas we would have carried on whatever
the press thought because we wanted to do it.
How did you manage to get on Herald Records?
It was, I think, the editor of what used to be a Christian newspaper,
The Sunday Companion, that's what it was, who.... I can't remember
how we linked up with him, probably through a PR piece or something
like that but he linked up us with Herald and that's how that come
What was it like recording at Herald's
Well they had a studio in North London, somewhere around Acton,
and it was not the most state-of-the-art of studios even at that
time but nevertheless it was what existed and we did that particular
record "Heavens the Place for Me", which sold pretty well.
There was an attempt at a later one, but we got more adventurous
with the music style but they never dared release it.
A bit to wild for them or.... ?
I think so. It was much more "gospelly" in the sense that
you use 'gospel music' to describe a musical style and I think they
were too uncomfortable to release such a thing in England at that
Was the later stuff with Tony Goodman
recorded at the same place?
No. All the later stuff was recorded privately. One session was
done at a studio at Elim Bible College, which was actually quite
a good studio. And all of that was managed at the time by a chap
named Roger Hurrell who had been in a folk band called "Roger,
Jan & Michael" at one time (sort of a Peter , Paul &
Mary trio). Roger had a good ear. He managed to get hold of the
use of that studio down in Surrey one time. That was quite a well-equipped
studio as I say.
Then there was another set of tracks we did somewhere around Putney
in London, where we just hired the studio and put together some
demo stuff. None of that was ever released.
You never tried having any other labels
to release them?
Well didn't try very hard, shall we say. We did try a little bit
going to the major labels, the obvious ones like Decca and EMI,
but they were not interested in Christian music.
What about the rumour you met Princess
I hadn't forgotten that one, but it didn't come to mind when we
were talking before. A new Anglican church building was being opened
on the Old Kent Road in south London. To give you a sense of where
the Old Kent Road fits in British tradition, it is the lowest priced
square on British versions of the 'Monopoly' board game! This particular
building was pretty adventurous architecture for its time (a circular
design) and the vicar decided to make a special event of the opening,
with an appropriately modern service and a high profile personality
to pronounce the official opening. He wrote to Buckingham Palace
asking for a royal representative and they agreed to send Princess
Margaret and her then husband, Anthony Armstrong-Jones. The vicar
also decided to seek out a rock group to accompany the music and
The Pilgrims was his chosen target. We tried to turn him down, saying
we were more interested in clubs and secular venues than churches...
after all, we viewed our role as evangelism; but he was not the
kind of guy you turn down easily, and he eventually won us over.
Of course, rock music in church was pretty
controversial stuff in those days, so this became a newsworthy item.
The evening papers that day splashed it over the front pages under
headlines like "Princess rocks 'em in the Old Kent Road".
In fact, the service was even debated on the popular BBC radio programme,
"Women's Hour" in the next week, with the 'against' argument
being put by the then Countess of Dartmouth ("How terrible
to bring that kind of music into a church"!). Remember, we
were in different times back then, and titles still counted for
something. We were never asked to appear on that program to explain
our side of the story.
Did anything go wrong at the shows?
You bet! However, it would be impossible to recall the little things
after all this time. We broke strings, we had at least one power
cut in the middle of a performance, and I remember one outdoor performance
at a barbecue when our amps started picking up radio broadcasts.
The two strongest memories of things 'going wrong' were occasions
when church leaders popped up in the middle of our performance and
started complaining about the music. The kids loved it, of course,
but these guys didn't want the kids to enjoy the gospel! Holiness
is supposed to be boring, didn't you know?
So how many gigs would you play a week?
Generally a couple. Then sometimes we'd do a longer weekend or we'd
go off during our holiday times for a week here or there, or a complete
fortnight somewhere. We did a long session up in Gateshead (that's
near Newcastle), a couple of years running. We did a couple of weeks
in Ireland that I referred to earlier, and that got to be pretty
exciting because this was something that went completely NOT to
plan. I don't know if you've heard this story. Someone had organized
to set up a coffee bar, a Christian coffee bar as it was supposed
to be in Dun Laoghaire (pronounced Dunleerey), just outside Dublin.
The first night there was a riot and the police closed it down.
And so there we were for two weeks and so we scratched our heads
and said, "What shall we do?" and walked down to the local
disco club and said, "You can have a free group if you want."
They took us in and it was a huge success. Then we went round a
lot of different clubs in Dublin for the rest of the time. It was
far more successful than it would be if it had gone to plan.
Do you remember any other funny stories, shows that went crazy
or bad or...?
Well, none spring into mind but there was a series of very successful
shows. When Musical Gospel Outreach got going, which was largely
driven by Pete Meadows and Geoff Shearn, they staged a number of
shows in which there were a series of bands. A lot of those were
very effective and drew large crowds. By that time the Christian
music scene was beginning to come together and it was no longer
a matter of bands not knowing one another, we did know one another
and so it was a bit more deliberate. Some of those were very effective.
I guess that was nearly the end of our time but in a sense it was
the beginning of the Christian music scene in a more coordinated
fashion. And yeah, we learned to perform perhaps a little bit more
professionally. You'd organize your numbers so you could get the
audience reaction you wanted. But that was definitely a change by
that time. Then there were a couple that were organized at the Westminster
Central Hall. I don't know if that means anything to you but it's
the Central Methodist Chapel in England, opposite Westminster Abbey.
Now you've certainly heard of Westminster Abbey? Well the Central
Hall seats about two and a half thousand and that was done a couple
of times where we used it as a showcase for what Christian music
was trying to do and get the Church behind us much more. So it was
done just as a 2 part show, partly to play the music, but partly
to show what we were aiming to do. And show us off as if we were
in a normal beat club setting, and it did get a lot more support
behind what was going on.
How were the crowds? Was the audience
receptive or did you have anywhere you got a cold response?
No, it was generally quite warm actually. For one thing, we'd learnt
to major on the enthusiasm, you know, to really play our hearts
out and people responded to that. And this was because of the...by
that time we'd already had several years behind us, and got the
confidence to do it. But no, generally they were appreciative. Okay,
they knew we were preaching at 'em but at least we were trying to
do it in their own language.
I was just asking because you're a Christian
group and you're playing to a secular crowd and might get a cold
Not generally no. It wasn't generally cold. In fact there was one
session, and this was not one of my times, this was actually in
Out of Darkness (successors to The Pilgrims). Ian Wilkie was telling
me about this a couple of months ago - when they were playing one
of the, if I can remember the name. There was quite a well-known
place down the Waldorf Street - yes, it was the Marquee Club - and
there was another band on that got booed off, but Out of Darkness
were very much appreciated. The only thing is the other band had
a major hit a couple of weeks later. You remember Mungo Jerry? In
the Summertime? That's right. They're the ones. (laughter)
NB: Later correction, thanks to Tim Anderson of "Out of Darkness"
- the club wasn't the Marquee, but The Flamingo Club.
Of course the thing is, we were not relying
on it for a living and we had got a few years behind us. By that
time we'd actually become quite a reasonable standard, and I suppose
you could say that a lot of these clubs didn't get a reasonable
standard because once people got to a reasonable standard, they
were out for big money. So we were often up against groups who weren't
as good as us. Because the ones who were as good as us weren't affordable.
And you take the comparison. It's not that we were the most brilliant
people in the world, but we were playing in a context where they
usually didn't get very good people so someone who was reasonably
competent was probably going to go down quite well.
So you talked about playing in Scotland,
what was that like?
I'm trying to remember any particular gigs. I'm sure we did go across
the border but...we definitely did. But there's nothing that stands
out as being exceptional up there.
One club kind of looks the same after
Well, you remember things by who you met and whether anything unusual
happened rather than particular...I mean occasionally I'll be in
an area and I'll think, "Oh, we played there." But otherwise
I've not remembered it. Other places stand out because they were
exceptional. There was one. One thing that stands out that wasn't
to do with the band directly but do you remember a chap called Nigel
Goodwin? Well, Nigel used to be with us quite a lot. I remember
being struck on the journey back from Bradford on one occasion when
(and this was in the days when the motorways were still fairly new.
There weren't a lot of them). He was travelling back with us and
it was notable because every time we went into one of these places
he found someone to witness to in the motorway service station,
in the toilet. (laughter) But he was so free and comfortable with
his witness that he really stood out.
Did you ever meet any groups like when
you'd stop and get something to eat after a show?
Yeah, we met the Searchers on one occasion if you remember the Searchers?
In Newport Pagnell. I mean it was just sort of a "hi guys"
no deep sort of social relationships or anything like that, but
we met them. And, I can't particularly remember any others. Oh yeah,
we remember the Pretty Things. There was a chap from the Pretty
Things who came with us on a couple of gigs. He had been the drummer.
Yeah, that's right, yeah. He came with us on a couple of gigs back
then. I think he was just on his way out of them at the time.
NB: Later correction, thanks to Tim Anderson of "Out of Darkness"
- Not Viv Prince, but Viv Broughton.
He took an interest in "The Pilgrims" and in "Out of Darkness". In later life he was David Bowie's drummer.
So it must have been about '66 or so?
Yeah, that would have been the ticket. I remember him in the van
How did you manage to get him? How did
he find you guys?
I can't remember. I think we ran into him at a club or something
like that, and got chatting as you do after we were much of an age.
It wasn't an obvious mix.
You meet strange people sometimes.
Oh, we met people who were a lot stranger than that.
I'll tell you I had an experience last year.
I've got a website I do called RSD alert. This is to do with a chronic
pain condition that I got after I broke my arm. And I had a doctor
write to me because he'd got a particular patient who got this condition
called RSD and he was from up North somewhere. Having asked his
questions to do with the particular problem his patient had got
he said, "And by the way weren't you in the Pilgrims?"
He'd remembered my name from when he was a thirteen-year-old boy
and we'd been playing in his church all those years ago!
You mentioned doing a lot of gospel youth
rallies, what would one be like?
Gospel youth rallies tended to be run by organizations (like "Youth
for Christ") who had their own pattern for the meetings, so
we would just fit in with them. In those settings we normally did
one of two sets of 2-4 songs in the middle of the meeting / rally.
Would you have a speaker, then the group
would play? Did you preach between songs?
We varied the way we performed, depending on the venue. Sometimes
we would play a club and just churn out solid music - by the end
we always got the chance to speak with people individually. Other
times we would play an on stage concert and introduce the songs
individually. Sometimes we would take church services or church
youth meetings and lead up to a sermon or epilogue. We were taken
aback when we played a beat club in Ireland and came to the end
of our session, only to have the proprietor ask who was going to
give the epilogue! Naturally, we took the opportunity enthusiastically!
When you mention being an enthusiastic group, did you jump around
a lot? Even today. I can't stand still when I'm playing! We jigged
around quite a bit and sometimes we would deliberately act it up.
I recall one concert on Weymouth pier where we started by jumping
off a higher section of the stage as soon as they opened the curtains
on us. We were conscious of the need to perform as well as to play
music. On of the club proprietors once gave us a piece of good advice;
he said, "You play your hearts out and the kids will give you
the attention... in fact they'll sit on the floor and listen to
you once you have got their respect"
What was your typical set like? Any instrumentals?
As we went along we learned to program the music more effectively
and in relation to the venue. In a beat club, it was essential to
grab attention as quickly as possible, so we would start with a
raver. In a concert, the audience was sitting down and listened
from the start, so we needed to develop a rapport - in that context,
it made sense to start slow, then break out into upbeat numbers.
Apart from the 'breaks' within songs, we never did instrumentals.
Did you have a favorite song?
My favorite song? That's hard, but I reckon the one I have messed
around with most over the years has been "Don't you think it's
time", which is a classic 12-bar blues number and does appear
on the CD. We probably never played it the same twice, which was
part of the pleasure of it; it was a tune for live jamming and each
audience got a unique version of us playing it from the heart. Probably
the most remembered of the Pilgrims' songs is "Heaven's the
place for me", partly because of the single made from version
1 of it, and partly because the revamped R&B version was so
energetic and joyful. I guess you could call that my second favourite.
When you left the group was it a mutual
decision or were you surprised?
I was surprised, though perhaps I ought not to have been. The time
was right, but the other guys faced the issue before I did and had
the guts to talk about it frankly. I had moved out to a village
near Dartford (Kent) and was getting more and more involved in the
local church. Soon after I left the group the circumstances changed
in that church and I found myself as one of the key leaders. It
would not have been possible to continue in the group and do that.
I was only surprised because I hadn't spotted the signs. I regretted
leaving, but it was also time to move on. The next period of my
life was also very exciting as we were working in a small church
in Kent and experienced something very close to what the evangelicals
call "revival". I never forget those times in The Pilgrims
and they had a lasting effect on my life. I am back into the music
now and making good use of that background experience.
One last thing... At the first MGO concert
in the Westminster Central Hall (1966?) our dear friend Nigel Goodwin
introduced The Pilgrims as "Not only the best Christian group,
but also the "LOUDEST !" - For a largely forgotten band
that's a lovely memory to look back on!
THIS INTERVIEW WAS ORIGINALLY
POSTED BY ED NADOROZNY AND IS USED BY PERMISSION.