A WELL-KNOWN Worcester promoter will bring the curtain down on 40 years in the industry when The Searchers take to the stage at Huntingdon Hall on Sunday (April 23).
Observer editor Rob George took a trip down memory lane with John Banner and found out more about his career, his passion for the music of Jerry Lee Lewis and following in the footsteps of Tina Turner and Frank Sinatra….
“DO I WANT to stop? No not really. I don’t feel like I want to stop but there is no real reason while I can’t after a 12 month sabbatical say ‘oh let’s have another go!”
It’s not the greatest line you want to hear in an interview when your subject is supposed be reflecting on their career before stepping away from their passion.
But when John Banner confesses he ‘semi-retired’ in 1969 and then’ semi-semi retired’ before ‘semi-semi-semi retiring’ you get an insight into the unique thought process which has seen the former RGS pupil promote some of music’s biggest names.
His annual St George’s Day concerts at Huntingdon Hall are annual fixtures on Worcester’s music calendar and has seen a huge amount of cash raised for a variety of good causes since 2004.
The RNLI, St Richard’s Hospice, St Clement’s Church, Acorns Children’s Hospice and Help for Heroes are just some of the good causes who have benefited from the celebration of England’s patron saint over the years.
And now The Searchers, icons of the Merseybeat music scene will be on hand for what could be the final concert put on by the promoter who turns 75 this month.
But why is the self-confessed Jerry Lee Lewis fanatic and lover of the music of the 50s and 60s calling it a day?
“Top of the list I thought well I’m 75 and you’ve got to stop sometime or other so this is probably as good a time as any,” he told the Observer.
“I’d rather go out on top because it’s becoming increasingly difficult to sell tickets to concerts.
“But the real reason is I have property and properties including my shop in Malvern which are need of some TLC and refurbishing and I thought with the time I put in to these concerts I don’t get time to do much else,” he added.
Over four decades, the impresario has helped bring some of music’s biggest names to the area.
But promoting was in the blood from the age of 12 when a young John Banner organised a fund-raiser at the Leigh and Bransford Memorial Hall.
“We made seven shilling and sixpence profit which doesn’t sound a lot but when I tell you I started work in 1957, cause that concert was in 1954, at St John’s Bakers Television I earned 35 shillings a week,” he said.
Running football team Leigh United inspired Banner to put groups on at the hall to raise money for the team.
Among those to take to the stage were the Ravons who only weeks before had appeared on Opportunity Knocks with the late Hughie Green.
It was after John ‘semi-retired’ as a TV engineer in 1969 that he indulged his passion for music full time and began four decades of ‘wonderful memories’.
“I remember standing on the stage at the Coppertops with Frank Ifield and he put his arm round me and thanked me for helping to still bring him over from Australia,” John said.
“He then said it was nice I remembered he was one of the very few artists who have knocked the Beatles off Number One.
“There aren’t many people who can say that and they are stood with their arm around your shoulder,” he added.
John proudly hailed the Johnny Cash Roadshow, a showcase by local musician Clive John which has been seen across Europe but was conceived in Worcester.
“Clive put on an evening at the Marrs Bar and I went to see it. A few days before Elton John had been on at New Road, a very atmospheric concert,” John said
“I stood watching Clive perform as Johnny Cash and had the same feeling as watching Elton John. I think Clive is a genius at what he does.
But it’s memories of The Killer which stir the soul and provoke another amazing anecdote.
“My favourite memory has to be stood on the same stage as Jerry Lee Lewis because I have helped promote him whenever he’s been in this country,” he said.
John became involved with promoter Jim Driver who was helping promote the American music icon in the UK which allowed him to showcase his devotion in a unique way.
“I could have got a ticket for free but just to show I was going to make the concert work I brought myself a proper ticket for one of his shows,” he said.
“This was at Gleneagles in 2005 and the tickets for me and my girlfriend were £299 each!
“At £299 a ticket you weren’t going to be there unless you are a fanatic,” he added.
In retirement, John said he hoped to visit the home of Graham Knight, Jerry Lee Lewis’ English/Scottish minder who looks after him when he is in the UK, which is full of memorabilia to The Killer.
“My other wish is to visit Jerry Lee Lewis’ ranch in America,” he added,
But will Banner bring the curtain down on a career spanning forty years?
With a typical glint in his eye, he said: “I could do a Tina Turner and Frank Sinatra and retire umpteen times!”
One suspects there may once again be an Invitation to Your Party sooner rather than later.
• Tickets for the show are £23 each and available from the Huntingdon Hall Box Office on 01905 611427 or online at www.worcesterlive.co.uk