The Star Palast in Kiel, Germany, was a big club in a converted cinema with a dance floor surrounded by comfortable seating arranged in open booths. The hours were longer than they’d been used to, especially at weekends, but there was no setting up or travelling to do which evened things out. On one occasion though, when another band was held up by bad weather, the Prowlers had to play from 6pm until about 3 or 4am next morning, 45 minutes on and 15 minutes off. “We were on our knees,” says Dave.
During January, one of the bands they shared the stage with was led by piano playing rocker Freddie Fingers Lee whose bass player Ian Hunter later found fame as front man with Mott the Hoople. “We became good friends and they started to write a song for us,” Dave recalls, “but weren’t able to finish it before they moved on.” Goldie and the Gingerbreads, a great all-girl American band, were there for a week while their work permits for the UK were sorted out.
Phil remembers that the German audiences seemed quieter than those at home. “They were just as appreciative and friendly but they showed it in a different way.” The band quickly built a solid following and was surprised that the same fans were prepared to come and see them 6 or 7 nights a week. “They were quick to complain if we were sent to another Star Palast club even for a couple of nights,” he recalls.
At the end of the month, having been asked to return in April and July, they played at an arts festival in Hamburg, described by Dave as “a bit weird but great fun.” The band was being filmed for German TV when someone fired a tear-gas pistol and the hall had to be cleared quickly.
Back in the UK in February 1965, a homecoming dance had been arranged at Birkenhead Technical College with two supporting bands. Ian admits that they were apprehensive after being away for what seemed such a long time but the hall was soon filled to capacity with a large crowd still waiting outside. Even with police on the door it was decided to let in more than was normally allowed. Even so quite a number of latecomers were turned away. “As the curtains opened we were hit by this wave of screaming that didn’t let up the whole time we were on stage,” says Phil. “We came off soaked, exhausted and very happy. It felt great to be back.”
There was no time to get used to being home because the Prowlers were booked to start a tour of Scotland. It was one of two or three that they undertook that year, playing in many towns and cities, Edinburgh, Dundee, Stirling, Aberdeen and Frazerburgh amongst them. “Sometimes,” says Dave, “we would arrive at a small village and think where are they going to find enough people to make it worthwhile, but special buses would bring them in from outlying villages and the local hall would be bursting at the seams with a crowd of 400 - 500. The hospitality was great because out in the sticks they really appreciated a band making the effort to come and play for them.” In the towns the Prowlers played the usual mix of dance halls and clubs, on one occasion opening for Manfred Mann in Stirling to a crowd of over 2000. Days later they shared the bill with fellow Merseysiders The Swinging Blue Jeans.
The Prowlers were now playing all around the UK, building up a steady following. They went down particularly well in the Birmingham area where there were some good clubs and they were regular visitors all through 1965. “We nearly missed a weekend of shows in Dublin,” Ian told me, “when we got fogged in heading for the boat at Holyhead. We had to fly from Liverpool next morning with all our equipment on a smallish plane which put a big dent in our profits. There were a lot of nuns on board all saying their rosaries so we figured we were safe.”
The band played Ellesmere Port Civic Hall during this period and got a riotous reception with singer Alan Davies being pulled of stage at one point. “I did my best to hang onto him” laughs Dave, “because it was a high stage and he could have been hurt. Besides we needed him for the following night!!” The Ellesmere Port Pioneer reported that officials had to push the girls back off the stage and the show was held up until order was restored. The Prowlers were asked back to the Civic many times, always getting a tremendous reception from a capacity crowd.
After two months of local work mixed with dates around the UK, the Prowlers set off once more for Kiel in April ‘65. It was good to see the German fans again who were equally pleased to have this popular band back at the Star Palast. This time they were approached by both Philips and Polydor Records who wanted to sign them but this would have meant being based in Germany. “This was something we didn’t want to do because we felt that our future was in the UK.” Phil remembers. “The Star Palast wanted to take over our management which was tempting in some ways because they were prepared to put a lot of money behind us but again, we said no because we didn’t want to stay in Germany long term.”
Screaming Lord Sutch and the Savages appeared for a week during April and the two bands became friendly. Ian remembers their totally crazy stage act starting with Sutch bursting out of a coffin and leaping into the crowd with a toilet seat around his neck. “We got a bit of a shock when we walked into the darkened band room on the first day and found a coffin sitting there.” Phil got pretty anxious one night when the Savages lead guitarist borrowed his guitar then left it propped up near a fire they lit on the stage.
Returning to the UK the Prowlers made another demo record, a song mostly written by Alan and Dave with contributions from the rest of the band. It was called “I Believe to My Soul” a pounding rocker with “You Don’t Own Me” on the B side. The recording was made at Northampton Sound Studios which gave them an opportunity to meet up with Freddie Fingers Lee and Ian Hunter as this was their home town.
The band continued with their UK one-nighters and another Scottish tour. The van broke down in the country one Saturday on the way to Stirling. Dave Marsden, the Prowlers’ roadie, asked at a farm if there was a bus they could get and was told one would be along in ten minutes. When asked what time the next one would be, he was told next Tuesday! “We pushed the van into the farmyard, grabbed our guitars and ran like hell,” says Ian “and we just managed to catch it. We scrounged amps and drums at the gig from the support band.”
July ’65 found the Prowlers back in Germany once more, playing mostly at the Kiel club. By now they were beginning to tire of these repeated month long trips. Although very popular and with a solid fan base, they were beginning to think that time spent away from the UK was holding up their progress there. To finish this last tour the band was asked to open a new Star Palast club in Oldenberg, a well-appointed club with an appreciative audience that made a fitting end to the series of German trips which had seen the Prowlers playing in Kiel, Hamburg, Eckernforde, Luneberg and Rensberg.
During the rest of the summer and into the autumn the band was travelling and working as usual but they were becoming frustrated at some of the venues to which their agency was sending them. Some were more like cabaret clubs, where older audiences expected smartly-suited clean-cut bands playing catchy pop songs. “This wasn’t us,” said Ian emphatically, “and so we played these places once and didn’t go back. There was nothing wrong with them, or us, we just weren’t suited to each other.”
Frustration with lack of progress was beginning to set in as Christmas 1965 approached, with none of the Prowlers quite sure what could be done about it. They were each contracted to their manager/agency for a further 4 years and a release for the whole band wasn’t an option.
A few weeks before Christmas 1965 Dave decided to leave and couldn’t be persuaded otherwise. Asked many years later why he left he said that it was due mainly to differences in musical direction mixed with disappointment that the Prowlers hadn’t become as successful nationally as they were both locally and in some other areas of the UK, something not possible without an all-important hit record stimulating demand. Dave wasn’t replaced immediately and the band rearranged its set to suit the remaining four. A few weeks later singer Alan Davies left abruptly and the Prowlers had to rethink their future.