News reaches me of the death, aged ninety-one, of Charlie Watkins, an adorable and modest man. Charlie's contribution to the UK music industry was immense. In August 1967, he launched the first WEM P.A. system with hi-fi quality at the National Jazz, Pop, Ballads & Blues Festival at Royal Windsor racecourse. It had a basic starting power of 1,000 watts: 'unheard-of since Hitler's Nuremberg rallies,' Charlie said. That occasion marked a watershed for live music, from which Peter Green's Fleetwood Mac, the Small Faces, the Move, Cream, Jeff Beck, Donovan and Denny Laine would benefit greatly on the day, and to which much is owed by live touring bands to this day.
Charlie's fascination with the guitar, its mechanics and its electronic reproduction paved the way to the first Watkins 'Westminster' guitar amps. In 1958, the 'Copicat' Echo and 'V'-fronted Dominator amps revolutionised music overnight. Charlie's amp is still regarded as an important element in Sounds of the Sixties chemistry - the other two being the Vox A.C. 30, and the Fender Strat. WEM P.A. made possible all those fabled early festivals, from the Isle of Wight to the Stones in the Park. Charlie is revered as 'the Father of the British P.A.'
'The curtain lifted on a new world of music,' he said to me, when I interviewed him for my book 'Ride a White Swan: The Lives & Death of Marc Bolan': Charlie was a long-cherished friend of Marc and his wife June.
'Multi-thousand audiences were now practical, possible, desirable and certainly available. And they could at last hear! Now, all these brilliant young musicians could emerge and do their thing. Backline gear could be mic'd up to help it all along. The singer could be heard for miles. The rest is their history.'
Charlie was enchanted by the coincidence that my beloved maternal grandfather was also called Charles Watkins. Both saw active naval service, playing the accordion throughout.
Remembering them with love on this Armistice Day.