The Mullumbimby man who almost played bass for Hendrix

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Stories from a witness to rock greatness.

Alan Escombe lived an incredible life.

He was the bassist of the 1960’s band The Shake Spears, who shared a stage with Pink Floyd, a recording studio with The Rolling Stones and a festival line-up with The Easybeats and The Bee Gees.

Before he died in Mullumbimby in New South Wales in 2015, he recorded more than 200 voice memos.

His son Luke, in collaboration with ABC Local Radio, has crafted them into a radio doco series called Rock and Roll Dad.

Check it out.

In the meantime, here are a couple of the best yarns Luke Escombe unearthed:


Pink Floyd and Paris Riots


It was 1968 and the start of the Paris riots, a violent conflict between students, workers and the military that continued for nearly a month.

The Shake Spears were in Europe to promote a new Hendrix-inspired single 'Burning My Fingers'.

They had just finished playing a support slot for Pink Floyd in Brussells' Louvern City Hall when a riot broke out between the French and Flemish students inside.

“The Flemish guys up on the gallery were throwing metal tables down onto the crowd,” Alan Escombe recalled.

The rioters locked the front doors to keep out the police.  

“We got into the dressing room and we were locked in with the Pink Floyd guys and we could hear the smashing and screaming,” he said.

Eventually, the riot police broke in and stopped the fight.

To quell the crowd the venue owner asked Pink Floyd to get up and play.

“The place was trashed. But Floyd went on, played very dreamy music and I’m sure half the audience were actually stoned.

"So their show was terrific,” Escombe said.


The Jimi Hendrix experience


It was 1969 in Mallorca at a local club called Sgt Peppers.

The house band invited The Shake Spears up to play some Hendrix covers.

As Alan Escombe was leaving the stage, a woman approached and introduced him to a man wearing dark glasses.

He asked Alan if he would be interested in auditioning for Hendrix.  

“I nearly fell flat on my back,” Escombe said.

The man was Michael Jeffery, manager of the Jimi Hendrix Experience.

But the next day, Hendrix was making front pages everywhere for the wrong reasons.

He had been arrested and jailed in Canada for heroin possession.

By the time he was released the window of opportunity for Alan Escombe had closed.

“It was a great disappointment for me that I never got to play with Hendrix,” he said.

“But knowing what I know now I wouldn’t have earned any money. If you read anything ever about Mike Jeffery, the guy totally totally ripped Jimi Hendrix off.”


The Bee Gees (before their voices broke)

It was 1966 in Queensland and The Shake Spears had become the resident band at the Skyline Lounge in Surfers Paradise.

They were also part of the line-up for one of Australia's first great music festivals in southern Queensland in '67, headlined by The Easybeats and Billy Thorpe and the Aztecs.

"But the opening act was three very young kids," said Alan Escombe.

The Bee Gees.

"Even though the kids' voices hadn't broken yet, their harmonies just knocked us out,” he said.

"They were absolutely incredible."

Randy Ashe_Georgie Wood_Alan Escombe_Chris Stone and Martin Piggott at la Grand Place de Bruxelles_1968.jpg
Randy Ashe, Georgie Wood, Alan Escombe, Chris Stone and Martin Piggott at la Grand Place de Bruxelles 1968

Backstage in the Business

In 1978, years after hanging up his bass, Alan Escombe became one of the founding directors of Rock-it Cargo.

The rock and roll freight company worked on some of the biggest tours of all time, including Paul McCartney, the Rolling Stones, Bruce Springsteen, U2, Pink Floyd, and Queen, just to name a few.

"He was part of the team behind Live Aid and although he never returned to [his place of birth] Rhodesia, he helped stage Paul Simon's Graceland concert there,” Luke Escombe said.

"Dad never made it big onstage, but backstage he was a giant."


Credits: Catherine Marciniak in collaboration with Luke Escombe