MATT AYRES speaks to the engaging Pete Fryer about the life and times of his cover band entertaining crowds over five decades

Pete Fryer might not be Oxfordshire’s most famous rock star, but his covers band has been rocking venues around the county since before Radiohead or Supergrass were old enough to pick up guitars. Forty-five years on from the formation of the motley troupe who now call themselves The Legendary Pete Fryer Band, this Florence Park estate lad’s lifelong passion continues to be shared with a loyal audience most weekends.

“Steamroller are probably the only local band who have been going longer,” the 64-year-old chuckles. “I used to go and see them when I was a kid! They’re personal heroes of mine, still going at it into their 70s.”

Both bands share similar musical styles – blues and rock are what “The Legend” is best known for nowadays. “That’s what the fans want to hear,” he explains. “Songs from back in the day, from the likes of The Rolling Stones, The Beatles, Jimi Hendrix, Van Morrison.”

This hasn’t always been the case – when Pete and his brother Phil (“The Maestro”) first started the band together in 1965, aged 15 and 14 respectively, they were playing “a mixture of soul and pop.” Having broadened their tastes throughout the decades, the band also went through a punk phase in the ‘70s, during which they covered the likes of Iggy Pop, The Sex Pistols and The Clash. Gigging during such a dynamic musical era was a catalyst for mayhem, as Pete grew to develop his lively stage presence. “In the early days I was known for jumping off speakers and swinging from the ceilings!” he grins.

Although he’s older and wiser nowadays, Pete is still known for bringing riotous revelry to shows wherever they’re booked. “We’re a party band,” says Pete. “We try to do covers in a different way, a more enjoyable way. We give people a good time and try to involve the audience. We try to play requests if it’s someone’s birthday, and if someone wants to join in or play guitar we encourage that as well.”

In the 21st century, you’ll most commonly find the guys (and girl – Phil’s partner Sue Smith has played bass in the band ever since hitching a ride to Radley in the Fryers’ van back in 1968) whipping up a whisky and ale fuelled frenzy in village pubs, as well as at private parties for birthdays and weddings. Even more recently, the band have become regulars at The Wheatsheaf, taking centre stage for an acoustic night on the last Thursday of every month.

“We’ve found a new audience at The Wheatsheaf; it’s become one of my favourite local venues,” says Pete. “People passing by the alleyway at that time of night on a Thursday tend to be in the 18-30 age bracket, which is a lot younger than the crowds we’re used to playing to. We also get tourists from the city centre, who are often on the look out for some live music. They’re coming in and really enjoying it.”

A particularly special performance will take place on August 24, when the band return to the Florence Park Community Centre on Cornwallis Road for the first time since their inaugural gig in 1966. This will be a great chance to catch the living legends as they remember those early gigs in Oxford, and look forward to the many that are still to come.

LIVEL: The Legendary Pete Fryer Band play at the Florence Park Community Centre on August 24. Entry is £3 on the door, £5 families. Proceeds to Community Centre funds.