A Brief History of The Rough Diamonds

The Rough Diamonds evolved out of a weekly acoustic jam session held in The Dolphin pub in Robin Hood’s Bay, on the North Yorkshire coast. Steve had moved to the bay in June 1990 and within a few months started joining in at the session at The Dolphin. He noticed that when there was a particular group of musicians present – Phil Moore on piano, Chris Parkinson on accordion, Charles O’Connor on fiddle and mandolin and Brian Smith on snare drum – something special happened – it started to sound like a band !

All that was missing was a bass player. This little problem resolved itself because when gigging in the Lincoln area during the 1980s Steve had become acquainted with Kevin Butler, bass player with the Bamboo Beat Band, who was planning to move to Whitby to run a B&B business and was keen to join the fledgling Rough Diamonds as by 1992 they were planning to do some paid gigs.

The original Rough Diamonds line-up: left to right, Kevin Butler, Steve, Brian Smith, Phil Moore, Chris Parkinson and Charles O’Connor

The band released its first CD in 1995. Been A Long Time Gone was recorded at Steve’s studio in Robin Hood’s Bay. Charles O’Connor eventually left the band to be replaced for a time by Steve’s old friend, Kevin Conlon, who did a couple of short tours with the band playing lap steel guitar.

As the band grew in confidence and extended its repertoire, it was decided to become a five piece outfit, a situation which continued until 1997 when Brian had to leave the band due to poor health. His replacement was Jack Gibson who played in a celidh band with Phil and, like Brian, preferred playing with brushes which better suited the band’s style of music. This line-up released the band’s second CD, Everyone A Gem, in 2000.

The Rough Diamonds, mark 2: left to right, Kevin Butler, Chris Parkinson, Phil Moore and Jack Gibson

Throughout the 1990s, the band kept on doing informal weekly Tuesday night sessions at various venues in the Whitby area. In 1999, The Grosvenor in Robin Hood’s Bay acquired a music license so it was decided to move the Tuesday night sessions there where it continues to the present growing in reputation year by year. One of the frequent visitors was Steven Ayckbourn, a friend of Dr Rock the DJ who has been a long-time champion of Steve and the Rough Diamonds. After a couple of years, Steven asked if he could bring his portable Sony recorder along to the sessions and try some live recordings. He was able to capture brilliantly the sound of the band using just one microphone on a front table. In all, eight consecutive Tuesday sessions were recorded, the best tracks being released on the live Grosvenor Sessions CD in 2008.

The period at The Grosvenor has seen various comings and goings in the band. During the 1990s, Kevin had been diagnosed with MS but had manged to to cope reasonably well physically but then suffered a relapse and was unable to work for several months. Steve knew of a rockabilly slap bass player, Mick Wheeler, who was living at nearby Ravenscar.

For the next few years Mick helped out when Kevin was unavailable and a blues pianist, Gin Saw, from York had moved to the Robin Hood’s Bay area and guested with the band when Phil was unavailable. It was also necessary to seek out a deputy drummer as Jack goes on an annual sojourn to Spain and Parker Semmons, who had been in The Bop Street Cadillacs with Mick Wheeler, stood in for the absent Jack. Mick and Parker eventually formed another band, The Tritones, so it became necessary to find a new bass player as by this time Kevin had already moved back to the Lincoln area.

A Rough Diamonds rogues gallery: from left to right, Jack Gibson, Phil Moore, Mick Wheeler, Gin Saw, Kevin Butler, Parker Semmons, Steve, and Chris Parkinson

During the 1980s, Steve had got to know Burt Sawdon who plays anything with strings on it ! Burt also grew up with Gin Saw in the Malton area and the two were at school together. Burt had stopped gigging in recent years due to a heavy workload in his job as a technical engineer but fortunately decided it was high time he walked the boards again. As well as playing bass, Burt occasionally brings his fiddle to gigs.


‘The Rough Diamonds’

play a residency every Tuesday night at

’The Grosvenor Hotel’,

Robin Hood’s Bay, North Yorkshire.

Tel: 01947 880 320