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Maidstone music pioneer and lead guitarist with The Zephyrs, Eric Snowball, has died

By Alan Smith

A pioneer of the music scene in Maidstone has died.

Eric Snowball passed away at his home in Tonbridge Road, Maidstone, on Thursday, July 3, after a three-year battle with cancer.

He was 77.

Eric Snowball in his shop

He started his working life as an apprentice motor mechanic with Ford dealers Haynes in Maidstone. But in 1957, he became a founder member of the Sharp’s Creamy Toffee Skiffle Group, after the firm’s owner Edward Sharp asked for someone to play at the work’s dance.

In 1959, with the arrival of rock and roll, the band morphed into The Zephyrs and became well known throughout the Maidstone area, arriving at gigs in a converted yellow ambulance. Mr Snowball played lead guitar.

In 1962, they were asked by record producer Joe Meek if they wanted to do a new instrumental song he had, but the band turned it down because it would mean ditching their girl singer Sheila Baker. Their chivalry cost them dearly. Meek gave the record to the Tornadoes instead and Telstar became the first British record to top the American charts as well as spending five weeks at No 1 in Britain.

The Zephyrs: Maurice Reynolds, Les Beresford, Norman Hoskins, Eric Snowball, Sheila Baker and Allan Flood

As their popularity waned, Mr Snowball changed direction and in 1968 opened a music shop called ESE Music in Upper Fant Road, Maidstone. The shop sold sheet music, guitars and amps, but as time passed Mr Snowball found he was increasingly asked to supply sound systems for one-off events.

That led to the establishment of ESE Hire, which ultimately became one of Britain’s leading sound-hire companies.

The firm supplied sound systems for concerts by Charlie Rich, Glen Campbell, The Stylistics, Jerry Lee Lewis, AC/DC, Jeff Beck, The Bay City Rollers and - somewhat incongruously - Vera Lynn and the Royal Philarmonic Orchestra.

The Zephyrs playing at the Kent Candy Ball at the Royal Star Hotel in Maidstone in the 1960s.

His brother Alan Snowball, of Hatherall Road, Maidstone, said: “He was always a very out-going character - and music was his life.”

Mr Snowball leaves wife Margaret and a son Matthew and daughter Katie.

His nephew Ian Snowball is the drummer with Maidstone band Billy Wears Dresses.

There will be a funeral service for Eric Snowball at Vinters Park Crematorium in Bearsted Road, Maidstone, on Monday at 12.30pm.

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