Published: 00:01, 25 February 2017
When the words Dartford and music are mentioned in the same sentence The Rolling Stones spring immediately to most people’s minds.
But a lesser known piece of the town’s musical heritage has been highlighted by the unveiling of a commemorative plaque.
The Vox factory in Dartford Road made world-famous Vox AC30 amplifiers, used by stars such as The Beatles and local lads The Rolling Stones, and also manufactured electric organs, guitars and bass guitars.
The hugely popular amp was invented by sound engineer Dick Denney, born in Belvedere in 1921, and produced in association with his friend and music entrepreneur Tom Jennings.
Two years ago vintage guitar collector and Vox fan Stuart Leech approached Dartford council and suggested a plaque be placed near the site of the former factory.
Mr Leech, 71, used to live in Wilmington but moved to Norfolk 10 years ago and has owned a Vox AC15 since he was a teenager. He said: “Vox has been the subject of a documentary and books but nothing had been done to mark it in Dartford.
“The people of Dartford might not have realised they were sitting on this piece of musical heritage. Vox is an iconic brand. The Stones, The Beatles, The Shadows and The Hollies all used Vox amps in the early 1960s.
“Lots of these stars were regular visitors to the Dartford factory. Keith Richards and Mick Jagger, being local boys, were in the factory a lot. There was quite a gathering for the unveiling. Dartford should be very proud of Vox.”
About 100 people watched the plaque unveiled by Mr Denney’s son Richard Denney and council leader Cllr Jeremy Kite.
Placed on the wall of 119 Dartford Road, between Hair Flair and ADS Business Centre, the plaque reads: “From these premises, music entrepreneur Tom Jennings and sound engineer Dick Denney produced the first Vox Amplifier, changing the sound of popular music forever.”
The company’s offices were above the current shops and the actual factory was on the site of the Esso petrol station and Tesco Express a few metres along the road.
The Rolling Stones have their own plaque, on platform 2 at Dartford Station, where Richards and Jagger rekindled their friendship in 1961.
A young Mr Denney was a guitarist with an interest in electronics and, struggling to hear his instrument during performances because of a perforated eardrum, he invented his own amp, the AC15, which was louder than any he had bought.
This was in 1956 and shortly afterwards the design was bought by old friend Tom Jennings who owned a Dartford music shop.
The partnership was to change the sound of British rock music and together they developed the AC30, popular with The Beatles, The Kinks, Gerry and the Pacemakers, The Hollies, Dusty Springfield, The Animals and the Dave Clark Five.
Their company, Jennings Musical Industries (JMI), was also well known for making the Vox Continental electric organ and dabbled with guitars and bass guitars as well.
Members of Mr Denney’s family joined about 20 former employees of the Vox factory and others for the unveiling.
Granddaughter Emily Turner said: “Vox’s creative industry put Dartford at the heart of the British sound, a distinctive sound that conquered the world and changed the face of popular music forever. The amps are still used today by Queen, U2, Noel Gallagher and Radiohead.
“Our family is proud his creative genius has been recognised by Dartford Borough Council and we hope the Vox story and the plaque inspire people to carry on shaping the future of the music industry.”
Miss Turner said the first hit with a Vox amp was Apache by The Shadows and her grandad also made the prototype wah-wah guitar effects pedal, famously used by Jimi Hendrix.
JMI was bought by British company the Royston Group in the 1960s and then Korg, with bases in Japan and the UK, in 1992.
Vox products are still made in Asia and distributed from Korg’s Milton Keynes premises.
Rob Castle, managing director of Korg UK Ltd, said: “What is clear from talking to the original staff is that Vox was right there at the start of British rock and roll. Korg has owned the Vox company now for 25 years and everyone here is very proud to see the original team recognised in this way.
“Through Korg distribution partners we have been able to build on those origins in Dartford to make Vox one of the world’s biggest music brands.”