DEREK AJ LISTER, who was resident DJ at Bradford’s Gaumont and Majestic dance halls, profiles rock ‘n’ roll pianist Spike O’Brien:

Brian Holt, aka Spike O’Brien, (1940-2000) was born in Bradford and attended Hanson High School. He learned to play the piano from the age of four through his father, who was a classical pianist.

Leaving school in 1956, Spike was employed by Listers’ Mill as an office boy, because his mother wanted him to have a steady job! Music and playing the piano was Spike’s main interest and most of his thoughts were on other things (rock n’ roll). This resulted in the office manager saying to Spike that he “could have a good career in office work or go about being a ‘pop star’.” He therefore asked Spike to make a decision. Spike did make a decision - and gave in his notice.

For a while he drifted from job to job, at one time driving a small flat pack wagon for the BDA (Bradford Dyers Association), and was now playing the piano at many venues in Bradford. It was about this time that Spike acquired his stage name Spike O’Brien. His real name was Brian Holt. At one venue some girls asked him ‘What’s your name?’ as they’d heard him being called both Spike and Brian.

‘Which is it?’ they asked. ‘Spike or Brian?’ Hence the name Spike O’ Brien was born.

In 1959 Spike became a member of the Dingos, on piano. At this time the Dingos were probably the most prominent and professional local rock n’ roll group. However, after a short period of time he left and joined another local group, The Tuxedos. Spike had begun to adapt himself as a proficient rock ‘n’ roll pianist who was becoming very popular in his own right, so he decided to get together some other local artists in 1963 to form a new group called The Rattlers.

After three successful seasons with The Rattlers in Douglas on the Isle of Man he joined Don Partridge (the one man band) in his backing group The Wild Fowl. In 1973 Spike recorded Poor Little Fred, a skit on the popular Big Bad John, which had moderate success. Later in the 1980-90s he was still touring Bradford circuits with local groups, especially The Dingos and was as as popular as he’d ever been. Later, probably Spike’s highlights was playing at the rock n’ roll reunion dances at the Pile Bar and Bradford’s Midland Hotel.

Spike was 'pure rock n roll'Spike was 'pure rock n roll' (Image: Derek AJ Lister)

Spike was a piano genius, pure rock n’ roll, embodying its most reckless and high-spirited impulses with such piano-pounding rockers from the late Fifties as Whole lot of Shaking Going On and Great Balls of Fire. Add to this, Spike’s larger than life personality and pure energy-driven performance and you would have the crowd shaking, shouting, rocking and rolling!

When he passed away in 2000, the rock ‘n’ roll world lost a truly great artist and a friend of many fellow artists who held him in high esteem. Spike is sadly missed and fully deserving a place of honour of the ‘Who’s Who of Bradford’s Rock n’ Roll era’.

The last time I spoke to Spike was on the phone a few days before he passed away. It was at this time that he was waiting for a lung transplant. During our conversation I said: ‘Is there anything I can get you? With that wonderful sense of humour, back came the reply: ‘Yes Dal, a new pair of....lungs!’

* Derek AJ Lister and his friend and collaborator Reuben Davison have profiled singers, bands and musicians from Bradford’s 1950s and 60s music scene on their website, When Bradford Rocked. Visit