Monday, 19 September 2016

Tony Burrows - The Man, The Legend

"Who?", you might ask?  Unless you're some sort of pop music freak, you almost certainly haven't heard of the fella and I wouldn't have expected you to have done.  But you'll certainly have heard his golden tones over the airwaves at some point in your life, simply because he's been involved in so much stuff.  So much stuff that even he - by his own admission - has forgotten exactly which tracks he has featured on.  There was a time in early 1970s that he was virtually inescapable (although I'm pretty sure some people that were frantic to escape at the time).

My interest in Tony Burrows all stems from what turned out to be an apocryphal story; that is, that he appeared as lead singer for three different bands on a single edition of Top of the Pops in February 1970, pausing only for costume changes.  The records in question were "Love Grows (Where My Rosemary Goes) by Edison Lighthouse (the number one single at the time), plus "United We Stand" by Brotherhood of Man and "My Baby Loves Lovin'" by White Plains.  It's a great story - one that I planned to write some sort of backstage farce about but never got around to (it would've been great to evoke that era and it goes without saying that Jimmy Savile would have put in an appearance) - but it isn't quite true.

What actually happened was pretty close, though and might even be better.  The 29th January 1970 edition did indeed feature Tony on "Love Grows..." and "United We Stand".

Edison Lighthouse - Love Grows (Where My Rosemary Goes)

Brotherhood of Man - United We Stand

Then the 12th February edition included "Love Grows..." and "My Baby Loves Lovin'".

White Plains - My Baby Loves Lovin'

The following week repeated Tony's appearances with Edison Lighthouse and Brotherhood of Man and finally, the 26th February edition had the Edison Lighthouse (yeah, that record was number one seemingly forever (although it was only actually five weeks) and White Plains numbers.  It's an impressive enough feat as it is (and one that I'm pretty sure has never even be approached, but If only he'd had another one featured on TOTP on the 5th February edition (he was only on with Edison Lighthouse on that one), he'd have been on four consecutive editions as part of three separate "bands".

Of course, that sort of mad month was a bit of a one-off, even for someone as prolific as Tony.  But it was far from his first appearance as part of a chart act, nor the last.

He was born on 14th April 1942 in Exeter (this is just background info, there's no particular significance) and evidently took to music early; his earliest appearances were with a group called The Kestrels, a Bristol vocal harmony band that existed  - in recording terms at least - from 1959 until 1964.  Despite releasing ten or eleven singles, they failed to dent the UK singles chart, but crucially were the vehicle by which the songwriting partnership of Roger Cook and Roger Greenaway was consolidated (Greenaway, along with Burrows, was an original member of the band, with Cook joining in 1964).  Anyway, here's an example of one of their singles from 1961:

The Kestrels - All These Things

Despite their lack of hits, the Kestrels were very much in demand in the early 1960s as back-up vocalists for (amongst others) Billy Fury, Joe Brown and Eden Kane and - as a group in their own right - supported The Beatles a couple of times early on in the latter band's career.

Following the Kestrels, Tony (along with Neil Landon) went on to join The Ivy League in 1966, replacing original members John Carter (not the one of Mars) and Ken Lewis (and it's not the last we'll hear from either of them in this - even for the times - convoluted story).

Unfortunately, the new line-up produced no new real hits (prior to 1966, The Ivy League had three top twenty hits in the UK, the best-known of which is probably this, a number 3 hit in the summer of 1965:

The Ivy League - Tossing And Turning

The only UK hit (and given that at the time there only was a top 50 singles chart, it only just scraped in) featuring Tony's mellifluous sounds was this, from July 1966:

The Ivy League's massive #50 hit from 1966, "Willow Tree"

So what next?  Re-enter John Carter and Ken Lewis, who were putting together a studio band specifically to record their new psychedelia-inspired song, "Let's Go To San Francisco".  But they had a bit of a problem in that they had no interest in touring to promote the record, so assembled a band to do it for them.  And who would be the natural choice for the lead vocal?  Why, Tony Burrows, of course!

The Flower Pot Men - Let's Go To San Francisco

And it was a major hit, number four in the UK in September 1967 and a major hit throughout Europe.

Things get a little murky hereon in, as there are a couple of differing accounts of what happened next.  As far as I can tell, Deram (their record label at the time) got tired of them failing to follow up their real cash-cow of a song, so got Roger Greenaway and Roger Cook (yes, them again) to pen the touring band a new single, "In A Moment Of Madness", which eventually saw the light of day in 1969:

The Flower Pet Men with their final single, "In A Moment Of Madness"

It wasn't a hit.

The uncertainty continues for a few months, as there followed a bewilderingly fast number of personnel and name changes (that I confess that I can't untangle), which makes it seem as though The Flower Pot Men were effectively disbanded and the major players re-emerged as White Plains, which would make Tony's next appearance "My Baby Loves Lovin'". But Edison Lighthouse's "Love Grows (Where My Rosemary Goes)" and the Brotherhood of Man song (all above) were all pretty much contemporaneous. However - due to the vagaries of record companies releasing things out of sequence in order to capitalise maximally on what they have, it actually might have been his appearance on "Gimme Dat Ding" by the Pipkins (essentially just Roger Greenaway and Tony Burrows) which, although it obviously trades heavily on its novelty value, is a bit of a classic if you ask me) which charted in March 1970:

The Pipkins, "Dat Ding" and all that

As "Gimme Dat Ding" was an obvious one-off, so it would seem logical to return to White Plains.   They went on to have a few more hit singles up until 1973, but again, the line-up changes are bewildering.  And in a funny mirroring of The Flower Pot Men situation (in which Tony Burrows was a member of the touring line-up only), Burrows would do their TV performances and so on, but didn't have time to tour (I think this was the usual arrangement for Edison Lighthouse too, but don't quote me on that).

Of course, during this time, Tony was further confusing things.  Not only was he - apparently - featuring on backing vocals for another mega-hit single ("I'd Like To Teach The World To Sing" - the New Seekers version, presumably), he was also doing backing vocals for seemingly everyone (Elton John - he's on "Tiny Dancer" amongst others, for instance), Rod Stewart, Tom Jones, even bloody Cliff Richard and almost certainly many others; and not only that, he was releasing records under his own name.  One day, I'll track everything down that he's ever featured on, but that day is not today.

So the next big single that I can FOR DEFINITE say that he sang lead vocal on was yet another new band - another John Carter project in fact - but one put together with Tony (and his co-vocalist Chas Mills) particularly in mind.  This was of course, The First Class, whose main hit was a deliberate Beach Boys pastiche, "Beach Baby":

"Beach Baby" by The First Class.  The best emulation of a Beach Boys not done by the Beach Boys

Tony was deliberately attempting to emulate an American singing voice for this one and - for me - he doesn't quite succeed, but that makes the song even better for some reason that I can't quite put my finger on.

You may have noted a similarity between much of Tony's output, in that a lot of it would be filed under - by pretty much anyone's definition of the term - cheesy.  "Bubblegum music".  I can't argue with that.  Cheesy, bubblegummy music is some of the best music.

I don't know whether he still performs - he certainly was in 2010 - but I'd really like to hope so.

Tony (not that you'll be reading), all I can do is say that you are a legend - to me anyway - and long may you continue.

Oh and as a postscript, why wasn't this a hit:

Tony doing his solo thang with "Melanie Makes Me Smile" in 1970

I mean, it's during the Golden Age Of Tony, it's got a soaring chorus, it's got sassy backing vocals, it's got the lot!

And why not this, from 1976?:

More solo Burrows action - "Girl You've Got Me Going" - but steadfastly refusing to go disco

I salute you sir.

And for even more Tony action, go to this site which frankly I wish I'd discovered before embarking on my epic Burrows quest...would've saved some time.  But it wouldn't have been so much fun!

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