A PICTURE OF YOU GREAT BRITISH RECORD LABELS: PICCADILLY
Pye-Nixa were relative latecomers to the UK record market, launching in 1955 following the acquisition of Polygon Records and Nixa Records by Pye Limited, a radio/TV/telecommunications company whose own roots dated way back to the late 19th Century. By the early 60s, Pye (they’d dropped the ‘Nixa’ in January 1960) was firmly ensconced as one of the UK’s four majors, vying with Philips/Fontana for third place behind EMI and Decca. In addition to the main flagship label, they’d also successfully established the Pye-Jazz, Pye International, Golden Guinea and Marble Arch imprints, the latter, a pair of budget LP lines.
As the next stage in Pye’s expansion programme, the evocative black and red Piccadilly label, with its yellow logo, was launched in April 1961, having initially been conceived as an outlet for thirdparty
licensing (i.e. the UK-originated one-offs and independent productions which had hitherto been appearing on both the main label and Pye International). However, although Piccadilly would in time go on to register big hits and build a reputation for their vast, quirky array of artists and repertoire, they got off to a surprisingly slow start.
Their inaugural ‘Release Schedule’ consisted of just two singles, which received minimal promotion and even less pre-launch publicity. Joe Brown was Piccadilly’s first artist, drafted in from the main Pye label, and he provided their debut release, ‘Crazy Mixed Up Kid’, a rather dubious ‘novelty’ disc which failed to do either the label or the artist much credit. His ‘running mate’ was Ronnie Hall, an obscure, wholly unknown American singer who was at that time living in the UK - Hall would cut three unsuccessful 45s for Piccadilly, including ‘Code Of Love’ and ‘She’s Mine’. The second tranche of releases, one month later in May ’61, was spearheaded by Emile Ford & The Checkmates, whose ‘Half Of My Heart’/‘Gypsy Love’ delivered the new label their first chart entry, reaching #24 in the NME Top 30. Ford, who’d also been imported from Pye, went on to record a tremendous LP for Piccadilly - Emile, from whence we’ve plucked ‘Vaya Con Dios’ - plus a further handful of 45s, the pick of which were a pair of B-sides, covers of Bobby Darin’s ‘Hush, Somebody’s Calling My Name’ and Big Sambo & The Housewreckers’ Swamp Pop classic ‘The Rains Came’
Over the ensuing months Piccadilly’s output gradually picked up, their releases covering a variety of musical genres. Among a plethora of mainstream Pop hopefuls were Jackie Lynton (a genuinely magnificent singer, who came close to making it with his revival of ‘All Of Me’), former Oriole recording artist Dick Jordan, Saturday Club mainstays Carter, Lewis & The Southerners (the self-penned ‘Back On The Scene’/‘So Much In Love’ was their very first record), Davy Jones (the UKdomiciled ex-GI, with a famous Beatles’ connection, whose revival of Frankie Laine’s ‘Jezebel’ faced stiff competition from Marty Wilde), David Martin, The Kestrels (their personnel included Tony Burrows and Roger Greenaway), Gary Jones, East End pub singer Ben Richmond, former Oh Boy! stalwart Cuddly Dudley, and actors Oliver Reed (his ‘Sometimes’ was co-written by drummer Dave Clark - more of whom in due course) and Jim Dale, whose ‘My Resistance Is Low’ picked up considerable radio play and very nearly restored him to the charts. Elsewhere there were plenty of Instro’s, ranging from R&R combos like the aforementioned Checkmates and one-time RGM house band The Flee-Rekkers (yet another former Pye act) to Light Orchestral, e.g. The Piccadilly Strings and The Les Reed Brass. Girl singers seemed to proliferate on Piccadilly, notably Penny (Penny Calvert, aka Mrs Bruce Forsyth), Donna Douglas, Jazz diva Cleo Laine, Candy Sparling, The DeLaine Sisters (in reality, a pair of ex-Vernons Girls, Maggie Stredder and Jean Ryder), Pat Reader (whose delightfully preposterous ‘Cha Cha On The Moon’ remains one of Joe Meek’s most endearing productions), Simone Jackson, and plenty more. And of course, like every other mainstream UK label, there were the inevitable novelty songs; step up Bryan Taylor, and Joyce Blair & Oliver Reed, whose ‘Baby It’s Cold Outside’ was clearly aimed at Mike Sarne fans. However, at this stage, hit records were still few and far between; a handful of Piccadilly 45s which crept into the lower reaches of the charts included former Fontana artist Al Saxon’s revival of ‘There I’ve Said It Again’, which dented the NME Top 30, Danny Storm’s popcorn teener ‘Honest I Do’ and The Countrymen’s Folksy ‘I Know Where I’m Going’. Eventually, after what must have seemed like an eternity, Piccadilly finally registered their first Top 10 entry in the early Spring of ’62 with bandleader/
arranger/producer Johnny Keating’s recording of ‘Theme From Z-Cars’, from the popular TV show. A few more minor hits followed, including discs by former Raindrop Vince Hill and yet another Pye
draftee, David MacBeth, who each dented the NME Top 30 with ‘The River’s Run Dry’ (penned by Johnny Worth/Les Vandyke) and a cover of Bobby Vinton’s ‘Roses Are Red’, respectively (NB: Hill’s
follow-up, ‘Just As Long As (You Belong To Me)’, was another strong song, written by Geoff Goddard).
Meanwhile, after registering a handful of earlier minor chart entries, Joe Brown had finally cracked it big in the Summer of ’62 with the chart-topping ‘A Picture Of You’, written by two of his Bruvvers, John Beveridge and Pete Oakman. It reached No.1 in every published chart - including the BBC’s - withthe sole exception of the wretched Record Retailer, which is why the many, various (and useless) “Official Charts” books list it as having only reached No.2. Nonetheless, the disc was widely celebrated as a No.1 at the time, and it not only consolidated Joe’s status and reputation, it moved him up to a headlining role and well and truly served to put Piccadilly on the map. Ironically, it had originally been issued as the B-side of (yet another) dodgy novelty number, ‘A Lay-About’s Lament’; but fortuitously, the better side won the day. A couple of months later Joe made the Top 10 again with ‘It Only Took A Minute’, while the self-penned ‘The Other Side Of Town’ appeared on the flip of another of his hits that same year. By now the winds of musical change were gathering; the Beat Boom was about to hit the UK and Piccadilly seemed to be gearing up for it, with releases like Carter, Lewis & The Southerners’ beaty, Everlys-like ‘Here’s Hopin’/‘Poor Joe’ and the ubiquitous Buddy Britten & The Regents’ splendid ‘Long Gone Baby’/‘My Pride, My Joy’, the Buddy Holly-like topside (a Terry Noland song) produced
by Norman Petty. But dwarfing these was The Dave Clark Five with the prescient ‘That’s What I Said’/ ‘I Knew It All The Time’ - the one and only DCF record, incidentally, ever to namecheck lead singer
Mike Smith on the label! Although it never made an impact in the UK, ‘I Knew It All The Time’ would make a significant dent on the US Top 100 a couple of years hence, following the British Invasion.
Finally, special mention must be made of a disc which I, personally, consider to be one of the great lost classics of the era; the mighty ‘Problem Girl’/‘Song Of A Broken Heart’ by The Chariots, a vocal group comprised of four UK-based West Indian guys. A powerful double A-sider by anyone’s standards, sounding wholly unlike anything else recorded in the UK at that time, it remains one of life’s genuine unsolved mysteries that this magnificent record failed to become a massive hit.
Big Thanks to Paul Pelletier, Bernie Keith, Lucky Parker and Sandy, John & Pete.
Essential reading:- Hit Parade Heroes - British Beat Before The Beatles by Dave McAleer (1993, Hamlyn Books)