Grimsby had the singing postman, Belgium laid claim to a singing nun and not to be outdone Bournemouth weighed in with Rey Anton, the singing window cleaner. Born Leonard Hirons, Rey, like a lot of schoolboys, dreamt of becoming a pop star and scaling the heights of the pop charts, but on entering the world of employment the only heights he achieved initially was up a ladder with his bucket and a chamois leather. At night he sang in the local pubs and clubs around Bournemouth until the late fifties when he moved to London and made his professional debut at Churchill’s Cabaret Club in Bond Street as part of the show Garland for Judy with Matt Monro and Jimmy Wheeler. To help pay the rent and gain experience, he signed a three-year contract with the Mecca Organisation where he got to sing with the Johnny Dankworth Band and the Cyril Stapleton Orchestra.
In 1962 Rey signed to the Oriole label and recorded a single, “As If I Care”, which featured in Folks, Get With It, a Pathé cinema short. The film captures Rey walking the streets of London with his bucket and ladder cleaning windows before cutting away to the 59 Club in Hackney, where a crowd of screaming teenagers fawn over the besuited Rey and his gawky looking group as they mime to his latest platter. The clip ends with Rey wandering off into the sunset with a ladder over his shoulder while a voice over ponders, “Back at work next day Rey Anton wonders if his window cleaning days are over, like thousands of others he’s asking himself, will he make the grade”. Well, he didn’t with his debut single or the follow up, a jaunty take on Hank Williams “Hey Good Looking”. To promote the song, Rey appeared on the ATV show Thank Your Lucky Stars along with The Beatles, who performed their latest single “She Loves You”, The Bruisers, Beryl Marsden, Terry Lightfoot and his New Orleans Jazzmen and the host, Pete Murray, but it failed to make a dent in the charts. He tried again with a cover of Dick Dale’s “Peppermint Man”, only this time he had a backing band called The Batons named after his production company, Baton Productions. His disappointing association with Oriole ended with the heavily orchestrated, mediocre pop of “How Long Can This Last”.
In late 1963 guitarist Brian ‘Chubby’ Sell, brothers Ted and Martin Dry, guitar and bass respectively and drummer Malcolm ‘Doc’ Randall, all former members of the west London band The Bandits, joined forces with Rey and became Rey Anton and the Peppermint Men, named after his third single. They signed to The Beatles record label Parlophone and with the Chris Wainwright Agency, before moving their centre of operations to Leek, a small market town in Staffordshire north of Stoke-on-Trent. Initially, the group promised a new bluesy direction with a propulsive version of the Bo Diddley chestnut “You Can’t Judge a Book by Its Cover”, but for the follow up they reverted to their pop sensibilities with the Greenaway and Burrows ballad “I Heard it All Before”. For their third single they were back on track with “Wishbone”, a gritty harmonica driven chunk of blues which became a minor hit in the southern states of America when released on the ABC-Paramount label. In July 1964 the group appeared at the Queens Hall in Leeds, opening the second half of the show for The Rolling Stones.
However, in the spring of 1965 Rey’s band deserted him, leaving the singer to hastily assemble an ad hoc version of The Peppermint Men, which at various times included Tony Cator on guitar and Jeff Bannister on keyboards. The revamped group released a reasonable take on Curtis Mayfield’s “Girl You Don’t Know Me” backed with “Don’t Treat Me Bad”, a Rey original with a driving bluesy riff nicked from the John Lee Hooker song book. In May, Rey, with the Peppermint Men, made another appearance on Thank Your Lucky Stars with The Dave Clark Five, The Everly Brothers, Georgie Fame and the Blue Flames, Mark Wynter and Twinkle, but again, the exposure failed to elicit the right response. Nearly fifty years later, “Don’t Treat Me Bad” cropped up as a soundtrack to a Virgin Mobile advertisement, it’s just a pity Rey wasn’t around to receive a piece of the action for the usage rights. In July he followed up with another original, “Nothing Comes Easy”, a raunchy slab of garage rock to a muted reaction.
At the end of 1965 Rey dispensed with the Peppermint Men and won a small part in the film Dateline Diamonds, a low budget cops and robbers yarn involving a criminal gang out to smuggle diamonds to Amsterdam using the Radio London ship MV Galaxy as cover. Starring William Lucas, Kenneth Cope, Conrad Phillips, Patsy Rowland and the DJ Kenny Everett as himself, the final sequence filmed at the Top Rank Ballroom in Watford stars The Small Faces plugging their latest single “I’ve Got Mine” and Rey and his new band the Pro Form, performing “First Taste of Love”. A further big screen appearance followed in 1966 with Secrets of a Windmill Girl, a ropy sexploitation thriller starring Pauline Collins as a reluctant stripper who meets a sticky end in a car crash. Rey appears fleetingly, again with the Pro Form, singing “Hold it Babe”, the B side of his latest single. Over the next eighteen months the band backed him on three singles, two of which were Anton originals, “Premeditation” a sax driven dance floor filler and “Don’t You Worry Boy”, plus a cover of Eddie Floyd’s “Things Get Better”. By 1967 his deal with Parlophone had expired so he tried his luck abroad with two solo singles, “Hey Tu” (Italian for “Hey You”) which he sang in Italian and a Belgium only release, “I’m Yours”, but both came to nothing.
Although Rey never troubled the charts, he toured the UK and Europe extensively sharing bills with many well-known artists including The Springfields, The Rolling Stones, Petula Clark, Sacha Distel, Dell Shannon, Lulu and the Luvers and Ike and Tina Turner. He also appeared on Thank Your Lucky Stars with The Beatles in August 1963, where he sang his latest single “How Long Can This Last” and again in May 1965 with the Dave Clark Five, Georgie Fame and the Blue Flames and the Everly Brothers, performing “Girl You Don’t Know Me” with the Peppermint Men. He was also a regular on Brian Matthew’s popular radio show, Saturday Club. When his recording career ended he returned to his first love, big band music for the next twenty years, until his guitarist son Andrew coaxed him back to the blues in his band The Mulberries. In 2001 Len (in later life he reverted to his birth name) and is son Andy, joined up with guitarist Michael Neale, drummer Nigel Crosthwaite and bassist Richard Parker in Southern Blues, a popular r&b outfit operating out of the Chichester area. Over the next five years they became a popular draw, but Len left in 2006 to resume his big band activities. Sadly Leonard Hirons kicked the bucket, figuratively speaking, in May 2011.
Rey was never afraid to jump from genre to genre as he chased a hit, from big band swing to MOR crooning, from beat to pop and garage to blues, he even put out an Italian language record, but to no avail. Despite a fairly extensive discography he never cracked the charts, maybe it was down to the disparate nature of his records that he failed to find an audience. Now just a blip in the annals of sixties music, I hope this website will spark some interest in Rey Anton, Bournemouth’s own singing window cleaner and in the future a reissue label will gather together all his recordings onto one CD.
Rey Anton Discography
Rey Anton Singles
As If I Care c/w After the Laughter: Oriole (CB 1722) 1962
Hey Good Looking c/w Mary Lou: Oriole (CB 1771) 1962
How Long Can This Last c/w If You Don’t Want Me Now: Oriole (CB 1843) 1963
Hey Tu c/w Solamente Io E Te: La Voce Del Padrone (MQ 2098) 1967 Italy only release
I’m Yours c/w Only You (And You Alone): His Maters Voice (GBP 221) 1967 Belgium only release
Rey Anton and the Batons Singles
Peppermint Man c/w Can’t Say More Than That: Oriole (CB 1811) 1963
Rey Anton and the Peppermint Men Singles
You Can’t Judge a Book by Its Cover c/w It’s Cold Outside: Parlophone (R 5132) 1964
Heard It All Before c/w I Want You: Parlophone (R5172) 1964
Wishbone c/w Kingsway: Parlophone (R5242) 1965
Wishbone c/w Kingsway: ABC-Paramount (45-10652) 1965 American release
Girl You Don’t Know Me c/w Don’t Treat Me Bad: Parlophone (R 5274) 1965
Nothing Comes Easy c/w Breakout: Parlophone (R 5310) 1965
Rey Anton and the Pro Form Singles
Premeditation c/w Now That It’s Over: Parlophone (R 5358) 1965
Don’t You Worry Boy c/w Hold It Babe: Parlophone (R5420) 1966
Things Get Better c/w Newsboy: Parlophone (R 5487) 1966
Compilations featuring Rey Anton
On the Scene: Columbia (33SX 1662) 1964 “You Can’t Judge a Book by Its Cover”
English Freakbeat 5: Archive International (AIP CD 1049) 1993 “You Can’t Judge a Book by Its Cover”
That Driving Beat: Volume 4: Past and Present (PAPRCD 2053) 2003 “Hold It Baby”
That Driving Beat: Volume 3: Past and Present (PAPRCD 2047) 2003 “Don’t Treat Me Bad”
New Directions: A Collection of Blue-Eyed British Soul 1964-1969: Past and Present (PAPRCD 2052) 2003 “Premeditation”
Nothing Comes Easy: Basement Beat Volume 1: Psychic Circle (PCCD 7010) 2007 “Nothing Comes Easy”
That British Sound 10: Blakey Records (BLC-89) 2010 “Premeditation”