The Concordes were a quintet formed at the Christchurch Youth Club in the autumn of 1963 and comprised of founder member John Sherry on drums, Alan Willoughby rhythm guitar, John Huntley lead guitar, Maurice Lake on bass and saxophone player Mike Rickson who fell by the wayside early on in the bands existence. There was a vocalist, possibly Dave, whose name has been lost in the mists of time, but his part in the story was also fleeting. John became the group’s de facto manger organising rehearsals at his parent’s home in Fairmile Road, Christchurch and booking local dates at venues such as the Bure Club in Mudeford and the Wheelhouse.
On Sunday 2nd February 1964 the group entered the inaugural ‘Big Beat and Vocal Contest’ held at the Winter Gardens. Judged by a panel of music business professionals in front of a packed crowd of partisan fans, the group were one of twelve local outfits looking to lift the ‘Minns Trophy Cup’, supplied by the music store of the same name. After three hours of non-stop music, the crowd, who had paid five shillings to cheer on their favourites, were not all in agreement with the result. Some even put pen to paper and wrote to the Bournemouth Times reviewer, Tony Crawley, suggesting that the outcome was rigged. Putting all thoughts of skulduggery aside, the judges placed Tony, Howard and the Dictators first, just pipping The Tallmen to the post by half a point, followed by The Initials Beat Combo, The Concordes, who came in a creditable fourth, The Dominators, The South Coast 5ive, Lee Peterson and the Defenders, Bob and the K.D.C and tied in ninth position, Barry and the Blue Stars and The Barbarians. The Sandstorms and the The Ragtimers brought up the rear.
Fast forward to Sunday 25th October 1964 and they were back at the Winter Gardens for the second ‘Big Beat and Vocal Contest‘ as a quartet of Sherry, Huntley, Lake and Willoughby and with a new name, The Bunch. This time out, the organiser Sam Bell, manager of the Winter Gardens, and the sponsors, the Lions Club and Minns music store, opened out the competition to include groups and singers from all over the south, not just the Bournemouth and Poole area. The finalists selected from an original total of thirty six were: Peter and the Wolves from Seaton in Devon; The Cortinas from Yeovil; singer Maureen Garrett from Southampton; The Hunters from Dorchester; The Conquerors from Weymouth; Tony Temple and the Deacons from Eastleigh; vocalist Wendy Stanley from Parkstone; Systems Go, The Tallmen and Surfin Gremmies from Bournemouth; The Stool Pigeons from Poole and representing Christchurch, The Bunch. As the night unfolded, the reviewer from the Bournemouth Times noted that The Bunch “had a great sound and good presentation”, even if they came across as “pseudo Rolling Stones”. But in the end they were worthy winners, the change of name, image and repertoire to authentic rhythm and blues paid off and was enough to persuade the judges they were the best of the bunch, excuse the pun. The band walked away with the Minns Trophy Cup and a whopping £10 in prize money. The runners up, Peter and the Wolves, were likened to a gaggle of ice cream men by the same reviewer, because of their stage attire of cream jackets with blue lapels, plus he also commented that although the standard was high, he questioned the lack of originality from some of the competitors.
As their popularity grew and their diary bulged with an ever expanding list of dates, John procured an old converted ambulance to ferry the band and gear around. Apart from their regular dates at the Bure Club and Wheelhouse where they were still pulling in large crowds, they picked up gigs at the Royal Ballrooms in Boscombe, The Owl Club at the Burlington Hotel in Owls Road, the Oasis Club in the Salisbury Hotel, the Starlight Club near Iford, the 45 Club in the Triangle and the Christchurch Town Hall, as well as gigs further afield in the outlying counties of Dorset, Hampshire, Wiltshire and Devon.
In the summer of 1966 John had a re-think. As the initial excitement of the Beat Boom gradually faded, he decided it was time to drop the quintessential early sixties pop group formation of guitars, bass and drums and expand the line-up into a seven strong soul band with completely different personnel. Apart from John remaining on drums, the newly configured septet comprised of Chris Redwood on guitar, John King on bass, a pair of saxophonists, Mike Berry and Dave Potter, vocalist Pete Beckett (the older brother of Cliff Beckett, the singer with Bournemouth bands The Bossmen and the psychedelically inclined Archimedes Principle) plus keyboard player Dave Cooper. Their repertoire also received a complete overhaul with songs selected liberally from the Tamla Motown and Stax songbooks such as Otis Redding’s “Respect”, Robert Parker’s “Barefootin'” and The Supremes “Run Run Run”.
They also picked up a benefactor and manager in Jeffrey Rothner, an estate agent by trade, who financed the band, allowing them to turn professional in October 1966. Almost overnight the quality of gigs improved as the band backed Edwin Starr on a three week, UK wide package tour with the Ike and Tina Turner revue and dates at the Playboy Club in Mayfair, the Flamingo, Whisky-A-Go-Go and the Marquee in Soho where they supported the Graham Bond Organisation, The Herd and Jimmy James and the Vagabonds. They also sampled a life on the ocean wave as they entertained passengers on the luxury liner Queen Mary as it cruised to Las Palmas, played the hip clubs of Paris and won a residency at the Star Club in Hamburg where The Beatles served their apprenticeship.
While they were in the land of bratwurst and brot, the band bagged a slot on the German TV show Beat Club along with Dave Dee, Dozy, Beaky, Mick and Tich, David and Johnathon and Lee Drummond. Televised on 19th November 1966, the band performed three songs, none of which included their soon to be released debut single, “You Never Came Home”. They kicked off the show with a cover of The New Vaudeville Band’s novelty hit “Winchester Cathedral”, followed by “Big Time Operator”, a recent hit for Bournemouth’s Zoot Money and the Big Roll Band and finally a version of Sam and Dave’s “You Don’t Know (Like I Know)”. Bizarrely, in Germany The Bunch were billed as John Smith and the New Sound because of, what drummer John Sherry termed as, “technical difficulties”, according to an article in the Bournemouth Echo. Luckily their appearance is available on YouTube and on closer inspection I can confirm that the band are indeed The Bunch (see screen captures above), but with a certain John Smith on vocals singing “Winchester Cathedral”, a song Smith had just recently released as a single in Germany on the Vogue label. For “Big Time Operator”, The Bunch vocalist Pete Beckett takes over and John Smith returns to duet with Beckett on “You Don’t Know (Like I Know)”. I can only imagine The Bunch got the gig on Beat Club if they agreed to back Smith on his latest release. It would be interesting to know the full story behind this turn of events, so if anyone out there can shed some light on The Bunch’s time in Germany and where John Smith fits into the story, please get in touch.
While The Bunch were slogging around the live circuit, Rothner secured the band a recording deal with CBS and over eighteen months, they released four singles under the auspices of their in house producer Eddie Tre-Vett (Tre-Vett’s family home was at Robert Louis Stevenson Avenue in Westbourne) at IBC studios in Portland Place, Marylebone. At the outset they mined a similar pop / blue-eyed soul vein as Amen Corner with punchy, dominant brass and a steady back beat aimed at filling dance floors, which is ably demonstrated on their first single released in January 1967, “You Never Came Home” backed with the catchy flip, “We’re Not What We Appear To Be”. Both songs were written by members of the band and for a debut, the record is surprisingly good with either side having the potential of becoming a hit, if only their label had got behind it. The follow up, “Don’t Come Back to Me”, a Chris Redwood composition, plus flip “You Can’t Do This” written by Dave Potter, was a blue beat / pop hybrid that could easily have been recorded by The Equals.
However, with single number three released in November 1967, the band changed tack altogether by becoming psychedelic dandies, as they realised they were out of whack with the prevailing trend for off-kilter weirdness. With “Spare a Shilling”, a jaunty ditty written by John Pantry a recording engineer who worked at IBC Studios with The Small Faces and The Kinks, the band turned out a whimsical piece of weirdness of their own. In the sleeve notes that accompany the compilation CD, “The Upside Down World of John Pantry”, a couple of sources intimate that the released performance of “Spare a Shilling” wasn’t by The Bunch at all, but another of Pantry’s groups Peter and the Wolves with an overdubbed vocal by The Bunch’s vocalist Pete Beckett, or even Pantry himself. This may or may not be the case, but what cannot be denied is that the flip, “Looking Glass Alice” written by band member Dave Potter, is a bona fide slice of psychedelia much sort after by collectors. The song has typical druggy lyrics, “Looking glass Alice comes down from the sky, the birds are singing making me high / Silly princess she’s taking a trip, in her a little red fast car, what makes her tick”, which fans of trippy, toy town pop pay high prices for. A pristine copy sold for a not to be sniffed at £667 in 2010. The single was heavily plugged by Brian Mathew and Tony Blackburn, who made it his record of the week, but it failed to take off. Almost a year later their fourth and final single, the disappointingly bland singalong “Birthday”, also written by Pantry, left the strangeness behind and went straight for the pop market but missed by a mile, it proved to be the end of the road for the band. I have since been contacted by John Sherry’s son James, who thinks the “Birthday” single had no input from his dad’s band whatsoever and was put together by John Pantry and released as The Bunch in name only. I have still included the record in the groups discography as it was a Bunch release, even if they had nothing to do with it.
After the dust settled drummer John Sherry became a top agent in London heading his own company, John Sherry Enterprises, from offices in Dryden Chambers at 119 Oxford Street. The list of acts on his books were a veritable who’s who of seventies rock bands including Mogul Thrash, Wishbone Ash, Fumble, Stray, East of Eden, Audience, If, Vinegar Joe, Nucleus, The Average White Band, Gordon Haskell and a host of others. In the mid-seventies he became managing director of NEMS Enterprises, the company originally founded by Brian Epstein in the early sixties to manage The Beatles affairs. By the time he joined it was fast becoming the largest booking agency in Europe. John sadly died of cancer in 1994, aged 48. Chris Redwood joined the Weymouth outfit Alamanack and wrote two songs that were recorded by local band Spontaneous Combustion in the early seventies. He then worked on cruise liners before returning to the Bournemouth area where he became a fixture on the local scene for years. As for the other members, I have no information on their whereabouts.
Record Collector magazine released a compilation album of Bunch recordings in May 2019 called Spare a Shilling. Collated by John Sherry’s son James, the fourteen songs include their first three singles with B sides, live tracks and demos on 180 gram vinyl limited to 500 copies.
Special thanks go to John Sherry’s son James, for additional information and photographs.
The Bunch Discography
You Never Came Home c/w We’re Not What We Appear To Be: CBS (202506) 1967
Don’t Come Back To Me c/w You Can’t Do This: CBS (2740) 1967
Don’t Come Back To Me c/w You Can’t Do This: CBS (2740) 1967 French picture sleeve
Don’t Come Back To Me c/w You Can’t Do This: CBS (2740) 1967 German picture sleeve
Don’t Come Back To Me c/w You Can’t Do This: CBS (2740) 1967 Italian picture sleeve
Spare a Shilling c/w Looking Class Alice: CBS (3060) 1967
Birthday c/w Still: CBS (3692) 1968
The Bunch Album
Spare a Shilling: Record Collector (No. 46) 2019 Vinyl, 500 copies limited edition, singles, demos and live recordings
Compilations featuring The Bunch
Yellow Elektric Years: Go Go (GO GO 1) 1990 “We’re Not What We Appear To Be”
We Can Fly 1: Past and Present (PAPRCD 2004) 2000 “Looking Glass Alice:
Go-Go-A-Go-Go: Wolfrilla (1102 LP) 2002 “You Never Came Home”
We Can Fly 5: Past and Present (PAPRCD 2058) 2004 “Spare a Shilling”
New Directions 2: Past and Present (PAPRCD 2059) 2004 “You Never Came Home”
New Rubble Volume 4: Utopia Daydream: Past and Present (PAPRCD 2070) 2005 “You Can’t Do This”
The Upside Down World of John Pantry: Wooden Hill (WHCD024) 2009 “Birthday”, “Still” & “Spare a Shilling”
Portebello Explosion: The Mod Pop Sound of Swinging London: Particles (PARTCD4028) 2013 “You Never Came Home”
We Can Fly 4: Past and Present (PAPRCD 2054) 2013 “We’re Not What We Appear To Be”
Magic in the Air 1966 – 1970: The Birth of Cool Britannia: Rubble (RUB3CDBOX11) 1019 “We’re Not What We Appear To Be”