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 a saxophone player, Mike Rickson, who fell by the wayside early in the bands existence. There was also a vocalist called Dave, but his part in the story was also fleeting. Over time John took on the job of group manager organising rehearsals at his parent’s home in Fairmile Road, Christchurch and booking local dates at venues such as the Bure Club, Le Disque A Go! Go!, the Wheelhouse and the White Hart pub in Barrack Road, Christchurch.
On Sunday 2nd February 1964, the group entered the inaugural ‘Big Beat and Vocal Contest’ held at the Bournemouth Winter Gardens. Judged by a panel of music business professionals in front of a packed crowd of partisan fans, the group was 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 final 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 skullduggery 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 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 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 up the competition to include groups and singers from the south of England, not just the Bournemouth area. The finalists selected from an original total of thirty-six entrants 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 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, due to their stage attire of cream jackets with blue lapels. He also commented that, “although the standard was high”, he questioned the “lack of originality from some competitors”.
As their popularity grew and their diary bulged with an ever-expanding list of dates, John bought a vintage 1949 ambulance which he converted into a bandwagon to transport the gear and group members. Apart from their regular dates at the Bure Club and Wheelhouse where they were still pulling in large crowds, they picked up gigs in Boscombe at the Royal Ballrooms ‘Beat Room’, The Owl Club at the Burlington Hotel and 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. There were also trips abroad with a month’s residency at the Star Club in Hamburg where The Beatles honed their trade. While they were slogging away night after night entertaining drunken sailors, pimps, hookers and gangsters, they became friendly with Paul Abrahams, the keyboard player with The Yum Yum Band who were also working the fleshpots around the German port city. When Paul returned to England he moved to Bournemouth and brought his keyboard skills to The Bunch. However it didn’t last, as he was enticed away by an agent to join the cockney rock ‘n’ roller Joe Brown in London.
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 format and expand the line-up to 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, keyboard player Dave Cooper plus vocalist Pete Beckett, the older brother of Cliff Beckett, the singer with Bournemouth bands The Bossmen and the psychedelically inclined Archimedes Principle. Their repertoire also received a complete overhaul from gritty r&b to songs selected liberally from the Tamla Motown and Stax songbooks such as Otis Redding’s “Respect”, Robert Parker’s “Barefootin'”, Sam and Dave’s “You Don’t Know (Like I Know)” and The Supremes “Run Run Run”.
The band 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. With the added clout of the Roburn (Theatrical) Enterprises agency behind them, the quality of gigs improved overnight as the band backed Edwin Starr on a three week, UK wide tour. There were also prestigious dates in London at the Playboy Club in Mayfair, the Flamingo, Whisky-A-Go-Go!, the Marquee in Soho, where they supported the Graham Bond Organisation, The Herd and Jimmy James and the Vagabonds and Brian Epstein’s Saville Theatre where they shared a bill with Bo Diddley and Ben E. King. At Christmas, they sampled a life on the ocean wave entertaining passengers on the luxury liner Queen Mary as it cruised to Las Palmas and in the new year the band entertained suave French hipsters in the clubs of Paris, undertook a three week residency at the Papagayo club in Saint-Tropez which was frequented by Brigette Bardot and recorded a session for French radio.
In November 1966, a version of the novelty song “Winchester Cathedral” was released in Germany on the Vogue label by John Smith and the New Sound, which climbed to number five in the local charts. John Smith was formerly known as Bobby Dean, a solo artist who recorded for the Parlophone label. Seeing an opportunity to cash in with the The New Vaudeville Band hit across the channel, his manager, Bill Wellings, financed a recording session and came up with a version specifically for the German market. To help promote the single, a deal was agreed between Rothner and Wellings, for The Bunch to fly out to Germany and perform the song with Smith live on the German TV show Beat Club. Although the band had never met the the singer before, a hasty rehearsal was arranged before their appearance on 19th November along with Salisbury’s Dave Dee, Dozy, Beaky, Mick and Tich who were pushing their latest single “Bend It”, Bristol’s David and Johnathan, David Garrick and Lee Drummond. The band performed a three song set featuring “Winchester Cathedral”, with Smith and the band unfathomably wearing straw boaters while the singer held his nose to appropriate the sound of a megaphone, followed by “Big Time Operator”, a recent hit for Bournemouth’s Zoot Money and the Big Roll Band, sung by Beckett. They wrapped up the session with a version of Sam and Dave’s “You Don’t Know (Like I Know)” with Smith and Beckett trading off one another in a hesitant, under-rehearsed manner, highlighting the fact that they were complete strangers. To view their appearance go to YouTube and search John Smith and the New Sound. (The four photos below are screen captures taken from their Beat Club performance).
As The Bunch shlepped around the live circuit, Rothner secured the band a recording deal with CBS, and over an eighteen-month period they released four singles under the auspices of their in house producer Eddie Tre-Vett (Tre-Vett’s family home was in 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, “You Never Came Home” (January 1967) backed with the catchy, “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 strong 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” (May 1967), a Chris Redwood composition, coupled with “You Can’t Do This” written by Dave Potter, was a blue beat / pop hybrid that could easily have been recorded by The Equals, but despite a session recorded for Saturday Club to aid promotion the single flopped.
During 1967 there were changes in the ranks. Pete Beckett left to be replaced by Eric Jones on vocals and Dave Cooper succumbed to pressures from home to help run the family business back in Bournemouth, a dog and cat boarding kennels located in St. Leonards.
For 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 drug inspired off-kilter weirdness. With “Spare a Shilling” (November 1967), 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, 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 Matthew 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” (September 1968), also written by Pantry, left the strangeness behind and went straight for the pop market but missed by a mile. I have since been contacted by John Sherry’s son James, who thinks the “Birthday” single had no input from his dad’s band and was put together by John Pantry and released as The Bunch in name only. I have still included the record in the group’s discography as it was a Bunch release, even if they had nothing to do with it. By the time the record hit the the shops the game was up anyway as the band had already split asunder.
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 was a veritable who’s who of seventies rock bands and included 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 Bournemouth where he became a fixture on the local scene for years playing with Dave Potter who also lives in the Bournemouth area. Dave Cooper still runs the family business, Noark Boarding Kennels in St. Leonards, with his eldest daughter and when last heard of, Pete Beckett was managing a social club in the centre of Bournemouth, but has since disappeared from view. John King sadly died a few years ago, Mike Berry is possibly living in America, but he may have passed on as well and the whereabouts of Eric Jones are unknown.
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 where source is not stated, Dave Cooper for information on the John Smith and New Sounds episode in Germany and photographs, plus additional photographs from Jeff Rothner and Joss Mullinger.
The Bunch Discography
The Bunch Singles
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”
Psychedelic Archives: UK Psychedelia Vol 1: Psychedelic Archives 1990 Bootleg cassette tape “Spare a Shilling”
Psychedelic Archives: UK Psychedelia Vol 2: Psychedelic Archives 1990 Bootleg cassette tape “Looking Glass Alice”
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) 2019 “We’re Not What We Appear To Be”
Artifacts From the Psychedelic Dungeon: Vinyl Museum (A-BOX 2) A bootleg box set of vinyl 7″ singles which includes The Pretty Things, The Idle Race, The Move, The St. Giles System and The Bunch performing “Spare a Shilling” and “Looking Glass Alice”