Tony Howard and The Dictators

Tony Moore (b. 3rd June 1946 in Bournemouth) and Howard Gordon (b. 8th July 1946 in Bournemouth) became close friends at an early age as they were neighbours living a few doors away from each other in Christchurch Road, Boscombe East. They attended the same schools and at the age of eight sang in the church choir together at St. Saviour’s in Colemore Road, Iford. As rock ‘n’ roll filtered over the Atlantic, the pair fell under the spell of the Everly Brothers, inspiring the boys to work out harmony parts and apply them to popular songs of the day. When they left school, Tony entered the building trade as a brickie and Howard put his woodworking skills to good use as a shopfitter. On Saturday afternoons they could be found kicking a heavy leather ball around Victoria Park in Winton for Bournemouth’s other football club, the semi-professional Poppies.

Tony Howard and the Dictators (1)
Tony, Howard and the Dictators, Tony left and Howard right, possibly Howard Lewis on drums, Alan Francis in the centre and Dave Till far left and Keith Pearce far right

At the age of sixteen, the two friends formed the Dictators after the boys impressed members at their youth club with a version of the Everly’s “Cathy’s Clown”. They were joined by a fifteen-year-old lead guitarist, Keith Pearce, sixteen-year-old rhythm guitarist Dave Till, bassist Alan Francis who was the old man of the group at twenty-one and a sixteen-year-old drummer, Howard ‘Red’ Lewis. The role of manager, gig getter, roadie and chief bottle washer went to Tony Moore’s dad, Bert. As a gimmick, the four instrumentalists were handed rubber masks of world leaders such as Fidel Castro and Nikita Khrushchev to wear, hence the name The Dictators, but that idea was soon abandoned.

The group took their repertoire of rock ‘n’ roll songs and Everly Brothers covers out on the road to venues such as the Moose Hall in Iford, Ferndown Village Hall, West Moors Memorial Hall, Kinson Community Centre, Le Disque A Go! Go! and a summer season at the Rockley Sands Palladium. As they gained more experience, the Everly Brothers songs that had motivated them in the first place were gradually dropped and replaced by more up-to-date material such as “Can’t Buy me Love” and “All My Loving” by The Beatles, The Searchers “Needles and Pins”, the odd choice of “Chattanooga Choo Choo” made famous by Glenn Miller and George Gershwin’s “Summertime”. They also featured a selection of instrumentals including Link Wray’s “Rumble” and “Theme for Young Lovers” written by Bruce Welch of The Shadows plus two originals, “Think of Me” and “Say Little Girl”, with the latter becoming the flip side of their first single.

In February 1964 they entered the inaugural ‘Big Beat 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 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 favourite groups, were not all in agreement with the result. Some even wrote to the Bournemouth Times reviewer, Tony Crawley, suggesting that the outcome was rigged. Putting all thoughts of skullduggery aside, the result had The Dictators just pipping The Tallmen to the post by half a point, followed by The Initials Beat Combo, The Concordes, who morphed into The Bunch later that year, 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 Barbarions. The Sandstorms and The Ragtimers brought up the rear. On Sunday 12th April 1964 they were back at the scene of their success with The Initials, Trendsetters Ltd, and Dave La Kaz and the G Men for the ‘Big Beat Concert’.

One unusual date the group agreed to play in the spring, was at a church in the small town of Amesbury, Somerset. The vicar asked them if they would play beat arrangements to some hymns during the Sunday service and being two ex-choirboys; they were happy to oblige. Later in April the band supported The Searchers at the City Hall in Salisbury, a venue they would return to on 10th June 1964 when they entered the ‘Battle of the Beat’. Sponsored by the Salisbury Times, the lead judge was the BBC radio DJ Alan ‘Fluff’ Freeman. They slugged it out with The Initials from Bournemouth, Andover’s Ten Feet Five, the 007’s and Nick Troy and the Trojans with Esme Duval from Southampton and local groups Ricky Vernon and the Pathfinders, The Satellites, The Casterways, The Electrons and The Sceptres. After the last guitar was twanged and the final drum was thumped, the votes were counted, with The Electrons coming out on top picking up the ‘Salisbury Times Trophy’. Ricky Vernon and the Pathfinders settled for the runners up placing and Teen Feet Five came in third.

1964 was turning out to be a pivotal year for the group as they signed with the local agency Avon Entertainments in Old Christchurch Road and impressed a Mr. H. C. Townley who signed them to Oriole Records. Their debut single, “So Long Little Girl” (June 1964), was recorded in Wessex Studios in Soho, London, and hit the shops on 5th June. Written by a precocious sixteen-year-old schoolboy from London going by the name of Nick Ingman, in later life he stated that the single was “appalling” and added, “I still can see no good reason why such a horrible recording would have been a hit”. Why he should say that the record was a hit is strange, as the single didn’t get within a million miles of the charts. In future life Ingham went on to be a sort after composer, conductor, arranger and producer working with Eric Clapton, David Bowie, Elton John, Oasis, Radiohead and many others.

In February 1965 the band turned professional, but drummer Howard Lewis, a lithograph printer, and guitarist Dave Till, a sub-editor of the Bournemouth Times, were reluctant to throw in their day jobs. After much deliberation, the pair left with Till going on to form Trio 45 before joining the Palmer James Group. They were replaced by John Paul from the Missing Links on guitar and drummer Ron Armstrong, who had been playing modern jazz; he was later replaced by Bill Nims from The Initials. Bassist Alan Francis had already been replaced by Bob Foster at the turn of the year. On the 26th February the group released their latest record, “Just in Case” backed with “Walk Right Out of the Blues”, which had been recorded by the original line-up before the upheaval. On the record label the group was named Tony and Howard with the Dictators while their first single was credited to The Dictators with Tony and Howard. The band finished the year touring Spain, Sweden and France.

The Dictators at the Ritz in 1966 after Tony’s departure (Photograph courtesy Hilary Goodinge)

In 1966, Tony Moore married a local girl Jean née Daffern and left the group. A year later Howard Gordon followed suit by wedding Louise née Barnett and also quit. Both couples emigrated to Australia in the seventies with Tony living in the small town of Oxenford, Queensland and Howard in Coominya, also in Queensland. The pair are still close friends and perform together sporadically at local functions. At the height of their limited success, the group had their own fan club run by Maureen Stickland from her home in Carlyle Road, Boscombe East, which numbered an impressive nine hundred members.

Tony and Howard in 2008, singing at a private party in Queensland, Australia

As for the Dictators, Keith Pearce and Bob Foster soldiered on bringing in drummer Terry Avery and Dave Longley on guitar. What happened next is a cautionary tale for anyone thinking of entering the murky world of rock ‘n’ roll. As mentioned on the home page of this website, the music business was full of charlatans out to make a fast buck from unsuspecting groups who in all innocence would do anything for a record deal. Here’s the sorry story of what happened to The Dictators as told to local author Alan Burridge in his book Bournemouth Rocks.

After playing a gig at the Westover Road Ice Rink, the Dictators were approached by a certain Jonathan Werne who offered to fund recording time and provide financial assistance for the group to buy new equipment, an offer that on the face of it sounded too good to be true and in the fullness of time proved correct. A date was set for the band to enter a studio in London, along with producer James Stevens and a forty-piece orchestra, to record a song, “Exploding Galaxy”, written by Paul James. The singles over the top, kitchen sink production takes no prisoners with a climatic introduction followed by an earnest vocal spouting pretentious lyrics, while thundering timpani bang and clatter in the background, blaring trumpets blast out a fanfare and the orchestra fiddles away on a theme based on Beethoven’s 7th Symphony. Released on the small Music Factory label in October 1968 under the name of Infantes Jubilate, Latin for “Infants Joyfully”, it became a record of the week in the Record Mirror but bombed badly.

Infantes Jubilate
The Dictators / Infantes Jubilate 1968

Weeks later, back in Bournemouth, a frantic knock on the door of their rehearsal room revealed Stevens in an agitated state. Apparently Jonathan Werne was a conman whose doomed get rich quick scheme backfired, setting off a chain reaction of bouncing cheques all over London. The band was advised to return their newly acquired equipment immediately and because of the mess left by their supposed benefactor, their new agent in London dropped them like a hot potato. Understandably the band members were extremely peeved on how the experience had panned out and threw in the towel.

Tony, Howard and the Dictators Discography

So Long Little Girl c/w Say Little Girl: Oriole (CB 1934) 1964

Just in Case c/w Walk Right Out of the Blues: Oriole (CB 307) 1965

Infantes Jubilate Single

Exploding Galaxy c/w Take it Slow: Music Factory (CUB 5) 1968

Compilations featuring Tony, Howard and the Dictators

That Driving Beat Volume 4: Past and Present (PAPRCD 2053) 2003 “Just in Case”

Compilations featuring Infantes Jubilate

Rubble 18: Rainbow Thyme Wynders: Past and Present (PAPRLP 018) “Exploding Galaxy”

We Can Fly 1: Past and Present (PAPRCD 2004) 2000 “Exploding Galaxy”

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