The Amazing Radio London Adventure
Who really won?
In my endless search for Mexican food, not only did Norman Petty send me chilli from the States, but I also received the food I craved from Joe Johnson, President of Challenge Records in Los Angeles. The British were more than willing to help me in my quest, but most of them had no idea what they were looking for.
One of my best friends in the music business was Johnny Gordon, Exploitation Manager for Keith Prowse Music. Johnny and I often had lunch together, and when he was not available, he would send his assistant Tony Roberts in his place. Tony, knowing that I liked Mexican food, suggested on one of these occasions that we try Indian food. He said that it was hot and spicy and was about the only cuisine in the UK at that time that he knew of, that would approximate Mexican food.
Tony took me to a very nice Indian restaurant called Veeraswami's, located just off Piccadilly Circus. When the waiter came to take our order, he asked me if I would like the hot, medium, or mild curry. I very boldly told him that I was used to eating Mexican food so I thought that the hot would be just fine. The waiter asked, "Sir, have you ever had the hot curry?" I replied, "No, I haven't.' He said, "Perhaps you could start with the mild and then if you wish, we can always make it hotter." Needless to say, I never called the waiter back for a hotter curry. The mild was hotter than any Mexican dish I had ever tasted, and I have often wondered how hot the hot curry could possibly have been!
As we were enjoying this piquant feast, Tony suggested that as he and Johnny Gordon were going to the final heat of the first Music Publishers' Association British Song Festival at Brighton in a few days and would l like to tag along.
The idea of going to a song festival was not all that exciting to me. Most of the music publishers usually placed their best songs with the superstars and when it came to the festivals, they would send the best of their leftovers. Not only were many of the songs dreary, but the people who judged them were ill-qualified for the task. Most of the judges of song contests would be pseudo-celebrities from the press, the fashion world, or the art community. By and large most of these people wouldn't have recognised a good song if it jumped up and bit them in the ass. The modern day Simon Cowell would have had a field day with this crowd. Nonetheless, I thought it might be nice to get out of London for a day, and it was likely I would see a few of my cronies from the music business down there. So, I told Tony that I would be delighted to make the trek to Brighton.
The day of the festival arrived and we made our jaunt down to the lovely seaside city. As we parked the car, Johnny suggested that we drop into the bar at the Grand Hotel and have a little 'eye opener' before proceeding over to the auditorium. When we walked through the door, there they were – just about every member of the London music community. We stood around enjoying a drink or two and listening to some of our acquaintances' palaver about what great songs they had on the programme, then we made our way to the auditorium.
The evening progressed very much the same as I had imagined, with one unknown song after another, followed by great rounds of unwarranted applause after each performance. Finally, the judges decided on 'Leave a Little Love' written by Les Reed and Robin Conrad and performed by sixteen-year-old Lulu (real name, Marie McDonald McLaughlin Lawrie).
Once we had all stood and sung 'God Save the Queen'*, Johnny, Tony, and I disappeared into a tunnel which was a shortcut that brought us inside the Brighton Pavilion (sometimes called Brighton Palace) where a photo shoot had been set up. My photo was taken with the winner, Lulu, and the festival compere, Annie Nightingale (right of photo).
It turned out that the festival judges were no better at simple maths than they were at judging songs. We had not been in the Pavilion for much more than thirty minutes when a message arrived from the judges. There had been a terrible mistake in their calculations and 'I'll Stay By You', as sung by Kenny Lynch, was the real winner and Lulu's song was the runner-up. Young Lulu was rather cool about this sudden change of events, but I and most of the media were appalled at the judges' blunder.
As a result of all the media attention, Lulu's recording of 'Leave a Little Love' soared in record sales and went high in the national charts. In the end, Lulu was the big winner. Poor Kenny Lynch had won the battle, but had lost the war. 'I'll Stay By You' hung around the bottom of the charts for about a month and then went away.
Left: The rightful winners with the Golden Manscript Award: Publisher Franklyn Boyd and co-writers Kenny Lynch and Hal Shaper.
In the summer of 1966, Lulu was cast as Babs in the movie 'To Sir with Love' which starred Sydney Poitier. She also sang the title song, which became her biggest hit on both sides of the Atlantic.
*(Editor's note: In those days, all public performances in Great Britain ended with the playing of the National Anthem. There was not always a requirement to sing it – standing to show respect while the music played was usually sufficient – but it would certainly have been deemed appropriate to sing it at the end of a British song contest.)
The British Song Festival 1965 – Mary Payne investigates winners, losers and possible cheats
The first British Song Festival was staged by the Music Publishers' Association, "Because of the success of British songs the world over and the need to showcase some of them". The competition was intended to be as prestigious as long-established foreign counterparts, such as the San Remo Festival, and was launched with a world-wide publicity campaign.
Over five hundred entries were whittled down to sixteen for the three-day event, which commenced on Monday, May 24th, 1965 and was televised daily on ITV by Rediffusion, London. Annie Nightingale co-hosted the contest with Keith Fordyce, who was already well-known for fronting Rediffusion's crowd-pleasing Friday-evening show, 'Ready Steady Go!' The contest's amazingly-large fourteen-person judging panel comprised top TV producers.
The MPA publicity had been effective, as the festival achieved extensive coverage by top US music publication Billboard and made front-page news in the edition for May 29th 1965.
Most of the performers at the Brighton Dome had already enjoyed some degree of chart success and many had penned their own entries. On stage on May 24th, were Dave Berry and the Cruisers, Cliff Bennett & the Rebel Rousers, Maureen Evans, Marianne Faithfull, the Ivy League, Kenny Lynch, the Moody Blues and Helen Shapiro.
Marianne Faithfull's rendition of Jon Marks's 'Go Away from My World' won this first round, with 56 points, with the Ivy League's self-composed 'Tossing and Turning' only two points behind. Kenny Lynch, Cliff Bennett and Dave Berry also went forward to the finals. The Kenny Lynch/Hal Shaper composition 'I'll Stay By You' gained 45 points, while Bennett and Berry tied with 44.
On May 25th, Elkie Brooks, Wayne Fontana & the Mindbenders, Billy J. Kramer, Vince Hill, Lulu, Manfred Mann, Julie Rogers and Mark Wynter took to the stage to impress the judges.
The contest had apparently been conceived by the MPA to be both a prestigious and fairly sedate affair. However, the Brighton audience did not consist solely of VIP music publishers and their partners. The MPA had not bargained for teenagers being present to cheer-on their favourite bands, rather than to appreciate the quality of the composers' work. The teens naturally behaved as they would at a pop concert and during the first two daily heats, screamed at their idols during the performances. When 'I Live to Love You', sung by Merseybeat heart-throbs Billy J Kramer and the Dakotas, was not selected for the finals, the youngsters (invariably girls) booed the judges.
Right: The post-show reception hosted by Brighton's mayor W H Clout and his wife in the gilded ballroom at the Royal Pavilion, was more the kind of upmarket affair that MPA President Jimmy Philips (left of photo) had been expecting.
All of this unexpected kerfuffle caused consternation for both the invited VIPs and the judging panel – not to mention the TV company and the BMA organisers. Billboard reported rather sniffily that the teens' exuberance, "spoilt the conservative atmosphere expected by European visitors". On the night of the final, Rediffusion producer and RSG-creator Elkan Allan was obliged to ask the youngsters to, "hold their enthusiasm till a song ended".
RSG-favourites Manfred Mann had been finalists with Paul Jones' 'The One in the Middle', but the band was disqualified on discovery that it had previously performed the song in public – a breach of competition rules. The Manfreds' place was given to Cliff Bennett and the Rebel Rousers with 'As Long As She Looks Like You', which had previously missed qualifying by only one point.
The competition was pretty much ballad-based, leading to speculation by one of the judges, Francis Essex (responsible during the next decade for bringing The Muppet Show to the UK) that bands were 'on the way out'. However, this does not take into account the fact that the panel had been required to judge a selection of a mere sixteen songs out of 500 and that most of the sixteen selections were ballads! Such a narrow sample could hardly be considered a reflection of the music business in general, or indeed the sales charts.
As reported by Ben, the rightful British Song Festival winner was Kenny Lynch's 'I'll Stay by You' (115 points) with 'Leave a Little Love' (108) hastily relegated to second place, leaving red faces all round. To add insult to injury the winning song title was printed in the programme as 'I'll STAND By You'. At least the judges owned up to their calculation error and composers Kenny Lynch and Hal Shaper were presented with the Golden Manuscript Award.
Photo: Annie Nightingale, publisher Franklyn Boyd, Kenny Lynch, Keith Fordyce
Third-placed, were Wayne Fontana & the Mindbenders with 'Long Time Comin'' (written by Glyn Ellis and Eric Stewart) (99 points), fourth, 'From the Bottom of My Heart (I love You)' (Mike Pinder/Denny Laine) by the Moody Blues (92 points) tied with Mark Wynter's 'In the End', making Dave Berry's 'Can I Get it From You' (91) sixth. 'Tossing and Turning' was seventh for the Ivy League (89) beating Marianne Faithful's 'Go Away From My World' by 4 points into eighth. Ninth and Tenth were Cliff Bennett and the Rebel Rousers' 'As Long As She Looks Like You' (Cliff Bennett/Dave Wendells) (84) and 'Unexpectedly' – Vince Hill (83).
Les Reed and Robin Conrad were the only composers to feature twice in the finals. They co-wrote both 'Leave a Little Love' and 'Can I Get it From You'.
How many finalists became hits?
Despite Ben Toney's initial reservations about the standard of the entries, many of the Brighton finalists subsequently kept each other company in the Big L Fab Forty, with 'Leave a Little Love' arriving the week after the contest (30/05/65) at #28 and peaking at #4 on 04/07/65. The song was also covered unsuccessfully on the Pye label by Terry Anton.
In the Fab Forty, the seventh-placed, 'Tossing and Turning', hit #4 and went one place higher in the UK National charts. Not-so-fortunate contest winner Kenny Lynch, reached only #29 and was two places lower in the Radio London list.
Left: Brighton disappointment for Lulu, who thought she had won – but she did fare well with the song in the Fab Forty and won a major competition four years later – the 1969 Eurovision Song Contest.
The Moody Blues enjoyed a Big L #7 (27/06/65) and made #22 in the Nationals, while 'As Long As She Looks Like You' ended up as the B-side of 'I Have Cried My Last Tear', which failed to chart for Cliff Bennett and the Rebel Rousers.
Several entries ended up as the title tracks of extended-play singles (EPs), which were selling very well at that time. One example is disqualified entry, 'The One in the Middle'. From a 4-track EP, the title song received almost as much Big L airplay as if it had been a single and took Manfred Mann to #2 in the Fab Forty (27/06/65) although it did not feature in the sales charts. Marianne Faithfull also released her first-round winner, 'Go Away From My World' as the title cut of a 4-track EP and Dave Berry followed suit with 'Can I Get it From You' (right). In the Netherlands, where there was a massive fan base, the song was issued as a single. (Far right)
Fontana Records put 'Long Time Comin'' on the flipside of Wayne Fontana & the Mindbenders' 'It's a Just a Little Bit Too Late', which became a Fab Forty #14 (13/06/65). Describing 'Long Time Comin'', Eric Stewart told a BBC interviewer, "We wrote a song which was highly based on – I should say nicked from – a Beatles track. Very, very Beatle-y."
Viewing some of the photos of the attending music publisher VIPs (below, left) it seems hardly surprising that a conservative atmosphere had been anticipated in Brighton, but ruined by the screamers. Many of the publishers look forty years older than their target customers. Yet those hysterical kids were the ones who would be lining the publishers' wallets by spending their pocket money on the latest hits. Were these men really in touch with musical trends?
Radio London and its American-style Top Forty format had been on the music scene a mere five months and as Ben has already indicated, record pluggers soon saw its commercial potential. The company chiefs, however, were a lot more sceptical. Invariably they would have moved in the same circles as the old-school publishers, who might well have taken a similar attitude to offshore radio.
Although the competition incurred huge losses, the Music Publishers' Association announced that a second British Song Festival would be staged in Brighton in July 66. Rediffusion already had TV rights and negotiations were underway for the BBC to cover the contest on radio. (This would have been on the pre-Radio One Light Programme.) However, there appear to be no reports of the event actually having taken place. Whether or not this was due to the previous financial losses, the badly-behaved audience, the dreadful gaff of publicly announcing the wrong winner and having to retract (an element of the contest that seems to have been conveniently omitted from press releases of the proceedings), or a combination of all of the above, may never be known.
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