Masters – Don Fardon (The Sorrows) Interview

Masters – Don Fardon (The Sorrows) Interview

This entry is part 7 of 20 in the series Masters1

Peter Markham from Ugly Things talks to Don Fardon, lead singer of the Sorrows.

Who was the greatest male British blue-eyed soul singer of the ‘60s? That question has been asked many times. Some people’s preferences are, with very good reasons: Steve Marriott, Reg King, Chris Farlowe, Van Morrison, Georgie Fame, Steve Winwood, Steve Ellis, Zoot Money, Duffy Power, Eric Burdon, Long John Baldry, Dave Berry, Jimmy Powell… and the list goes on. My favorite, though, without a doubt, is Mr Don Fardon, a native of Coventry—sometimes known as the “Detroit of England” (home of the Rolls Royce and almost every other British automobile). Fardon basically helped define the term “freakbeat” with his former band, the Sorrows, of “Take a Heart” fame.

Donald Adrian Fardon was born on August 19, 1943 and stands an impressive six-feet seven inches tall (that’s taller than both Long John Baldry and Mick Fleetwood!), and he possesses a big powerful voice of a wide range to match his spectacular frame. Fardon did stints with various local Coventry beat groups, before forming the Sorrows in 1963. After a handful of singles and one very underrated album, ‘Take a Heart’, he went solo in ‘66. Fardon didn’t achieve any real success in his home country, and was, in fact, unable to release any records for a short time due to contractual issues, so he instead set his sights on Germany and France, where he went on to become a hugely successful pop star in the late ‘60s, with a string of stunning singles recorded for the Young Blood label in the UK and issued by the Vogue and Hit-Ton labels on the continent.

While most New Untouchables readers are doubtless already familiar with the Sorrows, Don’s 1967-69 solo output is hugely underrated. His material was mostly rearrangements of other people’s songs, but transforming them into his own distinctive versions with the help of ace record producer, arranger and songwriter Miki Dallon, who also penned ‘Take a Heart.’ These brilliant sides of hip ‘60s club sound with big bold brass, swinging string arrangements, rocking guitar and groovy Hammond, backing Fardon’s rich baritone have been filling up floors at modernist events for quite some time. File them under “Mod R&B groover / blue-eyed soul dancer / garage fuzz dance floor filler”—terms that are used to much annoyance on eBay listings nowadays (I recently saw a Jimi Hendrix 45 listed as “Northern Soul!”). I personally can’t imagine ever DJ’ing without spinning at least one or two Don Fardon 45s!

John D Loudermilk’s “(The Lament of the Cherokee) Indian Reservation” was a massive hit for Fardon, with its pulsating beat, atmospheric horns and fuzzy guitar. (The Raiders cut their own version later and scored their only #1 US hit). Fardon’s version was initially released in ‘68, but topped the European charts in ‘70 and went on to sell an estimated three million copies worldwide (other sources claim one million, but that’s still quite a lot).

The early ‘70s saw Fardon with another unexpected hit single, “Belfast Boy,” a tribute to perhaps the greatest footballer of all time (that’s soccer to you yanks), the legendary womaniser, boozer and top striker for Manchester United and Northern Ireland, George Best. The quality of Fardon’s records fizzled out a bit up until the mid ‘70s, when he retired from the music business. He returned to performing in the ‘90s with some country & western “Line Dance Party” themed discs recorded in Nashville (which this writer has not heard for obvious reasons), as well as various compilations of his ‘60s output.

Last year saw a surprise resurrection of Fardon’s career when his version of Tommy James’ killer “I’m Alive” was used in a TV commercial for the Five Fruit Blend soft drink 5 Alive, complete with dancing dodo’s and a music video featuring a cameo appearance from Don as a gardener in an old age pen- sioners’ home full of senior citizens rocking out! Also upcoming at the time of writing is the reunion of the Sorrows, and a Coventry all-star rock’n’roll outfit called Don Fardon’s Rock-it.

After a few months of searching for Fardon on the information superhighway, I was able to track him down in his hometown of Royal Leamington Spa, Warwickshire (roughly midway between Coventry and Birmingham in the West Midlands, close to Rugby, the birthplace of the gentleman’s sport of the same name), which he has called his home for the past 30 years. An engineer by trade, he has also been a radio presenter for BBC Coventry and worked security with former British wrestler Tony “Banger” Walsh. Now in his late sixties, Fardon has been managing a series of local country pubs with his wife Susan and son Richard, in between the odd club gig and recording sessions, as well as being a grandfather. It doesn’t look like he has any plans for retirement any time soon!


Ugly Things: You were born during World War II. What was it like growing up in post-war Britain in the industrial West Midlands?

Don Fardon: Yes, I was born during the Second World War, in one of Britain’s most bombed cities, Coventry. I always wondered as a child why Coventry was chosen as target. I now know, having lived near here for the past 60 years, that Hitler decided to show that the Germans DO have a sense of humor! My father had an engineering business, which the Luftwaffe duly flattened, and as his company was on essential war work, the government moved us 50 miles away to a shadow factory to enable his work to continue. I have here in the house a wine cabinet that the directors of Rolls Royce presented to him in 1945 which states “For the continuous supply of tooling from 1939-1945 with our immense gratitude for your aid to the war effort.” He made the tooling for the total production of the Rolls Royce Merlin engine that was used in the Spitfire, Hurricane and Lancaster bombers. The war years were dire. Hardly any food, fruit or meat. I never saw a sweet until I was six or seven years old. The first banana I saw my brother ate with the skin on! All this went on till I was at least 10 or 11. So you can understand why we all went barmy in the ‘60s when things returned to normal and the shops for the first time in our lives were full of goodies!

UT: What was your earliest interest in music, did you begin in skiffle groups like many other musicians from that era?

DF: My first interest in music began at an early age. I went to a boarding school as my father was always away on business and in 1948 I had a shock that still reverberates through me to this day… my mother died. I used to spend hours on my own listening to the radio—no TV then, not for another five years. On Sunday evenings when I started work I used to go to the Hippodrome to the big band concerts in Coventry. All the world’s best dance bands came and I loved it.

UT: You were born close to where William Shakespeare was born and for a time you considered a career as a Shakespearean actor?

DF: Although I lived right next door to Stratford-upon-Avon, the birthplace of William Shakespeare, I, like most children of my age, was completely turned off by the Bard. The stories were OK but the dialogue was undecipherable to most teenagers. We were more interested in the Goons.

UT: Tell me about your first band, the Hawks, where you went under the name of Will Pity.

DF: Whilst I was working as an engineering apprentice, I used to supplement my wages by working at the Locarno Ballroom. It was there that I saw my first electric band, the Hawks, and I was blown away. As I was leaving the ball- room at 1:30 in the morning, I saw the band outside. It was pelting down with rain, and all their gear was outside on the pavement. I asked what they were doing and they told me they were waiting for the van to come to pick them up, as the driver had taken his girl home. I said, “You should sack him!” And they said, “We can’t, it’s his van.” I said, “You should get a manager then.” The following Sunday my father told me, “Some people are asking for you at the front door.” It was the band, and they offered me the manager’s job! Which I took. Hello, show business!

Four weeks later we were at a cinema in Rugby and the singer hadn’t arrived. The cinema manager said, “I have 350 in there waiting for a show, if you aren’t on stage in three minutes I shall cancel the performance and sue you.” I really panicked as my name was on the contract, so I said “Right, on stage now, boys. I’ll sing!” and the rest, as they say, is history. When the singer did turn up I sacked him and became the permanent vocalist.

UT: Your next band was the Vikings, where you appeared under the name Webb Stacey.

DF: The first band that I actually formed was the Vikings. I had seen a fantastic lead guitarist in Coventry called Jim Smith, and he knew how to get a gig at the 2i’s Coffee Bar in London, where all the big names got started. So we formed a band so that we could play there, which we did, with Cliff [Richard] and Marty Wilde. But nothing came from it, so it was back to Coventry. I was with the Vikings for 18 months when I was approached by the management of the top Coventry band at that time called Johnny & the Rebels. They were having trouble with their lead singer and asked me to replace him. So I did. After a couple of years I became disillusioned with the Rebels. We were all on wages, and I could get more money alone, so I gave notice and left.

UT: You then formed your own band, Rockin’ Lord Docker & the Millionaires. What’s the story behind that dashing band name?

DF: I formed a band called Rockin’ Lord Docker & the Millionaires and walked on stage with a St Bernard dog, top hat, gold cane and a cloak. It was a “wow”—that is until a solicitor’s letter from Sir Bernard Docker—the chairman of the Daimler Motor Company arrived, informing me that unless the name was dropped I would be sued for defamation. So we became the Millionaires. (Don was replaced by not one, but two singers in the Millionaires, Beverley Jones and Ricky Dawson, known as “The Duke & Duchess” – Ed).


UT: In 1963 you formed the Sorrows with ex-members of several other Coventry beat groups. How did you get together?

DF: At about this time all the bands around the West Midlands used a late night café called Val’s. It used to stay open till four in the morning, so it was a great place to eat after a gig. It was here that I met Pip Whitcher, and after another meeting we decided to put a band together that would be different. He knew a bass player and I knew a drummer, and the bass player knew another guitarist. So we had a band.

UT: How did you settle on the name the Sorrows?

DF: We practiced in Pip’s mum’s front room, and as she came in to listen to us she remarked, “Well! You do look a sorrowful bunch.” We had a name.

UT: You had to come up with a stage name in the Sorrows?

DF: It was decided that as lead vocalist I should have a stage name, as was the custom back then, as in Johnny Kidd & the Pirates, etc.. So as we were called the Sorrows we looked for something sad, or lonely or miserable. The word that we found collectively was ‘mournful’, so I became Don Maughn, for about six weeks, until we played the Fairfield Hall in Croydon with Susan Maughn, who at the time had a huge hit in the charts with “Bobby’s Girl.” So I said, “Knickers to this! I’m using my own name from now on,” and so it was.

UT: The Sorrows were the most successful group to come out of Coventry. What was the local beat scene like back then? There was other groups like the Mighty Avengers, the Ivy League and the Orchids.

DF: The local beat scene back then was great. Because of our location, we were next door to Birmingham, which is only 18 miles up the road, so we, as a top band, were able to fill our date sheets, which kept us working round the clock. We worked with all the top bands of the time. The only group we never appeared on stage with during a six-year period was the Beatles. But we met them off stage on a couple of occasions. We became really great pals with the Who. Their drummer, Keith Moon, followed us everywhere. He really thought we were the bee’s knees. God, he was a mad sod! I nearly ended up in jail in Brussels because of his crazy antics. I had been doing a pop show for Belgian TV with the Who and Mud and several other British groups, and after it finished Moonie asked me to join them for a meal at a real top restaurant. It was the swankiest place I had ever seen. At the end of the meal we were chatting and Moonie said, “Did anyone see Tommy Cooper on TV last week?” He’d done a trick where he took hold of a tablecloth on a table full of crockery and whipped it away, leaving all the stuff on the table intact. “I can do that trick!” So he walks to a table away from where we sat where four business- men were dining, and said “Excuse me.” He then grabbed their table cloth and pulled all the contents onto the floor, leaving everyone in the place open-mouthed. He simply said, “Oh, sod it, it worked last time!” The whole table of ours promptly got up and legged it out of the place, except me who sat stunned and waited for the police to arrive. I was taken to the local nick, and whilst I was making a statement Moonie arrived and paid up for the damage, and I was released without charge.

UT: Tell me about some of the local Coventry venues like the Locarno Ballroom, Mercers Arms and the Orchid Ballroom.

DF: The local scene around Coventry was buzzing in the ‘60s/’70s: the Flying Club, where all the local groups played; the Matrix, where we saw the Beatles and Jerry Lee Lewis played regularly; the Orchid, where I booked an act that I’d seen in London called Chris Farlowe & the Thunderbirds and we supported him, and packed the place, and I made money like I’d never seen before. (The other booker at the Orchid Ballroom was a certain Larry Page, a for- mer singer who went on to discover the Troggs and run his own successful record label, Page One – Ed). Leamington Spa, our neighbor, had a magnificent park called Jephson Gardens where we played with five other local bands one Sunday afternoon, again packed with several hundred people. Our manager decided to book the biggest theatre in the Midlands, and organised a Battle of the Bands. Twelve of the best of the Midlands local bands played that night. A top A&R man from Pye Records in London was invited and first prize was a recording contract with Pye International. Guess who won? We did!

UT: One of the biggest acts on Pye was the Kinks. Did being on the same label as them affect your choice of material—to have a harder edge, so to speak?

DF: No, we already had developed our style by the time Pye signed us, and our A&R man John Schroeder looked out for material to suit us, and no one else.

UT: Despite being a successful local act, the first two Sorrows singles didn’t do too well in the charts. This must have been quite frustrating at the time?

DF: Not frustrating that the first two records were not hits. We were by this time playing all over Europe seven days a week, so we did not have time to think. In hindsight we maybe should have done more in the UK to promote them, as we did with our first hit.

UT: Pye/Piccadilly then paired you with producer Miki Dallon, who would mean a lot to your career in the rest of the ‘60s. How did you meet him?

DF: We never met Miki Dallon until the song he wrote called “Take a Heart” became a hit for us. He came to one of the TV shows we were doing to say hello, and that’s how we met.

UT: “Take a Heart” was previously recorded by Boys Blues. How did that song come into your repertoire?

DF: John Schroeder, our producer at Pye, found it for us amongst several demos he passed to us at the time.

UT: The single really started taking off after the pirate radio stations like Radio London and their DJ Kenny Everett started hyping it?

DF: We were becoming really big on the London scene at this time, we were playing all the big London gigs, and had created a strong fan base in the London area, so we got every TV show that was going that’s what I believe put us in the charts.

UT: Your drummer Bruce Finlay didn’t actually play on “Take a Heart,” but session drummer Tony Fennell did?

DF: Tony Fennell did play the drums on the actual recording that day as Bruce Finlay’s wife was in hospital. But Bruce spent a full two days with him to show him what to play prior to us going down to Pye studios. It shows how busy the studios were then, as they couldn’t rearrange another date to allow Bruce to come with us later.

UT: When “Take a Heart” became a smash hit, you recorded both German and Italian language versions. How was it like for a Midlands lad to try and sing in a strange language?

DF: I already had a fairly good command of the German language as we had toured the club scene all over Germany, so the German version wasn’t a hassle for me. However, the Italian version was a different matter. I had to write it down exactly as it sounded in English and we recorded it line by line!

UT: The Sorrows were a hard working band. You held several residencies at various clubs and even played at Coventry City’s Highfield Road ground during halftime?

DF: We were the favorite band of the chairman at Coventry City Football Club. He looked on us as a good luck charm. We played at a party when they were promoted from the fourth to the third division. So next year when they went from third to second division, we played at that celebration as well. So the next year as they were heading towards the first division, any crucial cup games we were asked to go down and play on the pitch prior to the kickoff. And it worked; they stayed in the first division for over 20 years.

UT: Having a record in the charts also meant that you got to appear on Ready Steady Go! and shows like that?

DF: There was not a TV pop show in Europe we didn’t do. We toured with all the chart names from America and the UK. I became friendly with some of the biggest international stars of the time, and still am.

UT: Would you care to name any names?

DF: The artists I have remained friends with are PJ Proby, Dave Berry, John D Loudermilk, Dave Lee Travis, the Hollies, the Tremeloes, James Burton from Elvis’ and Ricky Nelson’s bands. And I was friends with Roy Orbison until his untimely death, but still have contact with Barbara his widow, who is a super lady. Roy and I shared an interest in motorbikes, I still ride a Kawasaki ZRX1200; it’s a real adrenalin rush, It accelerates so fast it feels like it’s trying to pull your arms out the sockets!

UT: You and bassist Phil Packham left the Sorrows at the same time in 1966. What lead to the split?

DF: The Sorrows split because Phil Packham decided he had met the girl he wanted to marry. Unfortunately her father wouldn’t allow his daughter to marry some longhaired git in a pop band! So to our surprise he turned up one day for a gig with a short back and sides, and announced he was leaving to get married. We were all dumbfounded, and none of us believed it would happen. But we were just about to embark on a four month tour in Italy, which I thought was too long to be away, on one hit. I also didn’t like the idea of a change in band members, and the two or three people they were suggesting. So I decided to call it a day as well and go do it alone. Not a bad move as it turned out was it?

UT: What was your initial reaction when the band continued in Italy with Roger Lomas as lead guitarist and Pip Whitcher switched to lead vocals?

DF: My reaction when the Sorrows split was as it is when anything comes to an end, Ah well, that was that then, time to move on. I have made it one of my main focuses in life not to dwell on the past, always look ahead. You can’t change [the past], so live with it and move on.

UT: I am sure that you know that the Sorrows nowadays are classified as “freakbeat.” What do you think of that?

DF: I have come across this expression, “freakbeat,” but I don’t know what it means. Someone in this world is always trying to pigeonhole everything. We were just a bunch of guys who had a raw and exciting sound for the time we were together, and it made us stand out from the crowd. I have always believed that had we had better management we could have been one of the biggest bands around. The people who had hold of the reins were amateurs, and as such missed thousands of opportunities to promote and advance us.

Series Navigation<< Masters – Don Fardon (The Sorrows) Interview (2)Masters – The Poets Interview >>

Peter Markham

I am a veteran of the Scandinavian garage punk scene, with an obsessive compulsive interest in 60's music and culture. I have been writing for fanzines on-and-off since the mid 80's and I am currently contributing to Ugly Things magazine, quite possibly the world's foremost journal of obscure and forgotten musical gems of the past. I am also the co-founder and one out of five DJ's for Club Mau Mau - the long-running Copenhagen based 60's inspired beat club. I am of English/Danish descent and believe that life, in fact, begins at 45 rpm.

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February 6, 2012 By : Category : Articles,Beat,Front Page,Interviews,Music,Psych Tags:, ,
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