Peter Markham from Ugly Things talks to Don Fardon, lead singer of the Sorrows. PART 2
GOODBYE WEBB STACEY, WILL PITY, DON MAUGHN – HELLO DON FARDON!
UT: After you left the Sorrows in ’66, you decided to give up the music business altogether, even swapping your Jaguar for a Morris Minor?
DF: When I left the Sorrows in ‘66, I had no job to go to, a new baby boy who was two-years-old and not very much money. My wife had a ladies’ hairdressers shop, which just about paid the bills, but left nothing over. So the first thing that went was the Jaguar. I met a guy who played rugby football with my brother-in-law, who had a cheap car for sale. It was a battered Morris Minor, which he agreed I could have and pay him for it when I got the money. I didn’t realize that he used to take the whole football team out in it on Saturday nights. We used it for about six months, when one day my wife called to tell me the front wheel had dropped off in the middle of the main street in Coventry and was blocking traffic! The front axle had snapped off.
We were now in real trouble, no money, we couldn’t pay to repair the car, bills were piling up and the pantry was almost bare. I was too proud to ask my father for help, which he would have given to us. My father had a huge house and gardens the size of a football field. So to supplement our food bill, when it was dark I used to go up there and grab a few cabbages and carrots to go with the two sausages we had for Sunday dinner. I don’t think times were ever as bad as they were then. But, by god, does it teach you to appreciate things. Something we have never forgotten. We had to sell my wife’s jewelry, and I remember making a promise to her then that one day I would make it all back and more.
UT: You were eventually convinced to return to singing and signed on with top London manager Eve Taylor, who also had Adam Faith and Sandie Shaw in her fold.
DF: I managed to get a job back in engineering with a company my father had once been a director of, and it was whilst I was there that one day the works security police came to tell me a car was waiting outside the factory gates. As I left work I went over to the car and the driver informed me that he had come from a London recording company and that I was to go with him back to London to arrange the contract. I told him to push off as I wasn’t interested, as I had just sorted my life out and had found a steady job at last. People had been to tell me the car from London had returned. I went to the driver and said, “Look, mate, what part of NO don’t you understand?” He said, “Why don’t you just talk to them? What have you got to lose? You can still walk away if you don’t like what you hear. It won’t cost you anything to listen, will it?”
So I went to London with him to see what it was all about. The record company said, “What will it take for you to sign a contract with us?” I said I wanted the equivalent of my annual engineering salary for at least two years in advance, paid into my wife’s bank account. They said, “OK, you got it!” I was back as a solo artist.
UT: Then you were signed by CBS as a solo artist, and were about to release your debut single, “It’s Been Nice Loving You” (written by Burt Bacharach and arranged by Percy Faith), on which production costs ran up to £6,000. But you ran into some problems with your old record company?
DF: My recording manager was Miki Dallon, who arranged for me to meet big time manager Eve Taylor, who said that I would be the next big thing to hit the scene. She went to a Christmas party at ATV Studios and whilst she was there she told everyone about this new singing sensation she was about to sign. Louis Benjamin, the head of Pye Records, heard her and whether through jealousy or what I don’t know, but he went back to Pye and said to his legal department, “What do we know about Don Fardon?” They checked their records and said, “He was signed to us with the Sorrows.” So the swine slapped an injunction on me which was in place for eight months before we could get it dropped. By that time Eve Taylor had moved on. I couldn’t record or work during this time, so it was back to square one—although the record company still paid me my wages, thank god.
INDIAN RESERVATON AND THE SOUL MACHINE
UT: Around this time you also fronted a band called Don Fardon & the Soul Machine, which was a popular stage act that toured all over Europe backing Ben E King, Arthur Conley and Aretha Franklin. Tell me a little more about that particular band.
DF: Back home I was getting restless, I knew some guys from Birmingham and approached them about forming a band so that I could earn some money. It became Don Fardon’s Soul Machine. After a couple of weeks gigging around, an agent saw us and offered me a tour of Germany. We set off for Berlin. All was well until we arrived at the East German checkpoint, when the drummer found out he had lost his passport! The keyboard player said he had his brother’s passport that he picked up by mistake, so we could use that. They looked nothing alike! Can you imagine how I felt as I handed over the eight passports? I hoped that by giving them in a bundle the East German border guard might not notice! I was crapping myself. And would you believe it, we got through. But when we arrived on the other side they made me fly him back to the West. During that tour I played on stage with the greatest names that the soul music world had every produced, including Otis Redding, James Brown, Aretha Franklin, Sam & Dave and Wilson Pickett. (Black soul singer Chester Riggon replaced Don as the frontman of the Soul Machine, rechristened the Atlantic Soul Machine, who are amazingly still together – Ed.).
UT: Then you ran into Miki Dallon who signed you to his new label, Young Blood, and set your sights on Germany and France instead of the UK. The single “The Letter” sold over a million copies in Germany alone. How come you turned to the continent?
DF: We started releasing records in Germany first because I had established a name there. The first three records I released there were all chart entries, I was flying!
UT: In ‘68 “Indian Reservation” entered the charts in the US. How did that song come into your repertoire?
DF: My producer went to America, and returned with a fistful of demos for me to listen to. One of which was a song written by a housewriter at Acuff-Rose Music Publishers in Nashville, Tennessee called “Indian Reservation” which they thought might be a chart song, so I recorded it—along with, over the next six years, over 200 other tracks. “Indian Reservation” became a massive worldwide hit for me.
UT: You continued to tour the club circuit doing cover versions mixed with your own songs?
DF: I had found a Scottish cabaret band called A Touch of Raspberry and joined the cabaret circuit for three years.
UT: Your success in Germany allowed you to have your own radio show, and you also worked as a journalist for Axel Springer?
DF: My status in Germany was growing, and at this time it was probably one of my biggest markets. I received offers from all kinds of people. I started writing a pop column for a national German newspaper, and also used to record a weekly show which was pumped over the border into Eastern Germany. It was heady days.
I realised quite early on that if I wanted to make it big in Germany, I had to try and master the language. My German record company at first provided me with a driver/chaperone who was an attractive English speaking female. So when I arrived for my second tour, I asked if I could have someone who did not speak English. That was when they provided me with a male driver/bodyguard. When you spend a month, 14 hours a day, traveling all over Germany with someone who doesn’t speak your language, then you are forced to speak theirs. And it worked! That he turned out to be an ex-SS officer is another story. But my lasting memory of him was that if drinking booze became an Olympic event, then I had been in the company of the gold medalist! They say that when he moved house there were so many empty bottles in the back garden it put 10,000 DM on the value of the house! And when we flew to France and back, he drank so much on the plane I had to pay duty on him to get him back into the country!
UT: You also had a venture into the film business and did a film called ‘The Long and Short’?
DF: The German record company put my name forward to appear in a film, which was to be the German entry for the annual Golden Rose of Montreux [Rose D’Or] Awards. I as it turned out was to star alongside the French legend Charles Aznavour, who was one of the nicest guys I ever met. He was a walking history book on everything French. And of course a close friend of Edith Piaf, whom I adore.
UT: Two years later, “Indian Reservation” was reissued in the UK and became a hit.
DF: In ‘68 “Indian Reservation” became a hit all around the world, except in the UK. I don’t to this day understand why not. Miki Dallon told me it only sold three copies, and I bought two of those! When I was working on the Northern cabaret scene in the UK in 1969 I became very friendly with Radio 1 DJ Dave Lee Travis. I used to stay at his family home in Manchester if I was working in the area. His mum was like a second mum to me; it was like home from home. Except for the giant fruit bat that shared my room with a three-foot wing span—and it wasn’t in a cage!
I arrived back from a gig one night late, and Dave was waiting up for me. He’d been to the pictures to see a film called Soldier Blue all about the demise of the Red Indians. He said, “I reckon if you re-release your ‘Indian Reservation’ now, it will be a hit.” I said, “No chance, buddy, the record company will never go for it.” So unbeknownst to me, he called them the next day, and as they say the rest is history.
UT: As promotion for the record, you went to the States to do some publicity. Could you tell me a little about your time Stateside?
DF: There was a Swedish guy called Jan Olafsson who worked at Young Blood. He had something to do with ABBA in the early days. He called me up and said that the Americans would very much like to have me over to do some publicity calls, so I agreed. We drove down to Dallas where we picked up some movie producer, and headed off to Oklahoma to the Cherokee reservation at Talaquah. It was the 150th anniversary of the Trail of Tears festival. To remember the uprooting of the Cherokee Nation from Colorado and the forced march in the middle of winter to their re-settlement in Oklahoma. There were over 3,000 Indians present when we arrived; it’s one of the most moving things I have ever witnessed. Also it was a bit terrifying, to be the only white people there. And they allowed us to film it. I presented a copy gold disc to the current chief of the tribe, a Wilma Mankiller, and we still keep in touch from time to time.
UT: In 1970 you toured Scandinavia and recorded an album in Sweden with English producer Roger Wallis. The Master of Ceremonies was Kim Fowley. How did that all come about?
DF: In September of 1970 I set off for my first ever Scandinavian adventure and I loved it. We recorded a 50/50 live/studio album backed by my Swedish session band, who were a great bunch of guys. I remember as we were on our way to Norway, it began to snow, I mean big time! At four in morning we were the only car on the road. I say a car, but we were in a converted ambulance, which had aircraft seats, very comfortable. We hadn’t seen another vehicle for an hour when in the middle of nowhere we came upon a traffic jam. It was -20 outside, so we sat for what seemed ages. Then I and the lead guitarist went to see what was wrong. Two guys in a VW Beetle had come round a corner and hit an elk, which had come through the windscreen, killing the driver and pushing the passenger into the backseat, and he was trapped under it!
The following day they took me to the top of the ski-jump. Who the hell decided it would be a good idea to strap two bits of plastic to your feet, go to the top of the tallest tower you can find and leap off? I am still in awe of the experience. Before I left Sweden, Roger Wallace, the record producer introduced me to Kim Fowley, and they said, “Why don’t you let Kim introduce the LP?” So we recorded a piece at a nightclub to put on the front of the record. What a loon!
UT: Did you have much to do with the other artists on Young Blood, like Jimmy Powell?
DF: At Young Blood it was just like one big family. We were all good mates with each other. Mack and Katie Kissoon used to do a lot of the backing vocals on my records. Z Jenkins, who was a session guitarist and played on the Carpenters’ records and played on “Baker Street” for Gerry Rafferty, came on the road with me for three years and acted as my musical director. Jimmy Powell and I worked together for a showbiz agency in Wolverhampton for a couple of years as booking agents, and we actually managed a local band called [Ambrose] Slade. One Monday morning, Jimmy, who at the time was skint, quietly sold them to Chas Chandler for £200! The pillock!
UT: In 1970 you released “Belfast Boy” about George Best. Tell me a bit about how that song came about.
DF: In 1969 or early in 1970 I got a telephone call from some guy who said he was an independent film producer and had been commissioned by the BBC to make a television documentary about the life of the world’s greatest footballer, George Best. He’d heard me singing in a show in the West End of London and said he would like me to sing the title song for the program. I told him that I didn’t do session work, and that I was under contract to a record company, so it wouldn’t be allowed. He said, “If they say you can do it, would you?” So I said, “Yes I would.” He phoned Young Blood and we got the OK, and into Abbey Road Studios I went to sing “Belfast Boy.”
At the end of the session he was over the moon with the result. He said “Don, that’s fantastic. Let’s go and have a drink to celebrate.” I said, “It’s 4:30 in the afternoon, all the pubs are shut.” “It’s OK,” he in- formed me, “we can go to my club.” So we’re sitting in this club, in a booth having a beer, when he notices some people in the other booth and waves to them. He got up and went over to them. I couldn’t see them from where I was sitting, but when he came back he said, “They want us to join them,” so over we went. It was really quite dark in the bar, so to my surprise, as I sat down in the booth, I looked over to be introduced to his friends, and sat looking at Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor!
The TV show came out the following Wednesday night at nine o’clock and from 10 o’clock for the next five hours the phone lines to the BBC were jammed. When would the record be available, what label was it on, etc. So my record company had a meeting with the BBC and licensed it and released it in 10 days. George and I spent many days together promoting it around the country and it became a hit. We remained friends till his death, and I did the epitaph on TV to him on the day of the funeral. When I am asked what he was like, I always say that he was the most ordinary guy you could every wish to meet. His most favorite things in life were a cup of tea and hot buttered toast. I’m sure he will be remembered for his football and not the other things that flawed his genius.
UT: In 1971 you left Young Blood and stopped working with Miki Dallon.
DF: In 1971 I had started to feel a bit stagnant. I was just cruising along the showbiz highway aimlessly. I met a guy who was a big noise with a brewery company, and during a meal we had a conversation about pubs and restaurants. He said, “If you ever fancy a crack at the license trade, give me a call.”
I had a young baby son whom I never saw, and a wife whose company I really enjoyed. I asked her one night if she fancied becoming a publican, and to my amazement she said yes. I informed the record company I was coming off the road and we purchased our first pub eight weeks later, the first of five we were to own over the next 20 years. There’s another book on this subject alone!
UT: You continued to release records on various labels up until 1976 when you retired from the music business. How did that come about?
DF: Although I continued to record, the restaurant life was so intensive, working 16 or 17 hours a day, I found that it took all our time and effort, so it was with a sad heart that in ‘76 I decided to retire from music altogether.
In ‘96 I joined the BBC to present a weekly show on music from the ‘60s and ’70s and then they asked me to do a daily show, so I was on seven days a week, and I loved it. It’s one of the best times of my life, and I got the bug back. I formed a country band to back me and wrote a musical called Line Dance Fever, got 12 female dancers and the best line dance teacher in the USA, Angelique Fernandez, to come over and off on tour we went for two years.
UT: Last year there was some renewed interest in your version of “I’m Alive.”
DF: I was on holiday in Spain last year, when one day my wife called me from the garden to say there was a phone call from a firm of lawyers in London who wanted to speak to me. They represented a mineral water company who would be interested in using one of my songs for an advertising campaign, and would I be agreeable? They wouldn’t tell me at first who the company was, but after much probing I found out it was Coca-Cola. I was delirious! The campaign was to be used on national TV and the ad company responsible called me to ask if I would audition to do the voiceover as well, which I did, and I got the voiceover too!
UT: Tell me a bit about your present day musical activities as well as the reunion of the Sorrows?
DF: Things and the moment are really great. I met a guy in Medem in France, a couple of years ago. and he called me out of the blue and asked me if I would like to do a country album. We did it in Nashville and it was released on December 6. As we speak, they have informed me it’s selling well in the US and Ireland, so I’m hoping for more tours later this year. I have also been contacted by a company who would like me to appear in some music festivals in France this summer, so it’s still “GO GO GO!” I am also trying to get a couple of the remaining Sorrows together to do a small nostalgia tour, but that’s still ongoing. •
SORROWS LIVE DATES 2012
Sat 2 June – Midlands Mod Weekender, Birmingham
Friday 29 June Festival Beat - Salsomaggiore Terme (Parma) Italy
Sunday 5 August Euro Ye Ye – Gijon, Spain
DON FARDON & DC FONTANA LIVE DATES 2012
Thursday 2 August – Euro Ye Ye, Gijon, Spain
THANKS: to Beau & Miki Dallon, Gered Mankowitz, Pete Chambers, Rolf Rieben, Mary Payne and Rayanne Byatt.
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