The first of five posts on the 60s group celebrated for 1968’s ‘Jesamine’
It seems mean to divide The Casuals fifteen year career around just the one song – pre-‘Jesamine’, Jesamine, post ‘Jesamine’ and longafter ‘Jesamine’ – but, beyond record collectors and 60s afficiandos, that song, wonderful though it is, rightly or wrongly, is just about their sole legacy. Yet for any fan of 60s pop, there is much more to be discovered.
The early years
The band were formed in Lincoln in 1960 by 13 year old John Tebb and Howard Newcomb, becoming The Casuals in 1961 (Howard Newcomb got the inspiration for the name from a clothing catalogue which is perhaps why it sounds so convincingly mod).
The original line-up consisted of John Tebb, piano and vocals; Howard Newcomb, guitar, harmony vocals and trumpet; Don Fortune, drums and Zenon Kawolski, bass. Fortune and Kowalski left and were followed by several replacements, culminating in 1962 with Mick Brey, drums and Ian Good, bass, from other well-known Lincoln groups The Avengers and The Sultans. Over ten members passed through the band over its fifteen year lifespan.
In 1965, The Casuals appeared on ABC’s talent show Opportunity Knocks, a sort of Britain’s Got Talent for the 60s presented by Hughie Green. They won three times (the winning act getting to return the following week). Sadly, inevitably, no footage survives. There might be a slightly better chance of the end of series ‘All Winners Show’ still existing (there is a 1968 ‘All Winners Show’ on Youtube featuring Mary Hopkin) but a trawl through the internet reveals no such trace.
On the back of their Opportunity Knocks success the band signed a record deal with Fontana. A single appeared in November 1965, If You Walk Out b/w Please Don’t Hide but was unsuccessful. ‘If You Walk Out’ is in a smoother Dave Berry style and sounds not unlike John Carter at the time. ‘Please Don’t Hide’ has a boogie-woogie flavour but still smooth vocals.
The lack of success for this, their sole single (during this incarnation) was compounded by a dearth of live dates thanks to an ineffectual Grimsby booking agent.
When in Italy
In 1966, John Tebb saw a TV documentary about an English band (almost certainly The Senate according to Howard Newcomb) working in Italy. This prompted discussion with the band about relocating to the continent given the lack of action in their homeland. A transfer to Italy was not an unfamiliar path for English bands at this time and for some, The Primitives and The Sorrows, for example, the change brought considerable success. So by mid 1966, The Casuals had relocated to Milan, adding bassist Alan ‘Plug’ Taylor to their line-up before they did so.
The Casuals were essentially a tight outfit in search of a hit. They worked hard as a live band and their professionalism secured them a record contract with the Italian wing of CBS in 1966.
They recorded mostly Italian covers of British hit singles such as Il Sole Non Tramonterà (‘The Sun Ain’t Gonna Shine Anymore’ ‘ b/w L’amore Dura Solo Un Attimo – ‘If You Walk Out’ – and Land of 1000 Dances). 1967’s Il Grigio Mr James is none other than an Italian version of ‘Semi-Detached Suburban Mr James’, translated into Italian by ‘G.Testa’ (Italian singer Alberto Testa). Cook-Greenaway’s Siamo Quattro (‘We Four’) is an Italian vocal version of ‘I Was Kaiser Bill’s Batman’, a hit for Whistling Jack Smith.
The Casuals issued one single as The Climate in January 1968 Chi Mi Aiuterà, (Holland-Dozier-Holland’s ‘You Keep Me Hanging On’) b/w Quando Parlo Di Te, (‘When I Talk About You’) by G. Bardott and F. Reverberi.
A 1967 Gino Paoli Casuals album appeared with Gino Paoli (their first producer whilst in Italy) on Side A and The Casuals occupying six tracks on Side B. The track listing for The Casuals side was (and these are rough translations) ‘The Grey Mr James’ (I suspect ‘Semi-Detached Suburban Mr James’) ‘We Four’, ‘The Sun Does Not Fade’ (surely ‘The Sun ain’t Gonna Shine Anymore’), ‘Land of 1,000 Dances’, ‘Love Lasts Only a Moment’ and ‘Sorrow’, the latter very possibly being a cover of The McCoys/Merseys 1966 single.
Their first two singles did well locally but the third, now produced by David Pardo and on Joker, was their cover of the Bee Gees’ Massachusetts which made No1 in Italy, beating the Bee Gees’ own version which reached No 5 in the Italian charts. A straightforward cover, even their sleeve mimics The Bee Gees’:
But it’s the B-side which intrigues. Take a listen to their mysterious yet melodic Jennifer Browne. John Tebb’s voice is unmistakable and that’s presumably Howard Newcomb on trumpet. Lovely vibes and organ too. An English language version apparently surfaced in the 90s, if you know more please get in touch.
They’re back in Britain
Back in England in late 1967/early 1968 with Ian Good having departed in mid ’67 and Robert O’Brien now on drums, producer and manager David Pardo secured for them an initial one single deal with Decca.
In February 1968, the Decca deal produced the single Adios Amor (‘Goodbye My Love’ – maintaining the Italian connection) written by Tom Springfield and songwriter/ record producer Norman Newell (who wrote ‘Portrait of My Love’) and also recorded by José Feliciano b/w Don’t Dream of Yesterday by Carlos Leresche and Daniel Hortis (starting out as ‘Je t’appelle Encore’ but given new lyrics by Pardo) released in February 1968.
With John Tebb’s vocals taking centre stage and with the addition of orchestration, their signature sound was now fully established.
There was what appears to be an Italian release of Adios Amor backed with a different song Dolce Valle (‘Ballet of Broken Hearts’) written by Pagani, Stewart and Langley. Can anyone shed any light on this?
All group members except drummer O’Brien professed P.J. Proby to be their favourite singer. There was an inherent smoothness to Tebb’s vocals and a radio-friendly air about their sound which produced a far tamer mood than almost anything Proby produced. Perhaps their fondness for Proby suggests the direction they might wish to have moved in.
Despite the band undertaking significant promotion in the UK, this first UK Decca single did not chart. The Casuals returned to Milan which, for the time being, continued to be their main base.
David Pardo joined them there and when he played the band a Pye demo of The Bystanders’ ‘When Jesamine Goes’ – which hadn’t been a hit for them earlier that year – this was the song that both he and the group felt should be their next single.
Pardo returned to London and set to work with arranger Cy Payne on what was to be the definitive version of one of the 60s most definitive hits.
And that’s where we take up the story next time.
Previous posts on The Casuals