Saturday, May 20, 2006

60SOBIT: Freddie Garrity

The lead singer of Freddie and the Dreamers, Freddie Garrity, has died at the age of 65.

Born in Manchester in 1940, Garrity was five foot three of nervous energy tucked behind enormous glasses, allowing the band to lay claim to the role as the jesters of the British Invasion and reach an audience on both sides of the Atlantic their contemporaries couldn't manage. While The Beatles stood out on the Ed Sullivan Show, and the Stones caused collywobbles amongst producers, The Dreamers' sense of fun allowed them to slot easily into a tv world still drawing much of its inspiration from variety theatre. Unlike many of the other bands, they'd picked up a lot of their first gigs on the holiday camp and seaside circuit, where entertainment value counted more than the ability to play chords. If it meant they would never be lauded as revolutionaries, the broader, warmer fanbase they built ensured they'd have a paying audience for as long as they chose to play.

Garrity had been a milkman when he joined the Kingfishers, one of a string of skiffle acts he'd been involved in. Apparently it Freddie's dayjob which inspired band leader Ernie Molloy, as he quit the group to become a milkman shortly after. In October 1961, Garrity took control of the band's future direction, making himself titular leader and changing the Kingfishers into Dreamers.

As with many bands forming in the early 60s, The Dreamers found regular, early work in Hamburg. Popping up on a lot TV eventually brought them to the attention of EMI, leading in turn to a first single: a cover of James Ray's If You've Gotta Make A Fool Out of Somebody. That 1963 hit was followed by I'm Telling You Now and You Were Made For Me, all making the top three.

It was 1965's release of I'm Telling You Now which kick-started their American fame, shooting to number one; they never quite managed the trick again, though, and their next-biggest US hit summed up both their appeal, and its limits. Do The Freddie was a borderline-novelty single aimed at trying to turn Garrity's idiosyncratic dance into a phenomenon.

Although Chubby Checker recorded a cover of the song, The Freddie never quite managed to displace The Twist in the popular affection, and with even British interest in the group starting to wane, it never even got a UK release.

The Dreamers made a movie, Seaside Swingers, in a bid to try and keep their star aloft a little longer, but it was clear by now their future wasn't in competing with The Beatles for the teen shilling. Hello, Hello failed to make the chart at all; the last in a long, limping line of flops came in 1969 when Get Around Downtown Girl was released - but by now the original band had split up.

Lester Bangs was horrified into being impressed by the band's spinning of receipts from very little:

"... Freddie and the Dreamers [had] no masterpiece but a plentitude of talentless idiocy and enough persistence to get four albums and one film soundtrack released ... the Dreamers looked as thuggish as Freddie looked dippy ... Freddie and the Dreamers represented a triumph of rock as cretinous swill, and as such should be not only respected, but given their place in history."

Although the original Dreamers were no more, Garrity had quickly seen there was a demand for their music on the cabaret circuit, and pulled together a new band to take their place along crap magicians and meat raffles in provincial halls.

More surprisingly, Garrity also found work as a children's entertainer - turning in three years on kids TV's Little Big Time. A 1974 solo album found the world still largely unwilling to do The Freddie, so he pulled together yet-another Dreamers and returned to the circuit.

Perhaps his most memorable appearance in recent years was his surprise guest appearance in an episode of John Sullivan's underrated divorce sitcom Dear John, when a series of crossed wires saw him stealing the thunder from Kevin Lloyd's more-faded 60s sensation Ricky Fortune.

Garrity had been plagued by ill-health; his troubles originally being brought on by over-work. Trying to get from a gig in Conneticut to one the following night in Nottingham, a series of delays left Garrity stressed and suffering a heart attack. Subsequent medical investigations discovered he had systemic sclerosis secondary to pulmonary hypertension; the diagnosis left him on a regime of twenty tablets a day, while the illness took away a lot of his mobility. Even so, he took this on the chin, seeing it as a opportunity to write his autobiography.

Garrity died on Friday at Ysbyty Gwynedd in Bangor, north Wales. He had been taken ill with cirulatory problems while on holiday with his wife.


3 comments:

karlt said...

Late '80's Melody Maker readers will remember Freddie Garrity as the face of their Mr Amusing column.

Tim Footman said...

Older readers may recall F & the D's doing their schtick on Blue Peter, and the late mutt Petra joining in.

Also, triv fans, their bass player was married to the woman in underrated morbid sitcom Waiting For God.

karlt said...

Petra was well known for her musical collaborations, of course. Later she was to work on 'Songs From The Catherine Wheel' with David Byrne and Twyla Tharp. She's also reputed to have played the sax solo on 'Baker Street'.

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