The Presidents: 1959 to 1965



The Presidents was formed in 1959, and played mainly in pubs and clubs throughout the South London suburbs, experiencing numerous personnel changes until it dissolved in 1965. Over the years they played alongside bands such as The Who, The Rolling Stones, The Animals, and Georgie Fame.

The band was supported by an enthusiastic fan base. Playing mainly cover versions of hits of the day they also played their own versions of more obscure American “underground” music, making them unique among their peers. Sadly, the band did not write its own material and this was a major (but not the only) factor preventing them from achieving stardom, despite top-notch musical talent and presentation that was slightly ahead of its time.

In the 1964, The Presidents became Decca recording artists, releasing their one and only single, "Candy Man" and "Let the Sun Shine In". This might have been their ticket to stardom had it not been for a major set-back just prior to release.

The Presidents was produced by Glyn Johns, who went on to produce The Eagles, Joan Armatrading, and many other well-known recording artists and bands.

In the beginning

During the late nineteen-fifties the popular music scene in the UK was a confusion of musical styles with British artists, such as Frankie Vaughan, Petula Clark and even Lonnie Donnegan, competing with the likes of Bill Haley, Elvis, Buddy Holly, Eddie Cochrane, Jerry Lee Lewis and Chuck Berry, from the USA. Cliff Richard and Shadows became popular with their British rendition of American rock, as did solo acts such as Billy Fury. But their sound and material lacked the dark, bluesy quality produced by artists like Gene Vincent, Muddy Waters, early Charlie Rich and Ray Charles... For an aspiring rock band it was difficult to know which way to go.

It was during this tumultuous period when Colin Golding, a guitarist and collector of what were then considered to be obscure recordings, had the idea of actually playing versions of them. So when he joined a London engineering firm and met co-workers Pat Lavelle, an aspiring singer, and drummer Phil Cunliffe, he soon proposed they should put together what in those days was called a 'rock group'.

Thus, late in the summer of 1959, The Presidents came into being. The band held its first creative meeting at Pat Lavelle’s home in Sutton, Surrey. Those present were Pat Lavelle - vocals, Colin Golding - bass guitar, Ken Headley - lead guitar, Robin Mayhew - rhythm guitar, and Phil Cunliffe - drums.

Shortly after this meeting a promoter called, out of the blue, to book the band into a working man's club in Bermondsey, in the east end of London. With only ten days in which to compile and rehearse a set list, and beg, borrow or steal (albeit not literally) the necessary basic equipment, panic ensued.

Despite these obstacles the band made the gig and, to their considerable relief, was well received with what was a raw-edged sound that differed from that which audiences were used to hearing, Content was mostly standards of the day, which although not exactly what the band wanted to play, gave them a good start and the necessary experience of playing together for the first time.

At this juncture Glyn Johns, an old school friend of Robin, had just started working as a tape op. at the IBC Studios in Portland Place, London. He caught the band's performance at this first gig and concluded that The Presidents would give him an opportunity to hone his production skills. As the studios were free on many evenings and weekends the band was able to record covers and develop their togetherness while Glyn manned the controls.

Historical band lineup

Vocal changes

Shortly thereafter, and because of his preference for ballads rather than the blues, Pat Lavelle decided to step away from The Presidents, to form the Pat McQueen Combo. Martin Johnson, an old friend of Robin, was enlisted to replace him. The two had previously sung Everley Brothers numbers together although Martin was a confirmed Elvis freak who knew the entire Sun Studio repertoire by heart.

The Presidents' renditions of the covers they played were unusual, thanks to arrangements somewhat different from the originals. Unusually, In 1961 they were performing numbers such as “Money”, “Talkin’ 'bout You”, “Tell Me What I’d Say” and “Chains”… all long before the Beatles or the Rolling Stones became famous. Their variety of material led to the band being increasingly in demand, and they often played four or five nights a week at a plethora of clubs and pubs in the South London area.

A tragic event

Ken Headley, a brilliant student as well as a talented guitarist, left the band in the summer of 1961, to study at Durham University where tragically, he became a victim of viral pneumonia, an illness from which he did not recover. His drive and originality was sadly missed by the band, particularly as Ken was the only member who had the vision to write original material – something the surviving members would never accomplish. Had Ken survived and returned to The Presidents as he'd planned, the band would have undoubtedly produced its own repertoire of songs and tunes.

Despite this tragic setback the band had gained sufficient momentum. Robin stepped into the lead guitar spotlight and with Tony Finch joining on rhythm guitar, the band forged ahead, gaining popularity and recognition.

Vocal variations

Early In 1962 Martin Johnson was persuaded by his father to 'do something sensible' with his life and joined the RAF. For a while he continued to sing with the band but making long trips to various gigs wasn't always possible. On these occasions he was replaced by Ricky Tyrrell, who eventually replaced Martin when the RAF posted him to Germany,

With Ricky as the new front man the band powered forward. Although the repertoire of songs was still somewhat unique, the Liverpool bands and others had emerged and audiences wanted to hear songs by the Beatles and other popular groups of the day. The Presidents could cover just about any song from Tom Jones' “It's not Unusual” and The Beatles' “Eight Days a Week”, to the more obscure American R&B tracks.

The Red Lion roars

During t his period the band became resident at the Red Lion public house in Sutton, Surrey, playing to appreciative capacity crowds every Friday evening, while fulfilling their other South London gigs on a selective basis. The atmosphere was exciting with the reception hall at the back of the pub packed to capacity, sometimes overflowing down the side alley. On one summer night the hall was so densely packed that the side windows literally burst outwards.

Drum solos

Later In 1962, founding member and drummer Phil Cunliffe left the band, on doctor's advice, after injuring his wrist while playing at the Cellar Club in Kingston-upon-Thames. Phil was replaced by Sutton, Surrey drummer Ed Patterson, who would stay with the band to the bitter end in 1965.

Keys added

In late '63 it was decided the line-up should include a keyboard player so John Styles, of Ashtead, Surrey, was brought in from. John was a talented pianist but the poor state of pianos at most venues made it difficult for him to maximise his contribution. He did, however, own a clavoline, a short, electric keyboard which added a new dimension to the band despite it being limited to the Del Shannon “Runaway” and Tornados “Telstar” sound.

Bass shifts

In 1963, another founding member, bass guitarist Colin Golding, resigned to pursue what became a highly successful career in interior design. He was replaced by Tony Busson, from Epsom, Surrey, who had played professionally for a few years, the cinema circuit with various touring pop packages.

The ultimate line-up

Personnel at this important period in the band’s history were: Ricky Tyrell - vocals; Robin Mayhew - lead guitar and vocals; Tony Finch - rhythm guitar; Tony Busson - bass guitar and vocals; John Styles - piano; Eddy Patterson - drums. This structure was the most powerful in the band’s history – with Tony Busson adding extra voice-harmony which, when combined with those of Ricky and Robin resulted in more complex and fuller vocal arrangements.

Ups and downs

1964 became the pinnacle of the band's success but despite their popularity (and The Red Lion having become a Mecca for local fans), the band still suffered the major drawback of not having written one original song since the days of Ken Headley.

Then, while playing at a private party in Hampton, Surrey, the band began to jam on the old Roy Orbison number, “Candy Man”. The audience was very excited and the band realised this was the closest they had come to creating their own, unique sound. Friend and producer Glyn Johns heard the arrangement shortly afterwards and immediately booked a studio to record it for possible release as a single. The “B” side would be the Teddy Randazzo (Weinstien) number 'Let the Sun Shine In', a tune that had been in the band's repertoire since it’s inception.

The two songs were recorded in early 1964 at IBC studios in Portland Place, then forwarded to Decca Records. No one outside of Decca really knows what happened at that point but as can been noted on the Press Cuttings and Photos page, the band's“Candy Man” tape was handed to Brain Poole and The Tremeloes, who at that time were probably Decca's biggest selling rock band. The record company then announced that The Tremeloes' version was to be released simultaneously with The Presidents', who had no choice than to relegate the song to their record's “B” side. By default, “Let the Sun Shine In” became the band’s “A” side. Sadly, despite being a good song, it did not have the strength to chart. Interestingly, after he heard The Presidents' version, the song was recorded and successfully released by Georgie Fame.

  Finally, after 40 years, the truth is out!
Click here to visit the Sound Bites page to find a 4 minute sound bite from BBC Radio 2's "Sounds of the Sixties" show where DJ Brian Matthew reveals all and plays the single which could have changed The Presidents' fortunes.

"Candy Man" made it to No.8 on the British hit parade and, understandably, the band was bitterly disappointed. Although their release was mentioned in all the musical papers, The Presidents' outstanding rendition of “Candy Man” was effectively lost (Hear the release on the Sound Bites page).

The beginning of the end

Shortly thereafter, and understandably disillusioned by this lost opportunity, Ricky Tyrell, John Styles and Tony Finch left the band. Tony went on to join The Nightshift, a band fronted by Brian Wyles (who played harmonica on “Candy Man”) and featuring a young Jeff Beck. This was when Martin Cowtan joined the Presidents on lead guitar, allowing Robin to concentrate on singing. And, in an attempt to change musical direction, Eric Archer was recruited to play trombone and harmonica. With this final line-up the band continued touring South London pubs and clubs until, in August 1965, Robin announced he would be leaving the UK to join his family in South Africa.

After a little more than six glorious years, The Presidents decided it was time to call it a day.

Rock 'n' Roll  is more than entertainment, it's a way of life. If your garage band needs some inspiration, treat yourself to some concert tickets and rock on! Never mind the baseball tickets, we're here to Rock 'n' Roll!


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