A little John Leyton Story

Don’t ask why – it was a largely sad experience – but last evening I was at Guildford G Live (a workaday rebuilt hall almost entirely devoid of atmosphere) to see The Marty Wilde Rock’n’Roll Party with some Wildcats and Marty’s “very good friends” Eden Kane and John(ny) Leyton, who was really an actor but somehow ended up with a bunch of hit singles. It was sad for me because the room was at best 30% full, Marty’s voice is OK but weak, his now light brown Irish is more and more incongruous, especially as his three guitarists allow their ageing heads to just be themselves, and he looked in pain several time through the evening. The Wildcats lacked guitar energy, though an excellent younger drum and keyboard pair helped a little. On the plus side, Eden Kane, a resident of Los Angeles not looking as if he needs the money, was much livelier. John on the other hand looked for the most part like a rabbit trapped in headlights, and come the “spontaneous” encore, had no idea what he was doing!!

My contribution concerns Leyton’s first, and biggest, hit “Johnny Remember Me” and comes courtesy of a tiny fragment of EMI’s amazing archive. Signed by Joe Meek at a time when Joe’s pioneering but failed Triumph label had bitten the dust, and before EMI had signed him to an all-embracing licence, the song had to be shopped…and EMI was the main port of call. Joe sent all his tapes and acetates to EMI’s Roland Rennie, accompanied by hand-written letters which all survive. He wasn’t interested in release dates, he just wanted his records in the shops.However, on March 10, 1961, Roland wrote to Meek :”Please accept this (letter) as authority to place the artiste (sic) elsewhere.”

Undaunted, Joe carried on making attempts to persuade EMI to take his recordings, though those featuring Leyton were met with the same response. In June 1961, Meek wrote again to Rennie about Leyton: “I decided it would be far better to find a good song…and offer him to you with a possible hit disc”. (What was he doing before, we wonder?!) ” Well, I’m quite positive this new one will be a very big hit. The song is great and John does a great job with the vocal. It’s a song like “Tell Laura”  (Leyton’s first release on the then independent Top Rank label which lost out to Ricky Valance’s version – a No.1. and his only hit) “that will get lots of publicity because it’s about a girlfriend that dies….I would like everything done to keep the boy with EMI; he’s going to be very big one day, this record will do it.”

Rennie relented, though initial plans to release it on HMV were thwarted when its house producer Wally Ridley objected – the label being his domain – so Top Rank, about to be consumed by EMI was chosen and the single was released in August 1961, went to No.1 and stayed there for four weeks.

Happily last night there was a younger(er) very bouncy blonde lady on hand to save the song by taking on the title words as did Lissa Gray (who she?) all those years ago.

I guess all credit to these three Septuagenarians for still turning out in their lame (which should have an acute accent if only I knew how to do that!) suits on a Saturday night. But to be honest……..Sheet-John-Leyton


About dhvinyl

Lifelong obsession with music, 33 years in the music business, 40 years immersed in selling old records, 18 years retired!
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