‘The Bachelors’ comprised John Stokes and brothers Con and Dec Cluskey; all born in Dublin, Eire. They began their musical career in mid 1957 as a purely instrumental act playing harmonicas. As ‘The Harmonichords’ they enjoyed considerable success in Ireland where they were frequently booked for Radio work.
In 1959, the trio was chosen to tour Scotland and England as support to singer Patrick O’Hagan. It was O’Hagan that suggested they extend their act by singing in addition to playing harmonicas. John Stokes explains:
”We had an act of 10 minutes, which was a long time for people to listen to mouth organs! We thought we’d get more money if we were on stage for longer, so we bought guitars and a double bass.
We put in some Irish folk songs and found more people wanted to book us and we did get more money!”
When I asked Con Cluskey about his recollection of the earliest vocal performances he chuckled at the memory;
‘We had been planning and rehearsing to sing for a couple of months but every time we came to the part of the act where is was supposed to happen, we got cold feet! One night, the pianist in the band announced we were going to sing and we had no choice. Our first ever vocal on stage as a group was ‘Tom Dooley’ which had been a huge hit for The Kingston Trio. Irish songs such as ‘Mick McGilligans ball’ came soon after.”
During the next two years, the trio toured the theatres and dance halls of Ireland. Whilst the harmonica set formed the mainstay of their act, they were able to develop a good vocal ability and received much praise in the Irish media.
One such theatre review in early 1962 said …
‘The Harmonichords brought the house down, of course! These three boys, Declan and Con Cluskey and John Stokes have an act overflowing with life, music and comedy and they are in great demand everywhere.’
They appeared as ‘extra’s’ in the 1960 Rank Organisation Film ‘The Siege of Sydney Street’ ( partially shot in Dublin, starring Donald Sinden and Nicole Berger) and completed their first ever summer season as instrumentalists/vocalists for Butlins at their holiday camp in Mosney, north of Dublin.
This hard show business apprenticeship was to serve them well in later years.
In early 1962, promote Philip Solomon wanted to book them as a support act for the Nina and Frederick UK tour in April that year. Con takes up the story…
‘We were quite big in Ireland, but going over to England as an unknown act low down on the bill was a different story altogether. We pondered over the decision for quite some time until Philip more or less forced us into making the decision to go, which, as it turned out, changed our lives forever.’
This tour was followed by a summer season supporting Patrick O’Hagan at the Webster Hall (later theatre) in Arbroath on the East Coast of Scotland where, in addition to singing and playing in the show, they also sold tickets and programmes!
By this time Philip Solomon’s wife, Dorothy, had become their agent, and she persuaded Decca’s A and R Chief, Dick Rowe to come to Scotland and see the trio.
Dick Rowe later wrote:
“I was quite impressed with their vocals, but had not the faintest idea what to do with them… so I promised them an audition at Decca later in the year.”
At the end of the Arbroath season the trio travelled to London overnight by train for their recording test. They were very tired and did not give a memorable performance of ’Dream.’ Dick Rowe gave them another chance a few days later, after which they were booked to do some recordings.
In the interim period, they were placed in the hands of American freelance record producers Shel Talmy (who later had huge success producing The Kinks among others) and Mike Stone. The trio was rehearsed for six weeks prior to their first session.
On 12th October 1962, they recorded four songs at the Decca studios in West Hampstead: ‘Charmaine,’ ‘Old Bill.’ ‘Jailer Bring Me Water’ and a vocal re-working of Blaydon Races titled ‘Our Streets Annual Outing.’
‘Charmaine’ and ‘Old Bill’ were selected as suitable material for a single but the trio still needed a name.
It should be explained that ‘The Bachelors’ had been used in the UK before; by a duo who released two singles on Parlaphone in 1959 and a Decca single (F11300 ‘Loving Babe’) in 1960. Decca had the name registered to the label (and not in use during 1962) and it was Dick Rowe who chose it for the trio. Although the first session was regarded as a success, ‘The Bachelors’ had to wait several weeks for their debut record to be released.
Con Cluskey remembers this time vividly;
“We took a small flat in North London and it didn’t take long for our money to run out. When I first heard Charmaine on the radio we were down to our last ten bob (50p). Dorothy got us a job at the Astor Club backing another Decca artiste, Steve Perry. One night a girl in the audience shouted for Charmaine and it was then that we knew the record was beginning to sell.”
Released on 14th December 1962, ‘Charmaine’ first entered the chart in late January 1963 starting a 19 week run which peaked at No.6 in March and sold over 250,000 copies. The Bachelors had arrived!