To most younger readers of this website, the name John Leyton
conjures up very little, if anything. So then I must direct you
to the great
IMDb website, (but remember to press
your 'back' button,) then follow that with a look at the
45-rpm.org.uk website, (and follow
that with the 'back' button,) you have just become acquainted with
him! So to our older readers, you should then be thinking 'Oh!
yes, him!'. Unfortunately, to our younger readers, I fear they
would still be none the wiser. Essentially, John Leyton was part
of the team that changed the face of modern music, he sang 'Johnny,
Remember Me', the history-making record that reached the pivotal
heights of number one in 1961, and was later covered by Showaddywaddy
and sampled by Bronski Beat. Still none the wiser? Well,
try this one - when the England Supporters Band, and originally the
Sheffield Wednesday Supporters Band, bang their drums and play their
brass section to annoying proportions on the terraces, they will more
often than not, be playing the theme from 'The Great Escape'.
Well... that was from a movie made in 1963 starring John Leyton as
Flight Lt. William Dickes, you know the one, the tunneler.
It is that seamless link that takes us
to John Leyton's newest adventure, instead of tunnelling out of a
camp, he is trying to make some dents in the music charts, and trying
to break a few records at the same time. Despite releasing a
re-write of 'Hi Ho Silver Lining', John's original idea was to put
words to the theme of 'The Great Escape', but as he explained, the
transition between an instrumental and a sing-a-long proved too
difficult, it just did not sit right. Then someone else
suggested a second terrace chant, that of 'Hi Ho', which was easier to
adapt, as it already had a melody written to it. The primary
reason for this record, like most of John's exploits, was the
fun-factor, the job satisfaction and John cannot regret anything that
he has enjoyed doing.
One of John Leyton's early regrets was
that of leaving the production stable that was Joe Meek's.
Although in this interview, we speak of Joe with great affection and
applause, both John and myself agree that no offense or upset is meant
to be caused to the Shenton family.
It was Robert Stigwood, Leyton's
manager, who introduced John to Joe Meek in 1960. After a few
failed auditions with other producers, Meek took an instant liking to
Leyton, not for his singing capabilities, but for his boyish
good-looks. It didn't matter if you could sing to Joe Meek.
Joe could turn any looker into a superstar, and he often did.
The first time the two met, Leyton tested Meek's sound equipment in
his flat in Lansdowne House, Holland Park, alongside Charles Blackwell
on the piano. The sound that came back, the distortion and echo that
would become Meek's trademark, made Leyton stand back and notice.
Meek took on Leyton and following a
couple of failed singles, Leyton starred as Johnny St. Cyr in a TV
series called 'Harper's West One', as a singer. Robert Stigwood
managed to manipulate the show's producers for Leyton/St. Cyr to
perform a song. Joe Meek, along with Geoff Goddard rapidly wrote
a song that was to become 'Johnny Remember Me'. Its three
appearances in the show ensured the song as a sure-fire success, which
it was. It was the song, or the production that would re-write
history, because it became the first independently produced single.
Joe and John were a success, if John
forgot the lyrics, Joe would roar with laughter, but Stigwood grew
tiresome and took his singer away to EMI and Abbey Road studios.
Leyton's singing success decreased rapidly and he moved to Hollywood
for 12 years, where his acting career took off once more. Joe
Meek died in 1967 in tragic circumstances, for him and the Shenton
family, the same year 'Hi Ho Silver Lining' was released. Joe
was always one for fate and destiny, and the most bizarre of
I asked John if he thought Joe would
like his World Cup song - the answer was an arousing 'yes'.
Simply because of his recollections of Meek were positive ones, always
having a laugh, alway's fun and happy times, and never frightened to
experiment. We wondered that if Joe Meek was still with us, how
his production skills would have unfolded, and as John agreed, Joe was
way ahead of his time, and his sound would be nothing like we have
now, and what we do have now is a lot of World Cup songs - some good,
some bad, and some down-right atrocious, and John had not heard any of
them - some may say, lucky him.
So is John Leyton any good at football?
(Another seamless link I wonder?) Actually, he is, or was.
He played inside-right for his school team. John then proceeded
to reel off the old style of play, the 2-3-5. I was very
impressed that this singer, this actor, knew so much about playing
football. I was doubly impressed by him being an Arsenal
supporter. His childhood was spent in North London, and the
connections are obvious. A fondness for Queen's Park Rangers was
also spoken of. But Leyton Orient will always be in his heart
too, simply because of the name, a special affinity, that can never be
replaced when it is made in childhood, much akin to myself and
panini football stickers, I still cannot stop collecting, swapping
and then cursing. Anyway, because Orient shared his name, it was
always John's to cherish, and time and wisdom can never change that,
no matter how good Arsenal got!
John watched the 1966 World Cup final
at a cinema in Hollywood. No such luxuries for 2006, like many
of us, he'll be watching the World Cup from his armchair.
Hopefully watching Theo Walcott, hopefully praising Sven-Göran
Eriksson's courage in bringing in such a youngster. It's the
pace of the youngster that we all wish to see, and more importantly,
work for our cause. John know's that if England play positively,
and kick the negativity into touch, England can be a great team, with
great aspirations, and have every possible chance to win the World
With that, John wished England all the
luck in the world.
And to you John, we wish the same, and
with one of the more decent World Cup singles on the market - All the
John is recording a
new album due to be released in September.