In 1956, sixteen-year-old Freddie Garrity won a razor as first prize in a Sale talent contest with an Al Jolson impersonation.
Sucked into skiffle‘s vortex, Freddie (on a cheap guitar) with his brother Derek (a tea-chest bassist) constituted half of The Red Sox, runners-up in the North-West Skiffle Competition of 1958.
Subsequent bookings in Greater Manchester’s labour halls and cinema intermission spots kept them busy but, attempting to monopolise his charms, Freddie’s predatory girlfriend prevailed upon him to leave the group, although allowing him to continue singing in the less demanding John Norman Four.
His equipment was sold to guitarist Roy Crewdson who, eight weeks later, invited Freddie to join him in The Kingfishers, much to the chagrin of the aforementioned lady friend.
Founded on Garrity’s extraordinary onstage vitality, The Dreamers came into being in 1959. With bass player Pete Birrell and drummer Bernard Dwyer were guitarists Crewdson and Derek Quinn (who doubled on harmonica) from Allan Clarke and Graham Nash’s Fourtones.
For aspiring pop stars, they were a weird bunch. Apart from podgy bruiser Pete Birrell there was Dwyer’s passing resemblance to television’s oily Coronation Street lothario Mike Baldwin, Quinn’s perpetual sunglasses doing little to soften his dour shiftiness, and Crewdson blighted with premature baldness.
Finally, there was spindly four-eyed Freddie – the chap who got sand kicked in his face by beach bullies. A hybrid of Frank Spencer and Buddy Holly, he was once described as ‘the sort of pop star you wouldn’t mind your girlfriend liking’.
Waiting in the wings of show business, Freddie had kept the wolf from the door as a mechanic, a brush salesman and, ultimately, a milkman. Legend has it that, delivering pints one morning, he learnt from a radio announcement that the BBC’s Manchester studios were holding auditions for local talent that very afternoon.
Garrity immediately rounded up The Dreamers and thrashed the rattling milk float to the television centre. There, the group were rewarded with a smattering of TV appearances which led to a Columbia recording contract in May 1963.
Although their debut, If You Gotta Make A Fool Of Somebody, was a Merseybeat staple and R&B favourite, subsequent releases were tailored to the quintet’s effervescent insouciant image.
I’m Telling You Now and You Were Made For Me also reached the UK Top Three, establishing the group at the height of the beat boom. Although Garrity displayed his songwriting skill with strong ballads such as Send A Letter To Me, his work was not used for A-side recordings.
Further hits followed in 1964 with Over You, I Love You Baby, Just For You, and the Christmas season favourite I Understand (cleverly intertwined with Auld Lang Syne).
The band enjoyed great success, headlining concert tours all over the world, and early in 1965, they made a startling breakthrough in America where I’m Telling You Now topped the charts, reaching #1 on 10 April.
American audiences were entranced by Garrity’s zany stage antics (which resulted in frequent twisted ankles) and eagerly demanded the name of his unusual dance routine. “It’s called the Freddie”, he innocently replied. A US Top 20 hit rapidly followed with Do The Freddie.
1965 saw the boys playing the parts of the kitchen staff at a holiday camp in the movie Every Day’s A Holiday (released as Seaside Swingers in the USA). Although the group appeared in a couple of other films – Cuckoo Patrol (1965) and Just For You (1966) – their main audience was in pantomime and cabaret.
They broke up at the end of the decade, but Garrity and Birrell remained together in the children’s TV show Little Big Time, featuring a truly drug-induced segment called “Oliver in the Overworld”.
During the mid-70s the group was reformed by Freddie Garrity, with new personnel, for revival concerts at home and abroad (I actually saw them perform in a shopping centre in Australia which was bizarre). In 1988, Garrity began performing in cabaret and a parallel acting career.
He eventually retired due to pulmonary hypertension and sadly died on 19 May 2006.
Bernie Dwyer died of lung cancer on 4 December 2002.