as told to Ian Slater

The Angelettes were a young British quartet from the Manchester area who played their own instruments. Too smooth, melodic and professional to be regarded as a "band", their beautiful harmonies were the most characteristic feature of their music. These are well displayed in most of their records, notably the first: "Don't Let Him Touch You", which should have been a big hit. But for the fault on their Top Of The Pops TV outing, maybe it would have been. This song, like much of their output, was written and produced by Jonathan King, the multi-talented extrovert who was behind so many British hits of the late '60s and the '70s. Later, they worked with Bryan Ferry, doing the vocal backings on his "These Foolish Things" LP. This is Spectropop's tribute to this talented early 1970s group. We are very grateful to original member Julie Hammersley (née Abbott) for most of the material in the article. (Ian Slater)

[ click on images to enlarge ]


Although the Angelettes officially came into being in 1972, courtesy of Jonathan King, the four of us had been together for a number of years prior to that. Sue Hampson and I were brought up very closely in our early years. Our mothers had been friends from their teens, working together in Droylsden, Manchester, and when they both had their only children - daughters - within a year of each other, it followed that we would spend a lot of time together. Even after my parents moved eight miles away to Middleton, Sue and I still spent most school holidays and many weekends at each other's houses.

My Dad, Alf Abbott, had been a professional jazz musician (clarinet and sax) and was quite well known in the Manchester area, particularly as a member of the Derek Atkins Dixielanders. When I was about seven, in an effort to encourage me to take an interest in music, he bought a cheap, second-hand acoustic guitar, learned to play it pretty quickly and then left it lying around the house - and Sue and I took the bait. We weren't allowed to touch it unless we learned to play it.

Sue's Dad made her a guitar, and - with help from my Dad - we got to grips with the chords, and those guitars went everywhere with us. We were crazy about the Beatles and the Mersey sound, but Sue "discovered" the Beach Boys and started playing their records non-stop. Pretty soon, we'd added the surfer sounds to our repertoire as well.

Things moved up a notch once we both changed to our secondary schools. Sue attended Levenshulme High School, and it was there, in 1968, that she met Jan Heywood at the school's lunchtime folk club. We all got together at Sue's house and realised that Jan had a really good voice, and she was also learning to play guitar. So the group was formed, and as often as schoolwork allowed, we rehearsed at Sue's, working out chords and harmonies to our favourite current pop songs - all of which came as a huge surprise to our parents, particularly to my Dad, who'd had no idea at all that, at the ages of 12 and 13, we could work out complex harmonies.

Jan was acting in a Sunday School Christmas panto, and persuaded the organisers to put our group on whilst the panto scenery was being changed. So our very first "gig" as the Konsort, was at Brookfield Unitarian Sunday School in Song Of Sixpence, with Sue and I singing harmony vocals and playing acoustic guitars (by now we'd bought slightly better ones!) and with Jan on lead vocals. I seem to remember we sang mostly Beach Boys songs. After that, we were also asked to sing in the Church several times.

The vocal sound was almost there, but we needed more depth in the harmonies, so Jan brought along another school friend to help out. Pat Fitzgerald had an incredibly deep voice, which fitted in perfectly. So, the sound of the Angelettes was born, but the current group name still had a lot to be desired! We carried on doing Sunday school and Church performances, with what seemed like a different name each time. Most memorable were Sunset Beach (paying homage to our Beach Boys influences), Schenectady - which no MC could pronounce, and out of devilment the main reason we chose it - and then as White Spirit, which we thought sounded really trendy but which no-one had told us was another name for turpentine substitute!

It was as White Spirit that we made our first foray into the local clubs. Still only 13 and 14 years old, our parents took us to the agents' Sunday lunchtime showcase auditions at Abbey Hey Working Men's club in Manchester. We got our first paid gig from that, performing a few weeks later at the Three Crowns pub in Stockport for the princely sum of £8 for the night.

Several gigs followed, and our parents decided to get together and buy a PA system. Pressure was on from the clubs to "go electric", so the parents dug into their pockets again to fund electric guitars and amps. Sue volunteered to play the bass guitar, quickly becoming very proficient.

There were also suggestions that we wear sparkly dresses, gold lamé shoes and have matching gold lamé guitar straps - we gracefully declined the suggestions and continued trying to be what we thought of as the first "real" girl group.

We'd started to include Simon and Garfunkel songs in the set, always opening with "Keep The Customer Satisfied", and including "Baby Driver" and "59th Street Bridge Song". Beach Boys songs still featured prominently - "Long Tall Texan", "Fun, Fun, Fun", "Don't Worry Baby", "Alley Oop" - and some of the current songs from the charts such as "Something Stupid", "Soleil Soleil" and "Yellow River".

Now aged 15, and with the line-up of two guitars, bass, percussion and four harmonies, we made a demo disc at Eroica Studios in Altrincham, Cheshire. The intention was to send the disc to clubs, promoters and record companies but I read in the Manchester Evening News that Jonathan King was in the North West looking for unsigned groups. I bunked off school for a day, and trudged round the city centre trying to find out which hotel he was staying at so I could pass on the demo, but to no avail.

When I called in to see my Dad at work, he rang the only hotel I'd missed and found JK, who told him to send the demo and some details. A couple of weeks later, we got a call from him asking us to go down to London to discuss a record contract.

It was Jonathan who came up with the name and concept of the Angelettes. He loved the harmonies and felt we should be concentrating on vocals rather than the instrumental side. Still at school, we signed our first contract with the Decca label and shortly afterwards; "Don't Let Him Touch You" was released in 1972.

Although still studying hard for O-levels, we'd achieved what we didn't dare to dream was possible and couldn't wait to get the exams over with and leave school to go on the road. We'd had a wonderful time in the studio with Jonathan and his team.

The A-side of the single was recorded in London. Jonathan coped admirably with this bunch of "green" schoolgirls, teaching us amongst other things mike technique and how to use our harmonies to build a song up, which were invaluable lessons. He also instilled in us a sense of professionalism that we retained for the remainder of our musical careers. The B-side was recorded at Strawberry Studios in Stockport, and JK gave us pretty much a free reign on the arrangement of "Rainy Day", which - apart from the vocals - just features Sue and I on acoustic guitars. We used this arrangement for all our B-sides from then on.

My Dad - Alf - would always "have a listen" to the harmonies, and point us in the right direction if he could hear any extraneous notes he didn't quite like! At this stage, we still relied on our Dads to get us to gigs and recording sessions because we still weren't old enough to drive.

By now, all our schoolmates knew that we'd made a record, although we'd kept pretty quiet about things until then. Sue, Jan and Pat all went to the same school and were pretty much celebrities there. I was at Bury Grammar Girls School and remember my friends having the radio on all the time in the common room, just waiting for Radio One to play "Don't Let Him Touch You". The song got to no. 38 in the charts, and a Top Of The Pops appearance followed - for which we all had to get permission for time off school.

Both Schools were quite supportive but with the proviso that we kept up with work that we'd missed - I don't think any of us did though! I do remember the French mistress (Mrs Cohen) making me sit a French test the week after TOTP "in case you ever need to use your French when you're on the road!" The music teacher at Bury organised for me to have a "lunchtime launch" of "Don't Let Him Touch You" for members of staff and selected friends in the music room - more out of curiosity than anything else, I think!! When I left school to turn professional, the Head called me into her study to wish me all the best, saying, "You're the first pop star we've ever had"!

Top Of The Pops was a daunting experience for us, but JK was there for us the whole time, reassuring and giving confidence. Our Dads were there too, and they were just as nervous as we were. The DJ for that edition was Ed Stewart - he came to see us whilst we were in make-up to get a bit of info about us for his introduction. Sue was asked to remove her glasses for the recording because of the glare to the cameras, and it was only we who knew that she really couldn't see anything for the whole of the recording, but she handled it all so well.

The flowery dresses were a really last minute purchase and I hadn't even been able to get to the shopping trip, so it was sheer good luck that mine even fitted. We'd planned on wearing long white dresses, but again we were told that the glare to the cameras was too great so we had to wear the spare flowery ones - a far cry from the guitar-playing rockers that we thought we'd like to be, but I don't think any one of us would have changed the way things worked out.

Despite our "sweet" schoolgirl image, the song suddenly got banned by the BBC. Although it had been played repeatedly on Radio One and then on Top Of The Pops, someone there felt that the words weren't as squeaky-clean as they would like. We were gutted. On the night that our TOTP appearance was broadcast, the sound went off part way through. We were never sure if this had been a technical problem or the start of the ban.

Several newspapers carried reports the day after about our disappointment, so in the long run it gave us more publicity than if things had gone smoothly. Radio Luxembourg - which was one of the really popular stations then - started power-playing the song every night.

I remember being called to see my headmistress at school. She'd been approached by a Manchester radio station that asked if it was all right to mention the school's name in an interview we did for them, given the content of the song. I'll never forget my embarrassment at having to repeat all the words to her, but she felt that "As long as the song says 'Don't' then I suppose that's fine!"

The song was well received in the rest of Europe. We heard that we were very popular in Holland; someone said we'd got to No 3 in the charts there. We also heard we'd got a No 1 - at North Sea Radio!

We made three more singles with JK, but none quite had the impact of the first one. Our third single, a cover version of the Contours/Brian Poole and the Tremeloes' "Do You Love Me", featured in a documentary about Radio One. They'd been filming the making of one of the radio shows - I recall it was Roscoe's Round Table, or a similar new-record review show - and all the DJs were leaping around to our song!

With exams finished, the Angelettes took to the road professionally. We worked the length and breadth of the UK, and also played in Germany. Still under 18, we had to trek down to Bow Street Magistrates court to get permission to play abroad. After the first single, Kennedy Street Artistes were employed as our agents. We were still playing our instruments in the stage show, but Kennedy Street felt that we should have a stronger live sound, so they found us some excellent local musicians - a drummer and bass player - and Sue went back onto guitar.

Our drummer was Paul Burgess, who was also playing with an up and coming new band called 10cc. Paul had a hectic schedule working with us and recording with 10cc, but he managed it somehow. Our bass player, Graham Hirst, was now also driving the group around and we'd left the apron strings of our parents. We subsequently added a male guitarist to our line-up, Alan Doyle, whom everyone lovingly called Auntie Doris due to his tendency to worry! In recent years, we've tried to find "Doris" to no avail. As 10cc took off, Paul left us and John Groom took over on drums.

This new line-up enabled us to concentrate on more complex vocal arrangements, and we took two weeks off the road, working virtually round the clock, to come up with a complete new show. We'd now dropped the "Beach Girls" tag, and our sets included: "Suite: Judy Blue Eyes" [Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young], "Scarborough Fayre" [Simon & Garfunkel]; a capella "It's For You" [Three Dog Night]; "Carpet Man", "Aquarius" and "Let The Sun Shine In".

We did several recordings for JK, transferring from Decca to his UK Records label. In 1974, the Mooncrest label took us on and we did one single for them, "I Surrender", again with the B-side recorded at Strawberry Studios, following the previous format of acoustic guitars as the only accompaniment.

Prior to joining Mooncrest, we'd been given quite a lot of recording backing work for other artistes. Word had got around that we could listen to the song and come up with the harmony arrangement pretty quickly. We were delighted when Bryan Ferry asked us to do the backing for his first solo venture away from Roxy Music, his album "These Foolish Things".

He released a single from the album: "Hard Rain's Gonna Fall". The album sleeve is, however, incorrect in stating that we didn't do the backing on that song, because we definitely did do it! Another Top Of The Pops appearance followed. Bryan had been given another female backing group for his first TOTP airing of the song, but stated the following week that he wanted us there instead. It caused a bit of a furore at the TV studio, but Bryan got his way and we had a frantic morning chasing around the London shops trying to put together the outfits that Bryan's team wanted us to wear. The outfits were quite stunning for their time: black leather jackets with the collars turned up, tight black pencil-slim skirts, incredibly high stiletto shoes, 1950s style glasses with diamante winged sides - all finished off with bright red glossy lipstick and piled-high hair. Not the sweet flowery-frock image any longer!

Status Quo were also on that edition of TOTP. As we were waiting to take the stage for our bit, it was either Francis or Rick who gave us a very tongue-in-cheek "Luuuuv the outfits, girls!!" I think it must have shown on our faces that we were pinned up, tucked in, roasting hot under the lights in thick leather jackets, and had holes in the uncomfortable stockings and our lips stuck together with lip-gloss. That said, we thoroughly enjoyed it and loved working with Bryan. He was an absolute gentleman and looked after us very well. There is a music video around of Bryan's "Hard Rains Gonna Fall", with THREE girls doing the backing, dressed in outfits similar to ours on TOTP, but it's not us! They are our voices though.

A couple of months before the TOTP appearance with Bryan, we were all devastated when my Dad died very suddenly, aged 49. Dad had really been an inspiration to us musically, always giving us the thumbs up at the back of the room at the gigs he could get to. He'd written out for us a complex, four-part harmony a cappella vocal arrangement of the song "Perfidia", which was really taxing to learn. He'd been so proud that we'd included it in our set. We carried on for about a year after he died, but his death did take away some of the magic and whilst that was by no means the only reason we disbanded, it was certainly the beginning of the end.

We had some great experiences on the road: when the van broke down in Scotland, we set up all the gear and had an open-air rehearsal in the middle of nowhere - cars came from miles around to listen; when we played at the Winter Gardens in Blackpool, Freddie Starr, who was headlining, came looming out of the half light in the back stalls during the very formal band call, swinging like a gorilla, in an effort to make us laugh and break the concentration - he succeeded!

We worked regularly in the North East clubs, and had to stay in "showbiz digs" - a euphemism for "cheap" and "used by badly paid bands on the road". The camaraderie was brilliant between the bands though. On one occasion, we shared digs with Shane Fenton, who later became Alvin Stardust, and he was full of good advice about the business. We were a novelty to the other, mostly male, bands staying at these places, and we were constantly being asked if we could help out: "Can you iron my stage shirt, have you got any plasters, aspirins, nail files," etc. The one that took the biscuit was "Girls, have you got a sewing machine with you? My stage pants need shortening." (Mike Sweeney - singer and Manchester Radio DJ - you know who you are!!)

It was tough on the road for a girl band, though. Doubling two clubs a night - which we did regularly - was physically taxing. The second club always seemed to have the more difficult access arrangements: up an outdoor fire escape, across the roof, set up and get on stage without a hair out of place in 15 minutes. I felt that I had to get a "real" job, or at least something that would pay a regular income, and the others followed suit. Sue and I ended up working together at the Bank of England, but we still carried on singing semi-pro with local bands, and Jan also joined us on occasion.

Over the years, Sue remained very close to Jan and I, and she also kept in touch with Pat by letter at Christmas. Since Sue's sad death just over 5 years ago, it's been a time for reflection. We had a lot of fun and achieved a dream, and I certainly wouldn't have done anything differently. We have a lot of people to thank along the way for helping to give us some wonderful memories and an education at the "University Of Life".


Decca 13284 (US London 1040), 1972
(Jonathan King)
Arranged by Johnny Arthey
Invented, Imagined, Conceived, Created, Produced and Directed by Jonathan King
Recorded in London
(Jonathan King)
Arranged by the Angelettes
Invented, Imagined, Conceived, Created, Produced and Directed by Jonathan King

UK 11, 1972
(David Gates)
Arranged by Johnny Arthey
Produced by Jonathan King
(Jonathan King)

UK 26, 1972
(Berry Gordy Jr.)
Arranged by Phil Dennys
Produced by Jonathan King
(Jonathan King)

Mooncrest MOON 35, 1974
(Shury / Roker)
Produced by Steve Edgley
(Steve Edgley)
Produced by Steve Edgley

UK UKBOXCD001, 2001 (recorded 1972)
(Jonathan King)
Produced by Jonathan King
On "King Of Hits" 8 CD box set,
also includes "Don't Let Him Touch You"

New Horizons

There is a sequel - another chapter to the Angelettes' story. Once the music is "out there", it's there for all to access and hopefully appreciate and so it has been with the music which the Angelettes created.

I should explain that Sue and I were not just close musically but were more like family, being fortunate to have mothers who were themselves close friends even before Sue and I were born. After Sue died, my own children continued to reinforce those bonds with Sue's children who eventually came to live with us. Of course, the music was all encompassing - my own and Sue's children (now adults) had many a jamming session in the kitchen, singing the Angelettes' songs, Beach Boys tunes and everything else which we had weaned them on. The natural progression was the formation of a band, the ladies of the two families leading the way. With all of us having spent many a mellow evening playing and singing on the back porch with our cousins in Alabama, USA, our vocals began to lean towards a country sound - lots of intricate harmonies with bluesy undertones.

It wasn't long before we started gigging in the UK, followed by a stab at recording some of our self-penned songs in Nashville, Tennessee. We changed personnel in the band several times, leaving us finally with Sue's daughter Jo, my own daughter Sara and me as the core members. Between us we play guitar (acoustic, 12-string and bass), keyboards, bodhran, flute and mandolin but the vocals have been the focal point of interest for us.

Although we knew it ourselves, it took a comment from a close friend to bring to the fore that we do actually sound like the original Angelettes, which is not that strange considering we have that familial vocal sound. We decided that we would continue from there on with the name the Angelettes.

In mid-June 2011, I became aware from idly searching the internet (as one does from time to time) that there seemed to be what I can only describe as a groundswell of interest in the original Angelettes' recordings - various forums and blogs mentioning the Angelettes or asking who they are, or were ("was it Jonathan King or were they a real band in their own right?"). It further transpired that an internet movie entitled "Me Me Me" had been made which featured two Angelettes' songs - "Don't Let Him Touch You" and "I Cried" (this was a previously unreleased song which the Angelettes had recorded in the '70s but which had just never made it to the vinyl, although it had been included in Jonathan King's box set "King Of Hits"). The Angelettes had been given full credit in the film for our vocal work, with fond memories of us all, including even a mention for my dad, Alf, from all those years ago.

Thanks to the digital age, there has been an incredible upsurge in interest in our music. Eminent "tweeter" Stephen Fry posted a link on Twitter, pointing his myriad followers at the Sirens (characters from the movie) lip-synching to "Don't Let Him Touch You". In addition, I understand that the movie clip featuring that song had 95,000 hits - and counting - on YouTube as at July 2011, in part due to young new internet music guru Alex Day also pointing his fans at the songs. The movie premiered in Leicester Square, London and also at the Cannes Film Festival.

All this strengthened our decision to get the sound of the Angelettes firmly back on the road. Bringing the music up-to-date, Jo, Sara and I are currently working on some new songs which we hope will meet with the approval of the Angelettes' fans, old and new, building on those rich harmonies but with influences very much from 21st century blues, country and folk genres. We have the obligatory websites and social networking following now, and I also understand that some of the existing Angelettes songs are available for download from iTunes.

It's great to be working on an Angelettes project once again - heaven only knows what Sue is making of it all!

If anyone wants to keep up to date with our news, here are a couple of links: