Spectropop remembers

DENIS PAYTON (1943 - 2006)

As a saxophonist, Denis Payton was a rarity in the British beat boom of the 1960s. While most of the groups who emerged in the wake of the Beatles were guitar-driven, Payton's sax helped the Dave Clark Five, of which he was a founder member, to fashion a distinctive sound that set them apart from the crowd. Their unusual, heavily rhythmic approach paid dividends too, and the North London group enjoyed a string of hits between 1963 and 1968 including the memorable #1, 'Glad All Over', which knocked the Beatles off the top spot in early 1964. They were also the second British group after the Liverpool quartet to crack the American market as part of the so-called "British invasion".

Born Denis West Payton in Walthamstow, London, in 1943, he developed an interest in New Orleans jazz and took up the saxophone in his teens. On leaving school he trained as a draughtsman, but a chance meeting with the Tottenham-born drummer Dave Clark led to an unexpected change of career. Clark already had a sax player in his band, but when he left, Payton was invited to join. He swiftly became a key member of the group, contributing not only sax but also acoustic guitar, and harmonica, as well as backing vocals, while his jazz orientation also lent the quintet an uncommon musical depth.

Unusually for a drummer, Clark, a former film stunt man, was very much the group leader, but lead vocals were taken by Mike Smith, with Rick Huxley on bass and Lenny Davidson on guitar completing the quintet. After honing their skills touring Mecca ballrooms, the group made its first recording in 1962 with the instrumental 'Chaquita'. After a false start on Pye, the following year they signed to EMI and scored their first minor hit in late 1963 when 'Do You Love Me' scraped into the Top 30.

Their next release, however, was a monster and became their signature tune. Written by Smith and Clark, 'Glad All Over', with its stomping, irrepressible beat and unforgettable hook, hit #1 in January 1964, displacing the Beatles' 'I Wanna Hold Your Hand' and prompting "London topples Liverpool" headlines in the press. Although claims that the "Tottenham sound" was taking over from "Merseybeat" were somewhat exaggerated, for a while it was the Dave Clark Five rather than the Rolling Stones who were the Beatles' main commercial rivals, particularly in the US where 'Glad All Over' made the top 10 in spring 1964, making them the second British group after the Beatles to have a chart hit in America.

Further hits followed and they eventually totalled 24 chart entries in America and 17 in Britain. Among their biggest hits were 'Bits And Pieces', 'Do You Love Me', 'Can't You See That She's Mine' and 'Because', all of which ensured they were never out of the charts throughout 1964. The following year brought a swath of further hits, and their film debut in Catch Us If You Can, directed by John Boorman (released in the US as Having A Wild Weekend), was a rather blatant but nevertheless appealing attempt to replicate the success of the Beatles' first film, A Hard Day's Night.

Payton's sax was prominent on most of their hits, beefing up Clark's drums, and although most of their hit singles were written by Smith and Clark he contributed a number of significant songs to their albums, including 'I Want You Still', 'Move On' and 'You Don't Want My Lovin''. He also wrote the single 'Nineteen Days'.

The group ended 1965 at #1 in America with 'Over And Over', although the record only reached #45 in Britain, an indication of how they had become more popular with American audiences than they were at home. Spending much of their time in America, where they clocked up six coast-to-coast tours, they also made a record 13 appearances on the Ed Sullivan Show and continued to chart regularly throughout 1966 and early 1967. The arrival of psychedelia in 1967 eventually finished their run of American hits, although paradoxically, they then enjoyed a revival in Britain where they returned to the Top 10 in 1968 with a somewhat lame cover of Raymond Froggatt's 'Red Balloon', and again in 1970 with 'Good Old Rock'n'Roll' and 'Everybody Get Together'.

Despite such hits, they disbanded in August 1970. Payton became an estate agent but continued to play music part-time. Shortly before his death, it was announced that the Dave Clark Five had been nominated for induction to the 2007 US Rock 'n' Roll Hall Of Fame. Payton was already ill with cancer and knew that he would not live to attend the ceremony but told Clark that he was "thrilled" by the citation.

He is survived by his partner Lindsay and two children from a previous marriage.

(From The Times)

Denis West Payton, musician and songwriter:
born August 11th, 1943 - died December 17th, 2006