Spectropop remembers

FREDDIE GARRITY (1936 - 2006)

With his band, the Dreamers, the minor British pop legend Freddie Garrity, who has died aged 69, enjoyed a chart run on both sides of the Atlantic during the Merseybeat boom of the early 1960s. But Garrity, who had suffered from emphysema in recent years, never made it to the top of the UK pop charts, though he did have two No 2s. The group's success began with a cover of an American rhythm and blues track, "If You Gotta Make A Fool Of Somebody" (1963) and concluded with "Thou Shalt Not Steal" (1965). Their 1963 British hit, "I'm Telling You Now", got to No 1 in the US two years later, and for a few months Garrity was omnipresent on American TV pop shows and packed out concerts.

Diminutive, with large, horn-rimmed spectacles and a geek-like public persona, Garrity was blessed with on-stage vitality, a catchphrase ("Just a minute!") and a dash of lip-trembling pathos that some found endearing. During his US success, his lively stage antics, which he described as "a dance called the Freddie", inspired the sometime king of the twist craze, Chubby Checker, to record "Do The Freddie", which Garrity covered, and took into the US charts. He was also an adept if limited composer, co-writing "I'm Telling You Now", the second of his three British singles hits, the third being "You Were Made For Me". During 1964 the band's chart success faded until the sentimental "I Understand" became a Christmas hit.

Born in Sale, Manchester, the son of a miner, Garrity was educated locally. A talented schoolboy footballer, he was also steeped in his city's popular entertainment tradition. After leaving school in 1956, he signed on for an engineering apprenticeship that would have lasted seven years had his musical talent not begun to emerge. He started to practice his guitar skills on the shopfloor of the Turbine factory, and show them off at staff dances. A fanatical Manchester United fan, he began to get pub gigs. Then, during the first year of his apprenticeship, he won a local talent contest with an Al Jolson impression. During the skiffle era, he and his brother Derek formed a band called the Red Sox, which, in 1958, were runners-up in a northwest skiffle competition. Subsequent bookings in Greater Manchester kept them busy, but Garrity's fiancée prevailed upon him to leave the group to sing with the less demanding John Norman Four. Within weeks, he had joined the Kingfishers, who by 1961 had mutated into Freddie and the Dreamers.

The comic capers that became their trademark were developed during a club residency in Hamburg. Though Freddie was the front man, the Dreamers did not just skulk behind him, but engaged too in trouser-dropping, slapstick and other clowning. For aspiring pop stars, they were an odd bunch; a podgy bass player, a drummer who resembled a door-to-door salesman, one guitarist sporting curious sunglasses and the other prematurely bald.

Garrity's film appearances, in low budget musicals, included the Joe Brown vehicle What A Crazy World (1963) - in which the band covered the Royal Teens' "Short Shorts" - and Every Day's A Holiday (1965), with Mike Sarne and John Leyton. Garrity's short feature, Cuckoo Patrol (1966), was banned in some US states for purportedly belittling the boy-scout movement. By the end of the decade, singles success was largely gone, though "Susan's Tuba" was a hit in France. The Dreamers recorded an album of Disney film themes, and moved into cabaret and pantomime, more their natural element. Garrity also compered an ITV children's show, Little Big Time. Later he featured on 1960s revival shows, played Ariel in a 1988 production of The Tempest and a drug-dealing disc jockey in ITV's Heartbeat series. He continued to release records, including his own composition, "I'm A Singer In A Sixties Band".

Though he disbanded the original Dreamers in 1969, Garrity reformed the group in 1976, and they continued touring until 2001 when, after an engagement in New York, he was taken ill on the flight home. Emphysema was diagnosed and, though incapacitated, he continued to work on his autobiography. He leaves a wife, Christine, four children from two previous marriages and three stepchildren.

(Alan Clayson, The Guardian)

Frederick (Freddie) Garrity, singer, songwriter and actor:
born November 14th, 1936 - died May 19th, 2006