They said it would never happen. I said it would never happen.
Why? Firstly because we were invited to sing on Clara Sanabras’s amazing CD – A Hum About Mine Ears and at its launch at the Barbican (with 200 singers and the Britten Sinfonia) in March 2016.
That turned out to be such fun; a NEW line up with my four best musical friends, Richard Allen, Jeremy Taylor, Naomi Hammerton and Ms Sanabras, that I wondered about revisiting the OLD in a different way.
Secondly, because no one has done anything quite like it, since we hung up our zoot suits. So I was persuaded to give it a go.
We did three quite low key concerts in London and Southampton in January of this year, to try the new line up out without too much pressure. In the event there was considerable interest from Wallbanger fans, notably Sean Rafferty and Samira Ahmed, who invited us to perform on In Tune (Radio 3) and Front Row (Radio 4).
We hadn’t quite factored this in to our preparations – we’d met a few times to start learning the material, but everyone was busy, so our main rehearsals were in the few days before the first concert.
So we found ourselves in a slightly hair raising situation – singing live for our first radio performance in nearly 30 years without a proper rehearsal. We met on the day at the BBC, sang once through Boogie Nights, Sunny side of the Street and If I were King and were ushered into the In Tune studio.
That’s one way of finding out if the old magic is still there – fortunately it seemed to go over rather well and that was equally true of the gigs.
Clara and I were also interviewed on Front Row talking about the new line up, that was fun, especially when a rather over excited continuity announcer billed us as Harvey and the Ballwangers.
There were two big worries for me about doing a new Wallbangers:
I. – The Wallbangers was so beloved by so many people, I didn’t want to disappoint die hard fans; it’s a delicate thing to revive fond memories from the past, a bit like a date with a long lost love.
The original group was all male (a boy band!) because we started off by performing doo wop and similar material, originally done by male groups – the Ravens, the Crew Cuts, or female groups – the Chiffons. the Velvelettes. Our new lineup was mixed – Richard Allen , Jeremy Taylor and I, from the original lineup, plus Clara Sanabras and Naomi Hammerton – how would the people who loved it the first time, take to a new version?
II. – would it make any kind of sense to people who had never heard us sing a note before?
In the end both camps were happy – we sang a lot of the old material, Sweet Talking Guy, Blue Skies, Your Feet’s too big – the humour was still there, along with the joy of hearing the old vocal arrangements given extra range and lustre by Naomi and Clara. We also sang some new songs, a couple by Randy Newman, whose sardonic lyrics were brilliantly conveyed by Richard and a couple by Clara Sanabras, which slotted right into the Wallbanger’s vocal styling.
Harvey and the Wallbangers always had a really mixed audience – in age (many kids were indoctrinated into it by their parents and then passed it on to their own kids, so the audience was not as ancient as might be feared) – and in stylistic preference – we sang jazz, swing, doo wop, but were also beloved of classical audiences, particularly the early music crowd.
Many people who were new to it (many of them who have sung for me in choirs over the years) were enthused, demanding repeat performances.
So, we had a blast, Harvey Wallbangers were being passed around liberally (that’s the drink, not a member of the band) and we partied like it was 1987.
We’re back in the saddle, we’ve already been asked to do various festival performances and we’re looking forward to wowing audiences in Bury St Edmunds in May!