No Regrets: The Sixties popstar who fell in love with a Norwich girl
PUBLISHED: 09:38 22 October 2018 | UPDATED: 11:46 22 October 2018
He was born 75 years ago in New York City, he grew up to become the leader of the of the biggest acts of the swinging 60s, but there was a time when he lived in a house overlooking the common in a peaceful Norfolk village. Derek James reports.
The songs are timeless...and how we took these American songbirds to our hearts when they arrived on our shores. Make It Easy On Yourself, The Sun Ain’t Gonna Shine Anymore and No Regrets spring to mind,
They are still played over and over again on the radio and on the dance floor. They were The Walker Brothers.
The group was formed by John Walker, real name John Maus, who was born in November of 1943. He had music in his veins, playing the guitar, clarinet and saxophone and appearing in TV talent shows by the age of 11.
When he was 17 he changed his name to Walker, hit the road with his sister Judy, singing and playing the guitar before meeting up with Scott Engel and touring the States with other musicians as The Surfaris...learning their craft.
He formed The Walker Brothers in 1964. He was the lead singer and guitarist while Scott on bass and harmony and they teamed up with the seasoned drummer Gary Leeds.
But this was a time when England with The Beatles, The Rolling Stones and so many other bands were leading the world when it came to pop music so they borrowed some money and came to the UK in 1965 to see the scene for themselves.
Within a few months they had a number one hit with Make It Easy On Yourself and they went on to become huge stars with haunting and memorable songs.
They were good musicians and performed with The Yardbirds and it was John who saw himself as the leader of the group. Scott may have taken over as the main singer but it was John running the show.
And then he fell in love with a Norwich girl, Julie Parker Cann, the daughter of a wholesale milliner in the city, who had been working as Simon Dee’s secretary. He was a big TV star back in the day.
Their wedding, at St John’s Roman Catholic Cathedral in Norwich, was a well-guarded secret and guests, which included film star Leonard Whiting, an usher, and Gordon Waller, one half of singing duo Peter and Gordon and other friends from the music world were all asked to “keep mum” about what was happening.
In these pre-Facebook and Twitter days, the wedding went off very quietly with just a handful of fans watching the proceedings. The couple left the church in a 1932 Rolls-Royce supplied by the South Walsham firm of Vintage Motor Hire.
The best man was Alan Pye, proprietor of the Cumberland Hotel and A J Autos. The reception, which turned into an all-night disco, took place at his home in Acle.
Sadly the marriage did not last and eventually John returned to America but I had the privilege of talking to him on a couple of occasions. The last time being in 2009 when he was touring this country with The Searchers and the Merseybeats in the Solid Silver 60s show.
“Playing in Norwich is like coming home for me. It is part of England which I love so much. I should do. I used to live there,” he said.
“We lived at Mulbarton, by the common, and I still have family and friends in Norfolk,” said John who announced when he walked onto the stage at a packed Theatre Royal that it was great to be back. “There have been a lot of changes but that is no bad thing.”
Backed by The Dakotas, he brought the house down. A true class act.
The Walker Brothers drifted apart by the end of the 60s, John and Julie lived in France for a while, but then he returned to the States where he went on to set up his own recording studio before being tempted to head back to his beloved UK and tour again.
“The response we received from the audiences was incredible. The people are so warm and generous,” said John. “With The Dakotas we manage to create a that big sound on the hits...and people seem to like us,” said John who just loved walking back on the stage again after all those years away.
“The thing I find most exciting is the reaction I am getting from the audience because it’s been so long for me. It makes me feel unbelievably welcome. It’s like we are reliving memories and it’s very uplifting,” said John who appeared with his wife Cynthia, also a musician.
He died in 2011 aged 67. A modest, genuine, talented musician and gentleman...his music and his memory lives on.