Norwich ‘60s singing star Garry Freeman has no regrets at not making the big time, but believes he could have achieved more
Archant © 2012
Garry Freeman was a big singing star in Norwich in the 1960s but never made it to national fame, despite making a very good try at it.
He cut several singles and an album with his band, toured France, appeared on TV, had a recording contract, and made some money, but due to bad luck and unfortunate circumstances he never made it to national prominence.
His bands included Garry Freeman and the Contours, The Moving Finger and the Anglians and they played on the same bill as most of the big ‘60s stars, except the Beatles, and he met the Rolling Stones and the Who.
The band even bought its ‘Beatle’ boots from the same shop where the real thing bought theirs.
The Who bassist John Entwistle once shared their dressing room, as he was not getting on with his bandmates at the time.
His band was also mistaken for Pink Floyd when they crossed back to the UK from France in the late 1960s. Customs officials went through all the band’s luggage looking for illegal contraband, but only found “too many fags”.
The band was even offered a lucrative deal to play in Australia, but had to turn it down, because he was getting married. They were all set to play in the US with gigs in New York, Detroit and Chicago lined up, but it was scrapped due to union problems.
He said: “The golden years we had were fantastic. I’ve got no regrets, but if I had pushed myself more, I think we could have done better. But I was always easy-going and laid back. I know I could have got further.
“You get a lot of disappointment in this business. When we played alongside other bands, I knew we were good, and I thought we were better than them.
“When I thought we had really made it, was when we got on The Saturday Club, and we heard our song on the radio. But our management never pushed us.
“But I was never nervous on stage. I was always smiling on stage, it was just my nature. My mum said to me before I went in the forces to do my national service, ‘Your smile is going to get you in trouble’.”
Eventually he quit the band and he ran a signs company in Norwich for about three decades. “I thought I was too old to keep on playing in the band,” he said.
But later on he started performing again as Garry Freeman and the New Contours and the band is still technically still in business.
Born in Norwich his parents ran a bakery, W J Freeman and general stores in Adelaide Street.
As a child he used to deliver bread rolls to cafes on the trade bike. His father advised him against going into the same business. “You did not have machines then and had to make dough by hand. It was really hard work,” he said.
He went to Nelson Street junior school and then Wensum View secondary modern school.
He said: “Nelson Street school was bombed during the second world war. Being a kid it was exciting. I stood in my bedroom looking out the window and saw a factory burning. I was in our backyard when a German fighter came along. One of the workmen pulled me into a passage just as it machine-gunned the area.
“I also saw an American bomber go down, which later crashed at the railway station. I saw that coming over and smoke coming from its wing. I went over to see and heard a mighty roar. It dropped out of the sky, and hit a church tower in Heigham Road. We ran down but someone said the plane was full of bombs that could go off, and I said I’m not sticking round here.
“Dad later ran a pub called the Wellington in Muspole Street, that has since been pulled down. Every night I had to sing in the pub. I was a teenager about 16/17. I sang the pop songs of the day. I was a big fan of Frankie Laine and Pat Boone. Before that I had been in a concert party band at 14, with dancing girls and magicians. We used to go round the old people’s clubs to play. The band was called Betty King and the Sparkling Specials. The girls were the specials and I was just featured.
“When I went in the air force for my national service we had a band in there. We entertained the US troops at Alconbury.
“When I came out of the service, I was doing sign writing, but me and some other boys made up a band called the Contours. “We did a gig at Wells on the coast. Someone saw us and asked if we would like to go on TV, Anglia’s Rehearsal Room. It was very early ‘60s. We were billed as Garry Freeman and the Contours.”
They were offered a recording contract with CBS while playing at the Dorchester hotel in London.
Their first single was called ‘A Friend of Mine’ backed by one of Mr Freeman’s songs, Daytime Lover, and did well in Germany, but nowhere else.
They left CBS to go with Mercury Records, released two or three singles, made an album with them, which was never released.
They then had a monthly gig at the Playboy Club in London.
He said: “One time I went into the casino and someone bet £4000 on the turn of a card in blackjack. I thought, ‘I paid £1465 for my bungalow’.
“When we played there we saw the Bee Gees watching us and the Walker Brothers. We did a season on the Isle of Man, and when we came back from that we were local heroes in Norwich.”
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