Sgt Pepper memories for Norfolk band

RICHARD BATSON A Norfolk band who recorded in Abbey Road at the same time as The Beatles were laying down tracks for Sgt Pepper album had memories flooding back at the weekend at the legendary album marked 40 years.

RICHARD BATSON

They shared the same mop top haircuts, and dreams of being pop stars.

They even shared the same famous Abbey Road recording studios as they cut tracks targeted at the music charts of the swinging 1960s.

One group was the Beatles, who went from Liverpool obscurity to worldwide fame and fortune as the Fab Four.

The other were the Planets, five young men from Norfolk, whose music never made the Top 10, but whose showbiz career still saw them mingle with a galaxy of stars.

Forty years ago the Beatles were creating the legendary Sgt Pepper album in London, arriving in fashionable special edition black Minis, and a psychedelic Rolls Royce.

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But also in the building were the Planets, having driven down from Norfolk in their blue Commer van.

At the weekend the memories of those halcyon days flowed with the wine and beer as the group got together again to celebrate the 65th birthday of one of its founder members Michael Dyball.

The Planets, formed from two local groups the Vikings and Wildcats, turned professional in 1965, and went up a notch from touring village halls to national ballrooms alongside acts such as Tom Jones and Marmalade.

Their Abbey Road moment came in 1967 when they laid down a Four Seasons song aimed at making the most of their close harmony work, and had some brief meetings with the band who were their heroes.

Singer Barry Lee said: “I bumped into John Lennon coming out the toilets, and just stood there staring at him, dumbstruck - despite the fact we had been working with stars like Tom Jones and Engelbert Humperdinck.”

Angus remembered fellow drummer Ringo Starr kicking a vending machine in anger when it failed to deliver a drink - and all them recall listening to backing music drifting from the Beatles studio.

After that the two bands' futures went in different directions - the Beatles going on to be one of the world's most famous groups ever.

The Planets' nine records failed to chart, but as comedy and impressions began to dominate a more cabaret-driven act, they evolved in 1971 into the Brother Lees - well-known for their multi-handed impersonations of Norman Wisdom, Tommy Cooper and Michael Crawford.

They were spotted by the producer of the Generation Game and between 1974-84 did eight prime time Saturday night television shows which took them to the height of their career, watched by millions of viewers.

Afterwards, as variety work dwindled, the “Brothers” went their different ways, until the last founder Tony pulled out in 2000 and the act finally folded last year.

Reflecting on their career, compared with the Beatles, Norfolk's Fab Five, who all still live in the area and meet regularly for social events, show no hint of jealousy.

Roger said: “We all look back at the 1960s as a great decade and it was a privilege to work with some great people. Barry added: “We did not think much of it at the time. We were a bit blasé and we were going to be as good as them.”

The chart stardom which eluded them however is now in the hands of the next generation - with Angus' son Tom, 28, a guitarist with band Reverend and the Makers, currently in the top 10 with their song Heavyweight Champion of the World.

WHERE ARE THEY NOW?

Michael Dyball - now 65, forced into retirement in 1991 by a back garden accident with a washing line which resulted in a stroke affecting his movement and speech.

Tony Dyball - left the Brother Lees in 2000, the last of the original members, he is now 62, living in Cromer and is a fireplace consultant.

Angus Jarvis - left in 1997 having been musical director. Now 64, runs a driving school at Aylsham. Still plays in a weekend “wedding band” called Don't' Ask doing Beatles and Stones covers.

Roger Reynolds - left in 1976, and went on to run a snooker club called Leisure Lee and Virgos at Holt. Now living at Poringland with ex magician wife Nicola, he runs the Broadland Snooker Centre at Hellesdon

Barry Lee - left in 1972 because comedy was “not my bag” for a solo cabaret singer, then returned to the removals business for 20 years. Now 61 and living in Aylsham he drives for a local building supplies company and still performs in pubs and clubs