Brian Hibbard: Singer and actor who formed the Flying Pickets

 

If the maverick theatre director Ken Campbell had been asked to form a boy band, he might well have come up with the Flying Pickets. In their thirties and resembling the line-up in The Usual Suspects, the Pickets were unlikely looking pop performers. Yet they topped the charts for five weeks around Christmas 1983 with their a cappella cover of Yazoo's "Only You".

The Pickets were regarded as a novelty act but, like Scaffold and the Bonzo Dog Band before them, they were more than that. The political agenda was evident in their name and they are one of the most contentious bands to have topped the charts. Although they alternated lead vocals, Brian Hibbard, dressed as a Teddy Boy with impressive sideburns, was the front man, prone to removing his front teeth on a whim.

Brian Hibbard was born into a working class family in Ebbw Vale in 1946 and his socialist upbringing determined his life. He avoided the colliery and the steelworks by training as a teacher in Birmingham but he got sucked into small theatre groups and sometimes lived in squats. Eventually, he joined 7:84, formed by the director John McGrath and so called because seven per cent of the country owned 84 per cent of the wealth.

Without scenery or musical instruments, the group toured with a grim musical, One Big Blow, written and arranged by Rick Lloyd. The songs were performed a cappella and to amuse themselves while travelling from one venue to another, they would rearrange their favourite songs. They gave a concert as the Flying Pickets at the Albany Empire in Deptford, which was released on LP, and then had a successful fortnight at the Edinburgh Fringe.

As well as Hibbard, there was the bald Red Stripe (real name David Gittins) in eyeliner and donkey jacket, the tousled-haired David Brett with long scarf and fedora, Rick Lloyd looking like Harvey Keitel, Ken Gregson, a "Mr Blonde" in shiny suits, and Gareth Williams, whose sinister look complemented his deep voice.

The Flying Pickets were signed by Virgin's 10 Records and released "Only You", even though Yazoo's original had reached No 2 only a year earlier. On the day it entered the charts, Hibbard and Stripe received notice from the Deptford Housing Association to quit their home. Following its success, the Pickets recorded versions in Spanish, German and Italian. They created controversy on the children's programme, Saturday Superstore, by offering Karl Marx tea-towels as prizes. That was the producer's blunder for having them on live: after all, even their "fan club" was called The Picket Line.

"Only You" was the first a cappella single at No 1, although "Amazing Grace" (Judy Collins, 1970), "Gaudete" (Steeleye Span, 1973) and "After The Goldrush" (Prelude, 1974) had been hits. Subsequent a cappella hits include "Caravan Of Love" (Housemartins, 1986), "Tom's Diner" (Suzanne Vega's original version, 1987) and "Don't Worry, Be Happy" (Bobby McFerrin, 1988).

The Pickets had a second hit with Ruby & The Romantics' "When You're Young And In Love" and their stage favourites included "Summertime", with its reference to Reach For The Sky, the John Otway-styled "Get Off Of My Cloud", and the gay duet of "I Got You Babe". Their album Lost Boys (1984) contains a demented version of Talking Head's "Psycho Killer", arguably their greatest moment.

"We had a deliberate policy not to go for the obvious harmony songs," Hibbard told me in 1990. "We wanted to do something different and perform songs that people wouldn't normally consider to be a cappella. And of course, we wanted to be preaching the class struggle, comrade." During the miners' strike of 1984 the Pickets strongly supported the miners but Virgin considered this negative publicity, especially when some shops refused to stock their product. They had problems with the miners, too, as Hibbard fell out with their leader, Arthur Scargill.

The original group disbanded, and in 1986 Hibbard and Red Stripe formed a duo but with little success. Hibbard became a regular in Coronation Street as the womanising garage mechanic, Doug Murray. He appeared in many popular TV dramas including Doctor Who and Emmerdale. Even though diagnosed with prostate cancer, he appeared as the manager of a children's home in EastEnders in 2011. He played a karaoke singer in the film Twin Town (1997), which starred Rhys Ifans and was set in Swansea. He appeared again with Ifans in Rancid Aluminium (2000). He won a Bafta Cymru for his role in the film Little White Lies (2006).

The Flying Pickets did regroup, without Rick Lloyd, for an album, The Original Flying Pickets, in 1994, but the reunion was shortlived. To this date, there is a touring band with no original members. "We brought the word a cappella into everyday language," said Hibbard, "A lot of people wouldn't have known what it was before we started doing it."

Brian Hibbard, actor and singer: born Ebbw Vale 26 November 1946; married (three children); died Cardiff 17 June 2012.

Arts & Entertainment
The Honesty Policy is a group of anonymous Muslims who believe that the community needs a space to express itself without shame or judgement
music
News
Waitrose will be bringing in more manned tills
newsOverheard in Waitrose: documenting the chatter in 'Britain's poshest supermarket'
Life & Style
life
Arts & Entertainment
Back in the suit: There are only so many variations you can spin on the lives or adventures of Peter Parker
filmReview: Almost every sequence and set-up in The Amazing Spider-Man 2 seems familiar from some earlier superhero film
VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition iPad app?
Arts & Entertainment
Jack Gleeson as Joffrey Baratheon in Game of Thrones
tv
Life & Style
Father and son: Michael Williams with son Edmund
lifeAs his son’s bar mitzvah approaches, CofE-raised Michael Williams describes the unexpected joys he’s experienced in learning about his family’s other faith
Arts & Entertainment
Ian Anderson, the leader of British rock band Jethro Tull, (right) and British guitar player Martin Barre (left) perform on stage
musicJethro Tull frontman leads ‘prog rock’ revival
Sport
Gareth Bale dribbled from inside his own half and finished calmly late in the final to hand Real a 2-1 win at the Mestalla in Valencia
sport
Arts & Entertainment
Who laughs lass: Jenny Collier on stage
comedy... writes Jenny Collier, the comedian whose recent show was cancelled because there were 'too many women' on the bill
News
House proud: keeping up with the Joneses now extends to children's playhouses
newsLuxury playhouses now on the market for as much as £800
News
news
Life & Style
Stir it up: the writer gets a lichen masterclass from executive chef Vivek Singh of the Cinnamon restaurants
food + drinkLichen is the surprise new ingredient on fine-dining menus, thanks to our love of Scandinavian and Indian cuisines
Extras
indybest
Arts & Entertainment
Ken Loach (left) and Mike Leigh who will be going head to head for one of cinema's most coveted prizes at this year's Cannes Film Festival
filmKen Loach and Mike Leigh to fight it out for the Palme d'Or
News
The academic, Annamaria Testa, has set out on her website a list of 300 English words that she says Italians ought to stop using
newsAcademic speaks out against 'Italianglo' - the use of English words in Italian language
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition iPad app?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Apprentice IT Technician

£150.00 per week: QA Apprenticeships: This company is a company that specializ...

1st Line Technical Service Desk Analyst IT Apprentice

£153.75 per week: QA Apprenticeships: This company is an innovative outsourcin...

1st Line Helpdesk Engineer Apprentice

£150.00 per week: QA Apprenticeships: This company has been providing on site ...

Sales Associate Apprentice

£150.00 per week: QA Apprenticeships: We've been supplying best of breed peopl...

Day In a Page

How I brokered a peace deal with Robert Mugabe: Roy Agyemang reveals the delicate diplomacy needed to get Zimbabwe’s President to sit down with the BBC

How I brokered a peace deal with Robert Mugabe

Roy Agyemang reveals the delicate diplomacy needed to get Zimbabwe’s President to sit down with the BBC
Video of British Muslims dancing to Pharrell Williams's hit Happy attacked as 'sinful'

British Muslims's Happy video attacked as 'sinful'

The four-minute clip by Honesty Policy has had more than 300,000 hits on YouTube
Church of England-raised Michael Williams describes the unexpected joys in learning about his family's Jewish faith

Michael Williams: Do as I do, not as I pray

Church of England-raised Williams describes the unexpected joys in learning about his family's Jewish faith
A History of the First World War in 100 moments: A visit to the Front Line by the Prime Minister's wife

A History of the First World War in 100 moments

A visit to the Front Line by the Prime Minister's wife
Comedian Jenny Collier: 'Sexism I experienced on stand-up circuit should be extinct'

Jenny Collier: 'Sexism on stand-up circuit should be extinct'

The comedian's appearance at a show on the eve of International Women's Day was cancelled because they had "too many women" on the bill
Cannes Film Festival: Ken Loach and Mike Leigh to fight it out for the Palme d'Or

Cannes Film Festival

Ken Loach and Mike Leigh to fight it out for the Palme d'Or
The concept album makes surprise top ten return with neolithic opus from Jethro Tull's Ian Anderson

The concept album makes surprise top ten return

Neolithic opus from Jethro Tull's Ian Anderson is unexpected success
Lichen is the surprise new ingredient on fine-dining menus, thanks to our love of Scandinavian and Indian cuisines

Lichen is surprise new ingredient on fine-dining menus

Emily Jupp discovers how it can give a unique, smoky flavour to our cooking
10 best baking books

10 best baking books

Planning a spot of baking this bank holiday weekend? From old favourites to new releases, here’s ten cookbooks for you
Jury still out on Manchester City boss Manuel Pellegrini

Jury still out on Pellegrini

Draw with Sunderland raises questions over Manchester City manager's ability to motivate and unify his players
Ben Stokes: 'Punching lockers isn't way forward'

Ben Stokes: 'Punching lockers isn't way forward'

The all-rounder has been hailed as future star after Ashes debut but incident in Caribbean added to doubts about discipline. Jon Culley meets a man looking to control his emotions
Mark Johnston: First £1 million jackpot spurs him on

Mark Johnston: First £1 million jackpot spurs him on

The most prize money ever at an All-Weather race day is up for grabs at Lingfield on Friday, and the record-breaking trainer tells Jon Freeman how times have changed
Ricky Gervais: 'People are waiting for me to fail. If you think it's awful, then just don't watch it'

Ricky Gervais: 'People are waiting for me to fail'

As the second series of his divisive sitcom 'Derek' hits screens, the comedian tells James Rampton why he'll never bow to the critics who habitually circle his work
Mad Men series 7, TV review: The suits are still sharp, but Don Draper has lost his edge

Mad Men returns for a final fling

The suits are still sharp, but Don Draper has lost his edge
Google finds a lift into space will never get off the ground as there is no material strong enough for a cable from Earth into orbit

Google finds a lift into space will never get off the ground

Technology giant’s scientists say there is no material strong enough for a cable from Earth into orbit