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.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Life and Style
life
Arts and Entertainment
Cold case: Aaron McCusker and Christopher Eccleston in ‘Fortitude’
tvReview: Sky Atlantic's ambitious new series Fortitude has begun with a feature-length special
Voices
Three people wearing masks depicting Ed Miliband, David Cameron and Nick Clegg
voicesPolitics is in the gutter – but there is an alternative, says Nigel Farage
Voices
The veterans Mark Hayward, Hugh Thompson and Sean Staines (back) with Grayson Perry (front left) and Evgeny Lebedev
charity appealMaverick artist Grayson Perry backs our campaign
News
i100
News
people
Sport
Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho
footballThe more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him
Life and Style
Vote green: Benoit Berenger at The Duke of Cambridge in London's Islington
food + drinkBanishes thoughts of soggy school dinners and turn over a new leaf
News
Joel Grey (left) poses next to a poster featuring his character in the film
peopleActor Joel Grey comes out at 82
News
i100
News
business
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Marketing & Sales Manager

£40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A reputable organisation within the leisure i...

Tradewind Recruitment: Science Teacher

£90 - £140 per day: Tradewind Recruitment: I am currently working in partnersh...

Recruitment Genius: Doctors - Dubai - High "Tax Free" Earnings

£96000 - £200000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Looking for a better earning p...

Recruitment Genius: PHP Developer

£32000 - £36000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A rapidly expanding company in ...

Day In a Page

Isis hostage crisis: The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power

Isis hostage crisis

The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power, says Robert Fisk
Missing salvage expert who found $50m of sunken treasure before disappearing, tracked down at last

The runaway buccaneers and the ship full of gold

Salvage expert Tommy Thompson found sunken treasure worth millions. Then he vanished... until now
Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

Maverick artist Grayson Perry backs our campaign
Assisted Dying Bill: I want to be able to decide about my own death - I want to have control of my life

Assisted Dying Bill: 'I want control of my life'

This week the Assisted Dying Bill is debated in the Lords. Virginia Ironside, who has already made plans for her own self-deliverance, argues that it's time we allowed people a humane, compassionate death
Move over, kale - cabbage is the new rising star

Cabbage is king again

Sophie Morris banishes thoughts of soggy school dinners and turns over a new leaf
11 best winter skin treats

Give your moisturiser a helping hand: 11 best winter skin treats

Get an extra boost of nourishment from one of these hard-working products
Paul Scholes column: The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him

Paul Scholes column

The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him
Frank Warren column: No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans

Frank Warren's Ringside

No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans
Isis hostage crisis: Militant group stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

Isis stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

The jihadis are being squeezed militarily and economically, but there is no sign of an implosion, says Patrick Cockburn
Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action

Virtual reality: Seeing is believing

Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action
Homeless Veterans appeal: MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’

Homeless Veterans appeal

MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’ to help
Larry David, Steve Coogan and other comedians share stories of depression in new documentary

Comedians share stories of depression

The director of the new documentary, Kevin Pollak, tells Jessica Barrett how he got them to talk
Has The Archers lost the plot with it's spicy storylines?

Has The Archers lost the plot?

A growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent over the rural soap's spicy storylines; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried, says Simon Kelner
English Heritage adds 14 post-war office buildings to its protected lists

14 office buildings added to protected lists

Christopher Beanland explores the underrated appeal of these palaces of pen-pushing
Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Scientists unearthed the cranial fragments from Manot Cave in West Galilee