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.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Life and Style
The veteran poverty campaigner Sir Bob Geldof issues a stark challenge to emerging economies at the Melbourne HIV/Aids conference
health
Arts and Entertainment
Benedict Cumberbatch and John Malkovich talk Penguins of Madagascar at Comic-Con
comic-con 2014Cumberbatch fans banned from asking about Sherlock at Comic-Con
Arts and Entertainment
Chris Pratt stars in Guardians of the Galaxy
filmGuardians Of The Galaxy should have taken itself a bit more seriously, writes Geoffrey Macnab
News
Sir Chris Hoy won six Olympic golds - in which four events?
news
Life and Style
People may feel that they're procrastinating by watching TV in the evening
life
News
Lars Ulrich of Metallica performs on the Pyramid Stage at Glastonbury 2014
people
Arts and Entertainment
film
News
video
Life and Style
tech
Arts and Entertainment
While many films were released, few managed to match the success of James Bond blockbuster 'Skyfall'
film
Arts and Entertainment
Up my street: The residents of the elegant Moray Place in Edinburgh's Georgian New Town
tvBBC's The Secret History of Our Streets reveals a fascinating window into Britain's past
Extras
indybest
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
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

Graduate Recruitment Resourcers - Banking Technologies

£18000 - £25000 per annum + OTE £40,000: SThree: Huxley Associates are looking...

Implementation Engineer

£150 - £200 per day: Orgtel: Implementation Engineer Hampshire / London (Gre...

Trainee Recruitment Consultant - Pharmacuetical

£20000 - £25000 per annum + OTE £40,000: SThree: Real Staffing, one of the UK'...

Associate Recruitment Consultant - IT

£20000 - £25000 per annum + OTE £40,000: SThree: Computer Futures has been est...

Day In a Page

Backhanders, bribery and abuses of power have soared in China as economy surges

Bribery and abuses of power soar in China

The bribery is fuelled by the surge in China's economy but the rules of corruption are subtle and unspoken, finds Evan Osnos, as he learns the dark arts from a master
Commonwealth Games 2014: Highland terriers stole the show at the opening ceremony

Highland terriers steal the show at opening ceremony

Gillian Orr explores why a dog loved by film stars and presidents is finally having its day
German art world rocked as artists use renowned fat sculpture to distil schnapps

Brewing the fat from artwork angers widow of sculptor

Part of Joseph Beuys' 1982 sculpture 'Fettecke' used to distil schnapps
BBC's The Secret History of Our Streets reveals a fascinating window into Britain's past

BBC takes viewers back down memory lane

The Secret History of Our Streets, which returns with three films looking at Scottish streets, is the inverse of Benefits Street - delivering warmth instead of cynicism
Joe, film review: Nicolas Cage delivers an astonishing performance in low budget drama

Nicolas Cage shines in low-budget drama Joe

Cage plays an ex-con in David Gordon Green's independent drama, which has been adapted from a novel by Larry Brown
How to make your own gourmet ice lollies, granitas, slushy cocktails and frozen yoghurt

Make your own ice lollies and frozen yoghurt

Think outside the cool box for this summer's tempting frozen treats
Ford Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time, with sales topping 4.1 million since 1976

Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time

Sales have topped 4.1 million since 1976. To celebrate this milestone, four Independent writers recall their Fiestas with pride
10 best reed diffusers

Heaven scent: 10 best reed diffusers

Keep your rooms smelling summery and fresh with one of these subtle but distinctive home fragrances that’ll last you months
Commonwealth Games 2014: Female boxers set to compete for first time

Female boxers set to compete at Commonwealth Games for first time

There’s no favourites and with no headguards anything could happen
Five things we’ve learned so far about Manchester United under Louis van Gaal

Five things we’ve learned so far about United under Van Gaal

It’s impossible to avoid the impression that the Dutch manager is playing to the gallery a little
Screwing your way to the top? Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth

Screwing your way to the top?

Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth, says Grace Dent
Will the young Britons fighting in Syria be allowed to return home and resume their lives?

Will Britons fighting in Syria be able to resume their lives?

Tony Blair's Terrorism Act 2006 has made it an offence to take part in military action abroad with a "political, ideological, religious or racial motive"
Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter, the wartime poster girl who became a feminist pin-up

Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter

The wartime poster girl became the ultimate American symbol of female empowerment
The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones: Are custom, 3D printed earbuds the solution?

The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones

Earphones don't fit properly, offer mediocre audio quality and can even be painful. So the quest to design the perfect pair is music to Seth Stevenson's ears
US Army's shooting star: Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform

Meet the US Army's shooting star

Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform