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David Garrick: Singer whose career included Sixties hits as well as opera at the Cavern

Helped by Radio Caroline, his cover of the Rolling Stones' 'Lady Jane' made it to the Top 30

David Garrick is known for quasi-novelty hits like the Elizabethan-styled “Lady Jane” and the singalong “Dear Mrs Applebee”. But he can also be seen as a forerunner for such singers as Sarah Brightman and Russell Watson who combine classics with popular songs.

He was born Philip Core in 1945. His father Fred was a marine electrical engineer and the family lived in the Fairfield district of Liverpool. He sang in a church choir and his mother Jessie took him to a consultant because his voice wasn't breaking. The consultant said that it had probably broken when he was three and would remain unchanged.

Garrick joined the Birkenhead Operatic Society when he was 14 and won a grant to study in Milan at La Scala. He told me, “I trained in the chorus at La Scala for two and a half years and got fed up even though I was trained by Mario Lanza's singing teacher. I was only the English person there apart from a boy from Birmingham. I don't think they liked the idea of Englishmen singing opera as it is really an Italian form.”

With a thought that he might become the next Mario Lanza, Philip went to the Cavern and sang “Nessun Dorma” to a stunned audience. His future record producer Mal Jefferson recalled, “I happened to be there that night in 1962. You might have thought he would have been laughed off, but not a bit of it. The audience could appreciate that he had a beautiful tenor voice.” The fact that he was exceptionally handsome helped, and when he and his sister Norma, a professional ice skater, met John Lennon at a party, the Beatle joked, “You're both so good looking that I don't know whether to go to bed with you or your sister.”

Unsure of how to help his career, the Cavern's disc jockey, Bob Wooler, recommended him to gain experience by managing a beat group and seeing how they operated. He chose Roy and the Dions and would sing with them on occasion. In the meantime he worked for his father's company but he was dismissed for using excessive amounts of wire in his installations.

In 1965 Garrick was spotted at the late-night club in Liverpool, the Blue Angel, by the Kinks' manager, Robert Wace. He arranged an audition with John Schroeder for the Piccadilly label, which was owned by Pye. Wace changed his name, prompted by seeing the Garrick Theatre in the West End. Encouraged by the theatrical costumier, Kay Ambrose, who had shielded Rudolf Nureyev when he defected, Garrick was dressed in Carnaby Street clothes like a modern Lord Byron. The publicity listed his interests as stamp collecting, Buddhism – and Arabic, the last because his sister had married an Egyptian and ran cruise ships on the Nile.

The first single was an overblown arrangement of a Eurovision, success, “Go”, but helped by repeated plays on Radio Caroline South Garrick made the Top 30 with a cover of a Rolling Stones' album track, “Lady Jane”; an album of covers, A Boy Named David (1966), was also released. His manager gave him in a penthouse suite and he drove a Rolls-Royce. Life looked promising.

For the next single, Garrick recorded a little-known American song called “Dear Mrs Applebee”, in which the singer is enlisting the help of his girlfriend's mother to win her love. The Herman's Hermits-styled single made No 22 in the UK and went to the top of the German charts, remaining on the listings for six months.

Garrick spent time in Germany, performing in concerts and on television shows and having further success with the singles “Please Mr Movingman” and “Don't Go Out In The Rain (You're Going To Melt, Sugar)”. He also had hits in Italy and the Netherlands. After a successful appearance as Liberace's guest on ATV in 1969, the flamboyant pianist invited him to the States, but they fell out and Garrick had to call Pye Records and ask for his fare home.

One of Garrick's German-language singles, “Rüdesheim Liegt Nicht An Der Themse” (Rüdesheim Doesn't Lie On The Thames, 1969), led to a winemaking company in Rüdesheim naming a product after him. He recorded an album in Germany, Blow Up – Live, with the Iveys, who became Badfinger.

John Schroeder wrote in his autobiography that Garrick “prided himself on being able to sing opera, and I was unfortunate enough to have witnessed this.” This referred to his 1967 single, “Ave Maria”, which was bizarrely released at the height of psychedelia. By 1970 Garrick was working the UK cabaret clubs with a mixture of pop songs and classical arias. He moved to South Africa and ran a club in Johannesburg but the local mobsters burnt it down. Garrick was arrested as the police thought it was an insurance scam – but Garrick had opened the club without insurance.

Back in the UK Garrick was living beyond his means and in 1979 he was found guilty of 75 cases of obtaining goods and services by deception. The judge said that he had used his chequebook and his Access card as his “open sesame”. He was lucky to avoid jail and he rebuilt his life through working on the Continent, family support and a sympathetic, long-lasting relationship with his boyfriend.

Garrick's dream of making an operatic album came true in 1999. He spent several months walking on Crosby beach singing aloud to piano accompaniments on a Walkman. When he and Mal Jefferson felt that his voice was powerful enough and that his Italian pronunciation was right, they made the album Apassionata – A Tribute To Lanza.

As his family and friends testify, life was always more fun when he was around and he was always a showman, often delighting in being mysterious. I would see him from time to time on a Merseyrail train, with his perma-tan, dark glasses and jewellery, dressed like Barry Gibb circa 1977, perhaps talking loudly in German into a mobile phone. He was a poseur, but one who didn't realise that such a jet-setter would hardly be travelling on a suburban train. For all that, David Garrick was delightful company.

Philip Darrell Core (David Garrick), singer: born Liverpool 12 September 1945; died Wirral 23 August 2013.