Don Charles

Joe Meek's 'only legit artist'


Walter Stanley Scuffham (Don Charles), singer: born Hull, Yorkshire 10 December 1933: four times married (five daughters); died Herstmonceux, East Sussex 4 December 2005.

The unconventional record producer Joe Meek worked with numerous acts in the 1960s but he considered Don Charles had the best voice, telling him, "You are my only legit artist. All the others are yugga-dugs." Charles recorded fine ballads with Meek, notably the chart-making "Walk With Me, My Angel", in 1962. Six foot four and weighing 17 stone, he was an imposing presence on teenage pop shows.

He was born Walter Scuffham in Hull in 1933, though known as Don from an early age. His father died when he was four and he took his stepfather's name, becoming Don Bennett. He joined the Navy at 15 and remained there until he was 25. By then he had acquired a taste for singing standards with big bands and hoped to be a professional singer.

In 1960 he came to London when he was signed to EMI's Parlophone label by George Martin. Unfortunately, Martin struggled to find the right material for his voice, releasing the unsuccessful "Paintbox Lover" in 1961. He moved to Joe Meek - who renamed him Don Charles, Don Bennett being too close to Tony Bennett - for "Walk With Me, My Angel", on Decca, which Meek had written for the 1961 album Two Sides of John Leyton. The song is in keeping with the otherworldly sounds from Meek's Holloway Road studio, including "Johnny Remember Me", "Tribute to Buddy Holly", "Son, This is She" and "Telstar". It was among Meek's best productions and deserved better than its Top Forty placing.

The same could be said of the follow-up, "The Hermit of Misty Mountain", a very commendable cover of a Ben E. King single. That year Charles also recorded a gimmicky version of a country song, "It's My Way of Loving You", and the B-side, "Guess That's the Way It Goes" with Roger LaVern of the Tornados on piano is archetypal Meek. His "Angel of Love" (1963) was banned by the BBC because of its lyric, "Everyone has an angel of love, / Way up in the heavens above". Relatively few people heard the record but possibly it would not have sold anyway as the Beatles had arrived. "Heart's Ice Cold" was rush-released when "Angel of Love" was banned and, despite an excellent production, it failed to sell.

Meek had a dispute with Decca over their not pushing the Tornados' records and he refused to hand over the tapes of his forthcoming releases. So Charles left Decca and, in 1965, himself produced the Tornados on "Space Walk" and the ironically titled "Goodbye Joe".

Between 1963 and 1965 Charles made seven singles for HMV including "Tower Tall", "Big Talk from a Little Man", and "Dream On Little Dreamer", but without commercial success. It was the same story at Parlophone but "Bring Your Love to Me" (1967) subsequently became a Northern Soul favourite.

Realising that he was never going to have a big record, he bought a nightclub in Malta with Rolf Harris and then became a car salesman. He wrote a practical guide, How to Buy a Used Car (And Save Money), in 1989. The trick was to carry a magnet: "If it sticks, it's metal. If it skates or barely sticks, it's filler."

Spencer Leigh

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