Freddie Garrity

Lead singer of Freddie and the Dreamers, with hits such as 'I'm Telling You Now' and 'You Were Made for Me'
Click to follow
The Independent Online

Frederick Garrity, singer: born Manchester 14 November 1936; three times married (one son, three daughters); died Bangor, Gwynedd 19 May 2005.

Freddie Garrity, the leader of Freddie and the Dreamers, intended his performances to be as much entertainment as beat music. The rock historians who dismiss his work miss the point. Garrity had a lifetime career in show business and claimed,

We were the first group to leap around and do comedy on stage. It's important to have an image and that's why I've lasted so long.

He had grasped, in a pre-video world, the importance of a visual impact.

Garrity was born in Manchester in 1936 - although he claimed to be four years younger for publicity purposes - and, leaving school at 16, he became an apprentice engineer. His real interest was in making music, first in a skiffle group and then, in 1959, by establishing the Dreamers Rhythm Group. The diminutive, bespectacled Garrity led the "five boys in red" with Derek Quinn (lead guitar and harmonica), Roy Crewdson (rhythm guitar, keyboards), Pete Birrell (bass) and Bernie Dwyer (drums).

After seven years in engineering, Garrity became a brush salesman and then worked in high-street stores. He became unemployable, being sacked by the men's outfitters John Collier's because he went to London in search of bookings. Garrity said,

"Eventually I thought, I'll be a milkman. I can get up early, dash round with the milk and be finished by 9 o'clock, so I can be songwriting and rehearsing for the rest of the day. I forgot that I'd be coming off stage late and so, when I overslept one weekend, I got sacked. That's when I turned professional."

The Dreamers made their first broadcast on the BBC's Light Programme in November 1961 and they backed solo singers visiting Manchester such as Mike Sarne, where Garrity donned a blonde wig and a dress to sing the female part in "Come Outside". They made their début at the Cavern in Liverpool on July 1962 and, after appearing on the same bill as the Beatles two months later, they took one of their stage numbers, "If You Gotta Make a Fool of Somebody", for their own performances.

As well as comedy, Garrity would perform an impassioned version of Roy Orbison's "Cryin' ". A staple of their act became the Royal Teens' song "Short Shorts". "We did a show at Stockport County Football Club," Garrity told me in 1995, "and the older folks wanted things like "Autumn Leaves". Someone put a pair of football shorts on the double-bass and we started singing "Who wears short shorts?", which was a load of crap. I'm sorry now because I'm stuck with it. Everywhere I go, people expect me to pull my trousers down, although obviously there's a time and a place for it."

In 1963 Freddie and the Dreamers secured an audition for EMI and their test pressing of James Ray's song "If You Gotta Make a Fool of Somebody" sounded so good that it was issued as a single. "We got a lot of plays for it on Radio Luxembourg, although James Ray's version was much better," said Garrity:

We were seen on TV for the first time on Thank Your Lucky Stars and I came running down some steps, swinging my arms from right to left. It leapt up the charts after that. Let's face it, the dance routines made our records as our sound was thin and weedy.

Derek Quinn agrees: "Musically, we weren't that good. We thought that, if we did daft things, it would stop people noticing our faults. People came to see us because Freddie would leap all over the place. We actually got worse rather than better because we concentrated too much on dance routines."

"If You Gotta Make a Fool of Somebody" made No 3 and Garrity himself had the idea for the follow-up song, "I'm Telling You Now". As he couldn't complete it, the Tin Pan Alley songwriter Mitch Murray was asked to help. He developed a storyline and added the middle eight, but was asked by Garrity's management to split the songwriting royalties 80/20 as it had been Garrity's idea. Murray responded, "If Freddie is happy with 20 per cent, that's fine by me." Garrity developed a new dance - actually one he had been using for "Bachelor Boy" - and "I'm Telling You Now" made No 2.

Freddie and the Dreamers topped the bill over the Rolling Stones on a UK tour, and also toured with Roy Orbison. They devised an elaborate hoax by telling the American that he needed his passport to go into Scotland, and Garrity and Orbison became friends:

"I had a house in Manchester, a two-up, two-down with an outside toilet, which cost me £600. I'd also bought an E-type Jag which was three times the price of the house. I wanted Roy to come for a meal before the show. He had a ranch with acres of land and here was me taking him to Coronation Street. I served him salad because I didn't know how to cook, and actually I'm embarrassed when I think about it."

The group was ideal for pantomime, appearing first in Cinderella at the Royalty Theatre, Chester, in 1963. Their Christmas hit was Mitch Murray's "You Were Made for Me", nursery-rhyme pop which had been written for, and rejected by, the Searchers. Cilla Black, reviewing the record on Juke Box Jury, said that it sounded like Freda and the Dreamers, but it climbed to No 3 and sold 750,000 copies in the UK alone. Their first album, Freddie and the Dreamers, was also a big seller, although their versions of beat group standards are destroyed by Garrity's manic laugh.

They appeared in the film What a Crazy World with Joe Brown and Marty Wilde in 1963 and they also made a guest appearance in Every Day's a Holiday (1965). They starred as dim-witted boy scouts in Cuckoo Patrol (1965), debatably the worst pop film ever.

The group had less success in 1964 but still had chart hits with "Over You", a revival of Paul Anka's "I Love You Baby", "Just for You" and an update of "Auld Lang Syne", "I Understand". In 1965, they only made the charts with "A Little You" and "Thou Shalt Not Steal". However, in 1965, they broke through in America with "I'm Telling You Now", which they promoted on The Ed Sullivan Show. The single topped the US charts and they had further hits, notably with a song about their dance routines, "Do the Freddie". The twist king Chubby Checker recorded a tribute song with the same title.

The Dreamers thought they were in the money as they toured the US for three weeks for $90,000. However, they had not realised that they had to pay their supporting acts - the McCoys and the Beau Brummels - as well as meeting hotel and travel expenses. They returned home $7,000 in debt. This led to the group's demise and Garrity became a children's television star with Little Big Time.

Garrity appeared in summer seasons and pantomimes and would recruit various bands as the Dreamers as and when he needed them. In 1988 he had newspaper publicity to show that he was keeping his thick, curly locks with hair fusion, but he was also losing his singing voice and he would mime while somebody else sang. Eventually one of Lenny and the Lunatics had had enough and stopped singing and left the stage. Garrity chased after him, shouting "Sing, you bastard!" The tabloids got hold of the story and set up a hot line where you could hear how Garrity really sounded.

Around this time, Garrity was featured in a succession of unlikely stories. When he and his second wife, Dee, divorced, she and her new boyfriend invited Freddie to spend Christmas with them. "There is no reason why we can't go on being one big happy family," said Garrity. In 1990, while performing at a holiday camp, he met his third wife, Christine Lea, who had been named "Mrs Perfect" on a television show.

Freddie Garrity's own voice did recover and he took part in Sixties tours and played Buttons or Simple Simon every Christmas in pantomime. But in 2001 he collapsed on a plane journey and he became an invalid. Although he never performed again and was mostly confined to a wheelchair, he kept on joking till the end.

Spencer Leigh