Read the REAL and ACCURATE story of Fleur De Lys...
The Fleur de Lys (or Les Fleur de Lys as they were originally known) were formed in Southampton in 1964. The band were the brain child of Dave Jay, Southampton’s answer to Brian Epstein, Dave was already well experienced in band management and promotions when he set about recruiting members for what, he envisaged to be, the next big thing!!
The Original line up consisted of Frank Smith (Vocals and Guitar), Danny Churchill (Bass and Vocals), Alex Chamberlain (Organ) and Keith Guster (Drums). After a little over a year of continuous hard slog they came to the attention of Tony Calder, Andrew Loog Oldham’s partner in the newly formed Immediate records, and he offered them the chance to make a record.
The Fleurs duly obliged and the result was their debut release ‘Moondreams’ in November 1965 which was produced by Jimmy Page but all was not well. The band never liked the A Side but agreed to record it as they had written a song to be included on the B Side entitled ‘Wait For Me’ which they felt represented their live sound, however when the record was issued their version was replaced by an instrumental with the same name performed by session musicians.
It was just after the release that Danny Churchill, disillusioned with the music business, quit the band and embarked on a successful career as a bespoke tailor.
Danny’s replacement came in the form of Gordon Haskell, who had previously been playing with The Dowlands. This new line up set off for a month long residency in Germany at the start of 1966 and it was there they met Phil Sawyer.
Phil was an amazing young guitarist from London who had previously been with legendary Mod/R&B band The Cheynes, who also boasted the talents of Peter Bardens and Mick Fleetwood. Phil was now playing with a band called Johnny Deen and The Deacons but wanted out and didn’t need asking twice if he’d like to become a full time member of The Fleurs. It was whilst in Germany that Alex Chamberlain decided to call it a day and on his return home to the UK left the band.
Shortly after arriving back the band were asked by Immediate records to record their second record - a cover of a song written by The Who called ’Circles’. The Fleur de Lys version of it was stunning in every aspect and it has since gained legendary status among collectors and fans of Beat and Psychedelic Music.
Once again the band were faced with upheaval, shortly after moving from Southampton to Swinging London just after the release of ‘Circles’ Frank Smith left the band and returned home leaving just Keith from the original line up to solider on. The band wasted no time and recruited Chris Andrews, an old friend of Phil Sawyer’s, as Frank’s replacement, and a Keyboard player by the name of Pete Sears.
Mid 1966 was a difficult time for The Fleur de Lys, they struggled to get by in London but were constantly performing, they became darlings of the London scene but success had eluded them. It wasn’t long before they were approached by Nicky Wright and Kenny Barker, two young movers and shakers on the London scene, and asked if they could manage them. The Fleurs agreed and through Nicky and Kenny came to the attention of Frank Fenter.
Frank Fenter was at that time head of Atlantic records in the UK and married to fellow South African Sharon Tandy. Sharon had been recording for Pye records but through Frank had managed to get a record deal with Atlantic and in doing so became the first non American female artist to be signed by them.
Frank wanted The Fleurs to become her backing band for live shows and in late 1966 he signed them to Polydor records and became their manager. They began recording on Polydor almost immediately, one of the first sessions they did featured overdubs by Jimi Hendrix who had recently arrived in the UK and was living with Keith and Gordon in Cranley Gardens but that’s another story waiting to be told!
The bands first release for Polydor was ‘Mud In Your Eye’ a superb slice of what is now known as ‘Freakbeat’. Shortly after it’s release in December 1966 Phil Sawyer left the band to join Shotgun Express, he was replaced almost immediately by Bryn Howarth.
The early part of 1967 was spent constantly gigging sometimes with Sharon but mostly on their own. In May, Pete Sears left to join Sam Gopal’s Dream and the band started working at Polydor studios as session musicians for other Polydor artistes.
In June Chris Andrews was approached by Howard Condor who wanted the band to record a track for him which was written by his protégé Rod Lynton, the band agreed and the result was a one off single under the name Rupert’s People, ‘Reflections of Charles Brown c/w Hold On’. It was soon after this recording that Chris Andrews left the band to peruse a solo career under the name Tim Andrews.
Now a three piece the band spent an increasing amount of time playing with Sharon Tandy and doing session work at Polydor records. It was whilst there that they met and played with artists as diverse at Dennis Lotis, Vanilla Fudge, Donnie Elbert, Issac Hayes, Sam and Dave etc.
Towards the end of 1967 they issued another record under their own name, ’I Can See A Light’, which was a departure from their usual style but still a beautiful piece of orchestrated 60s pop. The same day it was issued Frank Fenter took the unusual step of releasing another Fleur de Lys recording ‘Tick Tock‘ under the pseudonym “Shyster”.
As 1967 became 1968 the band were wanting to stretch out and felt the need to get a full time vocalist on board, Tony Head, a friend of Gordon Haskell’s from his early days in Bournemouth and fellow Polydor artist, was soon given the job. Things were looking good for the band when, shortly after Tony joined, Gordon decided enough was enough and left to join The Flowerpot Men!
Auditions were held for a new bass player and in came Tago Byers, ex member of Reading’s top R&B band The Moquettes. ’Gong With The Luminous Nose’ was issued in March 1968 but it was recorded a few months earlier and it features Gordon Haskell on lead vocals, it was another superb slice of British Psychedelia, which would 30 years later get a thumbs up from Paul Weller in the form of his classic ’Sunflower’.
Tony, Bryn, Tago and Keith got down to business straight away, the band finished off sessions with John Bromley for an Album called ‘Sing’ and began work on some new material. Ahmet Ertegun, legendary boss of Atlantic Records in America, watched the band play live whilst in the UK and was so impressed with what he heard and got them signed to Atlantic Records. This was an historic moment not only for the Fleur de Lys but for British music in general as they had became the first British band to be signed to the label and this opened the doors for bands like Led Zeppelin and Yes.
The Fleurs first release for the label was ’Stop Crossing The Bridge’, it was a powerhouse of a track and is now considered a high water mark of British Blue Eyed soul. Frank Fenter once again issued another of The Fleurs recordings ’Butchers and Bakers’ under yet another pseudonym, this time Chocolate Frog! 1968 finished with a prestigious tour of the UK with The Beach Boys and it looked as if 1969 was going to be the year of The Fleur de Lys.
1969 began as usual and the band set about recording new material. By February, the group had finished the recording of their next release, ‘Liar’, and the next Sharon Tandy record, ‘Gotta Get Enough Time’; both are classics and as it turned out both were to be the last recordings issued under these names. In March the band began work on what was to be their last record, ‘Two Can make It Together’, it was issued under the name Tony and Tandy with The Fleur de Lys.
It started to make a big impression on Radio and TV and was selling well but just as things were taking off Keith was involved in a terrible car crash that left him with a broken neck and unable to perform for three months. By the time Keith had recovered enough to return to London he discovered that things had changed and this time for good.
Bryn announced he was leaving the UK and going to America to join Leigh Stephens of Blue Cheer in his new band, Sharon became very ill and was no longer able to sing and Frank Fenter had sold his production company to Warner Brothers and also left for America to set up Capricorn records. Tony soon followed suit and went to work for Sparta Music as a session singer,
Tago and Keith joined The Amboy Dukes, another Polydor band, for a short while but The Fleur de Lys were now a footnote in the musical history of 60s Britain.
Paul ‘Smiler’ Anderson and Damian Jones
Authors of “Circles” The Strange Story of The Fleur de Lys, Britains Forgotten Soul Band.
On November 11th 2009, some original members of
Les Fleur de Lys got back together for a reunion gig at London's 100CLUB in Oxford Street.
Danny Churchill, Frank Smith and Phil Sawyer johined Keith Guster on stage to perform some of their most famous songs live, including Circles. Also on stage with Keith Guster in a second set were Graham Dee and Sharon Tandy. Dave Jay, Les Fleur de Lys' old manager and creator also made an appearance to introduce the band.