The British Invasion

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The British Invasion

Posted on: February 11th, 2014 by tommyj

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Like Chad and Jeremy, Freddie and the Dreamers were a clean-cut English group who, through the magic of American television and the sheer force of the Invasion, became much bigger in the U.S. than they were in their homeland. Freddie Garrity, a 26-year-old who’d shaved five years off his age to appear more youthquake-friendly, was an impish little fellow in Buddy Holly glasses whose trademark was a spasmodic leg-flailing dance that came to be known as the Freddie.

FREDDIE GARRITY: We were really just a cabaret act. The Freddie dance was just an old routine—it depicted a farmer in a field kicking his feet out in the mud.

Freddie and the Dreamers’ chart placings were already in decline in England when, in 1965, Brian Epstein, moonlighting as the host of Hullabaloo’s London segment, showed a clip of the group performing its 1963 U.K. hit “I’m Telling You Now.” The clip proved so popular that the group was invited to Los Angeles to perform live on Hullabaloo.

FREDDIE GARRITY: So we went on, did “I’m Telling You Now,” and the phones lit up. Policemen were doing the Freddie in the street. And the song shot to No. 1 in America . . .

. . . which it hadn’t done even in Britain. Freddie-mania took such hold in America that Garrity’s record company hastily put together a follow-up single called “Do the Freddie” for him to sing (it reached No. 18), and on Hullabaloo such luminaries as Chuck Berry, the Four Seasons, Trini Lopez, Frankie Avalon, and Annette Funicello joined Garrity in doing the dance. Freddie and the Dreamers also embarked on a U.S. tour with two fellow Manchester bands, Herman’s Hermits and Wayne Fontana and the Mindbenders.

WAYNE FONTANA: We had No. 1, No. 2, and No. 3 on the chart throughout the tour. One week I was No. 1 with “Game of Love,” then Freddie and the Dreamers, then Herman. It was amazing, because we’d all grown up together.

Another young Englishman unwittingly caught up in the slipstream of the Invasion was Ian Whitcomb, a wellborn boy who, while attending Trinity College in Dublin, had started up a band called Bluesville and secured a modest recording contract with Tower, a small subsidiary of Capitol Records. At the end of a Dublin recording session in which he’d committed to tape a protest song called “No Tears for Johnny,” he and his band played a boogie-woogie joke song they’d made up in which Whitcomb panted like a phone pervert and sang, in falsetto, “C’mon now honey, you know you really turn me on.”

IAN WHITCOMB: I was brought across to New York in spring of ’65 by Tower Records. And, to my horror, the promotion man had a copy of the next release of mine, and it was called “Turn On Song.” I said, “You’re not gonna release this! It’s No Tears for Johnny’! I’m gonna be the next Dylan!”

“You Turn Me On (Turn On Song),” as it was officially billed by Tower, somehow made it all the way to No. 8 in the U.S.

IAN WHITCOMB: I was so embarrassed by this damn thing, because I thought I was a singer and rhythm-and-blues man. And here I was with this novelty hit, and I couldn’t stop this damn thing from going up the charts. It’s still an albatross around my neck. When I was on tour with Peter and Gordon in late ’65, Peter said, “You know, you’ve made one of the worst records that’s ever been. Just as pop is progressing, just as we’re getting into serious art with the Beatles and we’re trying to elevate rock into a serious art form, you come along with this rubbish.”

Conveniently, the British Invasion dovetailed with the sexual revolution, which made for plenty of post-show action for visiting English musicians.

GORDON WALLER: It was all too easy, frighteningly easy. I bumped into a woman a couple of years ago who still had a youthful figure and a great-looking face, and she said, “Are you Gordon?” I said, “Yeah.” She said, “I’m Cathy. You took me to Vegas when I was 15.” I said, “Cathy, I think we’ll rephrase that. We were playing in Vegas, and you happened along.” She said, “Yes, happened along—in your bedroom.” These days, damn, you’d be banged up, wouldn’t you?

PETER NOONE: I thought I was in love with every girl, and I was gonna get married. I never, ever took advantage of anybody. I didn’t know that they were groupies. I thought, What a nice girl! She likes me!

FREDDIE GARRITY: It was difficult. I had a wife and a baby daughter. And all of a sudden you’ve got girls coming out of your ears! And, you know, I didn’t want to go deaf.

WAYNE FONTANA: Oh, Freddie was the worst! Even though he was the funny one that jumped around—oh, what a lech! The group joined in—they hired film cameras and everything, so they could set movie scenes up in bedrooms.

Among the most famous of the early rock groupies was Cynthia Albritton, a shy Chicago teen who, for reasons she barely understood, found herself suddenly impelled to storm the hotels where visiting British musicians were staying. In time, she would make a name for herself, literally, as the groupie who made plaster casts of rock stars’ erect penises—she became Cynthia Plaster Caster.

CYNTHIA PLASTER CASTER: I’d say the British Invasion made me what I am. It was the hysteria of Meet the Beatles that evolved into plaster-casting. When it happened, a lot of us were virgins. We would climb fire escapes—like 15, 20 stories—to get to the rock ’n’ roll floor, because the hotel security guards just didn’t allow girls in. They didn’t think it was proper.

PETER ASHER: The funny part was, a lot of the girls were really young. They’d be trying to sneak into the hotel room, but they would have no idea what to do if they got there. They would be horrified if you really said, “Well, O.K. now—take ’em off!”

CYNTHIA PLASTER CASTER: I didn’t know what my goal was. I didn’t even know why I was drawn there. The guys were like magnets, and I didn’t know what I wanted at first. ’Cause I’d only made out with a boy or two before that.

In time, though, Cynthia and her friends embraced overt naughtiness.

CYNTHIA PLASTER CASTER: We discovered along the way this Cockney rhyming slang that only British bands seemed to know. So we learned all the dirty words that we could find out. Such as “Hampton wick,” which rhymes with “dick,” and “charva,” which meant “fuck.” I’m guessing it rhymed with “larva.” Maybe larva’s a sexual term, I don’t know—they didn’t go as far as telling me what it rhymes with. But it was a very popular word; we made a lot of contacts from that word. We actually wrote a note to somebody saying that we were the Charva Chapter of the Barclays bankers. And “Barclays Bank” rhymes with “wank”: “Would you like to make a deposit? Would you like to make a nightly deposit? We have nightly banking hours”—that was it. This was for somebody in Gerry and the Pacemakers. And we didn’t even know what a wank was. We were still virgins.

The end result was that two days later I got a long-distance phone call from the guy. And it transpired into him finding out very quickly that I didn’t know what the fuck I was talking about.

The plaster-casting idea arose from Cynthia’s and her friends’ desire, having given the matter some consideration, to lose their virginity to British pop stars. Nervous about how to break the ice, Cynthia and company decided that asking musicians to submit to having their members coated in a viscous molding agent was the way to go.

ERIC BURDON: I was fascinated by the whole thing. They had a team, and one of them was a real expert at fellatio, and she was beautiful. They came with a wooden box and showed us all the equipment and everything.

The problem was that, initially, Cynthia was not well schooled in the art of molding.

CYNTHIA PLASTER CASTER: There was, like, a two-year period where we were dragging the [casting-equipment] suitcase around, not really knowing how to do it, just wanting to try it out, using it as shtick to get to the hotel rooms. We’d tell people, “We need someone to experiment on. Would you like to help us experiment?” We’d get the pants down, and then, ultimately, they would put the make on us, and voilà—sex would happen. I think we encountered Eric Burdon during that time period. We were on an airplane with him, and we were gonna try aluminum foil, wrap it around his dick. That proved not to work.

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