Sugar Dean (cont.)

Sugar and his group the Valentinos (courtesy Sugar Deen)While down in London for a performance, they met a guy called Gene Latter who knew everybody around Tin Pan Alley. They hung around with him in a coffee bar called the Gioconda where they got to meet people in the music industry who booked shows etc. Latter made EMI take notice of Sugar’s group, who subsequently signed them.

They eventually released a record called ‘It Takes A Fool Like Me’, which Sugar considered to be an appropriate title, because, while waiting for the record to be marketed, they discovered that EMI did not appear to be distributing it, and the band were always fobbed off when they rang to enquire why this was the case. When, after ordering it, NEMS acquired it for them, the whole batch was faulty. So this, obviously, made the band realize that the company was not really interested in them. 

As time passed, Tony began to lose interest and wanted to go it alone. Sugar felt that, besides this, there were a few issues about Tony feeling that Sugar was trying to take over the group, which, Sugar says, was untrue. So while this was happening, Sugar brought in another singer so that when Tony did eventually go, the new singer would already have been prepared and know the songs required.

The name of the group was then changed to the Harlems. In order to be able to appeal to the more mainstream public, he also brought in backing musicians, like percussion, for example, so that they didn’t have to rely on the musicians provided by the various venues.

After hearing The Harlems, a guy called Mickey Hayes approached the band and suggested that he become their manager. Apparently, he had wanted to manage the Buzz Brothers, (Bernie, Willie and Bobby Wenton), but found them uncontrollable. The Harlems agreed and Hayes eventually got them a record deal with DJN. But, as with EMI, after recording five songs for an album, nothing happened. Even though being with them for about a year, only one record was released but was again not well promoted.

While at the headquarters of this company one day, Sugar recalled a young lad bringing in teas and coffees. Someone said that this boy was a very good songwriter – it turned out to be none other than Elton John!

Sugar recalled David Vaughan (son of Frankie) becoming involved with both of these bands, and he even recalled D.V. taking the Buzz Brothers for new clothes for the show they were booked for that night. But as Sugar’s band was not topping the bill, this offer was not made to them! 

Sugar also says that, because his band was not so important, they could afford to be a little more cagey when offers came. For example, they wanted to know more before signing anything, unlike others who were keen to ‘get on’ and would just say, ‘Yeah, we’ll do this,’ or ‘Yeah, we’ll do that’. There were many incidents during this time with regard to payments etc. – even with David Vaughan – that were difficult but which the bands managed to control.

In Sugar’s opinion, Britain’s music industry was not ready to accept its own homegrown black musicians in the 60s even though the audiences were. The sell-out concerts were proof of this, from John o’ Groats to Land’s End, where they would find girls waiting for autographs and screaming when they came on stage.

But, he says, time has brought about innovation and change, albeit slowly – note The Real Thing, for example. We also now have the MOBO awards, which, says Sugar, is great. Sugar Deen says he feels that the contribution of the black musicians in Liverpool has been totally excluded and ignored over the years. Many more from the 1950s/60s agree with him – one should watch ‘Who Put The Beat In Mersey Beat’ for clarification of this. Sugar also said that I could quote him when he says that, in his view, racism played a big part in this, recalling one particular gig when his group was introduced with the words ‘Ladies and gentlemen, there are four blacks coming on stage now. I don’t like them, you might, here they are.’ As he walked off stage, this M.C. was booed by the audience!

Sugar Deen still sings today and, in my opinion, is as good as ever. He doesn’t do many gigs these days, and most of these are for charity, but when de does appear, he still brings the house down!

Editor’s Note: The first photograph is one I commissioned Les Chadwick to take for me at the Tower Ballroom appearance of Little Richard. Top: Paul, Ringo, George, John. Bottom: Joey Ankrah, Sugar Deen, Little Richard, Derry Wilkie.

Another of Sugar’s doo wop groups was the Valentinos. In the photograph, from left to right they are: Vinnie Ishmael, Sugar Deen, Tony Fayal and Laurence Areety.

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