Revised July, 2011Peter Abberley bass guitar, vocal
The origins of The Californians can be traced back to the 'skiffle' era in Wolverhampton. A group called 'The Black Diamonds' had local success in the late 1950s and early 60s to become well known throughout the area. The Black Diamonds line-up had gone through several changes since their formation so by the time the group visited Germany, the line up consisted of Peter Abberley, Roger Clarke, Keith Evans, Pete Spooner and female lead vocalist Sheila Deni. The group by this time were managed by Roger Allen.
There was little doubt that Sheila Deni was the focal point of The Black Diamonds so her departure to go solo in May of 1966 left the future of the group uncertain. Pete Spooner left too but fortunately, the remaining members had good voices so it was decided to carry on as a four-piece harmony group. A new group name 'The Californians' was chosen to reflect the American West Coast harmony sound of groups such as The Beach Boys which they hoped to imitate. The line-up was now Peter Abberley (bass guitar/vocal), Roger Clarke (lead guitar/vocal), new lead vocalist John O'Hara, and Keith Evans on drums.
Hard work and perseverance resulted in The Californians becoming extremely popular locally and they soon gained a large following of fans. 'N Between Times author Keith Farley said: "From the start the group was very popular in the local area because of its clean-cut image and because they made a very pleasing sound". The group also did a lot of touring but it was their manager Roger Allen who eventually brought The Californians to the notice of Decca Records. Roger had just landed a recording contract for The Montanas and told Decca that he had another talented band, The Cali's.
The Californians first single release in early 1967 was certainly adventurous. The B-side 'Little Ship With A Red Sail' was appealing commercial pop for the period showcasing the groups' strong vocal harmonies. The A-side however, entitled 'Golden Apples' sounded something like 'Bonanza meets Alladin' with its curious mix of wild-west and middle eastern rhythms along with echoey vocal effects. This was certainly 'mind-blowing' for its time!
Chosen for The Californian's second single was a cover of then-unknown American songwriter Warren Zevon's 'Follow Me' with the B-side consisting of 'What Love Can Do'. All these commercial-sounding tracks were well-produced (some would say over-produced) by Irving Martin and again displayed the group's talent for fine vocal harmonies. Unfortunately, even with airplay and promotion, neither of the first two Californians singles released in 1967 made it into the national U.K. record chart despite selling well locally.
Irving Martin would also produce records by other West Midlands groups including Finders Keepers, Sight And Sound, and The Royalty. Lead vocalist John O'Hara's recollection of The Californian's recording sessions (From Keith Farley's book 'N Between Times') is worth repeating here as follows:
For the third Californians single release, the record company took no chances so had the group record a cover of the 'Spanky and Our Gang' big U.S. hit 'Sunday Will Never Be The Same'. Decca spared no expense in providing a full orchestral backing on the record's A and B sides and with strong promotion and airplay how could an already proven hit fail? Sunday Will Never Be The Same was indeed another big seller in the West Midlands where the group had their fans but unfortunately sold poorly elsewhere. It seemed the rest of the country did not share the same enthusiasm for the American West Coast sound.
A real gem of a track recorded by The Californians during this time was the radical 'Cooks Of Cakes And Kindness', composed by the Ivy Leagues' John Carter. This record was given a full-blown 'psychedelic' production reminiscent of The Beatles 'Magical Mystery Tour' set with echoey horns, drums and organ along with electric 'fuzz' guitar. This was indeed a contrast to most of their other 'pop' sounding discs!
It wasn't long before The Californians' line-up changed again to include Mick Brookes from a group called 'The Cobras' who replaced Roger Clarke. There was also a new drummer/vocalist Robbie Trevis from a Dudley group called 'The Choice' who replaced Keith Evans. Robbie's story is as follows:
Despite the lack of record success, the group's live performances were always met with enthusiasm from the audience. A newspaper review of a show they played in Jersey read as follows: "In two half-hour sets, the group practically brought the house down with applause. The Californians' full and powerful harmony sound filled the hall. They were happy, laughing and enthusiastic so not surprisingly, the audience reacted in the same way".
The Californians were chosen to support no less than Jimi Hendrix, Cat Stevens, Engelbert Humperdink, and The Walker Brothers on a major 'package tour' of the U.K. in 1967. Quite a bizarre line-up of talent "that you would never see today" remarked Robbie Trevis. His own recollections of that tour is as follows:
The Californians continued to tour and release more great singles on both the Decca and Fontana labels including, rather strangely, a cover of Cliff Richard's number one hit 'Congratulations'. There were also a few more line-up changes. Geoff Parkes replaced John O'Hara and Adrian Ingram was added as an extra guitarist to fill-out the sound on stage. Adrian was a talented player and had played in Robbie Trevis' former group 'The Choice' as well as local groups 'Gilt Edge' and 'Evolution'.
All good things come to an end and unfortunately, the end of the 1960s saw the end on the horizon for The Californians. The group disbanded in 1970 after their final performance at the Grey Topper Ballroom in Nottingham. Their last single released in 1969 was a cover of Brum band The Fortunes 'You've Got Your Troubles' with the B-side 'Early Morning Sun' composed by guitarist Adrian Ingram. Variations of the line-up continued for a few more years during the 1970s. What became of the former Californians and what are they doing today you may ask?
Many thanks to Robbie Lee (Trevis) for his assistance in preparing The Californians story and providing images of the group shown here.
Copyright © 2011 John R Woodhouse
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