Revised November 2015Rod Allen (Rodney Bainbridge) vocal, bass guitar
This internationally successful group from Birmingham contributed their incredible vocal harmonies to some of the most melodic and enduring pop songs recorded during the 1960s and 70s. Discovered by pioneering pop music promoter Reg Calvert, The Fortunes were also to showcase the talents of hit songwriting team Roger Greenaway and Roger Cook.
The Fortunes story begins in 1960 when Moseley Grammar School pupils Rodney Bainbridge (born 31 March 1944) and Barry Pritchard (born 3 April 1944) formed a singing duo known at the time as "The Strollers". They were later joined by drummer Leigh Clark and bass guitarist Mick Tomlinson with whom they performed a number of times at The Shirley Institute and the Co-op Hall in Nuneaton. It was in early 1963 that The Strollers were spotted by pop music promoter Reg Calvert who saw potential in Rodney and Barry and so invited them to live on his estate at Clifton Hall near Rugby.
Clifton Hall was to become something of a school for would-be pop stars in the early 1960s with Reg Calvert discoveries such as 'Danny Storm', 'Buddy Britten' and 'Robbie Hood' already being groomed for stardom by the time Rodney Bainbridge (now Rod Allen) and Barry Pritchard arrived there.
It was Reg's idea that London vocalist Robbie Hood (Mike West) should have his own band of "Merry Men" so Rod and Barry were drafted to provide the appropriate vocal and instrumental backing with Rod Allen now playing an electric bass guitar and Barry with a new Burns electric six-string. Like it or not, they were also kitted out in uniforms of lincoln green that included jerkins, boots, and yes - tights! (another Brum group The Sundowners would also later do time as Robbie Hood's Merry Men).
Fortunately, it wasn't too long before Reg Calvert realized Rod and Barry (much to their relief!) would be better suited to forming their own group and so paired them with another of his 'discoveries' in the form of aspiring vocalist/guitarist Glen Dale from Kent (born 24 April 1943). The trio soon discovered their main strength lay in the three-part harmonies which they expertly developed to form the trademark sound that would soon make them famous.
Launched by Reg Calvert as "The Cliftones" (in reference to Clifton Hall), the trio proved to be a successful live act. Barry Pritchard recalled; "Reg held competitions and, if people shouted a number that we couldn't do, he would pay them half-a-crown. It was no big deal. There might be twenty people shouting out, so Reg would only pick out numbers that we knew!". By this time, the line-up were joined by drummer Andy Brown (born July 7, 1946 and previously with a local band called The Lawmen) along with keyboard player David Carr (born 4 August 1943, Essex).
Re-named "The Fortunes Rhythm Group", the 5-piece band won first place at a beat contest held at Edgbaston's 'Tower Ballroom'. The group projected a clean, well dressed image on stage and encouraged by manager Reg Calvert, included covers of Dionne Warwick, Gene Pitney and Broadway show songs into their repertoire. Note: there were a few other bands called 'The Fortunes' active in the Midlands area during the early 1960s including a different unrelated line-up who recorded an instrumental song for the Dial Brumbeat LP in 1964.
The Fortunes were signed to the prestigious Decca Records label in late 1963 and their first record release - under supervision of future Who and Kinks producer Shel Talmy - was a bizzare cover of the Jamies 1958 U.S. hit 'Summertime, Summertime' (also attributed to 'The Clifftones'). A second Fortunes single released the following year and titled 'Caroline' was adopted by the pirate radio station Caroline as its theme tune. Despite plenty of airplay, the record did not chart and subsequent Fortunes single releases, although highly competent, were derivative of the current popular "Mersey Sound". It was probably no coincidence that The Fortunes became one of the bands featured on Decca's 1964 'Live At The Cavern' LP recorded at that legendary venue in Liverpool.
Compositions by group members in those days were usually confined to single B-sides such as Barry Pritchard's 'Come On Girl' which appeared on the back of The Fortunes third single titled 'I Like The Look Of You' issued in 1964. For the group's next single, Decca tried a different approach. The Fortunes covered Johnny Ray's 1957 hit ballad 'Look Homeward Angel' that featured Rod, Glen, and Barry's wonderful harmony vocals over a heavily orchestrated backdrop. The result was an incredible record that clearly showed the group's potential but unfortunately it also failed to make the charts.
Decca gave the band one last chance. The Fortunes fifth single was a new composition written by then-unknown songwriters Roger Greenaway and Roger Cook with the recording featuring lavish instrumentation as well as the now trademark 3-part harmonies by the group alongside Rod Allen's lead. Produced by Noel Walker at Decca he recalled; "The Fortunes contract came up for renewal and Decca didn't want to renew it. I told Decca that they sung wonderfully and deserved another chance. I wanted to use them as singers backed by professional musicians".
The song titled 'You've Got Your Troubles', suited the band's image perfectly with the record almost reaching the top spot in the British charts in August of 1965 and also climbing to Number 7 in the U.S. charts. The composers Greenaway and Cook were initially dismayed to discover an "unknown" group had recorded their composition but were happy with the song's success and still regard the Fortune's version to be the definitive one. The single's B-side titled 'I've Got To Go' was also good and featured a vocal lead by Glen Dale.
With a hit formula now established, a follow-up, the prophetically titled 'Here It Comes Again' was soon recorded by The Fortunes and released in October as their next 45, gaining a Number 4 chart placing. Rod Allen said; "After 'Troubles' Les Reed and Barry Mason wrote Here It Comes Again especially for us. It even had the chat line in the middle. We couldn't have wished for a better song and it was a top five smash."
Following this success, The Fortunes joined the famous "British Invasion" and undertook a package tour of the U.S.A. along with 'Peter & Gordon' and fellow Brum group The Moody Blues who were at that time enjoying the international success of their hit single 'Go Now'. Roger Greenaway and Roger Cook would also enjoy their own chart success the following year as the singing duo 'David and Jonathan' with a cover of The Beatles 'Michelle' and their own 'Lovers Of The World Unite'.
In early 1966, the Fortunes 7th single 'This Golden Ring' was to reach Number 15 in the charts but that year also saw a minor scandal erupt when the group admitted during an interview that session musicians were responsible for the instrumentation on their hit singles excepting the vocals. Although this was not an uncommon practice back then or today, it may have damaged the groups' credibility among some music fans at the time.
A further more tragic blow occurred in June 1966 when the Fortunes' manager Reg Calvert who also owned Radio City, a pirate radio station located in the Thames Estuary, was shot to death during a confrontation with an employee of a rival pirate station.
The Fortunes next few singles missed the charts despite their commercial appeal and in July 1966, guitarist/vocalist Glen Dale left the group to go solo. His only record release on Decca was a cover of The Beatles 'Good Day Sunshine' after which he seemed to disappear completely.
Glen's place in the group was taken temporarily by Peter Lee Stirling of The Brusiers who recalled; "I'd known Reg Calvert for years as he used to book us when we were the original Beachcombers. The Fortunes were mates from the early days back in Birmingham. I remember doing a few dates down on the south coast and then a couple of shows in Ireland and Scotland with them."
While performing at East Kilbride in Scotland, The Fortunes discovered talented Scottish vocalist/guitarist Shel MacRae from a group called "The Kimbos". Shel joined the Fortunes officially but with the onset of the psychedelic era, the Fortunes' record sales continued to decline. Like the Rockin' Berries before them, The Fortunes soon discovered that plenty of bookings were available on the lucrative 'cabaret' circuit.
In August of 1967, the Fortunes switched to the United Artists record label and released new singles consisting of self-composed material. The first of these was the excellent track titled 'The Idol' by Rod Allen and Barry Pritchard. This change of direction, although promising, did not achieve chart results but the group soon found new success in recording 'advertising jingles', most notably 'It's The Real Thing' for Coca-Cola. This, along with regular bookings on the northern club circuit, sustained the band throughout the later 1960s. Barry Pritchard said; "We were like wet fish on a slab, and it took us some years to get back."
Another interesting record release by The Fortunes during this period, was 'Fire Brigade', a song written by Roy Wood of The Move who were also from Birmingham. Although the single was a major hit in Britain for the Move in 1968, the Fortune's version, which may have also included a backing vocal by Roy Wood, was only issued in the U.S.A. where it made no impact on the record charts.
David Carr left the group in August 1968 to go and live in America and by 1970 it seemed that The Fortunes career as a UK chart act was behind them. Ironically however, the group started to have some success in the USA with their recording of 'That Same Old Feeling' receiving airplay and entering the American charts. The song was also a hit for the British pop act 'Pickettywitch' with their version charting in the UK at around the same time.
A switch to the Capitol Records label in 1971, saw The Fortunes hooked up once again to hit writers/producers Greenaway and Cook and the result of this partnership was a new single titled 'Here Comes That Rainy Day Feeling Again' which gained the Fortunes a Number 15 chart placing in the USA. The comeback was complete when their next single, the Caribbean-flavored 'Freedom Come Freedom Go' made Number 6 in the British charts followed by 'Storm In A Teacup' (written by singer Lynsey de Paul) a year later also making it into the top ten.
Despite further personnel changes over the next few decades, The Fortunes continued as a major attraction on the club circuit and in 1960s nostalgia shows as well as tours to Europe and overseas. The Fortunes original drummer Andy Brown left the band in the mid-1970s but can still be found occasionally playing drums in various line-ups around the UK to this day.
Fortunes founding member Barry Pritchard left the group in 1995 due to ill health and went to live in Spain where he opened and operated his own bar. He died from a heart attack in January 1999 at only 54 years of age. David Carr also passed away in 2011 at age 67 after years of living in America where he played keyboards for legendary instrumental band 'The Ventures' as well as doing much session work - notably for Kim Fowley's all-girl band 'The Runaways'.
Remaining original Fortunes member Rod Allen continued to tour and record with the present line-up of the Fortunes which also includes veteran performers Michael Smitham (guitar/vocals), former Badfinger keyboard player & vocalist Bob Jackson, and Paul Hooper (drums). Unfortunately, Rod Allen passed away suddenly from cancer in January of 2008 leaving the group's future at that time uncertain (see BrumBeat feature on Rod Allen).
It was Rod Allen's wish that The Fortunes continue to perform after his death so a worthy replacement was selected when The Dakotas vocalist/bassist Eddie Mooney from Stoke-On-Trent joined the band. Now, with long-time member Michael Smitham at the helm, The Fortunes continue their tradition of high-quality performances throughout the U.K. and the rest of the world.
Copyright © John R Woodhouse
Sources: 'The Guinness Book of British Hit Singles' 5th edition 1985; 'Brum Rocked!' and 'Brum Rocked On!' books by Laurie Hornsby 2003.
(highest UK chart position in brackets)
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