The New Vaudeville Band was a novelty group from England formed by songwriter Geoff Stephens. Their bright and cheerful old-time-tune single “Winchester Cathedral” became a surprise transatlantic Top 10 hit during the 60s music era, and has now become an oldies music classic. More on the New Vaudeville Band here in this article.
The group’s formation and hit “Winchester Cathedral”
Producer/songwriter Geoff Stephens (born on October 1, 1934 in New Southgate, North London) formed The New Vaudeville Band in 1966. They were mostly consisted of studio musicians (which included Henry Harrison). Stephens intended to create a group to record “Winchester Cathedral,” a song which had a throwback to 20’s-30’s music hall style.
Although Stephes was credited as the vocalist, the real lead singer was actually sung by John Carter who had sung with the vocal trio the Ivy League. Carter used his own hands to sing through to imitate the sound of a megaphone, like on the old records of singer Rudy Vallee.
Released on Fontana label, “Winchester Cathedral” became an unexpected success, reaching #1 on the US Billboard pop chart and #4 on the UK singles chart in 1966. Morever, it also won a Grammy Award for “Best Contemporary Song” in 1967.
The surprise success of the song had prompted Stephens to put together a touring group, as the performers of the song had composed of studio musicians. He tried to get in touch with a real group, the Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band. However, all members declined except for the group’s saxophonist Bob Kerr. He joined the touring band that also consisted of Henri Harrison (drums), Mick Wilsher (guitar), Stan Haywood (keyboards), Hugh “Shuggy” Watts (trombone), Neil Korner (bass) and Chris Eddy (bass), as well as new lead singer Alan Klein who was later billed as Tristam.
After the hit…
Although the New Vaudeville Band would be a one hit wonder in the US, in the UK they went on to have a couple of big hits such as “Peek-a-Boo” (#7) and “Finchley Central” (#11).
The New Vaudeville Band was managed by Peter Grant, who also managed other groups such as Led Zeppelin and the The Yardbirds.
After years of shifting personnel, the New Vaudeville Band broke up for good in 1988. Kerr had left the group and formed his own act, Bob Kerr’s Whoopee Band. He has continued to perform with ex-fellow bandleader Harrison.