They were one of the most successful Irish pop bands in the 1960s, taking England by storm. England is where all three of The Bachelors live and where one of them, Dec Cluskey spoke with Henry Wymbs about their long career
Before Boyzone and Westlife there was The Bachelors who were big in the 1960s. Brothers Conleth and Declan Cluskey along with John Stokes, first came together as The Harmonichords and were the first of the Irish ‘Boy Bands’ to invade the UK in 1962. They took on the might of the top British groups and ruled supreme in the face of the musical revolution emanating from Merseyside. Dec recalls: “I was born in Dublin, into a family of five children and was quite privileged to receive a private education at The O’Connell School, (the same school as nine of the signatures of the 1916 Rising). “It was then the ‘Eton’ of Ireland. My father was a successful actor, although in those days he had to have a day job.
“I suppose love of show business was second nature to Con and myself.
“Without sounding big headed, the family were academically bright and I got the highest marks in Ireland for maths in my GCSE (Intermediate Certificate) exam at school.
"I was not allowed to speak English at school until I was 17 years old. After graduating I was lucky to be appointed to a position in the Chief Civil Engineer’s Department in C.I.E, - in fact I designed quite a few railway bridges in Ireland.”
At the age of 15 years, the boys were appearing regularly on national radio, and started to make professional appearances at Dublin’s Theatre Royal and then a twenty-one-week booking on the peak time Eamonn Andrews Radio Show.
“I was in a harmonica band and Con and I also played piano and guitar. John Stokes also joined us in the band. We played all over Ireland and made a huge name for ourselves.
“We were all combining daytime work schedules and playing gigs in the evenings and weekends so it was tough going at times.
“Con was an electrical engineer and John a carpenter. I was the lucky one, with the cushy position in C.I.E…. 10am to 5pm with a one-and-a-half-hour lunch break.”
The music business in Ireland at that time was in a transitional period.
There was a hint of affluence for the first time ever, and Radio Luxemburg provided the youngsters with a new phenomenon - pop music.
“I grew up listening to Bridie Gallagher, John McCormack, Brendan O’Dowd and the ceili bands of the day, but we needed a change of direction. Radio Luxemberg was the station we all loved and to be honest it inspired us to be different.
“In 1959 we toured the UK under the name ‘The Harmonichords’ and were soon signed up by the boss of Decca records, Dick Rowe, who had also just taken on Tom Jones and Englebert Humperdinck, but who had actually turned down The Beatles! We took a big gamble – Con and I having left lucrative positions in Ireland.”
Rowe’s first intervention was to change the name of the group to the ‘Bachelors’ and the management introduced choreography, a first in showbiz.
The ‘Boy Band’ phenomenon was born. With their natural singing ability and clean-cut image in front of the camaras they became popular with both music promoters, listeners and viewers alike.
The trio soon established themselves and became hugely popular in theatres all over the UK. Now all that was missing was a number one hit.
“At first Dick Rowe was not particularly impressed with our performance. I felt we were being pushed into Country and Western style music, as a lot of the people in the music business were predicting that country music would be the next huge phenomenon in the UK.
“You must remember this was immediately before The Beatles and although rock’n’roll was emerging the water had not yet been tested. The song ‘Charmaine’ was turned down by chart singer Karl Denver but Dick Rowe was adamant it would be a hit for someone and why not the Bachelors.”
It soon became apparent that their voices, with their own immaculate harmonies, would catch the public’s attention, and with the release of Mantovani’s ‘Charmaine’ fame and fortune was about to come their way.
“On the advice of Rowe to ‘stick to the oldies,’ we spent every spare moment of every day working out and perfecting our interpretation of the song. The record was released just before Christmas 1962, and immediately went into the top twenty at number six and stayed there for nineteen weeks.
“I remember the hair standing on the back of my neck with excitement when we heard it on the radio, it was unbelievable- here were some lads from Ireland mixing it with the big boys like Elvis Presley and Cliff Richard!’
The record catapulted the group into every home in the UK and Ireland and brought them nationwide stardom. With this record ‘The Bachelors’ had arrived and further hits were to follow with the song ‘Diane’ reaching the number one spot in 1964.
“We outsold The Beatles in 1964 and ‘65 and we were the first Irish group to hit the number one spot since Belfast born soloist Ruby Murray in 1955. This would not be repeated until the ‘Boomtown Rats’ in 1978.
“All the songs were discovered by Dick Rowe and many of them were called after girl’s names (Marie, Diane, Ramona.) It just happened that way. Unfortunately I didn’t have a song about my present wife ‘Sandy’ but who knows - I am working on it.”
Regular television appearances, sell-out tours and more hit records made The Bachelors probably one of the top acts in the UK. Sadly, the trio broke up in acrimonious circumstances and John Stokes left in 1984.
“We had a problem over the rights to use the name ‘The Bachelors’ and as a consequence the court ruled in favour of Con and myself. John was a nice guy, but Con and I were the originals and we now perform all over the world as ‘Con and Dec, The Bachelors’ with a fabulous line up behind us.
Con was the one with the voice and I was the one with the ideas and the harmonies.”
In recent years the boys have adapted their act to suit the occasion, providing entertainment for corporate functions and charity raising. Con and Dec are very much involved with the Grand Order of Water Rats with fellow show-business pals such as Jimmy Tarbuck, Brian May, Rick Wakeman, the late Bruce Forsyth and Michael Crawford.
“We got a lot out of show-business and believe it only right to help people less fortunate than ourselves. I host the biggest songwriter’s website on the internet, www.makehits.co.uk, and help aspiring entertainers fulfil their dreams of having a hit record. I will let you in on a secret, the first 10 seconds of any record is what matters. You need that distinctive opening. All our songs had it and were immediately recognisable.”
The Bachelors may no longer be top of the charts, (although they achieved two gold albums in recent years), but any group who made it big in the swinging sixties, sandwiched between the dominant American artists and the Mersey Sound must be something very special.
And any advice to youngster’s starting off in the music business?
“It’s very difficult to get the break as its so competitive but never give up, yes - you need some talent, but nowadays lady luck plays a massive part.
“We will retire when we die. You see, Con and I don’t work… what we do is not work…we enjoy show-business and we get paid for it. We help people in need, especially young people.
“We had a great life, appeared with almost every showbiz legend in the world like Judy Garland, Tony Bennett, Cilla Black, Bob Hope, Tom Jones and the Beatles.”
Con lives in the Halifax area with his partner.
Dec lives in Eastbourne with his wife Sandy and have three children Victoria, Oliver and Louisa.
John lives with his family in Manchester and still performs on stage. He is also a very successful property developer.