Although the Angelettes officially came into being in 1972,
courtesy of Jonathan King, the four of us had been together
for a number of years prior to that. Sue Hampson and I were
brought up very closely in our early years. Our mothers had
been friends from their teens, working together in Droylsden,
Manchester, and when they both had their only children - daughters
- within a year of each other, it followed that we would spend
a lot of time together. Even after my parents moved eight
miles away to Middleton, Sue and I still spent most school
holidays and many weekends at each other's houses.
My Dad, Alf Abbott, had been a professional jazz musician
(clarinet and sax) and was quite well known in the Manchester
area, particularly as a member of the Derek Atkins Dixielanders.
When I was about seven, in an effort to encourage me to take
an interest in music, he bought a cheap, second-hand acoustic
guitar, learned to play it pretty quickly and then left it
lying around the house - and Sue and I took the bait. We weren't
allowed to touch it unless we learned to play it.
Sue's Dad made her a guitar, and - with help from my Dad
- we got to grips with the chords, and those guitars went
everywhere with us. We were crazy about the Beatles and the
Mersey sound, but Sue "discovered" the Beach Boys
and started playing their records non-stop. Pretty soon, we'd
added the surfer sounds to our repertoire as well.
Things moved up a notch once we both changed to our secondary
schools. Sue attended Levenshulme High School, and it was
there, in 1968, that she met Jan Heywood at the school's lunchtime
folk club. We all got together at Sue's house and realised
that Jan had a really good voice, and she was also learning
to play guitar. So the group was formed, and as often as schoolwork
allowed, we rehearsed at Sue's, working out chords and harmonies
to our favourite current pop songs - all of which came as
a huge surprise to our parents, particularly to my Dad, who'd
had no idea at all that, at the ages of 12 and 13, we could
work out complex harmonies.
Jan was acting in a Sunday School Christmas panto, and persuaded
the organisers to put our group on whilst the panto scenery
was being changed. So our very first "gig" as the
Konsort, was at Brookfield Unitarian Sunday School in Song
Of Sixpence, with Sue and I singing harmony vocals and playing
acoustic guitars (by now we'd bought slightly better ones!)
and with Jan on lead vocals. I seem to remember we sang mostly
Beach Boys songs. After that, we were also asked to sing in
the Church several times.
The vocal sound was almost there, but we needed more depth
in the harmonies, so Jan brought along another school friend
to help out. Pat Fitzgerald had an incredibly deep voice,
which fitted in perfectly. So, the sound of the Angelettes
was born, but the current group name still had a lot to be
desired! We carried on doing Sunday school and Church performances,
with what seemed like a different name each time. Most memorable
were Sunset Beach (paying homage to our Beach Boys influences),
Schenectady - which no MC could pronounce, and out of devilment
the main reason we chose it - and then as White Spirit, which
we thought sounded really trendy but which no-one had told
us was another name for turpentine substitute!
It was as White Spirit that we made our first foray into
the local clubs. Still only 13 and 14 years old, our parents
took us to the agents' Sunday lunchtime showcase auditions
at Abbey Hey Working Men's club in Manchester. We got our
first paid gig from that, performing a few weeks later at
the Three Crowns pub in Stockport for the princely sum of
£8 for the night.
Several gigs followed, and our parents decided to get together
and buy a PA system. Pressure was on from the clubs to "go
electric", so the parents dug into their pockets again
to fund electric guitars and amps. Sue volunteered to play
the bass guitar, quickly becoming very proficient.
There were also suggestions that we wear sparkly dresses,
gold lamé shoes and have matching gold lamé
guitar straps - we gracefully declined the suggestions and
continued trying to be what we thought of as the first "real"
We'd started to include Simon and Garfunkel songs in the
set, always opening with "Keep The Customer Satisfied",
and including "Baby Driver" and "59th Street
Bridge Song". Beach Boys songs still featured prominently
- "Long Tall Texan", "Fun, Fun, Fun",
"Don't Worry Baby", "Alley Oop" - and
some of the current songs from the charts such as "Something
Stupid", "Soleil Soleil" and "Yellow River".
Now aged 15, and with the line-up of two guitars, bass, percussion
and four harmonies, we made a demo disc at Eroica Studios
in Altrincham, Cheshire. The intention was to send the disc
to clubs, promoters and record companies but I read in the
Manchester Evening News that Jonathan King was in the North
West looking for unsigned groups. I bunked off school for
a day, and trudged round the city centre trying to find out
which hotel he was staying at so I could pass on the demo,
but to no avail.
When I called in to see my Dad at work, he rang the only
hotel I'd missed and found JK, who told him to send the demo
and some details. A couple of weeks later, we got a call from
him asking us to go down to London to discuss a record contract.
It was Jonathan who came up with the name and concept of
the Angelettes. He loved the harmonies and felt we should
be concentrating on vocals rather than the instrumental side.
Still at school, we signed our first contract with the Decca
label and shortly afterwards; "Don't Let Him Touch You"
was released in 1972.
Although still studying hard for O-levels, we'd achieved
what we didn't dare to dream was possible and couldn't wait
to get the exams over with and leave school to go on the road.
We'd had a wonderful time in the studio with Jonathan and
The A-side of the single was recorded in London. Jonathan
coped admirably with this bunch of "green" schoolgirls,
teaching us amongst other things mike technique and how to
use our harmonies to build a song up, which were invaluable
lessons. He also instilled in us a sense of professionalism
that we retained for the remainder of our musical careers.
The B-side was recorded at Strawberry Studios in Stockport,
and JK gave us pretty much a free reign on the arrangement
of "Rainy Day", which - apart from the vocals -
just features Sue and I on acoustic guitars. We used this
arrangement for all our B-sides from then on.
My Dad - Alf - would always "have a listen" to
the harmonies, and point us in the right direction if he could
hear any extraneous notes he didn't quite like! At this stage,
we still relied on our Dads to get us to gigs and recording
sessions because we still weren't old enough to drive.
By now, all our schoolmates knew that we'd made a record,
although we'd kept pretty quiet about things until then. Sue,
Jan and Pat all went to the same school and were pretty much
celebrities there. I was at Bury Grammar Girls School and
remember my friends having the radio on all the time in the
common room, just waiting for Radio One to play "Don't
Let Him Touch You". The song got to no. 38 in the charts,
and a Top Of The Pops appearance followed - for which we all
had to get permission for time off school.
Both Schools were quite supportive but with the proviso that
we kept up with work that we'd missed - I don't think any
of us did though! I do remember the French mistress (Mrs Cohen)
making me sit a French test the week after TOTP "in case
you ever need to use your French when you're on the road!"
The music teacher at Bury organised for me to have a "lunchtime
launch" of "Don't Let Him Touch You" for members
of staff and selected friends in the music room - more out
of curiosity than anything else, I think!! When I left school
to turn professional, the Head called me into her study to
wish me all the best, saying, "You're the first pop star
we've ever had"!
Top Of The Pops was a daunting experience for us, but JK
was there for us the whole time, reassuring and giving confidence.
Our Dads were there too, and they were just as nervous as
we were. The DJ for that edition was Ed Stewart - he came
to see us whilst we were in make-up to get a bit of info about
us for his introduction. Sue was asked to remove her glasses
for the recording because of the glare to the cameras, and
it was only we who knew that she really couldn't see anything
for the whole of the recording, but she handled it all so
The flowery dresses were a really last minute purchase and
I hadn't even been able to get to the shopping trip, so it
was sheer good luck that mine even fitted. We'd planned on
wearing long white dresses, but again we were told that the
glare to the cameras was too great so we had to wear the spare
flowery ones - a far cry from the guitar-playing rockers that
we thought we'd like to be, but I don't think any one of us
would have changed the way things worked out.
Despite our "sweet" schoolgirl image, the song
suddenly got banned by the BBC. Although it had been played
repeatedly on Radio One and then on Top Of The Pops, someone
there felt that the words weren't as squeaky-clean as they
would like. We were gutted. On the night that our TOTP appearance
was broadcast, the sound went off part way through. We were
never sure if this had been a technical problem or the start
of the ban.
Several newspapers carried reports the day after about our
disappointment, so in the long run it gave us more publicity
than if things had gone smoothly. Radio Luxembourg - which
was one of the really popular stations then - started power-playing
the song every night.
I remember being called to see my headmistress at school.
She'd been approached by a Manchester radio station that asked
if it was all right to mention the school's name in an interview
we did for them, given the content of the song. I'll never
forget my embarrassment at having to repeat all the words
to her, but she felt that "As long as the song says 'Don't'
then I suppose that's fine!"
The song was well received in the rest of Europe. We heard
that we were very popular in Holland; someone said we'd got
to No 3 in the charts there. We also heard we'd got a No 1
- at North Sea Radio!
We made three more singles with JK, but none quite had the
impact of the first one. Our third single, a cover version
of the Contours/Brian Poole and the Tremeloes' "Do You
Love Me", featured in a documentary about Radio One.
They'd been filming the making of one of the radio shows -
I recall it was Roscoe's Round Table, or a similar new-record
review show - and all the DJs were leaping around to our song!
With exams finished, the Angelettes took to the road professionally.
We worked the length and breadth of the UK, and also played
in Germany. Still under 18, we had to trek down to Bow Street
Magistrates court to get permission to play abroad. After
the first single, Kennedy Street Artistes were employed as
our agents. We were still playing our instruments in the stage
show, but Kennedy Street felt that we should have a stronger
live sound, so they found us some excellent local musicians
- a drummer and bass player - and Sue went back onto guitar.
Our drummer was Paul Burgess, who was also playing with an
up and coming new band called 10cc. Paul had a hectic schedule
working with us and recording with 10cc, but he managed it
somehow. Our bass player, Graham Hirst, was now also driving
the group around and we'd left the apron strings of our parents.
We subsequently added a male guitarist to our line-up, Alan
Doyle, whom everyone lovingly called Auntie Doris due to his
tendency to worry! In recent years, we've tried to find "Doris"
to no avail. As 10cc took off, Paul left us and John Groom
took over on drums.
This new line-up enabled us to concentrate on more complex
vocal arrangements, and we took two weeks off the road, working
virtually round the clock, to come up with a complete new
show. We'd now dropped the "Beach Girls" tag, and
our sets included: "Suite: Judy Blue Eyes" [Crosby,
Stills, Nash & Young], "Scarborough Fayre" [Simon
& Garfunkel]; a capella "It's For You" [Three
Dog Night]; "Carpet Man", "Aquarius" and
"Let The Sun Shine In".
We did several recordings for JK, transferring from Decca
to his UK Records label. In 1974, the Mooncrest label took
us on and we did one single for them, "I Surrender",
again with the B-side recorded at Strawberry Studios, following
the previous format of acoustic guitars as the only accompaniment.
Prior to joining Mooncrest, we'd been given quite a lot of
recording backing work for other artistes. Word had got around
that we could listen to the song and come up with the harmony
arrangement pretty quickly. We were delighted when Bryan Ferry
asked us to do the backing for his first solo venture away
from Roxy Music, his album "These Foolish Things".
He released a single from the album: "Hard Rain's Gonna
Fall". The album sleeve is, however, incorrect in stating
that we didn't do the backing on that song, because we definitely
did do it! Another Top Of The Pops appearance followed. Bryan
had been given another female backing group for his first
TOTP airing of the song, but stated the following week that
he wanted us there instead. It caused a bit of a furore at
the TV studio, but Bryan got his way and we had a frantic
morning chasing around the London shops trying to put together
the outfits that Bryan's team wanted us to wear. The outfits
were quite stunning for their time: black leather jackets
with the collars turned up, tight black pencil-slim skirts,
incredibly high stiletto shoes, 1950s style glasses with diamante
winged sides - all finished off with bright red glossy lipstick
and piled-high hair. Not the sweet flowery-frock image any
Status Quo were also on that edition of TOTP. As we were
waiting to take the stage for our bit, it was either Francis
or Rick who gave us a very tongue-in-cheek "Luuuuv the
outfits, girls!!" I think it must have shown on our faces
that we were pinned up, tucked in, roasting hot under the
lights in thick leather jackets, and had holes in the uncomfortable
stockings and our lips stuck together with lip-gloss. That
said, we thoroughly enjoyed it and loved working with Bryan.
He was an absolute gentleman and looked after us very well.
There is a music video around of Bryan's "Hard Rains
Gonna Fall", with THREE girls doing the backing, dressed
in outfits similar to ours on TOTP, but it's not us! They
are our voices though.
A couple of months before the TOTP appearance with Bryan,
we were all devastated when my Dad died very suddenly, aged
49. Dad had really been an inspiration to us musically, always
giving us the thumbs up at the back of the room at the gigs
he could get to. He'd written out for us a complex, four-part
harmony a cappella vocal arrangement of the song "Perfidia",
which was really taxing to learn. He'd been so proud that
we'd included it in our set. We carried on for about a year
after he died, but his death did take away some of the magic
and whilst that was by no means the only reason we disbanded,
it was certainly the beginning of the end.
We had some great experiences on the road: when the van broke
down in Scotland, we set up all the gear and had an open-air
rehearsal in the middle of nowhere - cars came from miles
around to listen; when we played at the Winter Gardens in
Blackpool, Freddie Starr, who was headlining, came looming
out of the half light in the back stalls during the very formal
band call, swinging like a gorilla, in an effort to make us
laugh and break the concentration - he succeeded!
We worked regularly in the North East clubs, and had to stay
in "showbiz digs" - a euphemism for "cheap"
and "used by badly paid bands on the road". The
camaraderie was brilliant between the bands though. On one
occasion, we shared digs with Shane Fenton, who later became
Alvin Stardust, and he was full of good advice about the business.
We were a novelty to the other, mostly male, bands staying
at these places, and we were constantly being asked if we
could help out: "Can you iron my stage shirt, have you
got any plasters, aspirins, nail files," etc. The one
that took the biscuit was "Girls, have you got a sewing
machine with you? My stage pants need shortening." (Mike
Sweeney - singer and Manchester Radio DJ - you know who you
It was tough on the road for a girl band, though. Doubling
two clubs a night - which we did regularly - was physically
taxing. The second club always seemed to have the more difficult
access arrangements: up an outdoor fire escape, across the
roof, set up and get on stage without a hair out of place
in 15 minutes. I felt that I had to get a "real"
job, or at least something that would pay a regular income,
and the others followed suit. Sue and I ended up working together
at the Bank of England, but we still carried on singing semi-pro
with local bands, and Jan also joined us on occasion.
Over the years, Sue remained very close to Jan and I, and
she also kept in touch with Pat by letter at Christmas. Since
Sue's sad death just over 5 years ago, it's been a time for
reflection. We had a lot of fun and achieved a dream, and
I certainly wouldn't have done anything differently. We have
a lot of people to thank along the way for helping to give
us some wonderful memories and an education at the "University