In many respects popular entertainment in the 70’s continued in the tradition that had started with the music halls at the end of the Victorian era. The growth of television meant that there was a demand for entertainers who were recruited from the clubs which remained powerful and popular in the showbiz world. The Nolans were a classic example, they were versatile and professional and could slot into most popular TV show formats.
Another huge TV and club act were Peters and Lee. A man and a woman who sang, although Lennie Peters could also play the piano, basically their act consisted of two people standing up and singing nice songs together.
The duo had made the big transition via talent show Opportunity Knocks. This prototype X Factor was huge in the first half of the 70’s. Hosted by inexplicably popular Hughie Green it showcased singers and comedians hoping to get away from gruelling one night stands while, at the same time, highlighting why they would never manage more than third on the bill at Cleethorpes Top Rank. The duo were incredibly popular, winning more times than any other act and securing a place in popular entertainment forever.
The story of Lennie Peters is far more interesting. The former Leonard George Sargent was hit by a car at the age of 5 and lost the sight I one eye. Ten years later he noticed some youths throwing stones at him while sunbathing on Hampstead Heath. He approached the lads and in his gentle London manner told them to stop. A brick was then thrown at him causing him to lose the sight in the other eye. All was not lost however, he was taken to hospital where he was informed that his sight could be saved. While resting in hospital he saw an old man falling out of bed, even prior to NHS cuts there were no nurses to be seen so Peters went to catch him before he hit the floor. Unfortunately the strain of doing this detached a retina and his sight was lost forever. The old man died the next day.
Peters was made of stern stuff, he’d survived the London blitz after all. He moved on to becoming the Ray Charles of London clubs making a respectable career as singer and pianist in the pre Chas n Dave years. Inevitably he managed to secure the patronage of the Kray brothers and throughout the 60’s was a minor celeb on the London gangster scene.
And he’s the uncle of Charlie Watts from the Stones!
Musically I could never see what he gained from Dianne Lee. Originally from Sheffield Lee worked her way up from backing singer until by 1970 she was on equal billing. Her voice was quite slight in comparison with Peters and a lot of the time she still sounded like the backing singer. In terms of what we would have called ‘crumpet’ value she was indispensable however and was a good counterpoint for the older (by 20 years) ‘geezer’ Lennie.
In the middle of glam rock they had their biggest hit.’ Welcome Home’ is the aural equivalent of leek and potato soup. I find it quite comforting.
Peters and Lee were everywhere whenever there was a five minute slot for music on just about any show. I must have seen them dozens of times, there was nothing I wouldn’t watch once we had bought a colour TV. Despite this I can’t remember another song by them. Usually I do some research before writing a blog but really I couldn’t face having to wade through the Peters and Lee songbook, there could be a psychedelic gem in their repertoire for all I know.
Bad luck seemed to follow Lennie Peters. He died from bone cancer at the age of just 60. His daughter was subsequently murdered by her partner in a caravan park in Essex.
Lee’s career has been bizarre since the death of her partner. Birmingham bass player Rick Price finding himself unemployed since the demise of his band, Roy Wood’s Wizzard ,received an offer to be road manager for Peters and Lee. Price initially refused, he had a history of playing in rock bands and in addition to Wizzard had also been in The Move possibly the greatest band to come out of Birmingham. Peters and Lee were offering good pay and a steady job and Price relented and settled down to a spell of cabaret hell. Love blossomed on the tour between Price and Lee (I always assumed that she was in a relationship with Peters) which has lasted to this day. Price and Lee operate a website, which looks as if it was constructed shortly after the invention of the internet, which offers an evening of entertainment from their mutual careers. This means there’s a chance to hear ‘I can hear the grass grow’ in the same set as ‘Welcome Home’ or ‘California Man’ alongside, er… well whatever else Peters and Lee recorded.
It sounds bizarre night out does it appeal to anyone apart from me?