Friday, February 13, 2015

The Stellas - Wooly Bully

Around 1963, Stan Johnston, Jimmy Martin, John Del Bianco and Mike Niblett formed a beat group in Newcastle, Co. Down, and by the following year they had recruited singer George Garford, a.k.a. Tony G. Ford, to become Tony G. Ford & The Seekers. After making a mark in Belfast the band moved to Dublin, where they were based at the Stella Ballroom in Mount Merrion, and were renamed Tony G. Ford & The Stellas. Manager Dave Whitram owned the name, and in fact had managed an earlier five piece group called The Stellas already. The band made appearances on Radio Eireann and Teilifis Eireann before taking up an extended residency at the K52 Klub in Frankfurt, Germany. The punishing schedule would see the band onstage from 11pm to 5am, with a quarter hour break each hour, 6 or 7 days a week, plus afternoon sessions on Sundays and public holidays. The line-up at this time featured Tony G. Ford (lead vocals), Stanley Johnston (rhythm guitar/tenor sax/baritone sax/vocals/backing vocals), Henry Magee (keyboards/backing vocals), Davy Walker (tenor sax/backing vocals), Jimmy Martin (drums/vocals), Mike Niblett (bass/backing vocals) and John Del Bianco (lead guitar/backing vocals). In 1965 the band were invited by CBS to record a cover version of Wooly Bully for the German market, hoping to capitalise on the big American Rock & Roll hit by Sam The Sham & The Pharaohs. The band chose Fortune Teller as the ‘B’-side, an R’n’B song already made famous by The Merseybeats, The Rolling Stones and Tony Jackson & The Vibrations, but they made a raw take on the track to rival any of those groups. A photo for the cover sleeve of the single was taken outside the K52 Klub in the early hours of the morning, right after they had come off stage. Recorded at CBS studios in Frankfurt, both sides of the disc made the Top Ten in the German charts and both tracks were also included on a 1965 German CBS sampler LP titled The Best Of Beat.


Mike Niblett recalls the band recording an album as part of the Live from the Kaskade Beat-Club, Cologne (Live aus dem Cascade Beat Club in Koln) series that also featured such artists as The Swinging Blue Jeans, Mike Rat &The Runaways and The Sound Riders, as well as an LP as part of the Hamburg Radio Allstars recordings at the Top Ten Club, Hamburg, though there is no trace of either album today. Niblett himself departed The Stellas for another significant Northern Irish group, The People, in late ’65, his place taken by that band’s bassist Chris Stewart, while P.J. McIlhone replaced Jimmy Martin on drums as the German adventure continued. Niblett and Stewart both switched back to their original groups in 1966, just before The People became Eire Apparent. By 1967 The Stellas were once again playing in Dublin, with new member Eddie Campbell (lead guitar) replacing John Del Bianco. The band eventually broke up, with Campbell moving on to co-found The Real McCoy in 1968. Another version of The Stellas existed in Dublin from mid-1968 to 1969, but without any apparent connection to the original line-up, most of whom carried on playing in showbands for many years; Tony G. Ford still performs regularly on the English cabaret circuit today. Although The Stellas only recorded one single – and released nothing in their home country – they’ve managed to remain one of the better-remembered Irish groups through their two songs still being included on ’60s compilation albums in mainland Europe.


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