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The Overlanders

The Overlanders were a highly underrated group whose history took them from the prime years of the British Invasion into the Summer of Love -- their one U.K. hit -- a chart-topping British single of the Lennon-McCartney song "Michelle" -- usually gets them pegged as a cover band, while their origins as a folk group specializing in harmony vocals often gets them lumped in with Silkie, the Ivy League, and other vocal ensembles. And their being put into Castle Records' sunshine pop series Ripples also gives the group a slightly lighter-weight veneer than they deserve. Their actual sound was a beautifully wrought synthesis of folk-inspired vocals and Merseybeat-style harmonies, rhythms, and instrumentation -- they were comparable, in some ways, to the Searchers, with whom (not coincidentally) they shared the same producer, Tony Hatch. They started out as part of the early-'60s British folk boom, initially as a trio made up of Paul Arnold on piano and guitar, Lori Mason on piano and harmonica, and Peter Bartholomew on guitar, all three sang. Their sound was somewhere between the Easy Riders and the Kingston Trio, drawing mostly on an American repertory, including parts of the latter group's song list, along with the compositions of Woody Guthrie, among others, and originals authored by the trio themselves. Their singing, however, had a bold edge that, combined with their exquisite harmonies, lent the resulting music a raw power that most rivals on the college folk circuit utterly lacked.

They were signed to Pye in early 1963 and, with Tony Hatch producing, debuted with a single that July: "Summer Skies and Golden Sands" b/w "Call of the Wild." Both sides of the single were powerful songs within a folk revival idiom that could have made the jump to the rock & roll audience, with crisp rhythm playing and forceful lead guitar (for folk-styled recordings) on their respective breaks; the lead guitar on "Summer Skies and Golden Sands" was simultaneously reminiscent of early-'60s teen pop, and the work of such Joe Meek-produced bands as the Tornados and the Outlaws. From the very beginning, the Overlanders' sides were as much a step toward the development of folk-rock in the U.K. as the music of the Searchers.

They followed their debut up three months later with the even more beat-oriented "Movin'" b/w "Rainbow": the A-side had crisper rhythm and lead guitar parts (the latter very angular and catchy in its off-kilter way) and Merseybeat-style harmonies; the B-side had a flashy, rippling lead guitar part. Additionally, those early sides were all originals by the three members, of whom Arnold (writing as Paul Friswell) proved the most prolific. It was their third single, and the first to be based on an outside composition: that was the charm, albeit a peculiar one -- their cover of Chad & Jeremy's "Yesterday's Gone," with its Beatlesesque harmonies, was a minor hit in the United States, appearing at just the right moment when all things British could get airplay and sales in America. Their record rose to Number 75. It was hardly a smash, but its' charting was enough to give the group a tiny place in the British Invasion tally books.

That was to be the group's sole success in America, and their last chart action anywhere for more than a year. The group released six more singles, including the catchy and eminently danceable "Don't It Make You Feel Good," (their update of the Nancy Whiskey/Chas McDevitt hit "Freight Train"), and their original, "Room Enough for You and Me." Their work engendered positive critical responses without the sales to match. Amid these pop efforts, their B-sides kept the group within the folk idiom, utilizing lighter textures and richer, traditional folk-based melodies. It was around this time, in 1965, that they also toughened up their sound, adding Terry Widlake on bass and David Walsh on drums -- they were now fully a beat group, which positioned them for their eventual breakthrough. The group was rescued in late 1965 following the release of the Beatles' Rubber Soul album. Rival acts had always cherry-picked the best album tracks from the Liverpool quartet, but Rubber Soul was to yield a bumper crop of notable and hit covers by other bands: the Tremeloes' rendition of "Good Day Sunshine," the Hollies' cover of "If I Needed Someone," Truth's recording of "Girl," and the Settlers' version of "Nowhere Man." And right in there, briefly rivaling the Tremeloes' record, were the Overlanders, with "Michelle," which bumped the Spencer Davis Group's "Keep on Runnin'" from the Number One spot on the British charts, and rode the top spot for three weeks.

Their version of "Michelle" was similar to the Beatles' rendition, but with a moodier vocal performance with more prominence to the beat. The B-side, "Cradle of Love," a ballad built on nursery rhymes, had a hauntingly beautiful melody and exquisite harmonies, as well as a bluesy guitar break that made it well worth a listen. Alas, they were never able to follow "Michelle" up with a successful LP, an American release of remotely comparable popularity, or another British hit. They still made very good records, but the public wasn't buying them later in 1966, and by 1967, with the psychedelic era supplanting the beat boom, the Overlanders seemed increasingly out-of-date -- they tried covering "Go Where You Wanna Go" (very nicely, actually) to no avail, and even turned back to their folk roots with singles such as "Circle Lines Blues" (a London take on the Kingston Trio's "MTA"), then veered back to pop/rock with "Love Is Strange." Paul Arnold left the group to pursue a solo career and was replaced by Ian Griffiths on vocals and guitar, but the Overlanders' fate was sealed with the advent of the Summer of Love. The record company didn't help matters any when, in mid-1967, they had the group record an LP jointly with their Pye Records stablemates the Settlers, in which they returned to their roots, doing versions of "Pick a Baile of Cotton," "Goodnight Irene" and other folk and folk-related songs. By October of 1967, they were history -- Widlake, in conjunction with fellow late-era Overlanders' member Vic Lythgoe, cut a pair of singles for Deram Records as part of the Cuppa T, and Widlake was later a key member of Roy Orbison's backing band. Another alum, Paul Brett, became a member of Tintern Abbey, whose Deram single, "Beeside" b/w "Vacuum Cleaner," earned them a permanent place in the psychedelic/freakbeat firmament. Meanwhile, Paul Arnold's solo career never took off, and he later formed a reconstituted folk group, the New Overlanders, who found a performing niche in '70s folk audiences. In 2001, 34 years after they broke up, Castle Records issued a CD assembling the Overlanders' complete released recordings, entitled Michelle: The Pye Anthology. ~ Bruce Eder
full bio

Selected Discography

x

Track List: Call Me - The Songs Of Tony Hatch

Disc 1

1. Downtown

3. Sugar And Spice

5. Call Me

6. Don't Sleep In The Subway

8. Count On Me

11. Run To Me

12. A Sign Of The Times

15. That's How It Goes

18. Life And Soul Of The Party

19. You've Got To Be Loved

21. I Know A Place

24. The Other Man's Grass (Is Always Greener)

28. Look For A Star

29. My Life

Disc 2

1. Joanna

2. Henry Hannah's 42nd Street Parking Lot

3. Round Every Corner

4. You're Making A Big Mistake

9. My Love

10. You'd Better Come Home

12. Send Her Away

15. A Step In The Right Direction

17. When Summertime Is Over

18. Who Am I?

20. That Boy Of Mine

23. Running To You

24. Tell Tale

29. Harvest Of Love

x

Track List: 1963 The Soundtrack

Disc 1

1. Hey Paula

2. Up On The Roof

3. Little Town Flirt

5. Go Away Little Girl

6. Trouble Is My Middle Name

7. Globetrotter

8. That's What Love Will Do

11. Count On Me

12. Say Wonderful Things

15. Chariot

16. Harvest Of Love

18. Shame, Shame, Shame

20. Hands Off, Stop Muckin' About

21. Hobbies

22. Only The Heartaches

24. Hello Stranger

25. Sweets For My Sweet

Disc 2

1. Twist And Shout

4. From Me To You

6. Summer Skies & Golden Sands

9. Wipeout

10. Christine

11. Some Other Guy

14. You Don't Have To Be A Baby To Cry

16. Ain't Gonna Kiss Ya

19. Hippy Hippy Shake

20. That Boy Of Mine

21. From Russia With Love

22. You're No Good

23. Money (That's What I Want)

x

Track List: 1966 - The Soundtrack

Disc 1

1. In The Midnight Hour

2. Take Me For What I'm Worth

3. Michelle

5. Tomorrow

6. Water

8. My Love

9. Lies

10. Can't Help Thinking About Me

11. Baby Don't You Do It

12. Dedicated Follower Of Fashion

13. So Much In Love

14. Shapes Of Things

18. Girl Don't Tell Me

19. That's Nice

21. Daydream

22. Take It Or Leave It

24. When A Man Loves A Woman

25. Sittin' On A Fence

Disc 2

1. Sunny Afternoon

2. Lady Jane

3. World Cup Willie

4. Out Of Time

6. Oops

7. Headline News

9. Summer In The City

10. Barefootin'

12. Working In A Coalmine

13. Step Out Of Line

14. Sunny

15. Dear Mrs. Applebee

16. I (Who Have Nothing)

17. Psychotic Reaction

18. My World Fell Down

19. Dandy

20. I'm Your Puppet

21. Take A Giant Step

22. Holy Cow

24. Ride On Baby

25. Dead End Street

x

Track List: Beat, Beat, Beat, Vol. 4: 1-2-3-4!

Disc 1

5. Don't It Make You Feel Good

6. Sing A Song Of Sadness

8. See You Later Alligator

11. Boys

14. Can't Get You Out Of My Mind

15. Can't Help Forgiving You

18. Try A Little Love My Friend

19. I Don't Care

20. I Didn't Mean To Hurt You

21. You'd Better Come Home

22. Where Did Our Love Go

24. Bye Bye Baby

Disc 2

1. When You Walk In The Room

2. I'll Be Missing You

12. The Seventh Son

13. Let's Make It Pretty Baby

14. The Wild Side Of Life

16. Wait A Minute

17. What More Do You Want

18. There He Goes (The Boy I Love)

19. Little Things Mean A Lot

20. He's In Town

21. Flashback

22. I Keep Forgettin'

25. I Wonder Why

26. If I Gave You

29. All Day And All Of The Night

30. I Gotta Move

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