THE BEAT GOES ON 1960’S Part 2- PETER DOYLE/THE VIRGIL BROTHERS

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Stupidity (S Burke) – Peter Doyle and the Phantoms 1965 and Temptation’s ‘Bout To Get Me (J Diggs) – The Virgil Brothers 1968

Peter Doyle (1949) was born and raised in Melbourne’s northern suburbs to parents Jack and Jean and attended Thomastown Primary and Merrilands High Schools. At the age of nine he was appearing regularly on Network Seven’s young talent show Swallows Juniors, and he cut his first record at the age of ten.

By the age of 14 he was performing in Sunday pop shows at Melbourne’s Festival Hall where he caught the attention of Ivan Dayman, who signed Peter to a record contract with Dayman’s Sunshine label. He joined labelmates Tony Worsley and fellow Melbourne singer Normie Rowe, with whom Doyle had shared renowned vocal coach Jack White, when they were growing up. Doyle was a handsome, young pop star on the rise with an impressive tenor voice and convincing natural falsetto, he quickly secured guest spots on the Go!!Show, Graham Kennedy’s In Melbourne Tonight, and Sunnyside Up, and regularly appeared at Ivan Dayman’s dance clubs around the country including Mersey City (Melb), Cloudland (Brisb), Bowl Soundlounge and Op Pop Disco (Syd) and several Wonderland Ballrooms in premises previously occupied by bowling alleys, in country centres.

From 1965 to 1967, Doyle released ten singles in Australia, of which three made the Top 40, the most successful of which included a cover of Conway Twitty’s Speechless (The Pick Up), a rousing version of Solomon Burke’s Stupidity which was inspired by a 1964 beat version of this song by Merseyside group Kingsize Taylor and the Dominoes, and a convincing cover of The Platters Great Pretender which also charted top 40.  Peter was backed by Melbourne band The Phantoms on all these recordings, after which he recorded two singles with the band Grandmas Tonic as lead vocalist, but neither charted. His last two singles, once again under his own name, were for the Astor label although he was still backed on them by Grandma’s Tonic, who comprised former members of Tony Worsley’s backing band The Fabulous Blue Jays.

Early beat era entry for Peter Doyle, produced by Pat Aulton.

In 1968 Peter Doyle would become a founding member of the Virgil Brothers, a blue-eyed soul vocal trio whose style was closely modelled on other unrelated “brother” acts currently dominating the charts such as the Righteous Brothers and the Walker Brothers. The Virgil Brothers were a supergroup of Mal McGee (ex-Wild Cherries and Python Lee Jackson) who had already charted with PLJ with cover versions of such soul/R&B songs as Um, Um,Um, Um,Um,Um (Major Lance) and Hold On I’m Comin’ (Sam and Dave); Rob Lovett (ex-Wild Cherries and the Loved Ones) and an eighteen year-old Peter Doyle, who replaced former Purple Hearts lead singer Mick Hadley who was only a “brother” for several weeks. Below L-R Lily Brett article, The Virgils – L-R Lovett, McGee, Doyle; manager Lily Brett

The concept of a trio of peroxided-blonde Aussie blokes in matching suits performing a blue-eyed version of the black man’s soul music seemed to be a contrived exotic novelty in the 1960’s; soul music on commercial radio had been tightly restricted to the songs coming from Motown and Atlantic Records, but things were about to change. By the late 1960’s the reverence with which UK beat bands like the Rolling Stones, Small Faces, Manfred Mann, the Who, Cream, and the Yardbirds held black soul and R&B artists such as Otis Redding, James Brown, Wilson Pickett, Sam Cooke, Sam and Dave and Eddie Floyd encouraged locals to jump on the bandwagon. The respect shown to these artists by such local bands as Max Merritt and the Meteors, Jeff St. John, Python Lee Jackson, the Groop and the Groove, created a more supportive environment for some soulful music exploitation at the local level.

The group was signed to EMI’s Parlophone label, their manager Lily Brett was a Go-Set journalist who ensured the appropriate amount of hype leading up to the release of their debut single, which was a powerful and seductive cover version of a song written by Jimmy Diggs who with Richard Dunbar were the Knight Brothers, who had the original US hit version of this song in 1963. Lyrically the song charts the end of a relationship, it is melancholic and poignant as the man feels the pain of unrequited love “ She won’t write or phone, no/Seems as if she’s never coming home/But in all my faith in love has gone, you’ll hear me cryin’/Temptation’s ’bout to get me…”.

Smooth and soulful, a local supergroup at the time.

Mal McGee’s soulful baritone, Peter Doyle’s plaintive tenor, and Rob Lovett’s counter-harmonies anchored the song, and provided the dramatic ebb and flow that lifted the Virgil Brothers version above that of the original, orchestration arranged by Johnny Arthey was impressive and producer David McKay delivered a classy song that was world standard. US R&B hitmakers the Rascals would closely follow the Virgil’s version of this song, when they included it on their 1969 album See. Below Virgil Bros. Mk2, after Danny Robinson replaced Mal McGee.

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Whilst the group were feted, and the song was highly praised, charting well in Melbourne and Brisbane, it only climbed to #30 nationally, and by the time the trio had decamped to try their luck in the UK, Mal McGee departed, to be replaced by Danny Robinson, formerly of the Wild Cherries. In the UK they were managed by Bruce Welch of the Shadows, and landed a weekly spot as guest artists on the Frankie Howerd Show and also appeared on Joe Brown’s Set ‘Em Up.

But subsequent releases, Here I Am/Shake Me, Wake Me, and When You Walk Away, both failed to impress and the trio disbanded. At this time Australian promoter David Joseph was looking to reconstitute the New Seekers, and after offering a lead singing role to Danny Robinson, who declined and returned to Australia, Peter Doyle became a New Seeker, and so began the most successful phase in his musical career. Below Centre -New Seekers L-R Paul Layton, Eve Graham, Peter Doyle, Lyn Paul, Marty Kristian.

Co-incidentally Peter was reunited with another former Melbourne singer Marty Kristian, who had also joined the New Seekers around the same time, and together with Lyn Paul (Peter’s partner for some years), Eve Graham, and Paul Layton, enjoyed great international success. throughout the 1970’s. They were very popular in the UK notching two #1 hits – I’d Like to Teach the World to Sing (’72) and You Won’t Find Another Fool Like Me (’74), five top 5 hits, and eight top 40 hits here in Australia.  They represented the UK at Eurovision in 1972 and placed 2nd with Beg, Steal, Or Borrow, making Peter Doyle the first Australian to perform at Eurovision. Over the journey the New Seekers had global record sales in excess of 17 million, but by 1973 Peter was unhappy with his share of the financial success of the group and he left to pursue a solo career. (A more comprehensive blog of the New Seekers was published in 4TR on Jan. 30, 2020).

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Peter declined an invitation from Glenn Wheatley to join the Little River Band in the 1970’s and continued to pursue a solo singing and songwriting career in future years, he met Jane Garner in 1977 and they were married in 1983 and had a daughter, Peter would never replicate the success of his time with the New Seekers, and after contracting laryngeal cancer in the late 1990’s, he sadly passed away in 2001. 

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