January 9, 2009 – Dave Dee was born David John Harman on December 17th 1943 in Salisbury, Wiltshire, England. One day in 1946 he arrived home from kindergarten to find a man in a kilt talking to his mother. It was his father, whom he had never seen, and who had just returned from the war as a soldier in the Black Watch.
As a boy, he boarded at the Adcroft School of Building, formerly the Hammersmith School of Arts and Crafts which had been evacuated during the war from London to a former army camp at Trowbridge. Having been warned off the building trade by his father, David dabbled in plumbing but also became interested in music, initially the sort that accompanies Morris dancing. At 13 he played in a skiffle group and later sang in a Salvation Army choir, an experience he claimed cost him his virginity with a teenage comrade “dressed in the full uniform, including stockings and suspenders – the whole works”. On leaving school he joined Swindon police, and as a cadet he happened to be at the scene of the automobile accident that took the life of American rocker Eddie Cochran and injured Gene Vincent in April 1960. Dave had taken Cochran’s guitar from the accident site and held it at the police station until it could be returned to his family several months later, all the while strumming the beautiful Gretsch guitar.
Deciding that policing was not for him David Harman turned to the burgeoning pop music scene and joined four friends in a group called Ronnie Blonde and the Beatniks. By 1962 they had become Dave Dee and the Bostons and were appearing at clubs in Hamburg and Hanover with several other aspiring British groups following in the steps of The Beatles.
At the Top Ten Club in Hamburg’s notorious Reeperbahn, the group was billeted in a brothel next door and, like The Beatles, fuelled their marathon musical sessions (lasting from 5pm until the early hours) with slimming tablets and amphetamine.
Back in Britain, they obtained a recording contract with Fontana, and changed their name (at the suggestion of their managers) to Dave Dee, Dozy, Beaky, Mick and Tich, a mix of their real names and nicknames. The group’s first single No Time appeared in 1965, and they talked their way into an appearance on ITV’s pop show Ready, Steady, Go! by setting up their equipment in the foyer of Rediffusion House and performing a couple of songs on the spot.
When their first two records flopped, Dave Dee was on the point of rejoining the police, but he and the others were dissuaded by managers Howard and Blaikley, who composed all their future hits.
In March 1966 – the year of England’s World Soccer Cup triumph – they had their first chart hit with Hold Tight, based on a football chant, which reached number four. It was the first of several catchy numbers that became hits, including the cheekily-suggestive Bend It (1966), Zabadak! (1967) and, their biggest worldwide success, a one-off piece of hokum called The Legend of Xanadu (1968).
Over a flamenco-style guitar riff, Dee gravely intoned “Esta es la leyenda de Xanadu” into an echo chamber before the song proper began. Scored for a 35-piece orchestra, Dee’s melodramatic account of a doomed love affair in the deserts of Mongolia was punctuated by a bullwhip percussion, a memorable feature of the group’s appearances on Top of the Pops when Dee wielded the whip, in the style of Indiana Jones, to alarming effect in a crowded television studio.
In September 1969, Dee left the group for a short-lived solo career, after which he became head of A&R for WEA Records, signing many hitherto unknown acts to the label including AC/DC, Boney M and Gary Numan.
In the 1970s he became a founder committee member of the charity Nordoff Robbins Music Therapy, the largest charitable provider of music therapy in the country. For more than 30 years, he actively involved himself in fund-raising and increasing the charity’s profile.
Dave Dee returned to performing in the 1980s, touring Europe with a successful solo act which included many of the band’s hits. Dave Dee, Dozy, Beaky, Mick and Tich reformed in the 1990s with Dee as lead vocalist again. He performed his last gig in Eisenburg, Germany, in September 2008.
In 1996 he bought a Queen Anne mansion in the Cheshire countryside and turned it into a luxury guesthouse. But when the business failed after two years, he sold the property to pay off his debts.
At the suggestion of his second wife, hearing him complain of some injustice, Dee applied to become a magistrate and sat as a Justice of the Peace, first in Brent, north London, and later at Macclesfield, Cheshire.
He was 67 years 23 days old when he died on 9 January 2009 from prostate cancer that he had been diagnosed with in 2001.
Between 1965 and 1969 they spent more weeks (141) in the UK singles charts than any band including the Beatles with 139.