June 22, 2013 – Gary Pickford-Hopkins was born in 1948 in Abergarwed near Neath Wales. He attended the Alderman Davies Church and was a member of the Church Choir. After graduation Gary’s first job was as an apprentice painter.
His musical career started as frontman for the Vern Davies Band and as a 16 year old, he was a member of a local band called Smokestacks, made up of musicians from Neath and Port Talbot. After a couple of years, the band broke up and Gary joined the popular band The Eyes of Blue.
The band played at clubs and halls throughout South Wales and they went on to win the Melody Maker Battle of the Bands in 1966, of which the first prize was a recording contract.
Their first release was Supermarket Full Of Cans, and although it never took the Country by storm, it was widely acclaimed and the band went on to develop a ‘cult’ following from the albums they released, never hitting mainstream success.
In 1971, Gary moved to Wild Turkey which was formed by Glenn Cornick, previously bass player for Jethro Tull. The group released two full length LPs (Battle Hymn (1971) and Turkey (1972) when the call came from Rick Wakeman who needed two singers for his “Journey To The Centre Of The Earth” live extravaganza, and that’s how Pickford-Hopkins started to play high-voiced angel to Ashley Holt’s low-toned devil. The album sold over 14 million copies worldwide. By now, Gary had a huge following for those who loved the husky voice that was associated with soul and blues.
This vocal combination proved so magical that Gary stayed on for the Caped Crusader’s next album, “Myths And Legends Of King Arthur And The Knights Of The Round Table”, and then moved on away from stardom to just play locally.
Gary recorded a number of solo projects during the rest of his career along with returning for a reunion stint with Wild Turkey that produced the albums Stealer of Years (1996) and You and Me in the Jungle (2006) along with a live album. In 2003 he returned to a dimmed spotlight with a solo record, “GPH”, and was also involved in the “Journey” 30th anniversary celebration – only to back out again.
One of the finest singers of his generation, Gary Pickford-Hopkins never gained the recognition he deserved and he sadly died of jaw cancer on June 22, 2013 at the age of 65.
It’s been a rotten year for losing friends and Gary was one of the nicest guys you could ever wish to meet. We had so much fun both in the studio and on the road and he and Ashley made a great partnership in the mid-seventies.
I first saw Gary when he was singing for Wild Turkey and ear-marked him then to work alongside Ashley on Journey and he went on to sing on King Arthur as well.
From that time we have now lost David Measham (conductor) , David Hemmings (narrator) and now Gary. Also we have lost Martin Shields from the late seventies English Rock Ensemble.
I wish Gary all the peace that there is to offer him after his long battle with cancer and my heart goes out to his family and friends as indeed it does from all involved with the ERE.
His name will appear as a dedication alongside the two Davids when the official release of the full length studio version of Journey is released later this year.
23th June 2013