Kay Garner

Kay Garner photo 1
1960s publicity photo


This Spotify Playlist contains just a handful of the hundreds of recordings that Kay can be found on

Contributor: David Pearson

Backing singers were much in demand throughout the 60s and 70s and the work could be quite lucrative, especially if several sessions a day were involved; a work pattern not uncommon. Many did emerge from the shadows to have varying degrees of recognition and success as artistes in their own right: Kiki Dee, Madeline Bell, Lesley Duncan all backed Dusty Springfield among many others while building up substantial back catalogues of their own.

Billie Davis described the contributions of backing singers as “the icing on the cake”. One such piece of that icing was Kay Garner, less well-known than some of the above, but one whom producer Mark Wirtz described as possessed of “extraordinary talent and voice”.

Born in 1943, Kay Bewell grew up in Nornabell Street in the east side of Hull and attended Mersey Street High School. Even before she left school – to get a job in a city centre office as a comptometer operator – she was singing jazz around the town with various groups.

There were a few gigs with Tubby Hayes and then talent scouts for the Rank Organisation signed her up after seeing her sing in a local hotel. One of her first engagements was an eighteen-month spot at Witham’s Majestic Ballroom and, by 1961, she was touring US bases in Germany with the Alan Hurst Orchestra.

Her first live radio broadcast was the Light Programme’s weekly Go Man Go. Jazz Club followed and, on TV, Jazz Girls from Ronnie Scott’s.

Back in Britain, by 1963, she was singing in a London nightclub owned by celebrated boxer Freddie Mills and some years later at the Georgian Club in Whitehall.

A spell with the Rabin Band led to an invitation to do backing vocals on a session for TV composer Keith Mansfield and this proved to be the start of her career in session work.

By the mid-sixties she was well established, working most notably with Dusty Springfield. But over the years she would work with Tom Jones, John Lennon, Burt Bacharach, George Harrison and Elton John, among many others.

Unlike Kiki, Madeline and Lesley, Kay Garner’s solo output was modest. She released no solo albums and only two singles. Her first release, in 1964 – I Still Get Jealous / Squeeze Me (Oriole CB 1951). In 1968, Kay’s second and final single release was L. David Sloane / This Must Be Love Mr. Gray (Pye 7N17505). The A-side had been a US hit for soon-to-be Knots Landing star Michele Lee.

And 1968 also saw Kay sing backing on her first UK No.1 – Everlasting Love by Love Affair, though of course she went uncredited, invariably the norm for the backing singer at this time.


Throughout the 1970s Kay was a member of the James Last Chorus, travelling throughout Europe and beyond with the German bandleader and his orchestra. And she was in good company, reconnecting with many friends from the sixties. Included in the lineup were Sue and Sunny, Tony Burrows, Russell Stone, and ex-Vernons Lyn Cornell and Jean Ryder – Jean had also been a former Breakaway, as had been Margo Quantrell, another Chorus member. Check out Kay’s exuberant performance on the old Mouth & MacNeal hit How Do You Do. She was clearly enjoying herself.

In the lineup Kay is third from right with the silver boots


She can also be seen in this 1974 concert at London’s Dorchester Hotel.

That’s Kay second from left in black and white outfit


Meanwhile, Kay continued to be in constant demand as a session singer. Between 1970 and 1976, for example, she contributed to a huge variety of different albums by a wide range of artistes: the London Cast of Jesus Christ Superstar; John Baldry, Lou Reed, Cass Elliott, the Grumbleweeds, Dusty Springfield, Matthew Ellis, Kiki Dee, Julie Felix, Allan Clarke, Elton John, Demis Roussos, Caterina Valente and, of course, James Last.

In 1975, she contributed, again uncredited, to a No.2 smash hit: There’s A Whole Lot Of Loving by a three girl/three boy group called Guys ˈnˈ Dolls. The song had originally been recorded by a bunch of session singers that included Clare Torry, Tony Burrows – and Kay Garner.

Originally used as an ad for McVitie’s biscuits, the newly formed Guys ˈnˈ Dolls wanted to record it and cash in on the jingle’s popularity. They were, however, unable to record their own vocals in time for the single’s hasty release, so Kay and her friends remained as voices on the track which shot up the charts. Yet again, none of them ever had their participation and their talents acknowledged.


Later in the seventies she became a member of Alec Costandinos’ Birds of Paris, a loose aggregation of singers whom Costandinos used on his disco recordings. She also participated on several releases by French disco drummer and producer, Cerrone. The big one here was Supernature which became a global hit. Yet despite its enormous success Kay went almost entirely uncredited, despite being the lead singer on this 10-minute track. Few listeners ever found out her name.

Kay is seen on the video image in the bottom left


Also for Cerrone she did The Golden Touch (1978), Angelina (1979), Panic (1980) – where she was joined by good friend Vicki Brown, yet another ex-Vernon and Breakaway – and Your Love Survived – Cerrone IX (1982). And on these albums she was reunited with the likes of Clare Torry, Jean Ryder and Sue and Sunny. The networking and criss-crossing of this illustrious community of backing singers was sustained and remarkable.

And Kay was a fine songwriter, though that side of her talents tended to be eclipsed by her wonderful voice that made her in such demand for recording sessions.

Yet another string to Kay Garner’ s bow was her participation in countless advertising jingles. Along with the likes of Tony Burrows, Stephanie De Sykes and others, she lent her vocal talents to commercials for Kellogg’s Cornflakes, Crown Paints, Lyons Maid, Brooke Bond, Boots and Twix, to name but a few.

Ever busy she performed in the 1977 International Pop Proms, a series of live concerts with some of the giants of easy listening. Kay supported Petula Clark in 1979.

She had success in Europe, participating on song festivals and demonstrating her songwriting abilities, penning advertising themes for Ford among others.

One of her early career gigs was contributing vocals – along with Lyn Cornell and Vicki Brown – to the 1968 album Fantastic Teenage Fair by famed producer/composer/arranger Mark Wirtz (Teenage Opera), having been introduced to him by Ladybird Maggie Stredder. Two decades later she reunited with him on his 2005 album Love Is Eggshaped. Introduced by Maggie Stredder, Kay was a Ladybird around this time – Wirtz invited her to sing the solo sections of one of the tracks, Sanctuary. Recalling her performance later he declared that “she kicked ass like a rumbunctious teenage rock ‘n’ roller”.

Note the very sincere and touching tribute to Kay at the end of this video


These album sessions were to be Kay’s last studio recordings. Mark was full of praise for her “boundless energy and flawless projection”, not realising that Kay had been battling serious health issues like emphysema and angina for many years and would get out of breath just climbing a flight of stairs.

Diagnosed with stomach cancer in 2005, Kay continued to perform, and only a few months before her death she gave a spirited rendition of I Only Wanna Laugh at the annual Dusty (Springfield) Day in 2007.


Reflecting on her death, Mark Wirtz had this to say:

“Kay’s artistic legacy remains ours to share, as does the resonance of the joy, love and generous kindness she gave to those of us whose life, heart and work she touched.”


TrackLabel Artist
I Still Get JealousKay Garner
Squeeze MeKay Garner
L. David Sloane Kay Garner
This Must Be Love Mr. Gray Kay Garner
Everlasting LoveLove Affair
How Do You DoJames Last
There’s A Whole Lot Of LovingGuys 'n' Dolls
Romeo & JulietAlec R. Costandinos
SanctuaryMark Wirtz Ear Theatre


A Kay Garner playlist


I would like to thank Kay’s daughter Sam, as well as fellow singers and friends Stephanie De Sykes and Lyn Cornell, for their invaluable help in fact-checking all the information in this post.


Kay Garner photo 2
Kay Garner (1943-2007)


Photo taken around the mid-80s – it is a particular favourite of Kay’s daughter Sam


Kay Garner Discography

Kay Garner Single Releases at 45cat

Kay Garner credits at Rate Your Music

Mark Wirtz Tribute to Kay at Spectropop

Kay Garner Biography Page (from her website – archived)

Kay Garner biography (The Musicians’ Olympus)

David Pearson has lived all his life in Glasgow. Married with two sons, he was an English teacher for 40 years. Since retiring in 2011 he has written a number of items for a range of publications, including 55 Life, Northern Echo, Shindig and Record Collector (including a longer piece in RC #516 on the 60s Brit Girl scene). He is a lover of 60s/70s pop, especially anything with a strong harmony sound.

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