The McKinleys

TrackSingle
Someone Cares For MeColumbia DB 7230
When He Comes AlongColumbia DB 7310
Then I'll Know It's LoveColumbia DB 7310
Sweet And Tender RomanceParlophone R 5211
That Lonely FeelingParlophone R 5211
Give Him My LoveColumbia DB 7583

 

The McKinleys photo

Sheila (left) and Jeanette McKinley in a 1967 promo photo for the Fontana label in Europe (note alternative spelling of the family surname which we believe to be correct)

 

 

Contributor: Merric Davidson

The McKinley sisters were born and brought up in the Little France district of Edinburgh. The siblings first began performing in their early teens touring the clubs around the city and the Lothians. In 1963, they embarked on a Scottish tour with Glasgow band The Fabulous Falcons (more on this phase at the foot of this post).

The Scottish pop duo were signed to Iver Music in London in 1964 which led to a contract with EMI. Four singles were released in just over a year. They were to tour with the Beatles, appear on Ready Steady Go! and have a #1 hit in Germany. But they never had a hit record in the UK.

However, it wasn’t unusual for a good record to miss out on chart success in the mid-sixties. Not at all. And these were good records.

 

Single No.1 (March 1964)

The McKinleys sheet music

 

The first single, Someone Cares For Me, has a ‘girl group’ Spector-sound, full wall, rather Ronettes-y but with hard-to-disguise Scots inflection. The blatant mimicry of the production doesn’t stop it being a great record in its own right, and it’s the first of their records to benefit from the prolific hit machine of John Carter and Ken Lewis.

The provenance of the B-side, A Million Miles Away, is in doubt if this comment on the 45cat website is to be believed.

 

Single No.2 (June 1964)

The McKinleys advert 2

 

Written by another prolific songwriter – and founder of the New Vaudeville Band – Geoff Stephens, When He Comes Along is perhaps not his greatest number. That accolade could go to several of his many hit records but Sheila and Jeanette cast their harmonic magic on this and it works for me. The flip side is another Carter-Lewis composition, Then I’ll Know It’s Love, and, although undoubtedly formulaic, I dig it.

 

I wanted to know whether the first two McKinleys records got much airplay in 1964. You would have thought so with the weight of the EMI organisation behind them, but I don’t recall hearing them at that time. Of course, there weren’t that many radio opportunities so I asked my friend Paul F. Newman, keeper of the Record Books, to see what he could find. He tells me he first heard Someone Cares For Me on Russell Turner’s Record Choice (a weekly EMI show) on Radio Luxembourg on 2nd March 1964: “I clearly thought it was American. It gets a ‘Very Good’ tick, not quite as good as the Johnny Kidd record that preceded it but not bad at all. The other symbols on the page indicate it was an original, that it was sung by a group rather than a solo singer and it had a kind of fake Spector sound. The Books should have told me whether it was played on Juke Box Jury but there’s a gap. When He Comes Along appears as a first hearing for me on 22nd June 1964, again on Russell Turner’s Record Choice. It hasn’t got the ‘fake Spector’ symbol this time but still has a decent tick. Russ Conway, which followed it, doesn’t get that honour. When He Comes Along doesn’t seem to get in my personal Top Twenty but there were a lot of good records around so competition was high. Russell Turner, by the way, was one of the young producers of Six-Five Special on television and the original producer of Juke Box Jury. He married Barbara Lyon (from the radio comedy Life With The Lyons) in 1956.”

The first two singles were released on the Swan label in the US where they performed better in some regional charts than they did in the UK. Swan Records had enjoyed some success (understatement!) earlier in 1964 after Brian Epstein leased She Loves You to them. So, their name was good out there in North America.

 

Single No.3 (November 1964)

 

Written by Carter-Lewis under the “Hawker-Shakespeare-Powell” alias and recorded in June 1963 by Carter-Lewis and the Southerners, the McKinleys version of Sweet And Tender Romance was released just over a year later. What a fine record it is with its deep murky sound, the vocals soaring over the fast backbeat. The Jimmy Page guitar solo can safely be described as “lacerating” and it stops you in your tracks. You can see the girls performing the song on Ready Steady Go! here. Sweet And Tender Romance was also recorded by John Leyton and P. J. Proby among others. The Bangles also recorded it on their 2011 album, Sweetheart Of The Sun.

The B-side, That Lonely Feeling, is fabulous; slowed right down with gentle, sometimes harsh, harmony. It’s Carter-Lewis again, it’s the kind of song you can imagine a Dusty, or one of my favourites, Julie Grant, doing with full orchestra and strings. Dean Ford and The Gaylords covered it with a degree of aplomb, pre-Marmalade, in 1965.

 

Single No.4 (May 1965)

The McKinleys Give Him My Love

 

Give Him My Love is, for me, the best of the four singles as the sisters move into folk-rock territory with a song co-written by Donovan. It’s certainly the most mature McKinleys record, possibly the best produced, and sadly their last in the UK as success continued to elude them, even though it was a ‘climber’ on pirate Radio London (Big L) on 6th June 1965.

Here’s the flip side, Once More. Once more, the harmonies are fantastic but sadly the song is nothing special as was often the case with B-sides back then. The top side, Give Him My Love, was covered by The Debs in the States in July 1965.

 

Epilogue in Europe

The McKinleys photo 3

When their contract with EMI expired, the sisters found some success in Europe, particularly in Germany, initially as the McKinlay Sisters on the Fontana label (see clips 1 & 2 below), and after that when Sheila was a member of the Les Humphries Singers (see clip 3 below) and Jeanette as one part of the Windows duo who had a massive hit with a German cover of the Mouth & MacNeal hit, How Do You Do (see clip 4 below).

 

 

 

 

 

Three of the photos in this post come from the liner notes of Dream Babes 3: Backcomb ‘N’ Beat, a compilation CD which contains Someone Cares For Me, Sweet And Tender Romance, Give Him My Love. Regrettably, the McKinleys songs that are available on CD are not currently streaming. Let’s hope that changes soon.

 

Here is an account of the early days of the McKinley sisters from the brilliant website, The Strath, dated July 1963:

Over the next eighteen months the McKinley Sisters made the transition from working girls living in the family home in Craigour Drive in Edinburgh to £200 a week artistes. On this occasion they worked with the Muskrats but soon they were to be teamed up with the Fabulous Falcons from Glasgow at the suggestion of Pavilion manager Steve Shepherd. The then leader of the Falcons, John Macgowan, also saw their potential and when he left the Falcons and became an agent with an office in Glasgow he took them on his books and pushed them himself. Both girls had fond memories of The Pavilion Ballroom in Strathpeffer and said “We will always be grateful to Mr Shepherd and the Pavilion. This is where we really got our start on the road to the big time and we’ll never forget it. The Pavilion is one of the best, if not THE best, ballrooms in Scotland. Too many people in the south just don’t know such a place exists and they would really have their eyes opened by the delightful surroundings and top class acoustics here”. By the end of 1963 they had made a total of sixteen Friday and Saturday appearances. During 1964 their usual backing group was the Aberdeen-based band led by Tommy Dene and in the course of the year Sheila and Tommy became engaged. The Sisters made frequent appearances on television and released three records … their final appearances at the Pavilion were on the 24th and 25th December 1964 when they were backed by the Senate Showband … they made an appearance on STV on the 30th December before spending a few days at New Year at home with their family in Edinburgh. Then it was on to London again for a January 6th appearance on “Discs A’Gogo”. (There may be some inaccuracy here because they were reported to have made an appearance with Vince Newman and the Veltones on the BBC programme “Come Thursday” on the 6th January 1965). It was reported that The Beatles and Gerry and the Pacemakers were only two of the many groups who were members of the McKinley Sisters Fan Club.

 

The McKinleys poster 1

“Since Yesterday: The Unsung Pioneers of Scottish Pop” is a documentary currently in production from songwriter (and keyboard player for The Vaselines) Carla J. Easton, director Blair Young and producer Miranda Stern. It will feature Jeanette McKinley (who can be seen in a trailer on the website) and the McKinleys music. And this is the Facebook page for the documentary.

 

 

The McKinleys photo 2

Sheila McKinlay (1946–2012)

 

The McKinleys songs on CD

Gary James’ interview on ClassicBands.com with Howie Casey of early Liverpool group, Derry and the Seniors, and Sheila Casey (nee McKinlay)

Paice Ashton Lord
Several tracks feature backing vocals from Sheila and Jeanette

Carter-Lewis 1960-69 discography at 60s British Beat

The Songs of Geoff Stephens

The McKinleys biography (AllMusic)

Merric Davidson is a retired publisher who started this site eight years ago. He tweets toppermost @AgeingRaver.

TopperPost #1,003

3 Comments

  1. Dave Stephens
    Jan 13, 2022

    How have I lived all these years without coming across the McKinleys and their Sweet And Tender Romance? WHAT A RECORD! Thank you Merric for making this splendid introduction. And the ladies go further and spoil us by making several other nifty records too. (The name that occurred to me after hearing their first platter was the Shirelles.)

    • Merric Davidson
      Jan 14, 2022

      Glad you enjoyed their records Dave. I keep thinking Ronettes every time I hear the debut which gives even more of a memory jolt now that Ronnie has gone. Love the Shirelles and I bet these sisters did too.

  2. John Chamberlain
    Jan 16, 2022

    Another gem unearthed. Well done Merric.

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