The Orchids/The Exceptions

TrackSingle / Album
Gonna Make Him MineDecca F11743
Stay At HomeDecca F11743
Love Hit MeDecca F11785
Don't Make Me MadDecca F11785
Mr ScroogeJust For You (OST)
I've Got That FeelingDecca F11861
LarryDecca F11861
Oo-Chang-A Lang (The Blue Orchids)London 45 Lon 9669
What More Do You Want (The Exceptions)Decca F12100
Soldier Boy (The Exceptions)Decca F12100

 

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The Orchids/The Exceptions playlist

 

Contributor: David Pearson
– with many thanks to Georgina Johnstone (Oliver)

They can with some justification be regarded as Britain’s first true girl group. Decades before the Spice Girls, Sugababes, Girls Aloud or Little Mix, three unassuming 14-year-olds from a Coventry comprehensive found themselves with a Decca recording contract, one that would bring them into contact with future Kinks manager Larry Page, as well as ace producers like Shel Talmy, Andrew Oldham and Bert Berns, and along the way creating a sound that had them being hailed as Britain’s answer to the Crystals, Ronettes et al – and indeed often being thought by listeners as an authentic black American group. Their four single 45s have attained cult status by enthusiasts of the girl group sound.

Georgina Oliver, Pamela Jarman and Valerie Jones were pupils of Stoke Park Grammar School for Girls in the early 60s. They loved to sing together in front of pals at break times They weren’t serious music students although Val was a more than competent pianist. Harmony singing came naturally.

We liked The Beatles and anything Tamla Motown,” added Georgina. “Val was into The Rolling Stones“.

That all changed when they won a talent competition at the local Orchid Ballroom, singing The Marvelettes’ Please Mr Postman, and earning themselves the princely sum of £1! Of more significance was the decision by the ballroom manager, ex-singer Larry Page, to take them under his wing. Christening them after the ballroom, he organised a Decca contract and a recording hook-up with producer Shel Talmy, an American now based in England.

Both men would ultimately spend the next several years working with new group The Kinks. But meantime, in September 1963, the girls’ first single was released – Gonna Make Him Mine (Decca F11743) was an uptempo number by Penny Lewis and with a definite US girl group sound.

This wasn’t actually their first studio session – they had earlier provided backing vocals for singer Johnny B. Great on his 1963 Decca single School Is In. And Johnny and his band reciprocated by providing backing on the girls’ debut single.

The B-side was Stay At Home, written by Shel Talmy.

Although both tracks benefited from the experienced Mike Leander as musical director, the single received little airplay, so a follow-up appeared just two months later.

Love Hit Me (Decca F11785) was another Talmy composition, this time aided by Joe Meek associate Charles Blackwell as Music Director. Reminiscent of Spector’s recordings (though Talmy denied he was seeking to copy the wall of sound) this track received considerable airplay and promotion, including a spot on Ready Steady Go, which was the premier ITV pop show at the time. Nevertheless, it failed to trouble the charts, affirming the vote of the Juke Box Jury panel comprising the Beatles, three of whom had predicted a Miss. The girls were behind the screens to hear this but weren’t downcast, happy enough to have their record discussed on a top TV show by none other than the Fab Four.

The B-side was Don’t Make Me Mad, written by Matthew Berry and James Benny Poitier, and with Gordon Franks as M.D. Previous sessions had been produced by Shel Talmy and Michael Stone, but for this B-side production honours went to fellow American Marvin Holtzman.

This second single release gained some popularity in the US but failed to chart in the UK.

Recording sessions took place at night, the girls travelling down from Coventry to the London studios and then returning home immediately afterwards. So there was never any real involvement with the London scene nor with any of the other Decca artistes – singers like Billie Davis, Lulu, Twinkle etc

Ahead of each session the girls would be sent the sheet music. “Luckily Val could read music as she played piano,” says Georgina. “We would play around with harmonies and remembering the words.”

Page might drive them down or they might be given money for rail tickets. It was all very shoestring budget. On one occasion Graham Nash of The Hollies gave them a lift home. On another occasion they asked Ray Davies of The Kinks for a loan of money for their fare home and he refused! On several occasions, hitching up the M1, some kind lorry driver would come to their aid.

Georgina recalls being hit on the mouth by a hockey stick during a PE lesson a couple of days before a recording session. “I had to visit a dentist to try to save a front tooth (caught up with me years later).”

The girls’ image was a major bone of contention for them. Manager Page had decided that they would be photographed always in their Stoke Park school uniforms, which nowadays might be considered a tad iffy and suspect, but seems to have been a decision taken simply to emphasise their youthfulness. The European picture sleeve for Love Hit Me showed the girls clad in those uniforms and holding ice lollies.

Worse was to come. For their RSG appearance they were kitted out in identical costumes that in Georgina’s words “were like clown outfits” – the rest of the studio audience were dressed in the latest mod gear. And so angry were they that at first they refused to appear, only being persuaded to change their minds by RSG presenter Cathy McGowan.

At this point in their story Pam was only 14, a fact which caused the cancellation of a lengthy stint in Great Yarmouth. However, they landed a spot in the movie Just For You, one of those pop films which was essentially a series of individual videos linked by the simplest of plot narrative – in this case DJ Sam Costa lying in his bed and operating a sort of push-button hit parade which included such diverse acts as Freddie and The Dreamers, Louise Cordet, The Applejacks and Peter & Gordon. The Orchids sang Mr Scrooge, dressed once more in school uniform and singing around a brazier in a snowy winter studio set.

They had no say in the songs they recorded. Their own tastes were Tamla Motown, Spector Wall Of Sound, Beatles. Unsurprisigly therefore, they hated Mr Scrooge!

At one point they were immortalised in comic strip form, courtesy of popular girls weekly Judy.

Of more significance was what would turn out to be their final Decca release as The Orchids – I’ve Got That Feeling (Decca F11861). The A-side was written by Kink Ray Davies, with Shel Talmy and Michael Stone producing and with Charles Blackwell as M.D.

The B-side was called Larry. It wasn’t a tribute to their manager but rather an American composition by Henry Hoffman and Garry Klein, with Gordon Franks as M.D. and Marvin Holtzman as producer.

This third single release was less Spectorish and more in the style of their debut, and like the others failed to make an impact. It would be the last disc with the Orchids moniker.

However, there was a further Orchids release that for some reason saw the light of day only in the States. Oo-Chang-A-Lang was a Shel Talmy number, with very much a Spector girl group ambience, and it was paired on the US London label with that Ray Davies song. It was issued under the name of The Blue Orchids to avoid confusion with an existing American outfit.

1965 saw the girls undergo further rebranding when Page relaunched them as The Exceptions, finally ditching those school uniforms for something more fashionably mod. And on 5th March that year came their final Decca outing – What More Do You Want (Decca F12100). The A-side was an Ivy League composition written by John Carter, Ken Lewis and Perry Ford, and had more than a touch of the blues about it.

The girls were not that enthusiastic about it, much preferring the flipside – and with justification. Soldier Boy wasn’t a cover of the old Shirelles hit but a new and original composition by lead singer Georgina. And it’s a gem – a tremendous girl group-sound ballad that seemed to confirm the belief that these girls were a black American girl group. The girls themselves felt it was much more commercial than the official A-side.

Georgina herself explains how it came about:

I loved to sing, obviously, and I happened to be in my bedroom humming. A sliver of a tune became a melody and I decided to put words to it. I wrote the words down. I had never written a song before (or since) and I couldn’t write music so I sang it over and over again until it was burned into my brain. I shared it with Val and Pam. The next time we were in the Kassner music publishers’ office Val and Pam told them about my song. They asked me to sing it and someone at the piano wrote down the notes etc. I stood in front of a big desk facing Kassner, Larry Page and a couple of other guys. I was nervous but they liked it. Yes I would have liked it to be an A side and a lot of our fans think so too.

Once again, radio exposure was disappointingly poor, sales likewise, and Decca dropped them from its roster. The girls drifted apart and away from show business to pursue their own individual careers: Pam went into teaching; Val pursued art and design and became a full-time artist; Georgina emigrated to Canada, also becoming an artist and designer.

The girls had very little real involvement in what was happening around them, which explains why memories of those times are so vague – plus of course the passage of time. Georgina recalls a lunch meeting with legendary producer Andrew Oldham. The girls had no money so ate nothing, pretending they were not hungry, and not realising that he was paying!

Afterwards he drove them around London in his American convertible. “No seat belts in those days,” Georgina recalls. “We slid back and forth in the back seat on the shiny leather. There was a small record player on the dash and I remember it was playing Don’t Make Me Over by Dionne Warwick. We then went to his apartment where we met Murry Wilson, father of The Beach Boys, and later on Marianne Faithfull came by. I remember she had a stain on her blouse, which kind of took the glamour out of the occasion.

Stories which seem to highlight the girls’ youth and innocence. Oldham’s involvement apparently led to a recording session, with tracks that lie somewhere in the vaults.

Likewise a session with American producer Bert Berns of Bang Records. But the girls were not really very aware of what was going on or who exactly was in the recording studio. As Georgina puts it “we just saw a bunch of guys with headphones playing with buttons and sliders behind the glass.

Looking back Georgina has many happy memories.

We were having a good time mostly but we did want to be recognized as a legit girl group. It was exciting whenever a record of ours was played on Radio Luxembourg or by Coventry DJ Brian Matthew (who was a big fan of ours). We were never aware of the pressure to get a big hit. We wanted to be successful, of course, but we knew nothing about what was going on in the background. Shel Talmy blames Decca for the lack of promotion and support etc.

Had that support and promotion been forthcoming, had they been able to ditch those uniforms, had they been given more say in choice of material … who knows what might have happened. But their music is just great – aside maybe from Mr Scrooge, their recordings would not sound out of place in a Tamla or Spector compilation.

Their all too brief musical career is kept alive and well by the many collectors and enthusiasts who search their records out at music fairs, and of course writers like Ian Chapman, Bob Stanley and Mick Patrick who gather together so much 60s Brit Girls music in the growing number of CD compilations released by labels like Ace, RPM and Cherry Red. Orchids/Exceptions tracks are sprinkled across many of these collections.

Go search them out – you won’t be disappointed. One Youtuber subscriber summed them up in three words.

These girls rock!”

 

 

Here are some online sites worth checking out for further info about Georgina, Pam and Val.

The Orchids Story on Spectropop

The Coventry Music Museum: The Orchids

Pete Clemons on The Orchids

Kate Mossman on The Orchids (New Statesman 2019)

 

The Orchids poster

 

The Orchids photo 2

l-r: Pamela Jarman, Georgina Oliver, Valerie Jones
The Orchids back together after 52 years

 

The Orchids mosaic 1

The Orchids feature heavily in a 32 sq.m ceramic mosaic which celebrates the musical heritage of Coventry. London artist Carrie Reichardt designed and constructed the piece for the Coventry City Of Culture 2021. It will remain a permanent fixture at the entrance to Coventry’s Pool Meadow Bus Station.

The Orchids mosaic 2

 

The Orchids at 45cat

The Exceptions at 45cat

The Orchids biography (AllMusic)

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.

Georgina Oliver is now Georgina Johnstone and is an accomplished artist and teacher residing in British Columbia. Working mainly in acrylics she produces landscapes, florals, portraits, still life, as well as collages and abstracts.

TopperPost #967

1 Comment

  1. David Lewis
    Jul 8, 2021

    What a wonderful toppermost. This site continually proves its value. Thoroughly enjoyed this and I love seeing Georgina’s thoughts.

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