Les Fleur de Lys are a fascinating band that were only together for five years and never released an album (this is a compilation). They were a dynamite band playing exactly the sort of psychedelic pop/rock music with the explosive lead guitar that epitomises the mid Sixties. Their story is complex and weaves together many strands of the London music scene in the mid Sixties.
They released seven singles under their band name but also issued singles with John Bromley, Sharon Tandy, William E and Donny Elbert. They released other singles using the names Chocolate Frog, Waygood Ellis or Rupert’s People. This album is a compilation of the many highlights of their short life. Members of the band went on to high profile careers with The Jefferson Starship, Spencer Davis or they had very successful solo careers.
Despite their French name, the original members of the band came from Southampton and a gig in London caught the eye of the Immediate label, resulting in their first single, “Moondreams”, being produced by Jimmy Page. The song was written by Norman Petty, who owned the studio where Buddy Holly recorded. The B side, “Wait For Me” was written by Jimmy Page.
The group broke up after the failure of their debut single with only drummer Keith Guster remaining. He was joined by Gordon Haskell on bass, Phil Sawyer on guitar and Pete Sears on keyboards. They recorded another single, “Circles” with Jimmy Page producing again. The song was written by Pete Townsend and was originally released by The Who as the B side to “Substitute”. Legal issues meant that at one point the song was replaced by an instrumental, “Waltz For A Pig”, until a settlement was reached with producer Shel Talmy. The Who’s management also released a version of “Substitute” with a song called “Instant Party” on the B side but this was just “Circles” under a different name. It was finally released on the EP “Ready Steady Who”. The version recorded by Les Fleur De Lys has a sensational distorted lead guitar sound, an insistent beat and great harmonies. The guitar solo says everything you need to know about British mod music in 1966.
Chart success eluded the band and more personnel changes ensued. Pete Sears left and went on to form Journey with ex Quicksilver Messenger Service guitarist John Cippolina before forming Jefferson Starship with Grace Slick, Paul Kantner and Marty Balin. Phil Sawyer left to join The Spencer Davis Group. He now records New Age music under the moniker “Beautiful World”. Chris Andrews was recruited as a vocalist. He had been Davy Jones’ understudy as The Artful Dodger in the Broadway version of “Oliver” and nearly got recruited into The Monkees but joined Les Fleur De Lys instead. Bryn Haworth joined at the same time as a guitarist. He had left Blackburn in 1965 and travelled to London, sleeping rough in Victoria Bus Station before meeting members of Wynder K. Frog who introduced him to members of Les Fleur de Lys. “Mud In Your Eye” was issued in November 1966 – another fantastic single that achieved no success.
Frank Fentner was born in South Africa and in 1958, when he was 22, he moved to London. In 1962, he got a lead role in a six part science fiction series on BBC called “The Big Pull”. He wrote and directed a film called “Africa Shakes” starring many South African musical acts. This was the first interracial cast in a South African film. He also started to book gigs for The Rolling Stones, The Animals and other bands which led to him heading Atlantic Records in the U.K. in 1966. A few months later he was Managing Director for Atlantic Records in Europe. He organised European tours for Atlantic acts Sam & Dave, Aretha Franklin, Otis Redding and Carla Thomas. (Frank Fentner later went on to form Capricorn Records and was responsible for signing many Southern rock acts including The Allman Brothers).
When Carla Thomas fell ill and was unable to tour, Frank Fentner arranged for Sharon Tandy to fill in for her. She had appeared in “Africa Shakes” and was briefly married to him. Although she was white, she was a sensational choice. At around this time, Frank Fentner saw a gig by Les Fleur De Lys and he arranged for them to back Sharon Tandy, Aretha Franklin and Isaac Hayes on tour. He thought the band were brilliant and, to further develop their career he suggested that they move into session work and change their name to Rupert’s People.
The band wrote a song called “Hold On” with a friend called Rod Lynton (who later went on to write songs for Wishbone Ash with Ted Turner). “Musical differences” led to every member of the band walking out apart from Chris Andrews and Rod Lynton after recording a brilliant version of “Hold On”.
Chris Andrews recruited four more musicians to record “Reflections Of Charlie Brown”. Released as a single by Rupert’s People, the single was successful in many European countries (but not the U.K.). This new band split soon afterwards and Rod Lynton took over the name Rupert’s People, recording three more singles with a different lineup.
The two lineups of Rupert’s People included 1) Pete Solley who went on to join Chris Farlowe’s band, Procol Harum and Whitesnake; 2) Steve Brendell and John Tout who played on the “Imagine” album (John Tout played piano on “Crippled Inside”, which I had always incorrectly assumed was Nicky Hopkins) 3) Dai Jenkins who was one of the original members of Badfinger 4) John Banks who was in The Merseybeats between 1962 and 1966 and 5) Adrian Curtis who had been playing with Screaming Lord Sutch.
After that diversion into Rupert’s People, let’s get back to Les Fleur De Lys. With Chris Andrews having left to develop Rupert’s People, the band was left as a three piece with Gordon Haskell, Bryn Haworth and Keith Guster. Their first recording was another terrific version of “Hold On”, this time with Sharon Tandy as lead vocalist. This was released as a double A side with “Daughter Of The Sun” and was credited to Sharon Tandy, not Les Fleur De Lys.
Two further singles were released in 1967: “I Can See The Light” was a Les Fleur De Lys single, with Bryn Haworth on lead vocals and the B side, “Prodigal Son” is even better. “Tick Tock” was issued at the same time but with the group temporarily renamed Shyster.
At the start of 1968, the band started to record an album which was never released with the recordings having been long lost. However, a song called “Gong With The Luminous Nose”, written by Gordon Haskell was released as a single in May 1968. The sizzling guitar work of Bryn Haworth (still a teenager at this point) and Gordon Haskell’s vocals turned this into a staggering song.
As well as backing Sharon Tandy on “Hold On”, the band backed three more singers on albums released in 1968. John Bromley was “firmly based in the Macca tradition” according to “Record Collector”. The track “Sugar Love” is very melodic and includes more blistering guitar from Bryn Haworth. They also played on albums by Donnie Elbert, an American soul singer and William E. (who later expanded his name to William E. Kimber). Gordon Haskell’s “Lazy Life”, sung by William E and backed by Les Fleur De Lys is, disappointingly, not on this compilation but is on “Jon Savage’s 1967 The Year Pop Divided”.
In 1968, Gordon Haskell left the band and the following year he joined King Crimson, providing lead vocals on two seminal albums, “In The Wake Of Poseidon” and “Lizard”. He went on to have a successful if unheralded solo career. Tony Head and Tago Byers joined Les Fleur De Lys in 1968 and a single, “Stop Crossing The Bridge” was released. This was followed up with “Butchers And Bakers” using the name Chocolate Frog. In February 1969 they released an amazing single called “Liar”. A great melody, a great hook, great guitar work and great harmonies. It was great. Nobody bought it. Not great.
After the failure of such a great single, Bryn Haworth left and moved to the States where he lived in Woodstock for a while, working with Jackie Lomax before moving back to the U.K. He has released 22 solo albums including a 2020 album called “Peace And Understanding”. There’s nothing funny about that.
When Keith Guster broke his neck in a car crash, the group’s activities were put on hold and although a few more lineup changes ensued, no further recordings were made and the group folded. The sleevenotes to this compilation state that “Of all the underground guitar groups to emerge in the late 60’s, Les Fleur De Lys must surely rate as the U.K.’s best kept secret”.