August 16 2009 – “Winchester Cathedral” by New Vaudeville Band


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Winchester Cathedral
Winchester Cathedral

They were perhaps one of the oddest bands to come out of the British invasion of the 1960s.

The New Vaudeville Band was the brainchild of record producer Geoff Stephens, who put together a group of studio musicians to play an oddball dance-hall-style music. The really scary thing was…it was HUGE. In the middle of the Beatles heyday, they took an off-kilter, 1930’s style song on a very successful ride.

Today’s SOTD was the group’s only hit in the US, but it was a MONSTER, climbing all the way to the top of Billboard’s Hot 100 for 3 weeks. I remember loving the song as a wee lad of three, and looked forward to it being on the radio, and when it would play next.

Perhaps the most interesting thing about the US success of the song is what other songs were charting at the same time. After a week at #1, Winchester Cathedral gave up the spot to Good Vibrations by The Beach Boys. Then, the unthinkable happened – somehow, Winchester Cathedral managed to outsell the Beach Boys biggest selling opus and moved BACK into the #1 slot for two more weeks, then was finally ousted for good by I’m A Believer by The Monkees. In the meantime, the song also held court on Billboard’s AC chart (then the “easy listening”chart) for four weeks.  AND…the song won a Grammy as well, for – get this – “Best Contemporary Rock And Roll Recording”, and in doing so eked out an unbelievable win over the aforementioned Good Vibrations by the Beach Boys, Eleanor Rigby by The Beatles, Last Train To Clarksville by The Monkees, Monday Monday by The Mamas and Papas, and Cherish by The Association. It however (thankfully!) did lose Record Of The Year to Frank Sinatra for Strangers In The Night.

Although Stephens has been given credit for the vocal on the song in the past, it was actually singer John Carter who did the vocal, singing through his hands to accomplish the megaphone-sound that the song has, a style popularized in the 1930s by singer Rudy Vallee.

The group hit the British pop charts two more times, with Peek A Boo and Finchley Central, both of which went to the top 20.

The band had a regularly changing lineup, but continued to play and perform, and occasionally record, for more than 20 years, breaking up for good in 1988.  The group’s saxophonist, Bob Kerr, who had been in the band from the beginning, kept the sound for his own later group, Bob Kerr’s Whoopie Band, which continues to perform to this day.


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