Junior Campbell: The life and times of a shy singer

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Feb 2019 Junior Campbell: The life and times of a shy singer

By Peter Robertson

FOR JUNIOR CAMPBELL and his fellow band members, the first few weeks of 1969 were definitely – in the slang of the time – ‘groovy’.

Marmalade had just become the first Scottish group ever to reach No.1 in the charts. To a studio audience of mini-skirted fans – not to mention a TV audi­ence of millions – they per­formed in kilts on Top Of The Pops, singing their cover of The Beatles’ Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da.

Within weeks, the song had sold half a million copies in the UK, and a million more around the World. It’s 50 years since the song topped the charts, twice. Although it was the group’s big­gest hit, for Campbell it was only one episode in a long and fascinating career as a guitarist, pianist and singer/songwriter.

To mark the passing of five decades since the group he founded hit the top spot, Glas­gow-born Campbell has spoken of the highs, lows and celebrity encounters – including fleecing Gene Pitney at poker and being stripped naked by comedian Freddie Starr.

AMUSINGLY, Campbell, now 71, recalls his first meeting with Paul McCartney – in 1986, many years after Marmalade had taken The Beatles’ song to the top of the charts.

Marmalade in 1966

He said: “At the 21st birthday party of Ringo Starr’s son Zak, I met Paul McCartney properly for the first time…after spilling a drink over his daughter Stella at the bar. There was a band play­ing and his highness walked into the room with his then wife Linda and said ‘hi’ to everybody. He came up to me, and offered his hand saying something like: “Great to see you again, haven’t seen you in ages.” I, nervous and p***ed, remarked that although we’d been in the same room on many occasions, we’d never actually met. He said “but I wrote your ‘kin song,” and I replied: “Not only did you write our song, Paul, you paid for my house!”’ laughs Junior, explaining that he penned the B-side which got exactly the same royalty payout as the A-side.

“It was the worst line I could have come up with, but I was p****ed! Paul remains one of my big heroes.

Although he sometimes has a slightly irritating demeanour, he’s the guvnor…and John Len­non knew it.

“I’m not sure us recording Ob-La-Di Ob-La-Da was a great decision,”Campbell says now, despite it being Marmalade’s only chart-topper. “But if you ask anyone in Britain of a cer­tain age, that’s the only thing they’ll remember of Marmalade.’

AT THE TIME of that exchange with McCartney, Campbell was based in upmar­ket Berkshire and co-writing the music and lyrics for the much-loved children’s TV series Thomas The Tank Engine, which was then narrat­ed by Ringo Starr.

“I was living in Ascot and John Lennon’s famous house, Tittenhurst Park, was only round the corner. When The Beatles broke up, Ringo got that house as part of the partnership deal, so he moved in there with his beautiful wife Barbara Bach. “The guy I did the Thomas The Tank Engine music with was working for Ringo. I used the studio there. Ringo would come into see us in the middle of the night because he was trying to stay off booze. At least, his wife thought that, but we always had a bottle of brandy.. for medicinal purposes!”

As a youngster, Campbell had a distinct unique style of guitar playing, whereby he played right-hand guitar left-handed, literally upside down without changing the stringing. He joined Pat Fairley to form The Gaylords, on his 14th birthday in May 1961 (later to become Dean Ford & the Gaylords, then Marmalade in 1966), acting as lead guitarist, piano player, and singer.

“Like Dean Ford and Pat Fair­ley, I came from the East End of Glasgow. We were kindred spir­its. We were excited by the music of the time, we had some proficiency for playing and sing­ing so we emulated everybody.

“My mother used to say I was a better guitar player than Hank Marvin…as your mother would do!

“Suddenly all these people were clamouring to see us. Even in the very early days at The Shack in Sprinboig, a little place that would hold maybe 200, we had 500 people queuing along the road trying to get in there on a Sunday night. When my parents saw I was serious about being a musician, they backed me 200%, because my father always said his parents didn’t when he wanted to be a singer.”

As well as the No.1 with Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da, Marmalade had a string of other hits, includ­ing Rainbow and Reflections Of My Life. I See The Rain, an early Marmalade number co-written by Campbell and Ford and co-produced by Graham Nash of The Hollies, was praised by Jimi Hendrix as “the best cut of 1967” and went to No.1 in The Netherlands but flopped in the UK.

“Hendrix came to see us [play] a couple of times,” recalls Campbell. “He was unkempt and smoked all the time, but he was a really nice guy and pretty special. It was a crying shame to lose him so young.”

He also remembers perform­ing in 1970 at a music festival in Cannes alongside Ike & Tina Turner and the then up-and-coming Elton John.

“In the bar at The Carlton Hotel, I put my arm around Elton’s shoulders and said: “If you stick at this, you’ll do well!”

As for Marmalade appearing with Glaswegian singing star Lulu on her prime-time BBCTV show… “Lulu has more accents than Peter Sellers!” jokes Camp­bell. “I like Lulu but I used to impersonate her saying: ‘W-e-e-e-ell, you know I talk a load of sh*te!'”

“I remember, too, being in a BBC bar with Bobby Moore ’til closing time, talking about foot­ball and music. He wanted to be Frank Sinatra and I wanted to play for Celtic!

“I played poker with Gene Pit­ney and skinned him alive! He was a lovely guy. He lived in Connecticut where one of my brothers was living.

“WHEN Gene returned home after the first tour we did with him, he found my brother in the phone book, rang him and said: ‘Hi George, this is Gene Pitney, I just called to say your little brother has been asking after you…’ It was a really nice thing for him to do.”

Of his decision to leave Mar­malade in 1971, Campbell explains: “I loved the band in the early days when we were young and hungry, but when success came, everything changed. Wives and girlfriends came along wanting to get involved as well.

Pat Fairley, Dean Ford, Junior Campbell in LA 1999

“By 1971, after 10 years of hard work, I’d had enough of the band… or any band for that matter. Even if The Hollies had asked me to join them, I’d have said no. I’d done the group thing.”

Campbell had solo success with the singles Hallelujah Freedom in 1972 and Sweet Illusion in 1973. He quips: ‘The disappointing thing about them is they became hits! It was great playing in a band with four other guys, but I didn’t enjoy being in the spot­light on my own.

“For a photo-shoot at Ken­wood House in Hampstead, I was pictured lying face down, wearing just a pair of shorts and a smile, while the model Jilly Johnson walked up and down my back with her boobs out. It was pleasant but I thought: “Why am I doing this?”’ After taking lessons in orches­tration and composition from Royal College Of Music teach­ers, Campbell became an arranger and producer for artists as diverse as Barbara Dickson and Freddie Starr.

“Freddie was a lunatic. Before I first went to meet him at a northern club, I got out of the shower in my hotel room when there was a knock at the door. I opened it to see a cham­bermaid there, then Freddie suddenly grabbed me, removed my towel, pulled me into the corridor and shut the door. So I was standing b*****k naked next to the chambermaid while Freddie was chuckling away down the corridor.

“Barbara Dickson was quite a serious girl, a Dunfermline Pres­byterian as well! She knew my passion for the comedian WC Fields. One evening a crowd of us was having a lovely dinner in London, and on the walls of the restaurant an artist was flogging his work, including a picture of WC Fields. I said “That’s brilliant!” Unbeknown to me, Bar­bara bought it and sent it to me. It’s hanging in my home today.”

Campbell and his wife of almost 40 Years, Susie, live in a sumptu­ous Sussex house which has five bedrooms, a recording-studio, a swimming-pool, a delightful garden and a long gravel drive, and where neigh­bours include the comedian and presenter Alan Carr.

Junior behind Ringo Starr and Rev Awdry, creator of Thomas The Tank Engine

Aside from his work on Thom­as the Tank Engine And Friends, Campbell composed music for the films That Summer Of White Roses, and Merlin: The True Story, as well as TV dramas The Scold’s Bridle starring Miranda Richardson, and Taking Over the Asylum starring David Tennant. “David had to learn the guitar for that, so I had to teach him… three or four chords over the phone. He was a very humble and nice about it.”

Could he have made a good musician? “No comment!”

Campbell is now retired, and reveals that, down the decades he has rejected calls to reunite with his Marmalade bandmates. “A lot of people tried to push that over the years with the greatest intent. But I think our game is for young men.

“There are loads of my peers out there still doing it now, but I wish they’d all go away. They can’t recreate what was then. I don’t want to be doing Butlins in Bognor!”

New Year’s Day marked the 50th anniversary of Marmalade hit­ting No.1 with Ob-La-Di Ob-La-Da, but, trag­ically, lead singer Dean Ford died the night before, at the age of 73.

Although they hadn’t seen one another in 20 years, nor spo­ken in 18 months, Campbell says he’s been “feeling numb” since being tel­ephoned with the news by Nancy, the wife of their band-mate Pat Fairley (now 75), also LA-based.

“I always imagined the day of the ‘phone call…one of us’. I just never expected it to be Dean. The other three guys were a few years older than us. Despite his exceptional talent and stage pres­ence, privately, Dean was always a quiet, sensitive boy, and pretty much a recluse as he got older, but we all kept in contact and kept our eye on him. He’d appar­ently developed Parkinson’s Dis­ease and his health had declined in the last few months but he seemed okay, so the news was totally unexpected and such a shock.”

As for Ford dying the week of the golden anniversary, Campbell adds: “It’s surreal. When we got to No.1, if the clouds had parted and the Big Man had stepped for­ward and said: ‘Dean Ford, this is your pivotal point in life, go forth my son and take everything, but I will give you one caveat: 50 years from now you will die’, I think he would have taken it. But it’s so sad that he’s the first of the band to go. I loved Dean dearly.”

Campbell would love Marma­lade to be properly recognised for their contribution to the music scene, particularly in their homeland.

“The strange thing is whenever there’s a list of 100 Best Scottish Bands, Marmalade are never in there. I’m not sure many people know we were 4/5ths Scottish. But we know what we did, and if anyone has other ideas they can go forth….”


Campbell even ended up repre­senting Scotland in an impromptu football international – with Rod Stewart and legendary songwriter Bill Martin – who penned such hits as Congratulations and Pup­pet On A String.

“Rod and I used to play charity football together. He was always a laugh. For the 1974 World Cup in Germany, Scotland was the only home nation that qualified. Rod called me and said “Do you fancy going out for the games?” With Bill Martin, we chartered a plane. After Scotland v Brazil, we had to get a train to a place near the airfield. There were German fans on the railway station plat­form and someone produced a football, so me, Rod and Bill played against the Germans….and they beat us on penalties!