Updated April, 2023
Danny Burns (Pete Worral) lead vocal
Eric Foxall drums (left in 1964)
Alan Oldaker lead guitar, vocal
Larry Sheil bass guitar, vocal
Tom Williams rhythm guitar, vocal
Barry St John (Barry Smith) drums (joined in 1964)
Danny Burns and The Phantoms were well known around Birmingham during the early 1960s although relatively little has been written about them until now. They were one of many British groups to perform over in Germany during the first half of the decade. The band split before getting signed to a record label but they did share the stage with many famous names. Lead guitarist Alan Oldaker has helped me to write their story as follows:
The Phantoms line-up was originally formed by guitarists Alan Oldaker and Tom Williams in 1960. The photo in the back garden shows Alan Oldaker and Tom Williams playing acoustic guitars just before the band was formed. Eric Foxall was recruited (because he had an electric guitar) but he was soon persuaded to take up the drums instead! According to Eric, he'd met Tom in a guitar shop and went back to his house where Tom's dad gave him an old snare drum and the band started from there.
Larry Sheil was a friend and neighbour of Tom's and took up bass guitar. Pete Worral joined the group as vocalist and soon adopted the stage-name of "Danny Burns". At that time, the line-up was known as "Danny Burns and The Sundowners". This may have caused some confusion as there was another Birmingham group also called The Sundowners.
The bookings undertaken by Danny Burns and The Phantoms were initially small working men's clubs, weddings and school dances which gave them the chance to improve their playing techniques. American style rock 'n' roll was the order of the day which meant competent groups like The Phantoms were in high demand. After a short while, the band were approached by Birmingham booking agents "Midland Scene Promotions", operated by Bruce Jordan and John Saint with the intention of getting a lot more work.
In early 1963, Danny Burns and The Phantoms saw the future of pop music when a Liverpool group they shared the bill with in Sutton Coldfield called "The Beatles" brought the house down as they played to a frenzied audience. By this time, Danny Burns and The Phantoms were becoming well established in and around the Midlands as well as other parts of the country. They had by now 'turned professional' and as such were having to accommodate a rather hectic gigging schedule.
A surprising event happened to the band as they played a venue in Solihull. Alan Oldaker takes up the story; "Halfway through the evening, a television crew came in with Christine Keeler and Mandy Rice-Davies and asked if we minded being filmed with them dancing, as evidently this was one of their favourite places. This was during the infamous 'Profumo Affair' and we agreed of course. As far as I know, the film was to have been a documentary on Christine Keeler but was never released by the BBC."
Alan Oldaker also recalled; "In 1963 we re-equipped ourselves with new guitars. Tom had a new Fender Stratocaster, Larry had a Vox Phantom bass, and I imported an Epiphone Casino guitar. This guitar came with side action vibrato and was one the first of its type in the UK. People I had seen playing this model were John Lennon and Brian Jones. The guitar cost 208 guineas - a lot of money in those days!" The group photo at the top of this page has the band proudly displaying their new instruments.
During the course of 1963/1964, Danny Burns and The Phantoms had managed to back the well-known West Midlands vocalist Nicky James who had previously fronted Denny Laine and The Diplomats. There was also an occasion when The Phantoms backed local recording artiste Tanya Day. One of the more embarrassing gigs for the young group was when they backed strippers performing at the notorious "Bermuda Club" in Navigation Street, Birmingham.
In February of 1964, Danny Burns and The Phantoms had their first opportunity to work in Germany and were booked to appear at a festival in Frankfurt and at Storyville for one week. Unfortunately, Alan Oldaker was unable to go on this trip as he was under the age of 18 at the time despite a trip to the High Court in London to seek special permission. To avoid cancelling the booking, the band had to find a substitute guitarist (Alan Watson) for their first week abroad whilst Alan remained in the U.K. The photo shows the line-up on stage in Germany with Alan Watson.
By now, Danny Burns and The Phantoms were working in the bigger clubs and ballrooms in and around Birmingham including the famous Regan's "Plaza" circuit and the Cedar Club. The band played support for famous groups including The Searchers, The Big Three, The Crickets (the original band after the death of Buddy Holly), John Leyton singer and actor (The Great Escape), Screaming Lord Sutch and The Savages, plus many more. The Phantoms also made some recordings at a studion in Handsworth.
Around this time, Eric Foxall left and was replaced by drummer Barry St. John. The group was also asked to audition at a club in Doncaster for a two month gig in Germany. They were successful and in June 1964 left the U.K. for Hamburg. The Hamburg arrangement was that the band would play at the "Hit Club" on Grossefreiheit, seven days a week for a month with no days off! The second month was a little easier and it saw the band tour Westphalia and actually had the odd day off.
Alan Oldaker remembers; "In Hamburg at 10:30 pm every night, there was a strict curfew on youngsters under the age of 18. The police would enter every night club searching the premises from top to bottom to ensure that no under-age youngsters were there. This provided an hours 'lull' before the clubs filled up again with older clientele. As was the case with most bands, we worked an hour on and an hour off from 6 in the evening until 3 in the morning seven days a week."
"Hamburg was a city that never slept and I remember once leaving the club at 3 in the morning, walking across the road to the Star Club when I spotted Pete Murray, the well known DJ strolling along the road. The atmosphere was surreal with every other building being either a night club or a strip joint and oddly in the middle of all this was sandwiched a church. Sadly I was told that most of this area has been demolished or redeveloped."
Peter Houston who played guitar in a group from Crewe called "Dene Wayne and The Exiles" shared the same bill as The Phantoms during their time in Hamburg. He recalled; "It was May 1964 when we were in Hamburg and the club was open from 5pm until 4am. We took it in turns starting so we did 5 hours one night and 6 the next. After being used, in the UK, to playing three half hours or two 45 minutes with the occasional two one hour spots, this came as a shock to the system!"
"In the UK we averaged playing five nights a week. I worked out later that we played 165 hours in May '64 in Hamburg. This was the equivalent of over 5 months of playing in the UK! At least we didn't have to unload and load the gear every night. We only did one month of this and when we returned home, members of other bands came up to us and said "You're so tight". The Beatles did several months of this so it's no wonder they became so good together."
For reasons unknown (although the arduous work load may have been a factor), The Phantoms line-up split after the group returned from Germany. This was a big problem for Danny Burns whose booking agent Doug Thompson (former guitarist of The Rockin' Berries) had already arranged for him to return to Germany. Danny immediately assembled an all-new backing group called "The Burnettes" who were made up of former Astonaires bass guitarist Graham Franklin, guitarist Bill Hunter from "The Everglades", and drummer John Lee.
Danny Burns also took on a young and talented guitarist from Aston named Trevor Burton (also from The Everglades). Unfortunately, it turned out that Trevor was only 15 at the time and thus too young to legally play in the German clubs. Luckily for Trevor, his big break soon came when he was then snapped up by well-known local vocalist Danny King to become a part of "The Jesters" line-up. This band became 'The Mayfair Set' from which Trevor later left to become a founding member of the hit group The Move.
"Danny Burns and The Burnettes" travelled to Dortmund in Germany for Christmas 1964 but following that, it's unknown what became of them. As for the rest of The Phantoms, if anyone has information concerning what they did after the group disbanded, please drop me a line!
I asked Alan Oldaker if he played in other bands after The Phantoms disbanded. He said; "The last time I played live was after being contacted by "Big Al" Johnson (from The Nightriders) to appear in a huge line up at a gig at the Hunters Moon pub in east Birmingham. I can't remember the reason for the gig but I was one of about six guitarists on stage that night. Jeff Lynne was there watching at the back of the room. Although I wasn't in another band as such, I still play an acoustic guitar for my own interest and have to admit it would be nice to play with some of the old school musicians and make a record for the hell of it."
Thanks to Alan Oldaker for assistance in preparing this story of Danny Burns and The Phantoms as well as sending photos and memorabilia. Thanks also to Tom Williams and his daughter Jayne for sending wonderful photos, and Peter Houston of "Dene Wayne and the Exiles" (from Crewe) for sending the Hit Club poster scan. Thanks also to Eric Foxall for additional information.
Alan Oldaker passed away from cancer in 2008. His son Steven told me of this sad news. I'm dedicating this web page to Alan's memory and to all those he performed with on-stage all those years ago.
Peter Houston of Dene Wayne and The Exiles would love to get in touch with any surviving members of The Phantoms. You can e-mail him at; email@example.com
Copyright © 2011 John Woodhouse