Updated March 2018Grant Kearney vocal, guitar, bass (left 1969)
Formed in Birmingham's early 60s beat group scene as "The Sombreros", 'Sight and Sound' survived many line-up changes with some of the group members going on to greater things. Former Idle Race drummer and successful comedian Roger "Ollie" Spencer notably said; "If all the ex members of Sight and Sound met up they could fill Birmingham town hall!" Managed by music entrepreneur Mike Carroll, they made some good records too before becoming well known locally as an in-demand "cabaret" attraction.
Sight and Sound evolved from a line-up known as "The Sombreros" who formed in Northfield, Birmingham at around the same time as The Beatles were starting to have success in the UK. The Sombreros at that time were drummer Brian Bardell, guitarists Grant Kearney and Stan Homer plus vocalist Peter Smith. Last to join was bass guitarist Rick Williams.
The Sombreros had no shortage of bookings in the many live music venues that were plentiful at that time. Like most young bands, personnel changes were inevitable with Ken Underhill from a group called "The Barons" joining on guitar and Albert Carr from "The D'Fenders" replacing Brian Bardell on drums.
Well-known local promoter Mike Carroll was managing The Sombreros by 1965 who by then were becoming known for their wonderful harmony vocals along the same lines as The Fortunes and The Rockin' Berries. Mike was one of the most respected booking agents in Birmingham where he promoted many local groups at venues such as The Mackadown in Kitts Green, The Black Horse Pub in Northfield, and The Royal Oak at Hockley Heath.
Mike Carroll; "I went for broke at the Royal Oak by opening Thursdays, Fridays, Saturday and Sunday with live bands before discos made an impact. I'd have the likes of Johnny Neal and The Starliners, The Vogues, and The Boulevards all doing first class business for me." It was on the advice of Jimmy Powell that Mike went into band management with The Sombreros.
With an ever-increasing number of bookings - no doubt helped by their accurate impressions of popular American groups such as 'The Beach Boys' and 'The Four Seasons', The Sombreros decided to "turn professional" by 1966 and give up their day jobs with the exception of Stan Homer and Albert Carr who left the group. Grant Kearney worked at Wrenson's groceries in Northfield and it was there where he met a delivery van driver named Rick Price who also happened to sing and play guitar. Grant invited Rick to join The Sombreros.
Rick Price was born on June 10, 1944 into a musical family. He grew up in Birmingham at Rednal near the Lickey Hills along with his three brothers and one sister. Rick became a big fan of American rock 'n' roll along with the skiffle influences of Lonnie Donnegan but it was Cliff and The Shadows who convinced him to get an electric guitar. Rick's first proper band was called "Lee Zenith and The Cimarrons" with whom he recorded a track titled 'Pretend' on the legendary DIAL "Brum Beat" LP in 1964.
Rick Price; "At last I'd attained the Fender Strat (guitar) and the Vox AC30 (amplifier). Grant Kearney, who had moved from guitar to bass when I joined, was a master at vocal harmony arranging. At the time I took his talent for granted but have since realised that he was the driving force behind the whole thing."
Following the appointment of their new drummer Joe Dignam, Mike Carroll sent The Sombreros abroad for a month in 1966 to play at a club in Dortmund. Like many Brum groups who performed in Germany during the 1960s, they found their accommodation in an old bomb-damaged building to be little comfort from the harsh working conditions they experienced. Pete Smith said; "The exterior wall was pretty non-existent. When it rained the water used to pour in. We would visit the all night public baths just to keep warm!"
Rick Price; "We would work fifty minutes every hour from seven in the evening until two in the morning. We could only finish early if the club was empty. Even one punter meant that you had to keep going. Because we weren't paid until the end of the second week, we had to live on tinned food that we had taken out with us from the UK."
It was now 1967 and change was in the air. The Beatles unveiled their influential "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band" LP in June 1967 and thus elevated pop music into an artform. Fashion and music was evolving along with many of the pop groups who became ever-more inventive to keep up with the times. Mike Carroll decided a trendy new name for his group was in order and so The Sombreros became "Sight 'n' Sound" after Mike saw the words written in a newspaper story. The famous "Summer of Love" was underway along with new sounds and colourful clothing to go with it. Rick Price; "We were suddenly all kaftans and beads and love and peace etc."
Birmingham's hit group The Move were having much success in the record charts with their latest single titled 'Flowers In The Rain' almost making it to Number One. Roy Wood was their guitarist and songwriter. Feeling inspired, Rick Price and his friend Mike Sheridan who had previously fronted Roy's old group The Nightriders, formed a songwriting partnership. Impressed by their efforts, Mike Carroll gained Sight 'n' Sound a recording contract with distribution on the Fontana Records label.
Rick Price; "Mike had been writing songs for a while, so was quite accomplished. I had only ever written The Cimarrons theme tune! One afternoon out of the blue, Mike asked me over to his house in Northfield and it all started from there. Sometimes we'd write at my place, sometimes at his, usually about twice a week. The wives didn't approve - they thought it was another way of getting out of the decorating!"
The first Sight 'n' Sound single 'Ebenezer/Our Love (Is In The Pocket)' was issued in April 1968 on the Fontana Records label. The group's name on the label was written as "SIGHT AND SOUND" with the A-side an original composition by Rick Price and Mike Tyler (Sheridan). This upbeat record with a catchy chorus told the story of a miserly character who had the ability to peel an orange while hiding it in his pocket!
The single's B-side covered a popular record by American soul singer Darrell Banks. Both tracks included orchestration directed by vocalist Pete Smith and were well produced by Irving Martin who worked with a number of West Midlands groups. An innovative group photo taken at the time shows the line-up dressed like tramps with blackened faces, wearing old hats and overcoats while wearing large signs promoting the record. Despite airplay, the single failed to chart.
Another "Sight and Sound" single was issued on Fontana at the end of November 1968, this time with both A and B-sides composed by Price and Tyler and again with excellent production by Irving Martin. 'Alley Alley' was an energetic rocker complete with manic laughter vocal effects. The single's B-side 'Little Jacky Monday' may be even better lyrically with such deep meaning lines as; "What will happen, his future's slipping and sliding out of his hands. Yes he'll be sorry but he doesn't worry cause he's got no future plans"
This second Sight and Sound single was also issued in the USA during the summer of 1969 but failed to make an impact in the American charts. These records did serve to raise the group's profile considerably although they were later dropped from the Fontana Records label.
A surprising addition to the line-up was former Rockin' Berries vocalist and guitarist Geoff Turton who joined Sight and Sound in 1968. The Berries were a veteran Brumbeat band who had a number of hit records in the early 1960s including 'He's In Town' and 'Poor Man's Son'. Geoff, who had become tired of The Rockin' Berries focus on comedy and cabaret, was hoping to start a solo recording career under direction of former Berries record producer John Schroeder with whom he had recorded a number of songs.
Mike Carroll; "What Geoff brought to Sight and Sound was the feel of the American harmony group "The Fifth Dimension". This was a tremendous help as I was trying to break them into the lucrative cabaret market." As if to emphasize this point, Mike booked the group to perform on a two week cruise aboard the luxury ocean liner 'The Chusan' operated by P&O. Though Geoff Turton may have enjoyed the cruise, a continuing career in cabaret was not likely what he had in mind!
Rick Price; "By 1969, Sight and Sound had become a harmony/comedy band. This seems like a strange mixture now, but at the time there were lots of groups doing the same sort of thing. It got us loads of work in social clubs all around the country. My part of the act included an uncanny impersonation of Wayne Fontana followed by a very unflattering impression of Roy Wood."
The Move were enjoying a Number One U.K. hit single 'Blackberry Way' while preparing for their first and long-awaited American tour. Out of the blue, their bass guitarist Trevor Burton quit the group resulting in an urgent need for his replacement. Roy Wood asked Jeff Lynne from The Idle Race to join but Jeff declined as he was at the time recording and producing their second album. The Shadows own Hank Marvin was reportedly also offered the job!
Rick Price; "Roy came to see us at a club one dark January night in 1969. He swept in wearing a long black cloak - looking all mysterious and offered me a job with The Move. Presumably, he had missed my impression of him! I had never spoken to, or even met, any of the group. I was taken completely by surprise and, of course, said yes. There had been rumours for a while that The Move were looking for a new bass player, but most people expected it to be offered to Richard Tandy or Jeff Lynne" (see The Move).
Band manager Mike Carroll, was shocked when Rick told him the news and to his chagrin, had just spent considerable money on new promotional photos of Sight and Sound that would now be out of date. To his credit however, he congratulated Rick and warned him about the pitfalls of fame upon becoming a pop star. Rick Price and Mike Sheridan would continue to co-operate in writing and recording - eventually making an entire album together titled 'THIS IS TO CERTIFY THAT' issued on the Gemini Records label in 1970. Rick would later experience more fame as a member of Roy Wood's chart-topping band "Wizzard".
More changes to the line-up took place following Rick's departure. Founding member of The Sombreros/Sight and Sound bass guitarist Grant Kearney left and was replaced by Bob Doyle from the Brum groups Blaises and The Conchords. This left Pete Smith as the only remaining original member of Sight and Sound. Sadly for Mike Carroll, it would not be long before he would lose his star attraction and most dynamic vocal member.
In March 1969, Geoff Turton's new single brilliantly produced by John Schroeder titled 'Colour Of My Love' was issued under the name of "Jefferson" and was a sizeable hit, thus launching his solo career and resulting departure from Sight and Sound. Geoff had actually recorded the song four months previously but wasn't expecting much as the first single issued under his own name didn't sell.
After presumably spending more money on new promotional photos, Mike Carroll was understandably feeling a bit shaken-up by events. Mike said of Jeff; "He genuinely thought the record was dead and buried. Then apparently, a radio jockey over in Ireland gave it a couple of spins. Radio One picked it up and the record just shot away, and as a result soon after, so did Geoff Turton!"
Another U.K. single by Sight and Sound was issued in January 1970 on the PYE Records label. With a big-production ballad titled 'Jose' on the A-side and the pensive 'Jackie' as the B-side, these recordings were well produced by John Schroeder with some great harmony vocals from the band. Unfortunately, the record sounded a bit dated by the time of its release with the current trend being guitar-heavy rock and focus on a lead singer as opposed to singing groups. This 45 was also released in Australia but didn't chart.
John Dawson, originally from a group in Bordesley Green called "The D'Fenders" joined on guitar and vocal. He had previously performed with the well-known 1960s harmony trio 'The Ivy League'. John was given the nickname "John Long" by Peter Lee Stirling of 'The Ivy League' "because I was so tall and skinny" he said. John would go on to join The Rockin' Berries from 1976 to 1986.
By 1971, former Nightriders and Idle Race drummer Roger Spencer joined Sight and Sound. He recalls; "I came into the group to add some comedy as it seemed to be the fashion at the time. The drummer that left was a great singer and took part in the fab harmonies the group, Crosby Stills and Nash being the star numbers. Sight and Sound were really a great group but times change and the funny boy came to play."
A changing line-up was to be a continuing process with Sight and Sound into the mid 1970s and beyond. Roger Spencer; "I found out years later that me joining nearly broke up the band as I wasn't the harmony singer that the other guy was. I do apologize for not remembering his name. Some very talented people went through the band, "John Long" now a very very successful biz man, Bob Doyle had a very successful sound company which became huge. I worked with Nigel Wright ex Cheetahs, great lead singer. Billy Bonham who should have been a star - one great crazy keyboard player."
Keyboard player Bill Bonham has a place in rock music history as a member of Walsall based "Obs Tweedle" fronted by a then almost-unknown Robert Plant. Robert was invited to join The Yardbirds by their guitarist Jimmy Page who went with Peter Grant to an Obs Tweedle performance at the West Midlands College of Education in Walsall in 1968. Robert and local drummer John Bonham (no relation to Bill) would of course end up as one half of Led Zeppelin.
A new guitarist named Dave Pritchard joined but not the same "Dave" from The Nightriders and Idle Race. He was actually the brother of Barry Pritchard from The Fortunes.
Roger Spencer; "The main vocal arranger and lead guitar for Sight and Sound was Neville Chamberlain, a very talented guy who is I believe a teacher of music now. He was very funny and when he was on form was a great laff. Mike (or Kelly) Groucutt was the bass player and singer and of course ended up in ELO"
Michael "Kelly" Groucutt was another veteran of the West Midlands music scene having fronted his first group Rikki Burns and The Vibras in the early 1960s. After retiring from music to get a "proper job" for a few years, he went on to join the groups 'Greenwich Village' and 'Marble Arch' before signing up for a stint in the latest Sight and Sound line-up.
Kelly Groucutt; "Sight and Sound was a cabaret show band if you like. I used to do crazy things like shove balloons up my jumper and don a wig and hotpants and things and do an impression of Nancy Sinatra and stuff like that!"
It was actually drummer Roger Spencer who told Jeff Lynne in 1974 to check out Kelly while he performed in a band called "Barefoot" at a Birmingham night club. Kelly joined The Electric Light Orchestra (ELO) at Jeff's invitation and spent the next 10 years recording multi-million selling albums and touring the world.
Roger Spencer; "The group "Mail" from Cannock provided Sight and Sound members. Brian Eustace, one the most talented musicians I ever worked with, Neil Craddock great singer and bass player, and so on." Note: the group 'Mail' were also enlisted to form a late line-up of 1960s Wolverhampton pop group The Montanas from 1973 to 1978 under direction of their one remaining founding member Johnny Jones.
As for Roger Spencer, he went on to become a successful comedian, doing television work and still treading the boards to this day under management of Elcock Entertainments operated by former Montanas bass guitarist Jake Elcock. Roger; "I went solo and became Ollie Spencer. A few years later I worked with Sight and Sound and they blew me away. They were the best harmonies band I had ever seen. Bohemian Rhapsody with no tapes. Just great!
Sight and Sound were to continue well into the 1980s and beyond with of course more line-up changes along the way. Mike Carroll stayed in the business promoting bands and venues but the decline of live music and entertainment in general made it tough going. Jimmy Powell said in 2008; "He promoted a lot of gigs all over Birmingham. We used to play at The Mackadown Pub that he had where he did his promotions. He went broke eventually and when I worked in transport years later as sales director, I took him on and he worked for me for about 12 years. He died just a couple of years ago."
Kelly Groucutt passed away suddenly in 2009. Joe Dignam passed away in January 2015. Bill Bonham is also gone having lived in America for decades before he passed away in 2015. Sight and Sound founding member Pete Smith passed away on 29th July 2013 after living with cancer for a number of years.
This biography is dedicated to the memory of Mike Carroll and the many talented members of Sight and Sound, some of whom are no longer with us. If you have additional information on Sight and Sound and would like to contribute to this page, please e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.orgCopyright © 2018 John R Woodhouse
Sources: 'Brum Rocked! and Brum Rocked On!' books 1999 and 2003 by Laurie Hornsby; 'The Move Anthology' CD book by Mark Paytress 2008; Martin Kinch radio interview with Kelly Groucutt, plus contributions from Roger Spencer, Rick Price, Laurence Bradley, Keith Massey, Rex Bird, and Wolfgang Eigner.