Me & Denny holding the Diplomats issue of Higher & Higher
Brian Hines (Denny Laine) (vocals, guitar) Bev Bevan (Bev Ralston) (drums) Phil Ackrill
(Phil Ralston) (rhythm guitar) Dave 'Wongy' Wheeland (bass) Nicky James (vocals) Steve
Horton (Sonny Laine, Steve Dawson) (bass) - replaced D.Wheeland
(Diplomats) Jim Onslow (vocals) - from Avengers, replaced Denny Laine Mike 'Sprike'
Hopkins (Mike Southern) (guitar) - from Avengers
In October 1962, Johnny Dean and the Dominators transformed into Denny Laine and
The Diplomats, comprising Denny, Bev, Phil and Wongy Wheeland
On a trip over to the East Coast - Scunthorpe Town Baths, the band found themselves
playing to a near-empty house, amongst the small crowd was black-country lad Nicky
James. Confidently, Nicky approached them and suggested they would benefit from a
new singer and volunteered for the position. He made such an impression that he was
immediately enlisted, travelling back to Brum with the band in their van, singing
Elvis numbers the entire journey with his worldly possessions comprising just two
lamé stage suits. For the next year they performed as Nicky James with Denny Laine
& The Diplomats. Nicky of course went on to great success as a Threshold artist,
co-writer of Ray’s albums and sharing the Moody Blues’ World Tour in 1973, I hope
to cover this in more detail at a later date.
Steve Horton had previously worked along-side Mike Pinder as backing musician for
singer Jackie Lynton down in London. Now working in a clothes shop, one day an orange
hair-dyed Denny Laine called in to buy a shirt. Such colouring was not that common
and Steve was shocked to hear that the rest of his band too sported this eye-catching
style. Upon finding that Steve was a keen bass player, he was invited to try out
with them and soon was installed as Wongy’s replacement.
A toning down of the hair to platinum blonde was coupled with the PR gimmick of passing
themselves off as two sets of brothers, Steve becoming Sonny Laine and Bev & Phil
adopting the surname Ralston – the four months separating “brothers” Phil & Bev seemingly
going un-noticed!. Regular appearances at Solihull Civic Hall every Monday and Tyburn
House every Tuesday were supplemented by frequent gigs at the Star Ballroom, Stratford
Road and the Adelphi, New Street, West Bromwich. If gymnastics, blonde hair and mysterious
family ties weren’t enough, Denny introduced a spectacular rendition of Sabre Dance,
played with the guitar held behind his head!
Nicky’s reputation had spread far and wide, enough for Tony Hatch of Pye Records
to take the trip up to the Springfield Ballroom, Birmingham to check him out. It
was Denny however that caught his eye and the band were duly invited to his Marble
Arch studio to cut some tracks. Unfortunately, Tony’s attention was increasingly
being taken with his rising act The Searchers, sidelining the Diplomats. Of the two
Laine-composed tracks recorded – So Wonderful and Forever And A Day, the latter finally
being officially released as part of the Moody Blues Classic Artists DVD&CD.
The band were now being managed from Dennis Detheridge, a likeable man who was well
known for editing the Midland Beat newspaper. His jazz background however hardly
providing the opportunities that his contemporaries were achieving. Under the promotion
of Ralph Horton Enterprises (owner of the Carlton Club), the band had signed to EMI/HMV
but again, no record release was forthcoming.
The 5th July 63 saw them share the bill with the Beatles at the Old Hill Plaza, one
of many meetings between the two and the beginning of a long friendship between mssrs
Laine & McCartney. They met again later that year, the Beatles notably making their
entrance to the venue via a skylight, having traversed the rooftops to avoid the
amassing crowd, inviting the Dips to share their dressing room, to the surprise of
the many other acts performing that night.
Late 1963 saw the manager of Solihull Civic persuade the band to help promote their
latest find - schoolgirl Christine Sparkle, backing her for a few weeks – later to
find success as Christine Holmes in The Applejacks. The three Civic promoters however
insisted on an equal share of the takings, something Denny was not at all happy about,
causing serious disagreements within the Diplomats’ camp.
The Pryke family soon afterwards held a bonfire and fireworks party at their impressive
home. It was here that Denny took Brum legend Danny King aside and revealed that
his relationship with the Diplomats had broken down, and of Graeme’s intentions to
move away from the Avengers. Danny agreed to front the band and would bring over
his pal Clint Warwick on bass as the Soul Preachers.
Meanwhile, Jim Onlsow and Mike Hopkins came across from the now disbanded Avengers
with Jim dropping his bass in favour of lead vocals.
May 2nd 1964 saw the Diplomats share billing at the Carlton Ballroom, Erdington,
with “The Moody Blues 5”, the Moodies first ever public performance.
A couple of TV appearances on ATV’s “For Teenagers Only” on April 30th and July 16th
(recorded 17th June) went down a storm, respectively playing Fortune Teller and then
Put You Down & In His Shoes, the latter two miraculously surviving on a tired Emidisc