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In memory of ... Fritz Fryer

Fritz Fryer was born David Roderick Carney Fryer (but always known as Fritz) on 6th December 1944 in Revidge. He went on to play lead guitar for the chart-topping 60s Blackburn-based band The Four Pennies along with other members Lionel Morton (born 1942), who was vocalist and rhythm guitarist, Mike Wilsh (born 1945), of Stoke-on-Trent played the bass and keyboard, and Alan Buck (born 1943), of Brierfield was the band's drummer.

The Fryer family were a central part of Blackburn life with his mother running Blackburn Salvation Army and his father playing organ for churches in the diocese and was possibly an architect. Fritz and Mike Wilsh went to St Peter's school in Blackburn together and they made their mark singing in harmony during hymns at assembly.

Skiffle king Lonnie Donegan inspired Fritz and Mike so that during the early 1960s, the pair started playing in local pubs. They then teamed up with Alan Buck and Lionel Morton and they played gigs at the Cavern club in Liverpool and the Oasis in Manchester. For this they earned £5 each per night. Their break came when they won a talent competition on Blackpool's north pier. This resulted in them being offered a contract with Philips in London and found their sales improved after they appeared on television.

The group was originally called Lionel Morten Four but after a meeting above a Blackburn music shop owned by Mary Reidy, the name was changed. The shop was situated on Penny Street, where it is still located today as "Reidy's Home of Music", and the name was chosen as it was considered "more commercial".

Their first single in 1963 featured "Do You Want Me To" on the A-side and "Miss Bad Daddy" on the B-side but it barely made the charts and only got to number 47. They persevered and in 1964 they released the ballad "Juliet" ( for which Fritz wrote the words and his school friend, Mike Wilsh, produced the melody assisted by Lionel Morton), with "Tell Me Girl" (written by Wilsh and Fryer) on the B-side, and it entered the chart at number 36 and then climbed up to number 1 on 23rd May 1964. As a result they knocked the Searchers from the top of the charts and "Juliet" then which spent a total of 15 weeks in the Top 20.

Originally "Juliet" was going to be the B-side to "Tell Me Girl" but luckily the order was changed. "Juliet" had undemanding lyrics including "There was a love, I knew before/She broke my heart, left me unsure/Juliet" and was part of the flood of "northern beat" music released after the great success of the Beatles.

The song's success came as a bit of a surprise and it was the only Number one in 1964 by a UK group that did not chart in America. In the decades since its release, Juliet has retained a nostalgic appeal for its fans.

They went on to make seven singles, all under the Philips label, as 'The Four Pennies' between 1963 and 1966 and only three of them failed to actually chart. The band charted again with in 1964 I Found Out the Hard Way and in 1965 Until It's Time for You to Go, which was written by Buffy Sainte-Marie. The latter was later recorded by Elvis Presley in 1972.

They also had some success in 1964 in the United States with a version of Black Girl which was first released by Leadbelly, an American blues singer, but unfortunately this song unnerved the BBC because of one line in the lyrics. The Four Pennies had two more successful songs abroad. In Turkey A Place Where No One Goes was a hit, whilst in France Down Waterloo Road (which celebrated a street in Stoke-on-Trent) was popular but under the title Champs-Elysées.

The band then worked with producer John Franz, who had also worked with other successful artists such as Dusty Springfield and the Walker Brothers. After this partnership they had another five top 20 hits but then their single No More Sad Songs For Me failed to chart and, even after playing alongside Eric Clapton's new band Cream at a concert in Sheffield, they realised that a new brand of music was taking over the pop scene. The Four Pennies folded in 1966 when Alan Buck left the group to pursue other avenues.

The remaining three band members carried on but Fritz then formed Fritz, Mike & Mo, with Maureen Edwards and Mike Deigham. This group was less successful, and released only two singles, so by the early 1970s individual members of the band had begun to split away to do their own thing.

Lionel Morton went on to make his career in children's television programmes and will be best remembered for being Lionel in Play School on BBC TV during the Sixties and Seventies. Mike Wilsh still continues to play as the Four Pennies and is the one remaining member and the rest of the band having been replaced.

Fritz however, became an assistant to John Francis who was a record producer. He handled performers such as Dusty Springfield, Marty Wilde and Harry Secombe. From John he quickly learnt the art of producing went on to become the producer for groups such as Clannad, Horslips, Motörhead, and Stackridge.

Fritz helped to transform a barn at Rockfield, Monmouthshire, into a recording studio from which has since helped to launch the careers of numerous bands and artists.

In 2003 the 40 year anniversary of the recording studios was celebrated. In 1965 Rockfield was acknowledged to be the first residential recording studio in the world. Since then the now famous studios have played host to many of the world’s biggest artists including Queen, Rush, Oasis, Iggy Pop, Nigel Kennedy and Simple Minds. In 1975 it was the primary studios used by Queen to record one of the greatest pop records of all times Bohemian Rhapsody. Alongside it being a successful recording studio, Rockfield also runs a successful record label with such artists such as Dave Edmunds, Hawkwind and Budgie. Due to the explosion of the Internet they are now expanding into music distribution, record labels and music publishing.

During 1967 Fritz discovered a band called "Jason Crest" (who formed in Tonbridge, Kent from the remains of "The Good Thing Brigade") and they were signed to Philips in the latter part of 1967 and then later joined EMI.

In 1968, two London-based Imperial College students, guitarist Brian May and bassist/vocalist Tim Staffel, decided to form a group and they advertised for a drummer. Along came medical student Roger Taylor, and the trio became "Smile". They started out playing in Cornwall, where Roger came from, and Imperial College and eventually signed to the American-owned Mercury Records in May 1969. In June, they recorded two tracks at Trident Studios, London, produced by John Anothony, which were sent out as promotion material in the States but they totally failed to make any impression. Some months later, Mercury wanted Smile to produce an album so extra material was recorded in De Lane Lea studios, Wembley, London, only this time produced by Fritz Fryer. The tracks "Doin' Allright", "Blag" and "Polar Bear" were recorded and again the record company did not initially release the tracks. So Staffel left the band and Freddie Mercury joined as lead singer and "Queen" were born. Then, in 1982, Mercury Records in Japan decided to officially air the material that Smile had recorded with Fritz Fryer along with two other tracks to form a mini album. Since it has been discontinued and are now collectors items.

In 1974, and later remastered in 2000, the Horslips album "Dancehall Sweethearts" was produced and engineered by Fritz and was recorded and mixed at the Rockfield Studios.

The original Motörhead lineup was Lemmy, Lucas Fox, and Larry Wallis and they recorded their debut album "On Parole" between December 1975 and February 1976. It was initially produced by Dave Edmunds but was not really into it so it was taken over by Fritz. It was described as a serious case of rabid cat being strangled, which unfortunately resulted in UA shelving it as they simply couldn't understand 'the music'. But by 1978 Motörhead were arguably the biggest heavy metal band in the world and "On Parole" then didn't sound so distasteful which resulted in countless reissues of the album.

Later on in his life Fritz opened a restaurant at Monmouth and in 1982 he set up a lamp business in Ross-on-Wye selling antique and specialist lighting. The lighting was supplied to large stores, television companies and famous buildings, which included Sudley House.

Following this he then retired to a villa in Portugal with his girlfriend, Joan.

Fritz died, aged 63, on the 2nd September 2007 after he had been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in July 2007. He had undergone an operation in Lisbon, Portugal, to remove a tumour when doctors could not control internal bleeding. The funeral was held at St Luke's Church, Santa Barbara, Lisbon at 11pm on Friday 7th September 2007.

Mike Wilsh, who now lives in Bristol, is quoted to have said:

Fritz was an extrovert, larger than life. He was very much a performer who used his eccentricity to great effect. He believed in living life to the maximum and was very talented and original in everything he did. He was a good friend and will be sadly missed by everyone who knew him.

After a career in music Fritz used his passion for antiques to set up an antique lighting shop in Ross on Wye with his partner of 30 years, Joan Graham.

Simon Wallis-Smith, of Fritz Fryer Antique Lighting, is quoted as saying:

Having sold his business Fritz should have been looking forwards to many years of happy retirement with his partner Joan. Fritz was one of those eccentric and rich characters who always had plenty to say and was a lot of fun.

Sources and references:

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[Page updated: Feb 15 2011 13:31:59]

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