Johnny Goodison was a big man with an even bigger talent, his powerful voice turned many a mediocre song into something-extra special. A man who was forever the entertainer, but despite his obvious abilities, he would have to wait over a decade before his talents would be recognised.
Originally an apprentice toolmaker in the City Johnny went under the name Johnny B.Great along with his the band The Goodmen consisting of Don Kerr (guitar) (who had been in The Atlantic’s) Olly Warner (bass), Al King (sax) and Nigel Lomas (drums). Olly and Nigel had also spent time in The Zodiacs and Nigel is the older brother of record producer Roger Lomas. Every one of them a skilled musician in their own right. They were managed by the great Larry Page based at The Orchid Ballroom Primrose Hill St (now The Kasbah) in Coventry. Their first vinyl outing was the 1963 Decca single “School Is In” with backing vocals supplied by the Coventry schoolgirl trio The Orchids, who were also managed by Page (The Goodmen would later return the favour and play on the Orchids first single Gonna Make Him Mine). Although not a hit it was to perfectly mark out the musical style the band (and indeed its manager Larry Page) would subsequently follow. It was also to make local history of a sort by becoming the first single released by a Coventry pop group.
The Decca single “Acapulco 1922″ followed. This was a mighty slice of trumpet driven Cov-pop-beat, with its thumping rhythms and joyous backing vocals. It’s plain to see why Mr Goodison was to go on to become a successful session singer when you hear his dynamic vocals on this truly classic record. The fact it never charted for this Coventry combo remains a mystery and a major disappointment to the true sixties music fan. It did chart in instrumental form however for the likes of Kenny Ball and Herb Albert. The B-Side You’ll Never Leave Him, was also covered by Lulu (with the obvious gender change). Neil Lomas recalls those heady days,” We were the Resident Band at The Wolfe and The Freeman, Thursday Friday and Saturday nights. One Sunday we were asked to play at the Irish 32 Club at the Orchid Ballroom, after The Wolfe gig. The Manager Larry Page liked what he saw and asked us if he could manage us, we agreed and went for a record test at Holick and Taylor Studios Birmingham. Larry Page employed us to play resident at the Orchid Ballroom for a short period. In between times he ran talent competitions with a view to building his own stable of artists, such as The Orchids, Shel Naylor, Little Lenny Davis and The Chimes”. The Orchid Ballroom was not without its more ‘energetic’ times however, as Larry Page remembers. “I started writing a page for the Coventry Echo doing record reviews etc. and this helped attract people like Johnny Goodison who of course then became Johnny B Great. We had problems early on keeping the rough element out, so there was the occasional fight breaking out. The bouncers were fantastic and on more than one occasion when Johnny was performing and a fight broke out that I was involved in, the music would stop and as I turned I’d see Johnny at my side thumping somebody with the words ‘Are you alright Lar?’ My instructions were always that if a fight breaks out, play the National Anthem. It seemed to work in those days.
The music world is littered with tales of “If only” and “So near, yet so far”. Johnny B.Great and the Goodmen have such stories to tell. Just after the release of “School Is In”, Decca were looking for a band to record a sure-fire hit that had done well in the States for the band The Contours. The Goodmen were a gnat’s whisker away in securing the session, but because they had just had a single out, the song “Do You Love Me” was given to Brian Poole and The Tremeloes instead. Frustratingly for Johnny and the boys it went straight to number one. Nigel remembers another similar ‘oh so near’ experience. “We were set to appear in a film, but once again fate was not kind and our transport broke down. Johnny went on ahead while we waited for the van to be fixed by the time we made it to the studio Johnny had already performed “If I had A Hammer” on his own. Our moment of film glory had gone”.
Unabated they continued to release more records included If I Had A Hammer (Johnny performed this for the film “Just For You” a movie that also featured The Orchids). Rather bizarrely Johnny and co appear on the B-side of the original Doctor Who theme tune. This rather strange unrelated pairing was billed as Brenda and Johnny singing the Rogers and Hart song “This Can’t Be Love”. Even more curious is that there is actually a connection. The A-side is performed by The Radiophonic Workshop, featuring Coventry’s legendary Delia Derbyshire! So a Coventry connection is there after all, more by luck than judgement of course.
For a while they went under the name of The Quotations (that also included top 70’s producer Phil Wainman), a sort of freelance backing group for visiting US singers. They backed the likes of The Walker Brothers and Little Richard. From then on Johnny became a much in demand name on the session circuit. In 1970 he reverted back to his real name of Johnny Goodison and released the single “One Mistake”. While drummer Nigel Lomas joined his brother Roger Lomas in the group Clouds and later The Eggy. Meanwhile Olly Warner joined The Autocrats.
In the mid seventies producer and composer Tony Hiller put together The Brotherhood Of Man, (this was the mark one model, not to be confused with the mark 2 version that went on to win Eurovision with “Save Your Kisses For Me” with all completely different members). They were Johnny Goodison with Roger Greenaway, Tony Burrows, Sunny Leslie and Sue Glover. Each member already had an impressive history, Roger Greenway lead singer with The Fortunes and writer of You’ve Got Your Troubles. Sunny Leslie and Sue Glover were much in demand backing singers. Sunny achieved a solo hit with Doctors Orders and Tony Burrows would later dominated the charts (and appear on one Top of The Pops 3 times in the same night with 3 different songs). He was the ‘voice’ of The Pipkins with “Gimme Dat Ding”, White Plains My Baby Loves Lovin” and Edison Lighthouse with “Love Grows (Where My Rosemary Goes)” and much later First Class and “Beach Baby”. Brotherhood Of man’s first single “Love One Another” failed to set the charts alight but their second outing “United We Stand” (co written by Johnny under the alias Peter Simons) clocked in at number 10 In the UK (and 13 in the US). It was also to be adopted as a Gay anthem in America. “Where Are You Going To My Love?” Saw them once again in the British charts, it was also co written by Johnny.
On leaving The Brotherhood of Man he joined the James Last Orchestra along with Sunny Leslie as a backing singer, but still perused his own career with Big John’s Rock’n Roll Circus On the Road. In 1975 he was to give Coventry its sixth number one of sorts when he wrote the chart topping “Give A Little Love” for the Bay City Rollers and produced the hit single “Race With The Devil” for the heavy band Gun. He continued releasing singles under his own name and as Johnny Goodison and the Second Time Around throughout the seventies, his last single was to be I’m Going Down. Sadly though on September 3rd 1988 Coventry and the music business in general was robbed of a unique talent when Johnny died from a heart attack.
Johnny Goodison trivia
- Johnny wrote a whole album for Billy J Kramer, but singer/songwriter Peter Skellern who had heard it was in no doubt why it was never released!
- 70’s band Mud were desperate to have the Song “Give a Little Love”, but it was already promised to The Rollers.
- The Goodmen and Rolling Stones were both banned from Knutsford Services, after a well-tempered sugar cube fight broke out between the two groups in the cafe.
- Johnny also produced the hit single (number 8) “Race With The Devil” for the heavy band Gun.
- Johnny appeared with the Brotherhood of Man at the 1977 Royal Jubilee Variety performance along with compere Bob Hope, Julie Andrews, Tommy Cooper, Shirley Maclaine and The Muppets.