British girl group the Breakaways – made up of three members of the Vernons Girls who ‘broke away’ – became the UK’s most in-demand session singers in the 1960s. They can be heard providing backing vocals on scores of top records of the period and also released some highly regarded singles of their own.
The Breakaways were formed in 1962 by Betty Prescott, Margo Quantrell and Vicki Haseman, all of whom hailed from Liverpool, in the north west of England. Betty was replaced by Jean Ryder in 1963. Ann O’Brien and Lynne Cornell performed frequently with the group in later years.
The trio had been part of the Vernons Girls, a large girl group set up, at least in part, to promote the football pools by circumventing laws banning the advertising of gambling. (Samantha Jones was also part of the 16-strong group.)
When the three singers quit the group, they chose the cheekily apt moniker the Breakaways and headed for London, where they found themselves a manager and landed a contract with the Pye record label.
The trio were roped in to provide backing vocals on Joe Brown and the Bruvvers’ A picture of you, which became a top three hit in the spring of 1962. The group’s vocal competence and adaptability soon meant that they were performing back ups for many of the top artists of the day – not just for Pye, but for a host of labels.
Indeed, it is as session singers that the girls are perhaps best known. Over the course of the decade and into the 1970s, they backed many top artists, including Cilla Black, Dusty Springfield, Jackie Trent, Jimi Hendrix, Lulu, Marianne Faithfull, Olivia Newton-John, Petula Clark, Tom Jones and the Walker Brothers, to name but a few.
They also issued a number of their own 45s. Their somewhat prim version of US girl group the Crystals’ He’s a rebel became the group’s first release, in October 1962, with Wishing star on the B-side.
They joined Joe Brown again in the film Just for fun, released in February 1963. (Vicki later married Brown, and the couple went on to have children, including 1980s singer Sam Brown.)
When Betty left the group that year, another ex-Vernons Girl, Jean Ryder, was asked to replace her. Jean had previously worked with Maggie Stredder in the Two Tones and the DeLaine Sisters.
This line up – Jean, Margo and Vicki – became the mainstay of the group from then on.
In November that year, the girls were relaunched with a sexy all-in-black look to promote their new 45. That boy of mine, which had been penned by Pye A&R man Tony Hatch – the writer of many of Petula Clark’s later hits – was chosen as the A-side. For many, however, it is the flip, a version of Jeff Barry and Ellie Greenwich’s catty Here she comes, originally recorded by US girl group the Darlettes, which truly delights.
Margo followed in the wake of Wendy Richard and Billie Davis by putting in an appearance on a novelty record by Mike Sarne, Hello lover boy, before the group rejoined to issue their third single, That’s how it goes (another Hatch composition), in March 1964. The B-side, He doesn’t love me, written by Ivor Raymonde and Jean’s future husband, Mike Hawker, has also become a fan favourite.
In France, an EP was issued on the Vogue label comprising all four songs from the group’s second and third singles.
In 1965, they provided backing vocals for Burt Bacharach, achieving a credit as “and chorus” on the huge hit Trains and boats and planes. The group can also be heard on the soundtrack to the Julie Christie film Darling, which was released that year.
Displaying a somewhat curious choice of material, they issued a version of Danny boy in November 1965, but again it is the B-side that has gone on to be more highly regarded. Your kind of love, written by former rocker Marty Wilde, who was married to fellow former Vernons Girl Joyce Baker and was sharpening his songwriting skills in advance of penning tunes for the likes of Sandie Shaw and Lulu (and, much later, his daughter, Kim, of course), allowed the girls to show off the more sophisticated side of their vocal abilities.
They went on to become regulars on ITV’s Ready steady go!, and Ann O’Brien, another ex-Vernons Girl, made her debut appearance with the group in 1966, providing maternity cover for Jean. She would step in again several times over the following years when needed.
1967 saw the release of the sumptuous Sacred love, on CBS (Don’t be a baby was the B-side), while session work included providing the vocals for the Tony Hatch Sound’s version of Francis Lai’s Live for life.
The following year, the group donned pink baby doll dresses to back Cliff Richard on the Royal Albert Hall stage in his bid for Eurovision glory with Congratulations. (He lost to Spanish singer Massiel.)
Switching to MCA, the trio issued the disappointing Santo Domingo, backed with So in love are we, in May 1968. The single became the final release for the group in their own right.
That year the girls also provided vocals on the Mark Wirtz Orchestra and Chorus LP Come back and shake me.
They continued to work as session singers over the following years, both together and individually. Vicki joined her husband’s group Brown’s Home Brew in the early 1970s and also recorded as part of the Tree People and the New London Chorale.
The group formally split in the mid-1970s, and Vicki died of cancer in 1991.
With thanks to Vic Davis for additional research.