In beat boom Britain, The Caravelles sounded a little out-of-date, but their feather-light vocals proved popular with record buyers all the same. Their debut disc, You don’t have to be a baby to cry, gave them a top-ten hit at home and abroad. A follow up proved harder to achieve, however, and the duo soon disappeared from the public eye.
At the height of their fame, The Caravelles comprised brunette Andrea Simpson and blonde Lois Wilkinson. Andrea had been born on 9 September 1946, in Finchley, north London, and Lois had been born on 3 April 1944 in Sleaford, Lincolnshire.
The pair had met at a car dealership in Barnet, north London, where Andrea worked in the accounts department and Lois was the general manager’s secretary.
They hit it off immediately – and soon realised that they shared a love of music.
Andrea had music in her blood. Her father was a singer, her mother a dancer and two elder sisters both jazz singers. Lois, meanwhile, had learned to play the guitar as she grew up and was performing at the Tatty Bogle jazz club in Soho by her mid-teens.
Indeed, it was the club’s guitarist, Tony Pitt, who found the song that would catapult the girls to fame. He gave the girls the sheet music to an old Moon Mullican jazz-styled number entitled You don’t have to be a baby to cry.
It became one of four songs the girls recorded that were played to bosses at BPR Records label – and that helped them to land a contract with the independent record company.
A re-recorded version of the song became their debut 45, in July 1963. Distribution was secured via the larger Decca label.
The duo were named The Caravelles, after the new French aeroplane. For publicity appearances, the girls extended the French theme with striped tops, navy ski pants and white slip-on shoes.
Their break came when Petula Clark had to pull out of an appearance on ITV’s Thank your lucky stars. Their song and its styling were somewhat at odds with the beat boom that was sweeping Britain. However, this proved precisely its appeal, and before long the disc had reached number six in the UK charts.
It also became a hit in other parts of Europe, including Germany, the Netherlands, Spain and Sweden – and even in the US, where it made number three on the Billboard charts that winter.
Its success saw the girls board the maiden Caravelle flight across the Atlantic in January 1964 and even led to an appearance as support act for The Beatles’ first-ever American concert.
Andrea and Lois had gained experience of touring, thanks to a booking on a British tour with Billy J Kramer and the Dakotas in November and December 1963. Their act included a plug for their follow-up 45, a take on Les Paul and Mary Ford’s I really don’t want to know, and for an eponymously titled LP. (The album was a mix of A- and B-sides, plus some covers and a few self-penned numbers.)
After one further single, Have you ever been lonely, for Decca, distribution of the duo’s discs switched to Fontana.
There, You are here – an excellent reworking of Robin Ward’s Winter’s here – became their first release for the new label. Issued in April 1964, the single failed to attract much attention, however.
A second 45, an ill-advised take on Patti Page’s I don’t care if the sun don’t shine, merely confirmed to record buyers how out of touch the group was with the mood of the moment. (The self-penned B-side, I like a man, has proved more popular with fans over time.)
To compound matters, their contract with BPR had expired and the girls learned that their manager had been declared bankrupt – leaving them with almost no earnings from their records or from touring.
They secured a new recording deal with the Polydor label – and were promptly sent to Hamburg to play a four-week run at the famous Star-Club.
While in Germany, the pair spent some time in the studio, cutting a take on Burt Bacharach and Hal David’s True love never runs smooth and one of their own compositions, Georgia boy.
The tracks were issued as a single back in Britain in August 1965 – albeit to widespread indifference.
As was often the case at the time, both songs were re-recorded in German for domestic release, and In Gedanken bin ich bei dir (the Bacharach and David number) was issued as a 45.
Further German recordings remained in the vaults for many years, including Darauf fall’ ich nicht rein (Come on my boy). Originally cut by Danish doll Dorthe, the song is considered by many to be the highlight of The Caravelles’ German recordings.
The girls toured Germany before returning to Britain, where they played the club circuit. This revealed a difference between the two – Andrea was happy performing the clubs, while Lois preferred recording and wanted to return to her jazz roots.
In early 1966, the pair parted company. Andrea drafted in Lancashire lass Lynne Hamilton to replace Lois. Ironically, one of the first things the line-up would do was go into the studio to record Hey Mama you’ve been on my mind. Issued in January 1967, this slice of baroque pop remains one of the group’s most highly regarded discs.
Want to love you again followed it just three months later, though neither disc troubled chart compilers.
1968 saw the pair switch to Pye for the release of The other side of love, penned by Pete Callander and Mitch Murray. The record became the group’s final 45. (In Germany, the record was flipped to make I hear a new kind of music the A-side.)
Plans for a second album were shelved when Lynne announced that she was planning to move to Australia. There, she would later find success with the theme tune to camp cult TV series Prisoner (also known as Prisoner: cell block H), On the inside. The song was even released back in the UK in 1989, and gave the blonde a top three hit.
Andrea – now known as Andrea Mullins – recruited replacements and continued to tour mainland Europe throughout the 1970s and into the 1980s.
Lois, meanwhile, renamed herself Lois Lane and enjoyed a successful career performing jazz on TV and at prestigious venues such as Ronnie Scott’s in London’s Soho, supplemented by TV and radio voiceover work.