Clodagh Rodgers became the UK’s last female ‘overnight sensation’ of the 1960s. In reality, the singer had been releasing singles throughout the decade, though without success. Thanks to the song-writing talents of Kenny Young, she hit big in 1969 with Come back and shake me. She is perhaps best remembered for her 1971 Eurovision entry, Jack in the box – and for having had the best legs in pop, which she reputedly insured for £1 million.
She was born Clodagh Rodgers on 5 March 1947 in Warrenpoint, County Down, in Northern Ireland. She was raised in Ballymena, County Antrim, in a musical household, where her father, Louis, was a dancehall tour promoter.
Small wonder, then, that Clodagh took her first steps into the world of music at the age of just 12, appearing as warm-up for acts such as Jim Reeves and Michael Holliday. At 14, thanks to her father’s connections, she toured Europe with Johnny Cash.
A record deal
By the time the tour was over, she had been offered a recording contract with London’s Decca records. Her family moved to Willesden, in north London, to allow the teenager to seize this opportunity – only to find that Decca would leave her languishing for 18 months.
Helen Shapiro remained high in the charts in 1962, and Clodagh was eventually launched as the latest teen rival to the north London star.
Believe me I’m no fool, issued in November 1962, became her debut 45. Credited to Cloda Rodgers, the single was a perky upbeat number that had been produced by Shel Talmy. Sadly, the British record-buying public ignored it completely.
For the follow-up, she was billed as Cloda Rogers – with no ‘d’ in her surname. However, the song, Sometime kind of love, written by Clive Westlake, sounded a little dated by the time of its release in March 1963.
A third single, To give my love to you, also stalled upon its release three months later, though fans now tend to flip the disk for its B-side, the catchy Country ‘n’ Western-style I only live to love you.
The singer impressed audiences as part of the UK team at Belgium’s Knokke Cup that year. At home, she gained exposure through an appearance in the comic caper Just for fun, alongside the likes of Dusty Springfield, The Breakaways and Louise Cordet.
Mister Heartache proved Clodagh’s final 45 for Decca. Issued in January 1964, the song had been a top ten hit in Canada for Pat Hervey, but it failed to win over teenagers in the UK.
The search began for a new manager and a label. Under the management of Keith Prowse, she signed to Columbia. The Tom Springfield and Clive Westlake composition Wanting you gave the singer a more mature sound. Complete with a Mod-styled haircut, Clodagh issued the song as her debut release for the label in January 1965.
Still record buyers took no notice, however.
Even her sophisticated follow-up, Every day is just the same, issued almost 18 months later, in June 1966, and written by Alan Hawshaw, failed to convince them. The song proved popular elsewhere in Europe, with top French yé-yé girl Sheila and German star Alexandra both cutting versions (La vie est un tourbillon and Warum?, respectively).
A third Columbia release, an updating of Ethel Waters’ 1930s track Stormy weather, fared no better. (The B-side, Lonely room, is also rated by fans.)
More positively, Clodagh met John Morris on a two-month package tour of the UK with The Walker Brothers in the autumn of 1966. The pair would later marry and he became her manager.
Under his professional guidance, she joined RCA in 1968. There, she would issue a couple of singles, the big ballads Play the drama to the end and Rhythm of love, both, for the first time, under her full name.
Finally, a breakthrough
Despite TV appearances to promote the singles, record buyers still took little notice – though one person was utterly captivated by Clodagh. He was US songwriter Kenny Young, a former Brill Building writer who was best known for penning Under the boardwalk for The Drifters. He was in the UK to promote another of his compositions, Reparata and the Delrons’ Captain of you ship.
After seeing Clodagh perform on the BBC’s Colour me pop in October 1968, Young contacted RCA.
He offered her the song that would prove her breakthrough hit, Come back and shake me. He had originally intended it for Lulu, but the Scottish star was tied up with plans for her appearance at the Eurovision song contest. Full of heavy brass and fuzzy bass, the song remains a classic piece of late-1960s pop and soon swept up the UK charts, reaching number three in the spring of 1969.
It also became popular across the rest of Europe, and Clodagh even re-recorded it for the Italian market as Il cuore nella rete.
Its success saw Clodagh whisked into the studio to cut her first LP, entitled simply Clodagh Rodgers. Young gave the singer a clutch of new songs for the album, the best of which included The colors are changing (a future hit for Spanish star Karina, as Colores) and Arizona.
Surprisingly, Goodnight midnight, a non-album track, became Clodagh’s follow-up single, in June 1969. It soared into the top ten, reaching number four.
Biljo, issued that autumn, stalled just outside the top 20, but both singles were included on Clodagh’s second LP of the year, Midnight Clodagh. The album proved more ambitious than her debut and highlights included Spider and Lock me in. (The latter was also cut by former Carrolls front woman and future TV comedienne Faith Brown.)
Clodagh teamed up with Young in early 1970 to cut the duet Just a little more line, issued under the name Moonshine. It wasn’t a hit.
Keen for Clodagh to regain a place in the top ten, RCA flew her to New York City, where she recorded the terrific Everybody go home the party’s over. The song was released as a single in March 1970. To widespread surprise, however, it missed the top 40.
The follow up, Wolf, went the same way, even when it was flipped for Tangerines, tangerines, which the singer had performed on TV’s highly popular Morecambe and Wise show.
Eurovision to the rescue
Clodagh was in desperate need of a boost for her career. It came – just as it had for Sandie Shaw – in the form of the Eurovision song contest. The 1971 contest was to be held in Dublin, following Dana’s win the year before with All kinds of everything. Given that this was at the height of the Troubles, the BBC is said to have approached Clodagh reasoning that she would be well received by the Irish audience.
Clodagh performed six songs in the UK national final. Arguably, the best of the bunch was Another time, another place, Clodagh’s personal favourite and subsequently a top 20 hit for Engelbert Humperdinck. However, regional juries voted Jack in the box the winner. The song was a rather clumsy – but highly hummable – reprise of Sandie Shaw’s winning song from four years earlier, Puppet on a string.
Clodagh gave it her all on stage in Dublin, but lost out to Séverine representing Monaco with the decidedly superior Un banc, un arbre, une rue. (Clodagh has since said that she knew the Monegasque song would win.)
Clodagh’s performance is remembered as much for her outfit as for her song – she sported pink silk beaded hot pants that had been stitched to her blouse to prevent them slipping down when she danced. (Interestingly, her sister Lavinia joined The Breakaways to perform backing vocals on the Eurovision stage.)
The song reached number four in the UK charts – the last top-ten hit of Clodagh’s career. (She also recorded and released a version of the song in Spanish, as Caja de sorpresa.)
The stage beckons
An album, Rodgers and heart, was released on the back of her contest appearance. Lady love bug – very much in the clunky Melanie or Middle of the Road style of the moment – proved Clodagh’s last UK top 40 single, peaking at number 28.
From there on, a career in light entertainment beckoned. Clodagh became a regular on Saturday night shows and in variety. Over the course of the decade, she would appear with almost every celebrity going, including Des O’Connor, Mike Yarwood and the Two Ronnies.
She also issued the occasional record – of which, 1976’s Save me is, arguably, the best.
Later, she would appear in a couple of musicals in London’s West End. The first was Pump Boys and Dinettes, and the second was the lead role of Mrs Johnstone in the long-running hit Blood Brothers. She went on to tour the UK in the show after the death of her second husband, bass guitarist Ian Sorbie, in the mid-1990s.
Clodagh retired from the music business after the tour was over but occasionally still gives media interviews.