Welsh songbird Maureen Evans won the hearts of record buyers in the early 1960s, but like many of her contemporaries the beat boom left her side-lined. Nevertheless, the singer has gone on to enjoy a career in the music business that has spanned six decades.
Maureen Evans was born in Cardiff, south Wales, on 23 March 1940. She was educated at Caer Castell Secondary Modern School, before studying for three years at the College of Music and Drama, Cardiff Castle, where she gained a diploma.
When her aunt heard that local impresario Waldini was looking for a comedienne to join his show, she suggested that Maureen should go along to audition. Maureen recalls, “I said to aunt Doris, ‘But I’m not a comedienne’ and she replied, ‘I know, but it’s a way in!’”
Maureen duly went along. “I went to the audition, chaperoned by my mother and aunt, to be greeted by silver-haired Waldini wearing a velvet smoking jacket. I was just 14 and I’d never seen anything like it before. He looked really ancient, but looking back he must have only been in his late 40s. I sang Blue moon and, although he wasn’t looking for a singer, Waldini immediately gave me a spot on his show.”
Maureen’s first important public appearance was at the New Theatre, Cardiff, in 1955, when Dickie Valentine topped the bill.
Maureen soon became known throughout Wales after appearing on the regional television show New airs and faces and the radio series Welsh rarebit. Her first acting role on screen was as a schoolgirl in the BBC TV drama The corn is green, which starred Flora Robson.
Maureen stayed under the guidance of Waldini for nearly three years. “He could see my potential and, not wanting to hold me back, suggested that I spread my wings. So I started to visit London regularly, looking for new material at the song publishers on Denmark Street and leaving copies of my demo recordings with record companies.”
Spreading her wings
In 1958, Maureen was noticed by Reg Warburton at Embassy – a subsidiary of Oriole records, which produced budget-price cover versions of current hit sounds exclusively for Woolworth stores.
“I successfully auditioned for Reg with my trusty party piece Blue moon and he signed me for a year. He said I would have to emulate the style of singers in the top 20, so one week I might be asked to sound like Connie Francis and on another occasion it could well be Shirley Bassey.”
On the Embassy label Maureen released her first disc, a take on the Connie Francis double A-side Carolina moon backed with Stupid cupid.
Subsequently, Maureen would often be chosen to record Connie’s latest hit and went on to release a string of Francis covers including Lipstick on your collar and Plenty good lovin’. A precise replication of Peggy Lee’s Fever and Sarah Vaughan’s Broken hearted melody were further notables which Maureen recorded for the label.
She soon became the most popular female singer on Embassy – which didn’t go unnoticed by Oriole executives, who upgraded Maureen to their core label. Now she could prove herself as a singer in her own right and not just as a sound-alike.
Her first recording for Oriole, The years between c/w Don’t want the moonlight (a version of Italian singer Fred Buscaglione’s Guarda che luna), failed to chart. However, her next attempt, The big hurt, took Maureen to number 26 in January 1960 – gaining the upper hand over the original version by American singer Toni Fisher, which stalled at number 30.
That same year, Love, kisses and heartaches reached number 44 and Paper roses peaked at number 40 as Maureen lost out on chart success to the Kaye Sisters.
Maureen’s national television debut as a singer came when she appeared in ATV’s Saturday spectacular, hosted on this occasion by Arthur Askey. Maureen sang What a difference a day made (which she recorded for both Embassy and Oriole) and also took part in a song-and-dance routine with Askey.
“Although I’m only 5’1”, I had to take my shoes off for the dance, as Arthur was so short,” Maureen remembers. “I was completely in awe working alongside established greats such as Arthur Askey and Donald Peers – my parents were so impressed.”
In November 1960, Maureen returned to the Embassy label for a one-off release under a pseudonym – with popular TV and radio presenter Brian Matthew. Together as Linda Joyce and Matt Bryant, they released a cover of the Peter Sellers/Sophia Loren novelty Goodness gracious me!
1962 was Maureen’s year – she saw her recording of Like I do climb to number three in the charts during November. Based on Ponchielli’s classical composition Dance of the hours, with music and lyrics by Dick Manning, the song had been made popular in the States by Nancy Sinatra. (The melody featured in Allan Sherman’s 1963 comic record Hello muddah, hello faddah.) Starlight starbright could, arguably, have been a major hit for Maureen if it hadn’t been consigned to the flipside.
In February 1963, Maureen appeared in BBC TV’s A song for Europe. As a contender up against the likes of Vince Hill, 16 regional juries voted for a song and singer to represent Britain in that year’s Eurovision song contest. Maureen sang Pick the petals, penned by Leslie Bricusse, which finished third, whilst Ronnie Carroll scored top points.
A couple of further attempts to generate overseas interest, with the release of two German singles, So wie ich and Eine Rose ist mein Talisman, in 1963, also fell flat.
Fellow Welsh songbird Dorothy Squires penned Acapulco Mexico especially for the singer. Maureen recalls, “Dorothy was my father’s favourite and he was very proud when she wrote a song for me. Dot later told me she penned the composition specifically with my voice in mind. It lasted about seven minutes in my stage act, as I incorporated send-ups of Eartha Kitt, Shirley Bassey and Dorothy too.”
This and many other noteworthy singles, including Till (later recorded by Squires) and Never in a million years, failed to make any impact with the record-buying public. However, Maureen remained a popular guest on shows such as TV’s Thank your lucky stars and radio’s Easy beat.
Maureen’s last chart entry came in 1964. I love how you love me had reached number 18 in 1961 for Jimmy Crawford, and just three years later, Maureen took the song to number 34.
Her final disc for Oriole label, Get away, was a fitting title and one of her best.
With the arrival of beat groups and a new wave of girl singers spearheaded by the likes of Dusty Springfield, Maureen realised her pop star days were numbered. She continued to release the occasional single, but now concentrated on her home life.
In a 1963 interview with a pop music magazine, Maureen said that her career would take secondary place to domesticity – her main priority at that time was her husband and young daughter, Lynette.
In late 1964 Oriole was taken over by CBS records and Maureen went on to release four discs for the label, including Never let him go. Her last record to date, I almost called your name, which was also recorded by Kathy Kirby, was issued in 1968.
During her heyday, Maureen recorded over 30 singles, an extended play record, Melancholy me, plus an album released in 1963 which took the title of her biggest hit, Like I do, and is highly collectable today.
The later years
Into the 1970s and 80s, Maureen didn’t give up singing entirely. Her brother Gomer owns a recording studio in Germany, where he also writes his own music – and when Maureen pays a visit she often helps out with backing vocals.
Today, Maureen has been married to her second husband, Roy, for almost 30. The couple founded their own theatre school in Cardiff in 1998, teaching children aged three to 18 years old all aspects of singing, dancing and drama. “It was always my ambition to run a drama school,” Maureen says. “I wanted to give back what I received when I was a teenager, and in turn, it gives me so much satisfaction.”
After Maureen turned 70 years old she decided to give up the drama school and enjoy her retirement. However, she insists that age is only a number. “I still feel as if I’m in my 30s, so I try and keep my birthdays very low key.”
Maureen Evans was interviewed by Mark Willerton