Although it wasn’t until the 1970s that Katherine Farthing found success as half of soul-lite duo Mac and Katie Kissoon, she was no newcomer to the music business. The Trinidad-born singer had cut a swathe of great records in the 1960s. The best are, arguably, as tear-stained soloist Peanut, but she also worked with her brother Gerry and others as part of, first, The Marionettes and, later, The Rag Dolls.
Peanut was born Katherine Farthing in 11 March 1951 in Port of Spain, Trinidad. (Confusion has arisen over the exact date of her birth because of the American system of inverting days and months – i.e. setting out dates in the month-day-year order, rather than the European day-month-year fashion. This has caused some to believe to her date of birth to be 3 November 1951.)
Known as Katie, she set sail for Britain as a child with her family. From an early age, she became an eager performer for her relatives and friends alike and eventually set her sights on becoming a professional singer. Her brother, Gerry, harboured similar ambitions.
In 1964, the pair joined Lance Ring and Pauline Sibbles to form boy-girl foursome The Marionettes. The group was managed by Valerie Avon, a former member of The Avons, who landed them a contract with the Decca label.
By that time, Marty Wilde’s career as a hit singer was over and he was looking for other projects to keep him busy alongside the occasional return to the recording studio.
He took over production duties on The Marionettes’ debut single, the excellent Whirpool of love. He also managed to slip one of his own compositions, Nobody but you, onto the B-side. Issued in January 1965, the record failed to garner enough airplay to give the group a hit and its failure signified the end of the group’s stay at Decca. (Wilde would later write for other Brit girls, such as The Breakaways, Lulu and Sandie Shaw.)
It wasn’t long before Avon had secured the group a new recording deal, this time at Parlophone. There, they issued a cover of The Drifters’ Under the boardwalk as their follow-up single, in June 1965. Peter Snell produced the record, and Avon supplied the B-side, Was it me.
Avon also singled out Katie as a potential solo star, and landed her a separate deal with Pye, where she would be known as Peanut.
What followed must have been a confusing time for Katie, as one day she would be working with the group at Parlophone and the next she would be on her own at Pye. Indeed, her debut solo single came out just weeks after The Marionettes’ 45.
Her solo release, Thank goodness for the rain – another Avon composition, written under her real name, Valerie Murtagh – was a slice of teen angst. “He’s coming down the street, he’s bound to stop and speak,” she sobbed. “What can I do, what can I say? He mustn’t see the tears in my eyes – oh, thank goodness for the rain…”
That autumn Katie issued further discs for both Pye and Parlophone. The first, the Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil-penned Home of the brave, was a take on Jody Miller’s US hit, which, as Peanut, she delivered in a suitably bratty, nasal style. The second, issued the same month, was Raining, it’s pouring, credited to The Marionettes.
Almost incredibly, a third Marionettes 45, At the end of the day, followed just a month later.
Despite their frequency, none of these records proved a hit. However, Parlophone refused to lose faith in The Marionettes. The group was despatched into the studio to cut the terrifically catchy Like a man, which had been penned by Lee Pockriss and Paul Vance. The song has also been recorded by other artists, including the Two of Clubs and the New Faces, and is sometimes known as Walk tall or (Walk tall) Like a man. Released in February 1966, the disc should have given the group their breakthrough hit but it wasn’t to be. It proved the foursome’s final outing.
Katie’s solo career as Peanut was also proving slow. Her third 45 hit the shops in October 1966, a full year after its predecessor. By this time, she had switched label, joining Columbia. The song was a jangling, banjo-driven take on The Beach Boys’ Pet sounds album track I’m waiting for the day. Produced by Mark Wirtz, it remains one of her finest – and most sought-after – recordings. Surprisingly, however, it was met with complete indifference by the record-buying public.
A second single for Columbia, the aching I didn’t love him anyway, another Wirtz production, fared no better. This was another generous serving of Shangri-Las styled teen melodrama. As her boyfriend finishes with her, she insists, “I knew what he was going to say, but I’m alright. I didn’t love him anyway.”
Bosses at the record company felt the singer still had potential, so they put her back with her brother – this time as part of a new group, The Rag Dolls.
The group’s debut single, Never had so much loving, was produced by Bob Barratt. Issued in October 1967, the song was a galloping Phil Spector-styled number that featured male lead vocals and had the girls giving their all on back-ups.
A second release, My old man’s a groovy old man, was a somewhat repetitive track that again featured the boys on lead vocals. Again, the single was produced by Bob Barratt and arranged and conducted by Tony Meehan. However, it died upon release in March 1968. With it went The Rag Dolls.
It would be another year or so before Peanut would resurface – still with Columbia, but now known as Katie Kissoon. She issued the single Don’t let it rain in 1969 for the label, without success.
Within a year, she was reunited once again with her brother Gerry. Now signed to the smaller Young Blood label, the pair’s previous lack of success was whitewashed from their press biographies. Indeed, the brother-and-sister act were renamed Mac and Katie Kissoon to complete their transformation.
It was in this guise that they enjoyed their greatest success. Their brand of bubblegum soul saw them score both in the UK and overseas. They hit big first in the Netherlands, where they topped the charts with Sing along in 1972 and enjoyed a string of hits throughout the decade, with songs such as Love will keep us together (1973) and Lavender blue and Love and understanding (1979). In 1975, their popularity spread to the UK, where they had three top 20 hits with Sugar candy kisses, Don’t do it baby and Like a butterfly that year.
When the hits dried up, Katie found work as a session singer. She went on to supply backing vocals for a variety of artists over the following decade and into the 1990s, including Elkie Brooks, Elton John and Robbie Williams.