South African singer Sharon Tandy’s arrival in London launched a UK career that included a slot on the Stax/Volt European tour of 1967. However, though her recordings with Booker T Jones, Isaac Hayes and, later, Les Fleur de Lys brought her industry credibility, her appeal failed to cross over into chart success.
She was born Sharon Finkelstein on 18 September 1943 in Johannesburg, South Africa. She grew up in the suburbs of the city and began singing professionally as a teenager.
Having performed first with a local band, Sharon signed to the Continental and Gallo labels and released a brace of 45s and an LP in her homeland.
Aged 19, she met music manager Frank Fenter in a record shop she was working in. The pair hit it off and he would go on to take over responsibility for her career.
Fenter split his time between London and Johannesburg, and among the other artists he managed were British group The Couriers. He brought the four-piece to South Africa in 1964 and Sharon appeared alongside the band in South Africa’s first beat movie, Africa shakes, which also starred The Tremeloes. When the time came for The Couriers to return to England at the end of the year, Sharon opted at the last minute to sail back with them.
She moved in with Fenter in a flat in London’s South Kensington. Within a few months, the Svengali-like figure had secured his protégée a recording deal with the Pye label.
The pair would also marry during this period.
Sharon was offered a few alternative surnames for use as her stage name, and she opted for Tandy, as it sounded like the South African name Tandi.
Now that you’ve gone, a version of a French Petula Clark album track, Puisque tu pars, became her first UK single. Issued in March 1965, the record raised interest in the singer but stalled outside the charts.
Charles Blackwell – later dubbed the godfather of the Brit girls for his work with Antoinette, Madeline Bell and Samantha Jones, amongst others – was brought in to provide the accompaniment on Sharon’s follow up, I’ve found love. The song had been written by The Couriers’ Bill Kimber, who also penned the B-side, fan favourite Perhaps not forever.
A switch to Mercury saw the release in 1966 of Love makes the world go round. TV appearances on popular shows such as Thank your lucky stars helped raise the singer’s profile.
When Fenter became head of the UK arm of Atlantic records, he invited Sharon to join the label’s Stax subsidiary. First up was an offer of a recording session at the Stax studios in Memphis. Sharon stayed in Tennessee for 11 days, cutting a wealth of material, much of which remained unreleased for many years.
The Isaac Hayes and David Porter composition Toe-hold was issued as her first single from the sessions, in 1967. The disc was actually released on Atlantic, rather than on Stax. The song had also been recorded by US soul singer Carla Thomas and it established Sharon’s credibility among industry professionals, even if it passed record-buyers by.
Sharon’s next 45 would become the one associated most lastingly with the singer. Issued in September 1967, her version of Lorraine Ellison’s scorching Stay with me received strong rotation on the radio. The record was also released in France, Germany and Italy, leading to appearances on TV music shows such as Beat club. The B-side, Hold on, a version of a song originally cut by Rupert’s People, is, arguably, even better. Indeed, it was held in such high regard that it was reissued as an A-side a year later.
A psychedelic take on the Ruby and the Romantics’ Our day will come became Sharon’s final single of the year. A support slot for Sonny and Cher – and, later, for the Beach Boys – in concert enabled the singer to hone her live performance skills further. She was teamed with Les Fleur de Lys for live appearances and the group also performed on many of Sharon’s releases of the period.
1968 kicked off with an appearance at the Golden rose television festival in Montreux, opening for Aretha Franklin. However, Sharon’s standing within the music business continued to fail to translate into sales. A couple of further singles – her Beatles double-sider, Fool on the hill and For no one, and the ballad Love is not a simple affair – sold poorly.
The summer of 1968 saw the release of what is generally considered to be her finest moment on record, You’ve gotta believe it. Her yearning vocal combined beautifully with the massive production, but the disc received little attention.
Its failure saw Sharon undergo something of a change of style with her last original single of the year. The way she looks at you – penned by Graham Dee and future songwriter for The Four Tops and Glen Campbell, Brian Potter – was late-1960s radio pop at its catchiest.
Gotta get enough time, issued in February 1969 and featuring the excellent Somebody speaks your name on the flip, proved her final solo release for Atlantic.
Within a couple of months, she and new Les Fleur de Lys front man Tony Head had issued the duet Two can make it together. Despite TV appearances to promote the record – including one on the BBC’s Top of the pops – the disc fared no better than any of Sharon’s solo recordings.
Disillusioned and having split from Frank Fenter both personally and professionally, Sharon quit the UK in 1970 to return to South Africa. She went on to enjoy success in her homeland with several duets, notably with Billy Forrest (Hello-a) and Graham Clarke (I believe in you).