British singer Truly Smith’s I want to go back there again has become a firm favourite of fans of the Brit girl genre, though she remains a mystery to many. The quality of her vocals and her choice of material should have made the Warrington lass a star in the UK – and despite TV and live promotion, an attempt to launch the singer across the rest of Europe also stalled.
Josie Taylor hailed from the Dallam area of Warrington, in Cheshire, north-west England. Her first contact with the music industry came working behind the counter at a local record shop for a couple of years.
But in 1966, at the age of 16, she auditioned for Noel Walker, a former jazz musician based in nearby Liverpool who worked as Artist and Repertoire man for Decca records. She was offered a contract with the label and picked a new name for herself, Truly Smith.
Walker took over the production of her first single, My smile is just a frown turned upside down, a version of a non-hit for Motown singer Carolyn Crawford. For the B-side, he also borrowed a storming Tony Hatch composition, Love is me love is you, which Hatch’s then girlfriend (and later, wife) Jackie Trent had issued as a single. Vocally, the two versions are not overly similar, and indeed Truly’s vocals drew comparison with those of Cilla Black.
Perhaps because Truly sounded more comfortable performing ballads, the Les Reed and Barry Mason-penned I love him was picked for the follow up and issued in June 1966 (though the flip, Buttermilk Hill, a version of a song from the Broadway musical Wait a minim!, proved the more interesting side).
Despite the disc’s lack of success, another dramatic ballad, You are the love of my life, originally an Italian tune, was released as Truly’s final UK 45 of the year, with the so-so The merry-go-round is slowing you down on the reverse.
The French arm of the Decca label decided that the singer was also worth a shot in France, and an EP was issued in 1966 which included both sides of her UK debut, plus You are the love of my life (in a different arrangement to that on the UK 45) and He belongs to me. This latter track never gained a release in the UK.
A further push to promote Truly throughout the rest of Europe that year saw her guest with Tom Jones on The Dave Berry show, which aired on Belgian television, and take part in the Knokke Cup
alongside Engelbert Humperdinck, Germany’s Katja Ebstein and Marion, the Netherlands’ Janneke Peper and Belgium’s Ariane, amongst others.
Back in Britain, where three of the premier league of Brit girl singers, Cilla Black, Dusty Springfield and Sandie Shaw, had been enjoying big hits with songs written by Burt Bacharach and Hal David, Truly issued her version of the US songwriting duo’s Windows and doors. The tune had originally been recorded by Jackie de Shannon, and a second Bacharach and David number, Take a broken heart (originally recorded by Rick Nelson), was included on the reverse of the 1967 release.
Truly returned to the Motown songbook for her second 45 of the year. Her take on blue-eyed Motown girl Chris Clark’s I want to go back there again is generally considered one of her finest recordings.
However, successful Brit girl versions of Motown songs were few and far between and Truly’s proved no exception. It wasn’t helped by the inclusion of the, frankly, dire Window cleaner on the flip – even if girl pop maestro Charles Blackwell had lent his musical direction to the tune. Matters were complicated further by the release of two rival interpretations of the A-side – one by New Formula and another by Bill Kenwright and The Runaways. All three versions shared a week inside the top 30 compiled by pirate station Radio London in early August 1967, though, inevitably, the sales war hurt Truly’s chances of a breakthrough, and the closure of the radio station later that month limited her airtime.
Her final release for Decca came in the form of the excellent The boy from Chelsea, a little-known tune from the pens of Gerry Goffin and Carole King, issued in late 1967. (Little man with a stick appeared on the B-side.)
With no hits to her name, Truly was released from her contract with Decca but was quickly snapped up by the MGM label, where she was teamed with producer Mike Hurst, formerly of The Springfields, who also worked with artists including Barry St John and PP Arnold. He remembers Truly as having a good voice – and it was one she put to use effectively on her first MGM release, This is the first time. The song, penned by Doug Flett and Guy Fletcher, has since become sought after amongst fans of the Brit girl sound (Cilla Black also recorded a version for her Sher-oo! album), and Hurst snuck one of his own compositions, Taking time off, onto the B-side.
Sadly, it proved her final release.
She went on to become a teacher and, until recently, was headmistress of a school in Alnwick, Northumberland.
With thanks to Malcolm Grace for additional research.
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