Monday, 27 June 2011

The Onlookers

This is supposed to be about bloody Brighton, but I guess I’m allowed to write about what I bloody well like. This is about a band from around the town I grew up in, Windsor, in the early 80s. I was just getting old enough to go to gigs when they folded, so I never got to see them live, but their first and only single remains a treasured possession. Simple, plain, then glorious. Like the Stone Roses' All Across the Sands, but in tune.
The Onlookers were the perfect mid-60s English combo with style, an abundance of talent and glorious harmony-dripping pop songs. But 15 years too late. Like The Prisoners soon after them, they were purists, staying ideal to that sound. They had a fanatical mod following, for a spell.  I was obsessed with watching The Prisoners live a few years later. I wasn't into the mod subculture, just the music.
The Onlookers were called mods, psychedelicists and various wavists in fanzines of the day.  They never made it through. Too nice for indie kids, not council estate enough, not led by a quotable egotist, perhaps, they were stuck on a retro thing in a futurist era. Somehow they could have been the Monkees, you almost see it when they played on a kids TV show House No. 73 with a young/old Sandi Toksveig. There’s the single You and I, an unreleased song, Chieftan, and a dreamy-psychedelic fragment in the bathroom, all on youtube.
All that remains otherwise is that rather splendid debut/farewell single, containing the wonderful Julia on the b-side, You and I, and Understand (which contains a steal from The Hollies' Bus Stop, but not on a Gallagher scale).  
The would-be follow up The Mystic Surrounds Me/Houseman made it onto a Slough bands compilation, Subway. There’s this stuff plus the band’s unreleased demos coming out on Detour Records, which may be a lost album. Some lost piece of genius like Subway Sect’s punk album, or The Ultimate Action or VU. 
The Onlookers were always described as a Slough band, probably because of the Slough compilation, though I suspect they have Windsor roots like me.  For a start, my old school mate Darren Daly told me this: Interesting fact No.47. Nicky Stone (lead singer) was the son of one of my mothers best friends. he was a few years older than me and when I was a kid he gave me all his old Action Men and accessories. I got the space capsule and a tank amongst other stuff.
Windsor has some claims to musical fame: St Etienne, Andy Weatherall, part of Republica.  The Onlookers stayed true to their name, then looked elsewhere in their lives.
Nick Stone has a unique voice, but it’s a sweet instrument, with only a touch of a Ray Davies twist. All of this is spun together with Dean Bruce’s harmonies and raga guitar solos, and unflashily brilliant bass playing from Mark Leech. Mark Bevis seems to find the perfect beat for things - just listen to the chorus of Julia. The songs are innocent and powerful, on the verge of experience. They still ring true.

Good archive of old cuttings at:

Good discussion at:

Darren Daly’s review for Langley College paper

1 comment:

  1. I like it. That guy Darren Daly sure knew a thing or two. I understand he was a bit of an eighties/nineties 'face' on the Thames Valley music scene. Actually I have it on good authority that he briefly dated Sarah Cracknell of St. Etienne fame too. He's not one to drop names or for self promotion so you won't hear it from him. Love the blog Craig! A real gem of a find. My formative years in Windsor are mentioned on my blog too B-Right-On!