The Fivepenny Piece

About The Fivepenny Piece

The Fivepenny Piece was -- not surprisingly -- a quintet from Lancashire who saw considerable success in England during the 1970s, as part of the television pop/rock scene; they sounded like a '70s version of the Seekers with more of a pop bent, and for their trouble, they got to record a baker's dozen of LPs and a comparable string of singles across the decade. And although none of the latter were chart hits, they still managed to sell a lot of albums, mostly by virtue of their television exposure. They'd started with far less ambitious goals in mind -- indeed, with no real goals at all except to entertain the audience in front of them. In 1968 at a golf club in Ashton-under-Lyne, in East Lancashire, John Meeks (guitar, vocals), his sister Lynda Meeks (vocals), and their friend Eddie Crotty (guitar, vocals) did a few folk songs as a trio that went over very well; a few weeks later, they'd added George Radcliffe (bass, vocals) and his brother Colin Radcliffe (guitar, vocals) to their ranks, and were rehearsing a great deal at John Meeks' home. The noise and the interruption of electrical power to her freezer caused Meeks' wife Margaret to insist that they find another place to rehearse, which led them to a back room at a local hotel, where they were heard (and liked) by enough people that they ended up getting booked at the same hotel. The booking was for Wednesday nights, and so they became "the Wednesday Folk," which more or less characterized their repertory as well. From there it was on to winning a television talent competition, which brought the group to the attention of the BBC. They were not only featured on the network, but became the subject of a documentary film about their formation, which also led to their being renamed the Fivepenny Piece.
The BBC appearance got the group signed to one of the top talent agencies in the country, and soon after that to a contract with EMI. Although their early singles, such as "Hang the Flag Out Mrs. Jones," failed to chart, their debut album, which included many of the songs that went over best in their live performances, was well received critically and commercially. It was the group's second album, however, entitled Makin' Tracks, that marked their real breakthrough, reaching the Top 40 in England despite no hit single to drive its sales. Two years later, their album King Cotton rose into the Top 10, the quintet's crowning commercial achievement. All of these successes were fostered by the Fivepenny Piece's regular appearances on various television programs, which gave them the exposure necessary to build an audience, even without the benefit of hit songs. Musically, they sounded a bit like the Seekers, Lynda Meeks' clear, powerful soprano voice backed by the others recalling Judith Durham and company from the previous decade. The group subsequently left EMI for a stay on the Philips label, although by then recording was less central to their work than television performances, mixing their folk sound with traditional pop elements and a fair amount of humor as well. The resulting repertory made them sort of an English answer to the latter-day Serendipity Singers or New Christy Minstrels, except that they were purely an English phenomenon, owing to their overall sound and the elements special to Lancashire displayed in many of their lyrics.
The group's success faded as the 1970s wore on, and by the early '80s John and Lynda Meeks departed from the lineup to take up work in their family's business; they were succeeded by Trevor Chance and Andrea Mullins, but the group's moment had passed by then and in 1985 they called it quits. Eddie Crotty also went into business away from music, although he and George Radcliffe (who passed away in 2002) occasionally formed the core of a reactivated lineup of the Fivepenny Piece for live appearances. The group is fondly remembered in England, and in 2006 EMI released The Collection, a 23-song CD featuring highlights from their recordings for the label. ~ Bruce Eder


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