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The Eagles

The Eagles -- not to be confused with the 1970s California band of that name -- started out in Bristol, England at the end of the '50s. Terry Clarke (lead guitar), Johnny Payne (rhythm guitar), Michael Brice (bass), and Rod Meacham (drums) were all students at Connaught Road School, and they took the group name from the Eagle House Youth Club, to which they all belonged. The quartet played local dances, parties, and bingo halls, often passing the hat to be paid. A pivotal moment came with their appearance at Royal Festival Hall in 1962, in the final round of the Rhythm Group of the Year competition. They were seen there by composer Ron Grainer, who liked what he heard and had a particular project in mind for them -- he had to write the score for a movie built around the Duke of Edinborough's anti-juvenile delinquency youth club project, entitled Some People. The movie was to be shot in Bristol, and already a local singer named Valerie Mountain had been selected for the soundtrack -- this band, from a youth club in Bristol, seemed perfect, both for the film and the score he envisioned.

No one was more astonished than the members themselves. And it only got better when Grainer got them a recording contract with Pye Records. An EP of the soundtrack to Some People reached number two and remained on those listings for 21 weeks. The band debut single, "Bristol Express" b/w "Johnny's Tune," was released in June of that year, and while it never charted, the reaction was promising. By the fall of that year, though they hadn't charted a single, the band suddenly found themselves the most visible instrumental group in England other than the Shadows. And prospects only got brighter in 1963, when they were on a package tour playing backup to Johnny Tillotson and Del Shannon, who was so impressed with them that he wanted the Eagles as his permanent backing band. Finally, in August of 1963, they got out their first LP, Smash Hits from the Eagles.

The group seemed headed for another good year in 1964, and then Ron Grainer, who had guided their careers and their music for two years, was literally struck blind. Although he survived and would continue to write excellent music, his career as their producer was ended. His loss proved crucial, and by the end of 1964, by which time Meacham had succumbed to an unrelated mental breakdown, the band had called it quits. The members went their separate ways, Payne and Brice returning to Bristol, while Terry Clarke continued to work in London, and later passed through the lineup of Pickettywitch before moving to America. The band's music was reissued on CD in the '90s, and since then has received attention from renewed interest in the movie Some People, which is now regarded as something of a '60s cultural artifact. ~ Bruce Eder

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