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New City Sounds had the X-Factor; Nostalgia:PETE CHAMBERS'S BACKBEAT - a weekly look at the local music scene of the past.


THE area has a proud history of show/club bands, like Smakee, The Pat Gissane Showman and our featured group today the New City Sounds, who came to fame as two-time winners of the hit TV show Opportunity Knocks.

Coming together in 1969 at the old West End Club (now the HQ of Mercia FM), Led by Frank Dempsey the band became a permanent fixture at the free and easy weekends.

The future looked bright, that was until Mick Hayes died from electrocution on stage and the band came close to calling it a day.

During this painful time original members Frank Dempsey and Arthur Griffith got to thinking that Mick wouldn't have wanted them to stop playing, it was their life. So the guys re-grouped and reinvented the New City Sounds.

They came back bigger and better with new members Barry and Angie O'Keefe, Pete Smith and Lenny Barrett. The band had a new sound and began making their mark not just in Coventry and Warwickshire but also all over the country like Leeds and Manchester. Angie brought some glamour to the band, and with her great voice and good looks became an obvious focal point of the group.

The big TV talent show of the day was Opportunity Knocks, long before Pop Idol and The X-Factor this show was discovering talent in a major way, and any self-respecting artiste would at least audition to be on the show.

New City Sounds not only auditioned for the show but actually got to be on it and won it twice, also returning for the All Winners Show.

I asked Arthur Griffith about the Opportunity Knocks experience. "It was just a great experience for us, I remember Frank Dempsey saying to me: 'I've waited years for this to happen', as we stood by the voting board with our name lit up on it.

"It was absolutely brilliant, when we got back home we were like stars, everyone wanted to talk to us, I had people talking to me who I had never met. I remember our triumphant return to the Parkstone Club after the show. We packed the place out, it was sensational."

Life had suddenly changed for the band, they were now a "successful, as-seen-on-TV band" and they were packing the Parkstone out every time they played there.

They were voted top band in the Irish polls, and their van with their name on the side always received a lot of attention with people waving and saying hello.

They played nationwide and supported the likes of Pickerty Witch, The New Vaudeville Band, and even shared fish and chips with the Bay City Rollers.

Shortly after the TV success, for whatever reason members Barry and Angie O'Keefe left the band, Barry formed the highly successful Las Vegas Showband and Angie joined the Miki Most Empire under the name Angie Miller. She release two unsuccessful singles Born to be Loved by You and Stardust in Your Eyes. And an album entitled A Woman's Mind.

Arthur said: "I remember we did a demo for a song that was passed on to us, it was called Lost in France, a little while after Angie had left I heard the song on the radio, I was convinced it was Angie singing it, of course, it turned out to be Bonnie Tyler."

Meanwhile New City Sounds had taken on new members including Tony Pyatt. I asked Tony how he felt "cold-calling" on a band that had won Opportunity Knocks?

"I came in at the deep end, I was petrified - it was unreal," he said.

The band continued to tour until Arthur and Tony joined the Internationals, Tony who had just missed out on Opportunity Knocks success was delighted when this new band passed the audition to appear on the show, fate sadly intervened and just as Tony was about to fulfil his ambition the show was permanently cancelled.

Tony and Arthur continued to play and tour and finally joined the band Parade marking a 20-year partnership.

Pop Trivia - NEW CITY SOUNDS BAND leader Frank Dempsey is the father of local folk guru Kevin Dempsey.

THE song they won Opportunity Knocks with was Stop the World and Let me Off. It was recorded at Midland Sound Recorders in Balsall Common.

THE name New City Sounds was inspired by a loaf of bread called the New City Loaf.


OVERNIGHT SUCCESS... New City Sounds (top) and (above left) two- time winners of popular TV show Opportunity Knocks and (above right) former members Tony Pyatt and Arthur Griffith today.
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:Coventry Evening Telegraph (England)
Date:Jan 10, 2006
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