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DARTS was a nine-strong, energetic doo-wop group whose brand of visual excitement and tight harmonies earned them rave reviews wherever they played. They had a string of chart hits in the late seventies and early eighties and were one of the hardest working bands of that period.

The group was the brainchild of ex-Rocky Sharpe and the Razors' bass singer, Den Hegarty. In 1976 Den pulled together other former Rocky Sharpe vocalists Griff Fender and Rita Ray plus their sax player Horatio Hornblower, with former members of the John Dummer Blues Band. Bass guitarist, Thump Thomson (who had also played with Rocky Sharpe for a short while), John Dummer on drums and lead guitarist, George Currie had been a tight unit in the aforementioned blues outfit, recording four albums for Mercury, Philips and Vertigo. Blues pianist Hammy Howell and ex-Mickey Jupp Band singer Bob Fish completed the line-up.

Darts began by playing the pub, club and university circuit, where they soon built up a large following. Their unique style which combined first rate musicianship, intricate vocal acrobatics and a larger-than-life stage show, made them stand head and shoulders above other acts on the circuit at that time.

Their break came when they appeared on Charlie Gillett's 'Honky Tonk Demos' show on BBC Radio London on Sunday 24th October 1976. So impressed by what he heard, Charlie (together with music agents Bob and Natasha England) helped the band secure a record deal. They signed to Magnet in 1977 recording fresh, exciting versions of fifties hits.

Just before their first single was released (a medley of The Ray's 'Daddy Cool' and Little Richard's 'The Girl Can't Help It'), Darts played a half hour set from the bandstand at Clapham Common which was broadcast live for the Honky Tonk Summer Party on 11th September 1977. Over the next three years Darts reached the Top Twenty eight times.

When we look back at the substantial success that Darts had in those early years, it's easy to forget that this was the late '70s when the punk invasion was at its height. At a time when anarchy was the order of the day; when screaming distorted vocals, and the ability to keep singing while being gobbed at was requisite for any credible act, out stepped a group of nine sharply dressed and amazingly talented musicians, giving a fresh twist to a vocal style that hadn't been around for more than 20 years. Indeed doo-wop had never been big in the UK. In the '50s and early '60s we didn't produce our own vocal groups and with very few exceptions (such as Dion & The Belmonts and Frankie Lymon & The Teenagers) the American doo-woppers made little impact on the UK charts.

 

Certainly the humour Darts injected into their live performance played a big part in their appeal. Whilst they appeared not to take themselves too seriously, it was obvious to everyone who saw them that they were all extremely capable and talented musicians. Their success was not restricted to the UK and their forte as a live attraction was proven again and again with countless gigs and tours in Europe as well as America and Japan.

By way of a testament to their musical prowess, here's what Cliff White of the NME wrote in August 1977. "Halfway through the (Darts) set, it was pointed out to me that a well-known gent about town who rejoices in the pseudonym of Johnny Rotten was standing within spitting distance of the back of my head and seemed to be enjoying the show. Good for him and good for Darts."

After the self-penned ballad 'It's Raining' became one of their biggest hits, Den Hegarty left and was replaced by American-born Kenny Andrews. Hammy Howell also left the group (though he rejoined for a brief spell in 1979) and was replaced by Mike Deacon. The hits continued with a revival of Gene Chandler's 'Duke Of Earl' (1979) but the Four Seasons' song 'Let's Hang On' (1980) was to be their final top 20 success.

Unquestionably, Kenny Andrews had a fantastic, rich, deep and disciplined voice, and was an excellent replacement for Den. It must also be recorded that all the musicians and vocalists who were part of the Darts phenomenon were superb. However, the dynamics of the group undoubtedly changed with Den's departure and they lost that edge of excitement and unpredictability that the public loved. Despite only being with Darts for three of their nine years, ask anyone who was around in the '70s if they remember the band and, chances are, they'll say 'didn't they have a mad, bulging-eyed bass singer?'

In 1980 Darts were in dispute with Magnet records, resulting in a restraint on the release of any new material. The band decided to concentrate on the American market, and toured extensively throughout the States during 1981. To promote their tour they recorded the album 'Across America' and a USA-exclusive single 'Sad and Lonely' but unfortunately Darts failed to break the American market.

John Dummer, George Currie and Bob Fish had left during 1980 and had been replaced by Nosmo King (real name Keith Gotheridge); Rob Davis (ex-Mud, who was later replaced by Duncan Kerr) and Stan Alexander (later replaced by Pikey Butler) respectively.

In 1983 Darts began a new career in the theatre, appearing in 'Yakey Yak' alongside the four McGann brothers. This was a musical based on the songs of Leiber and Stoller and ran in the West End to critical acclaim. Not only did the band appear as both actors and musicians, they also handled the musical direction. This was the first time that an established band had starred in the West End and the show sold out for six months, garnering a mass of excellent TV, radio and press reviews. By this stage Mike Deacon had left and had been replaced by James Compton.

In 1983 Darts split from Magnet and set up their own label 'Choicecuts'. They released half a dozen singles on the label, altering their style and sound to accommodate the changing tastes of the record buying public. Sadly they were unable to recapture the excitement and spark of their earlier incarnation and only their final release 'Blow Away' reached the Top 100 in 1985. Darts also made their last TV appearance in 1985 on 'Saturday Live' hosted by Lenny Henry. By this stage Kenny Andrews had left the band and Lenny Henry took over bass vocal duty.

Darts success was not insignificant. During their career, they spent 117 weeks in the UK single charts, 57 weeks in the album charts and were awarded two silver and three gold singles, plus three gold and one platinum album (per The Guiness Books of British Hit Singles and Hit Albums). In 1978 Darts sold more concert tickets in the UK than any other artist.

To date, none of their original vinyl albums have ever been reissued on CD. Flick though any music encyclopaedia of seventies music and you'd be hard pushed even to find mention of Darts. Where they do appear, their albums are given ludicrously low ratings. But thumbing through pages and pages of newspaper clippings about Darts (as I have been doing researching for this site) almost without exception, reviews of their live shows at the time are outstanding, and their album ratings are consistently high.

Look for Darts music and memorabilia on Ebay and you'll see that people are clamouring for it. So why, when the public obviously has such affection and strength of feeling for the band, have the music historians chosen to wipe the memory of Darts from the record books?

I believe, in part, it is because music historians feel that the late seventies can only be associated with punk - a time of rebellion which filled our lives with such iconic images, that by admitting anything else half decent could possibly have been around at the same time, would upset their story telling. To acknowledge other influential styles of music of the day would be to water down the impact that punk had on a generation. Whatever the reason, it is a terrible injustice that Darts should be treated in this way.

Searching the web for information on Darts for my own personal interest, I was astonished at how little existed. I set about creating this website in an effort to help give Darts some of the recognition they deserve, and in the hope that their loyal fans might enjoy what I've done.

Jon Pannaman

Acknowledgments

Sincere thanks to Thump for the great research material; to Bob Fish and Julian Howell for the photos and information, and to Horace, Rita, Griff, George, John and Den for your help and enthusiasm.

A special note of thanks must go to Phil the Darts guru, acappella fanatic and all round jolly nice bloke, for putting me in touch with the original band members, for providing me with regular pearls of wisdom and for singing doo-wop down the phone at me at every opportunity.

Finally thanks to all those who served in Darts between 1976 and 1985 for leaving behind some truly happy memories and loads of fantastic tunes.