Denny Laine lead vocal, guitar (left in 1964)
Phil Ackrill guitar, vocal
Bev Bevan drums
Dave Wheeland bass guitar (left in 1962)
Steve Horton bass guitar (joined in 1962)
Nicky James lead vocal (joined in 1962 – left in 1963)
Mike Hopkins guitar (joined in 1964)
Jim Onslow vocal (joined in 1964)
The Diplomats were one of the most well known of all the Brumbeat acts
that never had any record releases, although some of the members would later become part of two of the most successful and influential groups to come out of Birmingham in the 1960s.
Beverley “Bev” Bevan was born on November 25, 1945 and grew up in Sparkhill, Birmingham. He learned to play the drums while a teenager and formed a band with some friends at Moseley Grammar School in the early 1960s. The line-up included guitarists Phil Ackrill and Tony Lewis with vocalist Ronnie Smith. Bev Bevan’s school friend Bobby Davis, who lived in Acocks Green, occasionally appeared as vocalist
but more often helped out as a roadie and general supporter.
The group’s first appearance was at the Hall Green Youth Club. They originally performed mostly instrumental numbers as being influenced by acts like The Shadows.
Bobby Davis would eventually go on to become a professional comedian
and enjoy much success when he changed his name to “Jasper Carrott”.
After trying out different names, the group became known as Ronnie and The Senators and started to get bookings around Birmingham, including regular appearances at the infamous Las Vegas Coffee Bar near the city centre. After leaving school, Bev Bevan started work at “The Beehive” department store in central Birmingham and it was while working there in 1962 that he met Brian Hines, a young and ambitious singer/guitarist who was looking for a competent and committed band to perform as his backing group.
Brian Hines was born 29th October 1944 and lived in Holcombe Road, Tyseley.
A talented singer, one of his earliest groups was Johnny Dean & The Dominators
who played regularly at The Mermaid pub on Stratford Road.
The Dominators also included drummer Tim Bellamy and guitarists Tony Elson and Dave Wheeland. “Johnny Dean” was an early alias for Brian who worked in the electrical department at Rackhams by day but he had ambitions to “turn professional” and soon convinced Bev Bevan and Phil Ackrill from The Senators to join his new backing group. Brian changed his name to “Denny Laine” and his group was to be called “The Diplomats”.
The Diplomats were joined by bass guitarist Dave Wheeland from Denny’s old group The Dominators. The Diplomats were well received on the local live circuit and began to undertake many bookings in the Birmingham area.
Denny Laine also started to compose original songs for the group, although back in those days, it was rare for unsigned groups to perform their own material on stage.
Dave Wheeland later left the Diplomats to go to Australia and he was replaced by Steve Horton.
As a publicity attempt, the Diplomats all bleached their hair blond and also aquired a van on which they painted the name “DENNY LAINE AND THE DIPLOMATS”.
The group were now able to go to more bookings outside of Birmingham
and occasionally venture into London.
It was at about this time that the EMI Record Company showed some interest in the group a nd signed them to a contract. Although a number of songs were recorded under the direction of John Birch (who had also produced Freddie And The Dreamers) nothing by Denny Laine and The Diplomats was released on record and this was to be a continuing source of frustration to Denny Laine who had his sight set on the “big time”.
One evening when the Diplomats were performing in Scunthorpe, they were approached by a young Elvis look-alike known as Nicky James who persuaded the group to back him while he performed a few songs.
Denny Laine was so impressed by the performance that he immediately asked the singer to join the Diplomats and so the group became “NICKY JAMES with DENNY LAINE and THE DIPLOMATS”. Coincidentally, Nicky James was also from the West Midlands
and had grown up in the Black Country town of Tipton.
The Diplomats featuring Nicky James
It was after Nicky James joined the line-up that the Diplomats were auditioned by well known producer Tony Hatch from the Pye record company in early 1963.
The group were able to go to London and record some songs including an original composition of Denny Laine’s titled Forever And A Day for possible single release.
Unfortunately, the Diplomats were later informed by Pye Records that a contract
would not be forthcoming although the group may have felt some consolation
by later playing support as opening act for The Beatles at The Plaza Ballroom at Old Hill.
Later in 1963, Nicky James was offered a recording contract with Pye Record s and this effectively ended his association with Denny Laine & The Diplomats.
The Diplomats carried on as a four-piece group and for a short time had local singer Buddy Ash as Nicky James’ replacement, but although they had plenty of bookings and occasional appearances on local TV, singer Denny Laine grew ever more restless at the groups’ lack of commercial success.
By early 1964 when he was not appearing with the Diplomats, Denny Laine was rehearsing with a new group in Birmingham called The R&B Preachers – soon to become the Moody Blues – and by May of that year he had left the Diplomats for good to concentrate on the new project. The Moody Blues after being signed to Decca Records,
would enjoy worldwide fame by the end of 1964 with their classic recording of Go Now
climbing to number one in the record charts (see The Moody Blues).
The Diplomats decided to carry on with replacements; singer Jim Onslow from Park Hill Road, Harbourne, and guitarist Mike Hopkins, both who had been members of Gerry Levene and The Avengers. Although the Diplomats continued to play bookings throughout the Midlands area, the effects from the loss of Denny Laine as frontman and driving force became ever more apparent and the group began to lose direction.
By the end of 1964,the Diplomats threw in the towel and split up with Phil Ackrill retiring from the music scene and Jim Onslow forming another group, while Bev Bevan joined Carl Wayne and The Vikings for a German tour in early 1965 (see Carl Wayne and The Vikings). Steve Horton later joined Keith Powell’s backing group The Valets.
Bev Bevan eventually found fame as drummer for The Move and was also a founding member of the Electric Light Orchestra which became one of the most successful rock groups of the 1970’s. Mike Hopkins became a member of the Birmingham group Lemon Tree and in 1970, replaced Jeff Lynne in the Idle Race.
Although Denny Laine left the Moody Blues in 1966 for a solo career, he would eventually join up with Paul and Linda McCartney by 1970 to become a founding member of Wings, a group that would enjoy 10 years of international success. Denny Laine co-wrote with Paul McCartney the song Mull Of Kintyre which became one of the UK’s biggest selling hit singles of all time.
With Special Thanks to
Copyright© John R Woodhouse
Compiled by Keith Law