Junco Partners were an English rock band from Newcastle, formed as an R&B/beat sextet in 1964. After issuing one single on Columbia in 1965, they underwent a series of lineup shifts, eventually morphing into a four-piece hard-rock/psych band. This iteration released a self-titled album on Barclay in 1970 and disbanded the following year. The nameplate was resurrected in the late 1970s for live gigs and a pair of singles.
Members: Ron Barker (vocals, 1964-68, 1977-2017), George Firman (lead guitar, 1964), Ian Campo (rhythm guitar, 1964), Charlie Harcourt (guitar, vocals, 1964-70), Pete Wallis (keyboards, 1964-66), John Anderson (vocals, 1964-68, 1977-2017), Bob Sargeant (keyboards, vocals, 1966-2017), Dave Sproat (bass), John Woods (drums), Ken Barker (guitar, 1977-2017), Neil Perry (saxophone, 1977-99)
Early Years: Newcastle Mod R&B
Junco Partners formed in 1964 as an R&B sextet in Newcastle, their name derived from the 1952 recording “Junco Partner (Worthless Man)” by American bluesman James Waynes. Vocalist Ron Barker and the rhythm section of bassist Dave Sproat and drummer John Woods played in an earlier band called The Orients.
After the global rise of townsfolk The Animals, the Junco Partners inherited their slots at the Downbeat Club and the Club A’Gogo, two of Tyneside’s leading music haunts. After swapping out their initial guitarists, the band consisted of Barker, Sproat, and Woods, plus guitarist Charlie Harcourt, keyboardist Pete Wallis, and second vocalist John Anderson.
In 1965, the Junco Partners released the single “As Long As I Have You” (b/w “Take This Hammer”) on Columbia. “As Long” consists of a desolate bassline, haunted vocals, and a beaming, echoey guitar note, all swept into a downbeat, minor-key chorus. (It was written by Bob Elgin and Jerry Ragovoy and recorded the prior year by American soul singer Garnet Mimms.) The b-side is a brisk beat raveup in G with wailing harmonica and snarling vocals, akin to The Pretty Things and the Downliners Sect. Photos from this time show the Partners decked in mohair suits and French hair cuts, emblematic of the era’s mod aesthetic (The Who, Small Faces, The Action, etc).
During 1966, the Junco Partners became a regular act at leading venues throughout the northeast, including the El Cubana and the Bluenote Club (Sunderland), the Victoria Hotel and the 45 Club (Whitley Bay), the Redcar Jazz Club and Kirklevington Country Club (Teesside), and the Cellar (South Shields). They also drew crowds in towns throughout Yorkshire (Sheffield, Leeds, Halifax, Bradford). That year, Wallis cleared out for keyboardist Bob Sargeant.
Despite the onslaught of psychedelia and acid rock, the Junco Partners held onto their original identity and stuck to an R&B repertoire during the late 1960s. After Barker and Anderson left the band, Harcourt and Sargeant assumed vocal duties. They played opening slots for The Who, Jethro Tull, Little Richard, Jimi Hendrix, John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers, and a late-stage Yardbirds (just prior to renaming themselves Led Zeppelin).
1969/70: Blues Rock, Junco Partners Album
In 1969, the Junco Partners served as the backing band on UK tours by American blues legends Howlin’ Wolf and Freddie King. Wolf was especially impressed by the seasoned band’s dedication. On the second night of his tour, they played London’s Lyceum Theatre on a triple-bill with Fleetwood Mac and Deep Purple. In light of this exposure throughout the capitol, demand intensified for an album.
The Junco Partners released their singular, self-titled album in 1970 on Philips (UK) and Barclay (France, Canada, Germany). It features seven Sargeant originals, including “Black Widow,” “Help Me.” The album also features covers of songs by Joe Cocker (“Change In Louise”) and Earth Opera (“Death by Fire”). Junco Partners was recorded at De Lane Lea Studios, Holborn; produced by “Fritz” Fryer and engineered by Deep Purple/Fleetwood Mac producer Martin Birch, who also worked on 1970 albums by Beggars Opera, Faces, Steamhammer, Groundhogs, Skin Alley, and Wishbone Ash.
Junco Partners sports three different covers. Philips copies have a black cover with tinted infrared photos of the four members. (Though credited to artist Roger Dean, it bears no resemblance to his signature album art for Yes, Uriah Heep, Greenslade, and Osibisa.) French and Canadian pressings show a silhouette of the band enframed by a watercolor depiction of a sunny hilltop. In Germany, the cover shows an orange set of hands holding a green slingshot, credited to designed J.H. Löffler.
In France, “Change In Louise” and “Fly Me High” were paired on a Barclay 7″.
oon after the album’s release, The Junco Partners initially tried to replace him, but decided to pack things in as a three-piece. In July 1970, the lineup of Sargeant, Sproat, and Woods played their final show at the Mayfair Ballroom in Newcastle. Sargeant joined the Mick Abrahams Band and released a 1974 solo album, First Starring Role.
Reunion, Later Years
In 1977, the regrouped trio reunited with Barker and Anderson. With the additions of guitarist Kenny Barker and saxophonist Neil Perry, the Junco Partners were reborn. They toured the pub and club circuit and issued the 1979 single “Swinging Sixties Boys” (b/w “Peepin’ & Hidin'”) on small-press Rigid Records. In an ode to the then-burgeoning mod revival, the 7″ sleeve sports a vintage 1965 photo of the band (cropped from six to four) in mod regalia.
The Juncos appeared on a 1979 episode of the UK music program Alright Now performing “Bring it On Home to Me” and “Baby What You Want Me to Do” behind fellow Tyneside legend Eric Burdon. In 1981, they released the single “Tall Windows” (b/w “Noizez In My Head”) on Polydor-subsidiary Energy.
For the next four decades, the Junco Partners continued as a northeast live act. During these reunion years, they released the discs ‘Almost’ Live (1996) and Almost Down in New Orleans (2007) on their own Dancing Shoe Records. Their two constants throughout the years were Sproat and Woods, one of the longest-lasting rhythm sections in rock. Junco Partners was first pressed on CD in 2007 by US bootleggers Second Harvest and again in 2014 by UK archivists Aurora.
- “As Long as I Have You” / “Take This Hammer” (1965)
- Junco Partners (1970)
- “Swinging Sixties Boys” / “Peepin’ & Hidin'” (1978)
- “Tall Windows” / “Noizez in My Head” (1981)
- Discogs: Junco Partners
- Ready Steady Gone: Junco Partners
- Chronicle Live: “Iconic Newcastle band the Junco Partners celebrate 50 years“
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