The Country Gentlemen were a Manchester, England-spawned trio (later a quartet) who never quite emerged beyond regional success, despite releasing one influential single of their own and three more as a backing group, plus getting a lot of exposure at various well-known clubs, including the Cavern in Liverpool. They were put together in 1963 by guitarist Peter Cowap, late of the skiffle group the Moonrakers, the rock & roll band Deke Bonner & the Tremors, and Jimmy Justice's backing band. An argument with Justice led Cowap to organize the new group, the name of which came from his own preferred model of Gretsch guitar. With Cowap on lead guitar and vocals, the band's lineup was filled out by his former Tremors bandmate Nick Duval on bass, with Leo Laherty playing drums. They were successful locally playing their brand of R&B-flavored British beat music, and shared a bill with the Beatles -- then a very prominent up-and-coming band -- on at least one occasion in the spring of 1963. Cowap was very much the star of the outfit, a guitarist extraordinaire with a sound that encompassed Buddy Holly-style rockabilly and Chet Atkins' smooth, articulate country playing.
In the spring of 1963, the trio was signed to English Decca and made its debut soon after with a British beat-style rendition of "Greensleeves" (in Cowap's arrangement), backed with "Baby Jean," issued in the late fall of 1963. Although the record failed to chart in England, it apparently inspired several imitators, including the Manchester-based Scorpions and the German group the Lords, who enjoyed hits with similar renditions of the A-side in Holland and Germany, respectively. They also toured England as the backing group for pop/rock vocalist Billie Davis (of "Tell Him" fame). They also went through a succession of rhythm guitarists, including Alan Doyle (later of the Toggery Five) and Terry Morton (formerly of Wayne Fontana & the Jets), who later joined the Scorpions. At one point in 1965, they seemed to have the inside track for access to a new song by Manchester-based composer Graham Gouldman, entitled "Look Through Any Window." But a prior commitment by his publisher to the more established Manchester band the Hollies resulted in their getting first crack at the song, which reached the U.K. Top Five in their version.
The group next appeared as the backing band for female singer Little Frankie on a string of three singles, all written by Gouldman with Charles Silverman and Harvey Lisbert, the management team for Herman's Hermits. Those releases failed to chart -- though Cowap's contact with Silverman and Lisbert would prove fortuitous in the years to come -- and the following year the band lost Nick Duval. He was succeeded by Rod Clare, who had previously played with outfits such as Jerry Lee & the Staggerlees (who later renamed themselves the Emperors of Rhythm), a group best remembered today for the presence of a young Eric Stewart on guitar. They became a quartet with Frank Dwyer on keyboards, and a sextet with Geoff Foot as their last rhythm guitarist. The group soldiered on through 1967, without getting another record issued before calling it quits that year. Peter Cowap went on to work with Gouldman and played with various outfits, including the Downliners Sect and the Tony Jackson Group, and he eventually joined the latter-day Herman's Hermits. ~ Bruce Eder, Rovi
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