A talented singer and songwriter, Peter Doyle joined the New Seekers at the same time as Lyn Paul (1970). Peter's songwriting brought a touch of sophistication to the New Seekers' early albums. His songs included tender ballads such as I Can Say You're Beautiful (written about Lyn Paul) and Lay Me Down (which Peter wrote for her); contemplative songs such as Move Me Lord; and heavier rock numbers like Boom Town and Cincinnati. Peter's powerful vocals gave the New Seekers' sound an edge which often threatened to take them out of the cosy world of close harmonies. With Peter as a member of the group there was certainly no danger of them being mistaken for the original Seekers.
Peter's songwriting talents were first showcased on the New Seekers' album Beautiful People, which included his song Cincinnati. Subsequent studio albums up to and including the last one he recorded with them - The New Seekers Now - all featured at least one of his songs. New Colours featured three - Boom Town, Move Me Lord and Lay Me Down; Circles featured two - Unwithered Rose and I'll Be Your Song; while We'd Like To Teach The World To Sing and Now included just one apiece.
Peter Doyle was born in Abbotsford, Melbourne at 1.00am on 28th July 1949. His parents, Jack and Jean, soon realised that they had a singer in the family. As Greg Lynch tells it:
"At the age of three it had become obvious that Peter liked to sing, Davey Crocket that is, over and over at the top of his voice, as he pushed relentlessly towards the heavens on the family swing in the back yard of his South Melbourne home ... For Jean and Jack Davey Crocket thankfully became a memory as Pete joined the Victorian Banjo Club, mastering the banjo while later graduating to guitar, in which he developed a fearsome ability."
No surprise then that Peter started out in the music business when he was just a youngster. As a nine-year-old he appeared on a television talent show called Swallow's Juniors (Judith Durham of The Seekers also made her television début on this show). Peter won his heat, then the series and was invited to become a resident artist on the show. When hew was interviewed in 1968 Mac Irvine, the producer of Swallows Juniors, said of Peter:
"I spotted Peter when he was only nine! I always knew he had a great deal of potential.
He started off with a very good voice, and worked very hard on it.
He worked harder than all the other kids around him, and took his work so seriously, that I knew he just had to be a success. He was one of our brightest little stars." (Go-Set, Wednesday, 20th March 1968, page 6)
Brian Naylor, the compère of Sallows Juniors, said of him:
"Peter possessed an ability to put a lot of personality behind every song he sang. He had his feet on the ground, and a very sensible approach towards his work." (Go-Set, Wednesday, 20th March 1968, page 6)
At 14, whilst still at school, Peter was performing in Sunday afternoon pop shows at Melbourne's Festival Hall and by the time he was 16 he'd already got himself a record deal.
On 4th August 1964 Peter appeared on the first episode of The Go!! Show, a Melbourne-produced teen-oriented pop show, initially hosted by British entertainer Alan Field. Appearing with him on that first programme were: Bobby Bright, Colin Buckley, April Byron, Colin Cook, Buddy England, Betty McQuade, Joan Mifsud, The Strangers and Ian Turpie. The show ran for over three years, ending after 222 episodes on 17th September 1967. Peter was a regular guest on the show, appearing on 53 episodes, including the last one. The other guests on the final show were: Yvonne Barrett, Bobby Bright, The Cherokees, Denise Drysdale, Buddy England, The Groop, Marcie Jones, Little Pattie (Patricia Amphlett), Normie Rowe, The Strangers and The Twilights.
Between 1965 and 1967 Peter released eight solo singles in Australia, six for the Sunshine label (backed by The Phantoms) and two more for Astor (backed by Grandma's Tonic). Peter's first two singles were Top 20 hits: His début single, a cover of Conway Twitty's Speechless (The Pick Up) made it to number 14. The follow-up, Stupidity, peaked at number 11. Subsequent releases did not do as well. They included a cover of the song Watcha Gonna Do About It, which got to number 35 and a cover of The Platters' classic Great Pretender (a number 22 for Peter in January 1966). All four of his hits were included on an album released in August 1966, accurately but unimaginatively titled Peter's 1st Album.
Peter released two more singles for the Sunshine label, neither of which were included on his LP - Something You Got Baby (released in May 1966) and Mr. Good Time (released in November 1966). By the end of 1966 the label's parent company, Sunshine Productions, had run into financial problems. The label was taken over by Festival Records, with whom Sunshine had a manufacturing and distribution deal. Peter's Sunshine recordings were subsequently re-released on Festival compilations such as The Festival File and The Festival 'All Star' Parade.
Peter switched to the Astor record label and two further singles followed in 1967 - If You Can Put That In A Bottle and a cover of Neil Sedaka's Plastic Dreams And Toy Balloons. The latter went down particularly well in Peter's home town. According to the sleeve notes from a CD released in 2001, with the unfortunate title Buried But Not Dead: "This great single was underrated throughout Australia. But the Melbourne radio stations gave it a good go, and it climbed to number 17 on the charts." Nine months after its release, record producer David Joseph said of the single: "I think his last record Plastic Dreams And Toy Balloons was probably the finest record that's been put out in Australia for a long time. Peter has got a great voice!" (Go-Set, Wednesday, 20th March 1968, page 6) Notwithstanding Peter's change of label, Bill Duff of Festival Records also held Peter in high regard:
"When Peter was recording for us, I found him very easy to work with.
If all artists were as easy to work with as Peter, my job would be simple.
As for Peter's talent, when I saw him working live, in little halls with no amplification, I was knocked out! I realised what an incredible singer he was, as well as a good showman!" (Go-Set, Wednesday, 20th March 1968, page 6)
In 1968, when his solo hits had dried up, Peter joined a new trio called the Virgil Brothers. The other members were Rob Lovett and Malcolm McGee, both of whom had previously been members of a Melbourne-based group called the Wild Cherries. Peter's Sunshine label-mate Mick Hadley (ex-Purple Hearts) had originally joined them as the third member of the trio but quit after only a few weeks rehearsal. The Virgil Brothers made their début on Tuesday, 4th June at a launch event for DJs, promoters and journalists at Menzies Hotel, Melbourne. Their performance was recorded by Melbourne radio station 3UZ and broadcast as an hour-long special the following Sunday. That was also the day that the Virgil Brothers gave their first public performance, joining other acts including The Mixtures and Marcie Jones & The Cookies at Melbourne’s Festival Hall for a charity show headlined by Johnny Farnham. During the remaining six months of the year the Virgil Brothers made many more live appearances in Australia and also appeared on television, including a guest slot on Uptight (Jardine Productions) hosted by Ross D. Wyllie (19th October 1968).
Dubbed Australia's answer to the Walker Brothers, the Virgil Brothers released two singles, Temptation's 'Bout To Get Me and Here I Am. At the beginning of 1969 McGee left the band and was replaced by Danny Robinson (Robinson had also been a member of the Wild Cherries though not at the same time as McGee and Lovett). In an interview with Marion Swann the revised line-up rebuffed any comparisons with the Walker Brothers: "The only connection between us and the Walkers is the 'brothers' on the end of the name." Peter Doyle added: "The Walker Brothers fill out their sound with extra instruments. We use the other two voices" (The Telegraph (Brisbane), 20th January 1969).
On 12th February 1969 the Virgil Brothers headed for England. Their plan, as Danny Robinson stated it, was clear: "We're allowing ourselves roughly six months... If by that time nothing's happened, we'll pack it all in." Not long after their arrival they appeared as guests on Joe Brown's television show Set 'Em Up, Joe! (LWT, Saturday, 12th July 1969, 6.50pm). The trio released a third and final single, When You Walk Away, before Peter did exactly that. As Danny Robinson had foretold: "We won't be coming back to Australia with our tails between our legs to start all over again. The Virgils will just be no more" (The Telegraph (Brisbane), 20th January 1969).
The Virgil Brothers
featuring Peter Doyle (far right).
In 1970 Peter joined the New Seekers. Success soon followed when the New Seekers had a Top 10 hit in the USA with What Have They Done To My Song, Ma. From then on the hits kept coming. Among them: I'd Like To Teach The World To Sing (on which Peter sings the distinctive refrain "For peace throughout the land"), Beg, Steal Or Borrow (the UK's Eurovision entry in 1972 on which Peter shared the lead vocal with Lyn Paul), Circles (the lead vocal shared this time with Eve Graham) and, from 1973, the New Seekers' cover of Pete Townshend's Pinball Wizard / See Me, Feel Me (which featured Peter and Marty Kristian on lead vocals).
Disillusioned by the fame game, Peter left the New Seekers in 1973 to pursue a solo career as a singer-songwriter. His final single with the group was the aptly titled Goodbye Is Just Another Word. Peter's disillusionment showed through in the lyrics of his song Sailor Man, which begins with the line "They took me for a ride" and ends with a warning to other would-be pop stars:
So if you are young
Don't let your mother be strung
On the way that you can play guitar.
Stay at your school,
Don't be a rock 'n' roll fool.
In the end your lawyer is the star.
Compare Peter's lyrics with Lyn Paul's comments in a radio interview. Asked if she'd made a fortune with the New Seekers, Lyn replied:
"Absolutely not, no! ... We started off on a £50 a week salary. And when we had 'I'd Like To Teach The World To Sing' in the charts we got £100 a week. And then every so often when we kicked up a bit of a fuss ... we'd get given, say £1,000, to go and buy clothes."
But whereas Lyn is characteristically matter of fact about it all, Peter's lyrics have an added bitterness and cynicism about them:
They dressed me up fine
In a little Saville Row line
And told me I could do the rest .
Here's your advance,
We're sorry it's not much
But wait for your PRS.
© Copyright Peter Doyle Music / Heath Levy Music Ltd.
(RCA publicity photograph).
Shortly after Peter had left the New Seekers, Polydor released Rusty Hands Of Time as a solo single. The B-side, And So In Life, was one of his own compositions. Peter had actually recorded these tracks whilst he was still with the New Seekers and later that year (1973) both songs appeared on a New Seekers' compilation album.
Meanwhile, Peter kept the bills at bay by recording advertising jingles for Ribena and Sugar Puffs. He provided the vocal for a children's single, Jungle Ted and the Laceybuttonpoppers and also sang backing vocals on Lyn Paul's 1975 single It Oughta Sell A Million. Once Peter had found a manager and record company (RCA) who would not promote him as an "ex-New Seeker", he began his solo career again in earnest.
Peter recorded an album, Skin Deep, with Alan Tarney and Trevor Spencer and issued two singles for RCA in 1976. The first was a cover of the Easybeats' Friday On My Mind, the second the title track from his album. He issued another two singles in 1980 on the Limelight label, one of which, Do You Wanna Make Love, had also been released as a single by a later line-up of the New Seekers.
Peter characterised his solo work as "not too heavy, not too light - slightly countrified in blue jeans." Although it did not bring him the commercial success he had known with the New Seekers, it gave him the freedom of expression and creative fulfillment he had sought after.
Peter returned to Australia in 1981 where he worked briefly with a band called Standing Room Only. That same year ex-Monkee Davy Jones had the first of several solo hit singles in Japan with It's Now, a song co-written with Peter Doyle.
The following year (1982) Peter received an offer from his former house-mate Ricky Hitchcock, asking him if he'd like to join the group Regis. The group's line-up also included Steve Holly (formerly the drummer with Paul McCartney's group Wings). Peter accepted and flew over to the United States. The band recorded one album which was never released.
In 1983, while in Miami, Peter married Jane Garner, whom he had first met in 1977. The couple moved to London for a while, then returned to Australia, settling down together at Jeralee - a 20 hectare property in Muckleford, where they kept a small vineyard, ran boarding kennels and bred dogs. Friends say that this was the period of his life when Peter found the greatest fulfillment.
Peter continued to perform on the cabaret and club circuit in Australia, playing with the likes of Big John Cartwright, Colin Cook, Allison Durbin, Marcie Jones, Les Stacpool and Rob McPhearson (Peter and Rob were billed on their promotional material as "the legendary Doyle and McPhearson"). In 1986, while on a six week visit "down under", Marty Kristian of the New Seekers went to see him perform. His verdict: fantastic - and Peter's voice still star of the show.
During the 1980s Peter also formed a rock band called Skinflick, which featured Neil Gray on bass and backing vocals. Years later Gray made some of Skinflick's live recordings available on his MySpace page, notably Bad To Me and Goin' Down, both of which were recorded at the Strand Hotel, Newport, Victoria. Gray also remastered the tracks for Peter Doyle's posthumously-released album Rarities. He paid tribute to Peter as "a good friend, tutor and inspiration to me."
In 1986 Peter provided the soundtrack for a sex documentary by film-maker Greg Lynch. Two years later he wrote and performed the music for another of Lynch's films, Arigato Baby.
In the latter half of the 1990s Greg Lynch got the Virgil Brothers together again to play some gigs in Australia. At Alison Wilson's Sixties Superstars Concert at the Glass House, Peter not only performed with the group but also sang some of his solo numbers. Lynch describes it as "a night of triumphant recognition for a lifetime of achievement in music, by both the public and his contemporaries."
At the age of 52, after a two year battle with throat cancer, Peter died on the evening of 13th October 2001 in Castlemaine, Victoria. He is buried at Muckleford Cemetery. There is a plaque on his gravestone featuring a guitar. Engraved on its neck is the melody of I'd Like To Teach The World To Sing.
Two and a half years after his death a CD of Peter's solo recordings was released in Australia. Titled Rarities, the CD was launched at Kingston City Hall, Victoria on 29th May 2004 at an event that featured live performances by Slammin' Sam De Petro & Jumpin' Jive, special guest Betty McQuade and the final performance of the Premiers.
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