Prior to joining the New Seekers Brian had sung with several groups: Mandrake Paddle Steamer, Prowler, Shambles, Limey and Loudspeakers.
Along with guitarist Martin Briley, Brian was one of the founding members of Mandrake Paddle Steamer. The two met at Walthamstow Art College and started putting together a band in 1967. First of all they poached Martin Hooker, a keyboard player with a local "mod" band. Then they found Barry Nightingale, described by Brian as "a convenient drummer with a house out in the country where we could rehearse!" (quoted from The Tapestry Of Delights by Vernon Joynson). Finally, a few days before their first gig supporting Pink Floyd at Walthamstow Art College, they added Paul Riordan to the line-up. He replaced Brian on bass. As Brian told Vernon Joynson: "I was playing bass at the time but I was crap ... it was decided that I was a much better songwriter and lead vocalist, so that's what I became."
Mandrake Paddle Steamer became part of the "psychedelic" scene. They played at colleges and clubs throughout the UK and hosted a regular Sunday night at the Ascard Club (at the Angel Hotel, Stratford). As Paul Riordan describes it on his website: "The band and regular guests like Sam Apple Pie would play and everybody would get heartily stoned." Mandrake Paddle Steamer signed a deal with EMI / Parlophone and released its only UK single, Strange Walking Man, in May 1969. On 2nd June the band promoted the single at the opening night of Friars Aylesbury, a new music club based at the New Friarage Hall, Aylesbury, which soon established itself as one the UK's top progressive rock venues. A second single, which had been used in a minor Swedish film called Skottet, was released in Sweden later the same year.
Brian left Mandrake Paddle Steamer in August 1970 (or thereabouts). The band continued for a while as a foursome, with Riordan and Briley taking over on vocals and David Potts replacing Barry Nightingale on drums. They shortened their name to Mandrake but when Martin Briley also quit the band it was effectively all over.
Late in 1970 Martin Briley and Brian Engel reunited to record an album at George Martin's AIR Studios on Oxford Street. A single, East Of The Sun, West Of The Moon, was issued under the name Corn & Seed Merchants but differences of opinion between the duo and their production team meant that the album which was due to follow never materialised. A second single, Pale Green Vauxhall Driving Man, was released in 1973 under the name Prowler. The lyrics of the single proved to be controversial, partly because of their subject matter (the central character was a child-molester) but mainly because they included mention of a car brand name. The song was re-recorded with a synth sound obliterating the offending word 'Vauxhall' so that the single could be played on the radio.
Their next projects (also short-lived) went under a variety of band names, among them Liverpool Echo, Starbuck and True Adventure. As Briley told Mark A. Johnstone in an interview for the Sweet Floral Albion website: "Mandrake, Corn and Seed Merchants, Prowler, Starbuck, Liverpool Echo, True Adventure ... it was all the same thing to us." Briley then joined Greenslade while Brian tried his luck with Shambles and then with Limey ...
Brian Engel's artwork for the front cover
of the Limey album.
Limey was a five piece band. The other members were: Dave Bowker (bass / guitar / harmonica), Ian Kewley (keyboards / Moog), Robin Le Mesurier (guitar / Moog) and Mac McInerney (drums / percussion). The band recorded two albums for RCA - Limey and Silver Eagle - both of which had a country feel to them. In addition to writing all the songs on the Limey albums, Brian also produced the artwork for the front sleeves.
Among the trio of backing singers on their first album was Stephanie de Sykes, who had a solo hit in the Summer of '74 with Born With A Smile On My Face. De Sykes also co-wrote Eurovision hits with Stuart Slater for Co-Co (Bad Old Days) and Prima Donna (Love Enough For Two).
Guest musicians on their second album included Robin Le Mesurier from the Rod Stewart band and Jim Rodford and Robert Henrit from Argent.
In February 1976 Limey toured the UK with Andy Fairweather-Low, who had just had a Top 10 hit with Wide Eyed And Legless.
4th February - Keele University
6th February - Bradford University
7th February - Sheffield University
8th February - Pavilion, Hemel Hempstead
12th February - Winter Gardens, Bournemouth
13th February - Hull College of Commerce
14th February - Leicester Polytechnic
15th February - Royal Court Theatre, Liverpool
20th February - University of York
21st February - Worcester College of Education
22nd February - Fairfield Hall, Croydon
25th February - Alsager College of Education, Cheshire
27th February -
North Staffs Polytechnic
- Pavilion, Weymouth
29th February - Victoria Palace, London
Limey's second album,
After Limey came Loudspeakers, a band which featured Brian Engel on vocals, along with Ian Gair (keyboards and vocals), Richie Rae (drums), Chris Thomas (guitar, vocals) and Brendan Walsh (bass guitar).
Then came the New Seekers. As Brian described it to Vernon Joynson: "After two albums [with Limey] I was then asked to join a very, very commercial pop band which I did." (quoted from The Tapestry Of Delights by Vernon Joynson). Brought in as Danny Finn's replacement, Brian described what it was like to join the group in an interview with Radio 2 DJ John Dunn:
"There's a set-up, an organisation and traditions that you have to accept. There's a New Seekers' syndrome, if you like to call it that, that you get into ... It was difficult when I first joined because I found that I was inadvertently impersonating Danny."
In 1980 Brian wrote and sang the lead vocal on California Nights - the New Seekers' third and last single for EMI. That same year he also wrote two songs for the Muppet Show - We're So Happy (sung by a mournful group of undertakers) and Oh Lonely Rat.
In the early 1980s, as Brian began to spend more and more of his time in Los Angeles, his place in the New Seekers was gradually filled by Mick Flinn. Brian continued to keep in touch with the group. In 1981 he set up a small record label, Megaphone, with Marty Kristian and Mick Flinn, the three of them recording a single together as The News. In 1985 he made a brief return to the line-up for some live appearances in Bangkok. He also co-wrote and co-produced a Christmas single for the New Seekers, Let The Bells Ring Out Forever.
photographed when he was a member of the
On 14th June 1985 Brian married Liz Chisholm. The New Seekers attended his wedding and performed a few songs at the reception afterwards.
In 1997 Brian sang lead vocal on a CD of line dancing favourites, including Cotton-Eyed Joe (a number 1 for Rednex in 1994), Hangin' on to My Dreams, and High Flying Woman. Brian now runs a successful music copyright company.
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