Peter Oliver (real name Larry Oliver) joined the New Seekers in June 1973 as Peter Doyle's replacement. Born in Southampton, England on 15th January 1952, Peter played guitar, bass, piano and organ.
Peter first made a mark in the music business as a fifteen-year-old, recording three singles under the name of Jonny Ross. Based upon his evident talent and good looks Beat Instrumental seemed convinced that he had a bright future ahead of him and posed the question: 'Is Jonny Ross the new Cliff?'
"A good-looking chap, you wouldn't take him for less than 19 and his voice kicked the age estimation scale right out of the window. His first record was played, the voice was that of a mature singer, a pro... Listen to the record, is he the new Cliff? He's certainly off to a good start."(Beat Instrumental No. 52, August 1967).
June Southworth from Fabulous 208, though similarly impressed, was more sceptical: "Stories filter through of massive film deals for Jonny Ross, TV series for Jonny Ross, a gold-plated future on every likely scene for Jonny Ross. But when are we going to see all this bear fruit?" (Fabulous 208, 18th November 1967) The conundrum, and perhaps the reason why all this did not bear fruit, was plain to the young Jonny Ross even before he'd been asked the question.
"I've been doing television shows... but almost every other means of making public appearances proves difficult.
Ballrooms are difficult, because I'm the sort of singer who needs to be listened to. The words really do matter in the songs I sing...
Clubs and cabaret are even more difficult. Being under eighteen, I'm either not allowed to sing because of licensing laws, or find myself singing to audiences
who are predominantly in their mid-twenties or over." (Fabulous 208, 18th November 1967)
In 1969, having failed to find the teen audience that could have made Jonny Ross a star, Peter joined the cast of the musical Hair! as an understudy. Within 18 months he was playing the lead role of Claude!
Following that success, Peter played electric and acoustic guitar with Sunshine, a six-piece group led by Jack Green and Gordon Edwards, who between them wrote all of the songs on Sunshine's 1972 album. The other members of the group were Terry Slade (drums), Ethel Coley and Joanne White, both of whom had also appeared in the London production of Hair!. For a short while after that Peter formed his own group, Succubus. At the time that he auditioned for the New Seekers Peter had abandoned Succubus and was earning a living as a session musician.
After his audition Peter flew out to the United States to join the rest of the New Seekers. There wasn't much time for him to settle in. As Lyn told it to Brian Matthew in 1974: "When he first joined we were working at Disneyland and we only had a 15 minute act. So he learned the 15 minute act first and then ... he's learned [the other] numbers as we've gone along."
Peter recorded four singles with the New Seekers - We've Got To Do It Now, You Won't Find Another Fool Like Me, I Get A Little Sentimental Over You and Sing Hallelujah. He appears on three of their albums - Peter, Paul & Marty, Together and Farewell Album. The power of Peter's voice and his ability to give a dramatic performance are showcased particularly well on the Together album. He gives great gusto to a translated version of Vado Via (originally a hit for Italian singer Drupi) and injects energy and charisma into Neil Diamond's Brother Love's Travelling Salvation Show, a song that Peter also performed in his solo spot on the New Seekers' Farewell Tour.
When the New Seekers split up in May 1974 Peter went solo for a while, recording two singles for RCA and appearing on TV shows such as Lift Off with Ayshea (Granada, 5th November 1974), Magpie and Rock On With 45 (Granada, 14th June 1975). He then joined Paper Lace, best known in the UK for their number 1 hit Billy Don't Be A Hero (in the USA the song was a hit for Bo Donaldson & the Heywoods, though Paper Lace did score a hit on both sides of the Atlantic with their follow-up, The Night Chicago Died). At the time that Peter joined Paper Lace, the line-up included original members Cliff Fish and Phil Wright, plus fellow-newcomer Jamie Moses (ex-Merlin). The aim of the new group was to break free from the old Paper Lace formula, "to do it the way we want to do it" as Phil Wright put it. Speaking in an interview on Radio 1's Newsbeat, he said:
"I think the singles that we had got out put us in a rut from the word go and we became very frustrated at not being able to put material that we particularly liked into the act because people had come to see the singles ... We got very dissatisfied with what we were doing."
Speaking in the same interview, Peter Oliver said:
"I've always had a problem within myself of feeling that people didn't really see me as a musician and I'm out to get a bit of musical credibility."
The 1976 line-up of Paper Lace
featuring Peter Oliver (far left).
Musical credibility was one thing, hit records quite another. The more sophisticated sound of the new Paper Lace did not catch the public's imagination and in 1978 Peter returned to musicals. He recorded a track for the Don Black / Geoff Stephens musical Dear Anyone... and appeared on the soundtrack of the London Studio Cast recording of The Barrier - A Love Story.
Peter has since returned to performing under his real name of Larry Oliver. In 2006 he performed with The Rubettes as the band's lead singer, though he opted not to join the band on a permanent basis. The Rubettes had topped the UK singles chart with Sugar Baby Love on 18th May 1974. The band subsequently had Top 10 hits with Juke Box Jive, I Can Do It and Baby I Know. Following a legal wrangle in 1999 two versions of the band were giiven permission to use The Rubettes name, provided that it was made clear which band was which.- "The Rubettes featuring Alan Williams or The Rubettes featuring Bill Hurd.