Lee Sheriden shares his Eurovision memories and talks life in Beaconsfield
PUBLISHED: 16:33 26 May 2016 | UPDATED: 16:33 26 May 2016
Forty years after their Eurovision win, Beaconsfield's Brotherhood of Man member Lee Sheriden shares memories with Peter Robertson
This year’s Eurovision Song Contest had special significance for a certain great-grandfather from Beaconsfield. In 1976, Lee Sheriden was a member of Brotherhood Of Man, the UK entry which won by the highest score in the event’s 60-year history with Save Your Kisses For Me, the biggest-selling Eurovision song ever.
Forty years on, Brotherhood Of Man are still performing with the same line-up of Lee, Nicky Stevens, Sandra Stevens, and her husband Martin Lee, who are all now aged 66. Lee also manages the group and co-wrote their three No1 hits from the 1970s: Save Your Kisses For Me, Angelo, and Figaro. He attributes their longevity to the fact that they rarely socialise outside work, partly because they live quite a distance from one another. Nicky is in Wimborne, Dorset, and Sandra and Martin are based in Cobham, Surrey.
Lee, who was born (with the name Roger Pritchard on April 11th 1949) and raised in Bristol, says: “I moved to Beaconsfield the week that Elvis Presley died, in August 1977. It was mainly to be nearer London and Heathrow, because Brotherhood Of Man were going overseas all the time. Bristol was just too far for that. It made sense to move here, and Beaconsfield is a beautiful place to live with good transport links and good schools.”
Surprisingly, Lee is the only one in Brotherhood Of Man to have become a parent. In fact, he has two children, four grandchildren, and two great-grandchildren. “All bar one live within 15 miles from me, so I see them all the time, which is fantastic.”
And the couple make the most of the local attractions: “We like to walk our dog in nearby Walk Wood, we like to visit Bekonscot Model Village, and to eat at Leigh House in Beaconsfield and Cafe Rouge in Gerrards Cross.”
Of course Lee has a second family of sorts in Brotherhood of Man. The group was formed by record producer/composer Tony Hiller in 1969, and originally featured a different line-up who had an international hit with United We Stand. Session singers Lee, Nicky and Martin took over in 1972, and they were joined the following year by Sandra. In 1975, Kiss Me Kiss Your Baby became a big hit for them in Europe.
But it was Eurovision victory in The Netherlands the next year which put them firmly on the world map. “That was emotional and a great relief,” Lee recalls. “We were expected to win and would have been so disappointed if we hadn’t. We were No1 in Britain for two weeks before Eurovision, and stayed there for four weeks afterwards.”
Several hit albums and hit singles followed: “We wrote virtually 24/7 for about 15 years, and we recorded about 250 songs. We were on all the top TV shows hosted by Cilla Black, Lulu, David Nixon... and we did the Royal Command Performance in 1977, the year of the Queen’s Silver Jubilee. That was compered by Bob Hope, and starred Julie Andrews, Douglas Fairbanks Jr, Rudolf Nureyev, Shirley Bassey, Paul Anka, Tommy Cooper, Peter Cook & Dudley Moore.”
Brotherhood Of Man’s second chart-topper, Angelo, was likened to ABBA’s Fernando. Comparisons didn’t end there either, as both bands featured two men and two women and famously triumphed at Eurovision. “It’s a huge honour to be compared to ABBA, but they were enormous, and we were not nearly as big as them,” Lee admits. “To be even mentioned in the same breath is quite something. Of course we would like to have been as successful as them, but we’re happy with what we had.”
They certainly had plenty of fun along the way. “Several times we did a circus-style show for a wealthy man in Austria. There were about 60 artists, including Donna Summer, and it was all for only about 30 guests.
“Once, when we were in Portugal, Martin wanted to get a note off the piano so he’d know how to start the vocal to our opening number We’re The Brotherhood Of Man, which has a very short intro. The piano was on the other side of the stage and, while we waited to go on, there was a load of dancers doing a big Russian routine. The lights went down, Martin thought they’d finished and raced across the stage to the piano, but only got halfway when the lights came back on and the dancers started performing again... with Martin unexpectedly in the middle of them!”
It is uncertain whether Brotherhood Of Man can rightly claim to be Britain’s longest-lasting original line-up, because in early 1982 Lee left. “The hits had stopped, it wasn’t going the way I hoped, and I wanted to do other things like study music. Someone from our backing band took my place, but they folded 18 months later. We reformed in ’85 for a Noel Edmonds TV show and decided to give it another go.”
Since then the band has toured regularly. “We can keep going because we’re very selective now in what we do. Whereas at one time we probably used to do 160 gigs a year, now we do about 30. We could work an much more, but we turn a lot down. The nearest we’ve got a to a show like ABBA’s Mamma Mia is The Seventies Story which was written for us, and we did about 100 performances of that in 10 years.”
In London last year, Brotherhood Of Man were the UK’s representatives at Eurovision’s 60th anniversary concert. Naturally they performed Save Your Kisses For Me, the highlight of all their shows.
“Having a Eurovision-winning song is a bit like having a Christmas hit because it keeps coming round every year,” says Lee. “Our fans are all lovely. We’ve watched many of them grow from children to having families of their own. They still come to see us, often now bringing their kids along too.
“I consider it an honour and privilege to have worked with three very talented, professional and fantastic people all this time. It’s good that we have breaks as whenever we get together, it’s always great to see each other. We never argue, and always comprise. If any one of us decided to leave, that would be the end. But we hope to continue for a few more years yet.
“Now we’re getting older, when we meet we all look back and comment on how lucky we’ve been. We often say ‘What would have happened if we hadn’t won Eurovision?’ We only won that year’s Song For Europe by two points. We could easily have lost and then not represented the UK at Eurovision. That would have been awful.”
Since 1976, the UK has only won Eurovision twice – Making Your Mind Up by Bucks Fizz in 1981 and Love Shine A Light by Katrina And The Waves in 1997. We would appear to have fallen victim to political voting, but Lee remains optimistic. “Political voting is not as bad as it was. The last four winners have not come from the Eastern Bloc. It’s a lot more open now. I think that if we got the right artist and right song, we could still win it. But finding the right ones is very difficult.”
Having co-written with Martin Lee and Tony Hiller most of Brotherhood Of Man’s hits, including their Eurovision smash, and had their songs covered by numerous artists, can’t they come up with another UK winner at the annual contest? “Years ago we did submit a couple of things, but nothing came of them. Nowadays none of us writes anymore. I haven’t written for about 30 years. You’ve really got to be youngish or have a current vehicle, and those opportunities aren’t around for us now.”
Despite all the success he’s had with the band, Lee doesn’t have any career memorabilia on display in his home: “All the pictures and Gold Discs are up in the loft. I like to think of my life as being ordinary, which it is, and I like my home to be a normal home for my family. Some of my grandchildren don’t even know what I do.
“I’m very proud of Brotherhood Of Man and very pleased to have been a member all this time, but it’s not everything to me. My family is that.”
• David Emanuel on his early career, British fashion and a Royal he’d love to design for - Maureen McLean catches up with couturier David Emanuel in the perfect setting of the Macdonald Windsor Hotel overlooking Windsor Castle
• A Great British sense of humour: famous and local faces share their quips - In celebration of the Great British sense of humour with quips that are naughty, self-deprecating, sarcastic or downright nonsensical