He had three simultaneous top ten hits, Popentertainment.com called him "the greatest voice of 1970s pop" and he was banned by the BBC for being too successful.
You may not recognise the name, but you will have heard the voice on a string of hits. And, on 28 February 1970, he scored his unique hat trick - although the songs were recorded under three different names. Love Grows (by Edison Lighthouse) was at number one, My Baby Loves Lovin’ (by White Plains) was at nine and United We Stand (the original Brotherhood of Man) was at ten. Years later, Burrows even sang on Coca-Cola’s immortal I’d Like to Buy the World a Coke TV ad. Now, after years out of the spotlight, he is benefiting from a major revival in interest in 1970s pop. Love Grows (Where My Rosemary Goes) is the closing theme of Gwyneth Paltrow’s new film, Shallow Hal. It has been suggested that film-makers called Paltrow’s character Rosemary just so they could use the song.
"I had no idea about it at all, until you called me," says Burrows, relaxing in a lounge whose decor suggests a greater interest in cricket than pop - the gold disc for Love Grows is tucked away in a corner of the hall. "I have a lot of stuff, but I don’t put it out." But Burrows stands to collect a healthy royalty cheque to add to the one he got when My Baby Loves Lovin’ featured on the soundtrack of Priscilla: Queen of the Desert. "It’s very good news for me."
Burrows grew up in Bristol, where he got involved in the Kestrels, along with childhood friend Roger Greenaway. They were old enough for National Service, but their manager managed to keep them together in the Pay Corps in Devizes. They provided entertainment in the Mess and made a weekly TV appearance. At the beginning of 1963 the Kestrels and the Beatles toured together, supporting Helen Shapiro. "We got to know them very well, so they asked us to do the next tour," says Burrows. This time the Kestrels were supporting the Beatles.
"It was a nightmare," says Burrows. "All you could hear was the screaming ... You were bussed in at ten in the morning and you didn’t leave until 11pm at night because they couldn’t open doors anywhere because of the kids outside. If you have ever seen the film The Birds - where all the birds are there - that’s what it was like."
The Beatles broke off the tour for their famous Royal Variety Performance, at which John Lennon suggested those in the dearer seats might rattle their jewellery instead of clapping.
"We taught them how to bow," says Burrows. "They had never done anything apart from go out in front of screaming kids until this show. We’d all been in the Army and it was a very simple process." Burrows gets up to demonstrate a group bowing in unison, clicking his fingers to mark time. "They couldn’t believe that we could be so together."
The Beatles spelled the end for vocal groups like the Kestrels, however. Burrows moved on to the Ivy League and Flowerpot Men, with whom he had a major hit, Let’s Go to San Francisco - though it would be years before Burrows himself made the trip. His plan to quit touring did not work out on the personal front. "Although I spent more time with the children, I also spent more time with my first wife …" He is now married to one of Pan’s People, Victoria, with whom he has two sons. Musically, however, everything Burrows touched turned to gold. United We Stand was a demo released as a single under the name Brotherhood of Man, a group that would develop a life of its own and win the Eurovision Song Contest with a very different line-up (and sound) six years later. My Baby Loves Lovin’ was an attempt to repackage unreleased Flowerpot Men recordings under a new name.
"We thought what a wonderful name this is, Flowerpot Men, with flower power and the whole thing … Unfortunately flower power only lasted for six months and we were branded with this name. Walking around in dresses and beads and giving out flowers was a bit of a pain."
Burrows’s involvement with Love Grows began modestly enough when he sang backing vocals for another demo. He had toured throughout the 1960s, before deciding to concentrate on session work and spend more time with his family. Writer Tony Macaulay decided he wanted Burrows to record the song as a single, backed by session musicians. Macaulay then concluded that the song would be a good launch-pad for a group, but Burrows had no intention of going back on the road.
"I said, I’ll tell you what, if you get any television promotion, I’ll do it, but I don’t want to be involved in a group." So the record was issued under the hastily devised name Edison Lighthouse. Within a fortnight it had knocked Rolf Harris’s Two Little Boys off the number one spot. It stayed there for five weeks, but Burrows never toured with the group and was not involved in the follow-up.
As if three simultaneous hits wasn’t enough, a few weeks later the novelty record Gimme Dat Ding charted as well, peaking at number six. The song, released under the name Pipkins, started off as a musical dialogue between a pianola and a metronome, called Gimme That Click, which Burrows and his old pal Greenaway were working on for a children’s album.
"I had these four records out all at the same time and they all sold," recalls Burrows. "There was no grand strategy - it just happened. I’m in the Guinness Book of Records and one of my claims to fame is that I’m an answer in Trivial Pursuit - what is the connection between these four records?"
Burrows maintains he was a victim of his own success. "I did three of them on one Top of the Pops show. I was changing clothes on the side of the set because it wasn’t pre-recorded in those days, it was live. The director came to me after the show and said, ‘Tony, I’ve had the word from above - you’re not to be used anymore, the viewing public might consider this a bit of a con, seeing you on these different records. I was actually banned from the BBC for two years and in those days there were no commercial radio stations, apart from Caroline. It obviously had an effect on my solo career. I made a couple of records, but couldn’t get them played."
Burrows did have one more big hit, with First Class in 1974 - Beach Baby, a tribute to the Beach Boys. He continued to work as a session singer and recorded jingles and voiceovers for commercials. He does regret what might have been, then adds: "There would have been a lot of pressure to go out and be the man and I didn’t really want to do that." He claims he never wanted to be a pop star anyway. "I wanted to be a cricketer," he says. He was on Gloucestershire’s ground staff as a teenager and his younger son is in the England under-15 squad. The last few years have seen an explosion of interest in Burrows’s music in the US, the release of a compilation album and an invitation to a major "retro-fest" in Santa Monica, which finally gave him the chance to visit San Francisco and Los Angeles.
"Beach Baby was about Santa Monica Boulevard, the girls and what have you. To actually do it 25 years later, live in Santa Monica - the hairs went up on the back of my neck."
He attributes the revival of interest in 1970s pop to the quality of songs. Shallow Hal is taking his work to a new generation and there is talk of a movie placement for United We Stand. Tony Burrows’s immaculate craftsmanship has weathered the vagaries of fashion and seems assured of a continuing audience for a long time to come.
Shallow Hal opens in cinemas today.