St. Louis Union

St. Louis Union were a Manchester six piece fronted by impeccably-coifed singer, Tony Cassidy. Shortly after forming they won a Melody Maker beat contest in 1965 which scored them a deal with Decca. They were billed as “THE Group on the Northern Soul Scene.” Their sound was centered around Alex Kirby‘s tenor saxophone and Keith Millar‘s electric guitar backed by some serious organ by Dave Tomlinson, John Nichols on bass and Dave Webb on the skins.

Their live set was built around “Turn On Your Lovelight,” “Woke Up This Morning,” “Every Day I Have the Blues” and “Get On the Right Track Baby.”

Their name seems to be a reference to the St. Louis Union Station, a train station famous, like many things in St. Louis, as having been the biggest and busiest thing in its field way back when. Its archways are designed so that one can whisper into them and someone else can hear you clearly on the other end, a design feature with no apparent practical applications, save simple amusements in a simpler time. It was largely built of limestone taken from Indiana, probably just to remind the Hoosiers who’s boss, as the state of Missouri is entirely made of limestone and they’re the nation’s leader in lime production.


Truman having a laugh at St. Louis Union Station

In the 1970s, the station was bought by Amtrak. They ended operations soon afterward and relocated their operations to a building the unhealthily train-obsessed refer to as Amshack. Now it’s a mall where tourists watch the guys at the Fudge Factory put on a show and the Footlocker has a basketball hoop with the backboard autographed by the D.O.C.

While ridership of trains out of the station began to decline in the 1960s, 1966 was the Mancunian band’s biggest year. Their debut single was a cover of the Beatles‘ “Girl,” which reached #11 on the charts. A band known as the Truth also released a cover at the same time and didn’t score a hit. Such was the world of British pop in mid-60s bands releasing covers of their peers. The b-side was a cover of Otis Redding‘s “Respect.” They went on to open for him when he played in Manchester.

Their second single was a recording of slept-on genius Mancunian Graham Gouldman‘s “Behind the Door.” The b-side was “English Tea.”

They appeared in the Spencer Davis-centered Ghost Goes Gear alongside Dave Berry (singer of “The Crying Game”), The Three Bells and Acker Bilk (as the object of Modernists’ disdained Traditionalist Jazz). It’s not a great film, but as a relic it’s fascinating and provides us with the only visual evidence of  St. Lous Union’s impeccably forward fashion, timeless hair and considerable stage presence.

“East Side Story” backed by “Think About Me” failed to make the top 40 and it proved to be their final recording.

They split the following year, in 1967. Webb still plays drums, in a heavy metal band, T F L. Nichols went on to become a respected fashion photographer. Tomlinson, as Dave Formula, played with Magazine, Ludus, Visage and other bands. Millar went on to play synthesizer with many major artists and co-wrote Divine‘s “Think You’re a Man.” He died of a brain hemmorage in 2005 at just 58 years old. Cassidy, the swaggering singer, died that same year, just 57 years old.

*****

Eric Brightwell is an adventurer, writer, rambler, explorer, cartographer, and guerrilla gardener who is always seeking writing, speaking, traveling, and art opportunities — or salaried work. He is not interested in writing advertorials, clickbait, listicles, or other 21st century variations of spam. Brightwell’s written work has appeared in AmoeblogdiaCRITICS, and KCET Departures. His work has been featured by the American Institute of Architects, the Architecture & Design Museum, the Craft & Folk Art MuseumForm Follows FunctionLos Angeles County StoreSkid Row Housing Trust, and 1650 Gallery. Brightwell has been featured in the Los Angeles TimesHuffington PostLos Angeles MagazineLAistEastsider LABoing BoingLos Angeles, I’m Yours, and on Notebook on Cities and Culture. He has been a guest speaker on KCRW‘s Which Way, LA? and at Emerson College. Art prints of his maps are available from 1650 Gallery and on other products from Cal31. He is currently writing a book about Los Angeles and you can follow him on FacebookInstagram, and Twitter.

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