The singer in the U.K. who had No. 1 hits David Soul and others, and the U.S. with the New Vaudeville Band, died of pneumonia after surviving Covid-19 last year.
Geoff Stephens died at the age of 86, the Grammy-winning British songwriter responsible for hits like Winchester Cathedral and The Crying Game. His family wrote in a letter announcing the news to Variety: “Dad survived Covid-19 in the spring but died of pneumonia while my mother, his wife of 63 years, was at his bedside. ” Born in 1934 in north London, Stephens dabbled in music until his early 30s with an amateur theater party, in addition to working as a teacher, printer and air traffic controller. His first hit was Tell Me When, a 1964 Top 10 hit for the Birmingham beat group The Applejacks, and the same year he also signed his first recording contract with the unknown Donovan and co-produced his debut album, which included Catch the Wind’s Top 5 single. He also wrote The Crying Game for Dave Berry in 1964, another Top 5 hit that would later become the theme for the film of the same name by Neil Jordan (along with a successful cover version by Boy George). In 1966, to perform his Winchester Cathedral album, he formed the New Vaudeville Band, a group of session musicians, a purposely nostalgic throwback to the British Music Hall amid the hustle and bustle of Swinging London.
It was a surprise success in the U.S. (the Beach Boys competed for the top spot with Good Vibrations) and Canada, and reached #4 in the U.K.; it received a Grammy for Best Contemporary Song and an Ivor Novello Songwriting Prize. In the UK, the New Vaudeville Band had another hit in the Top 10. They became a transatlantic success for Herman’s Hermits that year and for the Carpenters in 1976 with Peek-a-Boo and their 1967 album There’s a Kind of Hush. Stephens wrote songs for a number of 1960s British stars, including Daughter of Darkness, Sorry Suzanne by the Hollies (No. 3 in 1969), and Scott Walker’s Lights of Cincinnati, Tom Jones’ No. 5 hit. U.S. country artists such as Wayne Newton and Crystal Gayle have recorded his songs as well, and he co-wrote three songs sung by Elvis Presley: Heart of Rome, This Is Our Dance and Sylvia. His album, Knock Knock, Who’s There for Mary Hopkin, reached number 2 in 1970 and took second place the same year in the Eurovision Song Contest. In the 1970s, as well as songs for Hot Chocolate and more, he wrote UK No. 1 hits for David Soul and the New Seekers. Tim Rice paid tribute to Stephens’ hits, among others, describing him as a “great talent and a nice guy.” His wife, Pam Stephens, son Paul, and daughters, Jenny and Ruth, survive.