Looking Back: The Sleepwalkers, a Garstang family history

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Friends Melvyn Bilsborough and Colin Davis have been inseparable since childhood, united by a love of music that saw them creating one of the district’s best known singing groups in the 1960s.

The Sleepwalkers, the vocal harmony group started by the two men the early 60s with another friend, Melvyn Stafford, were Garstang’s answer to the Bachelors, performing in venues across the North West, including Morecambe’s Allambra Theatre, supporting big name stars such as the Four Pennies and the Fortunes.

Now Melvyn and Colin, both 73, who have known each other since they were classmates at St Thomas’s Primary School, Garstang, have made a remarkable discovery.

Not only are they good friends, they are also blood relatives.

It was while retired garage owner Colin was researching his family tree, that he noticed Melvyn Bilsborough’s family name kept cropping up in historic records.

Both men’s history can be traced to John Jenkinson, the father of old ‘Jemmy’ Jenkinson, who lived at Eagland Hill, and whose roots can be traced back as far as 1752.

Jemmy Jenkinson spawned a large family, and a website has been set up by some of his surviving relatives.

After doing some research Colin discovered that Melvyn is his fourth cousin, second removed, the two sharing the same ancestral link to John Jenkinson Senior – Colin through his great-great-grandmother who was a member of the Jenkinson family, and Melvin through Hannah Lawrenson who married one of Old Jemmy’s sons.

“It’s astonishing really,” said Colin, “After being friends all these years we couldn’t believe we were related to each other as well.”

The two men started their musical career playing in a skiffle group, The Mad Cats, performing at Garstang Liberal Club soon after leaving school in the late 1950s. After that they joined popular dance band the Silver Keynotes.

The Keynotes were a bunch of local lads, including brothers Arthur and John Huntington, Geoff Angel, John Wilding and Bill Sutcliffe. Melvyn joined the group as a drummer and Colin played guitar. By day group members worked in jobs including farming, engineering, joinery and the retail trade.

By night, they swapped workwear for smart suits to become the musical accompaniment for the hundreds of dancers who flocked to local village hall dances to enjoy ballroom dancing.

The Silver Keynotes were a regular fixture at weekly dances at Claughton, St Michaels, Winmarleigh and Chipping, as well as travelling further afield to North Yorkshire, regularly performing six nights a week.

When The Bachelors made their name during the early 1960s, Colin and Melvyn decided to launch their own three-piece harmony group, the Sleepwalkers, with Melvyn on drums and Colin on guitar, joined by bass guitarist Melvyn Stafford.

The Sleepwalkers swiftly became known for their melodious singing, led by Melvyn Bilsborough whose distinctive voice gave richness to their ballads. They had a regular slot at the XL (now the Bellflower), in Garstang. They found an agent – former Lancaster comedian Bud Bennett.

Such was their popularity they were signed up to do a summer season at Blackpool’s Horseshoe Bar.

After that bookings for the group to appear on the northern club circuit came flooding in, with regular performances at venues such as the Talk of the North in Manchester, Blackpool’s Norbreck Castle and Morecambe’s Allambra Theatre.

Despite their growing fame, the group resisted calls to turn professional.

Colin said: “We all had good jobs so we were never interested in turning pro.

“We used to work five or six nights a week, driving all over the North West to do a 20-minute slot, and go back to our day jobs the next day.”

Eventually work pressures took over and the band disbanded after Colin launched his own garage business in Brock.

After that the two men went their separate ways musically – Melvyn forming a country band called the Country Shades and Colin joining a jazz band – but they remained good friends. Sadly, the third band member, Melvyn Stafford – ‘Staff’ – died in 2013.

Today, although now retired, both men say their interest in music is as strong as ever.

Colin entertains in nursing homes and has a monthly slot at the Galloways Society for the Blind meetings in Garstang.

Melvyn inexplicably lost his melodic voice a few years ago but coaxed by Colin, he is trying to sing once more.

And the two men love to spend time sharing memories of their musical heyday - memories that have taken on an added poignancy since they discovered their blood ties.

Melvyn said: “When we played for the Silver Keynotes people used to travel for miles around to go to the dances.

“Dances were always wall to wall crowded.”

Colin said: “There are an awful lot of people in this area who met at the local dances and got married.

“I still see a few of them in Booth’s now and again and they always refer to those days. They were good days and we had some great laughs.”