Half of the 1960s duo Peter and Gordon
After the Beatles conquered America in 1964, many other British groups found transatlantic fame and fortune. The first song of this British invasion to top the American charts was Peter and Gordon's A World Without Love, composed by Paul McCartney. The duo were Peter Asher (brother of Jane Asher, the actress) and Gordon Waller, who has died aged 64 of a heart attack.
Waller, the son of a surgeon, was born in Braemar, Aberdeenshire, and went to Westminster school, in London, where he met Peter Asher in 1959. Asher was already something of a jazz and blues fan, but Waller persuaded him to broaden his horizons to include pop and rock'n'roll. Both were keen guitarists and soon they were entertaining their fellow students. By 1963, they were playing (initially as Gordon and Peter) in pubs and small clubs at lunchtimes and evenings for small fees or for a meal, often singing their own compositions in the close harmony style of the Everly Brothers. Early in 1964, they were booked for a two-week engagement at the Pickwick nightclub. One of the diners was Norman Newell, an EMI record producer. Newell was charmed enough by Peter and Gordon's rendition of their song If I Were You to offer them a recording contract.
At this time, McCartney was dating Jane, and Peter and Gordon badgered McCartney to provide them with a song. He obliged with A World Without Love, which he had written six years earlier in Liverpool. McCartney told his biographer Barry Miles: "Gordon was a lot of fun – he was slightly less academic than Peter. It was he who persuaded Peter to jump school to do lunchtime sessions."
By the end of March 1964, A World Without Love had displaced the Beatles' own Can't Buy Me Love in the charts. In May, just before Waller's 19th birthday and Asher's 20th, it was the biggest selling record in the US. The instant stardom created by A World Without Love was the beginning of two years of frantic activity for Peter and Gordon.
For the American media, they combined the cachet of a Beatles connection (McCartney wrote several more of their hits and fans discerned in Waller a slight resemblance to John Lennon) with the Woosterish appeal of well-bred British toffs strumming guitars. There were numerous television appearances, occasional tours of Japan and Australia as well as North America and dozens of recordings. In the next 12 months, Nobody I Know and I Don't Want to See You Again (both by McCartney) were transatlantic hits, as were I Go To Pieces, written by Del Shannon, and True Love Ways, a Buddy Holly song the duo had performed in their early days in London.
By now, Peter and Gordon were competing in North America with numerous other British imports, including another middle-class duo, Chad and Jeremy. Their star began to wane in 1966, when their only hits were Woman, another McCartney composition credited pseudonymously to "Bernard Webb", and Lady Godiva, a novelty number that was denounced as obscene by the mayor of Coventry, which helped it reach the Top 20 in Britain and the American Top 10. By 1967, Peter and Gordon's British career was over and in America they were reduced to peddling olde English material such as the minor hit The Knight in Rusty Armour and the album Sunday for Tea. They split up the next year, with Asher joining the Beatles' Apple project as an A&R man and Waller launching a career as a solo singer.
Despite the fact that he had been the stronger vocalist of the pair, this career was stillborn. A handful of singles were issued, plus a 1970 album of his own compositions called Gordon. He left showbusiness to run a landscape gardening business in Northamptonshire until, in 1971, he took the part of Pharaoh in Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dream Coat, the musical by Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice.
In the 1980s and 90s Waller ran a music publishing business in America. In the last few years, he reunited with Asher to play a few shows in Los Angeles, the Philippines and New York.
Waller is survived by his second wife Jen, whom he married in March last year, and two daughters from his 22-year first marriage to Gay.