Virgin Sleep

By Nick Warburton

Virgin Sleep were a great psychedelic band from the Hanworth/Feltham area of West London that evolved out of an earlier beat group known as Themselves during the summer of 1967. The band was responsible for recording two brilliant singles for the Deram label in 1967/1968.

According to Vernon Joynson’s excellent book Tapestry of Delights, the debut release was “Love” c/w “Halliford House” on Deram DM 146, issued in late 1967. The second release coupled “Secret” with “Comes A Time” on Deram DM 173, early the following year.

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“Halliford House” (allegedly named after an Asylum in Sunbury, Middlesex) has been picked up on numerous CD compilations over the years most notably Hen’s Teeth Volume 1, Rubble, Volume 6 and Great British Psychedelic Trip Volume 2.

The story of Virgin Sleep begins in early 1965 when singer Tony Reese (aka Rees) and lead guitarist Keith Purnell put together Themselves with Renwick MacDonald (rhythm guitar), Brian Barney (bass) and John Bobbins (drums). The original line up was profiled in the 5 March 1965 issue of the Middlesex Chronicle (Hounslow Edition).

The same newspaper ran a second profile on Themselves in its 28 April 1967 issue and listed the personnel as Tony Rees (lead vocals, bass); Keith Purnell (lead guitar); Alan Barnes (rhythm guitar) and Rick Quilty (drums). The article says that the original Themselves split up two years ago, most likely in late 1965.

According to the 8 September 1967 edition of the Middlesex Chronicle (Hounslow Edition), Rees and Purnell had put together a new version of Themselves in January 1967, which changed name to Virgin Sleep in August to chime with the “Summer of Love”.

I’ve not found a great deal on what happened to the band’s members in subsequent years, although an internet search shows that Purnell continued to work as a session player and I believe appeared on a Jackie Lynton album in the 1970s and later worked with Little Big Man. According to Don Hughes, who’s written an excellent book on Mod Culture called Friday On My Mind, Alan Barnes now lives in Canada.

The Strange Brew Podcast would like to hear from anyone in its comments box who can add more information about this fascinating band.

Comment from Nick Warburton

Here are the following live dates from Melody Maker for Themselves, the band that morphed into Virgin Sleep:

  • 18 January 1965 – Bromel Club, Bromley, Kent
  • 30 May 1965 – Studio ’51 Club, Leicester Square, London
  • 4 June 1965 – Studio ’51 Club, Leicester Square, London
  • 11 June 1965 – Studio ’51 Club, Leicester Square, London
  • 18 June 1965 – Studio ’51 Club, Leicester Square, London
  • 25 June 1965 – Studio ’51 Club, Leicester Square, London
  • 9 July 1965 – Studio ’51 Club, Leicester Square, London
  • 11 July 1965 – Studio ’51 Club, Leicester Square, London
  • 16 July 1965 – Studio ’51 Club, Leicester Square, London
  • 18 July 1965 – Studio ’51 Club, Leicester Square, London
  • 23 July 1965 – Studio ’51 Club, Leicester Square, London
  • 8 August 1965 – Studio ’51 Club, Leicester Square, London
  • 22 August 1965 – Studio ’51 Club, Leicester Square, London
  • 27 August 1965 – Studio ’51 Club, Leicester Square, London

Comment from Peter Hand

Virgin Sleep singer / songwriter Tony Rees had a hit in 1975 with “the Cottagers” Viva El Fulham and is still living off the royalties. I worked with him in 1980-1981. We did demos for Sonet records with help from guitarist Keith Purnell of Virgin Sleep. Keith played for Jackie Lynton in the 70’s and also toured with Billy J Kramer.

If you are aware of Tony’s whereabouts please get in touch.