My father, Don Craine, who has died of lung cancer aged 76, was leader of a British R&B band, the Downliners Sect, which was influential in the early 1960s London music scene. Although it did not achieve big commercial success – apart from a No 1 in Sweden – David Bowie told Q magazine that he was influenced by the band and Van Morrison referred to them in a book about his life.
The Downliners Sect signed with Columbia Records and produced several albums, and played at many of London’s influential venues, including Eel Pie Island hotel and the Flamingo Club.
Don was born Michael O’Donnell in Chiswick, west London, to Joyce (nee Sayell), a band manager, and Jack O’Donnell, an ambulance driver. While at Gunnersbury grammar school, he formed a skiffle group with his friend Bob Dilley, a drummer. They were later joined by other schoolmates, Kev Buley, Barry Allmark and Pete Maggs, to form a rock band, the Downliners, who performed at the Ealing Blues Club and the 2I’s club in Soho.
After leaving school Don had a brief encounter with “real work” as a trainee chef. But he soon formed a new band, this time an R&B group, the Downliners Sect, with himself playing rhythm guitar, wearing his trademark deerstalker hat and now taking the stage name Don Craine, along with Keith Grant, Johnny Sutton, Ray Sone and Terry Gibson.
The Sect were among the pioneers of 1960s R&B. Their first album was The Sect (1964), followed by The Country Sect (1966) and, in the same year, The Rock Sect’s In, all for Columbia. Their song Little Egypt topped the chart in Sweden in 1964. The band released at least six more albums in later years, with different lineups.
The original Downliners Sect disbanded in 1967, and Don joined with Mike Smith to form a folk duo, Finnegan’s Wake. He ran the White Bear Folk Club in Hounslow for several years in the 1970s, having taken it over from Dave Cousins of the Strawbs. He also sang as a soloist at the club.
But the band refused to die, and underwent several more revivals. Two original members, Terry Clemson (guitar) and Johnny Sutton (drums), left in the 70s. Terry was replaced by Del Dwyer. Johnny was replaced by short-term drummers,Paul Holm then Rod De’ath, and then Alan Brooks. Paul Tiller took on the role of harmonica player – and when he retired some years later, John O’Leary took over. Alan died in 2010 and Mark Freeman took his place. Del died in 2021 and was replaced by Stan Catherine. But Don was the constant band member. Music was his life and his livelihood. His last gig was with the Downliners at the 100 Club, London, in January 2022, with the support bands the Fallen Leaves and the Masonics.
After they had been together for 47 years, Don married Jackie Brind in January 2022. He is survived by Jackie and by me.