The stuff of legends: Top Ten famous musicians from Harrogate that may come as a surprise

For most of the country, news over Christmas that singer-actor Olly Alexander was to represent the UK at the Eurovision Song Contest in Sweden later this year came as a bit of a surprise.
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The Years & Years lead singer was surely a bit too 'current' and successful to follow in the footsteps of Bucks Fizz and Sam Ryder?

To Harrogate viewers the bigger shock was finding out that the star of the BAFTA-winning TV drama It's A Sin was born in Harrogate.

1 Olly Alexander (lead singer Years & Years)

Harrogate's Olly Alexander on the cover of Years & Years  Night Call album.Harrogate's Olly Alexander on the cover of Years & Years  Night Call album.
Harrogate's Olly Alexander on the cover of Years & Years Night Call album.
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Olly Alexander was born in Harrogate in 1990 before his family moved to Coleford, Gloucestershire, where his mother, Vicki Thornton, was one of the founders of the Coleford Music Festival.

The multi-talented Alexander rose, who champions the LGBTQ+ community, rose to prominence as the lead singer of bestselling electro-pop band Years & Years who have achieved two number one albums on the UK albums chart, a number one single and five top ten entries on the UK Singles Chart over the last ten years.

2 1990s Rave duo Utah Saints (Rave era legends)

‘Rave’ era electronic dance duo Tim Garbutt and Jez Willis originally met each other while as music promoters and DJ’s at the now long-gone Mix nightclub in Harrogate in the early 1990s.

Hit 1970s acoustic act America - Musician and songwriter Dewey Bunnell, left,  was born in Harrogate. (Picture contributed)Hit 1970s acoustic act America - Musician and songwriter Dewey Bunnell, left,  was born in Harrogate. (Picture contributed)
Hit 1970s acoustic act America - Musician and songwriter Dewey Bunnell, left, was born in Harrogate. (Picture contributed)

They remain famous for hits like What Can You Do For Me (number 10 in the UK charts in 1991) and the Kate Bush-sampling Something Good (number 4 in the UK in 1992),

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3 America (Grammy Award-winning 1970s acoustic act and Breaking Bad TV soundtrack stars)

Musician, singer, guitarist, and songwriter Dewey Bunnell was born in Harrogate but hooked up with Dan Peek, and Gerry Beckley in 1970 to form soft rockers America as all three were sons of US Air Force personnel stationed in London.

This Crosby, Stills & Nash-influenced act were hugely popular in America in the 1970s where Bunnell's A Horse with No Name hit number 1 hit in the Billboard charts in 1972 before being used years later in cult TV show Breaking Bad.

In their heyday, America worked regularly with The Beatles producer George Martin.

4 Alt-J (Indie art rock kings big in America)

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The music press may describe them as being a “Leeds band” but the quirky and ultra intelligent Alt-J who won the Mercury Prize in 2012 with their debut album An Awesome Wave have strong Harrogate roots.

At least one member, drummer Thom Green hails from the town, having gone to Woodfield Primary School in Bilton.

Popular across the pond, Alt-J's second album, This Is All Yours, reached number 4 in the Billboard charts in the USA in 2014.

5 Kaiser Chiefs (They predicted a riot in the charts)

Technically a Leeds band, they were first reviewed in print as Runston Parva in 1998 in Harrogate Advertiser reporter Graham Chalmers' Harrogate-Leeds-York-based music magazine Charm.

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Hitting the the charts after a rejig and rebrand as the Kaiser Chiefs, in 2008 the parents of lead singer Ricky Wilson sold his family home.

Where was it located? Harrogate, of course (The Anchorage on Leeds Road).

6 Lo fi cult musician Bill Callahan (US singer-songwriter)

Enigmatic and famously deadpan US alt-folk act Bill Callahan first found indie fame with his band Smog in the 1990s.

Although born in Maryland in the USA, as a child in the 1970s he spent several years at primary school in Knaresborough while his parents were stationed at RAF Menwith Hill.

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His 2021 solo album Shepherd in a Sheepskin Vest released on Drag City records reached the top 40 in the UK charts.

7 Living sax legend Snake Davis (played with all the greats)

Once described as one of the world’s best-kept secrets, this fantastically-talented sax player lived in Harrogate as a teenager and played with local band Zoot & The Roots before playing on hits like Take That’s A Million Love Songs, as well as People’s Moving On Up.

In a lengthy career he has worked with everyone from George Michael to Paul McCartney.

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8 1960s musician Brian Dunn (guitarist for Joe Brown/Marty Wilde)

Such was late Ripon/Harrogate musician Brian Dunn’s role in early 1960s British bands as a teenage guitar player that, when he died in Harrogate in 2015, tributes were paid to him by rock n roll legends including Marty Wilde, The Searchers and Joe Brown.

9 Magna Carta (Famed round the world in the 1970s)

This successful folk-tinged progressive rock group formed in London in 1969, released acclaimed albums for the Vertigo label such as Seasons (1970) and Lord of the Ages (1973).

Having sold nine million albums in total and played in 60 different countries over the last 50 years, the sole original band member now is brilliant songwriter Chris Simpson who was born in Harrogate and has family connections to Hampsthwaite, Pateley Bridge and Ripley.

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10 1970s prog rockers Wally (produced by Bob Harris & Rick Wakeman)

Wally’s manager Bob Harris of Old Grey Whistle Test fame got them signed to big-time record label Atlantic Records in the days of long-hair and flares in the early 1970s.

Led by songwriter Roy Webber, Wally were another Harrogate-based folk-tinged progressive rock group to achieve success in the 1970s, releasing two classic albums Wally (1974) and Valley Gardens (1975).

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