My father, Don Craine, who died of lung cancer at the age of 76, was the frontman of a British R&B group, The Downliners Sect, who were influential in the London music scene of the early 1900s 1960. Although it did not achieve major commercial success – apart from a No. 1 in Sweden – David Bowie told Q magazine that he had been influenced by the group and Van Morrison referred to them in a book about his life.
The Downliners Sect have signed to Columbia Records and produced several albums, and have performed at many influential venues in London including the Eel Pie Island Hotel and the Flamingo Club.
Don was born Michael O’Donnell in Chiswick, west London, to Joyce (née Sayell), a band manager, and Jack O’Donnell, an ambulance driver. While at Gunnersbury High School, he formed a skiffle band with his friend Bob Dilley, a drummer. They were later joined by fellow schoolmates Kev Buley, Barry Allmark and Pete Maggs to form a rock band, the Downliners, who performed at Ealing Blues Club and 2I’s club in Soho.
After leaving school, Don had a brief encounter with the “real job” 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 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 R&B pioneers of the 1960s. Their first album was The Sect (1964), followed by The Country Sect (1966) and, the same year, The Rock Sect’s In, all for Columbia. Their song Little Egypt topped the chart in Sweden in 1964. The group released at least six more albums in the following years, with different compositions.
The original Downliners sect disbanded in 1967 and Don joined 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 succeeded it from Dave Cousins of the Strawbs. He also sang as a soloist at the club.
But the group refused to die and endured several more retakes. 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 then Alan Brooks. Paul Tiller took on the role of harmonica player – and when he retired a few years later, John O’Leary took over. Alan died in 2010 and Mark Freeman took his place. Del passed away in 2021 and was succeeded by Stan Catherine. But Don was the constant member of the group. Music was his life and his livelihood. His last gig was with the Downliners at the 100 Club, London, in January 2022, with backing bands the Fallen Leaves and the Masonics.
After being together for 47 years, Don married Jackie Brind in January 2022. He is survived by Jackie and me.