Songwriter’s guide book is just the latest chapter in Preston music man’s remarkable life

Peter Dunbavan
Peter Dunbavan
Share this article

Preston-born Peter Dunbavan is not someone to be pigeon-holed. He has been a musician, supporting comedians such as Ken Dodd and Bernard Manning, and has enjoyed a pint or two with members of The Kinks and The Hollies.

He has taught business studies at Preston’s College; has been an industrial chemist; an accountant and supported people with drug and alcohol issues.

Peter Dunbavan

Peter Dunbavan

And now, the 65-year-old is an author, after spending three painstaking years researching the merits of songwriters in the 1960s.

Not bad for a self-confessed grasshopper.

Peter says: “I have grasshopper mentality as I can’t settle down.

“It has all stemmed from wanting to be a musician. I always wanted to have entertainer on my passport.”

Peter Dunbavan in his younger years

Peter Dunbavan in his younger years

When Peter was 15 and a pupil at Preston Grammar School he formed a band – The Rising – with three other friends.

They played at local schools and youth clubs and Peter knew this was the life he wanted.

But as he was encouraged to go to Imperial College in London, he gave up his dream and got a degree in chemical engineering.

He says: “I would have loved to have been a musician, but I was pushed to going to university.

Peter Dunbavan in his early 20s

Peter Dunbavan in his early 20s

“I graduated and trained to be an accountant in Manchester. I then got a job as an accountant and engineer at British Aerospace.

“But I was a frustrated musician and I formed a duo – Magnet – with Simon Allen, in the late 1970s and early 1980s.

“We played in local working men’s clubs and British legions.

“After that I formed another duo with Ron Parker called Fitz and Startz. We did the same thing, but played a bit further afield.

“Then in the 1990s I went out on my own under the stage name Michael J Clarke, doing working men’s clubs and cabarets. I was a professional singer performing three to four times a week, working the in north of England.

“I have played with quite a few people over the years, as I was support act to a lot of musicians and comedians.

“I was quite friendly with some of the bands from the 1960s, including The Hollies, The Kinks and The Animals.

“I had a drink with them on many occasions.

“I performed as support act to Ken Dodd, Frank Carson, Bernard Manning, Tom O’Connor and Mick Miller.

“I also played alongside Merseybeat band The Fourmost, The Searchers, The Rockin Berries, The Dakotas and guitarist Ken Nicol.

“When I got to the age of 50 I got tired of it all and packed it in.

“But realising I missed it, I joined Rubi Lazer and we played at Avenham and Miller Park for the 2012 Preston Guild.

“I have played at three Guilds, all with different acts.

“When I was very young I performed with Magnet in 1972 at the Punch Bowl which is where WH Smith is now and in 1992 I sang on my own as Michael J Clarke at Fulwood Barracks.

“As I am Preston born and bred, I am very proud to have been part of every one of those celebrations.”

Whilst Peter was acting out his dream, the father-of-three was also juggling full-time work.

In 1995 he got made redundant and got a teaching degree at Bolton Institute (now Bolton University).

He taught maths at Southport College, before taking up a job as a business lecturer at Preston’s College.

After two years he returned to BAE but then an unexpected job offer came in.

He adds: “I knew the guy who ran Pier Point group in St Annes, which is a drug and alcohol rehabilitation service.

“He wanted someone who had business experience, who could also empathise with the kind of people they were dealing with.

“Because of my background with working with musicians in clubs he thought I was an ideal match.

“I never got into anything like that and I didn’t know anyone personally who had drug or alcohol problems but that lifestyle can lend itself to excesses.

“It was a real eye opener working at the rehabilitation service.

“Through that I got a job as a charity director or N-compass in Blackpool, which supports disadvantaged adults and young people through providing advocacy, carers, and young people’s services.”

Peter, who has two grandchildren, retired in 2012 and has began his next project - writing a book.

With an interest in the writers behind some of his favourite songs, he set about researching them.

After three years, he has compiled a list of 81 professionals and has self-published An Avid’s Guide to Sixties Songwriters through Author House.

He adds: “Music was a constant in my life from being three years old. As soon as I could afford to, I was buying records. Everyone has their favourite period, but for me it was the 1960s. It was such a special period for me and was part of my formative years.

“I had always been interested in songwriters and always looked at who had written the song.

“My favourite songwriters were John Lennon, Paul McCartney and Bob Dylan.

“But for this book, I wanted to focus on writers who wrote songs for other people, rather than themselves.

“While many people will know the songs I have included in the book, they will not necessarily know who wrote them.

“I found I had a good knowledge and began making a list of around 2,000 popular hits.

“I got information for the British tunes from the Guinness Book of Hit Records and for the American hits I used Billboard Charts by Joel Whitburn.

“I tried to interview one or two of the writers but I had no luck.

“Of the writers I had featured in my book, I have to say husband and wife duo Goffin and King are my favourites.

“Although all this information is out there, I don’t think there is anything in a hardback or paperback like this.

“I sent my compilation to a few big publishers but they were a bit apprehensive because it was my first book but they informed me about Author House, which is a joint venture.

“I am pleased how it had turned out. It’s received a number of good reviews and due to speak to speak to Radio Lancashire on October 5.”

With such a fascination for songwriting, Peter has even had a go at penning his own lyrics.

He has written more than 100 songs, but has no plans to get them released.

He says: “My influences are Lennon, McCartney, The Byrds and Bob Dylan. I have recorded most of the songs in my home studio and a couple at a local studio and put them on CDs and Sound Cloud.

“But I have not done anything with them. I will leave that to the experts. It is just for fun.

“I don’t claim to be anything great. I have met a lot of really talented musicians. I just enjoy being around music.”

Peter is now contemplating whether to follow up his book.

He adds: “I have been asked if I was interested in doing another one but I said I needed some time, as it was a heavy project.

“I would focus on the 1950s writers as that was another fascinating period and there was a lot of bespoke writers like Rogers and Hammerstein.”