IT’S amazing to think that The Sensational Sixties Experience Tour is celebrating 10 years of bringing the music of that special decade to theatres around the country, and they still keep finding ‘new’ talent.

The forthcoming tour, which runs from the end of September through to next June, features the debut appearance on the bill of The Dakotas.

The band backed Billy J Kramer on hits like Do You Want To Know A Secret, Bad To Me and Little Children as well as having hits without their singer such as the instrumental The Cruel Sea.

The Dakotas join Mike Pender – the original voice of The Searchers, The Fortunes and The Swinging Blue Jeans for an evening of great memories and music.

Also on the bill are The Trems, made up of ex-members of The Tremeloes.

The music of these artists is like a soundtrack of the sixties (and with The Fortunes into the 70s as well).

Toni Baker, vocalist and keyboard player – and longest serving member of The Dakotas, explains that he has always been a fan of 60s music.

“Yeah, from when I was at school. The music formed my identity and it’s the same with the rest of the band.”

The rest of The Dakotas are no slouches when it comes to the 60s either. Drummer Pete Hilton replaced original drummer Tony Bookbinder (Elkie Brooks’ brother) in 1998, and has been doing the rounds since 1963 when he played in Liverpool’s Cavern Club.

He has worked with the likes of Mike Oldfield, Joe Cocker, Deep Purple, Traffic, The Supremes and David Essex – he also worked with Toni on the music for the TV series Phoenix Nights.

Alan Clare replaced original guitarist Mike Maxfield in 2006. He too has worked with The Supremes, as well as Dionne Warwick, Cliff Richard and Buddy Greco.

Bass guitarist Marius Jones entered the fray in 2010. He had played with Pete and Alan in Freddie & The Dreamers and also with Amen Corner.

Frontman Ronnie J Ravey also joined in 2010 when the band decided to become a quintet. He actually started his career in a duo with Bobby Ball.

Toni continues telling me about his influences.

“When I was about six or seven I liked pianists like Russ Conway and Joe Henderson. I thought ‘I could do that’. I got a piano and had lessons, but then ‘pop’ music came and I found that I could play it by ear.”

“Then a sixth former at school started bringing in American imported records and had a dansette player and I thought to myself ‘that’s what I want to do’. [laughs] From then on I was set on a path of destruction.”

Toni joined The Dakotas in the late 70s and joined full-time in the early 80s.

“I’d known the guys for years and had done some sessions with Mike Maxfield, and when the band reformed in the 70s, they asked me to play keyboards.”

And they had Billy J Kramer himself in the band for a while.

“Yeah, it’s funny, but I remember that we did a gig in London and it was the early days of the tribute bands, and people actually thought we were a tribute band!”

Even after all these years – Toni is 70 - he still enjoys it.

“Oh definitely. There’s still lots of bands on the circuit and I’ve depped with Chip Hawkes (The Tremeloes) and The Fortunes. I like the variety.”

Toni tells me that the set list hasn’t been sorted as yet.

“No, it’s not finalised yet. We’re backing Mike Pender and we have our own slot.

“It’s only a 20 minute slot and people want to hear all the hits. So we’ll do four or five hits and two or three other songs. There’ll be a few surprises as we do stuff the other 60s bands don’t play. We do even more in our own shows.

“I’ve worked with all the guys on the bill, they’re all mates so it’s gonna be a lot of fun, there mat even be some practical jokes.

“The best thing is the fun you have. People have actually bought tickets to hear you sing. They love it.”

And the audiences for the Sensational Sixties Shows are special.

“Absolutely. The audiences are fantastic. They’re getting younger too. It’s nice if you can inspire people, after all that’s the reason we all started.”

The Sensational Sixties Experience, with Mike Pender, The Dakotas, The Swinging Blue Jeans, The Dakotas and The Trems, will be appearing at The Grand Opera House, York, on October 17.

Martin Hutchinson