1974 – 1979 (5 years)
London, England, United Kingdom
The Olympic Runners were a 1970s British funk band, led by singer George Chandler, and record producer Mike Vernon. Vernon also played percussion for the group. They are best remembered for their four UK hit singles, including the Top 40 successes, "Get It While You Can" (1978) and "Sir Dancealot" (1979).
Vernon had been behind the creation of the British Blue Horizon record label, and the Olympic Runners comprised session musicians who were booked into the Olympic Studios in London to play on an album by blues singer Jimmy Dawkins. When his plane was delayed, the musicians recorded a funk track, "Put The Music Where Your Mouth Is", which Vernon then sold to London Records. As band members, Vernon and Chandler were joined by the ex-Arrival drummer Glen LeFleur and guitarist Joe Jammer, who played with Caesar and Chili Charles, amongst others. Added to the line-up were bassist DeLisle Harper, who had backed Rebop Kwaku Baah, plus vocalist and keyboard player Pete Wingfield, who himself had worked with Vernon as a member of early 1970s blues band, Jellybread. Wingfield was also having a parallel solo career at Island Records, while Chandler, LeFleur and Harper were simultaneously members of jazz-funk band Gonzalez.
The Olympic Runners' debut album, Put The Music Where Your Mouth Is, was released in 1974. Well received on both American and British dancefloors, it was nevertheless overshadowed by Wingfield's solo single, "Eighteen With a Bullet", which became a worldwide hit, reaching #7 in the UK Singles Chart in spring 1975, and entering the US Top 20 in August. Wingfield returned to the band for their second album, Out in Front, that same year. The Olympic Runners — temporarily without Wingfield — released a third album, Don't Let Up, also in 1975. Several single releases accompanied the two, including "Drag It Over Here", "Grab It", and "Sproutin' Out". Wingfield said that "we would meet up in the studio every eight months or so, think up a bunch of wacky ideas, and record them immediately." For the first few years, the musicians were anonymous and they were widely but wrongly assumed to be an American funk band.
1976 saw the band issue, Hot to Trot; an event which marked the end of their time at London Records, but also posted the beginnings of a change that would bring them from funk to a more disco sound by the end of the decade. Throughout the rest of the 1970s, the Olympic Runners issued a series of albums and singles that would prove to be their most successful. With the membership now fluid around the availability of individual members, 1978's Keepin' It Up and Puttin' It on Ya were both well received, with the latter spinning off the dancefloor fillers "Get It While You Can" and "Sir Dancealot"; both UK Top 40 hits. 1979 saw the emergence of Out of the Ground and It's a Bitch, with their own attendant singles, "Whatever It Takes" and "The Bitch". The latter song would gain further momentum as the title track for the film, The Bitch, written by Jackie Collins and starring Joan Collins. Despite such successes, however, the Olympic Runners disbanded before the decade was out.
Vernon and Wingfield went on to further success as members of the doo-wop revivalists Rocky Sharpe & the Replays; their bandmates continued from whence they had joined, as prolific session musicians. Chandler became a founding member of Londonbeat in 1988.
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