David McWilliams: Days of Pearly Spencer

I have no idea how Days of Pearly Spencer suddenly popped into my mind the other day. After listening to the tune, I just couldn’t get it out of my head again. The song’s haunting lyrics about a homeless man stay with you. At the same time, the string arrangement is weirdly catchy, and the recording of the chorus through a telephone line is memorable as well.

Days of Pearly Spencer was written by David McWilliams and first appeared in October 1967. I don’t know any other songs by McWilliams, who was a singer-songwriter from Nothern Ireland. Interestingly, the tune’s initial release was as the B-side to Harlem Lady, a single from his eponymous sophomore album. BTW, that string arrangement came from producer Mike Leander, who also provided orchestral arrangements for The Beatles’ She’s Leaving Home and Marianne Faithful’s version of As Tears Go By.

David McWilliams

While Days of Pearly Spencer did not chart in the U.K. and the Republic of Ireland, it became a success in continental Europe, where it topped the French charts, hit no. 2 in Belgium and climbed to no. 8 in The Netherlands. Because of Major Minor label executive Phil Solomon’s involvement with pirate radio station Radio Caroline, where the song received substantial exposure, the BBC refused to play it, effectively dooming its chances to chart in the U.K. and the Republic of Ireland.

In one of those sad stories of the music business, McWilliams apparently never profited from what was his best-known song. A cover by Marc Almond released in 1992 rose to no. 4 on the U.K. charts and peaked at no. 8 in Ireland. McWilliams suddenly passed away from a heart attack on January 8, 2002.

Sources: Wikipedia; YouTube