After The Esquires had run their course, guitarist Andy Legault and drummer Paul Huot were looking to put together a new act, and got in touch with members of The Darnels, a dance band toiling away on the Ottawa circuit. It was a collective invitation, and frontman Frank Morrison, guitarist David Milliken, and bassist Wayne Leslie all hopped on board.
Settling on the name The Townsmen, they rehearsed for several months, and then took a gig at a local hot spot called The Coral Reef, playing a mix of Esquires tunes, covers of popular American and British hits, and mixing in some of their own original material. The engagement lasted for five solid weeks and while there, Sandy Gardner, former manager of The Esquires and The Staccatos (which evolved into 5 Man Electrical Band) was invited to come see them play. He agreed to manage them, and shortly after that he landed them a deal with Regency Records.
Their first single was one of several tunes written specifically for them by The Staccatos’ Les Emmerson and Vern Craig. “I’m Such a Dreamer” was backed by a cover of The Sorrows’ 1965 hit “Take A Heart.” The single was released in ’66 in the middle of a string of shows opening for The Staccatos on some Ontario dates. Setting a standard for multi-part harmonies with a British flavour, the single peaked at #18 on the chart, getting significant airplay in several markets across the country.
A cross-Canada tour ensued, where they opened for the likes of The McCoys, The Young Rascals, and Gary Lewis & The Playboys, and by year’s end a second single, “Funny How Love Can Be” b/w “Heaven In The Middle of Town” followed into the top 20.
In ’67 John Baccho replaced Legault on guitar, and was replaced himself shortly thereafter by fellow Esquires alumni Gary Comeau, and Buddy Stanton was added on keyboards. A cover of The Tokens’ “The Lion Sleeps Tonite” crept into the top 30 and was backed by a cover of Dee Dee Warwick’s “We’re Doing Fine,” and was followed by “He’s In Town” later that year. Before the year was up, Huot was gone and Greg McGhee was the new drummer.
The band was on the road to self implosion in ’68, and Stanton by now had been replaced by Scott Cushnie, whose term was also short-lived, replaced by Jack Arsenault. But before they called it quits, Polydor picked up the band after Regency closed its doors and released the single “Rocking Chair,” which failed to make the top 40. Everyone went off to do their own thing, and in some cases the members’ individual paths would cross again, including Comeau and Leslie working together in James Leroy & Denim.
Legault passed away in the mid ’80s prior to a brief reunion in 1987 for an Ottawa charity, which featured Jim McIntyre and Lachlan MacFadyen on guitars. This sparked a few more shows around the area, and a new single, “Wind’s Blowin’ Diamonds Tonight” was released on the independent Ottawa Records label. It failed to chart, and members again either drifted off to other projects or got out of the business all together. A version of the band resurfaced again in 1991 that was actually a conglomerate of the various incarnations for a series of dates, but once again soon disbanded.
Ottawa-based Mouse Hole Music released the definitive collection in 2008, called WE’RE DOING FINE – THE ANTHOLOGY. The double disc set included all of the band’s singles, as well as a selection of live tracks recorded during the band’s various tenures, and previously unreleased studio tracks. The compilation also included selections from the members’ bands prior to joining The Townsmen – The Darnels, The Continentals, The Jades, Lori & Diane, and Harold.
In 2017, Milliken passed away peacefully in his Ottawa home from natural causes.