The Tragedy

March 1978 - George St. John tragically died on March 1, 1978, when he passed out on the tracks in the Manchester rail yards and was run over by the 6:40 AM commuter to Liverpool.

Anthony returned to Manchester for the funeral. The unfortunate event brought Anthony, Ian and George in the same room for the first time since 1970. It was initially awkward, but after the funeral the three regrouped at Nigel and Gordon's posh Chorlton Street townhouse, reminiscing over old times. At one point, Gordon quietly fetched Nigel’s acoustic guitar, and the lads played unplugged renditions of their old tunes, their favorite covers and, surprisingly, began sketching some new songs.  The impromptu reunion lasted until the wee hours of the morning.

The Souls spent the next two days practicing their old songs and developing the new material. They had matured and their music showed it. Nicky Finch, a childhood friend who filled in on drums, later said, "the stuff was brilliant—their best ever.” After a week in Manchester, Anthony packed up and went back to California.

In April 1978, Mick Jagger and Ron Wood visited Los Angeles in advance of the Rolling Stones' upcoming Tour of the Americas.  They looked up Anthony. The three hit all the L.A. hotspots and partied most of the night. Mick thought that it would be a great idea to have The Dover Souls reunite as the "surprise" opening act for their July 26, 1978 stop at the Oakland Coliseum in Oakland.

Anthony was stunned by the offer.  He called Nigel and Ian, who immediately accepted, knowing this was the chance of a lifetime.

On July 15, 1978 Nigel and Ian arrived in Los Angeles to begin practice at Anthony's Topanga ranch house. It didn't take long for the boys to get into the groove and begin building on the songs they wrote while in England the previous summer. A session drummer named Jim Keltner, who did studio work for the Stones and was scheduled to play with the band on the upcoming tour, graciously sat in with the group for the series of intense jam sessions. "I was blown away," he said in an interview later. "The new material was first rate. This was the band they were supposed to be.  The early success of Misty (Monday Morning) really threw a monkey wrench into their musical development.  Too much too fast, you know.  These guys had finally gotten to a good place.”

Anthony, Ian and Nigel were so pleased with the effort that they agreed to cut a demo tape after The Stones concert and shop it around to a few producers.

On July 25, 1978, Anthony, Ian and Nigel boarded a Beechcraft Bonanza at Burbank Airport for the short flight to Oakland. Though it was broad daylight, the skies clear, the small plane drifted inexplicably off course by over a hundred miles. Private planes are not required to file a flight plan or carry a black box, so no one knows what happened during the flight.

The only hard fact is that Beechcraft Bonanza, FAA #N1309, violently crashed in an artichoke field three miles outside Clovis, California, killing all aboard: Anthony Smithe-Jones, Ian Tolliver, Nigel Biggs and the pilot, Robert James Tooey.


The remains of the plane that crashed killing Anthony Smithe-Jones, Ian Tolliver and Nigel Biggs of The Dover Souls, July 25, 1978

The lads returned home to Manchester for the last time on August 15, 1978,  Some five-hundred family and friends attended the private funeral services at Manchester Cathedral, including; Mick Jagger, Marianne Faithful, Ron Woods, Reginald Leach, Peter Noone, Billy J. Kramer, George Harrison, Chad DiMarco, Goldie Hawn, Christine McVie, Pete Best and Michael Billington, among others. Outside, Victoria Street was barricaded to accommodate the few hundred fans (mostly female) who held a tearful vigil outside the cathedral. The eulogy was delivered by Nigel's dad, Kurt Biggs, who concluded with this quote from British poet John Dryden:

"Like pilgrims to the appointed place we tend; The world's an inn, and death the journey's end."

All three of the lads were buried in family plots within yards of each other at Chadderton Cemetery just outside Manchester.  During graveside services, a solitary Scottish piper played Misty Monday Morning as 100 white doves were released into the overcast sky.

It’s said that the birds circled aimlessly for hours, eventually returning to Manchester, where they belonged.

Anthony Smithe-Jones is carried down the steps of the Manchester Cathedral


Left: Flowers from Mick Jagger and Marianne Fatihful; Right: Ian's Wife Susanne Schimkus (At right in Photo).


Left: Ian's older Brother Shane and Mother Shelly; Right: The Tolliver, Smithe-Jones and Biggs Family plots at Chadderton Cemetery.

Please remember the request of the families for privacy and respect when visiting the gravesites.



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