He was posted to the Intelligence Corps depot in Sussex where, with two others, he formed a guitar trio playing Latin American songs, with O’Brien singing in Spanish and Portuguese.
He also started a vocal group called the Pedini Brothers, singing mainly Latin American and Russian songs, and on his release worked in a bank while in his spare time forming a duo called The Kensington Squares, with a folk musician, Tim Field.
After appearing with his sister in 1957 at Butlin’s holiday camps, in 1960 he invited Mary, then one of the Lana Sisters, to join them in forming the Springfields, O’Brien adopting the professional name Tom Springfield while that Mary, then 21, borrowed a childhood nickname to become Dusty Springfield, singing (as she recalled) “incredibly fast, incredibly cheerful and often out of tune”.
The trio named themselves the Springfields to sound more American (Springfield is the second most common place name in the US), while Dion became Tom and Mary became the peroxide blonde known as Dusty. While she always dominated the group as the singer in the middle, her biographers noted that Tom (who disliked the limelight) sported a mirthless smile and clenched his teeth.
Signed to Philips Records, the group had minor hits with Breakaway and Bambino and in 1962 Mike Hurst replaced Tim Feild in the line up. Their first hit was with Island Of Dreams, with its heartbreak escape theme. “I wanted to go to Brazil,” Springfield recalls, and he developed an obsession with singer Carmen Miranda.
When his sister split up to pursue a solo career, she introduced Tom Springfield to the Seekers, who had recently arrived in London from Melbourne. He immediately “got” the band’s sound, which bore a strong similarity to that of the Springfields, and he is said to have adapted his songs for the voice of lead singer Judith Durham.