My selections from the British progressive music scene of 50 years ago became irregular then finally stopped in 2020. It’s not just down to indolence on my part. The Marmalade Skies website is a lovingly curated archive resource for those interested in the period however their month-by-month “Remember the Times” feature has proved to be a little approximate. I’m have no great attachment to verisimilitude but y’know, fake news on the Interwebs, who would do such a thing? Hippies eh! Marijuana would have been legalised years ago if they could have remembered where they had left the petition. Any road up, in 2021 let’s get back to it. There was plenty of interesting British music released 50 years ago, some classics, some that caused more than a ripple at the time, others that have been, deservedly or not, forgotten. My first selection from their January 1971 listings turns out on further “research” to have probably hit the shops in September of that year. No matter it is a great single which didn’t get a wide hearing at the time but y’know it’s only 50 years, it’s not too late.
Balls were a planned Birmingham supergroup financed & organised by Tony Secunda, a proto-Malcolm Mclaren, a manager, sensationalist & chancer. Secunda had managed the Moody Blues until a financial fallout after their second 45 “Go Now” became an international hit. His guidance of The Move ended when a publicity stunt libelled the Prime Minister & all the royalties to “Flowers in the Rain” were lost in a court case. It was Denny Laine, formerly of the Moodies & Trevor Burton, recently split from the Move at the core of Balls. They, like those other Midlanders Traffic, went to get it together in the country, a large cash advance was acquired from the record company. They were joined by an assortment of other Brummie musicians &, I would imagine at some expense, Rolling Stones producer Jimmy Miller was hired to get it into order.
The cottage on the Berkshire Downs was too near a pub & the drug use said to be more than recreational so things were a little chaotic as personnel came, went, then came back again. Tony Secunda lost interest when he became involved with T.Rex, a Pop sensation in 1971. Two other Birmingham musicians, Jeff Lynne with E.L.O. & Roy Wood with Wizzard, hired prospective members of Balls & then, later in the year, Denny Laine got a call from Paul McCartney to join a new band Wings (“the band the Beatles could have been”-Alan Partridge), an offer he couldn’t refuse. After all the rigmarole only three tracks were completed & I’m guessing that a later re-release of “Fight For My Country” under the name B.L.W. means that Burton, Laine & Alan White, drummer off the Plastic Ono Band, stuck around. Burton’s song is robustly anti-war driven by Denny’s pumping bass. Miller gives it a full, heavy treatment & it’s an epic of muscular Psych, like Eric Burdon’s “Sky Pilot” only, thankfully, without the bagpipes. The single got little airplay (was it the band’s name?) & that was all the Balls we heard. Years later I would see Trevor Burton’s lunchtime sessions at the Station Hotel in Sutton Coldfield. He didn’t play “Fire Brigade” or “Fight For My Country” but straight ahead, no bullshit Rock & Roll & a couple of beers was just the thing before a roast dinner.
In May 1970 the Hollywood Music Festival (not THE Hollywood, the one near Newcastle-under-Lyme in the UK) featured an impressive line-up including the first UK appearance of the Grateful Dead. The show was stolen by a group that barely made the poster. Mungo Jerry’s good time jug band music was the ideal afternoon relief from a day of electric music & they raised such a ruckus that they were invited to play on both days (conveniently M.J’s management also organised the festival). The group’s debut had been released days before their appearances, a “maxi-single”, 3 tracks, 33 1/3 r.p.m., retailing at 49p (68 cents). The song didn’t really need such a promotional boost, “In the Summertime” (you know it) was fresh, distinctive & sounded like the super smash international feelgood hit of the summer it became with eventual sales of 30 million. Just weeks later Mungo Jerry were known by many more people than 30,000 hippies in a Staffordshire field.
“…Summertime” was written by lead singer Ray Dorset, an enthusiastic & charismatic frontman with the most impressive mutton chop sideburns in music. His song “Baby Jump”, another maxi-single, was the follow up, a stomping boogie with lascivious lyrics & the group had another UK #1. “Mungomania” was an actual word in 1971. In the clip Ray, dressed in his mum’s curtains, & the band mug there way through it for French TV but the song rocked. Four more singles made the charts & the line up changed but they continued to perform for years. Undoubtedly Ray Dorset was the face of the group (I think some people thought that his name was Mungo Jerry) & as long as he was there with his songs, his sideburns & his spirit audiences were alright, alright, alright for many years to come.
In 1980 Ray wrote his third UK #1 when Kelly Marie’s “Feels Like I’m in Love” broke out of the Scottish club scene (Lord help us!) on to the national chart. Not my kind of music at all but the synth drum hook brings to mind my great, unfortunately late friend Dave Evans, a son of Dublin, a man of the world. Dave & I enjoyed many conversations about Hegelian dialectics, Bill Griffin’s Zippy comics & the merits of the B-52’s “Whammy” album. So man, “BOOP-BOO!”
David Bowie was not having the best of things at the beginning of 1971. “The Man Who Sold the World”, his third album, had a US release in November of the previous year but it would be April before it was in the UK shops when, in his words, it “sold like hotcakes in Beckenham, and nowhere else”. The attention he had received after “Space Oddity” was waning & his new management had problems with the former management, with the record label & with the lapsing of David’s publishing deal. “The recording of “The Man Who…” had not ended well with producer Tony Visconti & guitarist Mick Ronson, both involved with Bowie’s planned group Hype looking elsewhere while Mercury had no plans to release a single from the album. Phew!
A demo of “Holy Holy” attracted a new publishing deal & producer Herbie Flowers brought along his bandmates from Blue Mink, session musicians enjoying success with positive, polished Pop, to record a 45 which was released on January 17th 1971. With lyrics influenced by Alistair Crowley, a rather insipid bass-heavy production & a vocal tipping its hat to Marc Bolan, “Holy Holy”, despite a TV appearance in a Mr Fish dress, was not a success. However the new deal brought a new energy & substance to Bowie’s songwriting. A promotional visit to the US inspired tributes to Dylan, Warhol & the Velvet Underground. A side project, Arnold Corns, with the returning Mick Ronson bringing along Woody Woodmansey & Trevor Bolder, tried out early versions of songs that Ziggy Stardust & the Spiders from Mars would record. In the summer of 1971 new studio sessions instigated a wonderfully varied & imaginative set of songs that, when released in December by a new label, RCA, marked David Bowie as a special, rather unique talent. That album was “Hunky Dory” & everything kinda was after that.