Widowmaker was formed in late 1975 by ex-Spooky Tooth and Mott The Hoople guitarist Luther Grosvenor, at the time known as Ariel Bender, as a means of recording songs he had written, something he had been unable to do since Mott The Hoople’s recordings were dominated by Ian Hunter penned tunes. Grosvenor was joined by ex-Lindisfarne drummer Paul Nichols and former Mungo Jerry and Chicken Shack bassist Bob Daisley. The trio became of the nucleus of the new band, with Grosvenor handling all the vocals.
The band decided that a lead vocalist would improve the band’s sound and as a result, Steve Ellis, formerly of Love Affair, was added, after his name was given to Grosvenor by Bobby Tench and Roger Chapman. At first Ellis wasn’t excited at the prospect of joining the band, but with some coaxing he took the job. Adding a keyboard was considered by the quartet, but in the end, guitarist Huw Lloyd-Langton completed the original lineup of the quintet, which took the name Widowmaker, although no one in the band can really remember why, and Grosvenor says he never liked the name.
The band’s first gig was a 24 February 1976 appearance on the BBC’s “Old Grey Whistle” when they performed the Grosvenor/Ellis/Nichols penned “On The Road” and the Grosvenor/Ellis composition “Ain’t Telling You Nothing” both of which appeared on the groups debut LP. Catching the eye and ear of Roger Daltrey, Widowmaker opened for The Who at three gigs in May and June of 1976.
The band signed with Don Arden’s Jet Records with Arden becoming their manager. Soon the group entered De Lane Lea Studios in Wembley and began work on their self-produced and self-titled debut LP. Among the album’s ten tracks are five which Grosvenor had a part in writing, including the hot rocking “Running Free.” The band was aided by keyboardist Zoot Money, and backing vocals were supplied by Bobby Tench, Roger Chapman, Julie Driscoll and Sam Brown. With Jet making changes in distribution the album made a late appearance in the US and reached only #196 on the Billboard charts, disappointing to the band and certainly not an indication of the quality of material recorded.
Undeterred the band toured with Jet label mates ELO, as well as Uriah Heep and Nazareth. However, musical differences, home sickness and a falling out with manager Arden resulted in Ellis exiting the band. At the recommendation of Lloyd-Langton lead vocals were taken over by John Butler and the band entered Olympic Studio to record its second LP “Too Late To Cry” with Chris Kimsey and the band coproducing. The album, smoother sounding, but lacking the raw sound of the band’s debut reached only #150 on the Billboard charts in the US. Although containing four guitar driven tracks co-written by Grosvenor, the highlights of the anthology for me, it had a smoother sound, but didn’t rock as hard as the debut and proved to be the final album by the group.
Widowmaker toured with Ted Nugent, Aerosmith and Mahogany Rush, among others, in support of “Too Late To Cry” but bassist Daisley departed to become part of Ritchie Blackmore’s Rainbow. In addition, Grosvenor was unhappy, and although the band’s albums were much better than average and the group could have gone on for another year or two at the least, the members decided to call it a day and Widowmaker was no more.
Running Free: The Jet Recordings 1976-1977 marks the first time both Widowmaker albums have been reissued on CD in their entirety. Three tracks from “Too Late To Cry” make their debut on the anthology and are joined by another Grosvenor co-penned, previously unreleased track “Talk To Me.” The Esoteric Recordings reissue, compiled, conceived and coordinated by Mark Powell, with assistance from his wife Vicky, has the band sounding better than ever thanks to the 24-bit remastering job by Ben Wisessman at Broadlake Studios and the 16-page full color booklet includes an informative essay by Malcolm Dome and is filled with photos of the band, album artwork, posters, and other memorabilia, making “Running Free” the unquestionably definitive Widowmaker anthology. The collection will be appreciated by fans of hard rock and the incredible guitar work of Luther Grosvenor alike. Many thanks to the Powells and the folks at Esoteric Recordings for making this fine collection available.
by Kevin Rathert, August 29, 2017
1. Such A Shame (Bob Daisley) - 3:20
2. Pin A Rose On Me (Bob Daisley, Luther Grosvenor, Steve Ellis) - 5:02
3. On The Road (Luther Grosvenor, Paul Nicholls, Steve Ellis) - 3:08
4. Straight Faced Fighter (Steve Ellis) - 3:27
5. Ain't Telling You Nothing (Luther Grosvenor, Steve Ellis) - 4:52
Tracks 1-10 taken from the album 'Widowmaker' - released as Jet Records 2310 432 in 1976
1. Too Late To Cry (Bob Daisley) - 3:54
2. The Hustler (Bob Daisley, Luther Grosvenor) - 4:04
3. What A Way To Fall (Bob Daisley) - 3:52
4. Here Comes The Queen (Luther Grosvenor) - 4:10
5. Mean What You Say (Huw Lloyd-Langton, John Butler) - 3:21
6. Something I Can Do Without (Bob Daisley, Luther Grosvenor) - 4:11
7. Sign The Papers (Bob Daisley, John Butler) - 5:08
8. Pushin' And Pullin' (John Farnham) - 4:50
9. Sky Blues (Bob Daisley, John Butler, Luther Grosvenor, Paul Nicholls) - 5:40
10.Talk To Me (Bob Daisley, John Butler, Luther Grosvenor, Paul Nicholls) - 4:17
Tracks 1-9 taken from the album 'Too Late To Cry' released as Jet Records UAG 30038 in 1977
Track 10 recorded at Olympic Studios in January 1977 previously unreleased.
Subtitled “The Complete Plastic Penny”, this new collection brings together everything recorded under the name, including all surviving BBC sessions and two albums in Two Sides Of A Penny and Currency, the former in both mono and stereo forms……LTW’s Ian Canty finds a band that were conjured almost out of thin air to promote the surprise success of Everything I Am…..
Plastic Penny were originally conceived as a classic “Tin Pan Alley” ruse, constructed by Page One label head and manager extraordinaire Larry Page. The ex-Kinks/Troggs kingpin had identified Everything I Am as a song with potential, finding it on the flipside to the Box Tops’ Neon Rainbow, the follow up to their smash hit The Letter. He decided that session singer Brian O’Shea (soon to be renamed Brian Keith) was just the man to replicate Alex Chilton’s vocal style and with backing from other members of the session scene the track was completed. A composition by Brian Keith and keyboardist Paul Raymond (later of UFO), entitled No Pleasure Without Pain My Love, was also taped and provided the b side.
This single was duly released on Page One Records late in 1967 under the name Plastic Penny. 9 times out of 10 back then these type of things disappeared without trace, but Page was shrewd cookie and the song got good airplay and made the charts, climbing as high as number 6. This success presented its own problem: how do you promote a record rising rapidly up the charts without a band? Thus the first real line-up of Plastic Penny was quickly thrown together, with Keith and Raymond joined by the Sunderland-based duo of drummer Nigel Olsson and guitarist Mick Grabham, with Tony Murray (who was a member of Universals along with Keith and Raymond) completing things on bass.
The quintet promoted the single on its journey to the UK Top 10 and were entrusted with playing on, if not actually writing, the follow-up. This point in time was pretty much make or break for Plastic Penny, so Nobody Knows It was sourced from the sure-handed pairing of Bill Martin and Phil Coulter. These two had been behind many a hit and had recently won the Eurovision Song Contest with Sandie Shaw, so the catchy number they provided seemed a sure bet. The band managed to render the song with some nice organ swirls that pushed it close to “flavour of the month” Procul Harum in terms of sound. Another hit could have seen them establish a run in the charts, but sadly it was not to be, as the record did not trouble the Top 50. Even so, they pushed on with completing their debut album.
In truth Two Sides of A Penny was an uneven LP and somewhat aptly named. As far as I’m concerned, the better material is mainly situated on the second side and the stereo version carries a little more zing than the mono take, but that is a closer call. Although the hit (that most of the band never played on) was a nice bit of ornate late 60s Pop, the attempts to follow in the same style with Keith at the helm are a bit lumpy. Plastic Penny were generally a better outfit when they were given something more to get their teeth into, which they did on side two.
I Want You has drummer Olsson taking the microphone on an excellent tough fast rocker, but Mrs Grundy is the album’s real highlight, a fine piece of Psychedelic storytelling with some great instrumental touches. Take Me Back has a nice fresh feel to it and It’s A Good Thing is busting out with Pop/Soul goodness. They also have a dart at the Fabs’ Strawberry Fields Forever, which is ok but doesn’t add a great deal to the original (apart from grafting on a bit of Hello Goodbye). Both sides of their first two singles feature as bonus tracks on this disc, along with a couple of Italian language reworkings of the a sides.
The second disc, which houses the stereo version of the debut album, has a marvellous bonus in 14 BBC session tracks. For the most part the songs put down for the Beeb don’t differ vastly from the released versions, but do have some great Brian Matthew intros and outros (these recordings are taken from transcription discs, so Brian appears all over the place, even if the tracks were originally set down for other DJs’ shows), which give them a lovely “period” feel. There are a few Plastic Penny songs here which never saw official release though. Turning Night Into Day is a Baroque Pop treat, lots of strings and a soulful vocal – really nice stuff and the Killing Floor shows their tougher, more R&B influenced side. In addition Penny reunited with Brian Keith (see below) for an early version of his solo effort The Shelter Of Your Arms. Overall this part of the boxset is probably the most interesting and exciting section.
After the album was released came the inevitable split between the band and Keith – they had been effectively pulling in different directions for a while and Keith opted for a solo career. A brand new record heralded Penny’s next phase, the excellent Your Way To Tell Me To Go/Baby You’re Not To Blame single. Though again not a hit, this was for me probably their best release. The A side is a real winner, thunderous playing more in the style of the Move and the Who and the flipside is no slouch either, with a rolling bass line, cool piano and a great build to the chorus. Both have some excellent guitar work adorning them. Unfortunately the following Hound Dog single is a bit “of its time”, slowed down jamming covers were all the rage, but this was still a bit naff. More positively Currency, which occupied the other side, is a smart instrumental goodie.
On the whole you would have hoped that the good showing on 3 out of 4 of the single sides would augured well for their second album, also entitled Currency. Unfortunately it again feels to me like it isn’t quite the LP they truly had in them. Part of the problem is the amount of outside material, with four out of the nine selections being covers. I can understand why they did MacArthur Park in the grandstanding style of the Nice, it was all the rage at the time these types of things, but all these years on it feels like it is just banging up the running time. Elton John was circling the band at the time, but his and Taupin’s Turn To Me isn’t one of their best.
The sad thing is their own material is by far the best stuff on the whole album. Give Me Money is really top quality, they had played this one a while before Currency was cut (it is on disc 2 in its BBC session form), but it is still good to hear more than once. A wonderful, punchy and catchy uptempo piece of Power Pop that would certainly have given Roy Wood or Pete Townshend a run for their money. The aforementioned Your Way To Tell Me To Go, Baby You’re Not To Blame and Currency are all superb and Sour Suite is an effective jam which gives the band a chance to show their chops. On the positive side, this LP represented an improvement on their debut, but time was not on their side. You also have to factor in that even their better material would have seemed dated by 1969 (but with the elapsing of so much time, it sounds right on the money now).
In fact the band virtually folded after the record, with Raymond and Murray dropping out. Mick Grabham and Olsson put together a final line up, being joined by Stewart Brown on vocals and Freddy Gandy on bass. Even Olsson had scarpered by the time the final Plastic Penny single was released She Does/Genevieve. Despite the much changed personnel, this was another cool single, with the topside’s joyous vitality proving infectious and early song Genevieve being given a good dose of late-Psych vim. Still, it was too late in the day for Plastic Penny and soon after they were no more. The final three singles, plus rarity Celebrity Ball, which only was previously available on the obscure Heads I Win – Tails You Lose (Page One weren’t going to give up on the coin-related puns easily!) Plastic Penny compilation make up the bonuses here. The pick is She Does, a great single which really deserved much better.
Despite some reservations, Everything I Am: The Complete Plastic Penny is an excellent and thorough compilation of Plastic Penny’s recording career with an in depth sleeve note that tells the band’s convoluted story very well. Though people might only remember them for that single if at all, they were far better when they were given a chance to be a “proper” band rather than puppets fronting a record they didn’t record. That hit didn’t do them many favours, but on the evidence here Plastic Penny had more to offer, including some great songs of their own in Give Me Money and Your Way To Tell Me To Go. It was a shame that they were never given their chance to produce a whole album of their own material, but this collection has a few powerful 60s Pop gems to be gleaned. Another sterling effort by the Grapefruit imprint.
by Ian Canty, February 20, 2019
Disc 1 "Two Sides Of A Penny" 1968 (Mono)
1. Everything I Am (Dan Penn, Dewey Lindon Oldham Jr.) - 2:22
2. Wake Me Up (Brian Keith, Paul Raymond) - 3:08
3. Never My Love (Dick Addrisi, Don Addrisi) - 2:22
4. Genevieve (Paul Raymond, Tony Murray) - 2:08
5. No Pleasure Without Pain My Love (Brian Keith, Paul Raymond) - 2:44
6. So Much Older Now (Paul Raymond, Tony Murray) - 2:36
7. Mrs. Grundy (Brian Keith, Paul Raymond) - 5:14
8. Take Me Back (Brian Keith, Paul Raymond) - 2:20
9. I Want You (Jack Bruce, Graham Bond) - 3:23
10.It's A Good Thing (Brian Keith, Paul Raymond) - 2:46
11.Strawberry Fields Forever (John Lennon, Paul McCartney) - 4:23
12.Everything I Am (Dan Penn, Dewey Lindon Oldham Jr.) - 2:27
13.No Pleasure Without Pain My Love (Brian Keith, Paul Raymond) - 2:41
14.Nobody Knows It (Bill Martin, Phil Coulter) - 2:31
15.Happy Just To Be With You (Brian Keith, Paul Raymond) - 2:54
16.Guarda Nel Cielo (Nobody Knows It) (Bill Martin, Phil Coulter, Giovanni Sanjust) - 2:28
17.Tutto Quel Che Ho (Everything I Am) (Dan Penn, Dewey Lindon Oldham Jr., Giovanni Sanjust) - 2:27
Tracks (1-11) The album Two Sides Of A Penny, mono, Page One POL 005, released April 1968
Tracks (11-13) Single, Page One POF 051, released December 1967
Tracks (14-15) Single, Page One POF 062, released March 1968
Tracks (16-17) Italian single, Ricordi International SIR 20.067, released May 1968
Disc 2"Two Sides Of A Penny" (Stereo) 1968
1. Everything I Am (Dan Penn, Dewey Lindon Oldham Jr.) - 2:28
2. Wake Me Up (Brian Keith, Paul Raymond) - 3:08
3. Never My Love (Dick Addrisi, Don Addrisi) - 2:22
4. Genevieve (Paul Raymond, Tony Murray) - 2:07
5. No Pleasure Without Pain My Love (Brian Keith, Paul Raymond) - 2:43
6. So Much Older Now (Paul Raymond, Tony Murray) - 2:37
7. Mrs. Grundy (Brian Keith, Paul Raymond) - 5:14
8. Take Me Back (Brian Keith, Paul Raymond) - 2:21
9. I Want You (Jack Bruce, Graham Bond) - 3:24
10.It's A Good Thing (Brian Keith, Paul Raymond) - 2:47
11.Strawberry Fields Forever (John Lennon, Paul McCartney) - 4:25
12.Turning Night Into Day (Tony Murray) - 2:39
13.Everything I Am (Dan Penn, Dewey Lindon Oldham Jr.) - 2:25
14.Take Me Back (Brian Keith, Paul Raymond) - 2:26
15.Everything I Am (Dan Penn, Dewey Lindon Oldham Jr.) - 2:29
16.No Pleasure Without Pain My Love (Brian Keith, Paul Raymond) - 2:55
17.It's A Good Thing (Brian Keith, Paul Raymond) - 2:35
18.It's A Good Thing (Brian Keith, Paul Raymond) - 2:34
19.Nobody Knows It (Bill Martin, Phil Coulter) - 2:40
20.So Much Older Now (Paul Raymond, Tony Murray) - 2:25
21.Your Way To Tell Me Go (Paul Raymond, Tony Murray) - 2:49
22.The Shelter Of Your Arms (Brian Keith, Paul Raymond) - 2:43
23.Give Me Money (Paul Raymond, Tony Murray) - 2:24
24.Killing Floor (Chester Burnett) - 4:02
25.Strawberry Fields Forever (John Lennon, Paul McCartney) - 3:56
Tracks (1-11) The album Two Sides Of A Penny, stereo, Page One POLS 005, released April 1968
Tracks (12-14) BBC session for Top Gear, recorded 10 January 1968, first broadcast 14 January
Tracks (15-17) BBC session for David Symonds, recorded 22 January 1968, first broadcast 29 February
Tracks (18-20) BBC session for David Symonds, recorded 19 March 1968, first broadcast 25 March
Tracks (22-23) BBC session for David Symonds, recorded 12 July 1968, first broadcast 22 July
Tracks (24-25) BBC session for Dave Cash, recorded 17 February 1969, first broadcast 1 March
Disc 3 "Currency" 1969
1. Your Way To Tell Me Go (Paul Raymond, Tony Murray) - 2:49
2. Hound Dog (Jerry Leiber, Mike Stoller) - 2:48
3. Currency (Mick Grabham, Nigel Olsson, Paul Raymond, Tony Murray) - 3:39
4. Caledonian Mission (Robbie Robertson) - 2:59
5. MacArthur Park (Jimmy Webb) - 7:35
6. Turn To Me (Elton John, Bernie Taupin) - 2:45
7. Baby You're Not To Blame (Paul Raymond, Tony Murray) - 2:53
8. Give Me Money (Paul Raymond, Tony Murray) - 2:59
9. Sour Suite (Mick Grabham, Nigel Olsson, Paul Raymond, Tony Murray) - 8:12
10.Your Way To Tell Me Go (Paul Raymond, Tony Murray) - 2:49
11.Baby You're Not To Blame (Paul Raymond, Tony Murray) - 2:52
12.Hound Dog (Jerry Leiber, Mike Stoller) - 2:47
13.Currency (Mick Grabham, Nigel Olsson, Paul Raymond, Tony Murray) - 3:39
14.Celebrity Ball (Alan Gordon, Garry Bonner) - 2:42
15.She Does (Paul Raymond, Tony Murray) - 3:07
16.Genevieve (Paul Raymond, Tony Murray) - 3:00
Tracks (1-9) The album Currency, Page One POLS 014, released February 1969
Tracks (10-11) Single, Page One POF 079, released July 1968
Tracks (11-13) Single, Page One POF 107, released November 1968
Track (14) Mid-1969 outtake, first release on the compilation album Heads I Win - Tails You Lose, Page One POS 611, released April 1970
Tracks (15-16) Single, Page One POF 146, released July 1969
*Brian Keith - Vocals
*Michael Graham - Guitar
*Tony Murray - Bass
*Nigel Olsson - Drums
*Paul Raymond - Organ, Piano
A significant advance from their debut album, Watercolour Days shows Clouds plunging straight into virtuoso-style progressive rock, shedding any of their lingering psychedelic playfulness in favor of a much more brooding, serious sound. Billy Ritchie's keyboards are the dominant instrument, even with some overdubbed orchestral accompaniment, and their more aggressive sound suits Ritchie's and lead singer/bassist Ian Ellis's vocal capabilities.
The album's overall sound is a mix of organ-centered art rock with some of the heavy hard rock sound one expected from Deep Purple, and it holds together amazingly well on numbers such as "Cold Sweat" and the title track. The guitar sound -- which was evident in small doses on their first album -- is missed sometimes, as it was in concert as well, but Ellis' bass work and Ritchie's powerful keyboard playing more than fill the gap. Indeed, hearing this album anew nearly 40 years on, it's even more difficult to understand how this trio didn't find more success than they did, especially given their reviews of the period.
by Bruce Eder
1. Watercolour Days - 5:30
2. Cold Sweat (Billy Ritchie, Ian Ellis) - 3:38
3. Lighthouse (Ian Ellis) - 5:05
4. Long Time (Billy Ritchie, Ian Ellis) - 4:37
5. Mind Of A Child (Billy Ritchie, Harry Hughes, Ian Ellis) - 2:52
6. I Know Better Than You (Billy Ritchie, Harry Hughes, Ian Ellis) - 4:55
7. Leavin' - 3:25
8. Get Off My Farm - 3:28
9. I Am The Melody - 2:41
10.Why Is There No Magic - 2:43
11.Shadows - 2:40
12.A Day Of Rain - 3:42
13.Clockwork Soldier - 5:06
All songs by Billy Ritchie except where stated
Bonus Tracks 10-13
More than anything the Airplane has ever done, Sunfighter sounds most like an extension of “I’d Swear that Someone Was There” and “What are Their Names” from the David Crosby LP, both in theme and arrangements. The instrumentation is performed by the same David Crosby, Jerry Garcia, Steve Stills etc. crew, as well as Kantner. Electric violin work is done by Papa John Creach.
Most of the songs deal with the problems of the human race; Man’s inhumanity to man, overpopulation, and evil.
Time and again, the theme of looking back on the ruined land called America many years after it’s demise, comes up in Kantner’s work. “Earth Mother” could have fit well in Kantner’sJefferson Starship album with it’s science-fiction theme. “Remember what we sang/ Remember how we danced/ In America so many years ago.”
All the songs on the album follow the same vocal pattern, in which Grace and Paul both sing simultaneously, while Grace holds each note a bit longer than Kantner, with the exception of “China.” “China,” in which Grace solos, sings the praises, hopes and the fear of raising her’s and Kantner’s child. “I hope she sees something to make her life happy.”
There is truly no one song that fails on the album, musically or lyrically, yet of all the songs, I find “Diana” the best. Although it is less than a minute in length and is continued on the opposite side as “Diana 2,” the mythological theme and the excellent vocals make the song one that will last as a classic for quite a time. “Diana/ Huntress of the moon/ Lady of the Earth.”
Not absent is the poetry cry for man’s return to nature. “Look at the Wood” is the story of humans raised in the wonders of nature. Perhaps. I am overemphasizing the lyrical aspect of this album, but actually, it is hard not to. It is a rarity when the quality of the lyrics and the instrumentation both reach the level of excellence they reach in this LP. Too many songs, or even albums, suffer from the repetition of the usual poetic cliches.
Grace Slick’s and Kantner’s talents as lyricists have gone almost unnoticed until now, and it is about time that their work be given the credit it deserves.
Credit must also go to the arrangements which paint as much imagery as the lyrics do. For the most part, the instrumentation is kept simple but not barren. In this period where Spectorisms are so frequent, it is quite refreshing to find an arrangement that is not in the least bit pretentious.
Sunfighter is a mystical album, almost a mysterious album. Despite the fact that it’s success is guaranteed because of the fame of the group Kantner and Slick regularly record for, the album definitely stands on it’s own merit as an excellent one.
by Cameron Crowe, "San Diego Door" January 13, 1972 – January 27, 1972
1. Silver Spoon (Grace Slick) - 5:40
2. Diana (Grace Slick, Paul Kantner) - 0:52
3. Sunfighter (Paul Kantner) - 3:50
4. Titantic (Phill Sawyer) - 2:25
5. Look At The Wood (Grace Slick, Paul Kantner) - 2:08
6. When I Was A Boy I Watched The Wolves (Grace Slick, Paul Kantner) - 4:59
7. Million (Paul Kantner) - 4:02
8. China (Grace Slick) - 3:17
9. Earth Mother (Jack Traylor) - 3:16
10.Diana (Part 2) (Grace Slick, Paul Kantner) - 1:01
11.Universal Copernican Mumbles (Patrick Gleeson, John Vierra, Paul Kantner) - 2:03
12.Holding Together (Grace Slick, Paul Kantner) - 7:40
The continuation from the CyberDesk of Larry Hoppen
Boffalongos personnel changed before we cut our 2nd LP Beyond Your Head in the same studio, now upgraded to 8-track! Keith left, Basil stayed, I moved to guitar, David ‘Doc ‘Robinson joined on bass and Ritchie still drummed on the record. However, the live band changed radically, right after the LP was released.
Sherman Kelly replaced Basil on keyboards/vocals and my former college roommate, Peter Giansante, entered on drums – just long enough to record a new song named Dancin’ in the Moonlight, written by Sherman in 1969.
Beyond Your Head shows the band’s growth from the first LP, with a preview of things to come through a first recording of what would become a global, iconic song, plus tunes by Doc and myself including a 3-song suite a la CS&N. (Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.
A few years later, Doc would be the lead singer on the huge hit rendition of Dancin’ in the Moonlight by King Harvest (1973), a band which included Sherman as well as (the late) Wells Kelly – Sherman’s younger brother - who both became Boff’s drummer until we disbanded in late 1971 and then joined up with John Hall to start Orleans in Woodstock, NY, bringing me into the initial trio in Feb. of 1972.
1. $1000 Week (Dave "Doc" Robinson) - 2:40
2. Pioneer Song (Basil Matychak) - 3:11
3. Beyond Your Head (Larry Hoppen) - 4:57
4. Snow White Lady (Dave "Doc" Robinson) - 2:49
5. Endless Questions (Larry Hoppen) - 1:59
6. Galaxy Glide (Dave "Doc" Robinson) - 5:08
7. Hard To Keep From Cryin' (Larry Hoppen) - 4:53
8. Sleepy Time Guy (Basil Matychak) - 2:05
9. Dancing In The Moonlight (Sherman Kelly) - 3:08
10.Goin' Away (Larry Hoppen) - 2:41
11.Cold Town In Winter (Larry Hoppen) - 2:37
12.Please Love Me (Larry Hoppen) - 5:20
I’d just left Ithaca College as a Music Ed. student when I joined Boffalongo. In pretty short order we cut 2 albums in New York City (released in 1969 and 1970).
The first LP is the original band, Keith Ginsberg on guitar/vocals, Basil Matychuk on keys/vocals, the late Ritchie Vitagliano on drums and me on bass; 7 of their songs and 5 written by me. I played some guitar, organ, trumpet and sang as well. Recorded in a ‘state of the art’ 4-track studio on 54th Street, it exemplifies the sheer energy / exploration of youth: a first effort from a group of kids with an eclectic, intellectual and sometimes ethereal idea of pop music.
A North-West London studio based quartet consisting of members best known as producers, engineers and session players, Fickle Pickle was actually a bit of an English psych pop supergroup consisting of Cliff Wade (lead guitar, rhythm guitar and bass guitar) and Geoff Gill (drums) from The Smoke, best known for their late 60’s acid classic “My Friend Jack” along with Wil Malone (piano, organ and electric piano) from Orange Bicycle and Steve Howden (lead guitar, rhythm guitar and bass guitar) from Red Dirt. Vocals for the band were supplied by all four members. The three bands had in common that they recorded at Morgan Studios in London, so it was rather inevitable that the four combined their talents and recorded a handful of singles as well as an LP that received very limited distribution. Luckily for fans of the band, albeit some fifty years later, the complete works of Fickle Pickle have been lovingly compiled and annotated by David Wells in a three CD box set aptly titled “A Complete Pickle” released on Morgan Music Co. Ltd.’s Morgan Blue Town imprint.
The three discs comprising “A Complete Pickle” are thematic. Disc one contains the twelve tracks from Fickle Pickle’s 1970 album “Sinful Skinful” which was released only in The Netherlands on the Explosion Records label along with nine non-LP single sides issued on various labels between 1970 and 1972. Disc two has twenty six tracks recorded, all but five previously unreleased, taken from the Morgan Blue Town tape library, while the box set’s real treat is disc three which contains fifteen previously unreleased studio tracks recorded during rehearsals for a Dutch tour, making for a total of sixty two tracks, thirty six of which make their debut on “A Complete Pickle” and making for an exhaustive document, nearly three and a half hours in length, of a finely tuned band who most certainly deserved a much better fate than they received.
Disc one begins with the LP tracks which unlike their singles, consist of only band originals, with Gill, Wade and Malone contributing the lion’s share of tunes. Throughout the band exhibits its ability to combine gorgeous melodies and beautiful vocal harmonies with skillful musicianship. Produced by Geoff Gill and Cliff Wade, the albums opens with “California Calling” co-written by Gill, a jazzy keyboard driven number that was a mainstay in Fickle Pickle’s live set. Originally released as a medley, the album’s title track, a Wade, Gill and Malone composition is a piano led tune with delicate vocal harmonies and a tastefully restrained lead guitar line, while the medley’s other half “Sandy” is a beautiful ballad featuring exceptional acoustic guitar work. “Doctor Octopus” hints at the heavier side of the band as well as serving as an example of the band’s Monty Pythonesque humorous element. “Let Me Tell You” the opening track on side two of the album begins with more delicate piano and gorgeous vocals before a fuzz guitar enters building to a mid-tune solo giving the tune a much heavier feel. “Down Misty Lane” is the LP’s longest tune at about four and a half minutes and has a Move like vibe with its 12 string guitar fitting perfectly.
Two other tracks in particular stand out. The vocal intro of “Sunshine Pie” brings to mind “Western Union” a smash hit by the US band The Five Americans before its tastefully restrained lead guitar line and solo take over, showcasing the rockier side of the band, and the album closing, Beatlesque “Our Time Is Thru” with its fuzzed out guitar leading to another hot solo, the tune being the album’s heaviest without question. As a finishing touch the band’s sense of humor shows once again as at the three minute mark the albums’ credits are read off. A very solid piece of melodic power pop one can only wonder why “Sinful Skinful” was a Dutch only release. With its combination of original material, masterful musicianship and excellent production there was certainly a place in music shops for an album of its quality. Disc one closes with nine non-LP single sides and includes some potential big sellers. The band’s take on Paul McCartney’s “Maybe I’m Amazed” is a prime example, with its piano intro and gorgeous vocals giving way to an uptempo lead guitar leading to a hot solo that plays the song out. With McCartney having not released the song as a single it seems Fickle Pickle’s label missed the perfect opportunity for a hit. The strongest track, however, may well be the band’s red hot cover of the Paul Williams classic “Just An Old Fashioned Love Song” a huge hit in the US for Three Dog Night. From the outset, the lead guitar is to the fore, with the piano, bass and drums all pushing the beat and the vocals much less prominent in the mix. This might just be the best recording of the song to date, and definitely another missed opportunity for a hit. One other single of note was “Millionaire” with its sitar-esque intro, delicately gorgeous vocals and lyrical social commentary.
Disc two consists of twenty six tracks, twenty one previously unreleased, taken from the Morgan Studios tape vaults. While the majority of tunes showcase the melodic side of Fickle Pickle and are dominated by keyboards and luscious vocals, there are five tunes in particular that remind the listener that the band was quite capable of rocking and deserve individual recognition. “Playing With Magic” opens with a heavy guitar intro before settling into a driving riff, supplemented by trippy phasing and an especially nice lead line. “Like A Good Man Should” has a driving beat as well as a stunning lead guitar line and solo complemented by Malone’s gorgeous piano interlude. “Ride Ride Ride” has plenty of punch supplied by its heavy guitar intro and stinging lead line, making for quite a snappy rocker. The group’s cover of Neil Young’s “Don’t Let It Bring You Down” features fine piano and organ work by Wil Malone with a smoking lead guitar line and an especially impressive solo, in addition to the band’s ever present melodic vocals.
Malone’s “Everyday” is a moody tune which adds strings for texture, while containing even more impressive guitar work. The tunes found on this disc also show the close relationship between The Smoke and Fickle Pickle, as “Guy Fawkes” for instance, was indeed recorded by both bands. In addition, two cover tunes in particular stand out. America’s “I Need You” is especially fitting as it is centered around the band’s vocal harmonies with melodic piano accompaniment. The disc closes with a reggae flavored take on “Do Wah Diddy Diddy” a huge hit for Manfred Mann and another wonderful fit for Fickle Pickle’s luscious vocals. All in all, the tracks found on this disc stand as evidence of the vocal, arrangement and production talents of Fickle Pickle and hint at the possibilities had the band only been able to break through in either the U.K. or U.S. market.
The third and final disc of “A Complete Pickle” contains fifteen tracks, all previously unreleased, recorded in the studio in preparation for a tour of The Netherlands, and as such is an incredible document of the band’s musicianship and showmanship. The material is a wonderful mix of band originals and covers, and includes tracks from “Sinful Skinful” and the group’s single sides as well as tunes that had not been previously dedicated to tape but were part of Fickle Pickle’s live repertoire. The disc offers an opportunity to experience one of the band’s gigs, something previously only available to those lucky enough to have seen them on their Dutch tour. The set opens with a laid back, keyboard oriented take on “Maybe I’m Amazed” which may lack the fiery guitar work of the single release, but stands up well thanks to its gorgeous vocals.
“Sinful Skinful” likewise relies on keyboards and vocal harmonies but is incredibly pleasant to the ear. A six minute version of Cliff Wade’s “People I Know” makes its debut in any form and does not disappoint, opening with gentle keyboards and vocal harmonies before the lead guitar takes over and delivers a memorable solo. A cover of Carole King’s “You’ve Got A Friend” fits the band perfectly with its mix of keyboards and vocal harmonies. As with the King cover, another track found only among the tour rehearsals is a ten minute plus take on Joni Mitchell’s “Woodstock” best known for the highly charting single release by Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young. The song differs greatly from typical performances by the band straight from its intro. The sound is dominated by its incendiary guitar and heavy beat and includes an impressive mid-tune solo, with Malone’s keyboards, especially his electric piano interlude, adding flavor to what is undoubtedly the heaviest song in the band’s live set. Two tracks taken from the group’s LP “Sandy” and “Down Sandy Lane” return the band to its more mellow, melodic side, showcasing the vocal abilities of the quartet.
One of the songs from their unreleased studio demos, “Buena Vista” is a gorgeous mix of tastefully restrained guitars and beautiful vocal harmonies. The group’s humor is present once again on “California Calling” taking the band full circle to the opening track of “Sinful Skinful” and adds a delightfully light hearted break in the action. Following “Let Me Tell You” a track which fluidly moves from its gentle keyboard intro to its more uptempo guitar section highlighted by yet another spright, yet somewhat restrained solo. The set ends with the aptly titled show closer “Time To Go” an uptempo keyboard driven tune yet again showcasing the band’s vocal harmonies and employing percussion in the form of drums and handclaps as an outro. A delightful mixture of up and mid-tempo numbers the rehearsal recordings serve as a teaser of what a joy it would have been to see these four incredibly talented musicians live. Rare indeed is a combo consisting of members, all proficient on their instruments as well as capable of delivering distinctively gorgeous vocals. But such was the quartet which bore the moniker Fickle Pickle.
“A Complete Pickle” comes in a tri-fold digipak with each of the three discs tucking into a panel of the digipak. Also included is a twenty four page full color booklet with a detailed essay by David Wells. The booklet contains photos of the band members, artwork of the album and singles releases, as well as press clippings and other memorabilia. The music on this box set sounds crisp and clean thanks to the mastering job by Pete Reynolds. An incredible documentation of a band that was comprised of great songwriters, musicians and producers “A Complete Pickle” has a place in the collection of any fan of early 1970s pop psych music and will be of special interest to those familiar with the band’s who gave birth to Fickle Pickle, namely The Smoke, Orange Bicycle and Red Dirt and comes most highly recommended.
by Kevin Rathert
1. California Calling (Danny Beckerman, Geoff Gill) - 2:15
Formed in 1969 by Cub Koda, who later reaped the title as an honorable music historian, Brownsville Station issued a trio of albums prior to harvesting honey with this disc. Although such efforts received kind reviews, they failed to generate substantial sales. Despite the lack of vinyl interest, the Ann Arbor, Michigan band busted their butts touring the local circuit, where they drew a fanatical following.
Released in August 1973, Yeah! (Big Tree Records) featured Brownsville Station’s breakthrough hit, “Smokin’ In The Boys Room,” which zoomed to No. 3 on the national charts. Reflecting a wild orgy between Alice Cooper, the J. Geils Band, Slade and Paul Revere and the Raiders, the obnoxious ode to sneaking ciggies in the school’s loo, clanked, crunched and cackled to a raunchy repertoire of thumping rhythms and shouting choruses. A dozen years down the road, Motley Crue covered “Smokin’ In The Boys Room,” which cracked the Top 20.
Nearly every track on Yeah! could qualify as a jukebox favorite. It’s easy to hear how much fun Brownsville Station had singing and playing these punchy songs smacking of beer stains and the smell of nicotine. The band appears as if they have nary a care in the world. They eat, sleep and breathe rock and roll, and are thrilled to pieces to be sharing their passion with those willing to lend an ear.
Additional winners offered on Yeah! include the brawny bash and flash of “All Night Long” and the senselessly catchy “Let Your Yeah Be Your Yeah,” while a ripping revision of Hoyt Axton’s “Lightnin’ Bar Blues” and a spirited take of the Balloon Farm’s psychedelic scented “Question Of Temperature” should also be given special attention.
Carpeted with vintage guitar riffs gone mad, trashy drumming, shrill harmonica fills and wise-guy vocals, Yeah! serves as a scruffy synthesis of greasy garage rock, party hearty hard rock, bluesy boogie rock and sleazy glam rock. Relentlessly energetic, the album aptly blends slivers of corniness with killer sounds. Yeah! indeed…
by Beverly Paterson
With ten great songs, Yeah! is an album that lives up to its name -- quite possibly the only fully realized LP the band ever made. Eight covers, all given the treatment, and two originals -- one of which sold two million copies. Yeah! is the quintessential "nice little record" -- it won't take up a lot of your time, and it's got a very friendly vibe to it. The cover songs span a wide variety of musical styles, which isn't that surprising, considering that guitarist/vocalist Cub Koda has a deep knowledge of music history. From Hoyt Axton's "Lightning Bar Blues" to then-unknown Jimmy Cliff's "Let Your Yeah Be Yeah" to Lou Reed's "Sweet Jane," the band pumps out all of its songs in a chugging, lighthearted manner that ends up being nothing but fun.
Lead vocals were previously the exclusive domain of bassist Michael Lutz, but Koda emerges as a singer as well; Lutz may have been the more prototypical rock singer, but it was Koda's sleazy, nasal snarl that worked to perfection on the classic hit single "Smokin' In the Boys Room." While the success of "Smokin" opened a lot of doors for the band, it also pigeonholed them in such a way as to render them almost un-arrestable only a couple of years later. Between their wild onstage antics and the fact that the follow-up album, School Punks, was a blatant attempt at cashing in, the band lost a lot of the credibility they had earned by playing straight-ahead rock & roll. Although Brownsville Station would never again capture the magic here, Yeah! easily stands the test of time -- it's truly delightful.
by Geoff Ginsberg
1. Question Of Temperature (Mike Appel, Ed Schnug, Don Henny) - 3:31
2. Lightnin' Bar Blues (Hoyt Axton) - 2:52
3. Take It Or Leave It (H. Cardell) - 3:00
4. All Night Long (Mike Lutz, Cub Koda) - 2:55
5. Let Your Yeah Be Yeah (Jimmy Cliff) - 3:37
6. Sweet Jane (Lou Reed) - 3:02
7. Love, Love, Love (Terry Knight) - 2:55
8. Go Out And Get Her (Doug Morris) - 2:56
9. Barefootin' (Robert Parker) - 2:55
10.Smokin' In The Boy's Room (Mike Lutz, Cub Koda) - 2:57
Why do so many people react with a sniff of the upturned runny nose when Detroit bands are mentioned, and why do Detroit bands come on so macho-honk self-conscious? Brownsville Station are from Ann Arbor, not Detroit, but they have always been lumped with the shortlived Detroit Bands hype, this despite the fact that most of the Detroit bands snubbed ’em mercilessly.
Why were they snubbed? Because Brownsville didn’t put on any badass streetpunk revolutionary airs, that’s why. They were just kids from the duplexes of America, not the belly of the beast, and cared shit less about politix and just wanted to rock ‘n’ roll. The Frut, good reviews of whose first album inspired a record number of why – did – you – fucking – critics – con – me – into – buying – this – piece – of – shit? letters to rock magazines around the country but were liked ’cause they played their part in the Detroit scene, once said that “We’re the guys who used to beat up Brownsville Station in the parking lot.” Maybe so, but Brownsville Station are the guys who right now will blow Frut right off the stage.
Still, I gotta admit that their new album ain’t as good as their first one, which is mainly a production problem, but so what? Their first, released on Warners nearly two years ago, was a monster, and there’s enough monstro moves in here to make this well worth shelling out a few sheckels for, in this day when most of the stuff on the radio is shit and you don’t know who to trust anymore and even the Rolling Stones have fucked up.
“Rack with the Music” isn’t particularly original, but it’ll get you off your ass. It sounds like Creedence and Sly together, but both of them are great and declining now along with lotsa other heavies, and besides, if you ever once heard Brownsville Station in your life and Leonard Feather hit you with this in a Blindfold Test you’d tag it right snappy.
“Mister Robert,” drives full throttle from here cross every dragstrip coast to coast, and is every bit as good as the fastest, furiousest things on the first Moby Grape album, and has a secret message. One thing I can tell you, it ain’t about Bob Dylan. And the lazied-back Rock Prince it’s addressed to (“Get up off your ass and move!”) could well be taken as Everystar who ever lost his fire in the fog of fame, but that ain’t quite the truth either. So listen and puzzle over it awhile, and if you’re really buffaloed you can write me a letter and I’ll tell you.
“Wanted (Dead Or Alive)” starts out with a riff so banal it took some nerve for Cub Koda to pick it up when he wanted to write a song one day, but that makes it even better, the gall and glee of that is what all this noise’s been about for most of our lifetimes now, and besides it gets into something a little more “inventive.” “Country Flavor” is currently the highlight of their live show, because it’s catchy as a bitch and has an indestructible hook and they always get the whole audience to clap and sing along and not a cynical zhlub in the house refuses, they’re that infectious. “Leavin’ Here” is Motown raved-up neat as Rod Stewart ever did and less axes to grind too, and “The Man Who Wanted More” is, believe it or don’t, a high energy takeoff on “When the Saints Go you know what.” And “Jonah’s Here To Stay” even has a fine soprano sax solo out of the Coltrane fakebook by lead singer Mike Lutz, and that takes care of side two making it 100 percent good, so what are you waiting for? The pick of the litter.
by Lester Bangs, July 6, 1972
1. Rock With the Music (Michael Lutz) - 3:22
2. I Got Mine (Michael Lutz) - 2:46
3. Lovin' Lady Lee (Tony Driggins) - 3:33
4. Mad for Me (Pookie Shark) - 2:39
5. Mister Robert (Pookie Shark) - 4:06
6. Wanted (Dead or Alive) (Cub Koda) - 3:28
7. Country Flavor (Tony Driggins) - 4:27
8. Jonah's Here to Stay (Michael Lutz) - 6:48
9. Leavin' Here (Brian Holland, Edward Holland, Jr., Lamont Dozier) - 3:04
10.The Man Who Wanted More (Saints Rock 'n' Roll) (Traditional) - 2:13
*Cub Koda - Lead Guitar,Vocals,Harmonica
*Michael Lutz - Lead Vocals,Guitar,Kaeyboards
*Tony Driggins - Bass,Vocal
*David Henri Weck - Drums
Renaissance made considerable impact and won an enthusiastic cult following when they first emerged at the beginning of the seventies. The British art rock band was born from the ashes of the original Renaissance founded by ex-Yardbirds Jim McCarty and Keith Relf in 1969. The new band continued with the concept of mixing classical music with poetry, blended with elements of rock, jazz and folk. The result was a highly individual sound blessed with hauntingly beautiful themes.
A variety of artists played with different versions of Renaissance, but the key members were guitarist and composer Michael Dunford, and singer Annie Haslam, who worked mainly with the gifted musicians John Tout (keyboards) and John Camp (bass). The lyrics to their romantic songs were contributed by the Cornish poetess Betty Thatcher, who listened to demo tapes of Dunford's songs and then posted on her lyrics. Annie Haslam, from Bolton, Lancashire, joined the band in 1972 to record their first album with the post McCarty-Relf line-up, called Prologue. Its success led to a more ambitious follow up album Ashes Are Burning.
Guitarist Rob Hendry who contributed to Prologue had left the band, and composer Michael Dunford joined the ranks as acoustic guitarist. "I went to visit the band and played them a few songs with my acoustic guitar," recalls Michael. "The acoustic sounded quite good and after a few rehearsals I became a full time member. In fact the piano was the main lead instrument which suited the orchestrated songs. There was a strong classical feel to the music. On Ashes Are Burning we worked with a string arranger called Richard Hewson who was great. The album was recorded at CTS Music Centre, which was than called De Lane Lea Studios, in Wembley.
The band line-up was John Tout, Terry Sullivan, John Camp, Annie and myself, and that was the line-up that continued until 1979. We used a 22 piece string section with woodwinds for two of the songs, "Can You Understand" and "Carpet Of The Sun". It was such an emotional feeling because we'd always wanted to work with an orchestra. Hearing the run through was absolutely fantastic, and we felt it was the way to go in the future. Over the next few years we did several "live" shows with orchestras. In the later years we changed too much, and got away from that sound, which was probably a bit of a mistake! But it was a breath of fresh air when we first recorded with the orchestra.
We didn't get any hit records off Ashes Are Burning but we gained a cult following and that album did very well in America. We were managed by Miles Copeland at the time and we went to America in 1974 for the first time. American audiences respond instantaneously and if they like you, they tell you. We were overwhelmed at the reaction to our first show, in a college in Brooklyn. We were astonished at the fact that people knew our songs. It was such a boost."
The title track "Ashes Are Burning" is an extended piece which became the band's encore number at concerts. "It gave everybody a chance to play a solo and have a bit of blow, because ninety per cent of the songs were heavily arranged. I remember one show we did at Radio City Music Hall in New York, where Betty Thatcher came out to see us play to 6000 people. We did three nights there on a huge stage, and I remember Betty introduced us. There was a cab strike in New York at that time, and we got hold of a Yellow Cab and put it on the hydraulic ramp under the stage and as the curtains opened, the cab came up with us inside it. We were greeted with rapturous applause!"
Annie Haslam remembers the Wembley recording sessions as: "A fantastic experience. We had a great engineer, Dick Plant, who really helped us a lot. The most incredible part of that album was when the orchestra came in. The first number they stuck up was "Carpet Of The Sun". I was standing next to John Tout and our eyes were welling up with tears, because all of a sudden, there was an orchestra playing our music. It felt so emotional because we had taken a step further from Prologue, and the music was progressing." The song title came from a child's inspired turn of phrase, as lyricist Betty Thatcher explains. "A child living in my home asked if the grass in the garden was a carpet, "Oh yes," I said, "It's the carpet of the sun", and I wrote the song for that child."
Renaissance rehearsed their new set of songs in a church hall before they took the plunge and started recording. Annie suggested they start the album with the sound of a gong, which can be heard on the opening track "Can You Understand". Says Haslam: "It's such a great album I love all tracks, but "At The Harbour" is one of the best things we ever did. Jim McCarty wrote "On The Frontier", which was the last time we used any of his music."
The title track "Ashes Are Burning" became one of the most important numbers in their act, and says Annie: "I have been doing it recently in my own stage shows. It's a great piece to show off the musicians in the band and I can do an operatic vocalise thing at the end. Of course since this album was made my vocal range has stretched, so I can sing higher than I did then. On the album the piece lasts about 12 minutes and Andy Powell from Wishbone Ash does a solo at the end. In the show it went on for half an hour." Betty Thatcher recalls that the song was inspired by a very strange set of circumstances. "I had a so-called "near-death experience" and I was told to go back as I didn't finished. I actually argued with God, but God won and I came back and wrote "Ashes Are Burning"."
After the album was released in 1973 Renaissance went on to create such works as Turn Of The Cards (1974), Scheherazade And Other Stories (1975), Live At Carnegie Hall (1976), Novella (1977), A Song For All Seasons (1978), Azure D'Or (1979), Camera Camera (1981) and Time Line (1983), before they finally broke up.
In recent years Annie Haslam has relocated to live in America where she tours with her own band and has released a solo album Blessing In Disguise with producer Tony Visconti. Michael Dunford has also returned with a new album called The Other Woman while in Spring 1995 there were plans afoot to revive the original Renaissance with Jim McCarty, John Hawken and Louis Cennamo. The music of Renaissance seems to be spreading outwards likes ripples in a sea of talent. Says Annie: "I don't think there was anything like the music Renaissance used to produce in the seventies and eighties. We were put in the pigeon hole of classical folk rock, but there wasn't another band like us and the albums just got better and better. Looking back - I feel blessed with everything that happened."
by Chris Welch
1. Can You Understand - 9:53
2. Let It Grow - 4:18
3. On The Frontier (Jim McCarty, Betty Thatcher) - 4:58
4. Carpet Of The Sun - 3:31
5. At The Harbour - 6:49
6. Ashes Are Burning - 11:21
7. At The Harbour - 3:19
All compositions by Michael Dunford, Betty Thatcher except track #3
John Tout - Keyboards And Vocals
Annie Haslam - Vocals
Jon Camp - Bass Guitar And Vocals
Terry Sullivan - Drums, Percussion And Vocals
Michael Dunford - Acoustic Guitar With
Andy Powell - Guitar On "Ashes Are Burning"
Richard Hewson – Strings Arrangements