Updated October, 2015
Trevor Burton vocal, guitar
Steve Gibbons vocal, harmonica
Denny Laine bass guitar, vocal
Keith Smart drums
Dave Morgan bass guitar
Richard Tandy keyboards, guitar
Mike Kellie drums
Alan White drums
Jackie Lomax guitar, vocal
An ill-fated attempt at producing a Birmingham 'supergroup', the band was named by former Move guitarist/vocalist Trevor Burton as part of a cheeky attempt to gain publicity. The line-up would also include future 'Wizzard' and 'Electric Light Orchestra' (ELO) members.
Trevor Burton, who had left the chart-topping Move in early 1969, was originally rumoured to be forming a band with Noel Redding from the Jimi Hendrix Experience. Nothing came of this although Trevor and Noel did share an apartment in London at the time.
Trevor then teamed up with Steve Gibbons who fronted the long-established Birmingham group The Uglys. They, along with other Uglys members Keith Smart (drums), Dave Morgan (bass), and Richard Tandy (keyboards) formed a new group to be named 'Balls'. There was no place in the line-up for Uglys guitarist Will Hammond who was told he could carry on with the group's name as the sole remaining member!
Balls was managed by one-time Moody Blues/Move manager Tony Secunda who hoped to create a new group along the same lines as Steve Winwood's highly successful Traffic. Following in this trend, Secunda arranged for his new band to "get it together in the country" at a rented cottage in Fordingbridge, Hampshire and also hired Traffic's producer Jimmy Miller for the groups' recording sessions. Within a month, former Moody Blues vocalist/guitarist Denny Laine was also added to the line-up. According to Denny; "The idea was that we were going to swap instruments around, and bring different people in for different things."
With Tony Secunda arranging a large Malcolm McLaren-style cash advance from the Warner Brothers record company, the group started composing and recording new material. Dave Morgan described the initial Balls rehearsals as "undisciplined" and "loud". He went on to say; "The music was almost exclusively interminable 12 bar blasts that went on for hours - the achetypical rock 'n' roll groove."
It was only a short time before problems arose within the Balls line-up. Dave Morgan and Richard Tandy were fired as incompatible with the new group's musical direction. Richard was picked up by The Move to help out on their live performances and from there, went on to become a full-time member of the world-famous 'Electric Light Orchestra' (ELO). Dave Morgan joined guitarist Tony Clarkin to form the successful rock band 'Magnum' and would also later join ELO.
Keith Smart also left to be replaced by Spooky Tooth drummer Mike Kellie who was originally from Birmingham and had started his drumming career with Danny King's Locomotive and Pat Wayne and The Beachcombers. Keith Smart went on to join Brum band 'Young Blood' and then Mongrel before signing-up for Roy Wood's new backing band 'Wizzard' with whom he would enjoy much success (see The Move).
The revised Balls line-up re-located to a farm house near Reading. Mike Kellie recalled; "There were journeys into London town to The Speakeasy, the occasional pub crawl, and many a night spent jamming." Following much rehearsal, the Balls line-up eventually got it together to play a few local gigs including their live debut at Fordingbridge village hall.
Various other musicians were to drift through the Balls line-up. Mike Kellie left to re-join Spooky Tooth for an American tour and was replaced by an almost unknown drummer named Alan White from the former Animals keyboardist's group 'The Alan Price Set'. In September 1969, Alan White accepted a surprise invitation from John Lennon to join his 'Plastic Ono Band' for their historic live performance with Eric Clapton in Toronto. White went on to record with both John Lennon and George Harrison and he eventually joined the world-famous progressive rock band 'YES'.
Despite these changes, other problems soon arose including the use of 'certain substances' at the farm, as well as the inevitable disagreements over musical direction. A pub located within convenient distance to the farm house proved a further distraction. Tony Secunda lost interest in the group when he took over management of soon-to-be teen idol Marc Bolan in 1970, and Balls disintegrated shortly after. According to Denny Laine; "Tony Secunda and Jimmy Miller fell out over money and that was the end of that!"
Despite the obvious potential of the group, it was unfortunate their only record release was a solitary single that did not come out until September of 1971 by which time Balls had long since ceased to exist. The A-side titled 'Fight For My Country' was a spirited anti-war anthem, composed and sung by Trevor Burton and also included backing vocals from Steve Gibbons and Denny Laine who may have played bass guitar on the track.
The single's B-side was an up-tempo track titled 'Janie Slow Down' co-composed by Alan White and Denny Laine. Interestingly, when the rare Balls single was issued in France, it had a longer version of Fight For My Country with a different Trevor Burton composition titled 'Hound Dog Howling' on the B-side. Fight For My Country has also appeared on compilations as a Trevor Burton solo track. No other Balls recordings have been issued although un-released tracks for a proposed album may exist.
Steve Gibbons recorded a solo album before joining the legendary Birmingham group Idle Race who became 'The Steve Gibbons Band' following the departure of remaining original member Roger Spencer. Steve Gibbons remains a well known figure on the local music scene while continuing to live in Harborne, Birmingham.
Denny Laine joined Ginger Baker's band 'Air Force', and later hooked up with Paul and Linda McCartney to become a founding member of Wings. That group would enjoy ten very successful years of international success. Denny Laine co-wrote the Wings track 'Mull Of Kintyre' with Paul McCartney in the late 1970s which became one of the biggest selling British hit singles of all time (see Denny Laine).
As for Trevor Burton, he worked for a while in London as a session musician for Island Records. He played on legendary 'Free' guitarist Paul Kossoff's solo album and performed/recorded with the notorious group 'The Pink Fairies' before taking Tony Secunda's advice to "Go home to Birmingham and get yourself sorted out or else you're going to die!"
Trevor then joined Raymond Froggatt's band for a year and then the 'Steve Gibbons Band' who had evolved from the final Idle Race line-up. The Steve Gibbons Band with Trevor toured the world for the next decade and scored a hit record with Chuck Berry's 'Tulane' in 1977.
Trevor Burton continues to perform in and around Birmingham to this day as the hard-working leader of his own 'Trevor Burton Band' (see Trevor's official web site at www.thetrevorburtonband.co.uk for more information).
Sources: Alan Clayson from Record Collector, July 1995; David-Scott Morgan 'Patterns in The Chaos' autobiography 2014; Mike Kellie at mikekellie.com plus an interview with Trevor Burton at the Hop Pole Pub in 2010.
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