Updated November, 2022
Trevor Burton vocal, guitar, bass
Steve Gibbons vocal, harmonica
Denny Laine vocal, guitar, bass
Keith Smart drums
Dave Morgan guitar, bass
Richard Tandy keyboards, guitar, bass
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 rumoured to be forming a band with Noel Redding from the famous 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 the current 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 group's recording sessions.
Within a month, former Moody Blues vocalist/guitarist Denny Laine was also added to the line-up. Denny Laine had recorded a couple of singles as front-man of his own "Electric String Band" after leaving the Moody Blues in 1966 and had recently returned from a year learning classical guitar and busking in Spain. 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 twelve 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 this led to him becoming a full-time member of the world-famous "Electric Light Orchestra" (ELO) upon their formation in 1972. 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 performed 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. Alan 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 (Trevor Burton became their bass guitarist). 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 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 playing on sessions for various recording artists at Island Records. He played bass on legendary "Free" guitarist Paul Kossoff's solo album and performed/recorded with the notorious group "The Pink Fairies".
The scene at the time often involved the use of "certain substances" that saw Trevor on a downward spiral during which he lost several friends who overdosed. It was his old manager Tony Secunda who eventually told him to "Go home to Birmingham and get yourself sorted out or else you're going to die!"
After some time living back with his parents, Trevor recovered and joined Raymond Froggatt's band for over a year and then "The Steve Gibbons Band" who had evolved from the final Idle Race line-up. The Steve Gibbons Band with Trevor on guitar and bass toured the world for the next decade and scored a hit record with their version of Chuck Berry's 'Tulane' in 1977. They made many appearances on TV and played stadiums to audiences of more than 20,000 while touring the USA in support of The Who.
Following years of touring, Trevor Burton left Steve Gibbons during the early 1980s, and formed his own "Trevor Burton Band" with whom he established a reputation as a brilliant blues guitarist. The band were well known on the Brum live music scene for more than 30 years and the line-ups included many talented local musicians.
In 2018, Trevor Burton's health suddenly declined, forcing him to give up playing live music. Sadly, his illness has now confined him to a wheelchair (see BrumBeat Trevor Burton Feature or 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 in Bromsgrove at the Hop Pole Pub in 2010.
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