BIRMINGHAM and HELSINKI
Updated December, 2016Kim (Mike) Brown lead vocal, guitar, harmonica
While almost unknown in Britain, Birmingham's own 'Renegades' had much success in Finland and Italy during the 1960s where they attracted a large following of fans. Incredibly, the group's popularity in those countries was to rival that of The Beatles!
The Renegades story begins during the early 1960s in Perry Barr, Birmingham where the band was formed. The line-up consisted of Kim Brown (lead vocal), Denys "Denny" Gibson (guitar), Ian Mallett (bass guitar) and Graham Johnson (drums). They were one of the fourteen young bands to be featured on David Gooch's 1964 'Brum Beat' album promoting the local groups.
The Renegades recorded their own arrangement of Liszt's 'Hungarian Rhapsody' - re-naming it 'Hungarian Mod' for the DIAL Brum Beat LP release. The notes written on the album back cover mentioned the group as thus; "The eye-catching uniform worn by The Renegades at The Adelphi Ballroom, Droitwitch, is matched by their offbeat material. Their HUNGARIAN MOD is an ultra-mod version of Hungarian Rhapsody".
The Renegades' real success came when they went to play a few dates in Helsinki, Finland in October of 1964. Finnish rock promoter/manager Leo Heinonen had the idea to invite The Renegades for a visit but the positive reaction to the group there was such that they ended up staying for seven weeks! It wasn't long before the group were in the midst of a snowy winter going from one venue to another in their van (without a heater or winter tires). Their stage show was wilder than anything previously seen in that country and they were soon regarded as substitutes for 'The Beatles' as the Fab Four never played in Finland.
All four group members contributed to The Renegades dynamic (and often manic) stage show, especially their charismatic lead vocalist Kim Brown who along with the unique playing style of lead guitarist Denny Gibson, contributed much to The Renegades energetic and memorable stage performance.
The groups' strong visual image of wearing American Civil War era cavalry uniforms on-stage and playing a repertoire of many rock and R&B standards like their own versions of Ray Charles 'What'd I Say' and Bill Hayley's 'Thirteen Women' (of which a promo video exists) only enhanced their appeal. They also wrote songs of their own that were to become big hits in Finland.
The first Renegades single to storm the Finnish charts in 1964 was a twelve-bar blues influenced number called 'Cadillac' that reached Number 2. It was said to have been a remake of Vince Taylor's 'Brand New Cadillac'. The Renegade's Cadillac was an amazingly simple and effective arrangement, not unlike The Troggs famous 'Wild Thing' and suited Kim Brown's bluesy vocal perfectly. The song became a staple of The Renegades stage show, ultimately becoming their most well-known record.
The next two Renegades singles in 1965 were also their own tunes titled 'Seven Daffodils' and 'Matelot' that sold well and gained the band many fans. Another well-known Renegades composition, 'My Heart Must Do The Crying', was not issued as a single but only on their Finnish album (Cadillac). Strangely, despite the huge success of the group in Finland, none of their records made it to number one in the charts. The Renegades were however, regular performers in Finnish TV shows and got to play a couple of songs in the Finnish musical film 'Topralli'.
The Renegades also toured Germany, France, Switzerland, Sweden and Italy. Some of their music was released in those countries but proved to be the most popular in Italy where the band found more success. The Renegades were invited to play in the coveted Italian San Remo Music festival in 1966. They recorded a couple of singles for release in Italy (sung in Italian) like 'Un Giorno Tu Mi Cercherai' and the un-characteristic L'amore é Blu that reached the Italian Top Twenty. Strangely, none of The Renegades records dented the British charts despite their success in Europe.
In early 1967, Denny Gibson left The Renegades to start a family and was replaced by Joe Dunnett on lead guitar. Joe left within a year and was replaced by Mick Webley - formerly of the Brum band The Frame. The Renegades disbanded in 1971 but re-united and visited Finland a couple of times to perform in 60s revival events.
Kim Brown and Mick Webley moved to Italy where they formed a new line-up known as 'Kim & The Cadillacs'. This group recorded several rock 'n' roll style Italian singles and albums and enjoyed much success in that country well into the 1980s. The Renegades drummer Graham Johnson decided to stay in Italy where he lived for many years. Who would have known more than 30 years after their success in Finland, that a Renegades revival was just around the corner!
The Renegades had not performed together for many years, but repeated demand from their Finnish fans finally convinced them to re-unite for a tour of Finland in 1997. The reunion tour was a huge success starting in Helsinki where The Renegades performed a sold-out show to an audience of about five thousand. This resulted in the group continuing to play the 1960s nostalgia circuit for the next ten years and Kim Brown emigrating to Finland to live there permanently.
Sadly, bass guitarist Ian Mallett was to die of a heart attack in 2007. Kim Brown battled throat cancer resulting in surgery that left him unable to sing or perform on stage. He passed away on October 11, 2011 at age 66 in his adopted country where he is still greatly missed by his many fans there.
Denys "Denny" Gibson who left The Renegades in 1967, retired from music and lived in Birmingham until his death at age 71 on May 4, 2016. His unique guitar style was known to be an influence on Finnish guitar players who gave him a lot of credit over the years.
Mick Webley is still active in music. Founding member Graham Johnson still lives in Erdington Birmingham not far from where The Renegades were originally formed so many years ago. He still plays drums occasionally although not as much anymore as he'd like to.
Original recordings by The Renegades have since aroused much interest in collectors of 1960s "garage" or "freakbeat" so it's quite possible that a new audience for the band may emerge as more around the world discover their music.
Thanks to Esko Havia of Finland for assistance in writing this page. Thanks also to Graham Johnson, Michael Webley, and Keith Mallett (brother of Ian). This story of The Renegades is dedicated to the memory of Kim Brown, Ian Mallett, and Denys Gibson.
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