The Rockin' Berries
They're In Town... the Pye anthology
(Sequel Records NEECD 299 issued in 1998)
This is a terrific collection from Sequel Records of recordings by one of the first Birmingham bands to achieve hit-single status. Comprising two CD's and an incredible 58 tracks, it also makes for a hefty slab of 'Brum Beat'.
The Rockin' Berries were part of the West Midlands music scene for quite a few years before securing a recording contract at the start of the "beat boom" in 1963. Although they produced many fine tracks, their recording career seemed to take second place to their stage shows which by the late 1960's included as much comedy and variety as music. Apart from a few exceptions, the Rockin' Berries almost exclusively recorded compositions by other artists and songwriters. Despite this, their anthology collection contains a few surprise tracks that would have seen the group at odds with their own image if their record company had chosen to issue them at the time.
The track running order is well organized and close to chronological sequence. All of the Rockin' Berries recordings issued on Pye's 'Piccadilly' label are here. This includes all the groups' 1964 to 1968 singles (A and B sides), plus their two 1960s albums, a non-album extended player, plus several previously unreleased recordings. Whoever worked on the digital transfer and re-mastering of the recordings has done a great job. The sound quality of the collection is crystal clear and it makes one wonder why previous CD re-issues by higher profile bands such as the Moody Blues and the Move suffer from poor sound quality on many tracks.
The packaging is attractively designed and includes a fold-out poster inlay with photos and a well-written story by Roger Dopson of the groups' career. This includes comments from singer Geoff Turton and the Rockin' Berries original recording manager and producer John Schroeder. Personally, I prefer the regular stapled booklet that comes with most CDs rather than a fold-out format that soon looks tattered after repeated foldings.
Getting down to the recordings themselves, the first CD starts off with the Rockin' Berries first three singles for Piccadilly Records which all showed the group's major strength lay in the vocal harmonies of singers Clive Lea and Geoff Turton. Although 'I Didn't Mean To Hurt You' was their first chart entry in October 1964, it was the band's excellent cover of 'He's In Town' released just weeks later that gained a Number 3 British chart position and put the group in the harmony-pop forefront.The reported follow-up was to have been 'Funny How Love Can Be' composed and recorded but as-yet unreleased by Rockin' Berries lablemates 'The Ivy League' whose members John Carter and Ken Lewis were also from Birmingham. Unfortunately for the Berries, the Ivy League version was issued first and made the Top Ten although the Berries version did appear on their first album and is an excellent rendition.
The Rockin' Berries first album titled In Town contains some great tracks, although also including a mixture of comedy numbers making for a somewhat uneven collection. The tremolo-laden 'Let's Try Again' is another Carter/Lewis original, while 'Without Your Love' and 'Follow Me' were composed by Rockin' Berries manager John Schroeder and include an orchestral backing. 'Ich Lieb Dich' is sung in German and likely originated from the days when the band performed in German nightclubs during the early 1960s.
Another song covered on the album having a strong Midlands connection is 'Shades Of Blue', as composed by Jim Capaldi and Dave Mason of the Worcestershire group The Hellions who would later join with the Spencer Davis Group's Steve Winwood to form the legendary Traffic.
One thing really standing out on the first album in my opinion, is Chuck Botfield's brilliant guitar playing evident on songs like 'Lonely Avenue' where he contributes a great solo. Other tracks like 'All Of Me' also feature his fast and fluid playing style which seemed quite advanced and sometimes contrasting strongly with the type of material that the Berries were recording at the time.
The Rockin' Berries cover of The Reflections 'Poor Man's Son' is a great track and worthy of its Number 5 chart position. Chuck Botfield double-tracked his guitar part for the session and the recording marked a change in direction with Clive Lea featured as lead vocalist and Geoff Turton's falsetto distinctly absent. A bigger change for the group was the mysterious departure of bass guitarist Roy Austin shortly after the single's release and his replacement by Bobby Thompson from Liverpool. Thompson was previously in 'Cliff Bennett and The Rebel Rousers' and had also briefly played in 'Rory Storm and The Hurricanes', a group that had included future Beatles drummer Ringo Starr.
The first CD ends with four previously unreleased tracks, the first of which 'Take A Giant Step' is a brilliant Goffin & King cover and would have made an excellent single. The wonderful pastoral 'Barterers And Their Wives' was a cover of American group The Left Banke. With its wonderful acoustic guitar layering, it's a big departure from the Berries familiar material. The Berries also reportedly covered The Left Banke's million seller 'Walk Away Renee' but if that track still exists, it's not included here. The traditional lament 'That Lucky Old Sun' makes for a good sing-along and completes this first disc.
CD 2 begins with the Rockin' Berries second album entitled Life Is Just A Bowl Of Berries issued in December of 1965 but did not sell as well as their previous LP. The record opens with 'Everything I Do Is For You' featuring a fine "fuzz" guitar effect similar to the Spencer Davis Group's 'Keep On Running' that came out around the same time.
This album, as in their first, also contains a mix of comedy but displays a more polished production with orchestration as is evident on songs like 'The Way You Look Tonight' and 'Happy To Blue'. By this time the group displayed a preference for ballads rather than the rock 'n' roll of earlier days possibly due to their increasing involvement in the club and cabaret circuit on the same bill as non-threatening groups like 'The Bachelors'.
The Benny Hill comedy number 'Harvest Of Love' shows Clive Lea's talent for impersonations, while other tracks like 'When I'm Cleaning Windows' and 'The Laughing Policeman' were probably integral parts of the Rockin' Berries stage shows by that time. The second album ends with Burt Bacharach's 'Little Red Book' which also gets the fuzz guitar treatment.
The track 'Land Of Love' composed by Geoff Turton and Bobby Thompson represents one of the few Rockin Berries recordings original to the band. This and other group compositions were confined to the B-sides of singles such as Chuck Botfield's 'Money Grows On Trees' and Turton/Thompson's 'She's Not Like Any Girl' although the Thompson/Turton song 'Needs To Be' might have made it as an A-side if not for its sparse production.
By 1966, the Rockin' Berries were in a downward spiral as far as the record charts were concerned and the excellent 'The Water Is Over My Head' single would turn out to be the group's last hit. Although the Rockin' Berries continued to record good singles, the record-buying public seemed to have lost interest, though the band was by this time much in demand as a live act on the "cabaret" circuit. The single 'Midnight Mary' displays a lavish Phil Spector like production, while the Charlie Chaplin classic 'Smile', although with simple backing, has multi-layered vocal harmonies showing the group at their strongest.
Possibly the most fascinating track in the collection is the song 'Yellow Rainbow' that has Roy Wood credited as its composer. Fans of the Move will know that Yellow Rainbow was a track on the Move's first album in 1968. The Yellow Rainbow as recorded by the Rockin' Berries is an entirely different song totally out of character with the type of material they were known for.
The song's pop/psychedelic overtones and trippy lyrics are pure Roy Wood for the period, but there also lies the mystery; how could two completely different songs from the same time period both have the same name and same composer? If anyone has more information about this track, then please let me know. Unfortunately, the Rockin' Berries version of the song was never released at the time but is brilliant nontheless and might have provided some much needed credibility for the group as well as re-igniting their chart career.
The remainder of the second CD is filled up with previously unreleased and unfinished tracks that tantalizingly provide a glimpse of what might have been. The only disappointment concerning this collection for me, is the non-inclusion of the group's first two Decca singles from 1963, but apart from that it's an excellent release and a fine tribute to a group whose chart career unfortunately ended all too soon.
The track listing is as follows:
* album track, ** EP track, *** previously unreleasedCopyright © John R Woodhouse 2000
Visit the official Rockin' Berries web site at www.therockinberries.supanet.com
John Schroeder official web site at www.johnschroeder.co.uk