Issued by Grapefruit Records, a division of Cherry Red Records, 2021
This new triple CD box set is a "BONANZA" of hard-to-find recordings by some of the West Midland's most innovative bands of the 1960s and 70s. You'll no doubt find some of your "MOST WANTED" Brum band tracks amongst the musical "OUTLAWS" appearing on these discs!
The second half of the 1960s was by far the most inventive period for originality in popular music. Many pop groups from that era reached beyond the commercial mainstream in the wake of The Beatles ground-breaking "Revolver" and "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band" albums, and for a while it seemed to many that music really could change the world.
It all happened "ONCE UPON A TIME IN THE WEST MIDLANDS". This terrific compilation of recordings proves that Brum Rock was a force to be reckoned with, having 69 mind-blowing tracks spread over three CDs to make more than four continuous hours of music. While previous Brum pop music compilations focused heavily on the early "beat group" era, this one begins chronologically in 1966 at a time when the famous "British Invasion" of the USA was winding down and a new wave of American bands were becoming an influence in the UK.
A big "THANK YOU" goes to David Wells who along with John Reed, compiled this massive collection. This was no easy task when considering so many potential recordings had to be left off because of space, and others unable to be included because of legal issues. Thanks also to Eddy Ball (licensing), Andy Morten (graphics), and Simon Murphy (mastering).
Getting down to the music, Disc One opens with the manic 'I Must Be Mad' from 1966, an original composition by the Craig who were actually a Brum group known as The King Bees before they were discovered by Kinks and Troggs producer Larry Page. This second Craig single is significant as the first record to feature a very young Carl Palmer on drums who was later part of "Emerson, Lake & Palmer". Not to be outdone, Wolverhampton's 'N Betweens (later to become Slade) energetic version of 'Security' is included here with an extended intro and ending that was cut from previous releases. This record was made in 1966 during their time with American producer Kim Fowley.
'Rescue Me' is a soulful 1966 cover of Aretha Franklin's Tamla Motown hit by "The Doc Thomas Group" featuring lead vocalist Stan Tippins and bass guitarist Pete "Overend" Watts. They were from Herefordshire and their line-up had guitarist Mick Ralphs who replaced Kevyn Gammond in the Kidderminster group "Shakedown Sound" after he left to join Robert Plant in The Band of Joy. Terry "Verden" Allen played organ in the Shakedown Sound along with drummer Dale Griffin. Following the later addition of Tippins and Watts, they had changed their name to future hit-makers "Mott The Hoople" by 1969.
The next track is the final single release by the first line-up of The Moody Blues titled 'Life's Not Life' composed by lead vocalist/guitarist Denny Laine and pianist Mike Pinder. By the summer of 1966, the group were under pressure to make a successful follow up to their 1964 international hit record 'Go Now' and bass guitarist Clint Warwick left to be replaced by Rod Clark. This track was selected from recording sessions for their proposed second album that remained unreleased.
Birmingham's youngest recording group The Bobcats (average age 14) provide the next track titled 'Let Me Get By' from their only single release and composed by the Uglys Steve Gibbons and Dave Pegg. It's a beat style record and may have had more success if issued a few years earlier but now sounding a bit dated by 1967. At the opposite end of the scale is the percussive 'Chicken George' by Deep Feeling whose lead singer was future Traffic member and lyricist Jim Capaldi. Their drummer and percussionist was John "Poli" Palmer who later joined the influential group "Family", while guitarist Luther Grosvenor went into Spooky Tooth and Mott The Hoople.
A long-forgotten West Bromwich line-up called "The Extreem" is up next with their rare recording of 'On The Beach', an up-beat 45 issued in 1967 on the small Strike Records label operated by Miki Dallon who also composed the song. Little is known about them although the members went on to other local bands including early line-ups of what eventually became Judas Priest. More well known were the musically proficient "Double Feature" with their soulful recording of 'Baby Get Your Head Screwed On'. A local live attraction, they often played support for more well-known performers and their drummer Bob Lamb left to join Locomotive.
The Move need no introduction with their second big UK chart smash 'I Can Hear The Grass Grow' from 1967, thus proving they were no "one-hit-wonders" along with Roy Wood's talent for songwriting. Former Moody Blues front-man Denny Laine should have made the charts with his own composition 'Say You Don't Mind' which gained critical acclaim. Under Brian Epstein's management, Denny's own "Electric String Band" became a popular underground attraction during the summer of 1967.
The Erdington group "Capitol Systems" formed as far back as 1964 and their 1967 single 'On Time' features vocalist Bob Catley who would go on to front the well-known Brum band Magnum. Also veterans of the local scene Idle Race, formed from Mike Sheridan's Nightriders, were now fronted by future ELO leader Jeff Lynne who composed the quirky 'Impostors Of Life's Magazine' as the A-side to their second single release.
The successful Brummie supergroup Traffic is represented here by 'No Face, No Name, No Number' from their first ground-breaking album issued in 1967. This dreamy mellotron-drenched track sounds a bit out of place as a single while fitting nicely on the LP for which it was intended. Steve Winwood's previous band The Spencer Davis Group is up next with the more upbeat 'Moonshine' having a jazzy hammond organ driven groove.
'Yellow Rainbow' from Birmingham's hit group The Rockin' Berries was for years a mystery having "Roy Wood" mistakenly on the writing credit when it was actually written by Hollies star Graham Nash. Unreleased until many years later, the Berries recording is just as psychedelic as The Move's record of the same name, but the Berries had long-since moved on by then to the cabaret and comedy all-ages circuit that kept them in work for decades.
Young Blood, previously known as "The Sorcerers", had some success in Germany as a recording group where they stayed a few years before returning to the West Midlands. 'Don't Leave Me In The Dark' was the spooky B-side to their first 1968 UK single and their young drummer Cozy Powell would go on to a very successful career in rock music. A track unreleased at the time is the catchy 'An Apple A Day' by an almost forgotten line-up called "The U-No-Who" from King's Heath. It's significant as featuring future Breakthru, ELO and Wizzard pianist Bill Hunt on the recording.
The Cream cover 'NSU' was a 1968 one-off recording for the BBC by "Ideal Milk", a line-up consisting of veteran Brum musicians, the brothers Dave (guitar) and Denny Ball (bass) from the Mayfair Set along with drummer Cozy Powell from Young Blood. They would soon be recruited as backing group for recently departed Move member Ace Kefford whose 'Trouble In The Air' taken from his aborted solo album sessions sounds almost as if it were written for his former band.
Stourbridge blues disciples Chicken Shack provide the next track 'When The Train Comes Back' taken from their first album recorded in 1968. Guitar virtuoso Stan Webb and future Fleetwood Mac pianist/vocalist Christine Perfect (McVie) who also wrote the song come together well on this one that was later issued as a single. From that same year comes the catchy 'I Know What Her Name Is' that was a demo recording by "Simon's Secrets", a line-up led by Clifford T. Ward from Stourport-on-Severn who also composed the song. He later went on to enjoy solo success as a singer/songwriter.
The origins of the line-up "Just William" can be traced back to "Danny Cannon and The Ramrods" of Bilston who were popular locally during the early 1960s. They evolved into Herbies People who recorded a few singles for CBS Records along with appearances on TV and radio. 'Cherrywood Green' was a group composition issued under the name "Just William" in 1968. Giorgio & Marco's Men were also veterans of Wolverhampton's music scene and often played support for famous visiting artistes along with gigging throughout the West Midlands. Led by two brothers Giorgio (lead vocal) and Marco (lead guitar) Uccellini, 'Baby I Need You' was the B-side to their second single before they changed their name to The Sad.
'Yellow Cave Woman' is taken from the only album recorded by the psychedelic Brum group Velvett Fogg who were previously a soul band called "Gravy Train". This trippy seven-minute track from 1969 helped them gain the attention of influential DJ John Peel but despite his enthusiasm, the group split shortly after. Even more psychedelic is the Hammond and horn driven 'Mr. Armageddon' by The Locomotive who were originally a soul/jazz-influenced line-up before their leader Norman Haines wrote their reggae-style hit single 'Rudi's In Love'. The band were unique in not having a guitarist. Sadly, their only album produced by Gus Dudgeon and titled "We Are Everything You See" issued in 1970 was too progressive for the pop audience they had attracted.
This first CD ends with the brilliant 'I've Seen The Light' from 1968 by Brum scene veterans The Uglys and composed by their bass guitarist Dave Morgan. The group had recorded a number of singles over the previous years for Pye Records but despite local success, vocalist Steve Gibbons was the only remaining original member of the band by the time this 45 was recorded and only a few demo copies were pressed. This makes it one of the rarest Brumbeat records from a line-up that included guitarist Will Hammond, future ELO keyboardist Richard Tandy, and future Wizzard drummer Keith Smart.
Disc Two starts with "The Ace Kefford Stand" fronted by the former Move bass guitarist who left the band early in 1968. 'Daughter Of The Sun' was recorded in December 1968 but remained unissued at the time. This great line-up also included drummer Cozy Powell along with bass guitarist Dave Ball and his brother Denny Ball (who later was guitarist in Procol Harum). The Montanas are next with 'Roundabout' from 1968, just one of many fine singles by this Wolverhampton pop group who were produced by Tony Hatch but strangely only charted in the USA.
One of the more psychedelic local bands at the time was the short-lived World of Oz whose keyboardist Geoff Nicholls went on to join heavy band "Quartz" and later Black Sabbath. 'Like A Tear' is taken from their only album issued early in 1969. Lasting longer were The Exception whose origins go back to the early 1960s when they were known as The Brumbeats with vocalist Bobby Ash and recorded for Decca Records. The Exception were fronted by drummer Alan "Bugsy" Eastwood but 'Don't Torture Your Mind' features a rare lead vocal by guitarist Roger Hill who also wrote this song taken from their 1969 album.
'Masochists Of Strangulation' from 1969 is every bit as dark as it sounds as recorded by Jardine - a Black Country band whose vocalist Keith Law had written songs for John Peel favourites Velvett Fogg. Unissued at the time, this track also featured "Herd" keyboardist Andy Bown who ended up in Status Quo. One of the stranger Birmingham groups at the time was Tea & Symphony whose theatrical live act also featured films and a mime! Their catchy cover of Procol Harum's 'Boredom' produced by Gus Dudgeon earned them an appearance on German television.
Gordon Jackson who played guitar in The Hellions and Deep Feeling with Jim Capaldi, recorded an underrated 1969 album of original songs from which 'The Journey' is taken. The LP included contributions from the members of Traffic and vocalist Julie Driscoll but sadly, few copies were distributed before the Marmalade record label owned by Giorgio Gomelsky went out of business. The hard rock line-up Bakerloo fared little better recording-wise as they split following the release of their only album from 1969. Managed by Jim Simpson's "Big Bear" agency along with Black Sabbath, 'Big Bear Folly' is an instrumental track.
Cinnamon Quill (also known as "The Vacant Lot") are remembered for opening Brum's famous "Rum Runner" club in 1966 but they made some fine records too. 'Candy' is one of them issued on the small Morgan label. Some members also performed with the group Sight and Sound. I really like the next track in this collection titled 'Like Uncle Charlie' by "The Climax Chicago Blues Band" who made two albums for the Pye Records label. Their recording here issued in 1968 starts upbeat before changing completely to a psychedelic/jam fadeout that thankfully goes on for quite some time.
The line-up "Revolver" from Sedgley provide a great slice of psychedelic pop with the track 'Imaginations'. Members came from Jimmy Powell's backing band and they were previously known as "Scarlet Religion". The Californians 1969 cover of The Fortunes international hit record 'You've Got Your Troubles' is actually quite psychedelic in their arrangement. Wonderfully over-produced by Irving Martin, this was not what I was expecting, and is now one of my favorites in this collection.
Future hit-makers Medicine Head from Wolverhampton attracted the attention of John Peel who signed the duo to a contract and the acoustically-styled 'His Guiding Hand' was their first record release. It would be a few more years before they made the big time with 'One And One Is One'. The previously heard "Capitol Systems" changed their name in 1968 to become "Paradox" and with the addition of Dave Morgan from The Uglys and Balls, they recorded 'Goodbye Mary'. They split shortly after with Dave and vocalist Bob Catley forming a new line-up called "Fred's Box".
Galliard were formed by vocalist/songwriter Geoff Brown and lead guitarist Richard Pannell of the Craig whose 'I Must Be Mad' opens this collection. 'A Modern Day Fairytale' is taken from the first of two albums recorded by Galliard who had up to eight members in the line-up. Richard Pannell later became ELO's sound engineer and computer expert Geoff Brown went on to eventually make millions in the video game industry!
I'm happy this next previously-unreleased track titled 'It's A Hard Way' is included on here. Recorded by Cathedral whose members were veterans of the Wolverhampton group scene, It's a great rocking record that should have made the charts but unfortunately didn't despite management by the formidable Don Arden who never released it. Another more successful line-up was Trapeze who were a Wolverhampton "super group" to include members of The Montanas and Finders Keepers. 'Suicide' from their album issued in 1970 and produced by the Moody Blues' John Lodge, was a group composition but line-up changes became a problem. Vocalist/bass guitarist Glenn Hughes later joined Deep Purple and drummer Dave Holland went to Judas Priest.
'Dance In The Smoke' is a previously unreleased track by "Kansas Hook" who were formed from World of Oz members. They also recorded BBC sessions and backed American rocker Gene Vincent during his last ever radio performance. In contrast with their name, the Brum trio "Hard Meat" provide the delightful acoustically-styled 'The Ballad Of Marmalade Emma And Teddy Grimes' that was issued as a single. The group recorded two albums for CBS before they split.
A rather gloomy recording by Bachdenkel is titled 'Donna'. This group were previously known as "The U-No-Who" and featured earlier in this collection. An artsy band, they later moved to France where they recorded their one and only album that has since gained a small cult following. Another doom-rock recording is 'When You're Dead' by The Ghost whose guitarist Paul Eastment was previously in Velvett Fogg. Their vocalist was local folk singer Shirley Kent who had success as a solo performer, and drummer Charlie Grima who later became a pop star as a member of Roy Wood's Wizzard.
The final track on this CD is a cover of 'Time Of The Season' that was of course a big hit in the USA for "The Zombies" during 1967. Big Bertha who recorded this previously-unreleased version evolved from the Ace Kefford Stand and included the Ball brothers Dave and Denny, along with drummer Cozy Powell before he was discovered by Jeff Beck. Frank Aiello (formerly of mid-Sixties London mod pop duo The Truth) was a guest vocalist on this one. This almost six-minute version comes complete with a brilliant instrumental "jam" that makes the listening experience well worthwhile.
If you've survived the return to earth after the first two discs, you'll discover the third has just as many surprises in store. "Fable" were previously known as Lady Jayne and The Royaltee who were a popular local group fronted by attractive vocalist Anna Terrana. They made a couple of great singles for CBS in 1969 before recording the Honeybus song 'She Said Yes' in 1970 for producer Larry Page, featuring Anna's brother Philip on lead vocal and bass guitar.
'Lamp Lighter Man' is an original composition recorded by Brummie music veterans Mike Sheridan and Rick Price from Sight & Sound and The Move. Their writing partnership together eventually resulted in an album titled "This is to certify that" from which this recording is taken. Rick Price went on to join Roy Wood as a member of Wizzard while Mike Sheridan recorded a few solo singles during the early 1970s under the name "Elmer Goodbody".
Slade are up next with 'One Way Hotel' from their second album titled "Play it Loud" recorded in 1970. Formerly known as The 'N Betweens, the group were now managed by Chas Chandler who found fame playing bass in The Animals and later managing and producing Jimi Hendrix. Although their first two albums sold poorly, Slade were now closing in on the massive success that would define them during the 1970s.
The group "Fred's Box" featured lead vocalist Bob Catley on this previously-unreleased radio-friendly composition by fellow band Member Dave Morgan titled 'We're Gonna Change All This'. Dave, previously from The Uglys and Balls left Fred's Box to record a solo album but later returned and along with guitarist Tony Clarkin, they became "Magnum". The band "Luv Machine" were actually from Barbados before relocating to sunny Wolverhampton. They made an album for Polydor Records and recorded the hard-rocking 'Reminiscing' that was composed by Band of Joy founder Vernon Pereira - now a member of "The Possessed".
Wolverhampton's progressive rock band "Salamander" evolved from an earlier line up called "Revolver". They made a concept album issued by Young Blood records in 1971 titled "The Ten Commandments" from which this rather dreamy track called 'People' is taken. Sadly, the religious theme did not sit well with most music critics who literally nailed the LP to the cross. Not so with "Short Stories", the first solo album by former Uglys leader Steve Gibbons whose socially aware lyrics made him something of a Brummie Bob Dylan. His album had a supporting cast of famous names that included Albert Lee, Gary Wright, Alan White, Doris Troy, and Madeline Bell amongst others. 'Brown Girl' from that LP takes on the subject of mixed-race marriage.
The multi-talented Dave Morgan is up next with his foreboding 'Ill Wind' from the 1971 solo album simply titled "Morgan". The Uglys had previously recorded this song with Trevor Burton and Roy Wood on guitar and of course Dave had provided The Move with a couple of single B-sides; 'Something' and 'This Time Tomorrow'. "Ptolomy Psycon" were a group of school friends from Shropshire who wrote songs together and rarely performed in public. The gloomy 'Shadow Bright' is from their limited edition and now very rare mini-LP pressing that was titled "Loose Capacitor".
The great Move B-side 'Omnibus' is covered by the Cannock band "Mail" (did The Move ever make a bad B-side?) This version was recorded in 1970 and produced by Rick Price of The Move for a single that wasn't actually issued until a year later by Polydor. The recording here is very similar to the Move version in arrangement. Turns out that Mail was the group enlisted by former Montanas lead vocalist Johnny Jones to back him as the "new" Montanas with whom he recorded a single titled 'Love Machine' issued on the Charisma label in 1973.
Of all the groups in this collection, none were more tragic than "The Possessed". Their guitarist Vernon Pereira had formed the Band of Joy with Robert Plant and previous to that, was a member of the locally-popular and multi-racial Stringbeats. The Possessed became a hard-rocking band, an early line-up of which recorded 'Disheartened And Disillusioned' in 1971 for an album that was never issued. Despite a few member changes, the group toured the UK for years and were thought to be on the verge of a major recording contract when in 1976, Pereira and two other band members died in a road accident after a gig in Carlisle.
Jimmy Powell was one of the first Brumbeat recording stars whose recording of 'Sugar Babe' after he left the Rockin' Berries in 1962 gained him some attention. Moving to London, his own backing group known as "The Five Dimensions" had many talented musicians including a young Rod Stewart in their various line-ups. His own composition, the rather satirical 'Talking Progressive Blues' was recorded in 1971 for a German record label.
Jim Capaldi's solo recording career outside of Traffic began with his 1972 guest-filled album titled "Oh How We Danced" from which the single 'Eve' was taken. The track includes organ played by Steve Winwood and backing from "Muscle Shoals" legends David Hood and Roger Hawkins. Another first solo effort comes from Move leader Roy Wood who needed no help to record an entire album on his own (yes he played every instrument on the LP) during sessions from 1969 to 1971 by which time the development of "The Electric Light Orchestra" was well underway. 'Dear Elaine' taken from his album titled "Boulders" and included here was also issued at the time as a single.
On the same subject, Roy Wood's new band "Wizzard" following his sudden exit from ELO, recorded some fine charting singles of which 'Ball Park Incident' was the first. The eight-member line-up included former Move bassist Rick Price and drummers Keith Smart (The Uglys) and Charlie Grima (The Ghost) along with some poached ELO members. Not to be outdone, Jeff Lynne grabbed the controls to ELO and along with remaining original Move member Bev Bevan on drums, recorded a brilliant arrangement of the Chuck Berry classic 'Roll Over Beethoven' that gave the band a Top 10 hit and became a favorite part their stage shows.
The line-up of "Fairfield Ski" had members who were active in the local music scene from the early days. Nigel Wright and Matt Bridger had performed in The Cheetahs who were one of the first Brumbeat bands to be signed by Columbia Records in 1963 and had a few charting singles. Bill Bonham had played Hammond organ in Hari Kari and Obs-Tweedle whose vocalist was Robert Plant. 'Circus' recorded by Fairfield Ski in 1973, is a Glam-influenced rocker that went sadly unreleased at the time due to loss of the band's financial backing.
More sedate is the Shropshire recording group "Fluff" who changed their name to "Ironbridge" in time for the 1973 release of 'Just A Day' that displayed their talent for vocal harmonies and a mellow country-influenced slide guitar sound. On the opposite end of the scale is 'The Beast' by "Bedlam" who were a power-trio of brothers Dave Ball (ex Procol Harum) guitar and bassist Denny Ball along with drummer Cozy Powell (ex Jeff Beck), all from Big Bertha previously featured in this collection. They recorded an album in 1974 that had vocalist Frank Aiello but split soon after when Cozy Powell left to go solo following the success of his hit single 'Dance With The Devil.
Judas Priest are represented here with their first single 'Rocka Rolla' taken from their 1974 debut album of the same name. By this time, the line-up had stabilized enough to help form their classic sound that would bring them worldwide success as masters of "heavy metal" by the 1980s. A suitable track to end this massive collection is 'Bye Bye Birmingham' from "Blackfoot Sue" who were previously known as The Gift. They hit the big time in 1972 with 'Standing In The Road' that kept them on the road for a few years, appearing on TV shows like "Top of The Pops" and touring throughout the UK.
So we come to the end of this amazing collection of recordings and what a long strange trip it was! If all this wasn't enough, there's also the 47-page stapled full-colour booklet that's included in the box that has an introduction of the West Midlands music scene written by David Wells. The book is packed full of rare photos of all the bands in this collection along with their stories and the names of all the musicians in the line-ups.
As can be seen, there's plenty of gold nuggets to be found in this fine collection of recordings. While the golden age of Brumrock may have long ago rode off into the sunset, you're sure to experience some happy trails while enjoying ONCE UPON A TIME IN THE WEST MIDLANDS.
The complete track listing is as follows:
Check out the Cherry Red Records web site for more information and how to order your copy of Once Upon a Time in the West Midlands by clicking HERE.
Copyright © John R Woodhouse 2022