Episode 160 of A History of Rock Music in Five Hundred Songs looks at “Flowers in the Rain” by the Move, their transition into ELO, and the career of Roy Wood. Click the full post to read liner notes, links to more information, and a transcript of the episode.
Patreon backers also have a twenty-minute bonus episode available, on “The Chipmunk Song” by Canned Heat.
Tilt Araiza has assisted invaluably by doing a first-pass edit, and will hopefully be doing so from now on. Check out Tilt’s irregular podcasts at http://www.podnose.com/jaffa-cakes-for-proust and http://sitcomclub.com/
I say “And on its first broadcast, as George Martin’s theme tune for the new station faded, Tony Blackburn reached for a record.” — I should point out that after Martin’s theme fades, Blackburn talks over a brief snatch of a piece by Johnny Dankworth.
As so many of the episodes recently have had no Mixcloud due to the number of songs by one artist, I’ve decided to start splitting the mixes of the recordings excerpted in the podcasts into two parts. Here’s part one and part two.
Most of the more comprehensive compilations of the Move’s material are out of print, but this single-CD-plus-DVD anthology is the best compilation that’s in print. This is the one collection of Wood’s solo and Wizzard hits that seems currently in print, and for those who want to investigate further, this cheap box set has the last Move album, the first ELO album, the first Wizzard album, Wood’s solo Boulders, and a later Wood solo album, for the price of a single CD.
Before I start, a brief note. This episode deals with organised crime, and so contains some mild descriptions of violence, and also has some mention of mental illness and drug use, though not much of any of those things. And it’s probably also important to warn people that towards the end there’s some Christmas music, including excerpts of a song that is inescapable at this time of year in the UK, so those who work in retail environments and the like may want to listen to this later, at a point when they’re not totally sick of hearing Christmas records.
Most of the time, the identity of the party in government doesn’t make that much of a difference to people’s everyday lives. At least in Britain, there tends to be a consensus ideology within the limits of which governments of both main parties tend to work. They will make a difference at the margins, and be more or less competent, and more or less conservative or left-wing, more or less liberal or authoritarian, but life will, broadly speaking, continue along much as before for most people. Some will be a little better or worse off, but in general steering the ship of state is a matter of a lot of tiny incremental changes, not of sudden u-turns.
But there have been a handful of governments that have made big, noticeable, changes to the structure of society, reforms that for better or worse affect the lives of every person in the country. Since the end of the Second World War there have been two UK governments that made economic changes of this nature. The Labour government under Clement Atlee which came into power in 1945, and which dramatically expanded the welfare state, introduced the National Health Service, and nationalised huge swathes of major industries, created the post-war social democratic consensus which would be kept to with only minor changes by successive governments of both major parties for decades.
The next government to make changes to the economy of such a radical nature was the Conservative government which came to power under Margaret Thatcher in 1979, which started the process of unravelling that social democratic consensus and replacing it with a far more hypercapitalist economic paradigm, which would last for the next several decades. It’s entirely possible that the current Conservative government, in leaving the EU, has made a similarly huge change, but we won’t know that until we have enough distance from the event to know what long-term changes it’s caused.
Those are economic changes. Arguably at least as impactful was the Labour government led by Harold Wilson that came to power in 1964, which did not do much to alter the economic consensus, but revolutionised the social order at least as much. Largely because of the influence of Roy Jenkins, the Home Secretary for much of that time, between 1964 and the end of the sixties, Britain abolished the death penalty for murder, decriminalised some sex acts between men in private, abolished corporal punishment in prisons, legalised abortion in certain circumstances, and got rid of censorship in the theatre. They also vastly increased spending on education, and made many other changes.
By the end of their term, Britain had gone from being a country with laws reflecting a largely conservative, authoritarian, worldview to one whose laws were some of the most liberal in Europe, and society had started changing to match.
There were exceptions, though, and that government did make some changes that were illiberal. They brought in increased restrictions on immigration, starting a worrying trend that continues to this day of governments getting ever crueler to immigrants, and they added LSD to the list of illegal drugs. And they brought in the Marine Broadcasting Offences Act, banning the pirate stations.
We’ve mentioned pirate radio stations very briefly, but never properly explained them. In Britain, at this point, there was a legal monopoly on broadcasting. Only the BBC could run a radio station in the UK, and thanks to agreements with the Musicians’ Union, the BBC could only play a very small amount of recorded music, with everything else having to be live performances or spoken word. And because it had a legal obligation to provide something for everyone, that meant the tiny amount of recorded music that was played on the radio had to cover all genres, meaning that even while Britain was going through the most important changes in its musical history, pop records were limited to an hour or two a week on British radio.
Obviously, that wasn’t going to last while there was money to be made, and the record companies in particular wanted to have somewhere to showcase their latest releases. At the start of the sixties, Radio Luxembourg had become popular, broadcasting from continental Europe but largely playing shows that had been pre-recorded in London. But of course, that was far enough away that it made listening to the transmissions difficult. But a solution presented itself:
[Excerpt: The Fortunes, “Caroline”]
Radio Caroline still continues to this day, largely as an Internet-based radio station, but in the mid-sixties it was something rather different. It was one of a handful of radio stations — the pirate stations — that broadcast from ships in international waters. The ships would stay three miles off the coast of Britain, close enough for their broadcasts to be clearly heard in much of the country, but outside Britain’s territorial waters. They soon became hugely popular, with Radio Caroline and Radio London the two most popular, and introduced DJs like Tony Blackburn, Dave Lee Travis, Kenny Everett, and John Peel to the airwaves of Britain.
The stations ran on bribery and advertising, and if you wanted a record to get into the charts one of the things you had to do was bribe one of the big pirate stations to playlist it, and with this corruption came violence, which came to a head when as we heard in the episode on “Here Comes the Night”, in 1966 Major Oliver Smedley, a failed right-wing politician and one of the directors of Radio Caroline, got a gang of people to board an abandoned sea fort from which a rival station was broadcasting and retrieve some equipment he claimed belonged to him. The next day, Reginald Calvert, the owner of the rival station, went to Smedley’s home to confront him, and Smedley shot him dead, claiming self-defence. The jury in Smedley’s subsequent trial took only a minute to find him not guilty and award him two hundred and fifty guineas to cover his costs.
This was the last straw for the government, which was already concerned that the pirates’ transmitters were interfering with emergency services transmissions, and that proper royalties weren’t being paid for the music broadcast (though since much of the music was only on there because of payola, this seems a little bit of a moot point).
They introduced legislation which banned anyone in the UK from supplying the pirate ships with records or other supplies, or advertising on the stations. They couldn’t do anything about the ships themselves, because they were outside British jurisdiction, but they could make sure that nobody could associate with them while remaining in the UK. The BBC was to regain its monopoly (though in later years some commercial radio stations were allowed to operate).
But as well as the stick, they needed the carrot. The pirate stations *had* been filling a real need, and the biggest of them were getting millions of listeners every day. So the arrangements with the Musicians’ Union and the record labels were changed, and certain BBC stations were now allowed to play a lot more recorded music per day. I haven’t been able to find accurate figures anywhere — a lot of these things were confidential agreements — but it seems to have been that the so-called “needle time” rules were substantially relaxed, allowing the BBC to separate what had previously been the Light Programme — a single radio station that played all kinds of popular music, much of it live performances — into two radio stations that were each allowed to play as much as twelve hours of recorded music per day, which along with live performances and between-track commentary from DJs was enough to allow a full broadcast schedule.
One of these stations, Radio 2, was aimed at older listeners, and to start with mostly had programmes of what we would now refer to as Muzak, mixed in with the pop music of an older generation — crooners and performers like Englebert Humperdinck. But another, Radio 1, was aimed at a younger audience and explicitly modelled on the pirate stations, and featured many of the DJs who had made their names on those stations.
And on its first broadcast, as George Martin’s theme tune for the new station faded, Tony Blackburn reached for a record. At different times Blackburn has said either that he was just desperately reaching for whatever record came to hand or that he made a deliberate choice because the record he chose had such a striking opening that it would be the perfect way to start a new station:
[Excerpt: Tony Blackburn first radio show into “Flowers in the Rain” by the Move]
You may remember me talking in the episode on “Here Comes the Night” about how in 1964 Dick Rowe of Decca, the manager Larry Page, and the publicist and co-owner of Radio Caroline Phil Solomon were all trying to promote something called Brumbeat as the answer to Merseybeat – Brummies, for those who don’t know, are people from Birmingham. Brumbeat never took off the way Merseybeat did, but several bands did get a chance to make records, among them Gerry Levene and the Avengers:
[Excerpt: Gerry Levene and the Avengers, “Dr. Feelgood”]
That was the only single the Avengers made, and the B-side wasn’t even them playing, but a bunch of session musicians under the direction of Bert Berns, and the group split up soon afterwards, but several of the members would go on to have rather important careers. According to some sources, one of their early drummers was John Bohnam, who you can be pretty sure will be turning up later in the story, while the drummer on that track was Graeme Edge, who would later go on to co-found the Moody Blues.
But today it’s the guitarist we’ll be looking at. Roy Wood had started playing music when he was very young — he’d had drum lessons when he was five years old, the only formal musical tuition he ever had, and he’d played harmonica around working men’s clubs as a kid. And as a small child he’d loved classical music, particularly Tchaikovsky and Elgar. But it wasn’t until he was twelve that he decided that he wanted to be a guitarist. He went to see the Shadows play live, and was inspired by the sound of Hank Marvin’s guitar, which he later described as sounding “like it had been dipped in Dettol or something”:
[Excerpt: The Shadows, “Apache”]
He started begging his parents for a guitar, and got one for his thirteenth birthday — and by the time he was fourteen he was already in a band, the Falcons, whose members were otherwise eighteen to twenty years old, but who needed a lead guitarist who could play like Marvin. Wood had picked up the guitar almost preternaturally quickly, as he would later pick up every instrument he turned his hand to, and he’d also got the equipment. His friend Jeff Lynne later said “I first saw Roy playing in a church hall in Birmingham and I think his group was called the Falcons. And I could tell he was dead posh because he had a Fender Stratocaster and a Vox AC30 amplifier. The business at the time. I mean, if you’ve got those, that’s it, you’re made.”
It was in the Falcons that Wood had first started trying to write songs, at first instrumentals in the style of the Shadows, but then after the Beatles hit the charts he realised it was possible for band members to write their own material, and started hesitantly trying to write a few actual songs.
Wood had moved on from the Falcons to Gerry Levene’s band, one of the biggest local bands in Birmingham, when he was sixteen, which is also when he left formal education, dropping out from art school — he’s later said that he wasn’t expelled as such, but that he and the school came to a mutual agreement that he wouldn’t go back there. And when Gerry Levene and the Avengers fell apart after their one chance at success hadn’t worked out, he moved on again to an even bigger band.
Mike Sheridan and the Night Riders had had two singles out already, both produced by Cliff Richard’s producer Norrie Paramor, and while they hadn’t charted they were clearly going places. They needed a new guitarist, and Wood was by far the best of the dozen or so people who auditioned, even though Sheridan was very hesitant at first — the Night Riders were playing cabaret, and all dressed smartly at all times, and this sixteen-year-old guitarist had turned up wearing clothes made by his sister and ludicrous pointy shoes. He was the odd man out, but he was so good that none of the other players could hold a candle to him, and he was in the Night Riders by the time of their third single, “What a Sweet Thing That Was”:
[Excerpt: Mike Sheridan and the Night Riders, “What a Sweet Thing That Was”]
Sheridan later said “Roy was and still is, in my opinion, an unbelievable talent. As stubborn as a mule and a complete extrovert. Roy changed the group by getting us into harmonies and made us realize there was better material around with more than three chords to play. This was our turning point and we became a group’s group and a bigger name.” — though there are few other people who would describe Wood as extroverted, most people describing him as painfully shy off-stage.
“What a Sweet Thing That Was” didn’t have any success, and nor did its follow-up, “Here I Stand”, which came out in January 1965. But by that point, Wood had got enough of a reputation that he was already starting to guest on records by other bands on the Birmingham scene, like “Pretty Things” by Danny King and the Mayfair Set:
[Excerpt: Danny King and the Mayfair Set, “Pretty Things”]
After their fourth single was a flop, Mike Sheridan and the Night Riders changed their name to Mike Sheridan’s Lot, and the B-side of their first single under the new name was a Roy Wood song, the first time one of his songs was recorded. Unfortunately the song, modelled on “It’s Not Unusual” by Tom Jones, didn’t come off very well, and Sheridan blamed himself for what everyone was agreed was a lousy sounding record:
[Excerpt: Mike Sheridan’s Lot, “Make Them Understand”]
Mike Sheridan’s Lot put out one final single, but the writing was on the wall for the group. Wood left, and soon after so did Sheridan himself. The remaining members regrouped under the name The Idle Race, with Wood’s friend Jeff Lynne as their new singer and guitarist.
But Wood wouldn’t remain without a band for long. He’d recently started hanging out with another band, Carl Wayne and the Vikings, who had also released a couple of singles, on Pye:
[Excerpt: Carl Wayne and the Vikings, “What’s the Matter Baby”]
But like almost every band from Birmingham up to this point, the Vikings’ records had done very little, and their drummer had quit, and been replaced by Bev Bevan, who had been in yet another band that had gone nowhere, Denny Laine and the Diplomats, who had released one single under the name of their lead singer Nicky James, featuring the Breakaways, the girl group who would later sing on “Hey Joe”, on backing vocals:
[Excerpt: Nicky James, “My Colour is Blue”]
Bevan had joined Carl Wayne’s group, and they’d recorded one track together, a cover version of “My Girl”, which was only released in the US, and which sank without a trace:
[Excerpt: Carl Wayne and the Vikings, “My Girl”]
It was around this time that Wood started hanging around with the Vikings, and they would all complain about how if you were playing the Birmingham circuit you were stuck just playing cover versions, and couldn’t do anything more interesting.
They were also becoming more acutely aware of how successful they *could* have been, because one of the Brumbeat bands had become really big. The Moody Blues, a supergroup of players from the best bands in Birmingham who featured Bev Bevan’s old bandmate Denny Laine and Wood’s old colleague Graeme Edge, had just hit number one with their version of “Go Now”:
[Excerpt: The Moody Blues, “Go Now”]
So they knew the potential for success was there, but they were all feeling trapped. But then Ace Kefford, the bass player for the Vikings, went to see Davy Jones and the Lower Third playing a gig:
[Excerpt: Davy Jones and the Lower Third, “You’ve Got a Habit of Leaving”]
Also at the gig was Trevor Burton, the guitarist for Danny King and the Mayfair Set. The two of them got chatting to Davy Jones after the gig, and eventually the future David Bowie told them that the two of them should form their own band if they were feeling constricted in their current groups. They decided to do just that, and they persuaded Carl Wayne from Kefford’s band to join them, and got in Wood.
Now they just needed a drummer. Their first choice was John Bonham, the former drummer for Gerry Levene and the Avengers who was now drumming in a band with Kefford’s uncle and Nicky James from the Diplomats. But Bonham and Wayne didn’t get on, and so Bonham decided to remain in the group he was in, and instead they turned to Bev Bevan, the Vikings’ new drummer.
(Of the other two members of the Vikings, one went on to join Mike Sheridan’s Lot in place of Wood, before leaving at the same time as Sheridan and being replaced by Lynne, while the other went on to join Mike Sheridan’s New Lot, the group Sheridan formed after leaving his old group. The Birmingham beat group scene seems to have only had about as many people as there were bands, with everyone ending up a member of twenty different groups).
The new group called themselves the Move, because they were all moving on from other groups, and it was a big move for all of them. Many people advised them not to get together, saying they were better off where they were, or taking on offers they’d got from more successful groups — Carl Wayne had had an offer from a group called the Spectres, who would later become famous as Status Quo, while Wood had been tempted by Tony Rivers and the Castaways, a group who at the time were signed to Immediate Records, and who did Beach Boys soundalikes and covers:
[Excerpt: Tony Rivers and the Castaways, “Girl Don’t Tell Me”]
Wood was a huge fan of the Beach Boys and would have fit in with Rivers, but decided he’d rather try something truly new.
After their first gig, most of the people who had warned against the group changed their minds. Bevan’s best friend, Bobby Davis, told Bevan that while he’d disliked all the other groups Bevan had played in, he liked this one.
(Davis would later become a famous comedian, and have a top five single himself in the seventies, produced by Jeff Lynne and with Bevan on the drums, under his stage name Jasper Carrott):
[Excerpt: Jasper Carrott, “Funky Moped”]
Most of their early sets were cover versions, usually of soul and Motown songs, but reworked in the group’s unique style. All five of the band could sing, four of them well enough to be lead vocalists in their own right (Bevan would add occasional harmonies or sing novelty numbers) and so they became known for their harmonies — Wood talked at the time about how he wanted the band to have Beach Boys harmonies but over instruments that sounded like the Who.
And while they were mostly doing cover versions live, Wood was busily writing songs. Their first recording session was for local radio, and at that session they did cover versions of songs by Brenda Lee, the Isley Brothers, the Orlons, the Marvelettes, and Betty Everett, but they also performed four songs written by Wood, with each member of the front line taking a lead vocal, like this one with Kefford singing:
[Excerpt: The Move, “You’re the One I Need”]
The group were soon signed by Tony Secunda, the manager of the Moody Blues, who set about trying to get the group as much publicity as possible. While Carl Wayne, as the only member who didn’t play an instrument, ended up the lead singer on most of the group’s early records, Secunda started promoting Kefford, who was younger and more conventionally attractive than Wayne, and who had originally put the group together, as the face of the group, while Wood was doing most of the heavy lifting with the music.
Wood quickly came to dislike performing live, and to wish he could take the same option as Brian Wilson and stay home and write songs and make records while the other four went out and performed, so Kefford and Wayne taking the spotlight from him didn’t bother him at the time, but it set the group up for constant conflicts about who was actually the leader of the group.
Wood was also uncomfortable with the image that Secunda set up for the group. Secunda decided that the group needed to be promoted as “bad boys”, and so he got them to dress up as 1930s gangsters, and got them to do things like smash busts of Hitler, or the Rhodesian dictator Ian Smith, on stage. He got them to smash TVs on stage too, and in one publicity stunt he got them to smash up a car, while strippers took their clothes off nearby — claiming that this was to show that people were more interested in violence than in sex. Wood, who was a very quiet, unassuming, introvert, didn’t like this sort of thing, but went along with it.
Secunda got the group a regular slot at the Marquee club, which lasted several months until, in one of Secunda’s ideas for publicity, Carl Wayne let off smoke bombs on stage which set fire to the stage. The manager came up to try to stop the fire, and Wayne tossed the manager’s wig into the flames, and the group were banned from the club (though the ban was later lifted).
In another publicity stunt, at the time of the 1966 General Election, the group were photographed with “Vote Tory” posters, and issued an invitation to Edward Heath, the leader of the Conservative Party and a keen amateur musician, to join them on stage on keyboards. Sir Edward didn’t respond to the invitation.
All this publicity led to record company interest. Joe Boyd tried to sign the group to Elektra Records, but much as with The Pink Floyd around the same time, Jac Holzman wasn’t interested. Instead they signed with a new production company set up by Denny Cordell, the producer of the Moody Blues’ hits. The contract they signed was written on the back of a nude model, as yet another of Secunda’s publicity schemes.
The group’s first single, “Night of Fear” was written by Wood and an early sign of his interest in incorporating classical music into rock:
[Excerpt: The Move, “Night of Fear”]
Secunda claimed in the publicity that that song was inspired by taking bad acid and having a bad trip, but in truth Wood was more inspired by brown ale than by brown acid — he and Bev Bevan would never do any drugs other than alcohol. Wayne did take acid once, but didn’t like it, though Burton and Kefford would become regular users of most drugs that were going.
In truth, the song was not about anything more than being woken up in the middle of the night by an unexpected sound and then being unable to get back to sleep because you’re scared of what might be out there.
The track reached number two on the charts in the UK, being kept off the top by “I’m a Believer” by the Monkees, and was soon followed up by another song which again led to assumptions of drug use. “I Can Hear the Grass Grow” wasn’t about grass the substance, but was inspired by a letter to Health and Efficiency, a magazine which claimed to be about the nudist lifestyle as an excuse for printing photos of naked people at a time before pornography laws were liberalised. The letter was from a reader saying that he listened to pop music on the radio because “where I live it’s so quiet I can hear the grass grow!”
Wood took that line and turned it into the group’s next single, which reached number five:
[Excerpt: The Move, “I Can Hear the Grass Grow”]
Shortly after that, the group played two big gigs at Alexandra Palace. The first was the Fourteen-Hour Technicolor Dream, which we talked about in the Pink Floyd episode. There Wood had one of the biggest thrills of his life when he walked past John Lennon, who saluted him and then turned to a friend and said “He’s brilliant!” — in the seventies Lennon would talk about how Wood was one of his two favourite British songwriters, and would call the Move “the Hollies with balls”.
The other gig they played at Alexandra Palace was a “Free the Pirates” benefit show, sponsored by Radio Caroline, to protest the imposition of the Marine Broadcasting (Offences) Act.
Despite that, it was, of course, the group’s next single that was the first one to be played on Radio One. And that single was also the one which kickstarted Roy Wood’s musical ambitions.
The catalyst for this was Tony Visconti. Visconti was a twenty-three-year-old American who had been in the music business since he was sixteen, working the typical kind of jobs that working musicians do, like being for a time a member of a latter-day incarnation of the Crew-Cuts, the white vocal group who had had hits in the fifties with covers of “Sh’Boom” and “Earth Angel”. He’d also recorded two singles as a duo with his wife Siegrid, which had gone nowhere:
[Excerpt: Tony and Siegrid, “Up Here”]
Visconti had been working for the Richmond Organisation as a staff songwriter when he’d met the Move’s producer Denny Cordell. Cordell was in the US to promote a new single he had released with a group called Procol Harum, “A Whiter Shade of Pale”, and Visconti became the first American to hear the record, which of course soon became a massive hit:
[Excerpt: Procol Harum, “A Whiter Shade of Pale”]
While he was in New York, Cordell also wanted to record a backing track for one of his other hit acts, Georgie Fame. He told Visconti that he’d booked several of the best session players around, like the jazz trumpet legend Clark Terry, and thought it would be a fun session. Visconti asked to look at the charts for the song, out of professional interest, and Cordell was confused — what charts? The musicians would just make up an arrangement, wouldn’t they? Visconti asked what he was talking about, and Cordell talked about how you made records — you just got the musicians to come into the studio, hung around while they smoked a few joints and worked out what they were going to play, and then got on with it. It wouldn’t take more than about twelve hours to get a single recorded that way.
Visconti was horrified, and explained that that might be how they did things in London, but if Cordell tried to make a record that way in New York, with an eight-piece group of session musicians who charged union scale, and would charge double scale for arranging work on top, then he’d bankrupt himself. Cordell went pale and said that the session was in an hour, what was he going to do?
Luckily, Cordell had a copy of the demo with him, and Visconti, who unlike Cordell was a trained musician, quickly sat down and wrote an arrangement for him, sketching out parts for guitar, bass, drums, piano, sax, and trumpets. The resulting arrangement wasn’t perfect — Visconti had to write the whole thing in less than an hour with no piano to hand — but it was good enough that Cordell’s production assistant on the track, Harvey Brooks of the group Electric Flag, who also played bass on the track, could tweak it in the studio, and the track was recorded quickly, saving Cordell a fortune:
[Excerpt: Georgie Fame, “Because I Love You”]
One of the other reasons Cordell had been in the US was that he was looking for a production assistant to work with him in the UK to help translate his ideas into language the musicians could understand. According to Visconti he said that he was going to try asking Phil Spector to be his assistant, and Artie Butler if Spector said no.
Astonishingly, assuming he did ask them, neither Phil Spector nor Artie Butler (who was the arranger for records like “Leader of the Pack” and “I’m a Believer” among many, many, others, and who around this time was the one who suggested to Louis Armstrong that he should record “What a Wonderful World”) wanted to fly over to the UK to work as Denny Cordell’s assistant, and so Cordell turned back to Visconti and invited him to come over to the UK.
The main reason Cordell needed an assistant was that he had too much work on his hands — he was currently in the middle of recording albums for three major hit groups — Procol Harum, The Move, and Manfred Mann — and he physically couldn’t be in multiple studios at once. Visconti’s first work for him was on a Manfred Mann session, where they were recording the Randy Newman song “So Long Dad” for their next single. Cordell produced the rhythm track then left for a Procol Harum session, leaving Visconti to guide the group through the overdubs, including all the vocal parts and the lead instruments:
[Excerpt: Manfred Mann, “So Long Dad”]
The next Move single, “Flowers in the Rain”, was the first one to benefit from Visconti’s arrangement ideas. The band had recorded the track, and Cordell had been unhappy with both the song and performance, thinking it was very weak compared to their earlier singles — not the first time that Cordell would have a difference of opinion with the band, who he thought of as a mediocre pop group, while they thought of themselves as a heavy rock band who were being neutered in the studio by their producer.
In particular, Cordell didn’t like that the band fell slightly out of time in the middle eight of the track. He decided to scrap it, and get the band to record something else.
Visconti, though, thought the track could be saved. He told Cordell that what they needed to do was to beat the Beatles, by using a combination of instruments they hadn’t thought of. He scored for a quartet of wind instruments — oboe, flute, clarinet, and French horn, in imitation of Mendelssohn:
[Excerpt: The Move, “Flowers in the Rain”]
And then, to cover up the slight sloppiness on the middle eight, Visconti had the wind instruments on that section recorded at half speed, so when played back at normal speed they’d sound like pixies and distract from the rhythm section:
[Excerpt: The Move, “Flowers in the Rain”]
Visconti’s instincts were right. The single went to number two, kept off the top spot by Englebert Humperdinck, who spent 1967 keeping pretty much every major British band off number one, and thanks in part to it being the first track played on Radio 1, but also because it was one of the biggest hits of 1967, it’s been the single of the Move’s that’s had the most airplay over the years.
Unfortunately, none of the band ever saw a penny in royalties from it.
It was because of another of Tony Secunda’s bright ideas. Harold Wilson, the Prime Minister at the time, was very close to his advisor Marcia Williams, who started out as his secretary, rose to be his main political advisor, and ended up being elevated to the peerage as Baroness Falkender.
There were many, many rumours that Williams was corrupt — rumours that were squashed by both Wilson and Williams frequently issuing libel writs against newspapers that mentioned them — though it later turned out that at least some of these were the work of Britain’s security services, who believed Wilson to be working for the KGB (and indeed Williams had first met Wilson at a dinner with Khrushchev, though Wilson was very much not a Communist) and were trying to destabilise his government as a result. Their personal closeness also led to persistent rumours that Wilson and Williams were having an affair.
And Tony Secunda decided that the best way to promote “Flowers in the Rain” was to print a postcard with a cartoon of Wilson and Williams on it, and send it out. Including sticking a copy through the door of ten Downing St, the Prime Minister’s official residence.
This backfired *spectacularly*. Wilson sued the Move for libel, even though none of them had known of their manager’s plans, and as a result of the settlement it became illegal for any publication to print the offending image (though it can easily be found on the Internet now of course), everyone involved with the record was placed under a permanent legal injunction to never discuss the details of the case, and every penny in performance or songwriting royalties the track earned would go to charities of Harold Wilson’s choice. In the 1990s newspaper reports said that the group had up to that point lost out on two hundred thousand pounds in royalties as a result of Secunda’s stunt, and given the track’s status as a perennial favourite, it’s likely they’ve missed out on a similar amount in the decades since.
Incidentally, while every member of the band was banned from ever describing the postcard, I’m not, and since Wilson and Williams are now both dead it’s unlikely they’ll ever sue me. The postcard is a cartoon in the style of Aubrey Beardsley, and shows Wilson as a grotesque naked homunculus sat on a bed, with Williams naked save for a diaphonous nightgown through which can clearly be seen her breasts and genitals, wearing a Marie Antoinette style wig and eyemask and holding a fan coquettishly, while Wilson’s wife peers at them through a gap in the curtains. The text reads “Disgusting Depraved Despicable, though Harold maybe is the only way to describe “Flowers in the Rain” The Move, released Aug 23″
The stunt caused huge animosity between the group and Secunda, not only because of the money they lost but also because despite Secunda’s attempts to associate them with the Conservative party the previous year, Ace Kefford was upset at an attack on the Labour leader — his grandfather was a lifelong member of the Labour party and Kefford didn’t like the idea of upsetting him.
The record also had a knock-on effect on another band. Wood had given the song “Here We Go Round the Lemon Tree” to his friends in The Idle Race, the band that had previously been Mike Sheridan and the Night Riders, and they’d planned to use their version as their first single:
[Excerpt: The Idle Race, “Here We Go Round the Lemon Tree”]
But the Move had also used the song as the B-side for their own single, and “Flowers in the Rain” was so popular that the B-side also got a lot of airplay. The Idle Race didn’t want to be thought of as a covers act, and so “Lemon Tree” was pulled at the last minute and replaced by “Impostors of Life’s Magazine”, by the group’s guitarist Jeff Lynne:
[Excerpt: The Idle Race, “Impostors of Life’s Magazine”]
Before the problems arose, the Move had been working on another single. The A-side, “Cherry Blossom Clinic”, was a song about being in a psychiatric hospital, and again had an arrangement by Visconti, who this time conducted a twelve-piece string section:
[Excerpt: The Move, “Cherry Blossom Clinic”]
The B-side, meanwhile, was a rocker about politics:
[Excerpt: The Move, “Vote For Me”]
Given the amount of controversy they’d caused, the idea of a song about mental illness backed with one about politics seemed a bad idea, and so “Cherry Blossom Clinic” was kept back as an album track while “Vote For Me” was left unreleased until future compilations.
The first Wood knew about “Cherry Blossom Clinic” not being released was when after a gig in London someone — different sources have it as Carl Wayne or Tony Secunda — told him that they had a recording session the next morning for their next single and asked what song he planned on recording. When he said he didn’t have one, he was sent up to his hotel room with a bottle of Scotch and told not to come down until he had a new song. He had one by 8:30 the next morning, and was so drunk and tired that he had to be held upright by his bandmates in the studio while singing his lead vocal on the track.
The song was inspired by “Somethin’ Else”, a track by Eddie Cochran, one of Wood’s idols:
[Excerpt: Eddie Cochran, “Somethin’ Else”]
Wood took the bass riff from that and used it as the basis for what was the Move’s most straight-ahead rock track to date. As 1967 was turning into 1968, almost universally every band was going back to basics, recording stripped down rock and roll tracks, and the Move were no exception. Early takes of “Fire Brigade” featured Matthew Fisher of Procol Harum on piano, but the final version featured just guitar, bass, drums and vocals, plus a few sound effects:
[Excerpt: The Move, “Fire Brigade”]
While Carl Wayne had sung lead or co-lead on all the Move’s previous singles, he was slowly being relegated into the background, and for this one Wood takes the lead vocal on everything except the brief bridge, which Wayne sings:
[Excerpt: The Move, “Fire Brigade”]
The track went to number three, and while it’s not as well-remembered as a couple of other Move singles, it was one of the most influential. Glen Matlock of the Sex Pistols has often said that the riff for “God Save the Queen” is inspired by “Fire Brigade”:
[Excerpt: The Sex Pistols, “God Save the Queen”]
The reversion to a heavier style of rock on “Fire Brigade” was largely inspired by the group’s new friend Jimi Hendrix. The group had gone on a package tour with The Pink Floyd (who were at the bottom of the bill), Amen Corner, The Nice, and the Jimi Hendrix Experience, and had become good friends with Hendrix, often jamming with him backstage. Burton and Kefford had become so enamoured of Hendrix that they’d both permed their hair in imitation of his Afro, though Burton regretted it — his hair started falling out in huge chunks as a result of the perm, and it took him a full two years to grow it out and back into a more natural style.
Burton had started sharing a flat with Noel Redding of the Jimi Hendrix Experience, and Burton and Wood had also sung backing vocals with Graham Nash of the Hollies on Hendrix’s “You Got Me Floatin'”, from his Axis: Bold as Love album:
[Excerpt: The Jimi Hendrix Experience, “You Got Me Floatin'”]
In early 1968, the group’s first album came out. In retrospect it’s arguably their best, but at the time it felt a little dated — it was a compilation of tracks recorded between late 1966 and late 1967, and by early 1968 that might as well have been the nineteenth century. The album included their two most recent singles, a few more songs arranged by Visconti, and three cover versions — versions of Eddie Cochran’s “Weekend”, Moby Grape’s “Hey Grandma”, and the old standard “Zing! Went the Strings of My Heart”, done copying the Coasters’ arrangement with Bev Bevan taking a rare lead vocal.
By this time there was a lot of dissatisfaction among the group. Most vocal — or least vocal, because by this point he was no longer speaking to any of the other members, had been Ace Kefford. Kefford felt he was being sidelined in a band he’d formed and where he was the designated face of the group. He’d tried writing songs, but the only one he’d brought to the group, “William Chalker’s Time Machine”, had been rejected, and was eventually recorded by a group called The Lemon Tree, whose recording of it was co-produced by Burton and Andy Fairweather-Low of Amen Corner:
[Excerpt: The Lemon Tree, “William Chalker’s Time Machine”]
He was also, though the rest of the group didn’t realise it at the time, in the middle of a mental breakdown, which he later attributed to his overuse of acid. By the time the album, titled Move, came out, he’d quit the group. He formed a new group, The Ace Kefford Stand, with Cozy Powell on drums, and they released one single, a cover version of the Yardbirds’ “For Your Love”, which didn’t chart:
[Excerpt: The Ace Kefford Stand, “For Your Love”]
Kefford recorded a solo album in 1968, but it wasn’t released until an archival release in 2003, and he spent most of the next few decades dealing with mental health problems.
The group continued on as a four-piece, with Burton moving over to bass. While they thought about what to do — they were unhappy with Secunda’s management, and with the sound that Cordell was getting from their recordings, which they considered far wimpier than their live sound — they released a live EP of cover versions, recorded at the Marquee. The choice of songs for the EP showed their range of musical influences at the time, going from fifties rockabilly to the burgeoning progressive rock scene, with versions of Cochran’s “Somethin’ Else”, Jerry Lee Lewis’ “It’ll Be Me”, “So You Want to Be a Rock and Roll Star” by the Byrds, “Sunshine Help Me” by Spooky Tooth, and “Stephanie Knows Who” by Love:
[Excerpt: The Move, “Stephanie Knows Who”]
Incidentally, later that year they headlined a gig at the Royal Albert Hall with the Byrds as the support act, and Gram Parsons, who by that time was playing guitar for the Byrds, said that the Move did “So You Want to Be a Rock and Roll Star” better than the Byrds did.
The EP, titled “Something Else From the Move”, didn’t do well commercially, but it did do something that the band thought important — Trevor Burton in particular had been complaining that Denny Cordell’s productions “took the toughness out” of the band’s sound, and was worried that the group were being perceived as a pop band, not as a rock group like his friends in the Jimi Hendrix Experience or Cream. There was an increasing tension between Burton, who wanted to be a heavy rocker, and the older Wayne, who thought there was nothing at all wrong with being a pop band.
The next single, “Wild Tiger Woman”, was much more in the direction that Burton wanted their music to go. It was ostensibly produced by Cordell, but for the most part he left it to the band, and as a result it ended up as a much heavier track than normal. Roy Wood had only intended the song as an album track, and Bevan and Wayne were hesitant about it being a single, but Burton was insistent — “Wild Tiger Woman” was going to be the group’s first number one record:
[Excerpt: The Move, “Wild Tiger Woman”]
In fact, it turned out to be the group’s first single not to chart at all, after four top ten singles in a row.
The group were now in crisis. They’d lost Ace Kefford, Burton and Wayne were at odds, and they were no longer guaranteed hitmakers. They decided to stop working with Cordell and Secunda, and made a commitment that if the next single was a flop, they would split up.
In any case, Roy Wood was already thinking about another project. Even though the group’s recent records had gone in a guitar-rock direction, he thought maybe you could do something more interesting. Ever since seeing Tony Visconti conduct orchestral instruments playing his music, he’d been thinking about it. As he later put it “I thought ‘Well, wouldn’t it be great to get a band together, and rather than advertising for a guitarist how about advertising for a cellist or a French horn player or something? There must be lots of young musicians around who play the… instruments that would like to play in a rock kind of band.’ That was the start of it, it really was, and I think after those tracks had been recorded with Tony doing the orchestral arrangement, that’s when I started to get bored with the Move, with the band, because I thought ‘there’s something more to it'”.
He’d started sketching out plans for an expanded lineup of the group, drawing pictures of what it would look like on stage if Carl Wayne was playing timpani while there were cello and French horn players on stage with them. He’d even come up with a name for the new group — a multi-layered pun. The group would be a light orchestra, like the BBC Light Orchestra, but they would be playing electrical instruments, and also they would have a light show when they performed live, and so he thought “the Electric Light Orchestra” would be a good name for such a group.
The other band members thought this was a daft idea, but Wood kept on plotting. But in the meantime, the group needed some new management. The person they chose was Don Arden.
We talked about Arden quite a bit in the last episode, but he’s someone who is going to turn up a lot in future episodes, and so it’s best if I give a little bit more background about him. Arden was a manager of the old school, and like several of the older people in the music business at the time, like Dick James or Larry Page, he had started out as a performer, doing an Al Jolson tribute act, and he was absolutely steeped in showbusiness — his wife had been a circus contortionist before they got married, and when he moved from Manchester to London their first home had been owned by Winifred Atwell, a boogie piano player who became the first Black person to have a UK number one — and who is *still* the only female solo instrumentalist to have a UK number one — with her 1954 hit “Let’s Have Another Party”:
[Excerpt: WInifred Atwell, “Let’s Have Another Party”]
That was only Atwell’s biggest in a long line of hits, and she’d put all her royalties into buying properties in London, one of which became the Ardens’ home.
Arden had been considered quite a promising singer, and had made a few records in the early 1950s. His first recordings, of material in Yiddish aimed at the Jewish market, are sadly not findable online, but he also apparently recorded as a session singer for Embassy Records. I can’t find a reliable source for what records he sang on for that label, which put out budget rerecordings of hits for sale exclusively through Woolworths, but according to Wikipedia one of them was Embassy’s version of “Blue Suede Shoes”, put out under the group name “The Canadians”, and the lead vocal on that track certainly sounds like it could be him:
[Excerpt: The Canadians, “Blue Suede Shoes”]
As you can tell, rock and roll didn’t really suit Arden’s style, and he wisely decided to get out of performance and into behind-the-scenes work, though he would still try on occasion to make records of his own — an acetate exists from 1967 of him singing “Sunrise, Sunset”:
[Excerpt: Don Arden, “Sunrise, Sunset”]
But he’d moved first into promotion — he’d been the promoter who had put together tours of the UK for Gene Vincent, Little Richard, Brenda Lee and others which we mentioned in the second year of the podcast — and then into management. He’d first come into management with the Animals — apparently acting at that point as the money man for Mike Jeffries, who was the manager the group themselves dealt with. According to Arden — though his story differs from the version of the story told by others involved — the group at some point ditched Arden for Allen Klein, and when they did, Arden’s assistant Peter Grant, another person we’ll be hearing a lot more of, went with them.
Arden, by his own account, flew over to see Klein and threatened to throw him out of the window of his office, which was several stories up. This was a threat he regularly made to people he believed had crossed him — he made a similar threat to one of the Nashville Teens, the first group he managed after the Animals, after the musician asked what was happening to the group’s money. And as we heard last episode, he threatened Robert Stigwood that way when Stigwood tried to get the Small Faces off him.
One of the reasons he’d signed the Small Faces was that Steve Marriott had gone to the Italia Conti school, where Arden had sent his own children, Sharon and David, and David had said that Marriott was talented. And David was also a big reason the Move came over to Arden. After the Small Faces had left him, Arden had bought Galaxy Entertaimnent, the booking agency that handled bookings for Amen Corner and the Move, among many other acts. Arden had taken over management of Amen Corner himself, and had put his son David in charge of liaising with Tony Secunda about the Move.
But David Arden was sure that the Move could be an albums act, not just a singles act, and was convinced the group had more potential than they were showing, and when they left Secunda, Don Arden took them on as his clients, at least for the moment. Secunda, according to Arden (who is not the most reliable of witnesses, but is unfortunately the only one we have for a lot of this stuff) tried to hire someone to assassinate Arden, but Arden quickly let Secunda know that if anything happened to Arden, Secunda himself would be dead within the hour.
As “Wild Tiger Woman” hadn’t been a hit, the group decided to go back to their earlier “Flowers in the Rain” style, with “Blackberry Way”:
[Excerpt: The Move, “Blackberry Way”]
That track was produced by Jimmy Miller, who was producing the Rolling Stones and Traffic around this time, and featured the group’s friend Richard Tandy on harpsichord. It’s also an example of the maxim “Good artists copy, great artists steal”. There are very few more blatant examples of plagiarism in pop music than the middle eight of “Blackberry Way”. Compare Harry Nilsson’s “Good Old Desk”:
[Excerpt: Nilsson, “Good Old Desk”]
to the middle eight of “Blackberry Way”:
[Excerpt: The Move, “Blackberry Way”]
“Blackberry Way” went to number one, but that was the last straw for Trevor Burton — it was precisely the kind of thing he *didn’t* want to be doing,. He was so sick of playing what he thought of as cheesy pop music that at one show he attacked Bev Bevan on stage with his bass, while Bevan retaliated with his cymbals. He stormed off stage, saying he was “tired of playing this crap”.
After leaving the group, he almost joined Blind Faith, a new supergroup that members of Cream and Traffic were forming, but instead formed his own supergroup, Balls. Balls had a revolving lineup which at various times included Denny Laine, formerly of the Moody Blues, Jackie Lomax, a singer-songwriter who was an associate of the Beatles, Richard Tandy who had played on “Blackberry Way”, and Alan White, who would go on to drum with the band Yes. Balls only released one single, “Fight for My Country”, which was later reissued as a Trevor Burton solo single:
[Excerpt: Balls, “Fight For My Country”]
Balls went through many lineup changes, and eventually seemed to merge with a later lineup of the Idle Race to become the Steve Gibbons Band, who were moderately successful in the seventies and eighties.
Richard Tandy covered on bass for a short while, until Rick Price came in as a permanent replacement. Before Price, though, the group tried to get Hank Marvin to join, as the Shadows had then split up, and Wood was willing to move over to bass and let Marvin play lead guitar. Marvin turned down the offer though.
But even though “Blackberry Way” had been the group’s biggest hit to date, it marked a sharp decline in the group’s fortunes. Its success led Peter Walsh, the manager of Marmalade and the Tremeloes, to poach the group from Arden, and even though Arden took his usual heavy-handed approach — he describes going and torturing Walsh’s associate, Clifford Davis, the manager of Fleetwood Mac, in his autobiography — he couldn’t stop Walsh from taking over.
Unfortunately, Walsh put the group on the chicken-in-a-basket cabaret circuit, and in the next year they only released one record, the single “Curly”, which nobody was happy with. It was ostensibly produced by Mike Hurst, but Hurst didn’t turn up to the final sessions and Wood did most of the production work himself, while in the next studio over Jimmy Miller, who’d produced “Blackberry Way”, was producing “Honky Tonk Women” by the Rolling Stones.
The group were getting pigeonholed as a singles group, at a time when album artists were the in thing. In a three-year career they’d only released one album, though they were working on their second. Wood was by this point convinced that the Move was unsalvageable as a band, and told the others that the group was now just going to be a launchpad for his Electric Light Orchestra project. The band would continue working the chicken-in-a-basket circuit and releasing hit singles, but that would be just to fund the new project — which they could all be involved in if they wanted, of course.
Carl Wayne, on the other hand, was very, very, happy playing cabaret, and didn’t see the need to be doing anything else. He made a counter-suggestion to Wood — keep The Move together indefinitely, but let Wood do the Brian Wilson thing and stay home and write songs. Wayne would even try to get Burton and Kefford back into the band. But Wood wasn’t interested.
Increasingly his songs weren’t even going to the Move at all. He was writing songs for people like Cliff Bennett and the Casuals. He wrote “Dance Round the Maypole” for Acid Gallery:
[Excerpt: Acid Gallery, “Dance Round the Maypole”]
On that, Wood and Jeff Lynne sang backing vocals. Wood and Lynne had been getting closer since Lynne had bought a home tape recorder which could do multi-tracking — Wood had wanted to buy one of his own after “Flowers in the Rain”, but even though he’d written three hit singles at that point his publishing company wouldn’t give him an advance to buy one, and so he’d started using Lynne’s. The two have often talked about how they’d recorded the demo for “Blackberry Way” at Lynne’s parents’ house, recording Wood’s vocal on the demo with pillows and cushions around his head so that his singing wouldn’t wake Lynne’s parents.
Lynne had been another person that Wood had asked to join the group when Burton left, but Lynne was happy with The Idle Race, where he was the main singer and songwriter, though their records weren’t having any success:
[Excerpt: The Idle Race, “I Like My Toys”]
While Wood was writing material for other people, the only one of those songs to become a hit was “Hello Suzie”, written for Amen Corner, which became a top five single on Immediate Records:
[Excerpt: Amen Corner, “Hello Suzie”]
While the Move were playing venues like Batley Variety Club in Britain, when they went on their first US tour they were able to play for a very different audience. They were unknown in the US, and so were able to do shows for hippie audiences that had no preconceptions about them, and did things like stretch “Cherry Blossom Clinic” into an eight-minute-long extended progressive rock jam that incorporated bits of “Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring”, the Nutcracker Suite, and the Sorcerer’s Apprentice:
[Excerpt: The Move, “Cherry Blossom Clinic Revisited (live at the Fillmore West)”]
All the group were agreed that those shows were the highlight of the group’s career. Even Carl Wayne, the band member most comfortable with them playing the cabaret circuit, was so proud of the show at the Fillmore West which that performance is taken from that when the tapes proved unusable he kept hold of them, hoping all his life that technology would progress to the point where they could be released and show what a good live band they’d been, though as things turned out they didn’t get released until after his death.
But when they got back to the UK it was back to the chicken-in-a-basket circuit, and back to work on their much-delayed second album. That album, Shazam!, was the group’s attempt at compromise between their different visions. With the exception of one song, it’s all heavy rock music, but Wayne, Wood, and Price all co-produced, and Wayne had the most creative involvement he’d ever had. Side two of the album was all cover versions, chosen by Wayne, and Wayne also went out onto the street and did several vox pops, asking members of the public what they thought of pop music:
[Excerpt: Vox Pops from “Don’t Make My Baby Blue”]
There were only six songs on the album, because they were mostly extended jams. Other than the three cover versions chosen by Wayne, there was a sludge-metal remake of “Hello Suzie”, the new arrangement of “Cherry Blossom Clinic” they’d been performing live, retitled “Cherry Blossom Clinic Revisited”, and only one new original, “Beautiful Daughter”, which featured a string arrangement by Visconti, who also played bass:
[Excerpt: The Move, “Beautiful Daughter”]
And Carl Wayne sang lead on five of the six tracks, which given that one of the reasons Wayne was getting unhappy with the band was that Wood was increasingly becoming the lead singer, must have been some comfort. But it wasn’t enough. By the time Shazam! came out, with a cover drawn by Mike Sheridan showing the four band members as superheroes, the band was down to three — Carl Wayne had quit the group, for a solo career.
He continued playing the cabaret circuit, and made records, but never had another hit, but he managed to have a very successful career as an all-round entertainer, acting on TV and in the theatre, including a six-year run as the narrator in the musical Blood Brothers, and replacing Alan Clarke as the lead singer of the Hollies. He died in 2004.
As soon as Wayne left the group, the three remaining band members quit their management and went back to Arden. And to replace Wayne, Wood once again asked Jeff Lynne to join the group. But this time the proposition was different — Lynne wouldn’t just be joining the Move, but he would be joining the Electric Light Orchestra. They would continue putting out Move records and touring for the moment, and Lynne would be welcome to write songs for the Move so that Wood wouldn’t have to be the only writer, but they’d be doing it while they were planning their new group.
Lynne was in, and the first single from the new lineup was a return to the heavy riff rock style of “Wild Tiger Woman”, “Brontosaurus”:
[Excerpt: The Move, “Brontosaurus”]
But Wayne leaving the group had put Wood in a difficult position. He was now the frontman, and he hated that responsibility — he said later “if you look at me in photos of the early days, I’m always the one hanging back with my head down, more the musician than the frontman.”
So he started wearing makeup, painting his face with triangles and stars, so he would be able to hide his shyness. And it worked — and “Brontosaurus” returned the group to the top ten. But the next single, “When Alice Comes Back to the Farm”, didn’t chart at all.
The first album for the new Move lineup, Looking On, was to finish their contract with their current record label. Many regard it as the group’s “Heavy metal album”, and it’s often considered the worst of their four albums, with Bev Bevan calling it “plodding”, but that’s as much to do with Bevan’s feeling about the sessions as anything else — increasingly, after the basic rhythm tracks had been recorded, Wood and Lynne would get to work without the other two members of the band, doing immense amounts of overdubbing.
And that continued after Looking On was finished. The group signed a new contract with EMI’s new progressive rock label, Harvest, and the contract stated that they were signing as “the Move performing as The Electric Light Orchestra”. They started work on two albums’ worth of material, with the idea that anything with orchestral instruments would be put aside for the first Electric Light Orchestra album, while anything with just guitar, bass, drums, keyboard, and horns would be for the Move.
The first Electric Light Orchestra track, indeed, was intended as a Move B-side. Lynne came in with a song based around a guitar riff, and with lyrics vaguely inspired by the TV show The Prisoner, about someone with a number instead of a name running, trying to escape, and then eventually dying.
But then Wood decided that what the track really needed was cello. But not cello played in the standard orchestral manner, but something closer to what the Beatles had done on “I am the Walrus”. He’d bought a cheap cello himself, and started playing Jimi Hendrix riffs on it, and Lynne loved the sound of it, so onto the Move’s basic rhythm track they overdubbed fifteen cello tracks by Wood, and also two French horns, also by Wood:
[Excerpt: The Electric Light Orchestra, “10538 Overture”]
The track was named “10538 Overture”, after they saw the serial number 1053 on the console they were using to mix the track, and added the number 8 at the end, making 10538 the number of the character in the song.
Wood and Lynne were so enamoured with the sound of their new track that they eventually got told by the other two members of the group that they had to sit in the back when the Move were driving to gigs, so they couldn’t reach the tape player, because they’d just keep playing the track over and over again. So they got a portable tape player and took that into the back seat with them to play it there.
After finishing some pre-existing touring commitments, the Move and Electric Light Orchestra became a purely studio group, and Rick Price quit the bands — he needed steady touring work to feed his family, and went off to form another band, Mongrel.
Around this time, Wood also took part in another strange project. After Immediate Records collapsed, Andrew Oldham needed some fast money, so he and Don Arden put together a fake group they could sign to EMI for ten thousand pounds. The photo of the band Grunt Futtock was of some random students, and that was who Arden and Oldham told EMI was on the track, but the actual performers on the single included Roy Wood, Steve Marriott, Peter Frampton, and Andy Bown, the former keyboard player of the Herd:
[Excerpt: Grunt Futtock, “Rock ‘n’ Roll Christian”]
Nobody knows who wrote the song, although it’s credited to Bernard Webb, which is a pseudonym Paul McCartney had previously used — but everyone knew he’d used the pseudonym, so it could very easily be a nod to that.
The last Move album, Message From The Country, didn’t chart — just like the previous two hadn’t. But Wood’s song “Tonight” made number eleven, the follow-up, “Chinatown”, made number twenty-three, and then the final Move single, “California Man”, a fifties rock and roll pastiche, made the top ten:
[Excerpt: The Move, “California Man”]
In the US, that single was flipped, and the B-side, Lynne’s song “Do Ya”, became the only Move song ever to make the Hot One Hundred, reaching number ninety-nine:
[Excerpt: The Move, “Do Ya”]
By the time “California Man” was released, the Electric Light Orchestra were well underway. They’d recorded their first album, whose biggest highlights were Lynne’s “10538 Overture” and Wood’s “Whisper in the Night”:
[Excerpt: The Electric Light Orchestra, “Whisper in the Night”]
And they’d formed a touring lineup, including Richard Tandy on keyboards and several orchestral instrumentalists. Unfortunately, there were problems developing between Wood and Lynne. When the Electric Light Orchestra toured, interviewers only wanted to speak to Wood, thinking of him as the band leader, even though Wood insisted that he and Lynne were the joint leaders. And both men had started arguing a lot, to the extent that at some shows they would refuse to go on stage because of arguments as to which of them should go on first.
Wood has since said that he thinks most of the problems between Lynne and himself were actually caused by Don Arden, who realised that if he split the two of them into separate acts he could have two hit groups, not one.
If that was the plan, it worked, because by the time “10538 Overture” was released as the Electric Light Orchestra’s first single, and made the top ten — while “California Man” was also still in the charts — it was announced that Roy Wood was now leaving the Electric Light Orchestra, as were keyboard player Bill Hunt and cellist Hugh McDowell. They were going to form a new group with Rick Price and the two drummers from Mongrel, Charlie Grima and Keith Smart, plus saxophone players Mike Burney and Nick Pentelow.
Of course, ELO, as the Electric Light Orchestra soon became known, went on to have a string of hits through the seventies and eighties, featuring Lynne on vocals and guitar and Bevan on drums, like “Mr. Blue Sky”:
[Excerpt: ELO, “Mr. Blue Sky”]
and “Don’t Bring Me Down”:
[Excerpt: ELO, “Don’t Bring Me Down”]
And it’s very likely Jeff Lynne will turn up in future episodes, and we’ll get more of his story then. Bev Bevan, once ELO split up, led a band called ELO Part II for a while, then led a band calling itself The Move, much to Wood’s disgust, sometimes with Trevor Burton involved. He also played briefly with Black Sabbath, and is currently in a country-folk band called Quill.
Wood and Price’s new band, though, went in a different direction altogether. After having done psychedelic pop, heavy rock, and orchestral progressive music, Wood now wanted to make music inspired by that of Phil Spector and Brian Wilson — wall of sound pop music — and the riffs of the fifties rock and roll he’d always loved. And that’s what Wizzard did.
Wizzard’s first single, “Ball Park Incident”, came out in November 1972 and made the top ten, meaning Wood had had top ten singles with three different bands in the space of six months:
[Excerpt: Wizzard, “Ball Park Incident”]
While Wizzard were a glam-pop singles group making catchy three-minute pop records, their albums were something else. Their first album, Wizzard Brew, was their only one to chart — it only made number twenty-nine, and contained tracks like the thirteen-minute jazz-rock epic “Meet Me at the Jailhouse”:
[Excerpt: Wizzard, “Meet Me at the Jailhouse”]
Their second album, Introducing Eddie and the Falcons, was a collection of fifties rock pastiches, while the third, Main Street, didn’t get released at all at the time, as it was just considered too strange. Which is odd, because Wood was simultaneously working on an even stranger album, one he’d started work on while the Move were still going.
Wood later said of the album in question, Boulders, “This was at the time when people were leaving bands and going out on their own, and then bringing an album out and calling it a solo album. And I thought ‘Well, that’s not a solo album! A solo album is when you write all the songs, you do all the arrangements, you play all the instruments yourself, you design the album cover, drive the van, and make the sandwiches and the tea, you know? That’s a solo album.’ Which is what I was determined to do.”
And he certainly managed. Other than a harmonium part that opens the first track, which is played by one of the album’s engineers, every note on Boulders is written and performed by Wood, who is credited with banjo, bells, cello, cowbell, double bass, drums, glockenspiel, guitar, bass, harp, harp guitar, piano, recorder, saxophone, sitar, slide guitar, tambourine, trumpet, violin, washboard, water bowl, lead and backing vocals, production, liner notes and cover art.
The single from Boulders, “Dear Elaine”, made number eleven on the charts:
[Excerpt: Roy Wood, “Dear Elaine”]
But rather astonishingly Boulders itself became the biggest hit album of any that Wood was ever involved in, reaching number twelve. This despite it having songs like “Miss Clarke and the Computer”, a song sung from the perspective of a computer who’s in love with a maintenance engineer who has been sent out to dismantle it:
[Excerpt: Roy Wood, “Miss Clarke and the Computer”]
While he was working on that, though, he’d also continued working with Wizzard, and Wizzard’s second single was also Wood’s second number one, “See My Baby Jive”:
[Excerpt: Wizzard, “See My Baby Jive”]
Just before that had come out, ELO had put out a cover version of “Roll Over Beethoven” which EMI had publicised as “the follow-up to California Man”, and so the B-side to “See My Baby Jive” was an instrumental whose full title was “Bend Over Beethoven (the official follow-up to “California Man”)”
“See My Baby Jive” was followed up by “Angel Fingers”, another number one, while “Dear Elaine” was followed up by “Forever”, a pastiche of Neil Sedaka and the Beach Boys which the Beach Boys themselves liked so much that Wood was invited to join them in the recording of their hit “It’s OK”. Wood has talked about visiting Brian Wilson’s house and being greeted by Wilson’s daughters Carnie and Wendy, later of Wilson Phillips, singing “Forever”:
[Excerpt: Roy Wood, “Forever”]
That came out at the end of 1973 and made the top ten in the UK in early 1974. In total, from singles released in 1973 either by Wizzard or by Wood solo, Wood spent fifty-two weeks in the charts at the time.
I say “at the time” because the last Wizzard single released in 1973 has spent a lot more time on the charts since. In 1972, John Lennon had released “Happy Xmas (War is Over)”, and for the first time British rockers had realised that there was money to be made in Christmas songs. And so after nearly a decade of no Christmas-themed records worthy of note, suddenly Elton John was asking us to “Step into Christmas”, the folk-rock band Steeleye Span were charting with an a capella recording of the carol “Gaudete”, and Slade were at number one with “Merry Xmas Everybody”.
And just below them, at number four, were Wizzard, with “I Wish it Could Be Christmas Every Day”:
[Excerpt: Wizzard, “I Wish it Could Be Christmas Every Day”]
That track became a perennial on Christmas radio and TV, a reissue of it made the top thirty in 1984, and since downloads started counting towards the charts it has made the top forty in 2007, 2008, and then every year from 2011 on. It’s at number twenty-three on the charts right now as I say this.
But that would be the peak of Wood’s, and Wizzard’s, success. He changed record label in 1974, and some contractual difficulties made him lose a bit of momentum, though he still managed a couple more top ten hits and a fair few in the top forty. But Wizzard had become associated with the glam-rock movement, and musical fashions were changing.
Not only that, Wood was simply too musically eclectic for his own good. You never knew what you were going to get with a Roy Wood album. You’d hear a single on the radio, so you knew what you were in for, but if you bought a Wizzard album you might get a collection of fifties rock pastiches or jazz skronking. And if you bought a Roy Wood solo album you might get songs about a computer in love with its killer, or you might get a note-perfect Andrews Sisters pastiche with Wood’s vocals sped up to sound like women, as on the title track to his second solo album Mustard:
[Excerpt: Roy Wood, “Mustard”]
Wood’s last charting single was in 1975, and by 1977 he was saying “I’ve written something like 30 hit songs, you know? It’s not easy now to accept that I’m not a success anymore”
He carried on making new records for another decade, with no commercial success and little critical success, but gave up after a brief cluster of releases in 1987 and 88 came to nothing. Since then, the only new recordings he’s released have been a live version of “I Wish it Could be Christmas Every Day”, and in 1999 a rather bizarre mashup called “I Wish it Could be a Wombling Merry Christmas Every Day”, which married his Christmas hit with another seventies Christmas record by the children’s group the Wombles. Rather staggeringly, that did chart. Wikipedia also credits him as being part of a charity Christmas record by the DJ Mike Read under the name Shooting Stars in 2009, but Wood’s credit on that seems to be just a songwriting credit, presumably because the song is just Wood’s hit “Angel Fingers” slightly rewritten.
Wood apparently still writes the occasional song. He tours most years around Christmas (though hasn’t since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic) and always plays exactly the same setlist, in the same order, unchanged since at least 2009, and in that set are three songs that have never had an official release — a rockabilly song called “Kiss Me Goodnight, Boadicea”, a blues track called “Big Girl’s Blues”, and a jazz instrumental called “Roy’s Revenge”. But while he occasionally talks about making a new album, he’s apparently decided that his body of work is OK to stand as it is without further addition. And who can blame him?
But, as it’s the Christmas season now, and as it’s on the charts again, let’s leave the episode with the song which every British person has heard in every public space every December for nearly fifty years. And if you celebrate it, a Merry Christmas to you all.
[Excerpt: Wizzard, “I Wish it Could Be Christmas Every Day”]