uitarist, semi acoustic, songwriter and vocalist, James Warren sounded shaky with Mike being late. A small nervous little guy with a long blonde hair and lemon shaped glasses, James seems to physically shake before every gig, but in Dublin he was completely thrown by worrying where Mike Evans was. This rubbed off on the whole band, and even when Mike turned up on stage (after two numbers) to play a tremendous jig, which reached one of the highest levels of his playing on the four date tour, the band themselves did not lift all that high. They were called back for an encore, where Mike played another jig, but the gig never happed in the way Londonderry and Belfast did.
The drive to Londonderry from Dublin was tense. Flautist Mick Slater sat in the van with roadie mixer, Barry. The rest of the band – James Warren, Mike Evans, Andy Davies (gtr, vocals) and drummer, Billy Bent – sat in their Ford Zephyr. Londonderry brings on weird connotations of violence and hate – you know that bombs go off there and naturally you get worried.
Near the border we were stopped by the Garda, Eire police. They just asked us names and addresses and the usual questions of what we were doing and were we carrying bombs. But to Barry and Mick in the van their approach was far away from the friendly vibes we got. Apparently they were searching for drugs, and Mick and Barry were told we were getting nervous in the car.
At the border between the South and North, the Customs post lay empty of life. A quick drive over ramps set in the road to obstruct speeding cars, a word with Customs men who asked if we had anything to declare, and we were on our way through a border town with, somehow surprisingly, Union Jacks flyer from shops and house windows.
The first sign that IRA and the Provos exist in Ireland came at Omagh, where the road bends into the town.
Turn the corner and a burnt out Church stands with a melted bent cross bowing to the sky. But it is in Londonderry that the extent of the damage is shown. The Strand road is potholed with bombed buildings and shop windows are covered with boards or wire netting. There is no such thing as window shopping anymore, and soldiers walk the streets tense and nervous looking. Most of them are no more than soft chinned kids fresh out of comprehensive school. It doesn’t seem right that they should be here at all.
The Bogside is completely cut off from the town now. Drive through William Street a big burly Irishman told us, but the road is now closed by soldiers complete cutting the Bogside off from the town. The Provos lay down the law there and soldiers rarely wander in. William Street was the way to Magee University College, but with a detour we found the place fairly easy. The shock came when the band saw the hall – the small dining room was to be the venue for the gig and it was in complete contrast to the beautiful acoustically designed Dublin hall.
The gig that night was packed out, people from the town as well as students packed their way into the hall and they didn’t hold back a bit of reserve in showing their respect to an English band who had the guts to get to Ireland to tour. Musically, well you couldn’t really tell how it went with the sound system playing weird tricks in the little hall completely non-designed for electric instruments.
The energy in that little hall was tremendous, and the band played a storm.
Stackridge’s music is a weird thing to try and tackle in words. It takes from both rock and roll and classical music but never from the obvious influences. James has been a Beatles freak, whenever he sites down to play the guitar to himself it is Beatle tunes that he plays, and there is a lot of the flavour or their music in his writing. Variety is definitely important in their music, and so is a great sense of humour. Their pieces, and that is the right word, follow a classical pattern in that there are definite sections, rather than most rock bands, where one number follows into the next with little difference, there is a definite feel to each of Stackridge’s tunes.
At the moment they are not too happy with the material they are playing on stage. Next month they are taking a couple of weeks off and adding another guitarist, Jim Walters, who was one of the founder members with Andy Davies. Jim, nicknamed and known as Crunberry, was one of the main facets in bringing in their weird sense of humour into the music.
From watching the band for four nights on the run, it was apparent that they needed a keyboard to fatten out the sound. Andy Davies will be switching to piano, electric piano, and Mellotron which will give him the chance to put the horns and violin sections that are needed into the music.
At the moment the one song they are playing that the whole band is completely happy with is a long piece, “Slark,” that features long sections and a solo part in the middle that is not just an excuse for a blow.
Mutta is the main soloist, and the solo he builds brings the theme of Slark The Monster into reality. The piece he plays is a semi-improvised musical painting that brings out his natural flair for comedy. In its own style, the nearest comparison is probably Chaplin. He uses all the arts of dramatics, playing shrill runs and spurts through the PA, while Barry adds echo to emphasise the notes. Then he uses words and snorts, and one part where the monster comes into view, he cries “Mummy” in varying high pitches. You laugh at first but really you’re laughing at yourself. Everyone calls for someone in times of trouble.
Friendliness is Stackridge Shaped by Mark Plummer
Caption: Mick “MUTTA” SLATER: very English
James Warren sits behind the engineer overlooking the mixing console, politely suggesting to Andy Davies that one of his harmonium notes was off while his Marks and Sparks-slippered feet gently beat a rhythm on the tattered carpeted floor.
Mick “Mutta” Slater looks like he’s just come up from Yeovil for the day to watch a rock group recording. Baggy high-waisted grey striped flannel trousers and waistcoat bought for a few shillings in a junk shop and a straw boater on his head. There’s a toothbrush poking out of the ticket pocket.
“Mutta,” like the rest of Stackridge is very English.
The music drifts back through the JBL monitor speakers, a pastoral harmonious instrumental “Lummy Days,” it is one of Andy Davies instrumental tracks from the forthcoming Stackridge album “Friendliness.”
“Sounds like the Queen Mary coming into port,” suggests Mutta.
It’s now over fourteen months since the first Stackridge album was released, fourteen months of living on the poverty line covering miles of road as they take their music to masses of little clubs and concert halls throughout England. Part of the wait for the second album was because their record company, MCA, thought they needed a producer after having parted company with Fritz Fryer who produced their first album.
After approaching many people, including Dave Cousins of the Strawbs, Stackridge decided they should do the job themselves. Eventually MCA agreed and in the shortest time they have completed the album bar the mixing in under a fortnight.
For the new album and for live work during the early summer they took a fortnight off the road to begin intensive rehearsals with their new bass player and founder member of the group Jim Walters. Walters, nicknamed Crunberry, was originally going to play guitar with them, leaving Andy Davies free to play his own peculiar brand of piano, electric piano and Mellotron, but switched to bass guitar when he found his fingers had grown rusty after being out of bands since he left Stackridge in their early days. By bringing in Crunberry their sound has reached a level it always missed before, it’s fuller now and with the Mellotron it means that both flutist Mutta and violinist Mike Evans have a heavier and more fluid backcloth to work over.
Stackridge are one of the most original groups in Britain, and having spent a couple of evenings in the studio with the band listening to them putting the finishing touches to “Friendliness” their originality is completely reaffirmed. Their music is totally Stackridge in its form, and diverse as influences work their way into their songs. The tracks for the album are extremely varied – there’s reggae, blues, humour, and their own quasi-classical pastoral sounds.
Stackridge’s songs have always been full of mythical, whimsical characters like Percy the Penguin, Marzo Plod – taken from looking at a light bulb for a long time – Slark and Dora the female explorer. Apart from Slark, their most interesting and sad creature emerges from the depths of Bristol zoo on the new album. “Syracuse,” the title of the track and elephant’s name, lives peacefully and happily in the zoo with a keeper specially sent down from Leeds, but he is sent to live with Tarzan and Jane in California and not unnaturally all he wants is to be left alone with his herbs and marrows.
“Syracuse” is a great track, apart from the lyrics which are poignant and amusing, with swirling Mellotron and instrumental tracking, it is very much influenced by the Beatles.
While Stackridge are deeply aware of their music and live their lives around it, they are not at all in the mould of pop stars. Sure, on stage Mike Evans looks flamboyant with his violin and tasteful playing, but off stage like the rest of the band he is content to be himself – although admits he wouldn’t mind being a superstar if only for the experience.
The two characters in orthodox pop moulds are drummer Billy Brent, who is changing his surname by deed poll to Sparkle, and more important Mutta.
Mutta is the character on stage and off with his old clothes and friendly face, also he is a fine – if not orthodox – self-taught flautist.
“I first played flute,” says Mutta, during a break in recording, “Because I always wanted to play an instrument, I played guitars and organs, but somehow I was never able to really get on. Then I saw a flute in a shop window and thought ‘well they sound nice.’ I never had a great knowledge of the chords shapes, so when I had learnt a couple of things about the flute it was very easy for me to joint in with other musicians.
“I suppose the first thing I listened to was Roland Kirk. I was playing all those skat things until I heard Harold Ncnair and that changed my whole idea of what the flute could do. Now I mainly listen to classical stuff, although I’m really not good enough to play it, I love the way they play. In jazz the flute always seems to be playing sax lines.”
“I don’t think I could play in any other band after Stackridge, in this group it is very rewarding for me, especially now Andy has a Mellotron I have a whole section behind me. I couldn’t imagine playing an Ian Anderson type of thing, playing in a heavy band the flute always seems terribly out of place.”
Talk to Mutta about his liking for the old times, especially in the way and period he dresses in and he loses the tenseness that accompanies his voice when speaking about his music. He enjoys dressing like a country farmer in his old second hand flannel suits. Once he tried looking very flash in colourful clothes but found his way back to his own little way of enjoying himself as an eccentric.
“I’ve always liked a specific period of dress, especially the Edwardian thing. I watched an Omnibus programme on Edward Lear, and though what a gas to be able to wear clothes like that.”
Melody Maker, March 24 1973
Do the Stanley!
Caption: mutter slater : brilliant showman
Mutter’s standing in the bar, battered brown bowler perched on short haired head, a pretty lady on his arm and a glass of Guiness in hand. Turn the clock back and we could be standing in the Workers’ Playhouse, Stockton, at the height of music hall. Instead it’s the bleak modern Civic Hall in Guildford.
A clutch of Stackridge fans arrive in the foyer, spot the flautist and make a beeline for the stairs. Nice to see him, they say and bend his ear for a few minutes, thanking him for a gig in Luton the Saturday before.
The fans look tired: two young boys and their girlfriends, bleary-eyed. How about the date in Bristol at the end of last year with the Panto? It was nice says Mutter. Yes they say and promise to hitchhike down to Bristol for the final gig on their current tour. Thank you, the up-and-coming superstar says, looking for all the world like he could chat to them patently all night.
Backstage, drummer Billy Sparkle – yes he really changed his name from Bent by deedpoll last year when it became an embarrassment to him – is sitting lost in the dressing room. There’re no fans back there or groupies. But a few hours later after their set, the dressing room will be packed with fan and members of the Rhubarb Thrashing Society who have seem the band in the most unlikely towns and venues.
Two fans with dustbin lids walk past without any sign of recognition, then turn round and look again: yes, it’s Billy they seem to say and smile. Later they’ll be bashing away in the back of the circle getting it on as Mutter leads the band through “Let There Be Lids.”
They’re a strange and dedicated lot these Stackridge fans, but they’re a diminishing elite as Stackridge’s following grows with each zany gig.
Inside the hall there’s a knife edge atmosphere of expectation, the crowd is seeing a fave band and they’ve already had a feast of music from Pete Barden’s Camel. The houselights dim and spotlights pick up the equipment, red lights glowing.
A cheer rises up…there’s a feeling that they’ve only got to walk on and they’ll be away.
Mutter is a brilliant showman. He handles the flower episode with a complete understanding of his audience and breaks down all the barriers between stage and audience. At a Stackridge concert the audience is part of the act, the group needs them as much as they need the group.
Yet it’s not just Mutter who has grown instature…
Andy Davis will sit behind his Mellotron and electric piano filling the sound with sustained string passages and piano melodies.
And now James Warren is really beginning to get a cult figure status. He’s small and wiry and in his suit and bowtie he looks the perfect English gentleman.
Crunberry, an original member of the group who left until rejoining as their bass player last year, is statuesque on stage, standing by his bass amp playing ridiculously simple patterns. While Billy sits behind his kit and looks more the orthodox rock and roller than the rest of the group.
Stackridge’s set is a strange combination of musical ability and straightforward music hall.
Musically they’ve come on in leaps and bounds since I last saw them on the pantomime last year. At that time they were still singing a lot of their old numbers, full of odd characters and often slightly pretentious and esoteric. A serious joke that long-time fans understood but left newcomers perplexed.
Now they’ve dropped a lot of their old set, and replaced them with newies specially written for the stage like “Let There Be Lids” and songs that will be recorded in May for their third album. As songs they’re more powerful and better constructed while retaining the pastoral sound that has always been associated with their music.
After four numbers the Guildford Civic Hall was jumping. They’d played an impromptu jig while the PA was seen to, Billy Cotton’s Wakey Wakey radio theme, and “Syracuse The elephant.”
Then “Let There Be Lids,” Andy switches from keyboards to guitar, James to bass, and Mutter dances like a lunatic. Crunberry and a roadie dance on with the dustbin lids, Mutter collects a pair and they’re banging away in the oddest of fashion while in front of the stage the area slowly fills with dancing kids.
Then into “God Speed The Clown,” with Mutter playing chime bars. It’s a new instrumental piece in much the same tradition as “Lummy Days” and “Purple Spaceships Over Yatton” which they play towards the end of the set when they’re joined by a monstrous looking six-foot-high roadie in cloak and bandaged face who plays the timpani. Scary!
“The Road to Venezuiela” next, which shows how much Andy has absorbed from the Beatles. Lyrically it’s a long way from the Lennon McCartney team, but the melodic and rhythmic pattern is very much from the “With The Beatles” days. Their “Twist And Shout” with Mike Evans singing greasy lead and working out with mike stand is the same, the guitars patterns are a straight lift from the Beatles. And when Andy and James sing the harmony it could be the fab four on stage.
For “Do The Stanley,” the last number of their set, Stackridge are joined by tow dudes in jeans and boots who have worked out a dance routine for the song. They really do the Stanley! It’s crazy and you can’t help but laugh. In front of the stage the audience is Stanleying too, as Mutter sings “it’s easy to do.”
New Musical Express, August 18 1973
MUTTER SLATER, ANDY DAVIS TALKING TO BARBARA CHARONE
Caption: Mutter Slater: People ask me if I’m a gimmick…
Andy Davis: Getting too predictable
Lummy days are over, Stackridge move on…
Once billed as the Almost Greatest Show On Earth, those remarkable young men from the West Country known collectively as Stackridge are currently at work on a new album and stage presentation.
Lummy days now over, it’s time to move on for Stackridge.
After a couple of years of trekking up and down the country, spreading their good-timey dustbin vibes, the band feel the serious side of Stackridge should now come forth.
Joking about the group dramatically splitting, Andy Davis and Mutter Slater discussed things to come when we met last week at their manager’s office. Despite heavy recording schedules and few odd gigs, they look relatively healthy. Anyone for tennis?
The reason for all the changes derives from the band’s feelings that, in recent months they have been somewhat too predictable on stage.
“It’s been said that you never know what to expect from Stackridge and all that other tripe,” declares Andy Davis. “But things got to the stage where you knew exactly what to expect. The show was entertaining enough if you’d never seen the band, but for people who continually went to our concerts the surprise element had gone.”
The group’s last major British tour, in March, found them steering away from the more serious musical numbers to devote most of their time to the repertoire – “do The Stanley” and “Let There Be Lids” – and such-like.
“We really enjoy doing a variety of music.” Said Davis. “But there was a time when we were doing too many good-time numbers and not enough of the serious stuff.
“We were getting away from what the band originally intended, although we were enjoying it. Stackridge really like silly things as well as more serious things. Yet our tendency,” Davis continues “has been to the serious things on record and fall about on stage. Hopefully we can bring the two sides closer together.”
“Even though the music will be more serious” adds Mutter Slater, “we’re not going to start taking ourselves seriously. When something goes wrong on stage, we’ll still laugh and muck about”
one person who will evidently be playing a major role in the new direction is their producer whose identity they are for the time being keeping to themselves.
“What’s happening isn’t so much a change as an obvious next step. And it’s really not all that unexpected,” argues Davis. “The production is very, very good on the new album, whereas in the past we haven’t been completely satisfied.
“It’s not that we’re spending great amounts of time on stupid little details. We’ve just done a few things that we’ve never been able to do before. Now we’ll start a song completely over if we’re not satisfied with the basic track. If we had done that with ‘Friendliness’, the album would have been 100 times better.
“You could say that we’re more disciplined. In the past, the tendency on stage has been for everyone to play all the way through every number. Now we’re trying to get away from that, as we realise it’s not necessary to have instruments playing just to add extra weight.
“In the studio we’ve begun to realise what’s needed. A violin can stay out for 16 bars, a flute doesn’t have to always be present. We’ve done this in the studio and we’re beginning to do it on stage.”
Those who saw the band last sprint will know that the working title for the album was “The Road to Venezuala.” This project has been abandoned.
“At the time, it seemed like a god idea,” Mutter explains. “We listened to includes other related songs like the ‘Galloping Goucho’ and Dolores’. Although some of these songs will be on the new album we got fed up with the basic idea.
“Another reason we abandoned the project,” Davis adds, “was the cover. A preliminary sketch came out a bit too similar to previous covers.”
Biggest change of all will be the projected addition of a pianist, which will expand their ideas to a greater extent on stage. And in one new number, the band will gain a grand piano, Hammond organ and mellotron to the instrumentation.
“We need a regular piano player. Although Mutter and I both play piano, we’re really not good enough. There’s a lot of organ and piano on the new album, and it will be imperative we have that sound on stage.
“We’re hoping to get Bob Thompson, an original Stackridge member, who played our first three bookings with us when the band was a four-piece.
“A couple of the new songs are ballads that feature basically piano, drums, a bass. A piano is essential.
“Occasionally, Stackridge have a tendency to sound like a flue and violin with a sort of rumbling noise going on in the background,” Davis laughed.
“Piano will also enable us to do a longer set,” Mutter interjected, “which we’ve always wanted to do. We’ll be able to do things like ‘There Is No Refuge’ from Friendliness’, or ‘Keep On Clucking’.”
One song from the new album, “The Last Plimsoll”, has a particularly interesting history.
“Each month, someone from the group writes a letter about what’s going on in the group to our fan club the Rhubarb Thrashing Society. One month Crun wrote a particularly obscene letter, talking about the band’s new policy of mass slaughter on stage, where intestines will be ripped out a la Alice Cooper.
“One phrase said: ‘The climax of the whole evening will be when the entire audience is massacred down to the last plimsoll’. Andy thought it would make a good song title.
You should also be warned about credits like ‘Wabadaw Sleeve’ or ‘Smegnakovitch’ appearing on an album sleeve. “Smegnakovitch is pseudonym for lyrics written by Crun, James Warren and myself,” explained Slater. “While Wabadaw Sleeve is the name used for group-written songs. It’s an anagram with the first two letters of everyone’s surname mixed up.” This is spoken with utmost seriousness.
Stackridge songs have a tendency to sound a bit old fashioned, sort of 1940’s rock ‘n’ roll. A new song,” Fundamentally Yours”, has that old-time feel, while “The last Plimsoll” is a celebration of honky-tonk.
“The reason our songs always sound old-time is because they’ve got melody, which really isn’t popular these days. A song with melody will always sound dated,” Davis argues.
“One or two of our songs are always aimed at a particular style of music, or a parody of it,” says Mutter. “‘Anyone For Tennis’ was an example of that. Crun and James were doing a take off on old-fashioned tunes. While on ‘Agnes’, which began as a straight forward song, the band had trouble playing it, so we found it worked better with a reggae beat.”
“Occasionally we do that with problem songs,” Davis adds, “a song that proves difficult to put over. Quite often we’ll run through several different styles with one song – waltz, reggae, rock – to see which fits best.
Comparisons with the Beatles have been mentioned since the bands formation. It’s the harmonies and sweet melodies that conjure up memories of Lennon and McCartney.
“I suppose every band starts out wanting to be the next Beatles,” says Davis. “Everyone has stood in front of a mirror with a tennis racket, imitating them,” he smiles.
“In a way,” says Mutter “the comparison is justified, because we are melodic. Some people will classify us as 1920’s influenced, or BBC influenced but the people who don’t know what to make of us think we are Beatles influenced.”
Unlike some bands who spend hours devising special on-stage trickery and adopt a special persona for live gigs, Stackridge just present themselves as they are, which is strange, to say the least.
“People have been coming to me after gigs asking if what I do on stage is a gimmick,” says Mutter. “I look at them in disbelief, and they say something like – do you really speak that way or is it just a put on.”
“If a group is successful, people tell you how to look,” comments Davis. “They tell you what to wear, how to move – hair must look freaky, trousers must be tight, never baggy etc. All this makes the audience want to be like you: their dream is to be on stage. Groups become superhuman objects for the fans to look at.”
Haven’t Stackridge achieved this very thing, in a totally opposite way?
“Yes,” says Mutter, “but it hasn’t been a conscious attempt to go against what people generally want. All I did was put on clothes that the audience is either wearing anyway, or wouldn’t be seen dead in. It’s just something the bloke in the front row seat wears.”
Other plans might see the addition of horns to the stage show. Perhaps even a string quartet. Fame might come to Stackridge and it might not. No one is particularly bothered.
“We’re very happy at the moment,” Davis admits, “We don’t want for anything. All that needs to be done is find time to write and play. Obviously, the more people who hear us the better.”
“The attractive thing about becoming what’s called successful,” Mutter contemplates, “is that you’re allowed a bit more freedom, due to the stronger financial backing. It’s been slightly frustrating musically, but we’ve enjoyed it up till now. We’ve always been able to express ourselves to a reasonable extent.”
When you go to a Stackridge concert you’re always certain to get one thing – the unexpected. And that’s just what happened at the packed Queen’s Hotel in Westcliff, on Sunday night.
We knew something was in the air when flute-player Mutter Slater walked on stage with short hair and wearing a three-piece suit. How unconventional can you get? And what followed took all but the ardent Stackridge follower complete by surprise.
We found that Stackridge are not just a band, they are almost a travelling circus!
They are basically a fun band, with most of their music aimed at getting the crowd jumping up and down.
By the end of their hour long act practically the whole hall was swirling and bouncing to the strings of Mike Evans’ superb violin, with the other five members supporting him well.
The walls seemed to shake when the band went into their favourite “Lyder Loo,” “Twist and Shout,” and their masterpiece “Do The Stanley.”
“Syracuse the Elephant” and Purple Spaceships Over Yatton,” stood out as pieces of serious music with guitarist Crun and James Warren backing up well behind the superb violin, flute and mellotron lead.
An exceptional group – a style of their own – and a bright future ahead of them. – Peter Ellegard.
Stackridge: “the man in the bowler hat (mca mcg 3501).
stackridge have always occupied a unique position on the contemporary British Music scene and because of it they’ve more often than not been unjustly slagged by many people who cannot see further than the group’s rather twee image. But Stackridge have been playing and writing good music now for quite a time and this album crowns any of their previous efforts as well as many of the records currently being released by bands who have been around longer and who perhaps are considered bigger groovers. The line-up on the new album bears little relation to the present Stackridge who have since been augmented by horn player Keith Gemmell and keyboards man Rod Bowkett. Side one opens with “Fundamentally Yours” and is the first of a possible three or four hit singles to be featured on the album. It also showcases the vocal talent of Andy Davies whose other gem is “The Road To Venezuela” which he sings above a gentles, rolling tempo with some nice flute interjections from Mutter Slater. George Martin as producer has turned out to be exactly the right guy to handle Stackridge in the studio. He has managed to come up with a tightly controlled sound without detracting from the overall beefiness of the music he’s working with. All instruments are handled masterfully and the arrangements, partly attributed to George Martin, show a maturity which makes it one of these records you’ll still be playing and appreciating a long time after glam rock has had its day. It’s time now to take Stackridge seriously, it really is. – R.T.
The New Musical Express, April 21 1973
The seriously funny side of Stackridge By Paul Weir
” Our dream is to be Britain’s number one band,” says Andy Davis with a twinkle in his eye, “so we can move our agency down to the cottage in Yatton and have my old man doing bookings on the phone.”
That kind of frivolousness disregard is what you expect when Stackridge are around. They’re the kind of band who don’t care much for the business side of music – even so they’re doing all right from it. They don’t like fan worship either. Nevertheless they’ve become something of a cult.
Stackridge is the ultimate accident – six people who met up in strangest circumstances, and play the strangest music from the strangest backgrounds.
Perhaps a lot of the group’s strength lies in the way they blend the improbable with the impossible. How many other groups put over serious songs in a funny way, and attempt to blend the bizarre with the melodic?
Even as people, Stackridge are a paradox. Appearing lighter than light on stage, they are at times very deep off. In an attempt to unravel these apparent contradictions, I spoke to Andy Davis at their publicist’s offices.
Their first British tour has taken them into new territory, and taken them virtually to the point of no return.
“Before this tour, we were a club band. Now we’re a touring band,” says Davis. “I should say we’re somewhere near the top of the second division in terms of status.
“The response on the tour has been quite frightening – when we walked on stage, we got tremendous ovations.”
Many of the people who turned up at concerts are devoted Stackridge freaks from the band’s club gigs, going under the name of the “Rhubarb Thrashing Society”. There are groups and “mobs” of them all over the country and, of late, the fans have been organising coach parties to Stackridge gigs in other parts of the country.
Local mobs which spring to mind include “The Guildford Mob”, “The Leeds Lummy Days Society”, “The Leeds Syracuse”, “The Elephant Society”, “The Newham Thrashers” and “The Kingston Mob”. Apologies to the hundreds missed out and over to Davis:
“If you print all those, we’ll get irate phone calls because we’ve forgotten half of them. James (Warren) and Mutter (Slater) know them better than I do. The Leeds Lummy Days Society are doing a Stackridge float in their University rag – 30 people dressed up as Mutter playing dustbin lids, with the same haircut and things.
“They’re going to play ‘Lummy Days’ all through the town and we’re lending them our giant gnome.”
Another link between the band and Stackridge freaks is the full Autograph book. “The autograph book,” says Davis, “is a sort of reaction against autograph hunters. People who are obsessed with autographs seem really funny to us, so we say: ‘Yes, certainly, can we have yours?’ Anybody that we sigh autographs for has to sign our book, otherwise they don’t get one.
“It’s one of the typically silly things we do. It just shows people that there’s nothing special about us: if they have our autographs, we’ll have theirs.”
Many aspects of the Stackridge stage act developed quite by accident at particular gigs. Is the band itself and accident?
“Yes, I suppose it is. We never said, three years ago, ‘We’ll form a six-piece group with a violin and flute, with funny announcements’. We just thought: ‘Let’s form a group’.
“The people in the group are definitely ‘accidents’ – classic stories of bumping into people on street corners and saying ‘Want to join a group?'”
Is their approach to music as light as their stage presentation?
“No, it’s very deep, speaking personally. I know Mutter’s and James’s approaches are much deeper than mine, while the others are perhaps lighter.
“Although we do mess around on stage, off stage we’re probably very serious compared to most people, not only about music. About most things.
“There was a time, in fact, when we couldn’t use a lot of the stuff we wrote because it was too deep to put over on stage, although we managed to do ‘Friendliness’ on the last album.
“There was a danger that we would get into a thing of having all silly songs on stage but, with the new songs, we’ve come through that. Even the funny ones are sort of deep in a strange way.
“It’s difficult to understand the music, unless you know us really well. It reflects all our personalities rolled into one. The feeling we try to put across in our writing is mainly friendliness.
“We want to make people happy, but we don’t set out to have any definite emotional impact on an audience other than to hope they enjoy it.”
Davis also explains the apparent contradiction in their humorous presentation of serious songs. “There’s usually a serious point behind our songs. Some people might say that if we were really serious we wouldn’t make them into a joke, but the best way of putting something across is in a funny way. Like ‘Syracuse’ and ‘Keep On Clucking’ – they’re serious songs given a light presentation.
Stackridge are currently working on a new album. Says Davis: “They’re the first songs you could ever imagine someone else singing, which I think is a step forward. A couple of them, even Sinatra could do.
“We decided that the album would be called ‘The Road To Venezuala’, then decided we’d better write a song of that title.
“The original idea was to follow a kind of Bob Hope/Bing Crosby road story, with ‘The Galloping Goucho’ as the main character. Anything we write now will probably fit that theme.”
Stackridge: “The Man In The Bowler Hat” (MCA)
Although this is the old Stackridge which includes the inimitable Mutter Slater, there is every probability this new album will have an impressive effect on the British Public, in that the cult following the present band possess will escalate. Quite frankly it won’t be before time.
Stackridge have always had a curious image which crosses between country bumpkins and vaudeville musicians, but this album will indisputably prove that they (Andy Davis, Slater, Mike Evans, Billy Sparkle, James Warren and Crun Walter) are some of the best musicians and composers in contemporary rock. And even the new line up, with Keith Gemmell and Rob Bowkett replacing Mutter and Billy, continues this trend.
George Martin, the same producer who guided, orchestrated and produced the Beatles, has been largely responsible for this album.
In one respect it is a shame the Beatles feel (c. 1967) is so predominant through the songs, as this has resulted in the band imitating their playing style, for example, and the lyrical structure of the love song “Humiliation” is similar to “She’s Leaving Home”.
Perhaps the other main criticism of the album is that they have approached the songs in an unimaginative manner; sometimes the quality of the songs more than makes up for those flaws in execution.
The nearest they come to vaudeville is with Mutter’s “The Galloping Gaucho” with brass backing and quite the best set of lyrics on the album. An instrumental, “God Speed The Plough” illustrates the true finesse of their musicianship with an excellent arrangement of piano, violin and flute.
This is certainly an album which should not be missed.
Melody Maker, March 2 1974
Being the story of the complicated life and times of Stackridge as told by Geoff Brown. Right: Mike Evans and Crun Walter
Way out West, where the grass is greener, lies Bristol. It used to be a flourishing port. Nowadays it’s a fairly typical provincial centre. Two League soccer teams, but the locals care for rugger and there’s a classy Cream Sherry named after the place.
It has a wide catchment area. From way down to Yatton and Bath in Somerset to Yeovil and to Weston-Super-Mare.
The music that was made in this area in the mid-sixties was much the same as anywhere else. Small group r&b, blues, soul.
In 1964 a 15-year-old kid from Newport, Isle of Wight, who’d moved to Yeovil, was playing in a beat group called The Anonymous. He later moved on to The Cellar Rats (1967), Good Jelly (1968) and a folk duo called Mick and Mutter (1969). He was Mutter Slater and was, for a time, an integral part of the this story.
Elsewhere Andrew Cresswell-Davis, a year older than Slater, was moving through groups like The Blue Crew and Strange Fruit and The Kynd. We’ll stop his story at a group called Gryptight Thynne and turn to Jim Walter.
Walter, known as Crun (shortened from Crunberry – ask no more), was playing in Scene Six when he was 17, in Sunken Rake when he was 18. Then, at the same age, he joined Gryptight Thynne and Andy Davis (the Cresswell 2nd hyphen were dropped).
From 1968 Bristolian James James Warren, who was 17 and will 17 even when he’s 57, was playing in a group called Dawn.
These strands, plus others, came together to form Stackridge Lemon with Billy “Sparkle” Bent and Mike Evans.
Warren relates the strange Stackridge tale in language rarely heard from rock musicians. Albums are “el-pees”; “chaps” get “tipsy”, not pissed, an educated, cultured speech complemented in the present Stackridge by Crun’s earthy bluntness and by Davis’s strong silent presence.
Warren: “Gryptight Thynne were basically a blues band which specialised in John Mayall blues type material. They went through an odd stage towards the end of the Gryptight Thynne era when they played at a club in Bristol called the Dug-Out. They had to do a sort of residency there.
“I think they got a bit fed up with treating it in any serious way because it was an awful slot. So I think they just decided they might as well have a different name every night. They had the most ridiculous names. Things like The Vera Lynne Experience or some silly thing.
“The original form consisted of Crun, Andy and two or three other musicians in Bristol, which aren’t with the group anymore and nobody would’ve of them.”
They played as Stackridge Lemon for a few months in 1969 “but very soon Andy and Crun got a bit tired of working that sort of format. Andy likes to change about every six moths whatever he’s doing. He has a sort of impetuosity in him.”
A few more members passed through the band before James was “discovered. Well not discovered. They asked me to join.” This was at the Granary, a regular Bristol club gig which figures prominently in the history of any band of the West. He joined Crun, Andy, Billy “Sparkle” Bent and Mutter Slater.
Warren had known Davis for some time, both being local, and so joined Stackridge Lemon. The band was playing its own material even then. “Slark” on the group’s first album was in the programme at that time.
“It was ridiculously long in those days. They used to do it for 20 minutes and there were a couple of songs which we did on “Friendliness” (the second album) which they used to do as well and likewise lasted ridiculous lengths.”
Warren saw them once before he joined them. “I thought they were a bit boring actually. But anyway I agreed.”
James had been playing for about two years with Dawn, and there were a couple of groups before that. “I left school about 16 or 17 and went straight into groups.”
That would’ve been 1967-8. He’s 22 now.
Next they found a guitarist from Bristol called Murray Smith “He was a very good blues and slide guitarist.”
Smith stayed for a while. And then they asked Crun to leave.
“Because Crun had got a job bricklaying to get some money and he became less interested in doing the hard slog of rehearsals and going out for £5 bookings. It was all rather pointless, he thought. We could see his attitude deteriorating. He didn’t put as much energy into rehearsals. The rest of us were anxious to get on and so we decided to ask him to leave. He was surprisingly happy about it. He didn’t mind at all.
“After that we asked Murray to leave because even though he was a very good guitarist he didn’t really fit in with the direction we wanted to go.
“The last person that we had in the group then was Mike Evans. We discovered him on Murray’s 21 st birthday. We were going to this local club in Bristol, the Granary, to celebrate it. Beforehand Andy and myself had gone into a pub in Clifton – the sort of Bohemian area of Bristol – and this violinist suddenly walked in.
“Andy and I had been discussing the sort of instruments we would like to have in the group. We wanted to be a bit more adventurous, perhaps having a bassoonist or clarinettist or anything which was a bit unusual. This was before violinists came into their hey-day. And so I just asked this chap when he walked in, I must have been a bit tipsy at the time.”
Tipsy or not Evans said yes to Warren’s invitation. “He came round to our flat later on that night after the celebrations and he started playing away. We had a booking the next day in Derby at the Clouds Club.”
Evans went along. “He didn’t have any amplifier. It was pointless really. He didn’t know any of the songs either. But he’s very good at improvising and he just sort of jammed away. Couldn’t hear anything he was playing anyway. It was really quite stupid.”
Previously, Evans had been in a folk group, The Westlanders, another similarly traditional group, the Moonshiners and various youth and school orchestras. When he joined the band dropped the Lemon and became pure Stackridge. Why?
“I don’t know really. We’ve always been plagued with people not being able to write the name properly and Stackridge Lemon made it even more confusing. Also it seemed a bit, well, unnecessary. It didn’t mean anything, mind you. I think Crun thought the name up. It hasn’t go any significance at all.”
Affairs became more consolidated. Mike Tobin (then their manager) moved to London to work foran agency called Inferno “and we started getting more bookings round the country and that’s when we became a more professional group.”
Did they have a vision of what the group should be?
“I know I did. I suppose I’m a bit of an idealist. I always wanted it to be a really incredible recording group and to be able to make fantastic, bizarre music. At the time when we first started going we’d written the most bizarre music. We don’t do much of it anymore.
“Oddly enough I don’t think we were so influenced in those early days as when we actually started making records. I know people say ‘Stackridge are today a truly original group’ and it’s true in some respects when you think of all the contemporary people around, but I don’t think anyone can be absolutely original.
“But in those earliest days it was, I don’t know, very abstruse sort of music and lyrics. We used to have completely silly things. It was great fun. People were bemused by it. They didn’t know quite what to make of it because the sound used to be invariably dreadful in those days.
“We often used to get a little frustrated at people’s attitudes. Crun and Mutter use to swear a lot at people, unknown to them, through the microphone. If they were doing a monologue or dialogue they’d sort of throw abuse at the audience. But nobody minded or noticed.”
While Stackridge were swearing at their audiences Tobin was trudging round record companies. Phillips, Vertigo and MCA’s expressed interest. At a gig in the Bristol Victoria Rooms MCA’s David Howells saw the band.
“We were remarkably blasé in those days, a bit stupid. We didn’t really take much notice of him. We didn’t realise the importance of a & r men. I don’t think we spoke to him at all.
“He came backstage after the performance and said he thought it was quite good and I thought ‘strange man’. It was out of our realm of experience, London and people from record companies.”
Howells, apparently not easily slighted, signed the band.
“The next big thing was being introduced to Fritz Fryer.
Fryer the ex-Four Pennies’ blonde bombshell turned record producer, heard the band and wanted to take them in the studios.
“Eventually, in about April ’71, we got round to recording the fist el-pee. That was tremendous. I really enjoyed recording that. It was one of the most happiest memories of any. Everyone was much more friendly in those days. Less disparate than we are now. That was recorded without Crun, of course. It was a joyous event and I think it turned out very well actually. At the time it sounded fabulous, to me at any rate.”
After that it was back to the continual aggravation of having to work on the road. Their first big tour supporting Wishbone Ash, exposure to concert halls for the first time and to large crowds. “It went quite well. We were quite popular. We were disappointed at the sales of the first el-pee; it didn’t really make it.’
Why? Was it not promoted correctly? “I think, sadly that must’ve been it, yes. I don’t think anyone could’ve played more often than we did at the time. Mind you we were often very bad on stage so maybe it isn’t surprising that more people didn’t buy it.
“Also I don’t think we had – I still don’t think we’ve got it – I think there’s a certain charisma of trendiness if you like. All the people that’ve made it really big like David Bowie and… I think we have a certain charisma but in a totally different way. Not in the sort of way that makes you big names.
“Groups that have this ones picked up by the charisma are invariably the music papers. For example Eno has a sort of charisma of trendiness. People and papers find him irresistible. He has a certain thing about him irrespective of whether he might be excellent musically or indifferent. I think that’s eluded us so far and it certainly did in those days.”
Their next album saw a split with Fryer. “When we were making the maxi-single (“Slark”, October 1972) we disagreed about the method of production I think Andy and myself were very ambitious in those days and we wanted… we just didn’t seem to have the same ideas as Fritz and were full of these ideas that we could produce ourselves better than anybody else.”
“Friendliness” was good fun. A few months before-hand (April ’72) Crun had been invited to rejoin the group. He’d said no at first. He took a lot of persuading.
“I came up with the idea,” says Warren. “We thought we were a bit limited as a five-piece. We didn’t know how to improve it. I had the idea of having Crun back in the group because when I played with the group in the early days I had always been attracted to Crun’s personality. He was so bizarre really. So rural and rustic. He had definite appeal. And I thought he might be just the missing ingredient.”
Warren convinced Andy that Walter should rejoin but, says James, Bill Bent was the “one who didn’t really agree to it. He wanted to keep it solid, as it was.” Eventually Bent was coaxed to accept change.
They finally wore Crun’s resistance down. He had been playing the odd gig with Mike Westbrook. “I don’t know how he got into it but Crun played bass with Mike for some time. You’d never believe it would you? Amazing.”
Crun gave Stackridge character, thinks Warren. “We felt unsure and insecure in those days.”
The band had moved up to London out of its
Continued on p72
The rubarb Thrashers were out in force at St. Albans City Hall last week to witness the long awaited return of the men from the West – Stackridge. The crowd sported hats, badges, rosettes, tambourines, whistles and an inexhaustible supply of energy. Could it be that we were about to see a performance form the Thinking Man’s Slade?
As Stackridge walked on stage smiling, the capacity crowd erupted into earth-shattering applause and Mutter Slater announced that this would be our last chances to see this set before they rehearse their new songs. Stackridge launched into “Lummy Days” and everybody jumped up and down, clapping their hands to the music. This was to be the pattern for the evening. I’ve seen audiences freaking all over the place at Deep Heep gigs but this lot were laughing, smiling and singing too. Stackridge played all the old favourites including “Anyone For Tennis”, Syracuse The Elephant” and “Let There Be Lids” – a rip-off variant on “Orange Blossom Special” featuring Mike Evans on violin and the fabulous Lidette (Mutter, Crun Walter and roadie Pete Donovan) on well-pulverised dustbin lids. It was nice, too, to get an earful of the newer songs.
“God Speed The Plough” improves with every hearing and reveals a more serious side to the group – perhaps a sign of greater things to come. In the flurry of audience inter-action the intricacy of their music can easily be overlooked but it’s there are it’s more than worth listening to.
“Lyder Loo” had everybody joining in the choruses. It’s been dropped as a single because of rumoured complications with the Beeb – it’s an anti-smoking song. “The Road To Venezuela” was unmistakably early Beatles and very nice too. So was their direct note-for-note lift of “Twist and Shout” – but that’s obvious.
“Do the Stanley” said Mutter and a thousand people did it all over the place. Into “Slark” and giant congas were weaving their way around the floor.
A thunderous “Stackridge football chant brought the lads back twice to do “Dora” and a selection of jigs. “I think that’s the best audience we’ve ever had”, Mike Evans told me afterwards.
Caption: Mr Mick’s hit trick
Stackridge : ‘Mr. Mick’ (Rocket, white label) 37 mins.*****
This must be one of the most bastardised albums to hit the market in some while in the sense of having been messed about prodigiously by the record company. The whole thing should have been a musical story and was created as such with due care and attention by Stackridge.
Then Rocket insisted on including the single ‘Hold Me Tight’, their Beatles – reggae single, and deleting five minutes of linking dialogue and some of the original music including the finale. The result is much less coherent and more mysterious than intended by the band but, as you see from the star-burst above, still a deeply satisfying album.
It opens with the single, which is very nice and hit-like if totally irrelevant, then moves into their theme with a slow instrumental piece reminding you yet again that it isn’t 10cc or Pilot who have come nearest to the sound and spirit of the Beatles, it’s they there turnip-heaving Stackridges.
This track is a blood brother to ‘Flying’, from ‘Magical Mystery Tour’, the heavy, slow drums, the echoing piano – only the wild soprano sax of Keith Gemmill has been added to protect their originality. But it introduces the cosmic side of a story that is otherwise firmly planted not so much on the earth as on rubbish.
Mr. Mick is an old gent eking out his age in an institution. He may be nuts, maybe not. For sure he’s bored and depressed: ‘No-one writes or calls or rings/A friendship is the rarest thing/When you’re old.’ He goes down to the town dump for want of anything better and there discovers some companions in rejection. Hence ‘Steam Radio’, ‘Cotton Reel Song’ and ‘Slater’s Walz’ (sung by a pair of discarded ballet shoes).
It’s a whimsical, children’s story idea to have objects talking of course but the result is enchantment in the music, empathy with the character, a very unusual achievement for the rock medium in reaching out to touch old age (‘Grandma’s Hands’ by Bill Withers is the only other example that comes to mind).
The songs even move like a spirited old man, jaunty, but a little unsteady, a sound full of wit and human understanding. ‘Slater’s Waltz’ about sums up the feeling, opening with a sweet-melancholic vocal by Joanna Carlin with simple piano as per a ballet rehearsal, then Mick joins her in a pas de deux lumbering waltz with that soprano sax entrechating round the edges, a delicate, delighted, despairing frolic.
Davis’s melodies and Mutter’s character-acting have never been heard in more attractive combination and that soprano (Gemmill has generally used tenor before) in the startling musical ingredient that completes the emotional experience. It’s beautiful. – Phil Sutcliffe.