THE IDLE RACE HISTORY:
In 1996, EMI publised a doub. CD "Back to the story" containing the entire back catalougue plus bonus tracks.
The fortcoming tekst is taken from the booklet from this CD.
”The Idle Race are second to The Beatles”, so spoke Kenny Everett in 1968 and he did not stand alone. Although they never charted. The Idle Race were highly rated by their contemporaries and produced some of the most fascinating music of the sixties. Eccentric yet endearing, eclectic yet original. The Idle Race created melodies which floated gently, rumbled darkly or jengled along with a strange sort of menacing jollity whilst their subject matter dealt with human idiosyncrazy, mental disturbance an the more obscure angles of everyday life. On the first hearing, they made accessible pop music; on second hearing, it was something far more intriguing!
The Idle Race evolved from an equally legendary Birmingham band. Mike Sheridan And The Nightriders. Their final line-up, which comprised Mike Sheridan, Dave Pritchard, Greg Masters, Roger Spencer and Roy Wood, had become immensely successful on the Birmingham scene, to central hub of which was The Cedar Club. Many bands would meet up there to hold jam sessions, and it was here that the first Midlands ”supergroup” was formed. The Move took members from several different bands, one of them being Roy Wood from The Nightriders (whose name, by this time, had mutated into Mike Sheridan’s Lot). Sheridan decided to reduce his musical status to part time, leaving Dave Pritchard, Greg Masters and Roger Spencer to continue.
The remaining three appropriated guitarist Johnny Mann from another local band, Carl Wayne And The Vikings, within a matter of weeks, passed an audition for Polydor Records. The official change of name to The Nightriders took place on the 25th january 1966 and the band went into Pye recording studios at Marble Arch with Polydor producer, Claire Francis. The aim of the session was to record a number of tracks, then select the best for a single. Amongst these tracks was ”Your Friend” featuring rhythm guitarist Dave Pritchard on vocals and Johnny Mann on lead guitar. Shortly after the session, Mann left the band, so an advert was placed in the Birmingham Evening Mail for a ”keen young guitarist”. Subsequent auditions turned up a successful applicant in Jeff Lynne.
As bassist Greg Masters recals, ”Jeff Lynne picked things up very quickly – good singer, and harmoniser. We were very lucky. He was another Woody, really!”
A further session took place, this time af Hollick and Taylor Studios in Handsworth, where they recorded ”It’s Only The Dog” with drummer Roger Spencer on vocals and Jeff Lynne on guitar.
”Your Friend” was re-recorded with Dave Pritchard singing and Jeff Lynne again handling guitar, expanding upon the violin sound which Johnny Mann had developed.
Polydor released the single ”It’s Only The Dog” backed with ”Your Friend” in November 1966 under the name The Nightriders. However the band had already decided upon a change of title befittiong their new direction.
”Jeff Lynne was a few years younger than us and we thought we’d project everything on him and make him the front man,” Dave Pritchard explained. ”We were aming high and originally the name was to be Idyll Race, as in ’perfection’ but it was as things started to get psychedelic and it sort of mutarted into Idle Race”. After the first single failed to create much interest, the band lost their contract with Polydor. However, they were still very friendly with Roy Wood who’s by then successful band, The Move had been recording at Advision Studios in London. On Roy Wood’s advice, studio engineers Eddie Offord and Gerald Chewin travelled to see The Idle Race play at The Cedar Club, were impressed and offered to record them. Sessions took place over many weekends at Advision, where the band had much artistic freedom and accepted technical guidance from the adventours Offord and Chevin. Amongst the first tracks recorded was the Roy Wood song ”Here We Go Round The Lemon Tree”, the subject matter and style of which fit neatly into the whimsical, psychedelic direction in which The Idle Race were heading. Jeff Lynne, at his point, had yet to develop the songwriting talents for which he subsequently became famed.
Clifford and Chevin suggested that ”Lemon Tree” became the band’s first single and were hoping for an immediate hit based on Roy Wood’s success as a songwriter with The Move.
In between regular gigging and recording. The Idle Race managed to pick up a contract with Liberty Records and were all set for the first single release, ”Here We Go Round The Lemon Tree” backed with Dave Pritchard’s ”My Father’s Son”, even going as far as having promotional photos taken of the band posing round a tree bearing the relevant fruit!
Unfortunatly the track had just been released on The Move’s first album and as the B-side to the highly successful single ”Flowers In The Rain” and was receiving considerable airplay. Unvilling to be cited as a ”cover version” band, The Idle Race agreed with Liberty Records to withdraw the record from British release. It did, however, appear in the USA and Europe, but with little commercial success.
Work continued at Advision Studios, where The Idle Race learned from their producers, particulary Eddie Offord as Dave Pritchard remembered.
”Eddie was a tremendous engenier which is probaly why he eventually became involved with Yes. He used to cut up bits of tape with a razor blade and swap them arround or run them backwards or cut them into different sections of tape. We learned a lot of stuff like that from him. Eddie and Gerald used to spend hours in the studio experimenting, trying to discover certain sounds, like The Beatles were using at the time”.
The first Idle Race single in the UK comprised two Jeff Lynne songs: ”Imposters of Life’s Magazine” b/w ”Sitting In My Tree”, which appeared in October 1967 and, although it attracted much media interest, sales were moderat.
In the same month, The Idle Race were invited by distinguished producer Bernie Andrews to record the very first of many sessions for the BBC. This one was for Top Gear and goes down in history as being one of Bernie’s favorittes. Jeff Lynne remembers that first BBC session: ”We’d been going for about eighteen months. We lived and played in Birmingham, so going down to London to record for the BBC was a major event. We hadn’t had much experience of recording, so it was a relief to find it quite easy going. I thought it was great. You got to record and got paid for doing it, I think the fee just about covered the petrol from Birmingham. Bernie go tus a good sound. At the time, I was wanting to be a producer myself, so I was learning a lot. I even got some blue corduroy trousers just like Bernie’s and wore them for my first attempt as a record producer, the second Idle Race album. From then on, corduroy trousers were always called ’Producers Trousers’!”
By the time The Idle Race’s debut album, ”The Birthday Party”, was released by Liberty in October 1968, the band had issued a further three singles, ”The Skeleton And The Roundabout”, probaly their best known, was an ideal taster for the forthcomming album, capturing all the LP’s strongest points in it’s merry-go-round sound and unlikely tale of the rise and fall of a spooky fairground character. It was backed with another Jeff Lynne song ”Knocking Nails Into My House”, later to be covered by Ambrose Slade on their inital album ”Ballzy”. This was followed by ”The End Of The Road”/”The Morning Sunshine” and, just preceding the album itself. ”I Like My Toys”/”The Birthday”. All these tracks (bar ”Knocking Nails”) were featured on ”The Birthday Party” album, which bore a remarkable gatefold sleeve in the form of an invitation to the party, the centre opening to reveal a photo-montage of all the guests, including many friends and luminares of the day, such as The Move, The Beatles, Brian Jones, Hank Marvin and most of the Radio One Dj’s! The music contained within was a peculiar hybrid of psychedelia and classic pop, mixing nursery rhyme lyrics with music hall melodies, whilst tackling themes which dealt with the odd characters of the world and their bizarre obsessions, with nightmarish fantasies and with confused sensory perceptions. In fact, the entire ”The Birthday Party” album displayed frivolous almost vaudeville overtones, but lurking just beneath the surface lay a twilight world of society’s outcasts. Unfortunatly, the album itself remained in that twilight world and did not exactly sell by the millions: thus, it has become a rare and collectable gem and its inclusion here will delight those who have spent years searching for it! However, it did gain the respect and admiration of those in high places, amongst whom were pioneering DJ’s Kenny Everett (who became Honary President of The Idle Race Fan Club), John Peel, Stuart Henry and many contemporary musicians including The Beatles and Marc Bloan, who was quoted at the time as saying: ”Their music is beautiful, really beautiful – and they write it all themselves!”
Four months after the release of ”The Birthday Party”, the band were still a well respected but commercially unsuccessful phenomenon. In contrast, The Move, were selling copious amounts of singles and had recently enjoyed their first UK No. 1 with ”Blackbery Way”. However, fraught by internal disruptions, the band had just lost bass player, Trevor Burton. In March 1969, Roy Wood invited Jeff Lynne to join The Move. Jeff Lynne declined, convinced that his own band were deteined for greater things and The Idle Race continues their hectic touring scedule. Spring of 1969 saw The Idle Race begin recording for their eponymous second album. This time, Trident Studios were used, due to their technical advancement in having an 8-track machine. Marc Bolan was frequent visitor to the sessions.
Greg Masters: ”Marc got quite friendly at one stage. He used to come along at three in the morning and sit in the corner – never used to say much, but he liked Jeff Lynne’s songs”. The second album was produced byJeff Lynne who, according to Roger Spencer, ”had no experience as a producer. He just bluffed his way through it”.
During the summer, two tracks not included on the subsequent album were released as a single. ”Days Of The Broken Arrows”/”Worn Red Carpet” (mistitled ”Warm” on the original label) were slight departure, ”Broken Arrows” looking toward The Move’s darker side and sounding uncannily similar to material on the latter’s third album, ”Looking On”, with which Jeff Lynne ultimately bcame involved.
Although the new album contained songs which were as innovative as its predecessor, the whole project seemed less eccentric and was far more focused. The sleeve was limited to a traditional single fold with sombre bands portrait. The content was equally as imaginative and inventive as ”The Birthday Party”, but featured a more Beatle-ish pop sound with careful attention paid to the flow of melody and lyrical combinations, tighter arrangements and generally a more mature approach to songwriting. There were moments of madness and mayhem in certain tracks not least ”Mr. Crow And Sir Norman” which featured Mike Batt as one of three accordion players – all playing the same accordion at the same time! Preempting the album in July 1969, the lead track ”Come With Me” emerged as a single, backed with Dave Pritchard’s ”Reminds Me Of You”. The A-side was an unashamed, commercial bash at the charts, but sadly failed to take it’s rightful place amongst the best of the day. The album too, released on Liberty in November, was critical acclaimed but flew straight over the heads of the record-buying public.
Dave Pritchard described his feelings. ”We would look at the bands we’d worked with and gone down as well as and think ”Christ, what are we doing wrong?” We had a lot of people saying ”Yeah, it’s great, tremendous”, but we just couldn’t crack a hit record and I think that is one of the reasons Jeff Lynne became disillusioned. He became more and more involved with Roy Wood and was spending a lot of time with him.” ”…Jeff Lynne wanted to be a star. A bigger star than we were,” added Greg Masters.
In January 1970, Jeff Lynne left The Idle Race, accepting Roy Wood’s second invitation to join The Move and subsequently form the Electric Light Orchestra. Jeff Lynne went on to record with some of rock music’s biggest names, had fun with the Traveling Wilburys and achieved the ultimate goal – to work with The Beatles (sadly, post-Lennon).
The Idle Race continued and the nucleus of the band, Dave Pritchard, Greg Masters and Roger Spencer, recruited fellow Brummies, Mike Hopkins on guitar and vocals and Dave ”Richie” Walker on vocals and harmonica. Incessant touring continued and two singles were released in 1970 on Liberty though not in the UK.
Mungo Jerry’s ”In The Summertime” was a massive seller for The Idle Race, hitting No. 1 in Argentina and doing well i Germany, whilst their version of Hotlegs’ ”Neanderthal Man” was also successful in these territories. In May 1971, an album, ”Time Is” was issued on Regal Zonophone, the style and sound far away from the band’s Jeff Lynne days. Being penned mainly by Dave Pritchard with help from Messers. Roger Spencer and Dave Walker, it was a worthy efford, but followed a progressive/folk rock path toward noncommercialty and bore no resemblance to the quirky pop of old.
During the last days of The Idle Race, many personnel changes took place. Briefly, the musical chairs were as follows: Dave Pritchard, disillusioned by lack of success and by management hassles, left soon after the release of ”Time Is”. He went on to various Brummie bands, including Willy And The Poorboys. Dave Walker was next to leave, followed shortly after by Roger Spencer. Mike Hopkink, in turn, moved on to Quartz. The remaining original member, Greg Masters, was joined by Dave Caroll and Bob Wilson from Tea And Symphony whilst Bob Lamb og Locomotive (and much later producer of UB40) took over on drums. Roy Cullom appeared very briefly but was soon deemed unsuitable. The band found a more permanent member when Steve Gibbons left his band, Balls, to join up on lead vocal. In Febuary 1972, when Greg Masters eventually quit and was replaced by Bob Griffin, then later Trevor Burton, the band finally dropped the name, Idle Race, to become the well respected and long running Steve Gibbons Band.
The Idle Race never had a hit record, the reassons for which remein one of pop music’s great mysteries. They did however, leave a legacy of brilliant, ironic and weirdly witty songs which certainly deserve investigation. This unique collection gathers together the entire catalogue of releases by The Idle Race, covering their days with Jeff Lynne along with the material recorded after his departure. The original running order of all three albums has been retained for your pleasure, whilst the A and B sides of non-album track singles have their own space. A recently discovered trio of previously unreleased ”alternative versions” light the candle cake! ”Lucky Man” is an early experimental take, ”Follow Me Follow” exhibits Jeff Lynne’s violin guitar technique in place of the final string arrangement and ”Days Of The Broken Arrows” interestingly presents the song in a different format with the opening bars of the single becoming the bridge! Furthermore, the very first and subsequently rare single released under the name The Nightriders, is included here to complete the story.