Originally published in Express and Star (UK)
By John Ogden
I’ve already touched on Robert Plant’s days with The Band (or Bands) Of Joy, but the release of two tracks from their one recorded legacy on Robert’s latest album Sixty-Six toTimuktu is a splendid reminder of how exciting and innovative that band could be.
The covers of Hey Joe and For What It’s Worth, taken from the legendary “Band Of Joy acetate” were recorded in early 1968, not long before the band split up, and it’s a huge thrill to hear them - even more so because echoes of this music resound in all the things that Robert did afterwards.
Kevyn Gammond, who played guitar on those recordings, has a very vicious turn of phrase for such a gentle, affable man when he talks about how they treated the cover versions of some of their favourite songs. Abused, mangled, butchered, attacked and similar words emerge, but his menacing, slashed chords and screaming riffs don’t so much wound as energise, and along with Robert’s already matured vocal style, and John Bonham’s thrilling drum power, the tracks leap from the speakers as fresh and relevant as any by today’s rock bands. Credit, too, to Chris Brown on keyboards and bass player Paul Lockey for the solid foundations from which the other three can take flight.
The result is even more astounding when you take into account that they were done live, in one take, at the Regent Sound Studios in London - the mistakes are there for all to hear, but it doesn’t matter - but it must be remembered that for every person who admired The Band Of Joy another dismissed them as rubbish.
“The Band Of Joy spawned Led Zeppelin, and it’s only now that people are realising it,” says Kevyn. “Some of the lines Robert used in The Band Of Joy came up years later in Zeppelin songs.”
The band, he says, had a floating membership of 12-15 members, making up two or even three bands over the years, and there was no constant - I reported that the band sacked Robert once - but his reply, that he’d left them and recruited another band, got into the following week’s column.
Rivalry with another top Kidderminster singer, Jess Roden, saw players continuously switching between The Band Of Joy and Jess’s Shakedown Sound.
The first line-up featured Vernon Pereira, lead guitar, drummer Peter “Plug” Robinson, bassist Dennis Ashfield, and Chris Brown, but there was another completely different version, featuring Robbie Blunt, before the quintet which cut the acetate came together.
Kevyn joined the band as a 17-year-old “veteran” who had played guitar for reggae legend Jimmy Cliff and blues great Jimmy Witherspoon. He, Robert and John all attended the great blues festivals at Birmingham Town Hall in the early sixties, featuring top stars like Howlin’ Wolf, Sonny Boy Williamson, Lightnin’ Hopkins and Bukka White among many, which provided a common grounding - “our bed of seeds,” as Kevyn says - but the advent of acid rock and psychedelia was what really spurred them on. By the time of the British blues boom they’d already moved on.
“Robert was very much into Moby Grape and Jefferson Aeroplane, and I was much more Lou Reed and Velvet Underground, but where did Bonzo get one of the best drum sounds around?” ponders Kevyn. “He was aware of all the top drummers, such as Buddy Rich, but the heaviness and aggression were his own. There was a lot of originality in his playing and it can only have come from inside his own head.
“When Robert used to step up to the mike to sing Hey Joe it would split your head open, even with a small PA system. We were residents at the Speakeasy, in London, and we used to be labelled as the band that would scorch your ears to ashes. We became the toast of the club, and everyone would be watching us, because it was a drinking place for all the top groups, but from there you’d be going up to Scotland, and places like Ayr ice rink.
“There was a very memorable night at the Chateau Impney, where a magazine reviewer said we sounded like ‘the most haunted, driven, raging men’ he’d ever heard. We had just started our third number when there was a drugs raid, flashlights everywhere, and the police just went through the entire hotel. Ninety per cent of the audience was carted off to the police station, and there were streams of parents from all over the place coming in to claim their sons and daughters.”
The band were never offered a record deal, says Kevyn “but Tony Secunda, The Move’s manager took us into studio and said write a song, but though we were very good at mutating other people’s work we didn’t write our own. We just used other people’s songs as a platform.”
What proved to be one of the most important gigs they played, as far as Robert and Bonzo were concerned, was at the Boston Gliderdrome, where Terry Reid topped the bill. The great singer-guitarist, a star at 16, was asked to join The Yardbirds by Jimmy Page, but turned it down - adding that he’d recently heard Robert with The Band Of Joy, and that Jimmy should check him out.
Soon after that The Band Of Joy split up. “I left when the doors of the van fell off when we were due to go up to Scotland in the middle of winter,” says Kevyn. “I got out in Kidderminster. I don’t know if they eventually made it up there.”
Bonzo became drummer for Chris Farlowe and Tim Rose for a while, and Robert took a job with local band Hobbstweedle, where Jimmy Page finally caught up with him.
Posted in a2004 |