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Eclectic combo from the West Country (Bristol and Bath), STACKRIDGE could switch with ease from The BEATLES post-“Sgt. Pepper”-styled psych to eccentric chamber prog-rock (think CARAVAN), folk-rock, country-rock, BONZOs – you name it! Spearheaded by individual singers Andrew Cresswell-Davis and James Warren (multi-instrumentalists both), not forgetting manic flautist/dancer Mike “Mutter” Slater, who brandished rhubarb sticks, played dustbin lids, the whole shebang, maybe there was just too much to take in for one band.
Formed in 1969 as Stackridge Lemon, the twin-pronged frontmen (and dancer) from Grytpype Thynne, which included bassist James “Crun” Walter (who’d leave to become a bricklayer), violinist Michael Evans and drummer Billy “Sparkle” Bent, they showed commitment by sharing a flat Beefheart/Magic Band-style at 32 West Mall, Clifton, Bristol – they’d duly name a song a la this address. The opening band at 1970’s Glastonbury, the closing band the day after (20th September), STACKRIDGE earned a spot on John Peel’s Radio 1 “Top Gear” show, playing tracks from their eponymous M.C.A.-endorsed debut set, STACKRIDGE (1971) {*7}, and an exclusive cover of The BEATLES’ `Norwegian Wood (This Bird Has Flown)’.
Produced by Fritz Freyer, engineered by Martin Birch, and recorded at London’s De Lane Lea Studios, their air of English eccentricity and gung-ho identity was apparent on the dreamy `Percy The Penguin’, the Canterbury-esque `Three Legged Table’ and the chugging unadulterated `Dora The Female Explorer’; the latter an idea exploited by overseas animators before it’s authors could come up with the protracted spin-off book. Sprawling and emotionally quaint, the 8-minute `Essence of Porphyry’ was topped by the exhausting 14-minute story of `Slark’, a concept thankfully edited for a single release after “Crun” returned to the fold in ’72.
STACKRIDGE’s second set, FRIENDLINESS (1972) {*7}, opened with a stage favourite `Lummy Days’, an instrumental which was to become their signature tune. On the other side of the spectrum, with a sweet vocal tone reminiscent of McCARTNEY, James and, in turn, Andrew) eased through `There Is No Refugee’ and the lengthy `Syracuse The Elephant’. Remarkably never to reach the elusive pop charts, `Anyone For Tennis’ and the non-LP vaudevillian `Do The Stanley’, were posted missing on the airwaves. Was it time to take themselves seriously instead of stepping back into the psychedelic 60s by way of `Teatime’, `Father Frankenstein Is Behind Your Pillow’ and the wigged-out `Keep On Clucking’.
When fellow progsters AUDIENCE had no more to give, sax/wind man Keith Gemmell was introduced to the band later in ’73 when Evans took flight to the JOHN DUMMER BAND after the forthcoming third set. Securing the services of BEATLES producer George Martin should really have turned heads, but once again, this time by way of THE MAN IN THE BOWLER HAT (1974) {*6}, there was no shift away from their hooky but kooky humorous side. Just prior to this set – subsequently released Stateside by Sire Records as PINAFORE DAYS – “little” daytime radio play was afforded attendant novelty singles, `The Galloping Gaucho’ and `Dangerous Bacon’, while the quintessentially English `Pinafore Days’, the pleading `Humiliation’ and best-by-far `The Last Plimsoll’ deserved better recognition.
When Andy Davis took control of STACKRIDGE, as Warren suddenly quit, taking with him Crun, Sparkle and – temporarily – Slater, Gordon Haskell (ex-KING CRIMSON) stepped into the fold, but left after throwing in to the mix “Worms” (soon-to-be `No One’s More Important Than The Earthworm’). ELTON JOHN’s Rocket Records sent in producer Tony Ashton to sort out the mess, and with bassist Paul Karas (from RARE BIRD), keyboard player/songwriter Rod Bowkett and drummer Roy Morgan, EXTRAVAGANZA (1975) {*6} was completed.
As usual a different version surfaced over the pond, but the desperately commercial aspect of the disc underpinned any solid structure. Borrowed from Phil Welton’s Fat Grapple combo, `Happy In The Lord’ was the novelty factor on board, but it was in the jazz-rock-ish `Rufus T. Firefly’ (very CAMEL not Groucho Marx), `Pocket Billiards’ and `Who’s That Up There With Bill Stokes’, that had strength among the flighty exercises of Davis’ `The Volunteer’ and a handful of other Bowkett ditties.
Once again, personnel changes swamped the band’s creativity, but in MR. MICK (1976) {*6}, STACKRIDGE had looked to have finally found their niche. No longer was the need to supplement the band with emergency alumni Bowkett, Morgan and Karas; filling their respective berths were Dave Lawson (ex-GREENSLADE), Peter Van Hooke and the returning Crun Walter. After undergoing surgery, the “first” version of the LP opened with a LENNON-McCARTNEY number `Hold Me Tight’, thought an essential pop ingredient at the time and distinguished from the overriding, belatedly-released The Original Mr. Mick (2000) {*9}. Disputes in direction led to the band splitting up, its “fresh” concept of an old codger stumbling across a magical rubbish heap, here ripped to pieces by technical seagulls; the record’s best piece, the classic one-that-got-away `Hey! Good Looking’ (complete with sensual vox by Melanie Harrold) opened the “original” version grandiose style. Almost moving into 10CC-meets-WINGS territory, `Breakfast With Werner Von Braun’ was positioned untouched, however Mutter’s narrative MOODY BLUES-meets-JETHRO TULL’s “A Passion Play”-ish storylines of `Mr. Mick’s Walk’, `Mr. Mick’s Dream’, `Hazy Dazy Holiday’ and `Mr. Mick’s New Home’, were unscrupulously scythed from the 1976 vinyl version. Intact but shuffled on both “takes” were the vaudevillian `Save A Red Face’, `The Steam Radio Song’, `The Slater’s Waltz’ (featuring Joanna Carlin on vocals), the instrumental `Coniston Water’ and the finale `Fish In A Glass’ – all ‘n’ all, a lesson in “don’t-tamper-with-creativity” unless it’s really crap.
STACKRIDGE would probably have suffered – like most of other UK bands – from punk backlash and, with that thought, the timing of their official split in ’77 was indeed correct. Gemmell went into sessions (RICO, NEIL INNES, Delroy Washington, et al) and he also joined the Walkie Talkies. In 1979, The KORGIS formed – Davis alongside past STACKRIDGE buddy James Warren – and old pop codgers should remember big hits `If I Had You’ and 1980s `Everybody’s Got To Learn Sometime’.
STACKRIDGE re-formed in ‘98 without Davis or Slater, but with Warren, Walter, Evans, plus Richard Stubbings (multi, vocals), John Miller (keyboards, vocals) and Tim Robinson (drums); all present and correct on their 1999 “comeback” set, SOMETHING FOR THE WEEKEND {*6}. Actually not too far removed from The KORGIS or Warren’s fixation with the Fab Four a la the `Something About The Beatles’ track, there was no messing on the straight-laced pop of `It’s A Fascinating World’ and `Ruth, Did You Read My Mind?’, although the same couldn’t be said for the thankfully weird `The Vegans Hatred Of Fish’, `Wildebeeste’ and the harmony-fuelled closer `It Must Be Time For Bed’.
Miller superseded by Ian Towers for their invitation to the first post-millennium Cropredy Festival; worth documenting for posterity by way of PICK OF THE CROP (2001) {*6}. Then in 2002, Andy Cresswell-Davis reunited with STACKRIDGE (replacing Evans, Stubbings, Robinson and Towers), although it would take until 2008’s double-CD THE FORBIDDEN CITY {*6} – live at Rondo Theatre, Bath, 1 April 2007 – to escape from the pressing plant. Fans of the 70s group should’ve been in their element, but for the aforementioned KORGIS tunes – and to save arguments, sadly nothing from the glorious “Mr. Mick” but for `Can Inspiration Save The Nation?’.
Their first studio set in a decade, 2009’s A VICTORY FOR COMMON SENSE {*6} saw the quartet playing all their face cards in `Boots And Shoes’ (a former KORGIS tune) and `The Old Country’, plus its jokers in concluding pieces `Cheese And Ham’ and the triumphant 11-minute `The Day The World Stopped Turning’ (penned with additional member Glenn Tommey); Davis, Warren, Tommey, drummer Eddie John and violinist/guitarist Clare Lindley would call it a day at the end of 2015, playing concerts right up to the end.
© MC Strong 1997/GRD outtakes // rev-up MCS Jul2015

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