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+ {Howard Werth}

Formed in 1968 in East London, England by Howard Werth (vocals, acoustic guitar), Keith Gemmell (tenor sax, flute, clarinet) and Trevor Williams (lyricist, bass), the three were part of 7-piece mod ensemble The Lloyd Alexander Real Estate who left behind one flop 45, `Gonna Live Again’, released late in 1967. The three breakaway alumni added Tony Connor (drums, percussion), and soon AUDIENCE fitted neatly into the burgeoning and arty prog-rock scene. Similar in some respects to The MOVE, FAMILY, JETHRO TULL and ERIC BURDON/The ANIMALS, there was a buzz running up to their eponymous Polydor Records debut, AUDIENCE (1969) {*7}. From `Waverley Stage Coach’ (one of the many tracks that formed the belatedly-released soundtrack to Eastend skinhead flick “Bronco Bullfrog”, the band were coming-of-age with every rasp of Werth’s vox, while the BEE GEES-esque `Riverboat Queen’ had also elements of the Marx Brothers. The soulful barbershop-rock of `Too Late I’m Gone’ was something akin to The BONZO DOG BAND in bed with GENO WASHINGTON’S RAM JAM BAND. Gemmell again shone (this time on funky sax) by way of opening salvo, `Banquet’, a jazzy prog-rock precursor to, possibly, future stable mates GENESIS. Whether other songs such as `Leave It Unsaid’, `Maidens Cry’ and `Heaven Was An Island’ fitted better on to the aforementioned dialogue-enhanced “Bronco…”, or on this promising effort, that would be clear in time. Note too that it was the first appearance of the band’s signature tune, `House On The Hill’.
A subsequent support slot on LED ZEPPELIN’s tour led to AUDIENCE signing to Tony Stratton-Smith’s emerging and better served Charisma label. In 1970, the art-rock quartet dispatched their self-produced sophomore set, FRIEND’S FRIEND’S FRIEND {*6}, another progressive jazz-rock hybrid that drew from VDGG and the aforementioned Zeppelin. After Shel Talmy (famous for his WHO productions) had dropped out at the last minute, looking instead for commercial fodder rather than the experimental `Raid’; sadly songs such as `Belladonna Moonshine’ and `It Brings A Tear’ couldn’t find an American outlet in time.
Tunesmith Werth duly employed the services of producer Gus Dudgeon for their 1971 effort THE HOUSE ON THE HILL (1971) {*7}. The record featured a cover version of `I Put A Spell On You’, made famous in the 50s by SCREAMIN’ JAY HAWKINS, while the definitive and longer re-vamped version of the title track concluded the set. Elektra Records in the States could be free to add the aforesaid `It Brings A Tear’, just as `Indian Summer’ gave AUDIENCE their one-and-only singles chart entry.
A final album, LUNCH {*5}, was served up in 1972, accompanying a reasonably successful tour supporting FACES. As label mates GENESIS swaggered their way into the charts with their “Foxtrot” set, the quirky AUDIENCE failed to register any genuine sales for `Stand By The Door’ or the album itself.
Replaced by Patrick Neuberg (ex-Joyce Bond Revue) and keyboardist Nick Judd, Gemmell subsequently joined STACKRIDGE (and later Sammy); Williams toured with The NASHVILLE TEENS and JONATHAN KELLY’s OUTSIDE; Connor joined NICE offshoot JACKSON HEIGHTS (and later HOT CHOCOLATE), while lead singer HOWARD WERTH & The Moonbeams – after a couple of flop singles – released KING BRILLIANT (1975) {*6}. Augmented by Mike Moran (piano), Freddy Gandy (bass), Roger Pope (drums), Bob Weston (slide guitar) and session players, it was typical of the times: quirky and novelty pub-rock about to be swallowed up by the new wave; good examples `Dear Joan’ and `Lucinda’.
WERTH’s love of rootsy rock’n’roll was further in evidence on 1982’s 6IX OF 1NE AND HALF A DOZEN OF THE OTHER {*5}, an album made up of his own compositions (best bits `4D Man’ and `Individual’) and that of his idols; his new wave rivals were hardly quaking in their boots via covers of The ISLEY BROTHERS (`Respectable’), CHUCK JACKSON (`I Keep Forgettin’’), THURSTON HARRIS (`Little Bitty Pretty One’), HOWLIN’ WOLF (`Smokestack Lightning’) and The MIRACLES (`One More Heartache’); the CD revealed another from JOE TEX (`Show Me’).
After the eventual release of “Bronco…” (33 years in the can), and WERTH’s solo “big bang concept” comeback THE EVOLUTION MYTH EXPLODES (2003) {*6} – featuring a re-styled cover of The BEATLES’ `I Wanna Be Your Man’ – the singer, Gemmell, Williams and newbie John Fisher re-formed AUDIENCE for a tour and an album entitled ALIVE & KICKIN’ & SCREAMIN’ & SHOUTIN’ (2005) {*6}, lifted from a concert at the Astor Theatre Deal the previous December. A cocktail of old favourites such as `Leave It Unsaid’ and `The House On The Hill’ and Howard’s solo material, the CD was complemented by takes of JAMES BROWN’s `The Bells’ and BONNIE DOBSON’s `Morning Dew’. Sadly, Fisher was to die from pancreatic cancer on 27 September 2008; Simon Jeffrey has since deputised and helped keep the band ticking over right up to 2011. Williams, Jeffrey and guest Werth released `Trams’ (2012).
© MC Strong/MCS 1997-2008/GRD/LCS // rev-up MCS Jul2015

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