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+ {Les Gray’s Mud} + {Les Gray}

Not quite as hard or resilient as big glam-rock guns SLADE, The SWEET or other glitter acts, clean-cut combo MUD were the bees knees in the mid-70s when a fresh set of teenagers caught the rock’n’roll bug. Elvis impersonator and leader Les Gray, and Co were RnR revivalists, and together with late starters SHOWADDYWADDY, the band probably, indirectly, paved the way for SHAKIN’ STEVENS. That little foible aside, and possessing a winning formula dug out by writers/producers Nicky Chinn & Mike Chapman, MUD will be remembered for several shiny hits such as `Dyna-Mite’, the No.1 `Tiger Feet’, `The Cat Crept In’, `Rocket’, second No.1 `Lonely This Christmas’, `The Secrets That You Keep’ and third chart-topper, `Oh Boy’; the latter a cover of a BUDDY HOLLY classic.
Formed in February 1966, in Carshalton, Surrey, England, MUD comprised of the aforesaid singer Gray, lead guitarist Rob Davis, bassist Ray Stiles and drummer Dave Mount; a line-up that stuck together through thick and thin until 1978. The quartet was indeed a different kettle of fish back in ’67, when CBS Records dispatched their post-hippie debut platter, `Flower Power’ (b/w `You’re My Mother’). Buried under a pile of similar ditties to be unearthed around the time, The MUD – as they were briefly billed – was allowed one last chance by way of `Up The Airy Mountain’ (b/w `The Latter Days’).
Unsustainable as a pseudo-psychedelic act, MUD inked a deal with Philips Records for the rather sickly, bubblegum-pop third single, `Shangri-La’ (b/w `House On The Hill’). And after dismal sales for 1970’s candy-coated follow-up, `Jumping Jehosaphat’ (b/w `Won’t Let It Go’), MUD looked to be all at sea. With no contract to speak of, but still hoping to cement a deal through supporting the likes of crooner Jack Jones (they also showcased on the BBC-TV Basil Brush show), there was light at the end of the tunnel when, in 1972, man-of-the-times entrepreneur Mickie Most signed the quartet to his burgeoning RAK Records.
He coupled the lads with fledgling songsmiths/producers Chinn & Chapman (who’d already hit pay dirt with The SWEET), and the impact was immediate when `Crazy’ bubbled under the Top 10. By summer ’73, MUD had chalked up a second Top 20 breaker, `Hypnosis’. The re-birth continued when `Dyna-Mite’ fired into the Top 5, a deed only surpassed when `Tiger Feet’ shimmied its way to the top of the hit parade the following January.
1974 in fact was a superb period for the double-edged glam-rock’n’roll outfit, who struck gold with catchy classics, `The Cat Crept In’, `Rocket’ and exclusive festive fave, `Lonely This Christmas’. What was weird and almost unforgiveable was the decision, on parent Top 10 set, MUD ROCK {*6}, to clump all their erstwhile hits (bar `Rocket’) into a medley; and worse still, exchange the Chinn & Chapman modus operandi for several rock’n’roll/nostalgic nuggets from `Do You Love Me’ to `Bye Bye Johnny’. In hindsight, the said C&C alliance had other artists on the RAK Records conveyor belt to adhere.
1975 started so well when `The Secrets That You Keep’ and `Oh Boy’ hit No.3 and No.1 respectively, though the formula was decidedly hung over for `Moonshine Sally’, which only dented the Top 10 and did little to spin out long-term sales for the rather derivative sophomore set, MUD ROCK, VOL.2 {*5}. To regurgitate rock’n’roll into the minds of their young glam-rock disciples was a dirty deed done dirt cheap to many, and ultimately the band’s deep downfall; proof in the pudding was when LP track, `One Night’, duly failed to reach the Top 30.
MUD’s decision to break free of RAK (and therefore the Chinn-Chapman resource) was rather rapid, and in only a matter of a few months, Private Stock Records were only too happy to have a Top 10 entry a la `L’L’Lucy’. Both Stiles and Davis were now delivering several cuts that appeared on 1975’s quick fire third set, USE YOUR IMAGINATION {*5}, but despite also roping in song scribes John Goodison and Phil Wainman – highlight `Show Me You’re A Woman’ – in order to take up the slack, next to obligatory covers by way of `Bird Dog’ and `Under The Moon Of Love’ (soon-to-be snatched by chart-toppers SHOWADDYWADDY), MUD were slipping fast into the mire. The times were also difficult for their 5th member, keyboardist Andy Ball (ex-Candlewick Green), who seemed to be credited on the inlay but absent on the sleeve and photo-shoots. This was again apparent on MUD’s fourth set, IT’S BETTER THAN WORKING (1976) {*4}, a post-glam/part-disco, soft-rock affair that arrogantly had no place for swan song hits, `Shake It Down’ and the BILL WITHERS-penned ballad, `Lean On Me’.
Although LES GRAY looked to be on his way out the door when his version of `Groovy Kind Of Love’ just fell short of the Top 40, the MUD originals again dug in their heels and signed to R.C.A. Records. The timing was particularly bad, given that the punk rock axe was now in full swing, and trying their hand with a JOHN KONGOS folk song, `Slow Talking Boy’ (and another barrel-load of rock’n’roll numbers on the renaissance, ROCK ON (1978) {*4}), the band – featuring fresh 5th member Brian Tatum on keyboards – were heading for a split.
A trial period with the addition of co-singer Margo Buchanan (on the one-off Carrere 45, `Drop Everything And Run’, and one As “The Ring”) was all-too-brief, but briefer still was the subsequent absence of a solo-bound LES GRAY, although his vocals were used on a handful of tracks on 1979’s AS YOU LIKE IT {*4}.
The early 80s were something of a blur for fans as they witnessed LES GRAY’s MUD dig deep again for inspiration. At first enlisting the help of Stuart Amesbury (rhythm guitar), Nick Richie (lead guitar), Cherie Beck (back-up vocals), Dale Fry (bass) and Rob John (drums), even this seemed a short-lived proposition, and by the dispatch of the “LES GRAY featured MUD” album, MUD (1983) {*3}, Les, Rob John (now guitar), and a returning Ray Stiles, had re-grouped with Roger Cotton (keyboards), Lloyd Courtenay (drums) and Pete Giles (keyboards). The album itself was a run through of dated cover versions.
MUD continued thereafter; Gray, Amesbury, Beck and Fry recruiting Tim Fish (lead guitar) and Mark Hatwood (drums); that was until ’85, when Kevin Fairburn (bass) replaced Fry, Amesbury and Beck. From 1987-98, Les Gray’s Mud now comprised lead guitarist Syd Twynham (ex-Liquid Gold), bassist John Berry (bass) and drummer Wole Rother (also ex-Liquid Gold); Phil Wilson replaced the latter.
A subsequent resident of Lagos, Portugal, throat cancer patient Les Gray died of a heart attack on 21 February 2004; former member Dave Mount passed a few years later. Remaining devotees Twynham, Berry and Wilson founded MUD II, and in the process recruited Chris Savage (keyboards); in 2005, Berry was usurped by Marc Michalski (bass). Although this line-up continued to play the circuit, many were of the mind, that with no originals on board, they were basically a bequeathed MUD tribute act.
© MC Strong/MCS Oct2019

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