Picture above: Mods, as they were probably not rare in the audience of the Steve Gibbons Band (source of the contribution picture: Sergio Calleja https://www.flickr.com/photos/24899877@N00).
Brum has changed
After the end of The Balls, Steve Gibbons had returned to Birmingham and – as his solo record had gone largely unnoticed – was looking to join a band.
Birmingham in the 1970s was a vibrant city, as this film by Geoff Clayton on You Tube shows:
Source: YouTube. Geoff Clayton „Birmingham in the 1970s“
But the music scene there had changed.
The big boom of groups from Birmingham on the national and international market was over. The former manager of The Best and Fine Young Cannibals, John Mostyn, notes in the TV documentary „Untold Stories“ that rock groups from Birmingham always came in waves.
For example, after a pop phase with groups like The Move and Moody Blues, Birmingham had spit out hard and heavy rock with groups like Black Sabath and Led Zeppelin in the early 1970s. But then it was over with the „Rising Stars“ from Birmingham. Except maybe for Joan Armatrading, who only immigrated to Birmingham, but who was not a „plant“ from „Brum“, and who had hardly appeared in the scene there before she became internationally known.
There have also been changes in groups with a local sphere of influence. In the past, „Brum“ used to have performance opportunities at every corner and end. Now, at the beginning of the 1970s, the disco era began and the pub owners preferred to hire a disc jockey rather than a full band.
Not a good starting point for Gibbons, who describes this in an interview with Steffen Radlmayer of the Nürnberger Nachrichten on the DVD „Live at Kofferfabrik“:
It was a big struggle to restablish yourself which was what I had to do.
Nevertheless, Steve found a way to get back into the Birmingham music scene (he doesn’t seem to have seriously considered continuing his work as a plumber anyway).
Idle Race has an open seat, but does it fit Steve Gibbons?
Jeff Lynne captured The Move and turned it into ELO
A position had just become vacant in the Idle Race.
Jeff Lynne had left the group for The Move, which he transformed into the Electric Light Orchestra as soon as he arrived
Idle Race, another Brum band worth discovering!
Idle Race was a well-known name in the Birmingham scene at that time, having recorded several records.
Among them are pop pearls, which already showed Jeff Lynnes` later handwriting on ELO or the Travelling Willburies. One of them is the song „Happy Birthday/The Birthday“, whose string intro is as pre-ELO as the rest of the song – because of the ostinato string figure, but also lyrically: (How is it no one came?) – post-Eleanor Rigby is.
Further songs show again cross connections to other Brumrock products:
- „Don’t put your boys in the Army, Mrs. Ward“ shows considerable parallels with „Fight for my Country“, the only single The Balls had managed to produce.
- And „Wait till the Morning sunshine“ might have been in the back of Steve Gibbons‘ mind when he wrote „Wait Till The Fire Burns Out“ years later.
The Idle Race had considerably more record releases than „The Ugly’s“. And probably also a greater musical range. Although mainly perceived as a pop band, they could also rock a lot. Titles like „Alcartraz“, „We Want it All“ or „Someone Knockin`“ prove that. And country reminiscences („And Then Rain“) can be found with them as well as great feelings. Obviously Dave Pritchard (as composer and singer) was responsible for these in the group.
So Idle Race is also a band worth discovering!
And if you listen to the variety of styles (and the quality of it), you feel reminded of Steve Gibbons` solo album Short Stories. So the band was anything but a last resort for Gibbons. With his diversity and creativity he fit in with this band.
But the timing and the material released so far were not right! And probably also not the plans of those involved!
The personnel carousel of the Idle Race is getting faster
In 1970 the Idle Race was in a phase where the previous members were scattering the band in all possible directions.
The group, which in turn had evolved from The Nightriders, was formed in early 1970:
- Jeff Lynne (guitar, piano, vocals)
- Greg Masters (bass guitar, vocals)
- Dave Pritchard (guitar, vocal)
- Roger Spencer (drums, vocals)
In 1970 Jeff Lynne left the band and was replaced by Mike Hopkins (guitar, vocal), who had previously played with Diplomats and The Lemon Tree, and Dave Walker (harmonica, vocal), who came from The Recaps.
Even without Jeff Lynne, who later should have had a brilliant career with ELO and the Travelling Willburies, one was quite successful, maybe even more successful than with him.
In the new line-up the band took a cover version of Mungo Jerry’s ‚In The Summertime‘, which promptly reached number 1. In Argentina indeed, but still!
But even this doesn’t lead to a constant line-up – especially after the next LP didn’t hit either:
- After another album, Dave Pritchard also left the band and went through a number of Birmingham bands, including one called The Poorboys.
- Shortly after that Dave Walker, who was later to play with well-known bands such as Savoy Brown, Chicken Shack, and Fleetwood Mac also leaves.
- Another direction was taken by Roger Spencer, who joined the local cabaret band Sight and Sound. Later he was to become a TV producer and then a comedian under the pseudonym „Ollie“ Spencer Comedian.
- Mike Hopkins on the other hand changed to the hard rock group Bandy Legs.
The only one left of Idle Race was Greg Masters, who was joined by guitarists Dave Caroll and Bob Wilson from the Birmingham band Tea & Symphony and drummer Bob Lamb from the group Locomotive.
New Kids in the Band
Shortly after, Steve Gibbons became a member of the group. In February 1972, Greg Masters, the last „original“ member, left the group and was replaced by Bob Griffin, who was soon followed by Trevor Burton, Steve Gibbons‘ fellow ball player.
So Idle Race consisted in the last line up of a lot of musicians who had nothing to do with the band just before, namely (in the order of joining the band)
- Dave Caroll
- Bob Wilson
- Bob Lamb
- Steve Gibbons and
- Trevor Burton.
Steve Gibbons a suitable replacement for Jeff Lynne?
Some sources report succinctly that the group mutated relatively quickly into the Steve Gibbons Band (short: SGB) after Steve Gibbons joined. This always sounds a bit as if Gibbons took this band in a coup de grâce to make it his own band and thus cultivate his own ego.
But if you look closely (and above all listen) it was different: A band name always stands for a concept – and for songs that the fans loudly demand at the concerts.
And now imagine the voice of Jeff Lynne (which you know from songs of the Electric Light Orchestra, even if you’ve never heard an Idle Race song) and next to it the voice of Steve Gibbons:
So it seems understandable that the concept „Steve Gibbons sings Jeff Lynne“ would not have worked out!
It is also understandable that Steve Gibbons who had so much of his own material and a completely different voice didn’t feel like singing the songs of his predecessor. (Besides, Gibbons probably had a similar attitude towards the musical direction of the Idle Race as Trevor Burton had towards the one The Move had taken with their hits: Less pop and more rock and blues was the aim)
The Steve Gibbons Band is born
So there was a lot in favour of renaming the Idle Race!
So the Steve Gibbons Band was founded. But they could only start working in a limited way:
There was no problem with live gigs. However, as far as record contracts were concerned, Steve Gibbons was „castrated“, as he had lost his freedom in this respect through his previous contract with Tony Secunda.
For readers living on the European continent it may be hard to imagine. Anglo-Saxon law however takes a relatively relaxed view of treaties that would be considered immoral in other countries: „Man is free and everyone is the architect of his own happiness“. So it’s your own fault if you sign a contract that makes you shoot yourself in the food.
For the newly founded Steve Gibbons Band, this was a pity, because there were offers to recording songs, all of which had to be rejected, although they could have become one or the other veritable record.
No studio, but live it is all happening
Steve did – together with his band – what he could do without the possibility of recording. And they don’t seem to have done it badly.
Through impressive live performances they built up a loyal following in Birmingham and the Midlands.
The former manager of The Best and Fine Young Cannibals John Mostyn describes this in the TV documentary „Untold Stories“ in such a way that the „amazing boom“ of the Birmingham bands came to a standstill in 1971. Literally he means:
And then througt the 70s nothing! The only Band (from Brimingham) that did any damage in the mid 70s was the Steve Gibbons Band
Robin Val, formerly a disc jockey at BRMB Radio, recalls on the same television programme that the Steve Gibbons Band had two „residencies“ on Saturdays: one at lunchtime in a club, and one in the evening in another, the „Old Railway“ on Curzon Street.
I used to go to both. There was a punch who used to go to both. And we knew all the songs and we sang along.
And he goes on to say about the live qualities of the group’s composition at the time (which was to be the one with which Gibbons would experience his greatest successes in the years to come)
It was the perfect line up for the Steve Gibbons Band
Instead of the football field: Every week to the same band
So the audience knew the songs, which had never been released on record or played on the radio, so well that they were able to sing them!
This becomes more understandable when you remember that listening to live music was one of the main pastimes at the weekend.
And it wasn’t about listening to any nationally known groups, but there were local heroes that you could listen to live at least once a week (if not more often).
Support act for ELO
Mostly bands played in clubs at that time. But even back then they played as support act for well-known bands. For example in the spring of 1973 as opening act of the Electric Light Orchestra (ELO) of Steve’s Idle Race predecessor Jeff Lynne, who had just celebrated their first success in the charts with their idiosyncratic version of the Chuck Berry song „Roll Over Beethoven“.
For ELO they opened
- at the Mayfair Ballroom in Newcastle,
- at the Winter Gardens in Malvern, Leeds Polytechnic in Leeds and
- in 1973 Gliderdrome in Boston, England and the year after,
- on 1 February 1975 again at Brunel University in Uxbridge.
Between the concerts in Malvern and in Leeds in 1973, they supported Thin Lizzy, who already had a hit with „Whiskey in the Jar“ at that time, at a concert in London.
The hard work of Steve Gibbons Band paid off: As time went on, bookings started coming in for London clubs. This not only expanded the band’s radius of action, but also increased the chances of being „discovered“.
For example, the possibility rose that the manager of a world-famous band walked in to one of the gigs, was enthusiastic about the group – and not only signed them, but also made sure that they went on a world tour with the band.
„Such things only happen in fairy tales,“ you say?
Then let us surprise you!