The Balls: Much ado about almost nothing – A supergroup doesn’t take off (1969 – 1971)

On the next stage, Steve Gibbons‘ musical career crosses with that of the Birmingham-based group The Move.

The Move: A constant in the Brumbeat scene

However, this is not so easy, to describe The Move and it`s music as it covered a whole range of styles. The website Brumbeat puts it this way:

The Move were difficult to categorize musically as their style ranged from pop to psychedelic, blues, progressive, 1950s style rock ’n‘ roll and even country and western!

One of the reasons for this stylistic diversity was certainly that the group was made up of members of various other well-known Birmingham bands, namely

The best of the best of Brumbeat in one band

Prominent foundation helper

The idea to form such a super group of the Birmingham music scene was born by ocassion of a gig of the London group „Davy Jones and The Lower Third“ at the hip Cedar Club on Constitution Hill in 1965. Their singer Davy Jones suggested to Trevor Burton and Ace Kefford to join forces with top people from other well-known Birmingham bands (a concept that would become public domain with the formation of groups like Cream or Blind Taste under the keyword super group a few  years later).

Ace remembers:

Trev and I were there one night and Davy Jones and The Lower Third was on. They were like The Who with target jumpers, hipster trousers, doing stuff like ‚Heatwave‘ and ‚Needle In A Haystack‘. Chatting afterwards, David put the notion in our heads of forming our own band. We approached Roy Wood who was already singing that sort of stuff with The Nightriders. I had a similar spot in The Vikings doing ‚Jump Back‘ and ‚Every Little Bit Hurts‘, trying to copy Stevie Winwood like everyone else“

So they liked the idea and asked several other colleagues, among them John Bonham, the later drummer of Led Zeppelin, but he refused. (Speaking of celebrity names:  The aforementioned Davy Jones later made a world career under the stage name David Bowie. And Jeff Lynne who joined The Move in 1970, later founded ELO and played with George Harrrison, Bob Dylan, Roy Orbinson and Tom Petty at the Travelling Willburys from 1088 to 1990).

Trevor Burton: From guitarist to bassist

The Move quickly became known beyond the borders of Birmingham. There were two main reasons for this, apart from the musical contributions of the members, the songwriting talent of Roy Wood and the strong promotion of their manager Tony Secunda, who also worked for Moody Blues.

After Kefford left the band due to LSD, the band continued as a quartet. For this Trevor Burton changed from guitar to bass.

Manager gets the band into trouble

In this line-up they recorded the most successful single of the group, the song „Flowers in the Rain“, which climbed to number 1 in the charts of Great Britain.

However, this success is also connected with a real scandal, because the manager Tony Secunda did send an offensive advertising postcard denigrating the then Prime Minister Wilson to various people. Wilson sued the band, which had known nothing about this action, and won. The result was that the royalties for „Flowers in the Rain“ have to be paid to charities still today.

After this story Tony Secunda was out of his job as manager of The Move. He was replaced by Don Arden, who himself had been fired by the Small Faces shortly before.

Trevor sets out for new shores …

A frustrating situation for the band! But Trevor Burton had additional problems with the development of the group.

Trevor_Burton_2014-02-09_02-40
Trevor Burton 2014. Source: Wikipedia User Erndor50

As The Move was frequently booked together with the Jimy Hendrix Experience he got more and more involved in real blues and rock music. Therefore he didn’t like The Move`s turn to commercial pop music, even if they sold more records that way. There were also personal differences, which even led to a brawl with Bev Bevan on open stage during a tour in Sweden.

The next day Burton was on the plan back to the UK and out of The Move.

He started working as a studio musician in London and moved into an apartment with Noel Redding from the Jimi Hendrix Experience. Actually, they wanted to start their own band as well. But for some reason that didn’t work out.

But the next interesting band didn’t seem to be far away: After making friends with Steve Winwood, he got his hopes up for the bass position in his planned new supergroup Blind Faith, to which Eric Clapton and Ginger Baker also belonged. Steve Winwood would probably have taken Burton, but Ginger Baker (whose vote as drummer obviously played a major role in the choice of the bass player as second memebr of the band`s rhythm section) preferred Ric Grech.

Why not another supergroup from Birmingham?

So Burton was still without a permanent engagement. Since the formation of supergroups was in the offing, it was no wonder that at some point (by whomever) the idea of forming another supergroup from Birmingham after Steve Winwood’s Traffic was in the air.

The formula this time should be

Ugly`s Will Hammond on guitar – old name + new name + Trevor Burton on guitar + possible additional members = new band

Unlike other band formations, the band was open for possible expansions from the beginning. The joy of experimentation was in the air! It went so far that they even wanted to change instruments from time to time! In addition, they wanted to temporarily integrate more musicians into the band for certain projects.

Denny Laine, who joined the band later, was one of them:

The idea was that we were going to swap instruments around, and bring different people in for different things.

Was Brian Jones part of it? And if so, which one?

It was probably this openness in the line-up that led to fake news in connection with this group formation. Allegedly Brian Jones from the Rolling Stones was part of the group at a certain point of time. But in fact in question was a namesake, a saxophone player in the group Undertakers, who played with Gibbons, Burton and Co. from time to time. (By the way, Brian Jones already died on 3rd of July 1969, so he would have had indeed little time to play with The Balls.)

Hammond out, new name in

The idea to form a new band was born during various nightly jam sessions that parts of the Ugly’s together with Trevor Burton held after club gigs in Birmingham at the home of Steve Gibbons.

When Trevor finally had left The Move, the project began to take shape.

In order to get things going, two things had to be done:

  1. Will Hammond had to be sacked.
  2. and then a band name had to be found.

The Will Hammond thing was done in no time at all, but he was generously allowed to continue using the previous band name Ugly`s.

The Balls are put together and go to the training camp

The name of the band should be as tellingly as possible and should attract attention by being also provocative. (On this occasion we should perhaps remind you that Tony Secunda – the one with the postcard of the Prime Minister – had taken over the management of the new band ).

Therefore, Trevor Burton’s suggestion was followed to call the group „The Balls“, not thinking of sports equipment. This name should allegedly reflect the powerful guitar playing of Trevor Burton, who changed again from the four to the six strings.

In addition to a name, also certain lead time was needed to get the thing going.

A generous advance „a la Malcom Mc Laren“

The manager Tony Secunda was very much his own person, but he was also extremely efficient. So he managed to squeeze a considerable advance out of the record company Warner Brothers. (The website Brumbeat speaks of „a large Malcolm McLaren-style cash advance“).

Money that was invested in an extensive stay in the country for the future band to develop their program. Therefore they rented, it must have been in April 1969, a country house in Fordingbridge, Hampshire. Also the producer of Traffic Jimmy Miller, who was supposed to record the band’s rehearsals, was hired.

In Fordingbridge there were good conditions: Seclusion – and also a pub nearby. The pub was often used. (It is rumored that „other substances“ were consumed as well.)

But the rehearsals didn’t quite work out. One of the reasons for this was that the musicians got up at different times and spent the time they were awake together mainly in the pub.

What was achieved during the rehearsal time didn’t seem to sparkle with creativity either. Dave Morgan remembers that the rehearsals were „undisciplined“ and „loud“. Then he continues:

„The music was almost exclusively interminable twelve bar blasts that went on for hours – the archetypal rock ’n‘ roll groove“.

Fast rotating personnel carousel

In the following time some musicians left the group. There are different versions about the reasons.

The website Brumbeat sees the reasons mainly in musical differences:

It was only a short time before problems arose within the Balls line-up. Dave Morgan and Richard Tandy were fired as incompatible with the new group’s musical direction …Keith Smart also left to be replaced by Spooky Tooth drummer Mike Kellie …

Steve Gibbons, who should know better as a participant, blamed the manager, who was ruthlessly sorting out all the musicians who, in his opinion, did not fit in with the image of a successful band „having balls“.

Gibbons says about this in the TV documentary „Untold stories“:

I am pretty sure that Tony Secunda had this agenda going. He looked at the individuals and he thought „He’ll do, he’ll do“. He was looking who is bill-suitable, which I was a part of. But he didn`t consider the rest of the Ugly`s to be part of it. One by one he gave them all a sack.

Nightly rehearsals in the barn after visiting the pub

Not only the constant change of musicians prevented progress. Also the way of life of the band did not exactly encourage concentrated work. Again Steve Gibbons (Untold Stories):

We used to rehearse in a barn, we always chose to rehearse about three o’clock in the morning. We`d get complaints from the local constablery

Tony Secunda, the manager, did not lose his optimism (or his impudence). When he won Denny Laine, the ex-Moody Blues singer, who had spent some time in Spain in the meantime, for the band in the summer of 1969, he told Warner Bros. that now the voice of the hit „Go Now“ could also be heard on the songs of The Balls and asked for another advance – which he got.

330px-Denny_Laine_-_Wings_-_1976
Denny Laine 1976; Source: Wikipedia Jim Summaria https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=5558688

With Denny Laine the situation didn’t necessarily ease…

When Denny Laine joined the band, the tensions in the group increased because he was competing with Trevor Burton, who had his own musical merits. Again Steve Gibbons:

Unfortunately there was always a conflict between Trevor and Denny because they both wanted to play lead guitar… And then they decided that they would share the guitar and the bass playing. So there as always gonna be that clash then

And Keith Smart, one of three drummers the band used, said in an interview:

„And then Denny Laine came on the scene…  Tony Secunda brought Denny Laine in and Denny stayed and then Denny didn`t like Dave Morgan or Richard Tandy, so he got rid of them. And then it came to a stage with isolating Trevor from me and Steve, especially me. And then it was my turn to leave. …It was a great talent of musicians there, it was fantastic, … I ‚gotta say, Denny wasn’t the easiest guy to work worth and to get up with…

Frequently changing drummers

And then the already quarreling rest of the band couldn’t agree on a drummer either. Gibbons remembers:

And then we could never sort of settle on a drummer and we did auditions with lots of different guys.

In the short time of their existence, three drummers were sitting behind the drum kit of The Balls:

  • Keith Smart, formerly Rockin` Berries and The Ugly`s, later with the Electric Light Orchestra (ELO)
  • Mike Kellie, later on he worked for Spooky Tooth and as a session musician for The Who, Joe Cocker, Traffic, George Harrisob, Jerry Lee Lewis, Peter Frampton and many more, as well as
  • Alan White, who also played for the Plastic Ono Band with John Lennon, Klaus Voorman and Eric Clapton on the Toronto Rock and Roll Revival in 1969 and later played on records of George Harrison, Ginger Baker`s Air Force and John Lennon`s world hit „Imagine“, before he became the drummer of the YES.
AlanWhite
Alan White. Scource: Wikipedia, User Retromenico

Preliminary end in 1969

At the end of 1969 The Balls disbanded (for the time being).

For some members this opened the way to a successful career in other areas:

  • Rick Tandy subsequently supported The Move in live performances, before switching to the Electric Light Orchestra (ELO) and
  • Keith Smart went to Wizzard.

Revival as a quartet in 1970

But this was not the end of the chapter The Balls.

In the summer of 1970, a new four-member group went to musical training camp, this time in a farmhouse near Reading. The reason for this may have been that there was still no return on the generous advance payments from Warner and Secunda was therefore under pressure to deliver one.

This is also supported by the fact that they had brought a completely new frontman on board, Jackie Lomax. Thus personal continuity  obviosley was not of too much importance for keeping The Balls rolling (Sorry, that we couldn`t do without this pun.) However, Lomax didn’t seem to have fulfilled the expectations. Relatively soon Lomax left and a familiar face returned, namely Steve Gibbons.

Also in this line-up the band fell into the old routine of jamming and visiting pubs.

Mike Kellie, who replaced Alan White on drums in January 1971, remembers:

„There were journeys into London town to The Speakeasy, the occasional pub crawl, and many a night spent jamming.“

Live performance – in the village hall

But they were a bit more active when it came to gigs. After many rehearsals, this Balls line-up finally played some local concerts, including their live debut at Fordingbridge Village Hall.

Supergroup with a performance at the Village Hall as the highlight of the live activities: No wonder that the end of The Balls was near.

Again, there are two versions of the reasons.

  • After one (that of Brumbeat) „Tony Secunda and Jimmy Miller fell out over money and that was the end of that!“.
  • After another version Toni Secunda lost interest in the group after he took over the management of Marc Bolan, who became a teen idol shortly after, in 1970.

Be that as it may: Steve Gibbons was therefore faced with a reorientation, to which he returned to his hometown Birmingham, to which he would remain loyal from then until today. However, he was to meet Tony Secunda and his latest protégé once again. More on this later.

„Fight For My Country“: Love and Peace single as obituary

In September 1971, when The Balls were already history as an active group, some songs produced by Jimmy Miller appeared on a Wizard label single, which had been recorded with the penultimate cast.

Gibbons Balls 1 (4)

The A-side was the song „Fight For My country“, which Trevor had written and also sung.

Gibbons Balls 1 (3)

It begins playfully with a flute intro, which was continued by rhythmic electro sounds. The main part of the song is carried by strong male vocals and straight guitars. The background vocals were done by Denny Laine, who also played bass, and Steve Gibbons. The guitar was played by the author of the song.

The content of the song is very peaceful. Basically, the conscientious objection to military service and the retreat to the country is recommended. Here are some text excerpts:

The sailor said I’m going away to fight for my country/And I said you must be some kind of fool/Why don’t we all just go and live in the mountains/High above the sea/Why don’t we all just go and live in the mountains/Where life is free

All in all a song in the spirit of the times with a certain charm.

On the back you can find the rocking „Janie Slow Down“ written by Alan White and Denny Laine. For the French market there was a single with a slightly longer version of the A-side and the powerful but somehow uninspired „Hound Dog Howling“ on the back.

All in all a meagre result for two years of band history, with Steve Gibbons also only audible in the background when listening closely.

Actually there should be more recordings by the band in their different incarnations, which despite the boom of releasing such things on CD, have not been released even in the recent past. The reasons for this can be a lack of quality or a confused contractual situation.

Here the story continues.

If you want to see an overview of the 1970s please follow this link.

Back to the overview page of the English version of this website.

 

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