Black & White


Thank you very much for the comments on recent posts which are helping my writing considerably. With respect to the matter of originals v covers I need to add the Small Faces and also the Move (Roy Wood) who played the Birdcage regularly in 1966. They covered stuff by Bobby Parker, Gladys Knight etc but were soon producing their own stuff. Despite organist Ian MacLagan, most of the writing bands (the Who, Cream etc) were guitar-based as opposed to the earlier soul/blues bands

Some of those were guitar-based too (the Stones, Pretty Things, Yardbirds) and they started writing quite early on, whereas bands like the Vagabonds, Geno, Steam Packet, Alan Bown Set and before them (Rendezvous days) Graham Bond Organisation, John Mayall, Moody Blues, Georgie Fame & BFs, LJB & Hoochie Coochie Men etc were mostly doing covers of black music – post-war blues, jazz, R&B and soul.

The Beatles led the way in legitimising British musicians as writers/performers and by 1965/6 those bands like the Who, Small Faces, Move, Cream etc were following suit – and as I’ve said before this was partly economic. The writers earned more from sales and the managers could sign the artists to publishing deals and take a bigger cut.

I’m not sure that always resulted in the greatest works but it rapidly became prevalent. In 1968 in Harlem Speakeasy I was in a pop/soul covers band that got a record/agency deal. 18 months later (mid-1969) in Rosemary, our hopes of success lay in the fact that we wrote every song in our set and signed those songs to (Warner) Chappells with a single recorded and the hope of a label deal (no luck there). But they wouldn’t have looked twice at a covers band, however good.

Through 1964/5 the finest of the British clubs acts were playing the music of black Americans. By the late 1960s it became possible for young white British musicians to find ways of saying and playing their own things about their world. But as Mr Greedy points out (and Mr Tench has noted previously), the great soul stuff wasn’t suddenly rubbish – quite the opposite. From 1968-1971 I probably had a hand in writing about 40 songs. Some weren’t bad (some were!). But not one touched on the great works of Curtis Mayfield, Smokey Robinson, Porter & Hayes, William Bell, Holland-Dozier-Holland etc.

Please keep those comments coming!


Author: pompeypop

University lecturer, longtime local musician and recently historian of popular music - especially in and around Portsmouth. My blog is entirely about that topic

3 thoughts on “Black & White

  1. There was enough in that big chunk, but my experience is interesting in terms of the way things changed. In the spring of 1968 when Harlem Speakeasy got the record deal we were instructed to write the flip-side and the next A-side which we did, having never tried to write before (the second record was never released). When Rosemary started in January 1969 we used both those originals from Speakeasy but initially covered a lot of other stuff. But we wrote from the start and within about six months everything was ours. When Rosemary split in mid-1970 I formed a new band Gilbey Twiss with Mick Legg, Bernie Fox, Denny Barnes and Mick Tuck. We wrote from the outset and I don’t think we ever played a single cover. After that I went back to the blues but even then would sometimes get involved in writing. Reet Petite & Gone once recorded an albums-worth of our own stuff (never released). The Southsea Skiffle Orchestra however is very definitely all covers!

  2. Apologies if I seem to be talking to myself rather a lot … in my days with Country Joe I remarked to him that the five albums he recorded with the Fish were special in that every song on those albums was original. I couldn’t find many other 1960s bands that could claim that – not the Beatles, Stones, Cream or any of his fellow SF or LA hippy bands. Perhaps Pink Floyd? Captain Beefheart? Frank Zappa? Not sure. Anyway, Joe’s observation was that it was too much. Management and record company demanded it but he said writing that many songs in three or four years resulted in a certain loss of quality and I think that’s very apparent. The first album is classic psychedelia, the second very nearly as good, after which there are good songs and not-so-good songs – increasingly the latter. Album five ain’t great.

  3. Interesting stuff Dave. Our experiences with the need to write your own material started in 64 as we needed originals to record at Decca. We ended up using at least one song written by 2 friends of my brother but they only let us use the song if we canned our singer who could not perform their song very well. Shades of the Stardust movie. We actually used that song when Ray Baker and I sat in with the remains of the MeteorsUK in Oct 66 when they too had to come up with an original to record.
    When the Furys went into Hiatus in 66 the Drummer and I would meet up every Sunday Morning and write at least 3 songs. Some crap some pretty fair. We would record them (Just Guitar, Coffee can Drums and Vocals) on a reel to reel. We probably had 60 songs recorded. The ex wife took that tape and destroyed it. I did continue to write some rather weak stuff and as Blue Sand we did record it at Saturn Records on Hayling and perform it at gigs. But I think my thought process was still stuck in the earlier years so the stuff was kind of cheesy. I still have some lyrics around somewhere of more recent stuff but I do better on the lyrics than finding a melody.

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