From the film The Deadly Bees.
Leaving Here, their best original.
Forty six years ago, the 100 Club, Oxford Street, London. Which night would you go if you could only go one night?
So many of life’s simple pleasures are gone. I really miss the thrill of going to the local record shop and checking out the new releases. My heart would pound at the sight of a new Stones, Yardbirds or Kinks LP. Sorry, flipping through jewel cases just isn’t the same. Not that there’s any good record stores left where I live. Or going the magazine stand and seeing a new issue of Creem or Rock Scene. Or even those rare occasions when Rolling Stone had somebody cool on the cover (yes, such things happened once a year or so: Little Richard, Mel Lyman, the MC5). There’s so few readable music mags around nowadays, my expectations are so scaled back that I’ll buy anything that looks even vaguely interesting (although I’m boycotting Mojo since they decided to make their freelance writers and photographers sign over the rights to their materials in perpetuity, see Mick Farren on the subject). So, yesterday, out of boredom, I buy the latest issue of a Brit 60’s garage/psych oriented mag called Shindig mainly because the The Birds are gracing the cover. For those who never heard them, the Birds (not to be confused with the American group the Byrds) were a British R&B/beat group, best remembered for launching the careers of Ron Wood and the late Kim Gardner (The Creation). Collectors of such garage and “freakbeat” (I hate that term, I don’t know why, I just do), know of them for three great and quite rare 45’s issued in 1964-5, which we shall discuss in a moment.
According to Shindig, the Birds “made The Kinks and The Pretty Things look tame”, I don’t agree with that, the Birds never made a record as wild as the Kinks’ I Need You or the Pretty Things’ Midnight To Six Man, and writing a tune as timeless and perfect as Waterloo Sunset or Days, was way beyond their capabilities. That’s not to say the Birds didn’t have their moments– three of them (or six if each side of the disc counts as a seperate “moment”).
Of course, after reading the piece in Shindig, I decided to check YouTube and surprise, there it is, the only known footage of the Birds in their prime to surface (so far), taken from a low budget horror flick– The Deadly Bees (1967), which I’ve never seen. Yes, I miss the simple pleasures of record stores and newsstands, but being able to call up obscure film footage at your fingertips is, I guess, at least some sort of compensation.
The Birds were– Ali McKenzie- lead vocals, Ron Wood- guitar/harmonica/vocals, Tony Munroe- guitar/vocals, Kim Gardner- bass, Pete Hocking- drums. Getting getting beaten to a name by other bands was something of a leitmotif throughout their career. They grew out of a group first called the Renegades, which they had to change when another group with the same name waxed a great version of Vince Taylor‘s Cadillac, so they then became the Thunderbirds, which was shortened to The Birds when Chris Farlowe’s backing band took on the name the Thunderbirds. They would end life as The Birds Birds, possibly because of a mistake at the label printers.
In 1964 The Birds got their first break, a residency at the 100 Club in Oxford Street, London where the Pretty Things had Tuesday nights for much of that year, and were soon signed to Decca who issued their debut 45– You’re On My Mind (written by Ron Wood) b/w You Don’t Love Me, a Bo Diddley tune on which Wood plays harmonica. Here’s the demos to You’re On My Mind and You Don’t Love Me (not as good as the final versions but worth hearing). Their second single issued in ’65 was a version of an obscure Motown tune– Eddie Holland’s Leaving Here b/w Next In Line, another Ron Wood original.
After a much publicized legal fight with the Byrds, which they lost, the issued No Good Without You Baby, a Mickey Stevenson tune they found on a Marvin Gaye LP b/w their third Ron Wood tune– How Can It Be, which Wood sings lead on. A change in management (their new managers would be Charlie and Eddie Richardson, South End gangsters soon to go on trial for torturing their enemies by chopping off their toes, nailing them to the floor, etc.) and record companies saw them now on Robert Stigwood’s Reaction label. Their third and final single was a mixed affair, the a-side being a rather dreary reading of the McCoys tune Say Those Magic Words, but the flip side of their final disc,– Daddy Daddy is a classic mod rave-up, one of the best discs of the era. The label read: the Birds Birds, which may have been a typo or else have something to do with their lawsuit against the Byrds. Not that it mattered, like the previous two discs, it flopped and soon the group broke up. Of their unissued tunes left in the vault, in addition the above demos, is a cover of the Who’s Run Run Run, which is pretty cool. Their entire recorded output, demos, outtakes and all can be found on the UK Deram CD- The Collector’s Guide To Rare British Birds, issued in 1999. Ron Wood did just fine for himself, although he never played guitar in the style he used with the Birds again, Kim Gardner went on to join the Creation, the others to other bands and eventually day jobs. Today, 45 years later lead singer Ali MacKenzie once again leads a group called the Birds. And they still play the 100 Club.