The Birds

The Birds, 1964. Guess which one is still famous.

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.

26 thoughts on “The Birds”

  1. Thanks for your boycott of Mojo. The list of writers who refused to sign the contract reads like a who's-who of music journalism and would make a great masthead for a new magazine. As a matter of fact….[to be continued in March]

  2. Ugly Things did a big feature on the Birds about 15 years ago including interviews with band members (not Ronnie Wood though). The thing I remember most from the story was Ronnie's alleged reaction to the news that his girlfriend had died in a car crash – “That's terrible. I spent so much money on her”. Made me laugh anyway. tf

  3. “Ugly Things did a big feature on the Birds about 15 years ago including interviews with band members (not Ronnie Wood though). The thing I remember most from the story was Ronnie's alleged reaction to the news that his girlfriend had died in a car crash – “That's terrible. I spent so much money on her”. Made me laugh anyway.”Must be the reason I bought that CD, which came out around that time. Evidently, the gossip mill has it Ron Wood may end up being the first person ever fired from the Stones, he's such a mess these days. An awesome achievment, right up their w/Dicke Betts getting thrown out of the Allman Bros for taking too many drugs. I mean, how many drugs do you have to take to get thrown out of that band?

  4. Hands down The Pretties would get my vote on the 100 club question with The Tridents (with J Beck) running a close second.

  5. Isn't The Birds kind of a strange name for a British band? Y'know, 'cause that was limey slang for “chick”, right? Oh, and I'm with Anonymous, the only correct answer to the 100 Club question is the Pretty Things.

  6. Wow! What's happening in the world of MOJO??? It is truly the best music mag because of the writers. The quality has been going down due to age, material, or????Maybe just doing a monthly magazine which has to be difficult. But saying that, I am enjoying the new issue of MOJO.

  7. Seeing that Deadly Bees footage on a wonky VHS tape and buying the Edsel 12″ of the three Decca 45s was mind-blowing back in the mid-1980s, and is still so now. For me, Wood's guitar non-solo on How Can It Be is up there with such classic wank-free Brit breaks as Dave Davies' skronk on She's Got Everything and Richie Blackmore's quite frankly bonkers scribble on Heinz's Movin' In. Ronnie is regularly spotted in a certain cafe here in Bath, I'm tempted to tote my copies of the Decca Birds 45s around until I run into him, just to see the look on his fizzog – he probably don't even realise how great they are, although he was quite nice about his days with the band in his otherwise quite uninteresting autobio…Joss

  8. Hound & others — The Deadly Bees came out on dvd a couple of years ago from Legend Films. You can buy it individually, or get it as part of a three-movie set which includes the very superior Amicus flick The Skull (Cushing & Lee, with Cushing absolutely going nuts in it) and Hammer's very good The Man Who Could Cheat Death (Lee & Diffring and some bird named Hazel Court…in the nude, directed by thee Terence Fisher). Deadly Bees may not be Freddie Francis' career high-point, but it's still fun!

  9. The caption-writer needs to look at the text. 100 Club is in Oxford Street, as per the ad and “Leaving Here” wasn't a Birds' original.

  10. “Evidently, the gossip mill has it Ron Wood may end up being the first person ever fired from the Stones, he's such a mess these days”This is called the Bob Stinson rule, if you are too f'd up to hang with this bunch, you are too f'd up. I am pretty sure Harvey Mandel is still available. Or Jeff Beck. Or Wayne Perkins. Maybe even Shuggie Otis could give it a go this time, last time he reportedly declined even the try out. Jimmy Page? Nah, that double neck guitar would look as bad as Bill Wyman's old goofy Steinberger bass.Doug NJ

  11. “The caption-writer needs to look at the text. 100 Club is in Oxford Street, as per the ad and “Leaving Here” wasn't a Birds' original.”I'm fairly brain dead these days,I've been to the 100 club about ten times, and still messed up the address.

  12. The most amusing store I heard about Ron Wood dates from his days with the Jeff Beck Group.Beck wanted Ronnie to play bass but Wood couldn't afford to buy one.So Ron walks into a music ,grabs a bass and runs out of the store with out paying.He later went back to the store fifthteen years later and made payment.

  13. So did Tom Waits sign over all rights to Mojo for his Hank 3 interview? He's credited with “Words”. The rest of the Wait's articles in the issue he edited seem like interviews.

  14. “The caption-writer needs to look at the text. 100 Club is in Oxford Street, as per the ad and “Leaving Here” wasn't a Birds' original.”Good question, but since he has star power he probably got a deal a regular contributor could never get. Part of the new contract says the writers must turn over all their “research materials” (does that mean you have to send 'em your record collection too?) to the magazine in addition to the copyrights….given that they don't pay much to begin with, it's an awful deal for writers and a bad precedent.

  15. That's a pretty rockin' song in the movie; too bad it doesn't appear to be available in full. The audio from the movie is a hidden track on “Collectors Guide,” but that seems to be it for that one…

  16. I think I'd plumb for that GBO gig at the beginning of the week before The Birds but…It's a pity the actual audio of the track from “The Deadly Bees” has never surfaced. Maybe it's me, but I think that's the best Birds track, then again maybe it's because after 25 years of hearing their other stuff it's the only thing that sounds “fresh”. Now if my local Barnes & Noble would just get that “Nancy & Lee” issue of “Shindig” off the shelf and replace it with the new issue I'd be able to read……Well done sir, as always.

  17. Seeing the Birds in the Deadly Bees was one of the coolest music moments in MST3K, alongside Little Richard in Catalina Caper.

  18. A band from San Diego called The Event did a version of “That's All That I Need You For” on their lone LP, “This Is The Event”, which came out on Voxx in 1989 – s'pretty good, and the only way to hear the tune (albeit reimagined from the fillum clips) in full. The Birds' versh has never surfaced…Joss

  19. “The Birds' versh has never surfaced…”That's All I Need was re-issued as a hidden bonus cut on the Collector's Guide To The Birds (Dream-UK) CD back in '99 but I can't get my computer to recognize it otherwise I would have posted it. It shows up at 3:18 after the last track, the awful Granny Rides Again (an unnissued track). It's heard with the movie dialouge over it for part of the song.

  20. Ah! Shoulda picked that up, but was always happy with the vinyl, thanks for the heads-up. Kudos to ya, as ever, Jim!Joss

  21. yet another excellent entry to the Houndblog.I did not know that 'The Birds' were being managed by The Richardson's.Or the Piranha Brothers.The world of music management was indeed a murky one.Probably still is!Many thank's keep up the good work!

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