Racing Cars

Racing Cars were a Welsh roots rock band that released three albums on Chrysalis between 1976 and 1978: Downtown Tonight, Weekend Rendezvous, and Bring On the Night. They scored a 1977 UK Top 20 hit with the rustic ballad “They Shoot Horses Don’t They?” The band was led by ex-Ancient Grease frontman Gareth “Morty” Mortimer.

Members: Gareth “Morty” Mortimer (lead vocals, guitar), Graham Headley Williams (guitar, vocals, 1973-79, 2000-10), Ray “Alice” Ennis (guitar, banjo, slide guitar, 1973-79), David Land (bass, vocals, 1973-79), Robert Wilding (drums, vocals, 1973-79), Paul Rosser (drums, vocals, 1980-81, 2000), Bob Watkins (bass, 1980-81), Dave Iles (guitar, 1980-81)


Background

Racing Cars had its roots in Strawberry Dust, a late ’60s Rhondda hard-rock band that featured Morty and guitarist Graham Headley Williams. They toured the South Wales circuit with an all-covers setlist and impressed Eyes of Blue drummer John Weathers, who linked them with Mercury and produced and largely wrote their 1970 album Women and Children First, released as Ancient Grease, a name chosen by label exec Lou Reizner.

After the album, Strawberry Dust retreated to the Welsh clubs and folded in early 1971. Williams joined Weathers in a new band, Wild Turkey, formed by ex-Jethro Tull bassist Glenn Cornick. Before that band hit the studio, Williams and Weathers joined Graham Bond’s Magick. Williams, intimidated by Bond, bowed out early. (Weathers played on the sole Magick album and joined Gentle Giant for an eight-album run in 1972.)

Morty took up songwriting in Good Habit, a short-lived band that he fronted during 1972. As he assembled his next band, he called in Williams. They named their new act Racing Cars, which gigged the Welsh circuit for two years and stabilized as a five piece with bassist David Land, drummer Robert Wilding, and second guitarist Ray “Alice” Ennis, whose slide and banjo work brought a rootsy element to the band’s sound.

In 1976, Racing Cars joined the pub rock scene in London, where they signed with Chrysalis. The band’s mix of gritty vocals, soulful harmonies, twangy licks, and funky rhythms aligned them with current trends in adult-oriented rock, as heard by everyone from Ace, Krazy Kat, and The Movies to Bandit, Stretch, and Streetwalkers. Racing Cars also helped spearhead a new breed of Welsh rock acts that included Alkatraz and Lone Star.


1976: Downtown Tonight

Racing Cars released their debut album, Downtown Tonight, in late 1976 on Chrysalis. It features nine originals that range from gritty soul-rock (“Calling the Tune,” “Moonshine Fandango”), swampy funk-rock (“Hard Working Woman,” “Pass the Bottle“), and rootsier fare like the finger-picking “Get Out and Get It.” Each side ends with a twangy six-minute ballad: “Downtown Tonight” and “They Shoot Horses Don’t They?” Morty wrote every song apart from “Four Wheel Drive,” a Hummingbird-style funk instrumental by Williams and Ennis.

Downtown Tonight, was co-produced by the band and Bill Price at Wessex Sound Studios with engineer Ric Stokes. Musical guests include percussionist Tony Carr (Donovan, Magna Carta) and keyboardists Rod Edwards and Roger Hand, the duo behind Picadilly Line and Edwards Hand. Violinist Julian Smedley (ex-Oberon) provided string arrangements. His then-current band, the Bowles Brothers, sing backing vocals.

Downtown Tonight sports a retro ’20s/’30s cover illustration that depicts a flapper woman walking along an avenue amid vertical blade signs and rolling Chrysler Imperials. The back cover shows the five band members leaning over the large mixing board at Wessex.

Chrysalis issued two singles from the album: “They Shoot Horses Don’t They?” (b/w “Four Wheel Drive”) and “Ladee-Lo” (b/w “Get Out and Get It“). The first of those hit #14 on the UK singles chart in February 1977. The song was inspired by the title-sake 1969 American psychological drama starring Jane Fonda and Bruce Dern.

“They Shoot Horses” appears on the Australian Festival Records comp Rockbusters ’77 with cuts by Supercharge, Skyhooks, Sherbet, Richard Clapton, Heart, The Stranglers, Windchase, Mike Oldfield, and Electric Light Orchestra. The song also appears on the Danish Sonet comp Tryk På (16 Originale Explosions Hits) with tracks by Steeley Span, Osibisa, Eddie & the Hot Rods, Manfred Mann Earth Band, and the Sex Pistols.


1977: Weekend Rendezvous

Racing Cars’ second album, Weekend Rendezvous, appeared in October 1977 on Chrysalis. Morty wrote four numbers (“Ticking Over,” “Didn’t I Tell You,” “Clever Girl,” “High and Dry”) and collaborated with Williams on three (“Weekend Rendezvous,” “Standing In the Rain,” “Backwater Road”). Also present are three group-written numbers: “Down By the River (Swampy),” “Take Me From the City,” and “Nobody’s Business,” a Zydeco roller that features guest accordionist Geraint Watkins.

Weekend Rendezvous was self-produced at Olympic Studios with engineers Doug Bennett (Hawkwind, The “O” Band, The Neutrons, Moonrider) and Nigel Brooke-Harte. The pair also co-engineered 1976/77 albums by Man (The Welsh Connection) and The Stranglers (No More Heroes).

Graphic illustrator Chris Moore (Pentangle, Pat Travers, CMU, Lindisfarne) did the Weekend Rendezvous cover art based on a concept by Smedley. It depicts a yellow seaside resort lined with palm trees, as seen through a windshield. The band’s car fin logo, as seen on the prior album, is enlarged on this cover. The back sports a chess table group shot, photographed by Jon Prew, who also captured images on contemporary albums by Burlesque, The Babys, Phil Manzanera, and Split Enz (Mental Notes).

In the UK, Chrysalis issued “Down By the River” as a single, backed with “Ticking Over.”


1978: Bring on the Night

The third Racing Cars album, Bring on the Night, appeared in late 1978 on Chrysalis. Morty wrote half the songs (“Goodbye Yesterday,” “When I’m Walkin’ Home,” “Waiting for Someone,” “You Say You Love Me,” and the title track) and collaborated with the band on “Takin’ On the Word,” “Second Best,” “Dancing Island,” and “You Can’t Take Me.” The album starts with “Travelling Mood,” originally by ’50s R&B singer James Waynes and also covered during the ’70s by Dr. John and the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band.

Bring on the Night was produced by Jim Mason, the one-time singer of American acid rockers Wings who recently produced the first two albums by Firefall. Sessions took place between five different studios in London (Wessex, Morgan, Lansdowne) and California (Spectrum, Producers Workshop).

The album was engineered by Dave Bellotti (Jack the Lad, Judas Priest, George Hatcher, Johnson & Knight) and mixed by Eric Prestidge. The credits list six different assistant engineers, including Morgan’s Nick Cook, who also worked on 1977–79 albums by Chris De Burgh, Colosseum II (Electric Savage), The Enid, and XTC (Drums and Wires).

Musical guests on Bring On the Night include organist Skip Edwards (Walter Egan), pianist Tim Hinkley (Jody Grind, Snafu, Vinegar Joe), saxophonist Jerry Jumonville (Rod Stewart, Van Morrison, Dusty Springfield, the Doobie Brothers), and veteran jazz percussionist Victor Feldman.

Waiting for Someone” features string arrangements by Nick Harrison (Joe Cocker, Gravy Train, Third World War, Tír na nÓg), conducted by Martyn Ford (Caravan, Barclay James Harvest, Sutherland Brothers, Three Man Army). “Goodbye Yesterday” and “Bring On the Night” feature strings by jazz arranger David Diggs.

Hipgnosis designed the Bring on the Night cover, which shows red beams crossing an old moss-lined tower by the sea under torrential skies.

Chrysalis lifted “Bring On the Night” as a single, backed with “Second Best.” The a-side appears on the French Philips comp Special Club Hiver 79 with cuts by 10cc (“Dreadlock Holiday“), Hi-Tension, Graham Bonnet, and Murray Head.


Later Activity

Racing Cars disbanded in 1979. Morty recorded a solo album, Love Blind, released in 1980 on Bellaphon (UK) and Line Records (Germany). It features five originals (incl. “Honeymoon In Babylon” and “Hot Day In June”) and covers of the Isley Brothers (“Put Yourself In My Place”) and Ann Peebles (“Tear Your Playhouse Down,” also covered in 1977 by Graham Parker). The title track was written by ex-Vandellas frontwoman Martha Reeves, who originally recorded it for a 1975 single.

Love Blind features numerous backing players, including drummers John Weathers and Barry De Souza (Ablution, Nicol & Marsh, David Essex, Brian Protheroe); keyboardist Andy Clark (Be-Bop Deluxe); guitarists Ray Russell (Rock Workshop, Mouse, Chopyn), Clem Clempson (Bakerloo, Colosseum, Humble Pie), and Henry McCullough (Spooky Tooth, Frankie Miller); and bassists Alan Spenner (Kokomo) and Pete Hurley (Lone Star). The album was recorded at Air Studios and produced by Nigel Thomas (Juicy Lucy, Boxer, Saxon). German copies list the artist as “Morty & the Racing Cars.”

In 1981, Morty joined The Bleeding Hearts, comprised of guitarist Dave Iles, bassist Bob Watkins, and drummer Paul Rosser. At his suggestion, they adopted the name Racing Cars, but no recordings came from this liaison.

In the late ’90, Morty contacted Williams and Rosser for a Racing Cars reunion that generated the 2000 disc Bolt from the Blue, released in the UK on DA Records. Unlike earlier albums, Williams wrote most of the songs. Their final disc, Second Wind, appeared on Angel Air in 2007.

Morty died of cancer on December 17, 2015, at age 66.


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