Stackridge was an English art-pop band from Bristol, noted for their comical lyrics and vaudevillian stage act. During their initial 1971–76 run, they released three albums on MCA — Stackridge, Friendliness, and The Man in the Bowler Hat (aka Pinafore Days) — and two on Elton John‘s Rocket label: Extravaganza and Mr. Mick.
The band’s two frontmen, Andy Davis and James Warren (who left after Bowler Hat) later regrouped as The Korgis. Stackridge reformed in 1999 for a second, lengthier live run and two new studio discs.
Members: Andy Davis (guitar, keyboards, vocals, 1969-77, 2002-present), Jim “Crun” Walter (bass, 1969-71, 1973, 1975-77, 1999-2012), Mike “Mutter” Slater (flute, vocals, 1970-74, 1975-77, 2002-2010), Mike Evans (violin, vocals, 1970-74, 1975, 1999-2002), James Warren (guitar, vocals, 1970-74, 1999-present), Billy “Sparkle” Bent (drums, 1970-74), Keith Gemmell (saxophone, clarinet, flute, 1973-77), Roy Morgan (drums, 1973-75), Paul Karas (bass, vocals, 1973-75), Rod Bowkett (keyboards, 1973-75), Dave Lawson (keyboards, 1976-77), Peter van Hooke (drums, 1976-77)
Stackridge was formed in 1969 Bristol by guitarist/singer Andy Davis and bassist James “Crun” Walter. The pair hailed from the unrecorded pop-psych band Grytpype Thynne and initially called their new outfit Stackridge Lemon. They played the first and last sets of the inaugural Glastonbury Festival, Sept. 19–20 1970, which also featured performances by Amazing Blondel, Steamhammer, Alan Bown, Marsupilami, Quintessence, and Al Stewart. That year, the members of Stackridge lived communally in a flat on 32, West Mall in Clifton.
In 1971, the Stackridge lineup solidified around Davis, guitarist/singer James Warren, flautist Mike “Mutter” Slater, violinist Mike Evans, and drummer Billy “Sparkle” Bent. Crun exited for the time being. That year, Stackridge toured England with Wishbone Ash and Renaissance and became one of the first acts signed to the UK division of MCA Records.
On May 21, 1971, Stackridge released their first single: the group-written “Dora, the Female Explorer,” a knee-slapping, harmonized tale about a playful, intrepid female. The song combines elements of English folk and Americana with a prominent harmonica/violin riff in G major. The b-side, “Everyman,” is a Davis/Warren co-write.
1971: Stackridge (first album)
Stackridge released their self-titled debut album in August 1971 on MCA (UK, Europe, NZ, Japan) and Decca (US). It features “Dora, the Female Explorer” and eight further originals, including the Warren compositions “Three Legged Table,” “Essence of Porphyry,” “Marigold Conjunction,” and “Marzo Plod.” Warren and Davis co-wrote the thumping opener “Grande Piano,” plus “Percy the Penguin” and “West Mall.” Davis and Walter composed “Slark,” a 14-minute showpiece built on an arching violin/flute theme in E minor.
Stackridge was produced by ex-Four Pennies guitarist Fritz Fryer, who also produced recent titles by Gary Farr, Harsh Reality, Junco Partners, Rock Workshop, Skin Alley, and Steamhammer (Mk II). Sessions took place at De Lane Lea Studios, London, during March–April 1971 with engineer Martin Birch, who also worked on 1971 titles by Faces, Groundhogs, Stray, Toad, and a simultaneous De Lane project, Fireball by Deep Purple.
Hipgnosis designed the Stackridge gatefold: an illustration of seagulls flying amid a backdrop of blue sky and pink sand. The inner-spread features a sepia infrared group photo overlaid with lyrics inked in white. On copies released to US buyers, who couldn’t haunt the group’s Clifton address, “West Mall” is titled “32 West Mall.”
“Slark” / Bickershaw Festival
Between the first and second album, “Crun” Walter officially rejoined Stackridge. Meanwhile, Davis (credited only by his forename) played acoustic guitar along with Rod Lynton (Rupert’s People) and drummer Alan White on two songs (“Give Me Some Truth,” “Oh Yoko!”) on John Lennon’s October 1971 release Imagine. (In 1978, Generation X covered “Give Me Some Truth” for a UK single, appended to US copies of their debut album.)
In May 1972, MCA issued an abbreviated re-recording of “Slark” (4:45), this time built on a tight music hall arrangement of piano, acoustic guitar, Mellotron and vocal harmonies. This version was produced by Tony Cox (Gringo, Magna Carta, Trees, Tea and Symphony). It’s backed by another Davis/Walter piece, “Purple Spaceship Over Yatton,” a sweeping instrumental built on a clean, staccato guitar figure (in D minor) with layering flute, horns, and a dramatic orchestral midsection.
That same month, Stackridge played the Bickershaw Festival, a three-day weekend event (May 5–7) in Wigan, Lancashire, with performances by Brotherhood of Breath, Captain Beefheart, Captain Beyond, Donovan, Family, Hawkwind, Incredible String Band, Jonathan Kelly, The Kinks, Linda Lewis, the Mike Westbrook Concert Orchestra, and Sam Apple Pie. Stackridge’s set included both sides of the recent single and the concert rave-up “Let There Be Lids.” The festival’s young attendees included Declan McManus (aka Elvis Costello) and John Mellor (aka Joe Strummer, future Clash frontman).
Stackridge released their second album, Friendliness, in October 1972 on MCA (worldwide). Warren composed three numbers per side: “Anyone for Tennis,” “There Is No Refuge,” “Amazingly Agnes,” “Father Frankenstein Is Behind Your Pillow,” and the twice-occurring title track. Davis wrote the opening instrumental “Lummy Days,” an upbeat appropriation of the “Slark” theme. Each side ends with a lengthier number, “Syracuse the Elephant” and “Teatime,” both by Davis and Walter, who also co-wrote the rocky “Keep On Clucking.”
Friendliness was co-produced between the band and engineer Vic Gamm, a tech hand on titles by Dr. Strangely Strange, Fuchsia, Hard Meat, Jethro Tull, Mick Greenwood, Mick Softley, Steeleye Span, and Synanthesia. Sessions took place that August at De Laine and Sound Techniques, London.
Original copies are housed in a single sleeve with an illustration of a seated old tramp, serenaded with pigeons. The artist, , also designed the cover to Elephantasia, the 1972 second album by Welsh-born Bristol folkster Dave Evans.
1973: Stop-gap Singles
In February 1973, Stackridge issued the non-album single “Do the Stanley,” a vaudevillian dance number credited to Wabadaw Sleeve, a pseudonym for group-written songs, created by the first two letters in each member’s surnames. The b-side, “C’est La Vie,” is a Davis–Warren track. A planned followup single, “Lyder Loo” (b/w “Let There Be Lids”), never appeared, despite being given an MCA catalog number (MUS 1191).
On the weekend of August 24–26, Stackridge played the 1973 Reading Festival at Little John’s Farm in Reading. The event also featured sets by Alquin, Capability Brown, Claire Hamill, Embryo, Greenslade, John Martyn, Lindisfarne, Magma, Riff Raff, Rory Gallagher, the Sensational Alex Harvey Band, Status Quo, Stray Dog, and Tasavallan Presidentti. Stackridge appeared on day three (Sunday) alongside Ange, Genesis, Jack the Lad, John Martyn, Lesley Duncan, Premiata Forneria Marconi, the Spencer Davis Group, and Tempest.
Meanwhile, between July and September 1973, Stackridge recorded their third album at AIR Studios, London, with Beatles producer George Martin, whose then-recent credits include the Gun-spinoff Parrish & Gurvitz, the 1972 release Icarus by the Paul Winter Consort, and two albums by American roots rockers Seatrain.
The first fruits of the Martin sessions was the September single “Galloping Gaucho,” an upbeat vaudeville/burlesque number with pipe organ. Its b-side, “Fundamentally Yours,” is a layered harmony pop number driven by strummed acoustic chords and glistening harpsichord. Both songs were composed by Davis with lyrics by Smegmakovitch, the collective lyric-writing pseudonym of Walter, Warren, and Slater.
1974: The Man in the Bowler Hat
Stackridge released their third album, The Man in the Bowler Hat, in February 1974 on MCA (UK, Italy, Japan). It includes both sides of the prior single and three additional Davis compositions: the somber ballad “The Indifferent Hedgehog,” and the Smegmakovitch co-writes “The Last Plimsoll” and “The Road to Venezuela.” The album also features two songs apiece by Warren (“Humiliation,” “Dangerous Bacon”) and Slater (“Pinafore Days,” “To the Sun and Moon”). The closing track, “God Speed the Plough,” is another Wabadaw Sleeve credit.
Martin plays piano on two tracks (“Fundamentally Yours,” “The Indifferent Hedgehog”) and provides orchestral arrangements on “God Speed,” “Humiliation,” and the two Slater numbers. Andy Mackay of Roxy Music plays saxophone on “Dangerous Bacon.” The five-piece brass section on “Galloping Gaucho” includes trumpeter Ray Davies, the leader of Button Down Brass (not to be confused with the Kinks frontman). “To the Sun and Moon” extracts words from a namesake poem by Peter Denman.
The Man in the Bowler Hat was engineered by Bill Price, a Decca in-house tape op during the ’60s who recently worked with Ann Odell, Camel (Mirage), Free (Heartbreaker), Mott the Hoople, Sparks (Propaganda), and the Sutherland Brothers & Quiver. He went on to work with Racing Cars and the Sex Pistols. Martin’s subsequent projects include albums by America, Mahavishnu Orchestra (Apocalypse), Jeff Beck (Blow by Blow, Wired), Jimmy Webb (El Mirage), and Ultravox (Quartet).
Photographer John Swannell took The Man in the Bowler Hat cover shot, which shows a Victorian prairie girl roaming across grass. The inner-spread features
released their fourth album, Extravaganza, in January 1975 on
- Stackridge (1971)
- Friendliness (1972)
- The Man in the Bowler Hat (1974 — issued in the US as Pinafore Days)
- Extravaganza (1975)
- Mr. Mick (1976)
- Something for the Weekend (1999)
- A Victory for Common Sense (2009)
- Discogs: Stackridge
- 45worlds: Stackridge
- 45cat: Stackridge
- Concert Archives: Stackridge
- Vintagerock’s Weblog: Wembley Stadium June 1975
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