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, Dave Borthwick, 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 candid and profile shots of each member, credited to Borthwick. The album’s title comes from a 1964 painting by Belgian surrealist René Magritte, who used the bowler-hatted man in several paintings, most famously The Son of Man, where the face is obscured by a green apple.
New Lineup, Pinafore Days
Soon after The Man in the Bowler Hat hit shelves, reedist Keith Gemmell joined Stackridge. He came from the like-minded band Audience, which released four albums between 1969 and 1972, including the classics Friend’s Friend’s Friend and The House on the Hill on the audacious Charisma label (Genesis, Lindisfarne, Jackson Heights, String Driven Thing, Van Der Graaf Generator). His arrival preceded the exits of Bent, Walter, and Warren. Davis, who now controlled the band, hired bassist/singer Paul Karas, drummer Roy Morgan, and keyboardist Rod Bowkett.
Karas hailed from the 1972 lineup of Rare Bird, which issued the album-plus Epic Forest on Polydor. Bowkett co-wrote a 1973 single by pop singer Lucy Vernon: “Friday’s Child” (b/w “Crazy Joe”), produced by Fritz Fryer.
Stackridge toured Bowler Hat with a lineup only half-comprised of the album’s personnel. They played the club and college circuit throughout the UK, where Bowler Hat reached no. 23 on the album chart.
In the late summer of 1974, Stackridge re-entered AIR Studios, this time with musician/producer Tony Ashton, formerly of Ashton Gardner & Dyke and currently part of a duo with Deep Purple keyboardist Jon Lord (First of the Big Bands).
That October, Sire Records in the US and Canada issued Pinafore Days, a reordered version of Bowler Hat that drops “To the Sun and the Moon” and “The Indifferent Hedgehog” for two new songs: the Bowkett–Vernon ragtime “Spin ‘Round the Room” and the Davis–Bowkett–Slater music hall number “One Rainy July Morning,” both retro-’20s songs that invoke the golden age of slapstick.
Pinafore sports the same cover as Bowler Hat with new inner-spread and back photos taken since the lineup change. Through it cracked the Billboard Top 200, a US tour didn’t materialize.
Stackridge signed to the Rocket Record Company, established in 1972 by Elton John and distributed by MCA. Along with Kiki Dee, Longdancer (with pre-Eurythmics Dave Stewart), and the Hudson Brothers, Stackridge were among the few Rocket artists apart from Elton himself.
Stackridge released their fourth album, Extravaganza, in January 1975 on Rocket (UK, Germany, Spain, Australia). “Spin ‘Round the Room” opens side one, which also contains “Highbury Incident (Rainy July Morning),” the original title of the song released earlier in the US as “One Rainy July Morning.” Side two contains a pair of Bowkett instrumentals (“Rufus T. Firefly,” “Pocket Billiards”) and a third (“Who’s That Up There With Bill Stokes?”) co-written by Davis.
In all, Bowkett wrote or co-wrote seven of the album’s 10 songs, including two (“Grease Paint Smiles,” “Benjamins Giant Onion”) co-credited to one Bathos. Davis composed “The Volunteer,” the final Smegmakovitch co-credit.
Extravaganza also features two covers: “Happy In the Lord” and “No One’s More Important Than the Earthworm.” The former was written by Phil Welton of the unsigned folk act Fat Grapple, a veteran fixture of the UK live circuit. (A teenage Eddie Jobson started in that band before landing his first major gig with Curved Air. Two other members teamed with Cirkus alumni in Future Shock.) Grapple cut their own version of “Happy In the Lord” for a 1975 small-press single.
“Earthworm” was written by Gordon Haskell, who originally recorded the song as “Worms” for his 1971 album It Is and It Isn’t. Haskell — a veteran of ’60s beatsters Les Fleur de Lys and a brief member of King Crimson circa Lizard — rehearsed with Stackridge during the Ashton sessions but declined an invitation to join the band.
Extravaganza lists three engineers: Geoff Emerick, Gary Edwards, and Peter Swettenham. Emerick, a onetime Beatles tech (Rubber Soul-onward), had numerous psych-era credits, including albums by The Zombies (Odessey and Oracle), Tomorrow, Koobas, and Wallace Collection. Recently, he worked with Swettenham on albums by Cockney Rebel (The Human Menagerie) and Tempest (Living In Fear) and with Edwards on Journey’s End, the debut solo album by original Procol Harum organist Matthew Fisher.
Emerick also worked on the Ashton–Lord album and 1974/75 titles by Nektar (Down to Earth, Recycled), Robin Trower, and Triumvirat (Spartacus). Edwards notched concurrent credits with Bryan Ferry, Chopyn, Mott the Hoople, and Sassafras. Swettenham produced the Liverpool Express and engineered 1975/76 albums by Caravan and Deaf School (2nd Honeymoon).
Evans, who plays violin on the Ashton sessions, left Stackridge before the release of Extravaganza and didn’t appear in the credits until later reissues. The album’s gatefold sleeve features characters from a Victorian circus poster, accessed from the collection of design critic Alain Weill.
In September 1975, Sire issued Extravaganza in North America with an altered sequence that replaces “Spin ‘Round the Room” and “Rainy July Morning” — both already available stateside on Pinafore Days — with the 1973 non-album a-side “Do the Stanley” and the more recent “Indiffernt Hedgehog,” one of two Bowler Hat numbers omitted from Pinafore Days.
Live Events, OGWT, Crun Returns
Stackridge promoted Extravaganza with more than 70 UK shows during 1975, including their first of two appearances on the BBC music program The Old Grey Whistle Test (2/28/75), where they performed “No One’s More Important Than the Earthworm” and “Dancing on Air,” a retro ’20s Bowkett–Slater number in the vein of Leon Redbone and the Pasadena Roof Orchestra. It features a lengthy instrumental first half before Slater enters, whistling then singing. Though Stackridge never recorded the song, Slater cut it for a 1976 Rocket single, backed with a cover of Duke Ellington’s “Solitude.”
On June 21, 1975, Stackridge opened a Mid-Summer Music bill at Wembley Stadium, headlined by Elton John and the Beach Boys with sets by Joe Walsh, The Eagles, and Rufus featuring Chaka Khan. Elton performed his just-released Captain Fantastic and the Brown Dirt Cowboy in its entirety.
On July 6, Stackridge played the Fulham Greyhound with support from an up-and-coming four-piece from Woking, The Jam. This would be the young band’s last gig with lead guitarist Steve Brookes. (The Jam proceeded as a trio and signed to Polydor at the outset of the new wave.)
In late 1975, Stackridge entered The Who‘s Ramport Studios in Battersea, South London, the recording site of Quadrophenia and recent albums by Esperanto (Last Tango) and Supertramp (Crime of the Century).
“Crun” Walter reclaimed his spot from Karas, who played on Jon Lord’s 1976 release Sarabande and (along with Morgan) 1978–80 albums by Jet White, Charlie Fawn, and Stonebridge McGuinness.
Keyboardist Dave Lawson (Web, Samurai, Greenslade) took over from Bowkett, who pursued his career as a songwriter. Bowkett eventually earned songwriting credits on albums by Cliff Richard (“In the Night” on I’m No Hero), Cheryl Lynn (“Don’t Let It Fade Away” on In Love), Diana Ross, Patti Austin, and Fern Kinney.
Morgan followed Karas through a sequence of late ’70s projects and performed on Tarot Suite, the 1979 rock opera by Mike Batt and Friends. Stackridge hired ex-Headstone drummer Peter Van Hooke, who also played on 1976 albums by Brian Parrish (Parrish & Gurvitz, Badger), Andrew Lloyd Webber (Evita), and the soundtrack to season one of the ITV musical drama Rock Follies.
1976: Mr. Mick
In March 1976, Stackridge released Mr. Mick, the fifth and final studio album of their original run. It features three songs by Slater (“Save a Red Face,” “The Slater’s Waltz,” “Coniston Water”) and five by Davis, including “Breakfast with Werner von Braun,” “Steam Radio Song,” and two Walter co-writes: “Hey Good Looking” and “Fish in a Glass.”
As Slater explained on their second OGWT appearance, Mr. Mick is a concept album about “an old-age pensioner… who goes out for a walk on Sunday… out to the local refuge disposal tip and communicates with obscure objects like steam radios, fiddles, fifes, and cotton reels.” Author and illustrator Steve Augarde contributed lyrics to “Steam Radio,” “Red Face,” and “Slater’s Waltz.” Rocket executives intervened on the project, forcing Stackridge to drop several songs and add a Beatles cover (“Hold Me Tight”) as the opening track.
Mr. Mick appeared on Rocket in the UK, France, and Germany. Davis produced the album with engineer Denny Bridges, a tech hand on Brian Eno‘s solo debut Here Come the Warm Jets and recent titles by The Movies, Nova, and Fripp & Eno (Evening Star). Musical guests on the album include guitarist Ray Russell (Rock Workshop, Running Man, Mouse, Chopyn), who performed with Stackridge on their second OGWT appearance; and vocalist Joanna Karlin, who tenderly sings “Slater’s Waltz.” Guitarist-turned-producer Pete Gage (The Zephyrs, Dada, Vinegar Joe) produced “Steam Radio Song” and its postlude “The Dump.”
Swannell photographed the cover, a picture of a little old man (Mr. Mick) and his young, pretty caregiver. The back features lyrics and a group shot by Andrew de Lory, who photographed Deaf School for the sleeve of their second album Don’t Stop the World. Swannell later photographed covers for Bryan Ferry (The Bride Stripped Bare), Phil Lynott, Lulu, and Toyah Willcox.
In 2000, Stackridge issued The Original Mr Mick on their own DAP Records label. It features the album as originally intended with a 12-track running order that starts with “Hey! Good Looking” and omits “Hold Me Tight” in favor of four numbers barred from the Rocket release, including the Davis–Walter folk ballad “Can Inspiration Save the Nation?” and three titular interludes narrated by Slater.
- 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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