The Idle Race was an English pop-psych band from Birmingham, best known for the 1967 single “Imposters of Life’s Magazine” and the 1968/69 albums The Birthday Party and Idle Race. Singer Jeff Lynne joined Roy Wood in The Move, which morphed into the Electric Light Orchestra.
Members: Greg Masters (bass, vocals, 1966-72), Roger Spencer (drums, 1966-72), Dave Pritchard (guitar, vocals, 1966-72), Jeff Lynne (lead guitar, vocals, 1966-70), Mike Hopkins (vocals, guitar, 1970-72), Dave Walker (vocals, 1970-72), Dave Carroll (guitar, 1972), Bob Wilson (guitar, 1972), Bob Lamb (drums, 1972), Steve Gibbons (vocals, 1972), Bob Griffin (bass, 1972), Trevor Burton (bass, 1972)
The Idle Race had its roots in The Nightriders, a Midlands rock ‘n’ roll band formed in 1959 as Billy King & the Nightriders. The original lineup included rhythm guitarist Dave Pritchard and drummer Roger Spencer. In 1962, singer Mike Sheridan replaced King. They signed to EMI Columbia with bassist Greg Masters and cut four 1963/64 singles. By 1964, they featured lead guitarist Roy Wood, who wrote their 1965 b-side “Make Them Understand,” issued as Mike Sheridan’s Lot.
In January 1966, Wood jumped ship to rival Brumbeat stalwarts Carl Wayne & the Vikings, which swiftly became The Move. Mike Sheridan & the Nightriders hired Wood’s predecessor in The Vikings, Johnny Mann, who quit soon after the departure of Sheridan. As The Nightriders, they hired guitar prodigy Jeff Lynne (of Erdington beatsters The Chads) and released the November 1966 Polydor single “It’s Only the Dog” (b/w “Your Friend,” written and sung by Pritchard).
As psychedelia took hold, the band changed its name to The Idyll Race, then The Idle Race. Wood — now a power player in light of The Move’s rise to stardom — linked them with the fledgling production team of Eddie Offord and Gerald Chevin. The Idle Race were the first act signed to the newly established UK branch of Liberty Records.
1967: Early Singles, “Imposters of Life’s Magazine”
The Idle Race cut the Wood composition “Here We Go ‘Round the Lemon Tree,” which first appeared on German Liberty in July 1967 in an orange-red lollipop sleeve. It was slated for a September UK release with the Prichtard b-side “My Father’s Son.” However, The Move’s own version of “Lemon Tree” — the b-side of their August ’67 third single “Flowers In the Rain” — started getting airplay of its own, prompting UK Liberty to release Lynne’s “Impostors of Life’s Magazine” instead.
A. “Here We Go ‘Round the Lemon Tree” (2:50) Minor differences from The Move’s version: Echoey guitar intro of theme. Thinner, flatter vocal tone. Tighter cadences. Slightly faster tempo. Phased middle-eight with “spooky” vocalizing. Echoey celesta on chorus. No strings. Same keys (E verses; A bridge and chorus).
B. “My Father’s Son” (2:16) Thick bass intro. Two-four downbeat, rattling tambourine. Simple progression (C–Bm–Em) mimicked by vocals. Bluesy lead guitar tone.
A. “Imposters of Life’s Magazine” (2:19) A: two-note bass intro. B: high-pitched, echoey motif (treated celesta?). C: flowing verse (B–F#–Am–E). D: drum-rolled chorus. E: tensed-up bridge with echoey harmonies and tinkly celesta. F: channeled vocals over chromatic descent (in F#). G: wailing guitar break over strange two-chord pattern (Fm–C). Eight sections total: A–B–C–A–B–D–E–F–D–G–C–A–B–D–F–H–D.
B. “Sitting in My Tree” (1:53) Piano-thumping music hall with bass, drums, trebly vocals, faint staccato guitar. Simple singalong progression (C–B–A–G). Middle: fuller vocals with Wilson-esque backing harmonies. Echoey piano break.
“Lemon Tree” marked the studio debut of Offord — credited as ‘Heads Hands and Feet, Emerson Lake & Palmer) and producer (Yes, David Sancious). Gerald is credited as ‘ . Lynne wrote both sides of the second single. Offord (first single) and ‘Metric’ Offord (second) — who worked with numerous big-name ’70s acts as an engineer (
1968: The Birthday Party
In March 1968, Liberty issued the third Idle Race single, “The Skeleton and the Roundabout,” a hopping 2/4 ditty with a pipe organ intro and vintage music hall touches. The b-side, “Knocking Nails Into My House,” is a stately 4/4 singalong in C minor, flanked with echoey fuzz and slapstick effects.
Lynne composed both sides of that single and the May release “The End of the Road,” a jolly 2/4 ditty with a double-tracked guitar refrain. They diverged from music hall on the flipside, “Morning Sunshine,” a nocturnal piece with remote, quasi-ethnic drumming and twangy guitar, evocative of darker moments from the surf era (“Apache”).
The Idle Race released their debut album, The Birthday Party, in October 1968 on Liberty (UK, US). It contains “Imposters” and both sides of the May single, plus eight further Lynne originals, including “The Birthday,” “On With the Show,” “I Like My Toys,” “Sitting in My Tree,” and “Don’t Put Your Boys in the Army, Mrs. Ward.” Pritchard contributed “Pie in the Sky,” a harmonized 4/4 freakbeat number with a pinched high-end guitar refrain.
The Birthday Party was produced and engineered by Offord, Chevin, and the band. Arranger Cy Payne conducted the strings on “Follow Me, Follow” and “The Lady Who Said She Could Fly.” The latter, with its fluttering violins and flowing Lynne vocal, presages the sound he’d create in the Electric Light Orchestra.
Sessions for The Birthday Party took place during Sundays, when they commuted from Birmingham to London for free time at Advision Studios.
The cover was designed by Paul Whitehead, an emerging graphic artist who also did 1968 cover visuals for Irma Thomas, T.I.M.E., and The Sunshine Company. He later gained renown with his gatefold paintings for Genesis (Nursery Cryme, Foxtrot) and Van Der Graaf Generator (H to He, Who Am the Only One, Pawn Hearts).
Liberty planned a single release of “I Like My Toys” (b/w “The Birthday”) but shelved the idea, despite giving it a catalog number (LBF 15129).
Interim, “Days of the Broken Arrows”
In February 1969, Wood asked Lynne to replace guitarist Trevor Burton in The Move, but Lynne declined this first invitation.
In May 1969, The Idle Race returned with another non-album single, Lynne’s “Days of the Broken Arrows,” which ties a guitar/vocal ballad intro to a mid-tempo stretch of freakbeat amplification and rockabilly licks. The chorus and arrangement derive from The Move’s recent “Wild Tiger Woman.” Pritchard’s b-side, “Warm Red Carpet,” is marked by acoustic picking over a pensive, mono-chordal structure (B minor) and a sitar-droning middle and outro.
1969: Idle Race
In late July, The Idle Race issued their sixth single, Lynne’s “Come With Me,” a marching 2/4 singalong with echoes of The Move’s “Blackberry Way.” It’s backed with Pritchard’s plaintive “Reminds Me of You,” a melancholy love lament with sparse arrangements over a lopsided beat.
). Months later, cleared for ex-Move bassist Trevor Burton. The Idle Race folded in 1972 when the final lineup formed the backing band of Brummie singer Steve Gibbons.
Walker joined Savoy Brown as part of the lineup that replaced the Foghat faction for the 1971/72 albums Street Corner Talking, Hellbound Train, and Lion’s Share. In late 1972, Fleetwood Mac hired Walker and guitarist Bob Weston (ex-Ashkan) to replace singer/guitarist Danny Kirwan. Walker sings on Mac’s early 1973 release Penguin. He then formed the ill-fated Hungry Fighter with Kirwin and Savoy alumni. In 1977, Walker briefly joined Black Sabbath before Ozzy Osbourne reclaimed his role for 1978’s Never Say Die.
In 2018, archivists Maide Vale released BBC Radio Sessions 1967-1969, comprised of seven sets for the BBC’s Top Gear program hosted by John Peel. The 6/4/68 set features a cover of “Blueberry Blue” by The Lemon Pipers. The comp ends with a seven-minute live rendition of “Deborah” by .
- The Birthday Party (1968)
- Idle Race (1969)
- Time Is (1971)
- “Here We Go ‘Round the Lemon Tree” / “My Father’s Son” (1967)
- “Imposters of Life’s Magazine” / “Sitting in My Tree” (1967)
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