The Koobas — initially spelled “Kubas” — were an English pop-psych band that released a pair of Pye singles circa 1965/66, followed by six singles on Columbia (EMI) between 1966 and 1968. After the band’s breakup, their self-titled album appeared on Columbia in 1969. Bassist Keith Ellis played on the first album by Van Der Graaf Generator, the first two albums by Juicy Lucy, and two albums by Boxer.
Members: Stuart Leathwood (guitar, vocals), Roy Morris (guitar, vocals), Keith Ellis (bass), John Morris (drums), Tony O’Reilly (drums)
They formed in April 1962 as The Kubas from a merger of two Liverpool bands: The Thunderbeats and Roy Montrose and the Midnighters. The former contained singer and rhythm guitarist Stuart Leathwood (1942–2004), a blooming songwriter.
After a late-1963 residency at the Star Club in Hamburg, Germany, they issued the 1964 Columbia single “I Love Her,” an uptempo Downliners-style Leathwood original backed with the Bacharach–David composition “Magic Potion.” The lineup stabilized with Leathwood, lead guitarist Roy Morris, bassist Keith Ellis, and drummer Tony O’Reilly.
The renamed Koobas signed with Brian Epstein‘s NEMS company and filmed a scene for the 1965 film Ferry Cross the Mersey, a vehicle for Gerry & the Pacemakers. The scene, where The Koobas lose a battle-of-the-bands contest, was dropped from the final cut. That December, The Koobas (along with The Moody Blues) opened for The Beatles on their final UK tour.
Music manager Tony Stratton-Smith secured The Koobas a deal with Pye, which spawned the December 1965 single “Take Me for a Little While” (b/w “Somewhere In the Night”), followed in April 1966 with “You’d Better Make Up Your Mind” (b/w “A Place I Know”). Both b-sides are Leathwood–Ellis originals.
On May 30, 1966, The Koobas played the Whit Monday Pop Gala Festival at the Sincil Bank Football Ground in Lincoln, England. The event also featured sets by the Alan Price Set, The Barron Knights, The Creation, Crispin St Peters, Georgie Fame, The Ivy League, The Kinks, She Trinity, Small Faces, The Who, and Yardbirds.
The Koobas reverted to EMI Columbia for the August 1966 single “Sweet Music” (b/w “Face”), followed by the 1967 singles “Sally” (b/w “Champagne and Caviar”) and their first self-written a-side “Gypsy Fred” (b/w “City Girl”). A planned ’67 single, “Woe Is Love My Dear” (b/w “Money Go Round”), never materialized. Another side, “Yesterday Has Gone,” only exists as an acetate.
In May 1968, The Koobas released a cover of the Cat Stevens ballad “The First Cut Is the Deepest,” a 1967 UK hit for American expat singer PP Arnold. It was backed with the Leathwood–Ellis number “Walking Out” and produced by David Paramor (Garnet Mimms, The Gods, Mike Stuart Span, Simon Dupree & The Big Sound). That month, The Koobas headlined over Jethro Tull at Bluesville ’68 at the Farmers Inn in Bradford, England.
The Koobas recorded a full album with Paramor but disbanded in September 1968, months before its planned release. The album appeared in January 1969 on EMI Columbia (UK only). Ellis contributed “Gold Leaf Tree” and did co-writes with Leathwood (“Where Are the Friends?,” “Circus”) and Morris (“Royston Rose”). Two three-way compositions, “Constantly Changing” and “Here’s a Day,” appear on side one. Leathwood lone-wrote the penultimate track, “Mr. Claire.”
Koobas also includes a Stratton-Smith co-write (“Barricades”) and the soul cover “A Little Piece of My Heart,” a song first recorded by Erma Franklin and recently popularized by Janis Joplin.
The engineer on Koobas, long-time Beatles tech Geoff Emerick, also worked on 1968/69 albums by Tomorrow (Tomorrow), Wallace Collection, and The Zombies (Odessey and Oracle).
In France, Columbia paired “Where Are the Friends” and “Royston Rose” onto a 7″ in a green/b&w picture sleeve.
In 1986, freakbeat specialists Bam-Caruso Records reissued the album as Barricades. The reissue includes an inner-sleeve with printouts of 1960s press clippings and flyers, many from the Kubas era. In 1994, Essex music issued Barricades on CD, adding both sides of the “Sweet Music” and “First Cut” singles as bonus tracks. A 2000 CD reissue on BGO Records restores the Koobas title and adds all eight of their 1966–68 Columbia singles sides.
After The Koobas
Before disbanding, The Koobas played alongside Deep Purple, The Flirtations, and Swiss beatsters Les Sauterelles at the Blick Beat Konzert, a September 21, 1968, event at the Festhalle in Bern, Switzerland.
O’Reilly joined a formative Yes for a two-month period (Sept–Nov. 1968) when Bill Bruford attended university. He also did a brief stint in Bakerloo.
Ellis joined Van der Graaf Generator for their 1969 debut album The Aerosol Grey Machine, recorded amid contractual disputes. By the time they became an ongoing concern, he had joined blues-rockers Juicy Lucy. He played on their 1969/70 albums Juicy Lucy and Lie Back and Enjoy It, then notched credits on 1971/72 albums by Bobby Whitlock, John Simson, and the Paul Williams Set.
In 1975, Ellis formed the supergroup Boxer with drummer Tony Newman (May Blitz, Three Man Army) and the team of singer Mike Patto and guitarist Ollie Halsall (Timebox, Patto). They signed with Virgin and released the album Below the Belt. Their second album, Bloodletting, was vaulted and later released in 1979 after Patto’s death from leukemia. Ellis predeceased him in 1978 while filling the bass slot in Iron Butterfly for a brief tour of Germany, where he died of a drug overdose at age 32.
Leathwood joined the The March Hare, a pop-psych band with Gary Sulsh and Peter Skellern. They issued two 1968/69 singles on Chapter 1 and Deram, then evolved into Harlan Country for a 1970 album on Philips country-subsidiary Nashville. Leathwood and Sulsh broke off into the folk-pop duo Gary & Stu, which made the 1971 album Harlan Fare on Carnaby.
- “Sally” / “Champagne & Caviar” (1967)
- “Gypsy Fred” / “City Girl” (1967)
- “The First Cut Is the Deepest” / “Walking Out” (1968)
- Koobas (1969)
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