It was 1975 and prog-rock was all the rage. David Radford, a young singer-songwriter from Canterbury had just secured a recording contract with President Records. The label, run by father and son team Ed* and David Kassner, were impressed by Radford's writing talent after hearing a demo-tape recorded at the original Oakwood Studios in 1974. President wanted a single released as quickly as possible and invited Radford's band Gizmo up to Regent Sound Studio in London's Tin Pan Alley (Denmark Street) to record seven of his songs. The band that recorded that first single and other unreleased tracks comprised:
- David Radford - 12 string guitar and vocals
- Graeme Quinton-Jones - Keyboards and guitar
- Mick Curd - Guitar
- David Jones - Keyboards
- Martin Judd - Bass guitar
- David Smith - Drums
And so it was that President Records released the first ever Gizmo single: 'Just Like Velvet' in late 1975 (Hear it on YouTube).
Although the single was well received by both The NME and Melody Maker, it failed to get prime-time air-play and so went largely unnoticed by the mainstream media.
Radford, unhappy with the situation and a band that couldn't commit to live performances decided a new line-up was needed. He auditioned pretty much every musician in Kent and over a five month period from January 1976 to June '76, slowly assembled a band of first-rate performers that would do his music justice. This new line-up was to record the first two Gizmo albums, 'Just Like Master Bates' and 'Victims', the band also played a string of gigs across London and the Southeast.
The new Gizmo band members were:
- Dave Radford - 12 String Guitar and Vocals
- Maurice Memmott - Piano and Violin
- Brian Gould - Synthesizers and Organ
- Steve Wyse - Drums and Percussion
First to join was Maurice Memmott, who was introduced to Dave Radford by local saxophonist Colin Crow. Classically trained, Maurice came to the band after working as a violinist with The London Symphony Orchestra.
Colin also sought the involvement of ex-Judge Dread drummer Steve Wyse, then working as a full-time gigging/session musician who had played on football anthems, 'skinhead reggae' singles, heavy rock and even supermarket / elevator tracks. Steve in-turn brought onboard Brian Gould. Brian had recently returned from a worldwide tour with synth prog-rockers Seventh Wave. The tour, to promote Seventh Wave's second album 'Psi-Fi' ended in LA with band leader Ken Eliot calling it a day... Ken, exhausted, both physically and mentally had little appetite for further live performance. Ken, who was (is?) a gifted singer / keyboard player / songwriter / musical arranger - has not been heard of since.
Mention must be made of talented bassist Trevor Rogansky, who joined in 1977 and appeared at many early Gizmo live performances. Following family problems Trevor was forced to return to his native Liverpool after just 9 months with the band.
Audiences who witnessed the early 1977-79 stage shows are unlikely to ever forget seeing a Gizmo gig. It was not just the quality of the music, the band sounded breathtaking, in part due to the efforts of sound engineers Andy Bell and Jeremy Darby, both of whom went on to secure top jobs in broadcasting both here in the UK and the USA. Andy, to this day, is a freelance sound engineer working regularly with both the BBC and Independent broadcasting organisations... Jeremy was to tour the world as sound engineer for Lou Reed, Bowie, U2 and Prince, to name but a few. He settled in New York in the early 80's before moving to Toronto in 2000 where he now resides and works.
|Sound engineer Jeremy Darby in 2010
|1981 - Brian Gould, Dave Radford & Steve Wyse|
Visually the early live shows we're some of the most exciting performances by any band anywhere in the UK. The whole stage would erupt in fire - Gould's circus-like fire-blowing routine was accompanied by Wyse playing his drum set with flaming drumsticks, and if that wasn't enough, flames and fireballs were ignited both on stands at the side of the stage and in steel trays right in front of the audience.
|Gizmo in 1977 - Brian Gould fire-blowing|
Dave Radford recalls... "Inevitably things went wrong - God knows how nothing major ever happened or anyone was seriously injured. Brian once coughed when blowing a fireball vertically and a massive flame engulfed him for what seemed like an enternity. A quick-thinking member of the road crew threw a pint of beer over him. Amazingly he just got up and continued playing as if nothing had happened! Another time, the end of one of Steve's blazing drumsticks began to unravel leaving a four foot trail of fire dancing across the drums - How he got away with just minor burns I'll never know. There was one funny moment... Maurice (Memmott) used to wear a pirate coat on stage. One night, getting hot, he took it off and threw it across the stage, it wasn't until the first flares went off that we realised he'd chucked it over one of the flash trays... The coat was made of nylon... Have you ever smelt burning nylon? Cor - It don't 'alf make your eyes water!"
In 1977, recognising the popularity of the band, Kent music promoter Andy Macpherson of 'Sleep-n-Eat' booked Gizmo for several support slots opening for some big-name prog rock bands. As far as most of the audience were concerned, the evening finished when Gizmo's set ended. One summer's evening at Folkestone's Leas Cliff Hall was particularly memorable when orchestral rock band The Enid had to take the stage following a spectacular Gizmo set. The Enid had to endure calls throughout their performance for the return of the support band! The same thing happened three months later when renowned blues singer Carol Grimes appeared at the same venue with Gizmo supporting. Word soon spread around booking agents, and many major acts would refuse to play a venue promoted by Sleep-n-Eat if Gizmo were booked as support.
Eventually Sleep-n-Eat gave Gizmo their own headline slot - It proved a good decision as ticket sales proved greater than for many of the 'top artists' they'd been showcasing.
Initial demo tracks were recorded at sound engineer Andy Bell's home studio, located above Neville's Coffee Bar in Ramsgate's High Street. These early demos being
recorded on two stereo Revox tape machines and a 10 channel 'Malcolm Hill' desk, with overdubs achieved by continually mixing down. Soon after, Brian Gould set up a similar system in his front room. As far as is known, none of these early recordings still exist.
|Producer Graeme Quinton-Jones (1975)|
It was decided to do things properly and record tracks for a possible LP. The sessions for 'Just Like Master Bates' and 'Victims' were recorded throughout 1979 at Oakwood Studios in Herne Bay. As with Andy Bell's studio, Oakwood was similarly located above a coffee bar, meaning that five flights of stairs had to be negotiated in order to reach the studio and control rooms on the top floor! Oakwood was never equiped to a professional standard, whilst all the big studios of the time were using 24 track machines with state-of-the-art effects and a sound board that would stretch over 10 feet, Oakwood was restricted to just an 8 track tape deck and little in the way of echo and reverb effects. With few production options available, Gizmo simply played their music 'live' in the studio - sound engineer Graeme Quinton-Jones doing a remarkable job with the limited technology at his disposal. The first album was released on ACE thanks to the assistance of studio owner and music producer Graeme Quinton-Jones, the second album by 'Sleep-n-Eat' - the live music promoters at Folkestone's top venue The Leas Cliff Hall.
Gizmo will always owe a debt of gratitude to Radio Caroline who devoted a considerable amount of air-time to 'Just Like Master Bates', not only that, but Gizmo were invited to play at many of the popular Caroline Road-Show gigs that the radio station promoted in and around London, Kent and Essex. It was also thanks to Caroline that Pinnacle, a major record distribution company based in Orpington, placed the album in shops around the Southeast - Radio Caroline's main reception area.
It was with great regret that Caroline ceased broadcasting in early 1980 when their ship 'Mi Amigo' sunk - taking 'Master Bates' and the entire Caroline record collection to the ocean floor.
This left Radio 1 as the only station then broadcasting pop/rock, and with punk-rock, new wave and ska making all the headlines, getting the radio station to play anything other than this was nigh-on impossible. However, one Radio 1 DJ 'Emperor Rosko', somehow found a copy of 'Victims'. Rosko had a regular Saturday morning show and for some eight weeks played 'Marie Celeste', one of the longer tracks on the 'Victims album'. With air-play vital to record sales, without these radio plays, both albums would probably have gone the same way as The Mi Amigo...
Loving Awareness RiP!
*Ed Kassner - signed The Kinks to Pye Records in 1964