❉ James R Turner reviews 2 Roy Wood and Wizzard reissues, unavailable on CD for many years.
Released at the end of August and following on from Esoteric’s remastering of Roy’s second solo album Mustard last year, this is the first time both Eddie and the Falcons and Main Street have been commercially available on CD for over 20 years. Thank goodness, as many other Roy fans have commented on seeing these on the release schedules, as second-hand copies of the Edsel 1999 remasters (and indeed the original Eddie vinyl) go for an absolute fortune on Discogs.
Originally released 45 years ago in August 1974, reaching #19 in the UK album charts, Eddy and the Falcons presents a different image for Wizzard from the Glam style of the previous couple of years: A concept album built around a re-imagining of the original rock‘n’roll sound, and a couple going to see fictitious band Eddie and the Falcons.
Heading back to that era, the impressive gatefold sleeve (faithfully reproduced here) shows the band dressed as Teds in a traditional greasy spoon and about to kick off, and with the plain blue tablecloth design and black & white pictures it’s a far cry from the garish technicolour of Wizzard Brew.
Away from the wilful eclecticism of Wizzard Brew, the songwriting takes the focus of the rock‘n’roll pastiches from the last days of the Move and filtering it through the eyes of the mid ‘70s and Roy playfully homaging the musical heroes he grew up with. With the band having the two drummers in Keith Smart and Charlie Grima, the two saxes of Nick Pentelow and Mike Burney, Bill Hunt on piano (who left halfway through to be replaced by Bob Brady) and former Move bassist Rick Price working again with Wood, the band have the chops and experience to interpret Wood’s musical vision.
There is a lot of symmetry between this album and the less progressive aspects of the latter two Move albums (Looking On and Message From the Country) where Roy’s love of rock‘n’roll shone through on songs like hit single California Man (itself a wonderful Jerry Lee Lewis pastiche). This album is the logical conclusion to the old school rock n’ roll feel Roy was trying to evoke through those songs, from the Duane Eddy opening vibe on Eddy’s Rock, through to the brilliantly executed Del Shannon-esque Everyday I Wonder with its almost Runaway-like keyboard run driving the song. Shannon was obviously as big an influence on Roy as he was on bandmate Jeff Lynne, who recorded a version of Runaway, and tried to get Del Shannon to replace Roy Orbison in the Travellin’ Wilburys after Orbison’s death
Elsewhere, school American prom dance slow song Come Back Karen evokes both the writing of Neil Sedaka and the widescreen teenage heartbreak that movies like Grease would capitalise on later in the decade, with the single This Is The Story Of My Love (Baby) being a carefully created homage to the Phil Spector Wall of sound.
Rounding off the original album with its riff heavy and harder edged sound, the closing We’re Gonna Rock ‘N Roll Tonight sees Wood and Bob Brady trading vocals (Wood utilising his fine hard rock voice, and bringing to mind again California Man) and Brady puts his boogie-woogie piano to great use throughout this track. Despite replacing Bill Hunt late in the day, a lot of the tracks are linked by Brady’s unique piano riffs, and it’s great to hear him and Wood trading licks and runs on this track, whilst the twin sax sound really lets loose. This is probably the most comparable to the Wizzard Brew sound, where the band really cut loose and go for it, channelling an entire genre into one rollicking song that closes the album in style.
The musical playfulness and restlessness that characterises Roy’s career is reined here, and this is a taut focused album, here reissued with the non-album singles Rock‘n’Roll Winter (Loony’s Tune) and its instrumental B-side Dream of Unwin, Nixture (the B-side of This is the Story of My Love (Baby)) and the top ten single Are You Ready to Rock?
Whilst the non-album A-sides are very much part of the Eddyverse having been written and recorded during the album gestation period and sitting in the rock‘n’roll mould, the more experimental B-sides hinted at where the band were headed next, as Roy’s growing interest in jazz rock defined the next two albums he released.
While Eddy and the Falcons was released as a self-contained rock‘n’roll record, Wizzard also recorded an entire album branching out into more experimental, long-form jazz rock pieces, and the original intention was for the album to be released as double set.
However Warner Brothers, tired of waiting for the record to be completed, insisted on releasing Eddy… as a standalone album and instead of the jazz disc coming out later in 1974, the next album released by Warner Brothers was 1977’s Super Active Wizzo credited to the Wizzo Band (which also deserves a full remastered edition please, Esoteric!).
The album now known as Main Street (the title was referenced in the lyrics to Crazy Jeans on Eddy and the Falcons) was rediscovered by the archivists at Edsel back in 1999 when they were putting the final touches to their Mustard and Eddy and the Falcons reissues and discovered a box of recordings simply labelled ‘Roy Wood’.
It turns out that these were the lost tapes, which were due to be reissued as an album called Wizzo in 1976, but were shelved by the record label, and in the liner notes to the original Edsel release (back in 2000 – and very much out of print almost since it came out) Roy summed up his feelings at this album being abandoned: “The powers that be (at the time) decided in their infinite wisdom, that this album should not be released (They know who they are!) In my opinion, this was nothing short of a crime.”
Having waited 24 years for this to be released, the prospect of a ‘lost’ Roy Wood album was a tantalising one for many people, especially when there was a large gulf in sound between the rock stylings of Introducing Eddy and the Falcons and the full-on, lengthy jazz rock expositions on Super Active Wizzo.
With a line up virtually unchanged from Eddy and the Falcons (Charlie Grima was the only drummer on these sessions as Keith Smart had departed) and set nine Wood originals, Main Street is a sophisticated and more progressive update of the Wizzard sound. Gone are the rock‘n’roll pastiches and from the title track, with its harmony vocals and plenty of sax and great commercial Beach Boys vibe, we head right off into unchartered territory on Saxmaniax, where the improvisational skills of Nick Pentelow and Mike Burney are allowed to go nuts, and it really works, with a great instrumental backing from the band.
The Fire in his Guitar, a tribute of sorts to Roy’s old friend Jimi Hendrix, sees Roy pulling out heavy riffing and a powerhouse musical accompaniment from Wizzard that harks back to the heavier elements of the Move’s Looking On, and mixes a fluid jazz sound with some old school guitar pyrotechnics, all of which combine to create an almighty musical wall of sound, and is a musical tour de force.
In sharp contrast French Perfume, is a far more commercial sound, with some great piano work from Bob Brady and a wonderfully light acoustic guitar solo, with evocative lyrics and some of Roy’s more romantic vocal stylings, and some fantastic musical contrasts from the piano work, the sax and the way it flits between the guitar and the heavier sound shows the evolution of Roy’s songwriting craft.
Listening to the tracks on this album for the first time in a long time, the remastering job is really well done, and it enhances the Main Street experience, and it must have been soul-destroying for a songwriter like Roy to have worked with the band to craft an album as strong as this, and have it discarded by the record label post-production.
Take my Hand (with vocals from studio engineer Richard Plant) is a classic Woody ballad in the vein of Whisper in the Night, Dear Elaine and The Rain Came Down on Everything , with some haunting synthesiser sounds that provide a lovely counterpoint to Brady’s piano, and the softly lilting saxes evoke that late night, smoky jazz club torch singer vibe.
The album is nicely programmed and planned to flit between moods and styles, and Don’t You Feel Better with its driving rock funk riffs is a perfect vehicle for the soulful vocals of Charlie Grima, whilst Woody’s higher backing vocals provide the perfect mix for maximum impact.
Throughout this entire record is the bass of Rick Price who also contributes some fine pedal steel guitar; however, his understated bass playing underpins the album and works well with Charlie Grima. Let’s not forget Price worked with Wood in the Move between 1969 and 1971, and with Wood all the way through the Wizzard/Wizzo years from ‘72 to ‘78, making him Roy’s longest musical collaborator in this period.
The percussion-driven Indian Rainbow, the only single released from these sessions in 1976, failed to chart and it’s easy to see why, as despite it being a classic Roy Wood track, and boasting some beautifully languid guitar work, it’s as far from the rock sound of Eddy and the Falcons as it’s possible to get, and was obviously a leap too far for the record buying world at the time.
Again, it must have been incredibly frustrating for Roy to be trying to progress and develop as a songwriter and trying to do something different to be treated with critical indifference at the time.
The original Main Street album closes with the track I Should Have Known, with its soaring saxes, and great guitar parts that flit and change mood and tempo, whilst maintaining the fluid soulful sound, and giving room for one of Roy’s electric sitar solos that fits beautifully.
The bonus track on here is Human Cannonball, originally left off the Edsel Main Street release because Roy wasn’t convinced by it (it snuck out on CD in 2007 on the now-deleted Look Thru’ The Eyes of Roy Wood – which was the only place to get any Main Street or Eddy and the Falcons tracks on CD for a long time). With a heavy riff, some great soloing from Roy and a pounding intense performance from the band, not to mention Roy’s full-on rock vocals, it’s great to have it back where it belongs. The only trick that’s missing from this remaster is the Indiana Rainbow B-side The Thing Is This (This Is The Thing) which would have made this a complete reflection of the great lost Roy Wood & Wizzard album.
Remastered with immaculate care and great sleeve notes as ever, it’s great that both Introducing Eddy and the Falcons and Main Street can finally sit next to the other great albums in Roy’s back catalogue, and Main Street can now be recognised and appreciated as the classic album it undoubtedly is.
For a songwriter and performer as culturally important as Roy is, it’s criminal that for, over 20 years, huge chunks of his musical output have been unavailable on CD in properly remastered forms.
These two CDs (and last year’s Mustard remaster) rectify part of that story, I just hope Esoteric manage to get their hands on Super Active Wizzo, On the Road Again, Startin’ Up and the scattering of non-album singles and B-sides that Roy recorded and issued between 1978 and 1987 that have yet to be properly anthologised.
❉ Wizzard: Introducing Eddy And The Falcons, Remastered & Expanded CD Edition (Esoteric Recordings ECLEC2729) is released August 28, 2020 by Cherry Red Records, RRP £10.95. Click here to order directly from Cherry Red Records.
❉ Roy Wood & Wizzard: Main Street, Remastered & Expanded CD Edition (Esoteric Recordings ECLEC2730) is released August 28, 2020 by Cherry Red Records, RRP £10.95. Click here to order directly from Cherry Red Records.
❉ James R. Turner is a music and media journalist. Over the last 25 years he has contributed to the Classic Rock Society magazine, BBC online, Albion Online, The Digital Fix, DPRP, Progarchy, ProgRadar and more. James’ debut book is out in September and he is head of PR for Bad Elephant Music. He lives in North Somerset with his fiancee Charlotte, their Westie Dilys & Ridgeback Freja, three cats and too many CDs, records & Blu-Rays.