The Move: mainline pop and stage outrage

Officially sanctioned pop radio started in Britain on 30 September 1967 with the opening transmission of BBC Radio 1. George Martin's specially composed signature tune, 'Theme One', was followed by the first-ever record on networked British 'Top Forty' radio - `Flowers In The Rain'. This was the third consecutive Top Five hit of the year for the Move, a group that was revealing a highly bankable finger-on-the-pulse of 1967.

Their first single, 'Night Of Fear' (released on 2 December 1966), had reached Number 2 in the British charts by January. The following month, it was included in a select group of records condemned in no uncertain terms by a Sunday newspaper - the News Of The World - in a special series entitled 'Pop Stars And Drugs': 'Night Of Fear', claimed the paper, was clearly about an LSD trip. And the Move were in no hurry to dispute this interpretation.

Front-page news

The group - under the astute guidance of manager Tony Secunda - had, in fact, cultivated some crafty shock tactics well before 'Night Of Fear' was released. In early 1966 they began to develop an act relying on hyper-amplification, the wrecking of instruments and dazzling light displays and, by the end of the year, Secunda had secured them a residency at London's Marquee Club. A show at the Marquee - to celebrate the release of 'Night Of Fear' saw the Move, dressed as gangsters, demolishing a TV set on stage and creating a near-disaster in which three fire engines had to be called out and the building cordoned off by police. Inevitably the show became front-page news and the Move had established a saleable image: they were noisy, violent and irresponsible - a perfect symbol of the shiftless youth who would soon be happily buying their records.

The five original members of the group had all played with local bands during the years of the beat boom of the early Sixties. Despite the successes of other provincial groups in the early Sixties, Birmingham's bands seemed to lag behind in the race to become national stars. According to Roy Wood, the reason was that Birmingham audiences - at the time, considerably wealthier than their cousins in Liverpool or Newcastle - were mainly to be found on the supper-club circuit where they expected to hear note-for-note copies of the chart hits of the day rather than original new material or versions of old or obscure rock'n'roll or R&B numbers. By 1965, only the Rockin' Berries, the Spencer Davis Group and the Moody Blues had broken out of the Midlands into the national circuit - groups like the Redcaps, Carl Wayne and the Vikings and Mike Sheridan and the Nightriders remained in the shadows.
Despite appearing regularly on a children's TV show called 'Five O'Clock club', by late 1965 singer Mike Sheridan and the Nightriders' guitarist, Roy Wood, both felt that the group was in a rut. Sheridan left to go solo on the cabaret circuit, while Roy Wood joined forces with a number of musicians from other small-time Birmingham groups in a general reshuffle which earned the newly-emerging ensemble their name - the Move.

Carl Wayne brought Chris ('Ace') Kefford with him from Carl Wayne and the Vikings. Kefford - known as 'the singing skull' because of his gaunt looks - played bass. The pedigree of drummer Bev Bevan included a stint with Denny Laine and the Diplomats (Laine's gig prior to joining the Moody Blues) and guitarist Trevor Burton came over from Danny King's Mayfair Set.

Flowers and grass

The expressed intention of this group was to break out of the Birmingham circuit with its deadening emphasis on 'copying the pops'. They hired a publicist and contacted Tony Secunda to manage them specifically because Secunda was London based. It was Secunda who took care of the Move's image - dressing them up as Chicago gangsters and getting them to smash TV sets on stage ('cheaper than guitars,' was Roy Wood's comment). But the group's greatest asset was Roy Wood's songwriting talent.

Wood provided the Move with all their hits. His style had always been eclectic, with influences ranging from country music through hymns, Fifties rock'n'roll and ballads to classical music and the Beatles. His burning ambition was to be successful and he had the skill to provide the material with which to make that happen. As the Move went through their early phases - Mod, art-pop, flower-power and psychedelia - Roy Wood wrote songs to match.

By the time the Summer of Love arrived on British shores, the Move had latched on to psychedelia in a big way. Their second single, 'I Can Hear The Grass Grow', was released just in time for summer and perfectly complemented the group's new flower-power image: all velvet and brocade and back-combed hair. But by this time what had started as outrage was rapidly becoming orthodox, lightweight pop. Having initially signed with Decca's newly-formed 'progressive' label, Deram, they moved to EMI after the release of 'I Can Hear The Grass Grow'. EMI was at the time the largest record company in the world and signing with them was, in a real sense, a mark that the group had achieved a modicum of respectability.

The Move were assigned to the recently revived Regal Zonophone label (which had been successful throughout the Thirties and Forties before folding in the Fifties) and their 'Flowers In The Rain' was the relaunched label's first release. As part of the publicity campaign for the record, Secunda and the group issued a somewhat risqu6 postcard bearing a scurrilous representation of the then British Prime Minister, Harold Wilson, naked in a bath tub. Wilson - a man particularly sensitive about his own public image - immediately took the Move to court and won an injunction preventing the use of this material.

It was all undeniably trivial, but once again the group found themselves in the headlines, featuring as 'the naughty boys' of pop. It was to be the last time. If the need to achieve success had once dictated this sort of image to the Move, the need to sustain it ensured that, from late 1967 on, outrageousness would be transformed into harmless eccentricity.

With 'Flowers In The Rain' all but forgotten about, the group entered 1968 with no real notion of their direction. Fashion had moved on and left the Move without anything resembling a developed sense of their own strengths and weaknesses. The result was internal dissent, several months of patchy success with records of variable quality and the eventual departure of a number of key figures from the ranks of the group.

Balls of fire

In February 1968, the group's fourth single, the energetic 'Fire Brigade', reached Number 3, but the follow-up, 'Wild Tiger Woman', flopped. Secunda dropped out of managing the group and a revaluation of their position seemed overdue. The Move were essentially a singles band and there was no simple image on which to hang the music. The group started experimenting with a country-flavoured, almost Byrds-like sound and appeared at the first Isle of Wight Festival in August 1968.

At the beginning of the next year they managed their first UK Number 1 hit with 'Blackberry Way', more-or-less a revamp of 'Flowers In The Rain' but with a much denser, more symphonic sound that incorporated Wood's favourite instrument, the cello. It seemed time to try to establish themselves in America, but dissent and dissatisfaction were brewing among the members.

The previous April, Ace Kefford had left to pursue his own career and Trevor Burton had switched to bass. But now Burton himself departed to form a group - Balls with Denny Laine, who had just left the Moody Blues; he was replaced by Rick Price, another alumnus of the Birmingham scene. In an echo of Mike Sheridan's earlier decision, Carl Wayne left to go into cabaret - seeking a more ‘mature' audience. Jeff Lynne, who had replaced Roy Wood in the Nightriders and overseen their transformation into cult favourites the Idle Race, was brought in to replace Wayne as a singer-guitarist.

Musically, this period revealed curious swings. 'Curly' (Number 12 in the summer of 1969) was a slight love song with a recorder lick for its hook. 'Brontosaurus' (Number 7 the following spring)- which saw Wood finally become the group's frontman in a painted face with multi-coloured hair and garish coat - was a lurching, heavy-metal version of a parody of every early Sixties dance-craze song. 'When Alice Comes Back To The Farm' was virtually a remake with different words. It flopped and the group finally seemed to have lost direction completely.
 

Hello ELO

In fact, Wood and Jeff Lynne had already decided on a new and startling approach to their music: they wanted to form a band that would use strings and other orchestral instruments on stage in an attempt to recreate live the sort of symphonic sound the Beatles had achieved on records like 'Strawberry Fields Forever' and `I Am The Walrus'. Their ambition, it must be said, precluded working with musicians of an equally independent turn of mind. They wanted people who would take orders 'bricklayers', in Wood's terminology, not architects.

The Move - Price, Lynne, Bevan and Wood - made one brief tour of America in 1971 before retiring from live performance in order to develop the Wood-Lynne project, which soon became known as the Electric Light Orchestra. Price left to make a solo album and form yet another Birmingham band, Mongrel. Bev Bevan agreed to stay but opened a record shop in Birmingham to satisfy his own interests. The Move released one final single, 'California Man', which reached Number 7 in May 1972 and gained their only American hit with its B-side, 'Do Ya', which went to Number 93 in November. It became a cult record in the US, however, and entered the stage repertoire of Todd Rundgren.

In the summer of 1972, the Electric Light Orchestra launched itself upon the world with '10538 Overture' - the sort of homage to Beethoven that the Move had only flirted with before. The record peaked at Number 9 in the UK, but Wood had already lost interest in the project and left to form Wizzard with Rick Price, Hugh McDowell (cello), Nick Pentelow (sax), Mike Burney (sax), Bill Hunt (keyboards and French horn), Keith Smart and Charlie Grima (both drums). Wizzard aimed themselves straight at the teen market, recording commercial pop with successful results. They had two UK Number 1 hits in 1973 with 'See My Baby Jive' and 'Angel Fingers' as well as a Number 4 Christmas hit with `I Wish It Could Be Christmas Everyday', a record that left the Top Ten just as a Roy Wood solo single, 'Forever', was entering.

Although Wizzard's chart success continued throughout 1974, by the beginning of the following year Wood had moved on yet again to pursue a solo career. But despite his continuing talent for penning commercial pop fare, his output became increasingly irregular and while ELO prospered, selling millions of singles and albums around the world, Wood's star went into decline.

Article written by Gary Herman.

 

Captions for pictures (from top to bottom)

1. Cover from Issue 60 of "The History Of Rock", published in 1983.

2. Model Liz Wilson provides the main body of text for a Move contract. Roy Wood signs, producer Denny Cordell (left), Tony Secunda (second from left) and Carl Wayne observe.

3. The Move perform on TV.

4. The Move took up where Mod ended.

5. The Move's early stage performances featured acts of destruction such as the trashing of TV sets. Singer Carl Wayne transformed himself from Sixties axe-man to Seventies cabaret artist (inset).

6. In 1967, the Move changed their image, swapping gangster suits for flower-power garb.

7. In the early Seventies, the group were trimmed down to a trio; from left Jeff Lynne, Bev Bevan and Wood.