Another year of fantasy

Roy Wood continues to be a pop star living out the fantasy of being a pop star. You know, when you’re a kid, and you decide you’re John Lennon on Wednesday, maybe Jimi Hendrix and then you become Elvis for the weekend. Roy’s taken it to the ultimate in the last year, by being Neil Sedaka, The Beach Boys, The Ronettes or Duane Eddy according to mood and doing it astonishingly well.

It would be interesting to go the whole hog, become the Clifford Irving of rock, and try and pass off a few brand new dusty old 78s and 45s to eagle-eared collectors. But I suppose Roy might be perfecting his version of "Jailhouse Rock" by now.

Perfecting your imitations does have some drawbacks though. After numerous attempts, Roy’s got his Spector sound down so well that at the moment, he’s having to work his way back out through the massed tambourines and into other styles again.

The first move away was towards an even earlier time, when Bill Haley’s kiss-curl was still young and bouncy – hence the new single. Hopefully  "Are You Ready To Rock?" will break a spell when Wizzard’s run of hit singles has dried up with their last two releases.

The most notable flop was Roy’s final and best Spectorama production, "The Story Of My Love (Baby)", which died the death largely I should think as a result of lack of promotion – most people didn’t know it had come out, and Wizzard didn’t get any TV appearances at all.

Undaunted, our hero is looking towards a whole lot of new sounds for 1975, a first ever solo concert, and a few good nights’ sleep. Roy! Wake up and tell us about this concert.

"On, yeah. Well, I’m supposed to be doing a solo concert at the Royal Festival Hall maybe at the end of February, with the Royal Philharmonic. I shall be crappin’ meself without the usual bunch of yobboes behind me", he adds with what may well be a shy blush behind his bristling chin plumage.

"It’s not so bad being with Wizzard when I sometimes get a bit lost for words, but being up there on stage with a whole orchestra and choir, I don’t know how I’m going to take it. But I’m thinking of doing a selection of songs from over the years, some stuff off "Boulders" and even things like "Blackberry Way, maybe "Whisper In The Night" from the first ELO album, bits from "Mustard" (Roy’s forthcoming second solo album). I want to write some orchestral stuff specially for it as well."

The thought of Roy performing his solo stuff in concert is a good one. "Boulders" and the recorded parts of ‘Mustard" have allowed him a bizarreness unbridled by even the wide scope of Wizzard’s  line-up, and with a decade of Wood obscurities, it could be an evening to remember if Roy manages to forget where he is and enjoy himself.

The concert can fulfil another important objective: Roy’s present contracts insist that he releases four albums a year all of which have to be written by Roy. That means a minimum of about 32 songs a year to be written, recorded and produced as well as tours, photo sessions, interviews and the like.

So a live concert record could leave a little more time free for Roy to take care of Wizzard’s needs in a slightly less frenetic fashion. In the delicate financial balance that the band operates on, a couple of singles not being hits here represents a threat to the future of a seven-piece, which exists mainly off Britain’s shrinking economy.

The answer of course is that taxman’s friend, the Yankee Dollar, which needs to be pursued and wooed like a crinkly lover. To which end, Wizzard have just returned from the Land of the Free. Rather unfortunately, the main reviews of their trip came from the last date of the visit which was on the bill of a Black Oak Arkansas concert, at New York Academy.

The Olde Oak not being the most musically subtle of groups, and their fans being as partisan as a Cup Final crowd and disinterested in ANYONE supporting their faves, it wasn’t too surprising that Wizzard went down like genuine lead zeppelin. What was unfortunate was that the Academy is a showcase of sorts, and therefore the sort of venue that traditionally gets widespread reviews where many of the smaller houses Wizzard played wouldn’t.

Overall then, the US trip was not the debacle it sounded from New York, and in fact provided a worthwhile first twist that might, in time, lead to the lid being screwed right off.

"It was a shame about the Black Oak one. On the whole, I was really pleased with the reception we got. Considering it was the first Wizzard tour and my first one for years, we got ourselves into the frame of mind that we would be just a support act, and that was OK by us. And yet there were a lot of places we went down a storm and it was only the Black Oak fans that really didn’t want to know."

How did they change the act? "We were promoting the ‘Eddy And The Falcons’ album, but we only played three tracks off that, did some of the singles, ‘Angel Fingers’ and ‘Ball Park’, California Man’. What we did was mainly to brush up on the old act and get it a bit more varied We stuck ‘Dear Elaine’ in, for example, and did quite a lot more jazzy things."

The next trip is set for March, and in the meantime, there ought to have been the solo album ‘Mustard’ to release, but at present it’s being held up by a studio dispute, which is unfortunate to say the least.

And – pop star as fantasy pop star again, the later bits to be done included a Led Zeppelin-ish track the chorus of which is sung by Roy and Phil Everly. "He was recording just over the road, at Pye studios, I’d seen him a few times before and he just came over and sang on it", says Roy in awed tones. ‘He just popped in to say ‘ello, and I thought ‘ere we go. I hadn’t got any words to it or any thing, so I went and wrote some words – quickest I’ve ever written – and ‘e did them. Really conscientious he was as well, he sang them a lot of times until he thought he really had it right. It’s great to sing with him as well – like being one of the Everly Brothers."

Another likely piece of wish-fulfilment was for Roy to produce The Ronettes in New York, but that one had to be shelved – for the time being at least, for the usual reason; commitments come before fun, and as always, commitments only account for about 10 per cent of the R. Wood Suggestions Box, situated in section one of Roy’s overworked cranium.

Roy’s projected single with Jeff Lynne IS still on, as a projected record at least, and the mention of the ELO sends Roy into unusual ecstasies at present. "That ‘Eldorado’ ", he splutters, "I just don’t know how he’s ever going to follow that up... I think it must be THE best album since ‘Sgt. Pepper’. The ELO now is what I always dreamed it would be. It sounds marvellous." There’s no doubt that Roy would still like to be a part of that as well as everything else, given the time, but as he says "Jeff’s more than capable of looking after it himself". His Festival Hall solo date will be a useful way of turning Roy orchestral again, though.

Adding to the general confusion of release dates at present ("Eldorado" is in the US top 20 albums, but not released here yet; Wizzard have had only very limited releases in the States) is the re-issue situation which has a rather premature Wizzard compilation. along with ‘Best Of" styled Move and ELO records.

All of this is because the bands switched during ‘74 from Harvest to Warner Bros., so the earlier label is cashing in while things are hot. And of course, there’s the Christmas single out again just a year after it was a hit. Oddly, some of the earlier material appears to have been more vigorously promoted than some new product.

The American trip meant that Roy got pushed even further into his past, with sincere American interviewers getting a chance at last to ask about The Move and all the old silliness like smashing TV sets and Singing Skulls. The only trouble is that Roy can’t remember half of it himself.

Meantime, Roy is considering the future of Wizzard and not saying that much about it, because he hasn’t really come to decisions yet. "There’s good scope with the present Wizzard. I wouldn’t want to cut it down even though it would be easier financially. It’s just that in Britain, most promoters don’t pay enough money, so you end up with about three pence.

"People tend to forget that ‘Eddy and the Falcons’ wasn’t supposed to be Wizzard’s direction – it was just that we were in the middle of the double album with one side each for classical, jazz, rock and country, and we needed an album fast. That was the quickest thing to do and I was really pleased with the way it turned out."

Does all this unceasing toil ever affect our Mr Wood’s health? "Sometimes, yeah. I get brain damage", says Roy, much as you or I might announce a cold. He chuckles a little. "Well you do don’t ya, when you are planned a week ahead and then something else crops up and I usually end up finding out I’m in the studio, and I’ve got to make a tune up on the spot, and then that wastes recording time and I get Don (Arden) on me back."

Time off for Christmas? "Oh, yeah...I think so...well, we have got a gig in Gravesend on the 28th...and I’ll have to get the stuff together for the solo concert..."

SOUNDS Page 6 January 4. 1975