Wood Stock

Roy Wood has moved on, and now he's using his Wizzard's brew to take him back into the past, into an age when there was a magic in the music industry. He talks to COLIN IRWIN

GRANNY couldn't stand the Beatles because they were cheeky and had long hair. Mother hated the Stones because they were moody and looked dirty. But the Move... they were something else altogether. Nobody even talked about the Move - they were really mean and nasty. Bring home a Move record and the family scurried off to the psychiatrist to find out where they had gone wrong. Obscure, destructive, disgusting, violent, shattering, ear-splitting. All adjectives hurled at the Move when they first made it; purveyors of scandal in the national press certainly had their tuppence worth out of this particular group. 

But things are different now. Today Roy Wood is very much the elder statesman of rock. He sits quietly on the other side of a table reflecting gently on the past and his contribution to the progression of pop from psychedelia to glitter. In a year of nostalgia wallowing Roy is more entitled than most, even Bowie and Ferry, to go back to his roots and beyond, and pay his tributes to a past era. This he is doing by dedicating his new single, "Forever," to Brian Wilson and Neil Sedaka, and taking it further by making an album which attempts to recreate the general atmosphere of more than ten years ago. The new Wizzard single also has the feel of a Christmas record from that era. There was something magical about music, then, he says, which is gone now, and that's sad.

"There used to be more magic about the music industry. You used to be waiting outside a record shop when it opened to buy a new record, but it doesn't happen now. It wasn't so commercialised and there weren't so many bands about. There is nothing wrong with it now but it could be more lighthearted."

So at the ripe old age of 27, Roy has decided to start again, as it were, playing the type of music which stirred his blood when he was a callow youth taking the first tentative steps towards a singing career. I asked him about those early days and he said: "Don't ask me about the Move." I did anyway, but did not get far.

"I don't mind, but everyone asks me about that and you get a bit fed up with it." It all began, of course, in Brummyland. It was 1966 - a good year. England won the World Cup and the Move exploded on the scene. They evolved out of three groups who played regularly at the Cedar Club, Birmingham. Roy Wood played lead, Chris Kefford, bass, Trevor Burton, rhythm, Bev Bevan, drums and Carl Wayne on vocals.

They described their music as "Motown with a big beat," but it was only a matter of time before their sensational stage act started creating a bit of interest, and soon their name was being whispered in places where it was hip to know about such things. Then Wood, a 20-year-old clean shaven introvert, wrote a song called "Night of Fear." It was an immediate smash hit. The world recoiled in horror. Nasty letters were written to newspapers and others barred their daughters from going to see the five scowling monsters, lest they fell under their evil spell and were whisked off to their den in Brum. They need not have worried, for when their follow up "I Can Hear The Grass Grow" threatened to make them even more popular, theatre managers started thinking twice about letting these creatures loose in their halls. The Who had been smashing equipment on stage for some time, but this lot looked as though they meant it when they did it, and Carl Wayne was doing some naughty, suggestive things with the microphone. Television sets were being chopped up like firewood on stage, and despite assurances from manager Tony Secunda that they would not lay a finger on anything or anyone that did not belong to them, they were banned from appearing at many places. Yet, they were making blatantly commercial singles. "Flowers in The Rain" had the dubious honour of being the first record ever played on the new Radio One by the not so new Tony Blackburn.

Then more controversy.

This time, it was something to become all too familiar – a group split. Bass player Chris Kefford, left the Move after all sorts of rumours and stories of internal rows, and they continued as a four piece with Roy Wood announcing they would now be going to change direction. They had done what they set out to do, gained attention by being outrageous, and now they wanted to be taken more seriously for their music. Image is something Roy has always been highly aware of, changing it gradually so you would hardly notice, but always keeping up with, and often ahead of, the changes in trend. Now he says: "I've never been conscious of being famous and I can't stand back and look at myself but I suppose I've got a certain public image to keep up, although I haven't really been conscious of it until lately. "For instance, I always used to walk round looking like a bag of spuds."

It was at the end of 1968 that Roy began playing a more important part in the direction of the Move and to a certain degree gained the first semblance of respect as a serious musician. "In the early days of the Move I did not have that much say in the politics of the group even though I wrote the songs. I think I would have liked more say."

The infamous publicity postcard row involving Harold Wilson restored the Move's reputation as the baddies of the pop world. It also made sure their name was now known in all obscure corners of the country and had even seeped through the hallowed walls of the House of Commons. Wilson, satired in a Move postcard, was not amused, and engaged counsel. Naturally, the world-wide publicity gained for the group was well worth the money spent on a settlement, even though this was not the original intention behind the postcard.

True to their word, the group began to settle down a bit now. There were group changes but Woody stayed and continued to reel off a string of major hits. "Fire Brigade”, "Blackberry Way", "Curly", “Brontosaurus": all good strong, commercial records with "hit" written all over them. It is only when you start analysing the career of Roy Wood that you realise what a major figure he has been over the years, as well as being a consistently prolific writer. Anything new and Wood was there experimenting with the best of them. One of the reasons for his continued success he attributes to his love of writing and his burning desire to be accepted as a serious songwriter.

"The thing about me is that I've always been trying to get myself established as a writer. It's not as easy as people think to write a song. I can't just sit down and decide to write a hit when I feel like it." Two of the singles, "Blackberry Way," and "Brontosaurus," had a particular significance for the Move. For a while they appeared to lose direction and dropped a little out of the public eye towards the end of 1968. Group members each wanted to branch into different fields and they were still being saddled with the troublemaker image which caused people to be obstructive towards them.
They released "Blackberry Way" and more or less decided that if it flopped, they would call it a day. It became a massive hit and they returned from a tour of the States in late '69 with Carl Wayne saying: "America has straightened us out as a band. There is great harmony in the group now." Two months later Wayne left the Move. The well-worn euphemism "musical differences" was named as the reason, and Wayne said a cancer had set in the Move and they had become pretentious in not admitting to outright commercialism.

The significance of “Brontosaurus" - the first single since the departure of Wayne - was that the group's television promotion of the record was effectively the forerunner of a wave of bands dressing up and using make-up on stage. Once again, people were being shocked by the Move, this time Roy looking like an African witch doctor putting warpaint on his face and dressing up in weird clothes. But in 1971 the Move slowly began to grind to a halt. The follow up to "Brontosaurus” was a much heavier offering called "When Alice Comes Back to The Farm" and it was a complete flop.

During interviews Roy and Jeff Lynne were talking more and more about their dreams of forming an almost classically based band complete with oboes, French horns and a string section, and to be called the Electric Light Orchestra. Gradually the dream became reality and in complete contrast to their dramatic entrance, the Move quietly faded away, displaced by ELO. Roy now says:

"I don't think I've got any real regrets about the Move. They were one of the first heavy groups. I think the best line-up was the one we finally ended up with." ELO however, did not work quite as Roy had envisaged, and it seemed that almost before it had got off the ground, he had moved on again.

“I am glad I was part of ELO. Originally it was my plan to use a band like ELO on stage, but Jeff and I got the band rolling. Even though I'm not part of it any more I am glad it came to light. It would have been frustrating if it hadn't. It's a good band and Jeff is still a good friend of mine."

So to Wizzard, and here Roy really blossoms. Wizzard is essentially his group and he is enormously proud of it. It is not partly the brainchild of Carl Wayne or Jeff Lynne, it belongs to Roy Wood and nobody else.

"The original idea of the actual sound was as a modern John Barry Seven. We've been together just over a year now and we've had three hit singles. Wizzard will carry on just as long as it is financially viable. Finance is the only thing that will stop us."

Earlier this year he released a solo album, "Boulders," and has followed that up with the single "Forever," but he views his future very much with Wizzard in mind. "I don't like travelling but once I'm on stage I'm OK and I enjoy live appearances because there is such a lot of scope now. There are seven in the band and they rely on live performances – they’ve got to get some money somewhere. We are relying on America to make the band more financially stable.

"They are a good load of blokes to work with, and they are friends as well, which you don't get often. They never get despondent and are really dedicated - they could make a fortune doing session work if they wanted to." After the American tour Roy is planning to take Wizzard on a theatre tour as a variety act with members of the band displaying their own individual talents and, hopefully guest appearances by Raymond Froggatt and Lynsey de Paul.

The new Wizzard album is due to be released early in the new year. It will be called "Eddy and the Falcons" - the name of the first group Roy was in more years ago than he cares to remember. The backing tracks have been laid but there are no words as yet. "It is an album of original songs but trying to recreate oldish sort of sounds. There is an authentic rock and roll track, a Paul Anka track, a Ricky Nelson track, and so on."

The idea was the same on the "Forever" single. "I was a great fan of the Beach Boys and Neil Sedaka and it would have been great to hear them on the same record. So I thought I would mention it on the label otherwise people might say I had copied them.

“One of the things that lets Wizzard down is vocal backing. We are trying to get two or three girl singers to sing as the Suedettes."

Wizzard were planning a special Christmas show in Coventry, but that has now been cancelled because Roy has been offered a part singing "Pinball Wizard" in the London production of "Tommy" at the same time. It is quite a milestone for it will be the first time he has ever sung a song in public which was not written by himself. "I am very excited about this. It's great even to be considered for it. "I've always rated Pete. I'm glad to see that since 'Tommy' he has been known as a writer whereas before he was just a performer."

Roy Wood is a man of immense talent. He's also shrewd. The key to his continued success while most of his contemporaries have fallen by the wayside, is his awareness of public taste and seeming to know exactly when a change is needed. As soon as he senses the nostalgia boom has had its day, he will be back with something else, and no doubt, writing chart-topping songs. He has no specific plans for the future and at the moment looks no further ahead than continuing with Wizzard, although he concedes that eventually he will concentrate solely on writing. "I shall probably do that in the end but now there is still something inside me trying to get out. There is time to sit at home later on."

Melody Maker, December 8 1973