The 1960’s spawned a generation of guitarists who paved their way to stardom through vast amount of session work. Arguably the most celebrated of these players are Ritchie Blackmore and Jimmy Page, but for these genuine megastars, there were a legion of other six string heroes who worked every bit as hard – or harder – but never reached “household name” status. Unless you’re the kind of fan who devours sleeve notes and credits with as much enthusiasm as the music itself, names like Clem Clempson, Geoff Whitehorn and Jim Sullivan, for example, might not be too familiar, and yet, if you love 60s, 70s and 80s rock, chances are you own a record or two featuring those guys.
Ray Fenwick is another musician who has maintained a presence for several decades, but has never seemed to get his full due. Beginning as a session man in the 60s, he’s played with some of the greats. ‘Playing Through The Changes’ – a three disc anthology from 2021 – shows off a chunk of his legacy more than admirably, pulling tracks from a very busy career. What it may lack in consistency it makes up for with variety, and unlike so many rock-based anthologies devoted to a singular talent, it doesn’t rely on too many really obvious recordings you’ll own elsewhere – purely because the nature of Fenwick’s work means there aren’t any obvious compilation filling hits and standards. There are a lot of oddities – which aren’t all good, naturally – but, in the main, it’s an enjoyable musical adventure.
As the 60s drew to a close and musical fashions began to lean towards heavier sounds, The Gods renamed themselves Head Machine and headed back into the studio. The resulting album – the dubiously named ‘Orgasm’ – featured a couple of songs that sounded like 60s psych jams in bigger boots; others forged their way into the new hard rock sounds, following the example set by Deep Purple. Although it wasn’t necessary the most coherent record, it was an enjoyable one. It failed to be a commercial success and the band split almost immediately. A few months on, the core of Head Machine – Ken Hensley (gtr/keys) and Lee Kerslake (dtums) – resurfaced as the core of a new rock band Toe Fat with previous mod hit maker Cliff Bennett, whose Rebel Rousers had seen him providing vocals for a band that included Chas Hodges and legendary session pianist Nicky Hopkins.
Toe Fat released two albums between 1970 and 1972, both of which spent approximately two decades out of print between the early 70s and mid 90s. Both albums crept out on CD for the first time in 1994 thanks to the German label Repertoire Records, but the official nature of these reissues remains open to question and those CDs quickly became impossible to find, making Toe Fat a 70s curio that – much like Head Machine – went largely unheard by all but the most ardent Uriah Heep collectors. A double disc reissue from BGO Records briefly made the Toe Fat recordings available in the States, but for UK audiences, their work remained elusive.
Ever since the CD boom in the 90s, the market hasn’t been short of rock compilations. There have been literally thousands of collections of 70s rock classics flooding the market, often very similar in nature. You’d think they’d only be a finite amount of people willing to put their hands in their pockets for discs containing Rainbow’s ‘Since You’ve Been Gone’, UFO’s ‘Doctor Doctor’ and Hawkwind’s ‘Silver Machine’, but still they come…and in huge numbers.
There are few things as ubiquitous with the 1970s as glam rock. The first half of the decade’s music was shaped by David Bowie in his Ziggy and Aladdin pomp, Marc Bolan’s colourful pixie-like antics on Top of The Pops, and a run of stompin’ great hits from Birmingham’s finest, Slade. Mike Chapman and Nicky Chinn penned a truckload of hits for Mickie Most’s RAK label, making the music mogul’s yacht almost as famous as the acts themselves. In full leathers, Suzi Quatro helped pave the way for a generation of female rock stars and self-confessed “navvies in mascara” Sweet hadn’t “got a clue what to do”. On the artier end of things, there were Roxy Music’s appearances on the Old Grey Whistle Test where Bryan Ferry and company looked – and, indeed, sounded – like they’d been dropped to Earth by aliens and Sparks’ appearances between the likes of The Hollies and Wings on your favourite Thursday evening pop show had ability to frighten small children. It was very much a fertile time for new pop music.
As the 60s gave way to the 70s, some musical fashions began to take a more aggressive turn. The psychedelia and blues that had been a dominance force on the rock scene had started to fade and while some of the psych bands took the leap into full-on prog rock waters, many psych bands merely just fizzled out. Deep Purple, whose early mixture of psychedelia, rock covers and blues took a harder direction and helped forge what would soon be known as heavy metal; Status Quo – who’d had major success with a couple of brilliant psych-pop singles – floundered for a bit and eventually became a lynchpin of a no nonsense boogie rock sound. In February 1970, the Black Sabbath debut changed everything, killing the last remnants of a 1960s optimism for good. For The Gods – a little known rock pop band who’d released two unsuccessful LPs – the writing seemed to be very much on the wall. In what appeared to be a last throw of the dice, they changed their name and beefed up their sound in an attempt to rejuvenate their ailing career.