UK beat combo’s sole South African album, originally released in 1970 includes the No.1 smash “Hey” plus all the original LP tracks and 2 bonus songs. Elements of early psych meet West Coast with quirky pop tunes. A real collector’s item.
I started out to write a song – The Hedgehoppers story
By the time the “Summer of Love” ushered in a new era of progressive rock music in 1967, the British “beat boom” had pretty much died a death, leaving many of the exponents of this genre to fade into obscurity. With The Beatles and The Rolling Stones leading the charge, few of their contemporaries survived the transition to more “seriously minded” rock music without a complete reinvention and often with significant changes in personnel. One of the UK’s leading R&B/beat pioneers The Animals successfully morphed into a new incarnation and became darlings of the burgeoning psychedelic scene – but only after singer Eric Burdon and drummer Barry Jenkins had parted company with their former band mates and relocated to the American West Coast.
The Moody Blues, who had shared The Animals’ predilection for R&B, were forced in to a more radical solution after their lead singer and guitarist Denny Laine eschewed his band for a solo career. For the remaining members it proved a surprising godsend as newcomer Justin Hayward, a one-time applicant for Burdon’s “New” Animals, was instrumental in transforming The Moodies into one of the UK’s most successful rock music exports.
Unlike their more acclaimed contemporaries The Animals and The Moody Blues, Decca label mates Hedgehoppers Anonymous were never likely to become serious contenders for British rock royalty. In truth, by the tail end of the “Summer of Love”, the band’s most famous incarnation (and authors of the tongue-in-cheek protest song “It’s Good News Week”) was trading on past glories, destined to be remembered as one-hit wonders.
Aside from their increasingly dated image and sound, Hedgehoppers Anonymous had never really escaped the shadow of their mentor, producer Kenneth King (aka Jonathan King). In a new era where rock musicians were expected to pen their own material and push the musical envelope, Hedgehoppers Anonymous were still content to plug their singles; forced to make a living gigging in the musical backwaters of Scandinavia. Like The Animals and The Moody Blues, Hedgehoppers Anonymous ultimately jettisoned their R&B/beat repertoire for more sophisticated, self-penned material. But that’s where the similarities end.
The “new look” Hedgehoppers Anonymous, who struck gold in South Africa in 1969-1971 as Hedgehoppers, mined a more soulful rock/ballad direction and recorded a rare, sought after album, plus a handful of highly collectable singles, but contained no original members. To find out how an entirely different set of musicians emerged from the ashes of the original Hedgehoppers Anonymous, it’s necessary for a quick recap of the band’s long and somewhat tangled history.
Originally known as The Trendsetters, the first Hedgehoppers Anonymous incarnation was formed in 1963 and comprised Mick Tinsley on lead vocals; John Stewart on lead guitar and vocals; Tony Cockayne on rhythm guitar; Ray Honeyball on bass; and Leslie Dash on drums. Serving as Royal Air Force ground crew at RAF Wittering in Cambridgeshire, the aspiring musicians worked on ‘V’ bombers, hence the name “Hedgehoppers” – RAF slang for low-flying planes. By mid-1965, The Hedgehoppers (as they had become) had brought in Alan Laud on rhythm guitar and vocals and started gigging in Cambridgeshire.
Within months, they landed on their feet when Kenneth King, a Cambridge University student (and budding producer), offered to produce Hedgehoppers on the condition that they recorded his protest song “It’s Good News Week”. King even went as far as suggesting the “Anonymous” suffix, so they could hide their identity from the authorities but still maintain their fan base. Signed to Decca Records, their debut single, “It’s Good News Week”, became a UK top-5 smash hit single in late 1965. As promising a start as it was, however, Ray Honeyball and Leslie Dash were forced to leave abruptly when the RAF turned down their requests to return to civilian life. Their replacements – bass player Tom Fox and drummer Glenn Martin duly appeared on the remaining four Decca singles, including the brilliant mod/freakbeat classic, “Daytime”.
Unfortunately, none of the follow up releases could match the commercial success of “It’s Good News Week” and by February 1967 only newcomer Glenn Martin declared any interest in pursuing the Hedgehoppers Anonymous project further. After a very brief stint with soon-to-be Crazy World of Arthur Brown keyboard player Vincent Crane in the band’s ranks, Martin managed to coax lead singer Mick Tinsley back into the fold for what turned out to be a brief swansong tour of Sweden in October 1967. What no one had banked on was that Hedgehoppers Anonymous was about to reappear in an entirely new guise the following year.
With Tinsley resuming his solo career, Martin accepted an offer to join Sandie Shaw’s backing band, The Streamliners, replacing outgoing drummer Bill Honeyman. In a telling move, he also took with him The Hedgehoppers Anonymous name. Aside from Martin, the other Streamliners comprised a bunch of Stoke-on-Trent musicians – guitarist/singer Tony Kaye (Mould), bass player/singer John Askey and organist/singer David Birkenhead (nicknamed ‘Smartie’ on account of him always having a packet of Smarties chocolates to hand). “I do know that when Glenn came down to drum for us [from Halifax] he said he’d got the rights to the name and that’s why we went out [as Hedgehoppers Anonymous],” says Birkenhead.
“We went out as The Streamliners when we were with Sandie and then to supplement our income we went out as Hedgehoppers Anonymous around the local clubs.”One of Sandie Shaw & The Streamliners’s most memorable performances during this time was at the MIDEM Festival in Cannes in January 1968. On her return, Sandie Shaw rehearsed two sax players – Eddie Pollatt and Roger Keay – who’d previously played with David Birkenhead in Phil Ryan & The Crescents and The Times before replacing Chris Wood in Locomotive in late 1966 – but the expanded group never took off. More importantly, Glenn Martin – the band’s only connection to the original Hedgehoppers Anonymous – left the band abruptly and was replaced for a brief Scottish tour by Roger Keay, who was also an accomplished drummer.
By April 1968, Keay had lost interest and made way for a returning Bill Honeyman – from fading popsters, The Ivy League’s backing band, The Kingpins. The new line up continued to work as The Streamliners and Hedgehoppers Anonymous. “I picked up no indication that there was any problem with [us using] the name,” says Birkenhead on the post Glenn Martin Hedgehoppers Anonymous. “We just used it and no one seemed to object to it.”“From what I understand, Tony acquired the rights to the name [from Glenn],” adds Askey, who likewise was not involved in any of the management decisions. Martin, however, has refuted that he ever gave Kaye the rights to the band’s name. Unfortunately, we may never know what really happened because Kaye died about 12 years ago. Whatever the truth, Kaye has left his own legacy on rock music – his three sons have all become successful song-writers, most notably with Stoke-on-Trent’s most famous pop star Robbie Williams! The personnel changes did not stop with Honeyman’s return to The Streamliners. “When Tony Kaye was thinking about leaving [to go into management for the band], we brought Mick Matthews in,” says Askey. “When we were doing Hedgehoppers Anonymous gigs, Mick would play and when we were with Sandie, Tony would play. We did covers and new material – a little bit that Tony and Dave wrote and a little bit that Mick wrote.”
Just as Justin Hayward had rejuvenated the stalled Moody Blues, it was the arrival of former Harvey’s Team lead guitarist/singer Mick Matthews, a prolific songwriter with a strong melodic sensibility and a knack for banging out memorable tunes that proved the turning point artistically for the new Hedgehoppers Anonymous. But by December 1968, even this new incarnation had been reshuffled as lead singer Phil Tunstall joined as a charismatic frontman and Colin Turner from The Kingpins succeeded John Askey on bass, who had left to join future Hedgehoppers singer Alan Avon’s band, Toyshop.
In a further twist, Tunstall’s former band, The Colour Supplement, had even played two dates on the same bill as Mick Tinsley’s Hedgehoppers Anonymous during their Swedish tour in late 1967! Still trading on the original band’s reputation (although increasingly incorporating heavy rock, self-penned material), Hedgehoppers Anonymous’ luck changed when Decca Records in South Africa re-released the three-year old “Don’t Push Me” in January 1969.
The original, released in April 1966, had been a popular Springbok Radio hit, peaking at #15. The re-release not only prompted a flurry of record buyer interest, but more importantly stimulated demand for live and recording appearances from the revised Hedgehoppers Anonymous line up.“I can remember very well that Tony Kaye got a phone call from somebody in South Africa,” says Birkenhead. “Apparently, what had happened was a DJ started playing the single on the local stations and it had just taken off.” The selling point of the South African trip was a three-month stint at Durban’s top nightspot, Tiles. Unfortunately, Birkenhead couldn’t make the gig and stayed behind to join The Look Twice Band.“If we were going over there for a month and then coming back again, I would probably have done it,” says the keyboard player. “[But] it did seem a long-term tour of duty.”
Stripped down to a quartet, the remaining members – Phil Tunstall, Mick Matthews, Colin Turner and Bill Honeyman – endured a whirlwind two-day flight to Durban, arriving on 26 February 1969 where they were feted as rock royalty at the airport.
It was the start of an exciting new chapter in the band’s history. Away from the gruelling Northern English club circuit and any fears of legal action, Hedgehoppers Anonymous found plenty of work in the tropical climate of their new home and forged a new musical identity.
Over the next 15 months the quartet establish a solid following among South African audiences, extending their stay at Tiles until August 1969 and then moving to Johannesburg to hold down a residency at the 19th Level nightclub and the Underground club below the Hotel Continental. By early 1970, the band had enough original material to record two singles and signed to the Highveld label as Hedgehoppers Anonymous. Linked with producer Tony Gibson, the musicians recorded an exciting new Matthews’s composition – “Mary Mary” backed by a beat version of Eric Morris’s “Humpty Dumpty”, which in an inspired move, was blended with the Kwela sound. At the same session, Hedgehoppers Anonymous cut the Matthews-Tunstall-Turner collaboration, “The Man Upstairs”. With the single readied for release and a full list of bookings set up, the future looked bright. Then tragedy struck. On the eve of Hedgehoppers Anonymous’ appearance at South Africa’s “Woodstock”, a stadium rock extravaganza held at Johannesburg’s Ellis Park Stadium to mark Republic Day on Monday, 31 May 1970, Phil Tunstall was killed in a road accident.
Devastated by the loss, the remaining members had no choice but to put their immediate plans on hold and return to the UK to reassess their futures.
Released in May 1970, the band’s debut single had attracted some radio play and by July peaked at #15 on the South African LM radio chart, stimulating demand for a band to go out on the road to promote it. With none of The Hedgehoppers Anonymous members in the country, Gibson’s Tojo label, issued a second single in August 1970, the pre-recorded “The Man Upstairs” backed by an instrumental version of the song entitled “The Man Downstairs” but it did not chart. Listening to both of the single’s A-sides it is clear just how charismatic and gifted a singer Phil Tunstall was and we can only guess what might have been had he lived to fulfil his undoubted potential. Not for the first time, however, Hedgehoppers Anonymous was about to return in yet another guise – this time as simply “Hedgehoppers”.
Six months after the tragedy, Mick Matthews received an unexpected phone call from Bill Honeyman informing him that there was more work to be had in South Africa. What’s more, he’d found the ideal frontman to fill the shoes of the irreplaceable Phil Tunstall. Honeyman wasn’t wrong on either count. Demand for the group had grown after the success of “Mary Mary” and the new singer – Alan Dutton (aka Avon) proved in the long run to be a particularly inspired choice. With a powerful, soulful voice, Avon shared a long history with Hedgehoppers’ drummer.
“I’d been involved with Bill from when I was about 14, we were in a band [called Larry Avon & The Presidents],” says Avon. “When he was in Hedgehoppers he contacted me to finish the contract in South Africa.”By the time, Avon got the invite, he’d already recorded two highly collectable UK singles – “Say Goodbye To Yesterday” c/w “Send My Love To Lucy” on Polydor (as Toyshop) and “These Are The Reasons” c/w “A Night To Remember” on Concorde (attributed to Alan Avon & Toyshop).
The latter, a musical take on the Titanic disaster, and written by the band’s late guitarist Tony Todd, has been described as a haunting slice of psychedelia (and is available on Best of Rubble Collection Vol 1.) After returning to South Africa in February 1971, the new line up wasted little time in getting back in the studio with Tony Gibson, cutting two brilliant Matthews’s compositions for a one-off single for the producer’s Tojo label – “A Song For Pete”, written in tribute to English expat guitarist Pete Clifford of The Bats (a former member of Dusty Springfield’s Echoes) and the infectious “Here’s To The Morning”, a rare non-album single cut.
Two months later, Hedgehoppers opened Samantha’s, a new nightclub in Johannesburg and while there Gibson negotiated an album deal with CBS Records, which enabled the band to record the stupendous Hey!
While sessions commenced during April 1971, “A Song For Pete” started to climb the charts and peaked at #5 on the LM radio chart. Finally, it looked like Hedgehoppers would achieve the success they deserved. Unfortunately, Avon had only agreed to complete the band’s six-month contract (which had not anticipated the recording of an album), and after sessions were wrapped up for Hey! Avon participated in a nationwide tour before heading back to the UK where he had a newly born baby waiting for him. “I actually recorded a track before I came back to the UK with a Soweto choir,” remembers Avon. “It was the Neil Diamond song, ‘Brother Loves Travelling Salvation Show’. “It was going to be released when I returned to Johannesburg as a solo single on RPM Records but I never went back so I don’t know if ever got released. It was recorded in the same studio as the album.”
In the immediate future Avon’s departure wasn’t a significant problem. With new singer, the late Andy Ionnides from Suck taking his place, Hedgehoppers travelled to Salisbury (in what was then Rhodesia) to hold down a three-month residency at the Coq D’Or. Ionnides was a brilliant singer but he could never match Avon’s soulful voice and that was what listeners were expecting when they bought Hey!
Far from being a lost masterpiece, Hedgehoppers’ album is still a masterful collection. Comprised of soulful ballads and rock-orientated material, the album mixes unusual covers like Stephen Stills’s “Rock & Roll Woman” and a frantic take on George Gershwin’s “Summertime” with Matthews’s strong originals. The haunting title track – which was backed by Matthews’s “My Friend John Carter The Kind Magician”; the guitarist’s audition song for the band back in late 1968 – was issued as a single in August 1971 and hit #2 on the LM radio chart and topped the Rhodesian charts. The song also gifted Matthews a song-writing accolade when it won a SARIE (South Africa’s Grammy) for best single.
Other standouts on the album include Matthews’s excellent rocker “Near Her” (also available Fresh Music’s Astral Daze Volume 2), the yearning “She’s Been Hurt”, a tale of lost love and eventual seclusion, and the beautiful ballad “Caroline”.
With the album also a major South African chart success, the next challenge was to come up with new material that could sustain the band’s recent chart success. This was no easy feat in the wake of Avon’s departure – since it was his voice that had carried the songs.Back in South Africa at the tail end of 1971, Hedgehoppers brought in keyboard player and singer Rupert Mellor (who took over from Ionnides) and while performing back at Samantha’s recorded three new Matthews’s songs for Parlophone Records – “I’m On My Way Ma”, “Blue, Blue, Blue” and “Young Man On The Road”. As with “My Friend John Carter The Kind Magician”, Matthews handled lead vocals on all of the songs.
In November, Parlophone released “Blue, Blue, Blue” as a single but it failed to chart. Frustrated by the setback, Hedgehoppers started to unravel. Increasingly disillusioned, Matthews left the band he had guided for three years and returned to the UK in March 1972 to reassess his musical future. His band mates continued as a trio and recorded a one off single, backing Wellington Count Judge on the Mojo single, “Noma Kunjalo” c/w “Salani” as The Cool Cats. Then tragedy struck again when Bill Honeyman died in another road accident. “In them days if they had any road work diversions all they would get is a big 50 gallon oil drum, paint it red and white and stick it in the middle of the road,” says Avon, who heard about the news back in the UK.
“Bill saw it last minute, swerved the van, fell out the door and the van rolled over him. I never went back. Bill was something special. He was like a big brother to me.” Honeyman’s death signalled the end of The Hedgehoppers and soon after Turner also returned to the UK to pursue a non-musical career. His former band mates, Alan Avon and Mick Matthews, however, have maintained a musical profile in the entertainment business.
From his base in Stoke-on-Trent, Avon cut an inspired reggae version of the Judy Garland hit “Over The Rainbow” in 1994 and recently recorded an album, What’s Around The Corner, with his friend Paul Marshall, which is due for a release in 2011. Besides his recorded output, he’s also become a well-known actor, appearing in plays and popular TV series such as Coronation Street and Emmerdale. Matthews returned to South Africa in the mid-1970s and formed the rock band, Ballyhoo, which had a significant chart and critical success throughout the decade before he left to launch a solo career. Today, he continues to work as a songwriter and has co-written an autobiography of his musical exploits during the 1960s and 1970s with Adrian English.
For most international record collectors that even care about Hedgehoppers Anonymous, the band’s discography begins with “It’s Good News Week” and ends with the final Decca release, “Stop Press” in late 1966. It is only in South Africa that passionate collectors are aware that a second (entirely new) incarnation took over the mantle (albeit as Hedgehoppers) and recorded a handful of class singles and a brilliant, sadly overlooked album.
To mark the 40th anniversary of the release of Hedgehoppers’ Hey! – the bedrock of this extensive and long-overdue compilation – Fresh is proud to release on CD for the very first time, the band’s entire South African output. Sit back and savor some of the finest rock music ever recorded by a bunch of long-haired British ex-pats in a foreign land that is forever England.
I’ll let Matthews have the last words: “There was an amazing response to the ‘Hoppers’ and it seemed to continue long after the band had broken up,” he says looking back. “To see the book almost ready for publication along with the retro album is a very rewarding and a great tribute to everyone involved. I only wish Bill, Phil and Andy could be around to see it.”
Huge thanks to Mick Matthews, Alan Avon, John Askey, David Birkenhead, Roger Keay, George Glover, Mike Nixon, and Tertius Louw.
Copyright – Nick Warburton, 2010. All Rights Reserved.
Tracks 1- 10 originally released on vinyl in 1971, CBS Records catalogue number ASF 1590. A TOJO Production: string arrangements by Dave Pollecutt and Bill Fairlie; piano overdubs by Roy Naturman. Track 11 was released as the B side of the “Hey” single in 1971; track 12 was released as the B side of the “A song for Pete” single in 1971 ( Tojo Music MR 005): tracks 13 & 14 released on 7” single in 1970 ( Tojo Music MR 001); tracks 15 & 16 released on 7” single in 1970 (Lita Records 1970); Bonus tracks 17 & 18 performed by Mick Matthews and released in 1980. All tracks were transferred from vinyl and mastered by Peter Pearlson. Licensed courtesy of Mick Matthews.
Publishing information: All tracks written by Mick Matthews and published by MicMat Music except for track 2 (Stephen Stills, pub: Laetrec); track 7 (Gershwin, pub: Cappell Music); track 10 (Brown, pub: Copyright Control)
Liner notes by Nick Warburton, photo material courtesy of Mick Matthews, & Tertius Louw.
Fresh Music would like to thank: Mick Matthews, Nick Warburton, Alan Dutton, Marq Vas, Tertius Louw, Rob Allingham.