Thursday, March 28, 2013

I Love This Freakin' Band - The Move

Whenever you work on a large project, be it creative, or for business, certain music can become the soundtrack to your time with that piece. When I was working on the NC Musicians photo book last year, my soundtrack was the first three Bee Gees albums, Shine On Brightly, by Procol Harum, and Nic Jones’ 1980 album Penguin Eggs. 

Recently, as I started working on a book on the North Carolina Rock & Roll scene of the 1960s, I found a podcast that specializes in music from that decade. Come To The Sunshine is fantastic show put together by Andrew Sandoval, and his shows just overflow with rare and cool nuggets from that great time for pop and Rock music. Included on the podcast was a two-hour show on the Move. I knew the band’s first album very well, and had even interviewed two of their bandmembers a few years ago. So, I’d thought I’d check out the show, and pressed play. And as the Velvet Underground once said, “And then my mind split open...”

What absolutely floored me was the show’s hefty inclusion of live recordings that the band did for the BBC. Every once in a while, your hear music in a different context, and you realize just how good someone was. And my God, the Move were good live. Yes, their own songs sound great in a live setting, but it’s their choice of covers was astounding. “Open My Eyes” by the Nazz? Check. “Rock N’ Roll” by the Buffalo Springfield? Yep. Love, Byrds, Everly Brothers, Tom Paxton? “California Girls”, with perfect four-part harmony? Yes,  yes, and heck yeah. On stage, the Move were an unequivocal Rock and Roll monster, capable of wiping the floor with any other artists that dared come near them. And they did all of this, and were listening to all the right songs, in 1968. 

The band’s story began in Birmingham, England in 1965. Inspired by a conversation with the pre-fame David Bowie, Trevor Burton and Ace Kefford begin putting together a supergroup of local musicians. Burton, Kefford, Carl Wayne, Bev Bevan and Roy Wood all “move” from their respective groups, and quickly form a powerful quintet. Much of their early shows are showcases for American R&B, Rock and soul, with the band boasting four potential lead singers (Wayne, Kefford, Wayne, and Wood), all trading off vocals. The band also adopted a smart fashion sense, with their early photoshoots looking like gangsters that traded guns for guitars.

Urged on by their new manager, Roy Wood begins writing material for the band, and the group begins beefing up their stage presence. Frontman Carl Wayne begins wielding an axe onstage, smashing televisions, and at one show, an entire car. Johnny Rotten would later remark that the Sex Pistols weren’t doing anything that the Move had done ten years before. The hits continued, although the band received a lot of bad press when their manager distributed a cartoon that got the band sued by the British Government. Roy Wood was later forced to give up all royalties from their next single, “Flowers In The Rain”, which became the first song to ever be played on BBC Radio 2 in 1967. 

Roy Wood’s songs also gave the band a unique, if quirky edge. The band’s roots were in Rock and R&B, but Wood’s songs came straight from fairyland, and fear of madness. Songs about hearing the grass grow, nights of fear, lemon trees, girls and fire brigades, and yellow rainbows, just in case the earth should fall. Wood’s high voice also began dominating the band’s music, leaving Wayne and the rest of the band in the background. 

Wood then led the band through more stylistic U-turns than a disoriented lorry driver, as the band began shedding their original lineup. The band’s “Wild Tiger Woman”, released in the summer of 1968, heralded a harder Rock sound, although the single’s poppier B-side, "Omnibus", should have been the A-side. When “Wild Tiger Woman” tanked, Wood went straight to the strings and pop angst of “Blackberry Way”, which put the band back at the top of the British charts. All the while, the band’s albums reflected their fractured mindset, and changes in personnel. After Carl Wayne left the band in 1969, Wood hired fellow Birmingham musician Jeff Lynne, who had been the singer and songwriter for the Idle Race. Be it late ‘60s hard Rock, chamber pop, or ‘50s Rockabilly, Wood and Lynne tried it all, and somehow managed to continue their run of hit singles.

By 1972, the Move were in search of a way forward. Wood suggested that they do an album that merged classical music and Rock, under a new guise: Electric Light Orchestra. After Wood left the band after their debut album (which was recorded at the same time as the Move’s swan song, Message From The Country), Lynne and drummer Bev Bevan led ELO through the heights of ‘70s superstardom. The history of one of England’s greatest bands of the 1960s became a prequel to ELO’s tale. One of ELO’s biggest hits, “Do Ya”, had even been originally done as a Move B-side, further enforcing the Move’s notoriety outside of England as a footnote to another band’s story. 

Time has allowed people to rediscover the Move, and the music that they created. What is the barometer that any artist leaves behind? Ultimately, it is the music that they leave behind. Some, like the Beatles, leave their footprints behind for all to see. The Move’s legacy is a little harder to dig for, but that does not diminish their eventual impact. BBC recordings, Youtube videos of live appearances on German TV, and of course, the records. Throughout the 60s, the Move weathered the changes, kicked ass live, and looked good doing it, which is all that any of us can hope for from any creative endeavor.
-Daniel Coston
March 28, 2013 

You can check out Andrew Sandoval's show at

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