1968 – heute (52 Jahre)
Esher, Surrey, England, Vereinigtes Königreich
- Martin Kitcat
- Paul Davis
Die Wurzeln der Band lagen in der langen Freundschaft zwischen dem Sänger Paul 'Sandy' Davis und dem Gitarristen Alan Cowderoy, der sich zwischen 1959 und 1965 an derselben Schule in Esher, Surrey, kennengelernt hatte. Es war eine katholische Schule, als sie sich dazu entschlossen hatten Sie gründeten eine Band und wählten den umstrittensten Namen, den zwei zwölfjährige Jungen haben könnten - Satan's Disciples! Wenn sie bei den Schulkonzerten auftraten, mussten sie zwangsläufig den Namen in The Disciples ändern. Davis war der Schlagzeuger und Sänger, und Cowderoy spielte die Hauptrolle. Zwei andere Schulfreunde spielten Bass und Rhythmus. 1968 stießen Martin Kitcat und Mark Laird am Hohner-E-Piano und am Bass zusammen. Davis trommelte und sang immer noch, aber Robert Lipson, der in einer rivalisierenden Esher-Band spielte, stimmte dem Beitritt zu und erlaubte Davis, zum ersten Mal die Bühne zu betreten.
The band's early sound was influenced by Cream and the British blues movement, and one of their first professional recordings was a cover of a John Mayall song. At one point the group was rehearsing in a building below Eric Clapton's London flat, and one day Clapton popped in during a rehearsal and ended up jamming with them. More pivotal, however, was interest from Pete Townshend which led to a support slot for The Who on a tour in 1968.
By that time they had moved away from their blues roots and developed a more "pop" flavoured identity, landing a deal to record an album under the direction of producer Norrie Paramor, known for a string of 60's hits with Cliff Richard and The Shadows. Actual production duties were assigned to Tim Rice (later to become Andrew Lloyd Webber's lyricist), who then worked for Paramor. Sessions at a now defunct Denmark Street studio produced ten tracks, an eclectic and eccentric mix of material ranging from Vanilla Fudge-influenced covers to Moody Blues-meets-The Beatles styled originals penned by Davis and Kitcat. Two tracks did surface on the Polydor single "Beautiful" c/w "Oh What A Lovely Rain", but nothing else from the sessions was heard until 1994 when four more songs appeared on the Renaissance Buried Treasures compilation (see below).
At this point they had changed their name to Gracious, coined up by their first manager David Booth (later succeeded by Peter Abbey). It had two meanings - either "gracious!" as an exclamation of surprise, or "gracious" as in good-mannered, pleasant, etc. The exclamation mark (!) was added when the first album's sleeve was prepared. Their third gig under the new name saw them sharing the bill with King Crimson, on July 11, 1969 at Beckenham's Mistrale Club - "that changed our lives", Lipson would comment later, "Martin got a Mellotron and we were off!".
In 1969, the newly christened Gracious! toured Germany for six weeks, playing venues like the legendary Star Club in Hamburg. In addition to the above line-up they took a backing vocalist named Keith Ireland, and Tim Wheatley came as the roadie and driver. As Laird was not keeping up musically with the rest of the band, Wheatley stood in at a rehearsal and got the gig. Ireland left when the rest of the band started doing backing vocals. On their return from Germany, Gracious played the gig circuit in the UK and Brian Shepherd, then head of Vertigo, came to see them and offered them a typically small record deal.
Looking back, the members of Gracious felt the excitement of their live gigs wasn't properly captured on the first album, which was recorded at Philips' London studios near Marble Arch (subsequently known as Solid Bond after they were bought by Paul Weller). "When we first went into the studio to record "The Dream", we genuinely expected to record it in small segments", remembers Cowderoy. "However our producer Hugh Murphy insisted we play it in one take in the studio, and do any overdubs afterwards… The first album, although less mature than the second, had more direction and was more focused - although "Fugue In D Minor" was always an oddity". The album got a large amount of attention and Kid Jensen, a popular DJ with Radio Luxembourg at the time, repeatedly devoted almost all of his hour-long programme to Gracious!.
The band often wrote long pieces, starting with a Davis/Kitcat-composed opera called "Opus 41", based on the "Four Season", which was never recorded (they did preview the piece to Paramor, but the great producer was apparently underwhelmed). Even their shorter numbers were often 10 minutes in length when played live. The centrepiece of the band's second LP, recorded early 1971 at Olympic, was the 25-minute, multi-part suite "Supernova", inspired by the shortest ghost story ever written: "the last man alive on earth was sitting at home when suddenly there was a tap at the window". Remembers Cowderoy, "It wasn't fashionable although many groups at the time played lengthy pieces of music. Apparently Pete Townshend thought the idea was great! The second side of the album was a different approach - Tim, Robert and I had a lot more to do with it. The only track that didn't work was "Hold Me Down", which was written just to fill up the last bit on the album".
When eventually released, the second album was entitled This Is…, but it was originally going to be called Supernova. However, Cowderoy explains, "Vertigo weren't having so much success with the more progressive groups, and it wasn't deemed commercial enough for release. It was subsequently released on the Philips international label as part of a 'This Is…' series at a budget price. The playing on that second album was much better, but it was released after the band had split up, so there was absolutely no publicity, and therefore no media attention".
On the band's untimely demise, Cowderoy explains: "Robert left first. We carried on with a new drummer , but the magic and camaraderie were dissolving. Martin was next to go". The resulting quartet toured Germany in the Summer of 1971, with Davis handling the Mellotron parts as well as singing. "Tim and I joined another band briefly but we never found anyone else who thought as we did". It was not the rejection of the album that forced the band to split, but that they simply weren't earning enough to survive. There were also personal and musical differences within the band. Says Lipson, "I think we three and Martin and Sandy were very split. We even went to gigs separately - we'd just meet on stage". Wheatley confirms: "I couldn't believe how argumentative the band was, but in a way that friction was part of the creativity, there's no question about that".
After the split, Lipson "didn't join another band, I went into the family business, got married, and did all those peer pressure things. I missed it desperately. We had a reunion about a year later at the Marquee , and it really hurt going home after that gig". Cowderoy went on to work for Decca, "on the legit side. Martin was working as a plugger with Burlington Music, and when he got another job with Capitol, he suggested I apply for his old job. The irony was that the next job I got was running Vertigo for three years!". Later, he worked for Stiff Records, A&M and various other executive positions, but Kitcat, who had helped him start his career in the business side of music, gave up playing and eventually moved to America. According to Lipson, "he hasn't touched a keyboard since, and he's sold his gear". Wheatley, following an unsuccessful audition for Supertramp, joined the band Taggett, which included Colin Horton-Jennings (ex-Greatest Show On Earth), Terry Fogg (ex-Sounds Incorporated drummer) and Peter Arnesen (later keyboard player with The Rubettes), and was marginally successful, recording an album for EMI produced by Tony Hicks of The Hollies. Subsequently, he launched his own studio, and also played on one of Sandy Davis's two solo albums. Davis had sung on Jesus Christ Superstar, which Tim Rice got him involved as a session man. He then played in a pub duo with Mike Read, who later became a well known BBC DJ. Then he was one of two drummers in Guildford band Headwaiter, the other being Greg Terry-Short. They both replaced the original drummer Dave Bidwell formerly of Chicken Shack. That band also included ex-Camel bassist Doug Ferguson, Tony Leach (piano), Sev Lewkowicz (keyboards) and James MacMillan Kean (vocals and flute). The last few live dates that Headwaiter performed were without Sandy Davis, as Sev Lewkowicz refused to tour with him. Before Davis ultimately moved to Germany, where he has resided ever since, he and Wheatley recorded material together, along with Rob Townsend from Family, keyboard player Billy Livsey and the horn section from The Rumour.
In the 1990s the German label Repertoire Records reissued the first LP, and the US label Renaissance reissued This Is…, which restored the originally intended running order of the "Supernova" suite (because of time and space limitations of the LP format, a section of the epic, "What's Come To Be", had been removed and relocated out of context to side two as a separate song). It also included the bonus track "Once On A Windy Day". "This was written as a single, and released as such, but never got much radio play. Live, it evolved into a huge, barnstorming epic with a jazzy piano solo in the middle and lengthy guitar solo at the end. This was probably our favourite live number". Some pre-production sessions for the Renaissance CD issue of "This Is…" were overseen by singer-songwriter Kevin Gilbert (1966–1996) at his studio in Pasadena, California. During this time, the one-of-a-kind custom made 'Gracious mellotron' owned by Martin Kitcat was brought to Gilbert's studio and eventually purchased by Bigelf keyboardist Damon Fox, who provides some information on what made Kitcat and Gracious so groundbreaking: "Kitcat was the first person to put 'lead' sounds on both sides . Most bands had Mk II's used them as they were sold: the rhythm sounds on one side, and then flutes, strings, horns – the lead sounds – on the right side. But Martin was the first guy to contact the Bradley brothers and have his made custom, with lead sound on both sides."
Four tracks (three Davis/Kitcat originals and a cover of Screamin' Jay Hawkins' "I Put A Spell On You") from the aborted 1968 recording sessions (featuring original bass player Mark Laird) were included on a Renaissance CD compilation, Buried Treasures (1994), along with similarly unheard material by Touch and Stray Dog.
Renewed interest in the band proved inspirational for former band members, and in 1995 Tim Wheatley and Robert Lipson began work on a new Gracious album, following approaches from a Japanese record company, with guest participation from Alan Cowderoy. They released a CD entitled Echo in 1996, with Sev Lewkowicz (keyboards, lead vocals and guitar), Stuart Turner (guitars) and Richard Ashworth (lyrics). The songs were written by Lewkowicz, Wheatley, Lipson and Ashworth, and the album was produced by Lewkowicz and Wheatley. It was released by Centaur Discs.
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