Updated March 2015Jeff Lynne guitar, piano, vocal (left 1970)
With the departure of Roy Wood and Mike Sheridan in 1966, The Nightriders (see Mike Sheridan and The Nightriders) remaining members Dave Pritchard, Greg Masters and Roger Spencer enlisted guitarist "Johnny" Mann from the recently split-up Carl Wayne and The Vikings and secured a recording contract with Polydor Records.
Some songs were recorded by the new line-up in London but shortly after, John Mann decided to leave. An advert for a replacement was placed in the Birmingham Evening Mail for a "Keen young guitarist" and this was answered by an almost unknown Jeffrey Lynne who was 19 at the time.
Jeff Lynne had formed his first band with some friends called The Andicaps in 1963. After leaving school he played guitar with a semi-pro local group called The Chads but was always looking for a chance to "turn professional" and go full-time with an established band. The Nightriders were impressed by Jeff Lynne's innovative guitar technique so did not hesitate to offer him the position of lead guitarist. The band soon got together at Hollick & Taylor Studios in Handsworth to record a new single 'It's Only The Dog/My Friend' that was released by Polydor Records under the name 'The Nightriders' and had drummer Roger Spencer on lead vocal.
In 1967, many innovative bands in the U.K. would become part of the rapidly developing "psychedelic" scene. In response to these changing trends, The Nightriders became 'The Idle Race' (adapted from Idyll Race) with Jeff Lynne becoming the groups' focal point as both main songwriter and lead vocalist. Unfortunately, the band's Polydor contract was allowed to expire but former Nightrider Roy Wood, now of the very successful Move, remained friendly with the group and through him, contacts were established allowing the Idle Race to record during off-hours at the Move's Advision Studios in London.
The Idle Race continued to undertake bookings in the Midlands area and would drive down the M1 to London and record whenever studio time was available. One song offered to them was 'Here We Go Round The Lemon Tree', composed by Roy Wood and was the B-side to the Move's 'Flowers In The Rain' hit single. The song was selected as the first Idle Race release by the management of Liberty Records who had signed the group, but as the Move's version was receiving airplay, The Idle Race did not wish to be known as a "cover band" so subsequent negotiations resulted in the Idle Race version of Here We Go Round The Lemon Tree not being released in Britain (the real reason may have been because The Move stood to lose royalties on the song due to the outcome of the infamous 'Harold Wilson lawsuit').
For the first U.K. Idle Race single, two Jeff Lynne compositions titled 'Impostors Of Life's Magazine' backed with 'Sitting In My Tree', were selected for release in October of 1967. Despite airplay, the single did not chart but attracted much interest in the music press and won many admirers. The second single A and B-sides 'The Skeleton And The Roundabout/Knocking Nails Into My House', also both written by Lynne, was issued early in 1968 to promote the forthcoming Idle Race album. Although this single is probably their best known, it also missed out on a chart placing. Note: the Wolverhampton band Ambrose Slade recorded Knocking Nails Into My House as a track on their first album.
Despite lack of success in the charts, the Idle Race gained a considerable 'underground' following including the support of many prominent musicians and radio personalities. This is reflected on the inside cover artwork of their first album The Birthday Party where invited 'guests' are displayed in a photo collage and include such figures as The Beatles, The Move, Brian Jones, Hughie Green and many of the Radio One DJs. Eleven of the thirteen songs on the album were composed by Jeff Lynne with most of the lyrics having a simple, almost child-like preoccupation with weird characters along with a production reminiscent of The Beatles 'Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds' or 'Fool On The Hill'.
The Idle Race's live performances saw the band in a much heavier vein and included many covers such as 'Purple Haze' (Jimi Hendrix), 'Born To Be Wild' (Steppenwolf) and 'People Are Strange' (The Doors). The band also did a heavy version of Tyrannosaurus Rex's 'Deborah' amongst various originals and 1950s rock 'n' roll standards.
In early 1969 the Idle Race began recording a second album which would be released at the end of the year. At about this time Roy Wood made an offer to Jeff Lynne to join The Move as Trevor Burton had just left. Lynne declined so Rick Price was selected as Burton's replacement. It should be noted that Jeff Lynne and Roy Wood were mutual admirers of each others work. Significantly, the demo recording of the Move's Number 1 hit 'Blackberry Way' had been produced in Jeff's home studio.
Further excellent Idle Race singles were released but despite extensive touring of the U.K. to promote them, the group could still not manage a chart placing. The lack of chart success for the Idle Race despite critical acclaim remains a mystery, especially as the band were no strangers to radio and TV appearances. Even the appointment of DJ Kenny Everett as honourary fan club president and the added flattery of having their compositions covered by other artists did not achieve the popularity the group aspired to. Ironically, the Idle Race continued to enjoy a serious "underground" following unlike The Move who by this time were considered by some to be little more than a pop or cabaret act.
A music press article on the Idle Race in 1969 quoted Jeff Lynne as being disillusioned about the bands' lack of chart success and this was further reinforced by the poor sales of the Idle Race's second self-titled album released in November on which Lynne himself had handled the production. For Jeff Lynne, fate played into his hands when The Move's front-man Carl Wayne quit the group in January 1970. Roy Wood again asked if Lynne would join the Move and this time the offer was accepted (see The Move).
The other members of Idle Race were naturally disappointed with Lynne's decision to leave but decided to carry on with replacements Mike Hopkins, formerly of the Diplomats and The Lemon Tree, on guitar/vocals and Dave Walker from The Redcaps on vocals & harmonica. Idle Race continued to tour and release singles with their cover version of Mungo Jerry's 'In The Summertime' managing to reach Number 1 in the charts in Argentina!
After a final Idle Race album released in 1971, further personnel changes took place starting with the departure of Dave Pritchard who joined up with various Birmingham bands including the Poorboys. Dave Walker was next to leave and joined some well-known bands which included Savoy Brown, Chicken Shack, and Fleetwood Mac. Roger Spencer moved into TV production and became the comedian "Ollie" Spencer while Mike Hopkins joined the group Quartz.
The remaining original Idle Race member Greg Masters joined up with guitarists Dave Caroll and Bob Wilson from the Birmingham group Tea & Symphony along with drummer Bob Lamb who had also played in the group Locomotive. Birmingham singer Steve Gibbons (see The Uglys) joined shortly after and in February 1972, Greg Masters finally left to be replaced by Bob Griffin who in return was replaced by former Move and Balls member Trevor Burton. The group dropped the Idle Race name and became the Steve Gibbons Band who scored a top-20 hit with the Chuck Berry song 'Tulane' in 1977.