(Sequel Records NEECD 299 issued in 1998)
The Rockin' Berries had been a part of the Birmingham music scene for quite a few years before securing a recording contract at the start of the beat boom in 1963 and although they produced many fine tracks, their recording career always seemed to take second place to their stage shows which by the late 1960ís included as much comedy and variety as music. Apart from a few exceptions, the Rockin' Berries almost exclusively recorded compositions by other artists and songwriters but nonetheless, this anthology collection contains a few surprise tracks which would have seen the group at odds with their own image if their record company had chosen to release them at the time.
The track running order is well organized and close to chronological sequence which includes all of the groupsí 1964 to 1968 singles (A and B sides), plus their two 1960s albums, a non-album extended player, plus several previously unreleased recordings. Whoever worked on the digital transfer and re-mastering of the recordings has done a great job. The sound quality of the collection is crystal clear and it makes one wonder why recent CD re-releases by higher profile bands such as the Moody Blues and the Move suffer from poor sound quality on many tracks.
The packaging is attractively designed and includes a fold-out poster inlay with photos and details of the groupsí career as well as comments from singer Geoff Turton and the Rockiní Berries original manager John Schroeder (personally, I prefer the regular stapled booklet that comes with most CDís rather than a fold-out format that starts to look tattered after repeated foldings).
Getting down to the recordings themselves, the first CD starts off with the Rockiní Berries first three singles for Piccadilly Records which all showed that the groupís major strength lay in the vocal harmonies of singers Clive Lea and Geoff Turton. Although I Didnít Mean To Hurt You was their first chart entry in October 1964, it was the groupís cover of Heís In Town that was released just weeks after that gained a No. 3 British chart position and put the group in the harmony-pop forefront.The reported follow-up was to have been Funny How Love Can Be which was composed and recorded but as-yet unreleased by the Rockiní Berries lablemates The Ivy League whose members John Carter and Ken Lewis were also from Birmingham. Unfortunately for the Berries, the Ivy League version was released first and made the top-ten although the Berries version did appear on their first album In Town and is an excellent rendition.
The Rockiní Berries first album In Town contains some great tracks, although also including a mixture of comedy which makes for a somewhat uneven collection. Let's Try Again is another Carter/Lewis original, while Without Your Love and Follow Me were composed by the Rockin' Berries manager John Schroeder. Ich Lieb Dich is sung in German and was probably a throwback from the days when the group performed in German nightclubs during the early 1960ís. Another song covered on the album that has a strong Midlands connection is Shades Of Blue, as composed by Jim Capaldi and Dave Mason of the Worcestershire group The Hellions who would later join with the Spencer Davis Groupís Steve Winwood to form the legendary Traffic.
One thing that really stands out on the first album in my opinion, is Chuck Botfieldís brilliant guitar playing which is evident on songs like Lonely Avenue where he contributes a great solo. Other tracks also feature his fast playing style which seemed quite advanced and sometimes contrasting strongly with the type of material that the Berries were recording at the time.
The Rockiní Berries cover of the Reflectionsí Poor Manís Son is a great track and worthy of its No. 5 chart position. Chuck Botfield double-tracked his guitar part for the session and the recording marked a change in direction with Clive Lea featured as lead vocalist and Geoff Turtonís falsetto distinctly absent. A bigger change for the group was the mysterious departure of bass guitarist Roy Austin shortly after the singleís release and his replacement by Bobby Thompson from Liverpool. Thompson was previously a member of Rory Storm & The Hurricanes, a group that had at one time included future Beatles drummer Ringo Starr.
The first CD ends with four previously unreleased tracks, the first of which Take A Giant Step is a brilliant Goffin & King cover and would have made an excellent single. The pastoral Barterers And Their Wives is a big departure from the group's familiar material and includes some wonderful acoustic guitar layering, while That Lucky Old Sun makes for a good sing-along.
CD 2 begins with the Rockiní Berries second album entitled Life Is Just A Bowl Of Berries which was released in December of 1965 but did not sell as well as their previous LP. The record opens with Everything I Do Is For You which features a fine Ďfuzzí guitar effect similar to the Spencer Davis Groupís Keep On Running that came out at around the same time.
This album, as in their first, also contains a mix of comedy but displays a more polished production as is evident on songs like The Way You Look Tonight and Happy To Blue. By this time the group was displaying a preference for ballads rather than the rock 'n' roll of the earlier days and this may have been due to their increasing involvement in the club and cabaret circuit where they appeared on the same bill as non-threatening groups like The Bachelors. Harvest Of Love is a Benny Hill comedy number and shows Clive Leaís talent for impersonations, while other tracks such as When Iím Cleaning Windows and The Laughing Policeman were probably integral parts of the Rockiní Berries stage shows by that time. The second album ends with Burt Bacharach's Little Red Book which also gets the fuzz guitar treatment.
The track Land Of Love was composed by Geoff Turton and Bobby Thompson and represents one of the few recordings by the Rockin' Berries that was composed by the group. This and other group compositions were confined to the B-sides of singles such as Chuck Botfield's Money Grows On Trees and Turton/Thompson's She's Not Like Any Girl although the Thompson/Turton song Needs To Be would probably have made it as an A-side if not for its sparse production.
By early 1966, the Rockiní Berries were in a downward spiral as far as the record charts were concerned and the excellent The Water Is Over My Head single in 1966 would turn out to be the group's last hit. Although the Rockin' Berries continued to release good singles, the record-buying public seemed to have lost interest, though the group was by this time much in demand as a live act on the "cabaret" circuit. The single Midnight Mary displays a lavish Phil Spector like production, while the Charlie Chaplin classic Smile, although with a simple backing, has a multi-layering of vocal harmonies and shows the group at their strongest.
Probably the most fascinating track in the collection is the song Yellow Rainbow which has Roy Wood credited as its composer. Fans of the Move will know that Yellow Rainbow was a track that appeared on the first Move album in 1968 and featured a lead vocal by bass guitarist Ace Kefford. The Yellow Rainbow as recorded by the Rockiní Berries is an entirely different song and is totally out of character with the type of material that the group had been known for. The songís pop/psychedelic overtones and trippy lyrics are pure Roy Wood for the period, but there also lies the mystery; how could two completely different songs from the same time period both have the same name and same composer? If anyone has more information about this track, then please let me know. Unfortunately, the Rockiní Berries version of the song was never released at the time but is brilliant nontheless and might have provided some much needed credibility for the group as well as re-igniting their chart career.
The remainder of the second CD is filled up with previously unreleased and unfinished tracks that tantalizingly provide a glimpse of what might have been. The only real disappointment of the entire collection for me, is the non-inclusion of the groupís first two Decca singles from 1963, but apart from that itís an excellent release and a fine tribute to a group whose chart career unfortunately ended all too soon.
The track listing is as follows:
* album track, ** EP track, *** previously unreleasedCopyright © John R Woodhouse 2000 BACK TO BRUM BEAT REVIEWS PAGE