The package comes with extensive liner notes and band biography written by David Wells who chronicles the history of the Ugly's from their first incarnation as The Dominettes in 1957 up to their evolution into "Balls"! at the end of the 1960s. David Wells interviewed original band members in order to write a definitive Ugly's biography - not an easy task considering the number of different musicians who went through the line-up. Included also is a good selection of rare photos and memorabilia from various band members' own collections. The highly appropriate cover artwork and design were created by Rupert and Phil Smee.
The first 12 tracks on the Ugly's CD are arranged in chronological order consisting of all their released 1960s singles (A-sides and B-sides). This starts with Wake Up My Mind from 1965 which is probably one of their best known records outside of the U.K. Although not a hit in Britain, the song apparently reached the top chart position in Australia and New Zealand. It's probably one of the earliest socially aware pop songs by a British group - no doubt a result of vocalist Steve Gibbons' attraction to the music of Bob Dylan. The unique sound of the recording is achieved partly due to Steve's use of a king-sized harmonica. In contrast, the sparse instrumentation of the B-side Ugly Blues gives the impression that the band used up their production budget on the A-side but it remains a lyrically amusing song nonetheless.
The next Ugly's single It's Alright, features prominent use of the harpsichord (as played by the talented Jimmy O'Neill) but what stands out most to me in this recording is John Hustwayte's great bass playing which really adds power to this track. This record got plenty of airplay on the U.K. Pirate Radio stations - soon gaining the Ugly's an appearance on television's popular Ready Steady Go! and it seemed set for a high chart placing. Unfortunately, a strike by the record distributors prevented it from reaching the shops (I wonder if the Ready Steady Go! performance still survives on tape somewhere? - what a fantastic find it would be!). The singles' B-side entitled A Friend, is a faster paced and highly danceable track composed by guitarist Bob Burnett and Jimmy O'Neill.
A Good Idea from 1966, features a distinctive kazoo intro by Steve Gibbons, but it's really the B-side The Quiet Explosion which is the stand-out track. The lyrically-gifted Steve Gibbons does nothing less than a brilliant job on this one with a socially aware verse and chorus even more relevant in 2004 than it was back in 1966! This record is powered along by Jim Holden's innovative drumming and John Hustwayte's echoey Dr. Who style bass riff. This, when coupled with Jimmy O'Neill's prominent organ, creates the most psychedelic-sounding track to be released by the band up to that point.
New Ugly's recruits Dave Pegg (bass) and former Brumbeats guitarist Roger Hill were present for the next single which was a cover of a Kinks record End Of The Season as composed by the brilliant Ray Davies. This one marks a departure from the Ugly's previous records as up to this point they had been composed by the group themselves. Despite the addition of sound effects in the form of chirping woodland songbirds, this record missed out on a chart placing. The B-side however, is likely much more representive of the band's sound at that time as their recording of Can't Recall Her Name has a distinctly "live" feel to it - certainly one of my favourites on this disc. Dave Pegg and Roger Hill left the Ugly's to form their own band called The Exception and Dave later joined the Ian Campbell Group before becoming a pivotal member of Fairport Convention.
1967 saw the arrival into the band of former Yamps/Traction guitarist Will Hammond. The new line-up recorded And The Squire Blew His Horn which continued the Ugly's tradition of including strange instruments on their records as it features Steve Gibbons' performance on a real hunting horn. This track has long been highly prized amongst collectors and when listening to the quirky lyrics and vocal backing it's not hard to see why. The song was apparently recorded as a joke by the group and not intended for release, but the record company thought otherwise. The B-side Real Good Girl was far more representive of the band's sound. Guitarist, Will Hammond says it was a powerful number for the group to perform on-stage but they were told to tone it down for the recording session as the producer thought it was too loud!
The final Ugly's record was I've Seen The Light which was never officially released until now. The song is probably the band's heaviest number and was undoubtedly very powerful when performed live. The track was recorded by the final line-up of the Ugly's which was Steve Gibbons (by this time the only remaining original member), Will Hammond on guitar, Dave Morgan (bass), former Lemon Tree drummer Keith Smart, and Richard Tandy (piano). Composed by the multi-talented Dave Morgan, I've Seen The Light was intended as the A-side of a proposed Ugly's single in February of 1969. Due to the band re-forming as "Balls" with the addition of the Move's Trevor Burton and later ex-Moody Blues vocalist Denny Laine, this record was pressed as demo-copies only and has since attained status as not only the rarest of all the Ugly's singles, but for record collectors, THE rarest U.K. psychedelic single.
The B-side Mary Colinto also composed by Dave Morgan and again recorded with the final line-up, is a much more straight-forward "rocker" which sounds like it could have been written for The Move. This was certainly a possibility as Dave's composition Something featuring Carl Wayne, was selected for the B-side to the Move's chart topping Blackberry Way single in 1968. Mary Colinto features an especially fine performance by Keith Smart - certainly one of Birmingham's best drummers (he later joined Roy Wood as part of the Wizzard line-up).
All the remaining tracks on the CD are released here for the first time. The first of these is a Steve Gibbons original titled This Is Your Mind Speaking which was recorded as a demo for Carl Wayne's "Penny Music" publishing venture in 1968. This track will be of much interest to fans of The Move and ELO as it includes Carl on backing vocal and Trevor Burton on bass guitar/backing vocal as well as Dave Morgan and Richard Tandy both contributing on guitar. Two more Steve Gibbons compositions All That Glitters and Speakly Weekly feature the later line-up of the Ugly's - only this time with original drummer Jim Holden instead of Keith Smart.
The tracks Love & Best Wishes and Morning (both Dave Morgan originals) are from rare BBC sessions recorded during 1968 at Walker Hall in Edgbaston. The line-up of the band for these sessions was Steve Gibbons (lead vocal); Will Hammond (lead guitar, vocal); Dave Morgan (rhythm guitar, vocal); Jimmy O'Neill (bass); and Jim Holden on drums. Other BBC tracks included here are covers of Moby Grape's Hey Grandma and Eddie Cochrane's Summertime Blues. These, along with the other BBC tracks are probably the closest most of us will get to hearing what a 1968 Ugly's performance sounded like. They are certainly performed with an exciting raw energy and some have an almost "garage punk" feel to them - especially Summertime Blues to which Will Hammond delivers the kind of blistering guitar solo that Jimmy Page would make famous within the next couple of years. Another worthy cover by The Ugly's was Arthur Lee's She Comes In Colours as originally performed by Love.
The collection includes an alternate recording of Mary Colinto - this time with lead vocal by the song's composer Dave Morgan. This version, though obviously a demo, sounds far more like The Move than the previous one - hardly surprising really when considering both Carl Wayne (vocal, tambourine) and Trevor Burton (bass guitar, vocal) also participated on this track. Note also Keith Smart's drumming which sounds more like "Keith Moon" on this recording. Ill Wind That Blows, also by Dave Morgan, is a real gem as it features some slide guitar as played by the Move's Roy Wood who also contributes some backing vocals to this plaintive composition.
The final listed track on the CD is Steve Gibbons' Roses In The Rain demo from 1967 which reportedly attracted the attention of Graham Nash from The Hollies. A proposed new recording deal did not go as far as planned due to Nash's condition that the Ugly's change their name to "Yellow Balloon" but fortunately the group, especially Steve Gibbons, decided against it. This final cut on the CD is shortly followed by a "hidden" track but I won't spoil the surprise by saying what it is!
In conclusion, The Complete Ugly's - The Quiet Explosion lives up to the high standards we have come to expect from the Sanctuary Records re-issues. Fans of The Ugly's, Steve Gibbons, Fairport Convention, The Move or ELO will certainly be interested in getting this and the package makes a solid addition to the collection of anyone who collects Brum bands or 1960s U.K. psychedelic pop.
The track listing is as follows:
Previously Unissued Tracks: