Updated December 2016Bob Burnett guitar (left in 1966)
This well known Birmingham band (who were anything but ugly) was active throughout the 1960s and had a list of members that reads almost like a who's who of Brum Beat. The Uglys had some of the best musicians in Birmingham which makes it surprising they had little success in the record charts. Their original vinyl singles were ahead of their time and prized by record collectors today including one that may be the rarest UK "psychedelic" 45.
The Uglys evolved from a late 1950s line-up called "The Dominettes" whose early members had included Roy Bates, Bob Burlison, Mick Burrows, drummer Jimmy Holden, bass guitarist John Hustwayte (whose brother was in Pat Wayne's group The Deltas), guitarist Alan Pierce, and lead vocalist Colin Smith. In the early days, the group had a part-time manager named Ray Foulger.
A new lead singer named Steve Gibbons who was a young plumber's apprentice from Harbourne, had joined the Dominettes by 1960 to replace Colin Smith who had left to join Jimmy Powell's backing group. Colin Smith later changed his name to "Carl Barron" and became front-man of The Cheetahs. An Elvis Presley fan, Steve Gibbons' first performance with The Dominettes was at The California Pub near Weoley Castle.
Regular venues for The Dominettes in the early 1960s was 'The Grotto Club' on Bromsgove Street and 'The Cecilia Coffee Bar' in Edgbaston with the group by this time including many R&B numbers into their set and this style of music suited Steve Gibbons' gritty vocals perfectly. Another regular venue for The Dominettes was the Firebird Jazz Club on Carrs Lane in central Birmingham and the group posted advertisements which read "Anything considered". Although the Dominettes had a rougher image than most groups at that time and were sometimes hired to back strippers at some of the more seedy establishments, they attracted quite a following.
By 1963, the Dominettes were re-named "The Uglys" although this was obviously no reference to the physical appearance of band members as their van became covered in messages lovingly scrawled in lipstick from their many female fans. When interviewed for the Midland Beat newspaper, the group said; "It brings us embarrassing moments but we are achieving our object by using the name. You see, interest is aroused as soon as we are advertised to appear anywhere. People come along to see if we really are ugly!"
Like many West Midlands bands, The Uglys were sent over to Germany in 1964 where they played a two month engagement in Munster. At the time, vocalist Steve Gibbons and drummer Jim Holden still worked day jobs which they had to give up. Their guitarist Alan Pierce decided not to go so was replaced by keyboardist John Gordon. The long hours of performing in Germany added little to their wallets but certainly helped the group become a much tighter sounding unit.
Well-known local promoter John Singer who managed The Uglys always made sure they had plenty of bookings. Eventually, the Uglys secured a recording contract with the Pye Records company and the first release from the group in 1965 was an original song entitled 'Wake Up My Mind', composed by Burnet/Holden/Gibbons. The record was certainly advanced for its time and featured some socially conscious lyrics - very unlike the typical 'beat group' type of recordings produced by most other pop groups of the period.
Steve Gibbons; "I played this huge harmonica on Wake Up My Mind that I'd bought from the market. It sounded just like an accordion." Surprisingly, the single did not sell well in Britain but was a hit in Australia and New Zealand where the record received considerable airplay and got to Number One in some of the Ozzy charts (see The Uglys Australia story on Brum Beat Features). Who knows what success The Uglys may have enjoyed if they had toured down-under!
John Gordon left The Uglys in 1965 and was replaced by the talented Jimmy O'Neil who had played keyboards in a local band called 'The Yamps' (he had also toured as a member of The Walker Brothers band). A second Uglys single issued that year was another great original song titled 'It's Alright'. This one featured prominent use of a harpsichord as played by Jimmy O'Neil who was becoming a major attraction on-stage due to a growing following of female fans. A teen fan magazine actually described him as "the dishy Jimmy O'Neil" !
It's Alright unfortunately fell short of the British charts - possibly due to a record company strike - even though the group made an appearance on the popular television program 'Ready Steady Go!' to promote it. Steve Gibbons; "We were getting reports of it selling 800 copies a day. But just at the point when it would have got into the charts, there was a strike at the distributors and they couldn't get the single into the shops."
The Ugly's third single for PYE featured Steve Gibbons playing a 'kazoo' on the A-side titled 'A Good Idea' which in retrospect may not have been a good idea as the single's B-side is really the stand-out track. 'The Quiet Explosion' is a lost psychedelic classic complete with freaky organ and echoey bass. This was certainly ahead of its time when considering The Beatles had only just started experimenting with strange sounds on their 'Revolver' album. Despite a promotional TV appearance on 'Thank Your Lucky Stars', this Uglys single sank without trace and three decades passed before its flip side gained rightful recognition on a CD release.
There were more changes in the Uglys line-up including the departure in 1966 of Bob Burnett along with John Hustwayte who went to live in South Africa. The Uglys held auditions and Roger Hill, who was considered one of Birmingham's best guitarists, was selected to replace Bob Burnett. Roger had previously played in The Brumbeats who recorded for Decca (also under the name "The Merseyboys"). John Hustwayte's replacement was a young guitarist named Dave Pegg from a local band called Roy Everett's Blueshounds.
Dave Pegg had also auditioned as guitarist for The Uglys but when Roger Hill got the job, Steve Gibbons offered Dave the position of bass guitarist. Dave Pegg; "The decision then to become a bass player completely changed my working life, and so much for the better." Dave actually bought the departing John Hustwayte's electric Fender Precision bass from him right after the audition.
A fourth Uglys single featuring the revised line-up was a great version of 'End Of The Season', a song composed by Ray Davies of The Kinks. This represented a departure from the Ugly's previous records as they had all been group compositions up to that point. The 45 did receive plenty of airplay on pirate radio stations but again missed the charts.
Interestingly, Jim Holden and Roger Hill composed a song titled 'Can't See For Looking' recorded by Birmingham's youngest pop group The Bobcats and released as their debut single in 1967. The Bobcats even got to perform the song on the popular children's TV show 'Blue Peter'.
May of 1966 saw The Uglys bound for a tour of Finland but when the ferry arrived in Denmark, the group were promptly arrested with their van and equipment impounded. After being thoroughly searched and spending a night in jail, the band were released and deported back to the UK. This experience had a sobering effect on Dave Pegg who had never been out of the country before. The Uglys made a second attempt to reach Finland and this time succeeded via a merchant ship sailing from Grimsby. No explanation by the authorities for the band's arrest was ever given!
Dave Pegg left The Uglys in 1967 after only a year to join a new local group called The Exception with whom he recorded a few singles. He then played bass in The Way Of Life (with future Led Zeppelin drummer John Bonham) before joining Birmingham's acclaimed Ian Campbell Folk Group, and from there, went on to join the famous British folk-rock band 'Fairport Convention' with whom he remains a pivotal member today.
Dave Pegg was replaced in The Uglys by Dave Morgan from a local band called Blaises and who had also previously played in Danny King's Mayfair Set. Dave Morgan; "I went to see them (The Uglys) play at the Hen & Chickens pub in Langley. Steve performed every song with a voluminous show of theatrical gestures, acting out the lyrics in a deliberate melodrama, something I had not seen done before. For one song he came on with an enormous long brass instrument. He blew down it with his characteristic show of pomp and circumstance, to the song 'And The Squire Blew His Horn'. All this was quite a novelty to me at the time!"
The Uglys line-up changed again in 1968 when Jimmy O'Neil left to join U.K. chart act 'The Mindbenders' and founding member Jim Holden also departed later that year. Roger Hill also went to join previously-departed Dave Pegg in his band called The Exception. Roger was replaced by guitarist Will Hammond from a local band called Traction. Will had previously played in The Yamps with Jimmy O'Neil and was performing with Traction at The Carlton Club in Birmingham on the night when The Uglys came to see him.
Will Hammond; "Jimmy told me The Uglys were interested in me joining them and they came to check me out. We were all into that Pete Townshend/pop art destruction thing by then and at the end of the evening, I smashed my Gibson Les Paul to bits! That seemed to do the trick and after the show I was asked to join The Uglys." Will Hammond was to remain in the Ugly's line-up until the end.
Jim Holden's replacement in The Uglys was veteran local drummer Keith Smart from The Lemon Tree who had earlier played with Dave Morgan in Blaises and previous to that, in Danny King's Mayfair Set along with future Move guitarist Trevor Burton. Keith was to remark years later that he enjoyed playing drums in the Uglys more than any other time in his music career; "The best fun I ever had musically" said Keith.
Another member to join the Uglys who had strong Move connections was multi-instrumentalist Richard Tandy who had played harpsichord on the Move's chart-topping 'Blackberry Way' hit single. Dave Morgan also worked with Carl Wayne to compose the song 'Something' which ended up on the B-side of Blackberry Way. By the end of 1968, Steve Gibbons was the only remaining original member of The Uglys.
The photo shown here of the final Uglys line-up has from left to right; Richard Tandy, Will Hammond, Steve Gibbons, Keith Smart, and Dave Morgan. BBC session recordings made at the time show the group moving towards a 'heavier' direction with such guitar-driven covers like Eddie Cochrane's 'Summertime Blues' and Moby Grape's 'Hey Grandma'. Will Hammond; "This was a brilliant line-up, frighteningly tight". Such an attribute likely did not go unnoticed by former Move guitarist Trevor Burton.
In 1969, this final Uglys line-up recorded a Dave Morgan composition titled 'I've Seen The Light' at Advision Studios in London for a proposed single. The powerful descending guitar intro by Will Hammond, repeated throughout the song, provided a catchy 'hook' similar to what The Moody Blues had done with piano on their hit recording of 'Go Now'. Dave also composed the B-side titled 'Mary Colinto' and it was a song inspired by Jimmy O'Neil's sister Kathy. At the time, The Uglys were still managed by John Singer who negotiated a contract with MGM to release and promote the record. Unfortunately, things did not go according to plan.
The Move's original manager Tony Secunda had an idea to form a new Birmingham group to be fronted by former Move guitarist Trevor Burton. To this end, Secunda proposed a deal with Steve Gibbons for control of The Uglys (excluding their name and guitarist Will Hammond) and agreed to finance them. Will Hammond; "A few months after we recorded the single at Advision, Steve Gibbons and Dave Morgan turned up on my doorstep. They told me that they were all leaving and joining up with Trevor Burton to form a new band!"
With The Uglys now effectively dissolved, MGM cancelled the release of their I've Seen The Light single resulting in only a small number of demo copies being pressed. Ony two of these are known to survive today with one owned by Will Hammond and the other sold recently for 1,200 pounds. Surely one of the rarest and collectible UK "psychedelic" 45s from the 1960s!
Under direction of Tony Secunda, The Uglys (minus Will Hammond) teamed up with guitarist Trevor Burton from The Move and by April 1969 had formed a new Brummie "supergroup" named 'Balls' with the addition of former Moody Blues front-man Denny Laine (see Balls). However, Richard Tandy soon left to join a final line-up of The Move with whom he later found fame as keyboardist for the "Electric Light Orchestra" or "ELO" (see The Move). Dave Morgan also left Balls and went on to help form 'Magnum' with Tony Clarkin. Keith Smart joined Mongrel and went on to find fame in Roy Wood's chart-topping band 'Wizzard'.
Unfortunately despite the potential, 'Balls' was relatively short lived and after recording an underrated solo album in 1971 titled "Short Stories", Steve Gibbons joined a late line-up of the Idle Race who evolved into "The Steve Gibbons Band" by the early 1970s. This group had a hit record with the Chuck Berry song 'Tulane' in 1976 as well as undertaking extensive touring in the USA. Steve Gibbons continues to be very active musically around Birmingham to this day.
Remaining Uglys member Will Hammond re-joined his former Uglys band-mate Jimmy O'Neil in a new line-up of the Manchester chart act 'The Mindbenders'. Will eventually relocated to Spain where he lives today and is still very active musically as a guitar instructor and leader of his own "Will Hammond Band" (see video link below). Jimmy O'Neil passed away in 2016.
Thanks to Will Hammond for assistance in writing this bio. Thanks also to Sam Hustwayte, son of original Uglys bass guitarist John Hustwayte for sending rare photos of the band. Additional info from 'The Quiet Explosion' CD notes by David Wells, 'Patterns In The Chaos' book by Dave Morgan, and Laurie Hornsby's 'Brum Rocked On!'
To see a review of The Complete Uglys 'The Quiet Explosion' CD collection, click HERE
To see the Steve Gibbons Band gig-guide click HERE (www.stevegibbonsband.com)
Copyright © John R Woodhouse
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