Friday, 8 May 2015

Get Rubbing

Today’s track, the A-side of a 1968 single released by the Birmingham-based band The Exception, is a blot on an otherwise exemplary and, in the history of the British folk-rock scene, important musical career. The Exception, probably best known amongst collectors for their debut single The Eagle Flies On Friday (an aggressive, blues-influenced cut about threatening bosses with baseball bats and which featured Robert Plant on tambourine) included Dave Pegg and Roger Hill, two men who went on to work with a number of noted British folk-rock musicians and who also became members of Fairport Convention and (in Pegg’s case) Jethro Tull.

The third member of the band, Alan 'Bugsy' Eastwood, wrote Rub It Down.

Reggae was still perceived as a novelty in the UK in 1968, the year that Marmalade made the Number One spot with their cover of the Beatles’ cod-reggae Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da (making them the first Scots band to score a chart topper, fact fans). Millie Small had the first reggae/ska hit back in 1963 with My Boy Lollipop but apart from that it wasn’t until 1969 that Jamaican artists began to make any headway in the singles charts. That year Trojan Records – only established two years’ previously – scored with Jimmy Cliff's Wonderful World, Beautiful People, and Desmond Dekker & The Aces’ Israelites became the first bone fide reggae Number One.

The Exception were as capable as many of the better known bands coming out Birmingham in the mid-60s however, unlike contemporaries such as The Spencer Davis Group, The Moody Blues and The Move, they never to make the shift into the big time…quite possibly because they couldn’t make up their mind which musical direction to follow. Lead guitarist Roger Hill and bassist Dave Pegg had been members of The Uglies and, after recording a couple of singles with that band, the pair teamed up with former Brumbeats singer/drummer Alan Eastwood (Hill had also been a member of the Brumbeats) first as The Hooties before changing their mane to the Exception. In 1966 the trio - hoping to emulate the success of Cream - signed with CBS.

The company issued two singles: The Eagle Flies On Friday, which was credited to The Exceptions, and the tongue-twisting Gabardine Saturday Night Street Walker, which was backed by Pegg and Hill’s jazzy instrumental Sunday Night at the Prince Rupert. CBS dropped the band after the singles failed to chart and Pegg left, replaced by John Rowland who, fairly soon afterwards, was replaced himself by Malcolm Garner.

The band moved to Ed Kassner’s President Records and issued Tailor Made Babe, a decent blues chugger with a great vocal from Eastwood and some nice guitar fills from Hill. Next came this nasty, fake-reggae travesty complete with its terrible Sylvester the cat impersonation; that was followed by the poppy Helicopter, which in turn was followed by the folky Pendulum. The Exception didn’t know what they wanted to be – or if they did their record company wouldn’t let them be what they wanted to be, trying everything – and every style – to try and give them a hit.

Again the singles did nothing, but President Records had enough conviction in the band to finance an album - The Exceptional Exception. The cover of the album reveals a fourth member of the line-up, Steve Yetson, who is credited with vocals, sax and keyboards. Mostly a compilation of the singles the band had cut for President (and conspicuously missing both sides of this particular release), the album sank like a stone. Alan "Bugsy" Eastwood left The Exception shortly after the album's release: Hill carried on, fronting a new line-up but by May 1969 it was all over. Roger Hill rejoined Pegg and became a member of Fairport Convention (he sadly passed away last year) and Eastwood (on the left in the group shot here) recorded a couple of solo efforts (including the album Seeds), though alcohol addiction sidetracked his career. He died of heart failure in October 2007. 

Here are both sides of the fourth Exception single: Rub It Down and It’s Snowing in the Desert.

Enjoy. Mon!

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