British Band Names Are the Best

Every month, Any Major Dude With Half a Heart does an “In Memoriam” post, noting those who’ve died in the last month. The September feature mentioned one person I’ve written about here a couple of times, Jackie Lomax; a jazz player I listen to a lot, guitarist Jimmy Ponder; and Roger Pope, whose name appeared in a post I wrote for a couple of years ago. Here’s a bit of that:

If you read the early history of Elton John, you bump into a band with an odd name, made up of guys Elton knew when they were all unknowns looking for a break.

Music publisher Dick James hired Elton and Bernie Taupin when they were just starting out, in 1967. When James formed his own record label a couple of years later, he hired a number of young session musicians, who eventually congealed into Hookfoot. The name was inspired by their drummer Roger Pope, whose high-hat cymbal would get away from him while he was playing, so he would use his foot to hook it back into place. Guitarist Caleb Quaye had played with Elton in Bluesology. Both Pope and Quaye would play on Elton’s first four albums; Hookfoot bassist Dave Glover would play on two of them.

After Elton broke in America, Hookfoot backed him on a 1971 tour; they would also tour the States with the Jefferson Airplane. Hookfoot made four albums under their own name between 1971 and 1974, none of which did particularly well anywhere. None charted in the States. And by 1974, the bandmembers’ reputations as session players led to the breakup of the band. According to bassist Fred Gandy, who had replaced Glover, “We were all getting offers to work elsewhere . . . the temptations were just too great.” Pope and Quaye weren’t gone forever, though. Both would eventually join Elton John’s new band in 1975.

On Hookfoot’s 1971 debut, they covered the Buffalo Springfield’s “Bluebird.” They also covered the Stones’ “Gimme Shelter,” which appeared on the 1975 compilation Headlines. In 1972, Hookfoot recorded some songs for a radio broadcast at Ardent Studios in Memphis. In 2005, the session was released as Live in Memphis. It contains a smokin’-good version of an original song, “If I Had the Words,” from their album Good Times a’ Comin’. Crank it up here. (Read a lot more about Hookfoot here.)

Before Pope’s death, I was already planning to rerun this Hookfoot post along with part of one about another British band with a strange name. So here’s that bit:

Blodwyn Pig frequently supported major stars of the late 60s and early 70s on UK and European tours. The band was formed by guitarist Mick Abrahams, who had been a member of Jethro Tull only long enough to play on their debut album—but long enough to squabble with Ian Anderson, resulting in Abrahams’ departure. He then re-teamed with bassist Andy Pyle, with whom he’d played in a pre-Tull band called McGregor’s Engine, drummer Ron Berg, and sax-and-flute player Jack Lancaster to form Blodwyn Pig. Their sound was bluesy and progressive on the one hand thanks to Abrahams and Pyle, but also borrowed jazz influences thanks to Lancaster.

Blodwyn Pig made two albums, Ahead Rings Out in 1969 and Getting to This in 1970. Both hit the top 10 in the UK. In addition to extensive gigging over there, the band also toured in the United States. But by the time they reached America, their days were numbered. Not long after a series of dates at the Fillmore West in San Francisco, Abrahams left the band. As his website bio puts it, “the old ogre of musical differences reared its ugly head.” The band attempted to continue for a while, but quickly foundered. But because no band stays dead forever as long as its members aren’t, an edition of Blodwyn Pig, fronted by Abrahams and Lancaster, reformed in the 1990s, and has released several albums since.

About that name: Abrahams says that Blodwyn Pig came from “a stoned hippy friend just back from the Buddhist trail.” It’s thoroughly English, too, and just the sort of thing a group of serious progressive musicians would have adopted for themselves at the end of the 1960s. Their first single, released in the summer of 1969 and also included on Ahead Rings Out, was the hypnotic “Dear Jill.”

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