reading internet comment on 1-2-3 and Clouds with interest. The research is sometimes commendable,
impressive, and the depth of knowledge and level of questioning refreshing. Yet there is a danger of the researchers losing
sight of the fact that they go so far into the depth, they often pass themselves on the way back again.
some contributors seem to think they’re on some kind of jury. Someone suggests they could be presiding over a hoax.
They obviously didn’t study the history very well. I’m afraid the verdict has already been passed on this. 1-2-3’s
role in pioneering early music is already decided. Contributors who have never accessed these facts before, and who have lived
in a vacuum caused by absorbing only readily available material, may struggle to take it on board. But this was never a band
from the backwoods, it was existing history that had been submerged from the surface of everyday vision, Archaeology,
as Mojo Magazine observed. Then again, the lack of awareness about 1-2-3 on some websites shows
that there is still much work to do in reaching the general public. What is always worthwhile is spreading the word, so in
that sense, perhaps some of these relatively-obscure conversations will have some ultimate value too.
seems to be going on about The Marquee, but 1-2-3 did headline, not support, all during the month of March
1967. That is a fact. They also headlined during May 1967 (A fact). The residency was impressive enough for Brian Epstein
to sign the band to his NEMS Management, not just agency, the basis on which most bands were signed. David Bowie
also confirms The Marquee's influence. The National press took note. So something out-of-the-ordinary certainly happened
there, whether sceptics like it or not. A life-size photograph of 1-2-3 was attached to the central pillar in The Marquee
entrance foyer (a fact, and no doubt the source of much resentment). Other groups appearing at the same time were Syn,
The Nice, Family, etc. Any one of these items taken individually may not be enough to please everyone, but
taken together, these and considerable and weighty as regards evidence of something unusual going on at The Marquee.
Yet even The
Marquee website (though admittedly not an official website, merely a 'fan-of-those-times' website) omitted to mention 1-2-3
at all in its history or even calendar. They actually left the Saturday nights in question blank rather than include
1-2-3. It was only the intervention of Kevin Cann (of Bowie 'Chronicles fame) that set the record straight.
This is not
an isolated example. From what we read (and sometimes fail to read), it also seems that the story of 1-2-3 reaching the
mainstream has infuriated those who would wish it to remain in obscurity. Again, such bile and spite, exhibited after 40 years,
is suspicious in the extreme, and actually suggests the opposite to what is intended by the protagonist(s). This curious attitude
was spotted by Mark Certified in Cleary's so-called testimony (is Cleary Peter from Quiver? No-one else
has peddled the alleged virtues of this unknown keyboard player). Whoever he is, this person is almost frantic in his denials,
even at a distance of four decades. When I first came across such small-minded vindictiveness against 1-2-3, and in particular,
Billy Ritchie, I was surprised. It struck me then, as now, how sharply divided the opinions are. It's certainly not the sign
of something bland and easily forgotten. Given the magazine and book articles that are appearing with more frequency, this
negativity could easily rebound on the protagonists, as questions are asked about the impartiality and motives of such petty
As regards the
'live' recording of America, the analysis of the tape, Ritchie's playing, the arrangement, is healthy, and even desirable
(if at times, rather amateurish and clumsy in execution and conclusion). But again, these are only pieces of the story, interesting
pieces no doubt. Yet the story and history do not stand or fall by any one piece of jigsaw. It may be the wrong piece, or
the right piece in the wrong place. That is the nature of such research, especially with decades passing in between. The recording
may or may not help, depending on one's view of the value of such a tape. My own view is that all the disparate pieces, which
include the tape, must be taken together to give a likely answer to the questions. It may not be possible to do better than
that in the long run.
As I understand
it, the recording was made with a hand-held cassette recorder, the band road manager standing in the crowd. Or was it at the
side of the stage somewhere? The exact location of the tape machine - if there was any one such location - is unknown. Such
'on-the-hoof' recordings were common in that day and age. I am told that the tape originally consisted of several pieces of
songs, but only one complete song - America. The other pieces became lost or discarded over the years, seemingly
of little importance in the years following the demise of the group. I don't believe the original tape even exists now, or
it is at least lost. There is mention of the date being wrong - there's no evidence for that. If the date was wrongly stated,
it could only mean a difference of a week or so, ie, the nights of 11th or 25th instead of 18th. All those nights at The
Marquee club belonged to 1-2-3 as the headline group. But if there was doubt, why be specific about the date at all?
It seems likely (though not certain) that this was the date of the recording. It obviously can't be proved that it was The
Marquee in March 1967, but it seems the most likely venue, and fits with the tradition of the tape as it was handed down.
Even putting that to one side, it certainly would have to have been recorded during the early-mid part of 1967, for when the
band became Clouds later that year, songs like America were never used again, because of the new musical policy imposed
by Chrysalis, and confirmed to me by Terry Ellis and others. What is certain is that Clouds never performed
any of the 1-2-3 repertoire (with the noteable exception of Sing-Sing-Sing, which was kept because it was Harry's
drum solo feature). The personnel were the same, but it was a new band with a new approach. Hence the recording - whatever
it is or isn't - had to be before the Winter of 1967, which still pre-dates the Yes and Paul Simon versions
by a long way. And it should also be noted that in those days an obscure group would not 'seek permission' to pick up a song
and play it - they would just do it.
For the acoustically-minded,
there were no 'drum mics' or other mics, it was just a rough recording, as has always been stated. You can hear the muffled
quality of the instruments, especially the drums, and the sound comes and goes every so often. In the quiet passages, you
can clearly hear the clink of glasses and the babble of people. Then again, it's not impossible that someone (The 'roadie'?
Roadies, we know, are prone to such behaviour!) decided to tinker with the tape in some way, though is it likely? The applause
doesn't sound like 'Beatle screams' to me. It could easily have been magnified by its proximity to the recording head. It
was most likely a stereo recorder, which could account for different sound qualities and aspects of the acoustic, especially
sudden sounds like applause noises. It all sounds quite natural to my ear, but I am not fazed by the proposition that some
of it could be dubbed to enhance the audience reaction. I think that unlikely, but possible, though irrelevant. The important
thing for me is what the music consists of.
why not the more mainstream or underground populist choice of songs to use? Of course, there was that - songs like She's
not there and Sweet-talking guy were in the set, and also Worksong and Parchment Farm; but
choosing The Sound of Silence and America by an unknown Paul Simon was no different to choosing
I dig everything by an unknown David Bowie. It was par for the course for 1-2-3, they were looking for something
different. They picked up whatever they could on their travels, and perhaps, as was suggested, Cyril Stapleton had
a hand in that particular choice of the Paul Simon songs. The group was open to that , they wanted to experiment
- another strand of proof in itself, if you like.
Not enough credence
is being given to some of the things that were said. The 19yr old Bowie is being picked upon for mixing musical terms
(he said "harmonies" and not 'harmonics'). But what of his 1994 comments (when he was 47) that his "song was radically altered,
yet retained its heart and soul". Doesn't that strongly suggest that in March 1967 1-2-3 were playing in a style that Yes
later became famous for? It certainly goes along with the rest of what we read about 1-2-3. Bowie's 1967 letter
to the Record Mirror gives a tantalising glimpse of something very eclectic and not commonplace in any sense. In
one of the earliest modern direct references to the music, Brian Hogg gives a similar picture of the kind of approach
the band had in 1966 - "but these pieces were radically altered to become in essence new"; "it anticipated the techniques
later used by America's Vanilla Fudge"; "used the pieces as stepping-stones to self-expression"; "there was nothing
remotely like it around". The Marquee programme of May 1967 states that 1-2-3 are "unique" and "have created an entirely
new sound in pop group music". Bowie's own letter mentions that "these three thistle-and-haggis-voiced bairns had
the audacity to face a mob of self-opinionated hippies with a brand of unique pop music that floated as would a Hogarth
cartoon in Beano". As we noted, Brian Hogg makes it clear that 1-2-3 pre-dated Vanilla Fudge in
being the first pop-rock group to comprehensively re-write and change other's songs. And there are plenty of other references
to this. I won't labour the point further. This is not collusion and not coincidence either. I would also point out that when
Yes formed in 1967, their song list mainly consisted of straight Beatles covers. But the plan was always
to emulate and copy 1-2-3. And at the same time, Keith Emerson " was playing sideboard".
It's not such
an important matter, but I also disagree with some of the views about Billy Ritchie and his legacy. Everyone has, and is entitled
to their own tastes and opinions, but there is little doubt that Ritchie was among the elite of keyboard players at that time.
The main point to be stressed is that he was the first to bring organ/keyboards out in the open as a truly lead instrument.
Even his detractors, like Cleary, for instance, reluctantly agree on this. That doesn't mean he was the best player, that's
another argument altogether, and Keith Emerson is certainly not in any way a clone. All that has been said is that
the concept of approach was taken from that source. I personally dislike quality comparisions between fine musicians, but
if such judgements must be made, they should be made in the context of the timeframe. Keith Emerson, Rick Wakeman,
and others, have careers that stretch to the present day, and have had great success at times. This obviously has led to these
people maximising, and arguably at least to some extent, fulfilling their potential. Billy Ritchie on the other hand, had
his career cut short circa October 1971. Without the mass support, confidence that success brings, and crucially, playing
at the top level, this obviously means that his potential was lost, an implosion of sorts, common to most talented people
who don't sustain a career. The fairest comparision (if such a comparison has to be made) should be made with Emerson's,
Wakeman's (and any other contender's) output circa 1966-71, and not glancing at these player's achievements since that
time. Personally, I think even without that proviso, Ritchie's playing stands up well. As other successful keyboard players
have observed, it was difficult to judge Billy against the others, he had a style and approach that were not from the usual
sources, though contrary to one statement on the internet, he was also classically-trained, hence the Bach etc. On
tour, he would pass the time in his room by playing the whole of The Well-tempered Clavier, as those who were tired
of hearing it have testified. These are hardly pieces that could be even attempted by any 'untrained' player. The comments
about Ritchie being unable to be a studio session musician etc are also quite untrue. He appeared on many recordings, and
was, until the band's relative success curtailed it, the former band-leader Jack Dorsey's resident studio session
keyboard player (I believe it was the Pye label), as well as appearing regularly as a piano guest on Country
Club BBC radio. One of Ritchie's organ solos (from Carpenter) was used an advertisment leader for BBC's
Sounds of the Seventies. Rick Wakeman's fine piano playing on Life on Mars has been rightly much-heralded,
but his appearance on that record only happened because Billy Ritchie refused, having fallen out with David Bowie
just prior to the recording (though Ian Ellis and Harry Hughes both helped David with the demo sessions for Hunky Dory). Many
other examples exist, but suffice it to say, Ritchie was a sought-after session musician. Even in today's world, Q Magazine
and Mojo and others cite him as being "virtuoso"; "outstanding"; "especially-brilliant"; "genius" . Again, no collusion
or coincidence, but completely at odds with some of the views expressed. Crucially, these peer views are put forward by leading
figures in the music business, not just armchair pundits, or frustrated amateur or semi-pro/quasi-pro musicians. I would recommend
listening to the little-known Clouds album Up Above our Heads for a clearer view of the musicianship, if not the
The songs are
also receiving an unfair hearing. Because it's acknowledged that Clouds diluted 1-2-3, and the songs were admitted as not
being suitable for the band, it does not mean that the songs were poor. In fact, as has been well-documented, they were excellent,
some of them at least, and from what we know, Ritchie had hundreds more than were never used, because Chrysalis policy
decreed that the band should have a mainstream (at the time) Rock output rather than good songs for the sake of it. Only a
few years ago, Record Collector described the album Watercolour Days as "opening with a brace of progressive
pop gems". Scrapbook (the single) was heralded in Melody Maker - "if this isn't a hit, there ain't no justice".
The album Scrapbook was one of Melody Maker's albums of the month. A famous singer of the day, Clodagh Rogers,
recorded Scrapbook. Brian Hogg says " many mourned the rejection of those wondrous strings-backed pop songs". Watercolour
Days was an obvious attempt to merge the band and the song-writing, and to some extent, it worked, though perhaps only
on certain tracks. Watercolour Days received mixed, and sometimes poor reviews on its release, but time has been
much kinder - read the Island records bio on Strangely Strange but Oddly Normal, and the reviews by Bruce
Eder on ALLMUSIC GUIDE. Some did take notice in 1971, Kid Jensen and Billboard Magazine
among them, but like much of what 1-2-3 was involved in, it was all too far ahead of the audience, too visionary to be popular
in its own time. And it was all work in progress. The obvious inference is that a few more albums would have produced work
of great quality and beauty. It was a tragic loss, in my opinion. So no, it wasn't the songs that were the problem, it was
the troubled marriage of Clouds and the songs, and the partial strangulation of the heritage of 1-2-3.
the last two sections are neither here nor there. Ultimately, it doesn't matter if Keith Emerson and others are much
preferred to Billy Ritchie, or if some find his songs to be uninteresting. Those are side issues, and free to separate argument
and debate. The true thrust of the PR exercise is to increase wider knowledge of 1-2-3's rightful place in history. The claim
they have thus far established (as I see it) is not a massive one. I personally would never look to push a case for 1-2-3
being responsible for "The Birth of Prog" (though I wouldn't prevent anyone else from saying it - Who am I to argue with Mojo
Magazine?). I agree with Dick Heath's view on that particular issue, that many sources and influences led to
progressive rock. But it is quite certain that The Nice and Yes would never have existed in their final
form but for those Marquee performances, and many others took the fruits of that too, albeit less conspicuously.
In fact, exactly who took what is difficult to pin down (though some commentators seem quite certain of who the recipients
were). I have no fixed views on that, I'm content with it being said there was an influence, and a crucial one at that. 1-2-3
may well not have been responsible for "The Birth of Prog" but they certainly were responsible for some of the labour pains.
And I have to extend the metaphor by sadly conceding that they were not present at the birth. By the time they had regrouped,
the infant was already howling in the world, leaving them exposed to a charge of stealing from their own DNA.
are virtuous (in the main) and always of interest, but either way, regardless of earnest chat-room debate, knowledge
of 1-2-3 has been gaining momentum for at least ten years of gestation, and won't be denied by a few disgruntled voices, or
the views of fringe groups. That's the least we owe Ian and Harry and Billy. Those three people suffered so much for
so little return. Even now they are being criticised for even daring to have existed. Such meanness of spirit, often based
on little more than pure snobbery and prejudice, is against the principles of truth. I became involved by accident, when I
was asked to research the group by Mojo Magazine for the article that appeared in November 1994. Like many of these
internet voices now, I had never even heard of 1-2-3. But in my conversations with David Bowie, Ed Bicknell, Terry Ellis,
etc, and in archives 'Archaeology', it became obvious that some kind of injustice had been done. Hence my decision to do something
about it, ergo the website, Wikipedia (with thanks for that to Matthew Hartington), etc. Of course, some
of the facts may have become distorted by time. But anyone who is genuinely interested in research as a vehicle of truth will
want to see that 1-2-3 are given more and more mainstream exposure for their own small - but very important - niche in Rock's