Whatever went wrong on the way to superstar status with this band? Was it the lack of one large single hit? Was it the lack of image? In 1975, they ruled the concert circuit in England and were a very popular live act. They could have, should have, and probably deserved to make the big time, but this is the way the music business works – not every band rises above cult status, no matter how many albums they made or how many concerts they played.
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The Stupendous Challenge of raw Budgie
By Chas De Whalley
It`s true, Budgie have nothing new to offer and to resuscitate a deadly phrase, they`re not even “progressive”. But neither are Elvis Presley`s Sun Tapes, which are currently selling like hot ones… but nobody complains about that.
History alone will tell us who made the greater mark on the story of mankind, Elvis or Burke Shelley, Tony Bourge, Steve Williams and new boy Myf Isaacs.
But for the moment, they share the same qualification, dubious or otherwise.
Budgie play for an audience the business still doesn`t quite understand. As usual the tingods down Pan Alley don`t really know what the kids want, and all over the country the kids want Budgie. They`ve been from the Roundhouse to Cardiff City, Birmingham to St. Albans Civic Centre, they`ve played every kind of gig that you can think of and, with little media exposure they`ve broken all the house rules and have gained one of the largest, most loyal cult followings in Britain.
Seven million flies can`t be wrong.
But a couple of dozen denizens of the airwaves and the column inch don`t an authority make. And, come to think of it, what`s authority got to do with rock anyway? Budgie play the kind of stuff you were humming under your breath when the maths got boring and the headmaster was coming on strong about the ciggies in the laurel bushes; only difference being that Budgie play it 1975 style.
Burke Shelley is the bass player and singer and he writes much of the material. He`s a slight Welshman with exceedingly long hair who looks like the boy next door`s elder brother, the guy who dropped out and used to tell you exciting stories about what it was like to go and see a rock band live.
And that`s the thing about Budgie.
Steve Williams, the drummer who`s been with the band for the last ten months, puts it into one sentence: “Our fans are the kids who`ve heard in Budgie their very first album band, and they`ve bought the record and become fanatics.” Budgie`s music is homely Heavy Metal for rebellious adolescents, but which offers little or no threat to the established values which are still very central to the kids` lives. Your mother won`t like Budgie, but then you don`t expect her to, and the amiable antagonism suits everyone.
The average Budgie fanatic may be young and, perhaps naive, but he seems surprisingly level headed beneath the euphoria. Whatever the music may be about, the audience`s identification with the band comes from that music alone, for there`s little or no stage act or image to latch onto. There`s none of that exaggeration of a single aspect of everyday life on which many another “working-class hero” band base their appeal. In these days when the Heavy Metal Market – what remains of it – seems glutted with outfits who work hard on their visual presentation. Budgie are all the more unusual for having no immediate identity.
Steve Williams doesn`t think their audience want that kind of thing anyway. “If they saw us on stage dressed like a bunch of ponces, I think they`d be put off, cos they`re there to see the raw Budgie, and it`s always been the same.”
For five years now it`s been the same, except that Budgie have been getting bigger and bigger. Burke Shelley thought their last tour was good enough, but it seems this present one, which ends this week, was a real eyeopener. “It really surprised me, I wasn`t expecting it to turn out like it did, you know. There`s been a few banana scenes, absolutely fruitcake. Birmingham Town Hall and Liverpool – they started streaking there! Insanity was the order of the day.
“But they`re zany in Liverpool anyway, you know, and they really know how to enjoy themselves. I could have done anything with them, you know, I could have gone up to the mike and just asked them to do most things and they`d have done it. I`ve never asked them to do anything naughty, mind you. I say let`s have a good time, but I don`t say let`s wreck the joint, cos apart from anything I`ve got too much respect for other people`s property. And besides, we might get wrecked ourselves.”
It isn`t quite hysteria that Budgie excite in their audience, but it comes mighty close. Live they play all their own material, drawn largely from “Bandolier” and its two predecessors “In For The Kill” and “Never Turn Your Back On A Friend”, and every number is greeted with the kind of applause usually reserved for much-loved standards. But then, as far as the audience at St. Albans was concerned, every song was an old favourite.
The music isn`t all mindless heavy riffing either. The addition of Myf Isaacs` rhythm guitar to fill out the gaps adds texture to Budgie`s sound, which is what was conspicious by its absence in their pre-“Bandolier” days. Lead guitarist Tony Bourge had just too much on his plate when the band was a three piece. Now he`s free to be a little more tasteful, and despite having to use alien equipment at St. Albans, his playing on the more atmospheric material like “Napoleon Bona Part 1” was very exciting.
Shelley`s “Parents” was really nice too, cleverly avoiding a lot of the traps heavy bands find themselves caught in. “Who Do You Want For Your Love” could easily be a hit single with its catchy, almost funky riff and some nice harmony guitar work. But pick of the bunch was “Zoom Club”. On “In For The Kill” (LP) “Zoom Club” misses completely. But live, with Myf Isaacs in there, Bourge`s raunchy chords hang in the air like a night-time neon sign over an L.A. freeway as you speed past in the Dodge with the cruise control set at sixty. It isn`t all as good as that of course. Frequently Budgie are too loud and too messy, but some times they really are breathtaking.
It all comes from a faith in themselves and their fans, and months on the road with few breaks. As Tony Bourge explained, there`s three ways to break a band: radio, record company and press hype, and hard work. “If the record company and the radio don`t really want to know,” as Bourge claims is the case, “then it`s up to the band to go out and play. That`s what we`ve been doing for the last couple of years.”
The music papers haven`t exactly been kind to Budgie either, but it doesn`t concern Burke Shelley unduly.
“Why should we worry? I mean after five years we`ve got our own following, people have had plenty of time to shoot us down in flames and get us off the road, but we`re a working band, we enjoy playing to the audiences and we have a good time. So we get some bad press, but any news is good news really, isn`t it, as long as we get our name in the paper. What a rock critic says is only one person`s opinion. It`s just tough on us if people believe what he says.”
The spirit of Heavy Rock is alive in Budgie, it`s pure and simple and could save you a lot of money. Buy something like “Bandolier” and you will have the best bits of almost every Heavy Metal Act you care to mention, all together on one record. What you won`t have will be the irritating, pretentious trappings and posturing that haunts this end of rock. See them live and they may be a little crude and outdated, but only as much as being outdated and crude matters to you. And if it matters that much to you – you`re getting too old to rock`n`roll, my son. They don`t rule but they`re alright.
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This number of New Musical Express also contains articles/interviews with these people: The Who, Eric Clapton, The Tubes, David Bowie`s Mum, Blue Öyster Cult, Bert Jansch, Van McCoy, Thin Lizzy, Gerry Johnson.
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