THIS PIECE, unless I serve a personal restraining order and keep my legs firmly crossed, is likely to develop into a hysterical citation of the most positive kind.
At this moment long-haired young men in silver brocade outerwear and football training shoes are racing across the West End of London muttering “Average White.” And, perhaps more significantly, a series of long and windy negotiations are finally shifting into third gear so that before too many days, The Average White Band will have a record contract. Kinney are being tempted and three or four others have nodded enthusiastically.
You’ve probably never heard of the Average White Band, unless you caught their very first gig at Lincoln or if you were at the opening two days of the Bag O’Nails club in Soho. These are their only appearances to date and apart from an acetate of what will probably be their first album plus a few thousand feet of tapes recorded during rehearsals they’ve not much on record.
But already there’s sufficient evidence to support the argument that this is the finest soul-inspired band Britain has ever produced.
Average White are six Scottish musicians – mostly from the Dundee area – who came together, not for the first time, in June last year at London’s Central Sound Studios. They laid down demos of three original songs called ‘Reach Out’, ‘The Jugglers’ and ‘It Didn’t Take A Minute’.
After the session the six men looked at each other and realised that they were a band and whatever perverse turns their individual careers might take they would hold together and see things through.
The Average White have adopted a mascot along the way – a man to serve as their manager and take care of the business heavies. Robin Turner, therefore, is unlikely to be capable of an unbiased point of view, but since he sacrificed a lofty position at Island Records in order to throw himself behind the band, his comments are more than interesting.
Turner, it should be noted, after a writing job at the Daily Express, joined the Robert Stigwood organisation and took care of artists like Eric Clapton, Jack Bruce, Ginger Baker and the Bee Gees. Later, at Island, he effectively managed Traffic, Free and the surrounding periphery of super sessionists. He was also responsible for the Hyde Park Blind Faith concert.
This is what he says: “Chris Blackwell at Island had used The Dundee Horns (comprising three of Average White) on a session and was so impressed with them he asked if they had a band together. They gave him the tape of those three early recordings and brought them into Island. But Island seemed more interested in getting them as a house band to do sessions, since they’d been doing this for some time.
“Somehow in the course of conversations they got it completely arse-about-face and believed they wanted to be session men and not go out on the road. It got to the point where they were being referred to as an instrumental band, which is a bit bizarre really if you’ve heard the singer.
“Anyway, I had a disagreement there and was forced into going on my own, which I always knew I would do. After thinking about it for a month I decided to contact the best band I’d heard for a long time and persuade them that they shouldn’t be session men. When it did come down to talking to them I discovered this was the last thing they wanted to do.
“I went to Stigwood’s from the Express and then on to Island with only my own musical tastes to work from, so I had this difficulty of judging people just starting out. The only thing I had to compare them with was Clapton. I’d hear hundreds of tapes and you think yeah, that’s all right, maybe in time they’ll come along. Then you get a tape like this and it just knocks you out completely.
“They’re complete musically and complete as a band and everything they play has a feel about it. I can’t remember hearing a first album by an unknown band that’s as good or original.”
There’s been one change in the line-up since Lincoln. Mike Rosen, on trumpet, has left to be replaced by a second singer and guitarist, Hamish Stewart.
The rest of the band range through a wide variety of instruments that give them almost limitless combinations of tone and mood. They are: Roger Hall, piano and alto sax and responsible for the horn arrangements; Alan Gorrie, a brilliant vocalist with a black soulful sound rarely managed by white musicians, he also plays bass, some guitar and keyboards; Malcolm Duncan is on tenor sax; Robbie McIntosh, formerly with Brian Auger, drums; and Onnie McIntyre, guitar and vocals.
Their musical apprenticeship has been strangely diverse. Roger, Alan and Malcolm were at college together in Dundee and later ran a jazz club in Perth. It was here they met up with Robbie McIntosh, who’d played in a couple of local bands and supported visiting American artists like Ben E. King.
Alan was the first to take on London and played for a while with Scotch Of St James and later with Onnie McIntyre and the new man, Hamish Stewart.
Mogul Thrash, Forever More and other more obscure outfits came up in the course of conversation, but despite all their wanderings and the countless and often numbing sessions, the six managed to come together again last June.
“After the Lincoln gig,” says Alan, “everyone said, ‘right, back to the drawing board’ and we had a couple of weeks in the country to rehearse. Mike split and Hamish joined us and we went down to Mitch Mitchell’s place in Heathfield, Sussex. We spent our time flying about like bairns. We were supposed to be rehearsing but we were mostly playing table-tennis.
“We’ve had a tremendous reaction really. There are people who’ve said openly that they didn’t like us, that it’s not their kind of music, but everybody else has been really knocked out. It really took us by surprise to begin with.
“Before a gig that’s really great but when you come off stage no matter how many people say you’re incredible, if there are things you’ve noted that have to be changed – where it can be improved – it doesn’t matter who says it’s amazing.”
So much of the band’s strength comes from their sympathetic attitude towards each other’s playing. They avoid “the frantic dash to the winning post” and manage to understate or imply a line or rhythm so that the listener is able to participate.
In fact you’re reminded of the very best sounds of Otis Redding or perhaps Cocker when he was with the Greaseband.
“Playing a horn in a really loud band,” says Roger, “is really murder. There’s no fun in it at all. You’ve got to be able to sit on top of it and ride along. It’s got to make you move. If I listen to a piece of music and have time to sit there and say that’s good or that’s bad it’s not working. If it gets you off that’s the end of it.”
“If in three years time.” says Alan, “we’re really successful, the main thing I could hope for is that the music is just as good and everyone is just as enthusiastic as they are now.
“I think working is a good way of surviving. If you’ve time to sit about between projects people are likely to get dissatisfied. The Who are always working and they’ve got more enthusiasm left than any band who’ve been through that period. The Stones are the same. This sort of band is a long-term thing. The amount of things you can do with six people is beyond my imagination.”
And Roger adds: “On the album there are only about two solos and there isn’t one guy in the band who isn’t a good soloist. There are whole fields we haven’t even started on but most of all we like to keep things simple.”
Stand by your beds for a group that’s better than the average white band.
© Andrew Tyler, Disc, 22 July 1972