Help Yourself interview with Malcolm Morley

April 8, 2016

Help Yourself interview with Malcolm Morley

Their albums artwork reflects English pastoral surroundings but music is way more influenced by American groups of the time. It’s a mixture of hippie country flavoured rock with some hints of pastoral – like their artwork. Quite unique in its own way and especially when there are moments of psychedelic west coast guitar sounds. They managed to record five albums. Their last one was not released in its time. We talked with member of Help Yourself, Malcolm Morley. We are sorry to report that some time ago Richard Treece left us (RIP).

Shagrat Records released a new album entitled ‘Raw’ awhile ago. This 10″ vinyl contains some of your recent songs. You and your guitar are the main characters on the album. What’s the story behind making these songs?

There are four songs so in a way it is like the old vinyl EP format, though larger in size since it is a 10″. The recordings aren’t just me and my guitar, I must also give a mention to a friend’s sister Caitlin who played some excellent fiddle and bandoneon on the recording. 

After a set at a Sunday musical event organized by Nigel, the owner of Shagrat Records, I was approached by Nigel and asked if I would be interested in recording three or four songs to be released on vinyl. Nigel chose the songs that he wanted (“Poor Man”, “Summerlands” and “Where the River Bends”) and stipulated that they be just me and the guitar. So when I played him the recorded songs with “East Virginia” added and Caitlin’s fiddle I wasn’t sure how he would respond. I had placed the string parts fairly well back in the mix so they weren’t obtrusive and hoped he would hardly notice. As it happened, Nigel really liked Caitlin’s part.

Are there any songs from older days that never got released until recently?
As far as I am aware there are not any studio recorded Help Yourself songs not released. We pretty much covered that with the half finished tracks recorded at Chipping Norton in 1973 that were finally released by Hux Records several years ago.
There are one or two BBC Radio John Peel show recordings knocking about with songs on that were never recorded in the recording studio for United Artists. As far as songs that have never seen the light of day, there are quite a few… “Momma Touch The Earth”, “Humber Song”, “Harleycorn House'” spring to mind.
Now let’s open some other chapters from your extensive music career. I would like to start with some basic questions. When and where were you born?
I don’t know for sure, I am not from this planet originally. I was quickly moved to Walthamstow I guess so the USA Area 51 boys would not notice one got away.

How old were you when you began playing music and what was the first instrument you played?

Around 5 years old. It was a piano. I dinked around on the piano and sang “Daisy, Daisy / Give me your answer, do. / I’m half crazy / all for the love of you”.
What inspired you to start playing music? Do you recall the first song you ever learned to play?

That is hard to know. The radio was on a lot and I used to listen to Ella Fitzgerald, Frank Sinatra, Nat King Cole, who I used to confuse with ‘Old King Cole‘ who was a merry old soul in a nursery rhyme. Doris Day, ‘The Third Man’ theme played on the Zither by Anton Karas which my cousin Babs had on a 78 record… Jimmy Brown, “Mack the Knife” (Louis Armstrong or Bobby Darin) “Zambezi” (Lou Busch and his Orchestra), Jerry Colonna, “Blow the Wind Southerly” (Kathleen Ferrier), “Three Little Fishes’ (Frankie Howard), “There Once Was An Ugly Duckling’ (Danny Kaye) to name but a few.
My cousin Babs took me to the pictures (movies) twice a week. She was a real film fan. I saw a lot of the then famous musicals ‘Seven Brides For Seven Brothers’, ‘Calamity Jane,’ South Pacific,’ ‘Singin’ in the Rain’ and many others. I always enjoyed singing ‘Introducing Henry Miller… he’s as busy as a fizzy Sarsaparilla’ (from Calamity Jane sung by Doris Day).
The first song I learned to play was possibly “One Night” by Elvis Presley… though I never fully learned the words. I just sang drivel where I did not know the words. My cousin Babs had bought me a guitar for Christmas when I was 10 or 11 years old and I attempted “One Night” because I thought it was in the key of E major and my fingers would stretch to that. C major was a step too far then. Later on I took on “Don’t be Cruel” and am still convinced that Elvis sings ‘Don’t start behinkin’ umba’ on one of the verses.
One of the very first bands you were part of was Hoodoo Blues Band. Would you like to recall some memories from being part of this band?
This is an extremely fond memory. Dave Charles the drummer of Help Yourself was my next door neighbour. We played ‘Cowboys and Indians’ and football together as kids. After the 11 plus exams at school and early teenage years I did not see Dave very much. Then one evening as I was returning from work at my first job at W.Williams and Sons I bumped into him in Chingford Road where we both lived. He asked me to join his band as their organist. So I bought a Farfisa Organ on Hire Purchase and joined The Hoodoo Blues Band, sometimes called ‘Those Hoodoo.’ 
They were made up of Dave’s school chums. Alan Clements (vocals), Roger Smith (lead guitar), John Manning (bass guitar), Bob Cater (rhythm guitar) and of course Dave on drums. They were/are a great bunch of blokes. We played weddings, the odd pub and hall. I remember playing in a hall Harlow (Essex) one of the new towns because some kid came up to me saying “My mate…..my mate see…he’s got Concrete fingers” I think I replied “Oh …..well done” or some such. Certain things stick in the mind.
We used to spend Friday and Saturday mostly at the ‘Bell Corner’ pub. They had bands at the weekend and nearly everybody did “Midnight Hour” for some reason. Friday nights would invariably end in a punch up among the ‘Johns.’ These were the smart suited guys that would stand at the bar with one hand behind their back holding a cigarette and a drink in the other. Mostly we got out before it kicked off. I had a nose for such things and would suggest we beat a hasty retreat as the ‘vibes’ got tense.
Roger Smith and Bob Cater were both tall, very good looking young blokes that everybody, especially the girls seemed to know. Walking down Walthamstow High Street on a Saturday with Roger was a string of “Alright Rog” queries followed by a nodding cheesy grin from Rog’ and ….’ Yeah alright doll’ retort. 
The whole band (including me) and their friend Del went on holiday together to Woolacombe in North Devon. We stayed in caravans. Happy days.
How was the scene in your town? Any other bands you shared stages with?
You’ve got me here. Possibly Sam Apple Pie.
When did you begin writing music? What was the first song you wrote? What inspired you and did you ever perform the song live or record it?
About 19 years at a guess. I used to imagine myself playing to large crowds of people and would sit at the piano making things up. The first song I wrote was called “Goodnight Jane” and it never saw the light of day. I remember it because many years later I met my longtime partner of 23 years whose name was Jane.
Hoodoo Blues Band member (Dave Charles) left to join Sam Apple Pie. What happened next?
I think the band broke up… a natural progression. I lost contact with Dave for a time.
You knew guys from Eire Apparent and Sam Apple Pie. Did you ever play with any of them before forming Help Yourself?

I did one recording session for Sam Apple Pie where I played harpsichord on one track of their record. I remember doing some keyboard overdubs at Olympic Studios in Barnes for an American singer songwriter named Jim Ford. Dave Robinson who later managed us and The Brinsley Schwarz Band was producing the session and there I first heard Henry McCullough who did some guitar parts for Jim Ford. Up to then I had only ever played an acoustic guitar. After hearing Henry I was inspired to try the electric guitar. There is/was nobody like him. I remember chatting with him and found that we both loved “Brown Skin Woman” by Snooks Eaglin.

You also played on a solo album of Eire Apparent singer, Ernie Graham in 1971?
Yes I did.

Next step was formation of Help Yourself. Originally it was you, Dave Charles and Richard Treece. John Eichler became your manager and had connection to Dave Robinson (ex-roadie for Hendrix and also the manager of Eire Apparent) and there was also an editor of early James Bond movies named Stephen Warwick. What can you tell us about this?
How long have you got, because their is a book here. Firstly, John Eichler was a great pal. Where as I was then an ‘unworldly’ dreamer with little self confidence, John was gregarious and was able to make connections with many different kinds of people. He got married and ran a little off Licence in Barnes in South West London with his wife Sue. Some of his clientèle just happened to be in the music and film world. Stephen Warwick was one, Dot Burn-Forte another. Dot worked for the Brian Morrison Agency who promoted music acts for live performance. Her then boyfriend was Dave Robinson who managed Eire Apparent and had recently completed a tour of the USA with Eire Apparent and Jimi Hendrix.
Much of the ensuing wondrous mayhem was initiated by Stephen and John getting there heads together and making dreams come true.
Did you play any shows as Help Yourself before recording your first album?
Not sure.
You got signed to Liberty Records and started recording your debut. What can you tell us about music material and where was it recorded?
Some of the songs were influenced by people I loved to listen to then… Snooks Eaglin, Neil Young, Buffalo Springfield, Jefferson Airplane, The Beatles, Bob Dylan to name a few. It was hard. I have never been a prolific songwriter. It is like getting the proverbial ‘blood out of a stone’. I often felt I was ‘in over my head’ as it were, that I would get found out and the whole dream would disappear in a puff of cannabis. Yet we still bounded on.

The first album was recorded in Olympic Studios in Barnes and produced by Dave Robinson. He did an excellent job and encouraged us all.

They were amazing times. Yes we were young, yet there was positive energy in the world at that time that is not so absolute today as the realization has dawned on our species (some of them anyway) of the consequences of our continued industrial plunder of the Earth and the general collective failure to get along. Then, we felt we could really ‘change the world’ and all would be hunky dory. Ho hum. Must have been the drugs.
Who made a beautiful cover artwork for your debut?
Jeff Powell. Jeff is a lovely guy and we met him through Ken Whaley. They were sharing a flat in the Golborne Road in the Notting hill area. We lost touch over the years. 

What was the writing and arranging process within the band?
That would be me, with occasional assistance from Dave Charles. Luckily Ken and Richard would usually say “Yeah that seems OK’. Then someone would say “Shall I Roll Another Joint?”.

How did critics receive the album?

Reasonably well I think. John Mendelsohn of Rolling Stone Magazine gave us some good mention in his reviews. We were somewhat surprised and pleased.

A year later in 1972 you released your second LP ‘Strange Affaire’, on United Artists. There was some lineup changes, including the departure of original bass player Ken Whalley. He was replaced by Ernie Graham and lead guitarist JoJo Glemser. Album was recorded at Dave Edmund’s Rockfield Studios.
Actually I think it was mostly Kingsley Ward’s Rockfield Studios, with some assistance from his brother Charles, though I believe Charles mostly looked after the farm. I could be corrected here as I am guessing Dave Edmunds may have had a share in the ownership. Dave recorded his music there and did some producing too. As he, like us, was signed to United Artists the link would have been U.A.’s A&R man Andrew Lauder. As we had been part of “The Downhome Rhythm Kings” with the Brinsley Schwarz Band and were renting a country house in Headley Down I think Andrew Lauder liked the idea of getting us out of London and out ‘in the sticks’ to record. Plus the recording rates per hour were very friendly compared to Olympic Studios.

What’s the story with ‘Beware the Shadow’ album, which was made with former bassist Paul Burton?He was filling in for JoJo Glesmer and Ernie Graham after they left during the previous sessions. This was self produced and I didn’t find anywhere the mystery behind it…
I am a little hazy myself about this period hence Beware The Shadow. There is some mystery about this record for sure. I remember Pete Townsend of The Who liking “She’s My Girl” when he came in to one of the mixing sessions in Olympic studios. Also two guys came in to the Mixing Studio who looked like ‘Bigwigs’ in the Record business and stood listening, nodding sagely and making the occasional pertinent comment. As they left, Anton the engineer asked us who they were. We said “We don’t know, we thought you had invited them”.
Turned out they were just two guys who had been curious about what went on in the building and wandered in to have a look. Something John Eichler and I might have done ourselves in earlier days.

Two more albums were recorded, but only one was released in its time. Your fifth album got shelved. What was happening at the time?

I ran out of steam. The songwriting dried up. I had enough and needed break. The weight felt too big.

It’s really interesting, that you are British, but the sound was closer to American West Coast bands of the time. Did you ever manage to tour there?
Not with Help Yourself. I managed to get there with Man later and that was a thrill.
What bands influenced you the most?
Well I can only speak for myself for certain but from memory can say what Rich, Ken and Dave also liked. Rich was very fond of early Fairport Convention, Led Zeppelin, Santana, Spirit with Randy California, Jeff Beck, Peter Green, a lot of the Blues players… Buddy Guy, Junior Wells… that is to name a few. Dave loved the organist Jimmy Smith, Credence Clearwater Revival and we used to love going to the Cooks Ferry Inn to see the Fleetwood Mac line up with Peter Green, Jeremy Spencer, Mick Fleetwood and John McVie. I am not sure if Christine Perfect was playing there at that time or not.
Ken brought some new elements to our listening when he joined the band. The Grateful Dead, Velvet Underground and others that don’t spring to mind.
I liked Buddy Holly, Eddie Cochran, Bob Dylan, Snooks Eaglin, Muddy Waters, Buffalo Springfield, Jefferson Airplane, John LennonThe Beatles, The Rolling Stones (Ken loved the Rolling Stones)…I could roll on and on. Mostly all of these and many more crossed over between us. I know if the others see this they are likely to say ‘What about …………? How could you leave them out?

Would you discuss some of your most memorable moments in Help Yourself and what made them so?
Doing our first gig ever because I was utterly terrified. It went really well. There was a big crowd who stamped their enthusiasm at the end. I thought we were about to be the next Beatles. I remember Dave Robinson (our then overall manager) saying “Well done… but they wont all be like that”.
The next gig had about 20 apathetic people who managed the odd stuttering clap. Not the next Beatles then.

Moving into Headley Grange. We were so lucky to have lived in a beautiful country mansion with grounds and wooded walks at the back.
Getting an electric shock when I started to grab the microphone during a performance on tour in Scotland when we were supporting Family. Luckily I managed to let go and this caused me to rock back in strange dancing movements shouting “OOH AAH” and suchlike. The rest of the band who had no idea what had happened gazed at me in bemusement. I heard Sean Tyla who was in the audience in front of the stage shout “Look at Malc, he’s really getting off tonight”.

I could go on but you’d run out of paper.
You were part of many other projects, including making albums with Ernie Graham, Deke Leonard, Man, Wreckless Eric, The Tyla Gang, Ian Gomm, Kirsty MacColl and others. Is there a certain moment you would like to remember from your collaboration with other musicians?
I am going to make a slight correction to your question. As far as my memory serves me I never made an album with The Tyla Gang. Ian Gomm produced my record Lost and Found and saved the tapes and converted them to CD and some 25 years later was instrumental in finally getting it released (so you can blame him). I don’t remember being on any of his records though.

The ‘Be Stiff 78’ tour by British Rail that Dave Robinson organized featuring Lena Lovich, Wreckless Eric, Jonah (You’ll always find me in the kitchen at parties) Lewie, The Records, Rachel Sweet and Micky Jupp. Six acts, half an hour each set. On one of the gigs Elton John suddenly appeared and I did a duet with him on the Yamaha electric grand piano that we used. He played the lower end I played the top half. I remember him grumbling when he learned what key the song was in (Emaj). He said “I normally only play in C”. I think it was probably the Rachel Sweet set that we were augmenting with the piano.

Also there is a vivid memory of the panic on Jonah Lewie’s face when the extremely elaborate keyboard that he had didn’t work. He’s a very good performer but knew little about the working of the keyboard so relied on the road crew to set it up just right. He would bound on stage sometimes and hit the keyboard with his outspread hands in dramatic fashion and nothing would happen…. no sound… Now because the rest of the band had started up anyway, Graham the chap that prepared his keyboard (and was crouched at the back of the stage like a sprinter ready for the 100 yards gun) had not realized the keyboard had failed to function. Meanwhile Jonah was turning round making the most extraordinary grimaces towards Graham who sometimes just smiled back until he realized something was afoot. It was hard to play my piano part from laughing. In the end sometimes I would have to shout at Graham ‘THE EFFING KEYBOARD’S NOT WORKING!!!

What lies in future?

Bop ’til you drop.
Thank you so much for taking your time. Last word is yours.
Well thank you for allowing me to ramble on. It took me to one or two unexpected places.


Interview by Klemen Breznikar/2016
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