Stack Waddy – “So Who The Hell Is Stack Waddy?” (2017) review
Stack Waddy – So Who The Hell Is Stack Waddy? (Cherry Red Records, 2017)
Once upon a time—September 1969 to be precise—a band formed in Timperley near Manchester from the unlikely cabaret and working-men club scene. This must have had an affect, as a character in the then-renowned Mad mag spawned the new band’s name, Stack Waddy. John Knail (vocals) and late guitarist Mick Stott were first in r‘n’b band The Knails from ’65, Stott and bassist Stuart Banham in Cream-like power trio New Religion whose album on Polydor and European tour came and went. The new quartet—with Steve Revell from Zap Band on drums—was almost a power trio with a vocalist added by sheer force and fear. Like none other, hod-carrying by day and nightly bestowing a healthy mix of Beefheart, Howling Wolf, pre-punk invective interlacing harmonica spurts with whistling and perverse little stories, attention was unavoidable.
Added the last minute to the first Buxton Blues Festival, they were spotted by John Peel who signed them to his new Dandelion label, heralding woken nights to hear they’d broken down on the motorway after a gig and what was he going to do about it? But they rarely ventured south after the first drummer wrote the van off before turning to farming. Also knocked-sideways at Buxton was reporter Dave Neale, after they took the stage by storm at 2am launching straight into classics without let or hindrance. He often wrote about them in ZigZag and Supersnazz and the first LP’s liner notes. ‘They were never slick or seemed particularly together, it always looked like their gear would pack up any second. Much kicking of amps to get them going…Stott really used the overdrive for such a raging tone…a lot of wonderful noise with a killer beat, loud and uncompromising.’
Meaner than Chuck Berry, feedback thrown in, raunchier than Elvis, clatter-drumming that smokes like a tribal gathering with nail-thumping bass, Stack Waddy were ferocious and feral. With high mic like Lemmy, towering over a rudimentary but explosive drum kit, Knail would bowl over and sort out any spotty youth who paid more attention to his girlfriend than the band. What he’d do with today’s mobile-touting dumb brigade can only be guessed but the stuff of dreams!
It’s said that when John Peel first played their tape to Clive Selwood at Dandelion, the amplifier blew up. At a party to welcome new American distributors Warner Bros, the Stacks drove down to London to entertain them; perhaps the rationale was, well, so many American songs they might know how to market the band. Copious drinking among the besuited executives and their manicured wives, Knail took to stage and promptly relieved himself long and noisily there and then. The crowd fled, and Stack Waddy went off to another booked gig but got lost. Asking a copper for directions, their driver vomited over him so the band spent the night in the cells. John Tobler (in his reprinted-here ZigZag article after attending their debut recording session) says they were arrested because the vehicle’s tape, string and chewing gum wouldn’t pass muster with the MOT. Either way, their cache of driving licences didn’t help. If Knail was on the run, as Dandelion’s Selwood assumed, the forces of law and order didn’t twig.
Their first single (‘roaring out of Manchester’ chirped the press release) was a cover of Bo Diddley’s Roadrunner backed with the self-penned Kentucky (and whistling too), opener and closer from the debut album of February 1971 recorded at the Marquee’s studio. Somebody forgot to tell them it was the day of stage props, dry ice, satin loon flares, big heels, make-up and concept albums, but there was ‘absolutely no poncing about! What you saw was what you got.’ Oh were covers passé? The eponymous LP like the 45 got lost in Dandelion’s change-over from CBS to Warner—or was it cheap revenge?
Ten cuts include covers of Beefheart, Van Morrison, Muddy Waters, a sizzling rockabilly hit of ’57 (Susie Q), and superb destruction/ reconstruction of Jethro Tull’s Love Story among others. A basic problem can be distinguishing covers from originals with Stack Waddy: they liked to take a song, change it their own way then sometimes rename it, as we’ll see. One of Peel’s all-time faves, his only quibble (and compliment!) was too many covers, poaching back-catalogues of both famous and obscure classics stamped with their own distinctively original hobnail print. It’s part of their endearing charm. ‘Yes, we were going backwards intentionally,’ recalls Banham, ‘to get back to the more gutsy blues and r‘n’b. The other option was to earn more money in cabaret, and that was unthinkable for us’.
For a John Peel BBC In Concert (supporting Dion in July 1971, those were the days) they opened full-throttle, after probable advice backstage about the thorny issue of copyright. It took the BBC nearly two months to air the recording. Thus we’re treated to Lawdy Miss Clawdy Meets Sooty ‘n’ Sweep (introduced as Sweaty and Seep!) and Jack & Jill Meet Blind Pugh On The Spot. The Mancunians apologetically confessed that, untypically, they were sober this time, and leapt into one of the most unholy rackets that ever graced a stage. Even heavier by then, still quick-fire as a Gatling, careful listeners might make out a couple of early Capt. Beefheart songs too, first heard at John Peel’s London flat. One wonders what fey neighbour Marc Bolan would have made of them. This lone example of their live set was fiery and gutsy, it ‘grabs you by the scruff of the neck and won’t put you down’. It’s no exaggeration to suggest this is one of the classic BBC rock concerts ever committed to tape, if the silly-named ‘royalty’ haven’t sucked you dry yet of course.
In 1972, with new drummer John Groom, came the follow-up Bugger Off! named after their innocent retort when Peel asked for a second take in the studio (Strawberry, Stockport). The title seems to have scared away DJs but the label had run out of budget by then so couldn’t plug it. Zappa’s Willie The Pimp stripped and skinned to the bone, a ball-breaker yelp of the Kinks’ You Really Got Me (allegedly based on a Mott the Hoople take), the Pretty Things’ first 45 (a rasping Rosalyn), Long Tall Shortly (Mainly), the blues staple I’m Your Hoochie Coochie Man, Beefheart’s Repossession Boogie (even a hilarious attempt—the operative term—at Brazil’s Girl From Ipanema)…this belting dozen should come with a health-warning for energetic excitement. Meat Pies ’Ave Come But Band’s Not Here Yet, heard on a beery club’s PA, could only be by them. Apart from a self-penned stormer (doubtless based on experience) Hey Mama Keep Your Big Mouth Shut on a Dandy sampler that year, their recording career was over.
And why no live album? At an Oz benefit gig in leafy Belsize Park, Knail’s amplifier gave up and Banham’s bass broke, so Stott and Groom carried on as a duo in Medicine Head vein. When their intoxication became problematic, they debunked to a local pub, large and genteel, which emptied in five minutes under the sarky barrage from the band to create four seats each for the northern entourage. John Tobler recalls, along with this anecdote, that when less inebriated they were ‘pure dynamite’, otherwise their cover versions were of ‘staggering volume and inaccuracy’. Another music critic, nameless to protect the innocent, called them his brightest hope for 1972 in The Guardian.
In fact most of a third LP was recorded in two sessions at the Marquee studio in late 1970 and May 1971. The nine tracks of just over half-an-hour rock in the same swaggering style but Dandelion thought it too slick, perhaps due to the engineer’s mixes because were laid ad hoc according to Banham. Their rollicking Ginny Jo was even earmarked for a single, fronted with a new stab at their debut’s Mystic Eyes from Them’s own first LP of 1965. Stomping fuzz-bass, acid lead/rhythm Gibson—with holes between classic to the era—harmonica and iconoclastic delivery all Knail’s own, prove the spark was still firing. The underrated licks with Hooker-like boogie and searing solos, pounding percussion as if with twin bass drums instead of a kit seemingly inherited from The Shadows, throb as a powerhouse. They would have, in all honesty, blown away headliners who of course didn’t always turn up for the lesson. If you like your rock raw or loved Punk but still a bit nostalgic for subtlety on the sly, these proto-punks (or their minders?!) are the deal.
The so-called lost tape was first released by Cherry Red appended to their CD issue of the first album in 2007. A lascivious Hunt The Stag, stalking (Almost) Milk Cow Blues, and slashing Nadine like the axe was industrially-welded backstage for Mad Max. When they had a crack at a classic it was tectonic, a blistering blitz short and sharp. They had a fine way with titles, as memorable as Budgie’s: With One Leap Dan Was By Her Side, ‘Muriel’ He Breathed; Meat Pies Have Come But Band’s Not Here Yet; I’m A Lover Not A Fighter. There have been bootleg vinyl releases with titles such as I Throttled Ozzy Osbourne, Photocopied Money, Connecting The Van To The Lampost, but Stuart Banham says these poorly recorded jams insult the band’s reputation.
Originals mix with striking interpretations. You Really Got Me came complete with artistically added grunts, Ian Anderson might have slipped off his peg-leg if he ever heard ‘Love Story’, Van Morrison might actually have said something (for a change) regarding Misty Eyes, though whether printable might be one for the legal department. Girl From Ipanema was a bare one minute of studio frivolity but never a demolition job. Stack Waddy always add something rather than subtract from originals. If they’d played Woodstock they might (seriously) have been another Ten Years After or Steppenwolf, they had the kicks and licks. But time to develop wasn’t in the contract, and they returned to building sites after the demise of Dandelion.
A bit like Edgar Broughton—when he let his guitar talk—or a more structured (!) Pink Fairies with the politics air-brushed out, there’s no hype or pram-egos, just unbridled fun in the legacy they were part of. Belligerent, abrasive, uncompromising, sub-navel yet cockle-warming, these pagans with a small ‘p’ (depending on time of day) blow away Punk as they blow away cobwebs clinging to blues, rock ‘n’ roll and r‘n’b, adrenalin-fuelled buzz sweaty as a backstreet juke-dive. Unlike more famous Manchester groups, such as Gravy Train and Sleep, they were able to empty a home-patch hall when Peel saw them a second time to sign them up.
It’s thanks to his faith that we have these classics now lovingly re-released by Cherry Red with picture-full, band-input booklet, replica sleeves and labels. Each album has its own disc with an added extra of the third album sessions, outtakes, the BBC concert show and Dandelion’s sampler track. Nothing unreleased (though a different date for the BBC concert here) but great to have together in one sleeve in all its loud glory. True one-offs, it’s worth hitching back to hear what rock really is supposed to be, a rare treat.
– Brian R. Banks
– Brian R. Banks
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