The Wurzels reborn
1975 and The Wurzels were in transition. The death of their charismatic leader Adge Cutler meant that they needed to find a new lead singer and a new direction. Step forward Pete Budd and the album The Wurzels Are Scrumptious!, a record that would set them on the road to chart-topping success.
The Wurzels Are Scrumptious!,
EMI OU 2087,
In 1974, the founding father of The Wurzels, Adge Cutler, died in a car crash while returning home from a gig. It was a tragic loss. Aged only 42, Adge had, if not invented, then certainly pioneered an original indigenous English folk sound and tirelessly promoted it for eight years. Part folk singer and part astute comedian, Adge’s ear was well attuned to conjure many a ribald phrase or bawdy lyric. His always readily apparent love of his own native dialect and county had endeared him to people all across the UK.
The like-minded musicians Adge had gathered round him had collectively, over the years, become much more than just the simple backing band of session men originally recruited. By 1974 when Adge died, The Wurzels consisted of Scotsman Tommy Banner, London-born Tony Baylis and new-boy Pete Budd, a Somerset-born guitarist of note who had been recruited earlier that year to replace the departing Reg Quantrill.
Many bands have been faced with the sudden loss of a lead singer. Arguably it is the hardest loss for any band to survive. The musical styles of a drummer or a guitarist can be mimicked for instance, but a front man is very much the life and soul of a group; the public face of the outfit who writes the lyrics and supplies the drive, inspiration and distinctive sound. Finding a new singer means ultimately having to find a new sound an as well as a new leader.
Bands such as AC/DC and Joy Division have managed the difficult feat of reinventing themselves after the tragic loss of a charismatic and inspirational leader. They have both ended up sounding different as a result but they have survived and indeed both have gone on to flourish. The Wurzels too achieved greater success after they regrouped and reinvented their offering, but in 1974, nothing was certain. The band were understandably rocked by Adge’s death and unsure if they would be able to continue. A brief hiatus took place as the group weighed up their options with their management, but persuaded by a still packed gig diary and their enviable record contract with EMI, they took the bold decision to continue on their own.
Without searching for too long, the solution to The Wurzels’ dilemma was elegant and simple in the end. Pete Budd, then still very much the new boy in the group, was promoted to lead singer. New he may have been, but crucially he was blessed with that authentic gruff Somerset accent that The Wurzels’ sound so demanded. The packed gig schedule was now easy enough to fulfil, but recording an album was another matter.
The Wurzels Are Scrumptious! was The Wurzels’ first wholly new album since Carry On Cutler! in 1969 (two stop-gap compilations had been issued in 1974, the year of Adge’s death). The Wurzels Are Scrumptious! is an album by a band clearly in transition. Half of the tracks are Adge Cutler compositions and show the extent of Adge’s influence over the band even after his death. The rest of the tracks consist of two numbers by folk singer Trevor Crozier and his record producer Kevin Sheldon, two original songs by The Wurzels themselves, and also a couple of covers. The Adge Cutler numbers reinforce the old traditions that the group had been following and promoting since the mid 1960s, while the newly written material shows that The Wurzels were attempting to move on from the loss of Adge. The covers though are perhaps the most revealing.
On side two of The Wurzels Are Scrumptious!, The Wurzels offer a fairly faithful version of the song Gotta Have Tenderness, made famous by Glen Campbell on his 1969 album Galveston. Gotta Have Tenderness is an odd choice to cover; it sounds incongruous hidden amongst the rest of The Wurzels’ set. The song is sung straight and the lads combine harmoniously without offering up a single raucous remark throughout. The other cover version though, Speedy Gonzales, reveals a lot more about the direction the band would travel for the rest of their career. Inspired by the cartoon character of the same name, Speedy Gonzales was originally written and recorded in 1961 by David Dante. It became a much bigger hit the following year when it was covered by the king of the crooners, Pat Boone.
What The Wurzels did to that early 1960s track now apparently has a name (and I refer to my recent CDs for the precise terminology): they ‘Wurzelised’ it. That is to say, they took a well known track, ripped it apart, dissected it, put it back together with a garnish of fetid silage and scrumpy and liberally sprinkled it with oo-ars and outright irreverence. As formulas go it was not perhaps the most original, but it certainly worked.
Thanks to their Wurzelising abilities the most successful years of The Wurzels came after the death of Adge Cutler. No singles were ever released from this album, but by covering songs in their own mad and unique West Country way, The Wurzels achieved a number one single the year after this album, and two more chart hits the following year. The Combine Harvester (a cover of Brendan Grace’s own comedy version of Melanie Safka’s Brand New Key) and I Am a Cider Drinker (a cover of the annoying holiday hit Una Paloma Blanca by George Baker) were the big hits that would ensure their legacy, but all that success started here on an album by a group struggling to come to terms with a great loss and striving to find a new direction.
Songs are still being Wurzelised today by the band but let’s not forget where it all began:
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