The Band That Prog Forgot

In 1967 it was unheard for an unknown band to be asked to headline at the Marquee club in London.  But the Marquee’s manager, John Gee, believed 1-2-3 to be the best band he’d ever seen — a Scottish trio comprising of Harry Hughes, drums; Ian Ellis, bass and Billy Ritchie, organ (l to r on photo).  Often John Gee had to come on stage and interrupt to calm the audience and tell them that if they wanted boring R&B music, they should go to the 100 Club, just up the road.

What the restless and occasionally violent audiences were witnessing was a virtuoso trio unleashing a new musical form in the front of their very eyes — a form of music which featured all the ingredients that would later identify progressive rock (or Prog, as it became known) — complex time signatures, and a deconstruction of the verse-chorus pop song format into dramatic movements lasting for up to ten or twenty minutes, with classical overtones and informed improvisation.

Despite the anarchic audiences, a second more-receptive group was following the band around the country — other musicians who realized they were hearing the sound of things to come and were watching a group ahead of its time. Many of these musicians, like David Bowie (who declared Billy Ritchie to be a genius), Keith Emerson and Rick Wakeman would soon be famous and successful.  These guys weren’t so much taking notes as making photocopies. When 1-2-3 were derailed by the unfortunate timing and unexpected death of their manager Brian Epstein (yes, that Brian Epstein), the band faltered.  Chrysalis agency eventually took on the band, and renamed it Clouds.  But the copyists had already moved in.

My own band at the time was Village — an organ trio!  We too had a Marquee residency and were also signed to Chrysalis and so we often ran into1-2-3/Clouds on the circuit.  Our organist, Peter Bardens (left), had just disbanded his old outfit which had a Mick Fleetwood and Peter Green on drums and guitar, and a vocalist called Rod Stewart (don’t know what happen to them).

Village played an R&B/jazz set (I had a Fender 6-string bass) featuring material by the likes of Jimmy Smith and Miles Davis. The band stood squarely — almost symbolically — between the eras of R&B and Prog — because, after Village, Pete Bardens went on to form the prog outfit, Camel.  One of the bands that supported Village at the Marquee was Kippington Lodge, with its bass player, a pleasant chap called Nick Lowe.  It was many years later before our paths would merge — on the crest of another new wave.

(With thanks to Dave Dawson)

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