The Idle Race
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|The Idle Race|
|Origin||Birmingham, England, UK|
|Genres||Psychedelic rock, Psychedelic pop|
|Labels||Liberty Records, Sunset Records|
|Associated acts||The Nightriders
Steve Gibbons Band
Electric Light Orchestra
|Past members||Greg Masters
The Idle Race were a British rock group from Birmingham in the late 1960s and early 1970s who had a cult following but never enjoyed mass commercial success. In addition to being the springboard for Jeff Lynne, the band holds a place of significance in British Midlands' pop-rock history as a link between The Move, the Electric Light Orchestra, Steve Gibbons Band and Mike Sheridan and The Nightriders.
The core of the group, rhythm guitarist Dave Pritchard, bass guitarist Greg Masters and drummer Roger Spencer, was relatively unchanged from 1959 until February 1972. The band went through several incarnations, names, lead guitarists and lead singers: first Billy King and later, more successfully, with Mike Sheridan, with whom they first rose to prominence and, in 1964, to a record deal with EMI.
While Mike Sheridan and The Nightriders failed to crack the charts, the band's lineup during this period included a young lead guitarist and composer named Roy Wood, whose first commercial song "Make Them Understand," appeared on one of the band's B-sides in 1965.
The Nightriders soldiered on with a new lead guitarist, Johnny Mann, for a few months. When they placed an advert in May 1966 for a younger replacement, the winning applicant was Lynne, then a relatively unknown guitar prodigy from the Birmingham district of Shard End. The Nightriders recorded one single for Polydor, "It's Only The Dog/Your Friend", released in November 1966 with Lynne on lead guitar. Spencer sang lead on the former; the latter was written and sung by Pritchard.
Eager to showcase Lynne's vocal and guitar skills as well as his growing cache of catchy Beatlesque songs, the group changed its name, first to Idyll Race, then Idle Race. Wood, now a major star as the Move became a successful chart act, helped arrange a partnership with pop producers Eddie Offord and Gerald Chevin for his old bandmates. In 1967, The Idle Race were the first major signing by the new British arm of Liberty Records (which would soon merge with United Artists).
The group were well received by the music press for their melodies, whimsical lyrics, and inventive production. They often appeared on the same bill with such bands as The Spencer Davis Group, The Who, The Small Faces, Pink Floyd, The Moody Blues, Status Quo, Tyrannosaurus Rex, Yes, Free, and The Move.
During this period, Idle Race was also, as one member later termed it, a very "schizophrenic" band. While their records were awash in melodic hooks, paisley-pop backdrops and lilting harmonies, they were a much heavier act in a live setting. Lynne's early trademark around the clubs and colleges was his ability to coax an unusual "violin" sound out of his guitar, while Masters would occasionally take a bow to his Hofner bass. In addition to original material, their set list included extended covers of Steppenwolf's "Born to Be Wild", The Jimi Hendrix Experience's "Purple Haze", Moby Grape's "Hey Grandma," The Lemon Pipers' "Blueberry Blue," The Doors' "Love Me Two Times", and an electric version of "Debora" by Tyrannosaurus Rex.
Influential BBC disc jockeys such as John Peel and Kenny Everett were big boosters of the group. But despite critical respect and famous admirers such as The Beatles and Marc Bolan, Idle Race failed to catch fire with the public.
Bad luck sabotaged efforts from the start. Their debut single on Liberty, a cover of Wood's "Here We Go 'Round the Lemon Tree", was scheduled for release and heavily promoted in September 1967. When the Move's version began getting national in airplay around the UK as the B-side of the hit "Flowers In The Rain," Liberty abruptly pulled the single in the UK (although it was still released by Liberty in the US). The record company replaced it with Lynne's crunching "Impostors of Life's Magazine" in October. With no promotion, "Impostors" received critical praise but this did not result in strong sales.
"The Skeleton and the Roundabout" (February 1968) and "The End of the Road" (June 1968) suffered similar fates. Work continued throughout the year on the Idle Race's debut album, the group commuting in from Birmingham to London on Sundays, when they were granted free studio time at Advision. The resulting "The Birthday Party" was released in October of that year to strong reviews but tepid sales. (Surprisingly, it was issued in the US on Liberty with a modified cover.)
Lynne and Wood's mutual respect and friendship deepened. The demo for the Move hit "Blackberry Way" was recorded in Lynne's front room and borrowed motifs from the Idle Race; the chorus of Lynne's 1969 rocker "Days of the Broken Arrows" lifted part of a riff from the Move's "Wild Tiger Woman". Wood and Lynne often spoke of working together on a project that would integrate classical instruments within a pop/rock idiom.
Lynne received an offer to replace Trevor Burton in the Move in February 1969 but declined with hopes of steering The Idle Race to commercial success — and producing the band's second LP for Liberty.
The self-titled Idle Race was eventually released in November 1969 (in the UK but not in the US). When the two Lynne-penned, Lynne-produced singles that preceded the LP, "Days of the Broken Arrows" (April 1969) and "Come With Me" (July 1969) also failed to chart, their composer's frustration mounted.
Despite more good reviews, Idle Race, the first album to be produced by Lynne, flopped.
In January 1970, Lynne accepted a second offer by Wood to join the Move, on condition that they would eventually retire that band and concentrate on a new venture, Electric Light Orchestra.
Lynne made two albums ("Looking On" and "Message from the Country") and a handful of singles with the Move, including the first version of "Do Ya", as work on the first ELO album continued in the studio throughout 1970 and 1971. The Move, now comprising just Wood, Lynne and drummer Bev Bevan, ceased touring in 1970 and adopted its ELO alter ego permanently in 1972.
Meanwhile, Mike Hopkins (guitar) and Dave Walker (vocals) were hired to replace Lynne in The Idle Race. A cover of Mungo Jerry's "In the Summertime" on Liberty in 1970 finally got them into the top 10—in Argentina. A cover of Hotlegs' "Neanderthal Man" didn't fare as well.
After Masters and Hopkins quit the group in 1972, the remnants became the Steve Gibbons Band.
- The Birthday Party (October 1968) (issued in UK and US)
- Idle Race (November 1969) (UK Only)
- Time Is (1971) (UK only)
- "Here We Go 'Round the Lemon Tree"/"My Father's Son" (not issued in UK but issued in Europe and US) 1967
- "Imposters of Life's Magazine"/"Sitting in My Tree" (Liberty LBF 15026) October 1967 (UK only)
- "Imposters of Life's Magazine" was erroneously credited to "G. Lynn"
- "The Skeleton and the Roundabout"/"Knocking Nails Into My House" (Liberty LBF 15054) February 1968 (UK only)
- "The End of the Road"/"Morning Sunshine" (Liberty LBF 15101) June 1968 (UK only)
- "I Like My Toys"/"Birthday" (Liberty LBF 15129) 1968 *Unissued*
- "Days of Broken Arrows"/"Worn Red Carpet" (Liberty LBF 15218) April 1969 (UK only)
- "Come With Me"/"Reminds Me of You" (Liberty LBF 15242) July 1969 (UK only)
- "In the Summertime"/"Told You Twice" (not issued in UK or US but issued in other countries) 1969
- "Neanderthal Man"/"Victim of Circumstance" (not issued in UK or US but issued in Canada) 1970
- "Dancing Flower"/"Bitter Green" (Regal Zonophone RZ 3036) 1971 (UK only)
Compilations (CD only)
- Impostors of Life's Magazine (Daffodil DDAF10046) 1974 (2-record set, Canada)
- Best of Idle Race Featuring Jeff Lynne 1990 (1 CD, UK only)
- Jeff Lynne - A Message From The Country 1968-1973 1990 (1 CD) Also features tracks by The Move and the Electric Light Orchestra - there is a companion disc, You Can Dance the Rock and Roll which focuses on Lynne's Move and ELO bandmate Roy Wood.
- Back to the Story 1996 (Re-issued 2007, 2 CDs)
- A new, 5-disc Idle Race box set is also in the works, although a release date has yet to be determined.
Cover versions of songs by The Idle Race
- "The Birthday" was recorded by The Fall with vocals by then-bandmember Lucy Rimmer and no apparent contributions from bandleader Mark E. Smith; it was released as "Birthday" on their 1996 compilation album Sinister Waltz. (The Idle Race are also mentioned in the lyrics of The Fall's 1978 song "No Xmas for John Quays".)
- Ambrose Slade (pre-Slade) covered "Knocking Nails Into My House" on their 1969 Beginnings (Now expanded and remastered as part of a soon-to-be-released box set) album.
- "Morning Sunshine" was covered by Jeremy as part of the "Lynne Me Your Ears" tribute collection to Jeff Lynne in 2001.
- "I Like My Toys" was covered by Radio DJ, Ed Stewart (under the name Stewpot) and the Save the Children Fund Choir.
- "End of the Road", "I Like My Toys", "The Skeleton and the Roundabout" and "Sitting in My Tree" were covered by Norwegian pop group The Tables on their 7" EP "The Tables play The Idle Race" (Kippers Records, 2000)
- "Days Of Broken Arrows" was covered by The Liquor Giants on the album "Something Special For The Kids" in 1998.