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Wizzard in 1974
|Origin||Birmingham, West Midlands, England|
|Labels||Jet, EMI, United Artists, Warner Bros., Edsel|
|Associated acts||Electric Light Orchestra, The Move, Wizzo Band, Violinski|
Wizzard were an English glam rock band formed by Roy Wood, former member of the Move and co-founder of the Electric Light Orchestra. The Guinness Book of 500 Number One Hits states, "Wizzard was Roy Wood just as much as Wings was Paul McCartney." They are most famous for their 1973 Christmas song "I Wish It Could Be Christmas Everyday", which has been played during every Christmas season in the UK since its release.
Not long after the release of Electric Light Orchestra's first album, Wood found himself in political disagreements with the band's manager Don Arden, so Wood left ELO, taking band members Bill Hunt (keyboards and french horn) and Hugh McDowell (cello) with him to form Wizzard, as well as ELO's sound engineer, Trevor Smith. Despite press reporting a fallout between Wood and co-founder/leader Jeff Lynne, Wood denies that he and Lynne ever had a real row, blaming it on press fabrication, and insists that, "We never had a real row and we're still mates now." Instead, Wood blamed Arden for his management style and failure to resolve the problems.
Also in the line-up were former Move bassist Rick Price, drummers Charlie Grima and Keith Smart (all formerly of Birmingham group Mongrel), and saxophone players Mike Burney and Nick Pentelow (the son of actor Arthur Pentelow). Prior to the recording of the band's second album, Introducing Eddy and the Falcons, McDowell left and was not replaced (he returned to ELO), and during the recording of the album Bill Hunt also departed and was replaced by Bob Brady (also from Mongrel). Prior to the 1975 recording of the band's final album, Main Street (released 2000), drummer Keith Smart departed the band and was not replaced.
Live debut, chart success and tours
The band made their live debut at The London Rock and Roll Show at Wembley Stadium on 5 August 1972. Wizzard's second appearance was at the Reading Festival later that month. With Wood's distinctive warpaint make-up and colourful costume, not to mention regular appearances on BBC Television's Top of the Pops in which members and friends, including Wood's girl friend, singer Ayshea Brough, variously appeared in pantomime horses, gorilla costumes or as roller-skating angels, often wielding custard pies for good measure, they were one of the most picturesque groups in the British glam rock era. In January 1973 they scored their first Top 10 hit with "Ball Park Incident". Their biggest hit was with their second single. "See My Baby Jive", Wood's faithful and affectionate tribute to the Phil Spector generated 'Wall of Sound', made No. 1 in the UK Singles Chart for four weeks. It sold over one million copies globally, and was awarded gold disc status. The follow-up, "Angel Fingers", also topped the charts for one week. Wizzard's songs often included lengthy instrumental improvisations.
The band's 1973 Christmas single "I Wish It Could Be Christmas Everyday" has become something of an annual fixture on British (and Irish) radio and television. It was reissued in 1981, and a 12" re-recording appeared in 1984.
During 1973 Wood was simultaneously exploring a solo career with his album Boulders, which produced a Top 20 hit in "Dear Elaine". The subsequent heavy working schedule and strain led to health problems, and several cancelled or postponed live dates on a spring 1974 tour of the UK. One highlight of 1974 was a return to the Top 10 with "Rock 'n' Roll Winter (Loony's Tune)". Release was delayed for several weeks until the end of March, so the words 'Sorry, the word 'Spring' wouldn't fit. R.W.' were added on the label after the title. Unusually for the time, this and the B-side, "Dream of Unwin", were both recorded and released in mono. The song was dedicated to Wood's girlfriend of the time Lynsey de Paul, who repaid the honour by recording a Wizzard flavoured song "Ooh I Do" a few months later.
A tour of the US later that year failed to bring them any commercial success there, but after meeting Brian Wilson some members guested on a Beach Boys session, which resulted in the eventual release of the latter group's single "It's OK" in 1976.
Wizzard was an expensive band to maintain, both because of the large line-up, in terms of recording costs, and Bill Hunt's propensity to smash the pianos of the venues they were playing at. According to Price in a radio interview, "...even when we've had permission to do so. At one gig they said, 'Oh, go on, smash it up; it's only worth a fiver.' So Bill smashed it up, and we got a bill for a hundred and ten quid!" Studio time was an even greater drain on the band's finances. Price again: "When we finished recording 'Angel Fingers' it was rumoured that we had spent more time in the studio than Paul McCartney had with the whole of the Band on the Run album." Whether it was true or not, this meant that most of the record company's money was spent in studio time and that the members of the band had to rely on live touring work for their income. A couple of tours in the UK and one tour of the US were not enough to ensure regular wages for the band. One by one the band members found other, more lucrative, things to occupy their time.
By autumn 1975 they had split, leaving a farewell single, "Rattlesnake Roll", which failed to chart, and a third album, Main Street, which their record label did not release as they deemed it insufficiently commercial. Wizzard had initially intended their second album to be a double, with one disc a set of rock and roll pastiches and the other disc jazz-rock. The label heard the rock and roll set and decided to release that as a single album, which appeared in 1974 as Introducing Eddy & The Falcons. Main Street, the jazz-rock set, languished in the vaults and was for some time presumed lost, but was finally released in 2000.
Following the band's split in 1975, Wood and Price formed the short-lived Wizzo Band, after which Wood reverted to a solo career in addition to producing records for other acts, notably a 1979 Top 10 cover version of "Duke of Earl" for British doo-wop revivalists Darts.
Hugh McDowell died on 6 November 2018 following a long illness, at the age of 65.
- Roy Wood - vocals, guitars, saxophone, woodwinds, strings, keyboards, percussion (1972-1975)
- Mike Burney - saxophone, clarinet, flute (1972-1975; died 2014)
- Charlie Grima - drums, percussion, vocals (1972-1975)
- Bill Hunt - keyboards, French horn (1972-1974)
- Hugh McDowell - cello, synthesisers (1972-1973; died 2018)
- Nick Pentelow - saxophone, clarinet, flute (1972-1975)
- Rick Price - bass (1972-1975)
- Keith Smart - drums (1972-1975)
- Bob Brady - keyboards, vocals (1974-1975)
|Title||Album details||Peak chart positions|
|Introducing Eddy and the Falcons||
|"—" denotes releases that did not chart or were not released in that territory.|
|Year||Title||Peak chart positions||Album|
|1972||"Ball Park Incident"||6||70||8||Non-album singles|
|1973||"See My Baby Jive" [A]||1||12||1|
|"Angel Fingers (A Teen Ballad)" [B]||1||42||7|
|"I Wish It Could Be Christmas Everyday" [C]||4||—||6|
|1974||"Rock 'n' Roll Winter (Loony's Tune)"||6||—||13|
|"This Is the Story of My Love (Baby)"||34||—||—||Introducing Eddy and the Falcons|
|"You Got Me Running"||—||—||—|
|"Are You Ready to Rock"||8||—||10||Non-album singles|
|1976||"Indiana Rainbow" [D]||—||—||—|
|1981||"I Wish It Could Be Christmas Everyday" (re-issue)||41||—||—|
|"—" denotes releases that did not chart or were not released in that territory.|
- Rice, Jo (1982). The Guinness Book of 500 Number One Hits (1st ed.). Enfield, Middlesex: Guinness Superlatives Ltd. p. 150. ISBN 0-85112-250-7.
- Mercury, Sunday (5 April 2009). "Wizzard and Move pop legend Roy Wood reveals his secret shyness". Birminghammail.co.uk.
- Kielty, Martin. "Why Roy Wood Really Left the Electric Light Orchestra". Ultimateclassicrock.com.
- Tobler, tilly (1992). NME Rock 'N' Roll Years (1st ed.). London: Reed International Books Ltd. p. 75. CN 5585.
- "Biography by Doug Stone". Allmusic.com. Retrieved 7 December 2008.
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- Murrells, Joseph (1978). The Book of Golden Discs (2nd ed.). London: Barrie and Jenkins Ltd. p. 339. ISBN 0-214-20512-6.
- Van der Kiste, John (2012). Roy Wood: The Move, Wizzard and beyond. KDP.
- "Rick Price". 4 May 2006. Archived from the original on 4 May 2006. Retrieved 22 August 2019.
- "Wizzard star Mike Burney dies aged 76". ITV. Retrieved 6 December 2014.
- "Wizzard star Mike Burney, who also played with The Beach Boys, Sammy Davis Junior and Bob Hope has died". Birmingham Mail. Retrieved 18 December 2014.
- "Hugh McDowell, ELO Cellist, Dies at 65 - Best Classic Bands". Bestclassicbands.com. 16 June 2015. Retrieved 7 November 2018.
- Kent, David (1993). Australian Chart Book 1970–1992 (illustrated ed.). St Ives, N.S.W.: Australian Chart Book. p. 342. ISBN 0-646-11917-6.