2021-02-08 11:00:38 | Wizzard: how they affirmed my parents’ unconditional love | Pop and rock


Story by: Simon Hattenstone The Guardian

I was only nine years old and I’d already been through T Rex, the Sweet and Slade. Now I was in love with Roy Wood. This wasn’t a crush – this was the real thing. Roy wasn’t everybody’s cup of tea. He was no Marc Bolan; he wasn’t even much of a Noddy Holder to be fair. But he was mine.

I was ill with encephalitis, bed-bound and living pretty much in the dark because my head was killing me. The only thing that kept me going was music – though my head was too sore to listen to much of it. But there were some things you made an exception for. And my exception was Roy and his glam-rock band Wizzard.

Roy was already a veteran pop star. His first hits came with the great 1960s band the Move. I was too young to catch the Move in their prime – Blackberry Way, Fire Brigade, Flowers in the Rain (the first song ever played on Radio 1, in 1967). By the time I discovered pop, they had released their final single, California Man, and were ready to call it a day. California Man was glorious rock’n’roll anarchy – two saxophones, a double bass being played like a guitar and Roy electric in a lime green silk jacket.

Wizzard, clockwise, from front left: saxophonist Nick Pentelow, drummer Keith Smart, keyboard player Bob Brady, drummer Charlie Grima, saxophonist Mike Burney, bassist Rick Price and Roy Wood.
Wizzard, clockwise, from front left: saxophonist Nick Pentelow, drummer Keith Smart, keyboard player Bob Brady, drummer Charlie Grima, saxophonist Mike Burney, bassist Rick Price and Roy Wood. Photograph: Michael Putland/Getty Images

The Move produced two great geniuses – Jeff Lynne and Roy Wood. They formed the Electric Light Orchestra alongside Move drummer Bev Bevan. Barely had they released their first single, 10538 Overture, when Roy left to form Wizzard with more drums and more brass. The ELO were successful from the off, but not like Wizzard. Wizzard were monster huge. (Though Lynne has had a more lasting legacy.)

Their first single, Ball Park Incident, was the musical equivalent of a punch-up. It reached No 6 in the charts, and it was pretty good, but it wasn’t peak Wizzard. Peak Wizzard started mid-1973 and lasted right through to the end of the year – three marvellous singles that are still classics today.

First came the glory of See My Baby Jive – the ecstatic woah-woahs, the sweeping orchestral arrangements, the backing singers’ harmonies, the sweetness of Roy’s voice, so at odds with his wild-man appearance – the face-paint, the brambled hair and beard. My god, he was gorgeous. Then came the epic Angel Fingers – even more lush and romantic, brilliantly capturing the giddy fuzziness of love itself. Two out of two No 1s. I didn’t know anything about Phil Spector’s “wall of sound” back then, but I grew to learn that Roy had out-Spectored Spector. And he was building his wall of sound higher and higher. Probably the most famous of them all, even though it only reached No 4, was the rapturous I Wish It Could Be Christmas Every Day.

The best thing about Roy was I could draw him. I was terrible at art, but if you couldn’t draw Roy Wood you couldn’t draw anybody. As I was laid up in bed all day, every day, I had plenty of time on my hands to draw him. So that’s what I’d do – hour after hour, day after day, week after week. And the weeks crept into months, and still I was drawing Roy Wood. And every day there would be a pile of discarded Roy Woods by my bedside.

A pre-Wizzard Simon Hattenstone with pictures of Marc Bolan and Slade.
A pre-Wizzard Simon Hattenstone with pictures of Marc Bolan and Slade. Photograph: Handout

In early 1974, Mum bought me tickets for a Wizzard gig in Manchester. That became my target. I had to be well by then because I couldn’t miss Roy, and it was still a couple of months away. But the date crept up on us and I was still no better. I was hysterical on the night because I couldn’t go. So Mum and Dad said they’d go for me, and tell me everything that happened. I’ve never known time to pass as slowly as that night. Eventually they got back, and I rushed to the top of the stairs. Were Wizzard brilliant? What was Roy like? Did his face paint run? How many instruments did he play? (Roy could play every instrument going.) Dad said it was the loudest thing he’d ever heard and his ears were still hurting. Mum said it was great. They told me they managed to go backstage. I couldn’t believe it. They had become Roy Wood groupies on my behalf.

Mum produced a hardback brown envelope. Have a look, she said. Inside there were badges of Wizzard, a photograph of Roy and a rainbow-coloured autograph book. Inside, all the band had signed it. “Get well soon … If you don’t get better we’ll send the boys round.” I couldn’t believe it. I thought it was the best thing ever. I just knew Roy would be like that – generous, funny, mates with Mum and Dad.

A few months later, it was more or less over. There was one more hit (Rock ‘n’ Roll Winter), but Roy and Wizzard had had their day. Meanwhile, I’d got into prog rock. Once I discovered Emerson, Lake and Palmer, Yes, Deep Purple and Pink Floyd, I couldn’t believe I’d been in love with Roy. I was embarrassed. I kept the autograph book hidden in a drawer. One day I ripped the book up. I left the tiny scraps of autograph in the cardboard envelope.

But prog rock was a passing phase. By the time I’d tired of it, I wanted my Roy Wood autograph book, but it was in bits. I tried to tape the scraps together, but to no avail. I was so ashamed of what I had done, disowned my history. About 30 years later I got to see Roy live. I even managed to grab a word with him after the concert. I told him he was my God as a child, that Mum and Dad had gone to see Wizzard for me, that he and the lads had given me so many gifts and said they’d send the boys around if I didn’t get well. I didn’t mention the autograph book.

Today I get a glow when I think of Roy (slightly dimmed by the fact he joined Nigel Farage’s Brexit party in 2019). There is the warmth he and the band showed to my parents backstage. But most of all I think of Mum and Dad, and their unconditional love. Dad would have been approaching 60, and was old – and old-fashioned – beyond his years. The two of them must have felt so out of place among all that hair, glitter and sweat, but it didn’t matter – they were on a mission for me. It’s the most memorable gig of my life, even though I wasn’t there.


Story continues…

Source References: The Guardian
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