Legendary British band July recorded one of the most sought after Sixties psychedelic albums and released one of the greatest singles not to chart (My Clown/Dandelion Seeds).
The group have recently reformed as interest in them has grown steadily since their split with escalating record prices, cover versions and a stream of appearances on classic psych compilations.
Jason Barnard of The Strange Brew Podcast catches up with them as plans are made for a new album and concerts:
Tom Newman…. Singer, Rhythm Guitar & Sitar
Alan James……. Bass Guitar
Peter Cook………Lead Guitar
How did you get into music and what were your earliest influences?
Peter: We started off playing The Shadows didn’t we.
Alan: We were at school and we all liked that sort of thing and decided that’s what we wanted to be. Well not me at the time as they didn’t want me in their band!
Tom: I did Al!
Peter: It was the Shadows early influences and probably for you Ned it was the Everly Brothers
Tom: Yeah. Elvis, Lonnie Donegan and the Everly Brothers… Eddie Cochran.
Peter: And then of course, on from that, The Shadows had excited us all and then The Beatles hit the scene which pissed us off because they had the same sort of line up,which was a singer who played guitar. We didn’t have a separate singer. The Beatles suddenly come out and were bigger than us and nicked what we did but they went onto great things.
Tom: But the other thing was that we didn’t want to get day jobs. You never have a day job did you?
Chris: I used to work in Cut and Quality.
Alan: Yes, I worked for a year and a half before I went into the band.
Tom: What were you doing?
Alan: I was a laboratory technician. Worked at Glasso’s – the car paint factory.
July’s lineage can be traced directly back to the late 50s/early 60s band The Playboys. Can you tell me more about this period and what was the band’s sound and did you play many live gigs?
Alan: We weren’t called the Playboys. It’s a misunderstanding, it was the Dreamers. And we stayed as the Dreamers for at least a month until Freddie and the Dreamers came out and we thought that we had to change our name and your dad came up with it.
Tom: Did he?
Alan: Yeah. He said “What about The Tomcats?” and we said “Yeah alright”.
Tom: We were still playing the same stuff which was The Shadows, Eddie Cochran…Summer Time Blues. Then we moved onto Chuck Berry and Bo Diddley.
What was the line up of The Tomcats then?
Alan: Chris Jackson on Drums. Tom Newman on vocals. Peter Cook on lead guitar and harmonica and Alan James on bass.
Why did the first incarnation of The Tomcats split in 1965 and how did the merger with The Second Thoughts happen, were you both Ealing bands?
Alan: We were both Ealing bands. Our management crapped out on us and took our gear back when they folded up.
Tom: We got a load of gear. We were a resident band in Beat City in Oxford Street and Alex Herbage and Alexis Korner were managing us and they bought us a load of gear on HP: Vox AC50s, a PA system and a guitar etc. Herbage wound up in court and bankrupt because of city fraud and the whole thing collapsed and they took our equipment back. It was the last straw.
Alan: Tony had just got back from Spain backing Teddy Ray and decided it would be a good idea to go out there again with a band and he put the idea to Tom.
Tom: Yeah. They asked me if I would be their singer and wanted a few others like Mickey Holmes and Speedy Keen of the Second Thoughts. Basically they wanted to reform the Second Thoughts without Vic the Dog and Pat Campbell-Lyons and have me as the singer and I went along with that.
Alan: And then they got rid of Speedy Keen.
Tom: Because he nicked all the travel money.
Alan: And then you asked Chris to go out there and I was on stand-by.
Tom: and Mickey Holmes left and we all ended up in Spain – except for Pete.
How long were The Los Tomcats out in Spain for?
Tom: Just over a year.
How did you get a recording contract with Philips and where did you get in the Hit Parade out there?
Alan: It was four extended players.
Tom: Yeah, Four, four track ep’s. 16 sides we did.
Alan: We got into the top ten with a couple of them.
Tom: Yeah. Basically it was covering what was going on in England – Rolling Stones and Beatles.
Alan: They considered us to be one of their bands, Los Tomcats.
So you were based in Madrid and played in most of the large clubs. Did you travel anywhere else?
Tom: The north, Barcelona. We did the Canary Islands.
Alan: Yeah, we did Tenerife.
Is it true that you were treated like royalty in the Canary Islands and got driven round in a chauffer driven Rolls Royce
Alan: It certainly was, with one of the first in-car record players that we had seen. He was playing our record as he picked us up from the airport.
The original press release for the original July album says you frequently went over to Tangiers and Morocco and those trips out there gave your music an African sound of Tabla and Conga drums. Is this true and can you expand on it?
Tom: I can, July and that slightly world-y sound was probably more to do with Jon Field who was the Conga drum player he was mad about African and world music. It wasn’t called world music then he just liked Latin and African music so the influence really came from John. The publicity department wanted to be a bit more romantic rather than saying it was somebody’s idea.
When you came back to the UK in 1966 your music moved away from the cover records you were doing in Spain- beat and R&B covers. Do you think you were ahead of contemporaries in this respect?
Tom: Yes. Up to a point, although a lot of the bands were doing similar material.
Tom, how and why did you pick up the sitar?
Tom: George Harrison was into the sitar and I loved Ravi Shankar anyway and Brian Jones was into the sitar. Although it was the sound, not the people.
Pete and Tom, did you write the new batch of songs together? What were you listening to/reading at the time? What do you think were their main themes and messages?
Peter: We didn’t write them together, we worked together but wrote separately and came together to finalise things and work them out. In terms of what were the influences it’s difficult to say. It was youth, arrogance all those things that go with that. It was the sound rather than the specific words and feelings.
Chris, which track did you write for the album and do you have any more songs?
Chris: Crying Is For Writers and yes I’m writing songs now and they’re not completed yet.
Was it these demos that eventually formed the basis of the “The Second of July” album? When were they recorded and where?
Tom: I was living on a canal boat in Rickmansworth and I found an old suitcase of old tapes from the time we were writing in the Sixties. I put them together on an 8 track and made them sound better, tried to bring them more up to date as they were noisy and crappy. So I thought they would be good to catalogue and that’s where the genesis of the first July stuff came from.
Where were they recorded initially?
Tom: Probably in 33b Blakesly Avenue. That’s where we had a band house in Ealing. In Pete’s house and in my house even, my dad had a tape recorder, so all different places really.
Your music has been labelled psychedelic. Did you consider your music to be psychedelic at the time and did drugs have an influence?
Tom: None of us ever took drugs and none of us ever thought that psychedelic applied to anything that we did. At the time a band that I would have considered psychedelic were the early Pink Floyd where they would just come on and not even look at the audience and make a lot of noise that didn’t go anywhere. It was avant-garde.
Alan: John Lennon’s Rolls Royce was psychedelic; it was nothing to do with the music.
Tom: We were just a pop band.
Read the second part of the brilliant July interview by viewing the “July – Magical Days – Part 2” feature: