I saw Steampacket first, before hearing any of their music. A photograph of the band by celebrated snapper Dezo Hoffman was featured in one of those 60s photographic exhibitions or other that I regularly visited there way back when in the early/mid 1980s.
In that photo of the ‘first supergroup’ as they were described, stood Rod Stewart, Long John Baldry, Julie Driscoll and Brian Augur. All were togged up in their mid 60s finery, with ‘Rod The Mod’ certainly living up to that name, with creases in his trousers so sharp, you could slice bread on them. Baldry looks every inch of his 6ft 7 and although this was Julie before the ‘pixie’ haircut, but both her and Brian were looking sharp too.
The photo was enough to send me straight to a record shop to find what I could on the band. Only, there wasn’t anything in the racks and that was the case for quite some time to come. Later, a few compilations emerged and of course, tracks have appeared online, but I remember I was always curious why the lack of releases back then?
It was June 1965 when Baldry put this line up together after the end of his previous band the Hoochie Coochie Men. So Driscoll and Augur joined up with Roderick who had been in HCM with Long John. Giorgio Gomelsky, who previously had worked with the Yardbirds and the Rolling Stones, managed them. Supplementing the line up, were guitarist Vic Briggs, with Ricky Fenson on bass and Mickey Waller on drums.
They immediately hit the road hard from the get go, playing virtually every night around the UK at such legendary venues as The Twisted Wheel in Manchester, The Mojo in Sheffield, The Birdcage in Portsmouth, The Dancing Slipper in Nottingham, Klooks Kleek and The Marquee in London, picking up a hundred pound a night at gigs, like they did on Eel Pie Island. They also toured supporting the Stones. From reports I have read in the research of this, their British R’n’B hammond organ driven sound went down a storm wherever they played.
Various contractual complications among the various members of the line up however, prevented any recordings being released at the time, which explains my confusion as mentioned earlier about the lack of released material. The songs that have surfaced in recent years come from various sources, such as demo tapes and live recordings.
Their live set consisted of mainly cover versions. Songs such as ‘Oh Baby Don’t You Do It’ ‘Cry Me a River’ ‘Can I Get a Witness’ and ‘Baby, Take Me’ show all the vocalists in fine form. ‘Holy Smoke’ ‘Back at the Chicken Shack’ and the ‘In Crowd’ give the floor to Augur and the rest of the band, all wearing their Jimmy Smith influences for all to see and hear.
Despite a healthy live following and critical acclaim, it was all over with by September 1966, with it becoming clear that the various members were all destined for bigger things individually. Rod was the first to go in 1966 and Baldry followed him a few months later. He teamed up with Elton John, or Reg to his mum, in the Bluesology line up and then hit the top of the charts with ‘Let the Heartaches Begin’ in 1967, as he went down a more middle of the road, easy listening career path.
Rod hooked up with Shotgun Express at first alongside Beryl Marsden, on the well loved ‘I Could Feel the Whole World Turn Round’ before then joining up with the Jeff Beck group. From there he joined The Faces and well, he was then off and running to superstardom and wearing Britt Ekland’s clothes.
Brian and ‘Jools’ formed Trinity and had a hit themselves with the cover of the Bob Dylan tune ‘This Wheels on Fire’ in 1968 and also did a belting version of ‘Indian Rope Man’, a personal fave of your correspondent here in the deep south of SE5.
There is no doubt that the line up was definitely a ‘hot house’ environment in which to develop the ‘chops’ that would then give them all a career of the highest order. Ultimately it was too restrictive to last for too long, but one that was most definitely an important footnote to all of their careers.
The Mumper of SE5
Sign up to our newsletter and receive an exclusive promo code, latest news & Art Gallery Clothing offers.