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Thursday, 13 November 2014

With A Little Help From My Friends - Bruce Carey and the New Formula

The New Formula
With A Little Help From My Friends.
Bruce Carey

Bruce Carey believed he'd reached the end of the line. Twelve months earlier in 1966, his band The Formula had hit the buffers. Returning home early from a three month engagement in West Africa, rumours abounded as to the circumstances of the aborted tour but one thing was clear. They were all back on home soil, apart from the band's leader and sax player Kru Zakss. What happened between Kru and Mick Harper, Tommy Guthrie, Martin Fallon and Bruce Carey remained a mystery for over 40 years until it was revealed in the book It's Steel Rock And Roll To Me!
Bruce Carey
The bassist now living in Wiltshire recalls what happened next. 
"When we returned from Africa, Ricky Dodd replaced Kru Zakss and we had to change the name from The Formula to The New Formula because Kru owned the name. An American at Lakenheath USAF base lent us money to buy a cheap van and Derek Tompkins the Beck Studios electronics whiz made us new equipment to start up again. We played a lot of US bases and at one, Alex Jack of Ajax Entertainment was in attendance and was impressed enough to sign us. Though he had to buy us out from a contract with Chris Beresford who was the guy who fixed us the Africa deal. On the bases we used to go back to the barracks with the guys and listen to their collections, so we were right on time with the soul music that was happening in the hip clubs that we played in London, although the money wasn't very good it was great prestige. Record, TV, people etc. Alex fixed us up with a flat in North London which was our base. With his connections with the London scene Alex was able to book us into all the top clubs at the time. The Scotch of St. James's was our hang out. We used to go there on our nights off. The club was a popular meeting place for rock musicians situated at 13 Masons Yard, Westminster, London SW1. Paul McCartney frequently visited it, as did Rod Stewart, Eric Burdon, Ronnie Wood and bands like The Moody Blues and The Spencer Davis Group. The Bag of Nails was another favourite haunt. "

Rick Dodd replaced Kru Zakss
Bruce was born in Kettering. With his family he moved to Thrapston, then on to Scunthorpe, Lincolnshire before finally ending up in Corby when aged 15. "Because I was only in Corby for a few years, I don't really have a great affinity for it really. I feel Scunthorpe is more of my home town in a way, probably because I spent my formative years there, when I was growing up."
His music career began while working with Pete Malone in the steelworks. "Pete, myself and another guy who I've long forgotten, played a gig at a school, no drummer, it wasn't much, we hardly knew anything! I played a guitar which had been hanging about in our house; don't even know who it belonged to. I couldn't play it, just plonked away. A short while after the school gig Pete came round my house and told me he was starting a band and told me 'we need you as a bass player'. I didn't even know what a bass was! That was the beginning of The Strangers. The line up was me on bass, Pete on Rhythm guitar, Reggy Knowles on lead guitar, Billy Nicol on drums and Campbell Baxter on vocals. Our first show was in a Battle of the Bands contest at the Crows Nest." 
From those inauspicious beginnings Bruce progressed enough to become sought after and soon was teaming up with Kru Zakss and Mick Harper in The Cervezas who then became The Formula and went on to unimaginable success. Record deals, TV appearances, European tours and finally the infamous tour of West Africa in 1966. A story documented in the aforementioned 'Steel' book.

The music scene in the mid sixties was in a constant flux of change. The Merseybeat sound had been left behind along with rock and roll. Soul and Tamla Motown was the current flavour of the month and with Ray Davies of the Kinks and The Beatles writing more intellectual and complex songs and experimenting more and more in the studio with different sounds, the age of psychedelic and flower power was just around the corner. Also at the same time as the New Formula were striking out again, a young black guitarist from America was just setting the whole music scene in this country alight with his outrageous stage act and mind blowing guitar playing, a guy called Jimi Hendrix. Where did the New Formula fit in with all this? 

Bruce Carey; "During this time we were traveling the length and breadth of the country, were well known all over as we used to do BBC recordings, six songs at a time which went out in the afternoon radio shows on what was still called The Light Programme. On the bases, we went from doing four hour gigs to half hour floor shows (Cabaret). I couldn't believe it. It felt like a con, we didn't have an act or comedy, but we went down great and then started doing cabaret a week at a time in the northern clubs.We were still playing the London clubs. The Revolution, Bag O' Nails, the Cromwellian, the Playboy. One night Davy Jones from the Monkees was in the Scotch. Afterwards he was raving about us and talking about taking us to the States. Yeah Right! Never happened. The Q Club, Marquee, Blaises were other popular clubs. We played in a see-through Perspex box that the punters could walk and sit round the back, it was very exclusive, mostly nobility and film stars. At the Scotch of St James we played half hour on, half hour off for six hours a night. The singer from Los Bravos joined us on stage and sang their hit "Black is Black", which we did it in our set. Afterwards he asked if we would be his backing band. At the Playboy in Mayfair we weren't allowed to go into the club between sets. We were regarded as part of the staff I suppose! There was no mixing with the clientele. There was a canteen with continuous choices of hot food and bunny girls unzipped with it all hanging out for comfort. That was delightful as you can imagine. We all got off with one; I was dating a bunny girl whose parents were Lord and Lady Flowers, the Brewery people. One of the girls wasn't so hot though with all her gear off. She was a horror. When she undressed everything flopped out! A memorable gig was The 007 bar at the very top of the Hilton Hotel where we booked to play at The ITV Sports Personality Awards ceremony with presenter Dickie Davies."

Modesty prevents Bruce from revealing that Jimi Hendrix once borrowed his bass to play a number in a London Club. Guitarist Martin Fallon takes up the story; "It was at the Bag O' Nails. We played a couple of 45 min sets and there were loads of faces sitting there. During the second set Jimi Hendrix came up to stage and asked if could he sit in. Well, what would you say? I went to take my axe off but he asked could he go on bass. I looked at Bruce and said, "Bruce, Jimi wants to play your bass." Bruce didn't know what to say but he gave up his Fender and Jimi took it over (upside-down of course). The next thing I remember is that Chris Farlowe wanted to sit in and then Carl Douglas (Kung Fu Fighting) jumped up on stage. I can't remember what we played, it was just a bit of a jam but it was alright on the night." 

The New Formula was well established and television appearances followed on ITV's Tony Blackburn and Simon Dee Shows. They also appeared on German TV in their popular Beat Club show. A series oft shown on our BBC4 channel. Among their friends on the show were Chris Farlowe, The Herd, Dave Clark Five and the Troggs. Dave Lee Travis the DJ was also appearing. One up-and-coming group Bruce Carey remembers well was an outfit called Status Quo. "We shared a dressing room with Quo who had then just cut their first record. We thought they were rubbish! Childish, geeky. Show's you what we knew!"
Everything appeared to be going well but there was a shift change beginning in the music scene. The British Blues boom was now well established and bands were getting a harder edge to their sound. Another 'happening' was that of the 'Flower Power' craze which had evolved on the West Coast in San Francisco with psychedelic influenced outfits like Jefferson Airplane and the Grateful Dead. Festivals were becoming the fashion for mass gatherings of Rock and Pop fans. Woburn in Bedfordshire had beaten Monterey, the Isle of Wight and Woodstock to the bell. In 1968, The New Formula was booked to play the second Woburn Festival, imaginatively called The Flower Festival of Britain. It was also to prove to be the turning point for the career of the band.

Bruce; "Woburn Abbey was, as you say in "Steel" All of us except Mick realised that we needed to change, to progress. We had an argument about our set list in which Mick insisted we started with PJ Proby's Maria. Great song but not exactly what the long haired flower dripping acid headed youth wanted! It didn't take long before the jeering started, followed by coke cans and rubbish being hurled at us on stage. That had never happened before - we always went down well. It was the start of Underground or Progressive music, soul music wasn't the coolest anymore. We had already started to listen to some of it, Family was our favorite band and we started to do more rock and underground stuff. This was the point when we wanted to change and Mick was getting left behind. Then we had a band supporting us with a guy called Eddie Ayres as the singer. He was moody on the mike, and looked a bit like Eno in the Roxy Music days. We asked him to join us to take over from Mick. It was a hard thing to do and I have to admit, we bottled out of telling Mick. Left it to Alex Jack to break the news. It was very uncomfortable.
With that, a name change was felt necessary again and we became Black Apple. Initially Eddie was a great asset, writing his own lyrics and it encouraged the rest of us to do the same. One problem was that we had to play the same venues, but we wanted to do new places that suited our new music. It wasn't the type of gigs that Alex Jack was in touch with. We had played the South of France a lot in previous years. It was always for two weeks at a time... The Papagayo, and the Voom Voom in St. Tropez...The Six Club, Biaritz... A club in Cassis...The Lydia, a beached boat at Le Barcares.
This time with Eddie we were booked at the Voom Voom but things were not right in the band. Eddie was turning out not to be cool and moody at all but quite the show-off Prima Donna. The new music wasn't going down well either, the punters just wanted to dance. At the Papagayo they ended our contract early." 
In the South of France they were to meet up with Carl Douglas again. This was a few years before his Kung Fu Fighting hit. Carl Douglas and the Big Stampede were in the Voom Voom at the same time as we were. Turned out to be great night with everybody on stage in one big jam. 
Bruce; "Mike D'Abo was also there. Mike had just joined Manfred Mann and he too got up to sing. The thing I remember though is Mike completely forgetting the words to a song we were playing and he was yelling at us, 'I've lost the words!, what are we playing again?' It was funny. 

The final countdown for the band was on the Lydia. On stage Eddie was twirling the mike and hit Martin in the teeth. That was it!  Martin said, I'm leaving the band and we were all so jaded by then that nobody tried to talk him out of it. That was the end! Martin later revealed he had never liked him or wanted him in the band in the first place."

Following the demise of the New Formula, Bruce Carey became manager of Curry's record shop in Tottenham Court Road before moving on to manage a record shop in Soho which eventually led him to running a 'classical' music shop in Covent Garden. "It wasn't my scene really and when I was offered a job by a friend in a diamond cutting business I ended up working for him for the next fourteen years. Meantime my wife Nikki became the PA for George Harrison and Van Morrison, operating out of offices in Covent Garden. I visited George's house at Friar Park in Henley on many occasions. He was a real lovely gentle man. Nikki worked for him for sixteen years up until 1990."
Today, Bruce and Nikki are still keeping their hands in. "It's a small jazz combo called Highlife. We play mainly small venues and pubs around the Trowbridge area where we live. Nikki is the bass player believe it or not, I play guitar and the sound is filled out with a sax player and piano." 
Martin Fallon has been living in Spain for a number of years and it was as recent as just a couple of years ago he was reunited with his old buddy Bruce through the internet. They remain in regular contact. As for Kru Zakss, Mick Harper and Rick Dodd, they sadly passed away. Tommy Guthrie is still in Corby and whatever happened to Eddie Ayres, who knows?