FMQB Retro-Active: Ken Sharp Revisits The Move
The Move are rightly regarded as one of the ‘60s most explosive and groundbreaking acts. Fronted by guitarist/songwriter Roy Wood, The Move met with little success in the States but their unyielding inspiration and influence spanning decades far outshined the commercial success that eluded them. ELO, slated for induction in April of 2017 into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, were borne out of the ashes of the Move and its initial incarnation featured Wood and founding member, drummer Bev Bevan along with Jeff Lynne who joined the Move in the latter part of their career. Two bands already in the Rock & Roll Hall Of Fame bands cite the immeasurable impact of the Move in shaping their sound and songwriting: KISS’s Paul Stanley modeled the band’s signature classic “Firehouse” after the Move’s “Fire Brigade” while Cheap Trick tipped their hat by covering the band’s “California Man,” paying further tribute to their heroes by slipping the riff of another Move song, “Brontosaurus,” into the bridge.
Out now is a terrific DVD/CD combo, Magnetic Waves Of Sound: The Best Of The Move (Cherry Red Records), which culls 21 sonic nuggets demonstrating the group’s mastery of pop, vaudeville, psychedelia, hard rock, pastoral acoustic rock, throwback ‘50s rock and roll, power pop and majestic Beatlesque ballads. But the real treat here is the DVD, which culls 21 performances of the band circa 1967-1970 spotlighting the band’s historic appearances on UK shows, Top of The Pops, and an extraordinary 10 song live set taped for Colour Me Pop. The package also culls three live cuts taped from the German TV show Beat Beat Beat, various Beat Club performances charting the band’s final recordings along with a rarely seen promo video for “I Can Hear The Grass Grow.”
Retroactive’s Ken Sharp spoke with Move mastermind Roy Wood.
Do you remember the first Move gig?
Roy Wood: Yeah, it was at the Belfry Hotel in Sutton Coldfield. When we first started we were doing a lot of Motown stuff, but actually playing it more in a rock way. Everybody in the band sang and we did a lot of harmonies. I was always well into harmonies anyway because I was influenced by the Beach Boys. We used to do a lot of that sort of stuff. I was trying to persuade the band to do more original material and they were getting into it gradually. When we first started we did just a few of mine, maybe six or so. “Night of Fear” would have been one. Even though we hadn’t recorded it yet, “I Can Hear the Grass Grow” would have been one as well.
What are your recollections of recording the first Move album with producer Denny Cordell?
Denny was a friend of Tony Secunda’s and he was also involved with the publishing side of it. To be perfectly honest, I used to get on well with Denny but I never thought he was a very good producer. He relied very heavily on the engineer. I think we recorded the songs fairly quickly.
Tell me about writing “Fire Brigade.”
Tony Secunda was always full of surprises. We’d played a gig in London and we went back to the hotel and Carl Wayne came up to me and said, “We’ve just been told that we’re in the studio tomorrow and we’ve got to record a single— have you got one?” I said, “Well, not on me. Not at the moment.” He produced a bottle of scotch out of his pocket and gave me the key to one of the hotel rooms, because in those days we used to double up. We used to share because we couldn’t really afford single rooms in those days. It was the first time I ever had my own room in a hotel. He produced this key and a bottle of scotch and said, “Get on with it.” (laughs) The other guys went out for a drink before the pubs closed. It must have been about 11 o’clock at night and I just wrote all the way through the night. Then at about 8:30 in the morning the band came in and I played it to them and they just sang along with it and said, “Great, let’s go and do it.” (laughs) They had to sort of hold me up to do the session.
Did “I Can Hear the Grass Grow” present any problems with people thinking it was about drugs?
In those days the media were looking for things like that anyway. I think whatever we had recorded I think they would have tried to find a loophole somewhere. I think they had that sort of feeling about that and “Flowers in the Rain,” really. But really, I got the ideas for the lyrics from those things that I had written at school.
Did you know that the power pop band Jellyfish covered “I Can Hear the Grass Grow” in concert?
No, I didn’t know that. The best thing I ever heard was in the ’60s. I heard Jimi Hendrix play “I Can Hear the Grass Grow” after a rehearsal, and it was brilliant. (laughs)
What do you recall about the Move’s only U.S. tour?
It was put together very cheaply on a shoestring. We went over and landed in New York. We hired one of those U-Haul trailer things and a ranch wagon and put our gear in the back and just drove all the way across to San Francisco, stopping off and playing on the way. It was a good way to see America, because I’d never been there before.
There’s a story that you had some trouble with some Texas cowboys.
We had to make a hasty exit from this truck stop place where we stopped off for something to eat in Texas. These cowboys came up and in those days they didn’t like long hair on people. They came up and tried to pick a fight and I think our roadie took the bait. It ended up this one guy took his belt off and hit the roadie with it and we all made a hasty exit because they were big guys. (laughs)
Following the lead of a heavier sounding song like “Brontosaurus,” was that more the direction that you wanted the Move to follow?
Yeah, definitely. I can’t remember much about the actual recording session except it was the first song Jeff Lynne played on with us. I remember that. We did a BBC television thing, which was the predecessor to a program called The Old Grey Whistle Test. We had to go on and do “Brontosaurus” and we had a rehearsal and we were all in the dressing room and I had this long sort of coat, which was made of black and white triangles of material. I was a bit nervous. It was the first time I’d ever been the lead singer on TV. I was thinking that it was time for a new image. The guys went to the bar and I put this jacket on and it looked like there was something missing that should have went with the jacket. So I got my comb and I combed my hair out so it looked really wild. I went down to the makeup department and borrowed some black and white makeup and I made my face up to match the coat with triangles around the eyes and I put a star in the middle of my forehead—and this was the creation of the Wizzard image, really, but I did it then. When we did the program I started rolling around the floor and biting the neck off my guitar and all that as you do. (laughs) To begin with I didn’t feel comfortable doing it but I had a few large vodkas before I went on so I was all right. We had a great reaction from that. Up until the breakup of the Move that was the image that we portrayed.
Do you have a favorite Roy Wood–Jeff Lynne collaboration from your Move days?
Oh, dear… Basically, we collaborated on quite a few things but because of our publishing situation it usually went down on the sleeve as a Roy Wood or Jeff Lynne song. I don’t remember any tracks that were written together. There was one of Jeff’s called “The Minister” that I liked a lot, which we worked on together. “Ella James” was one of mine that we worked on together.
Retro-Active is written by Ken Sharp, who can be reached directly at firstname.lastname@example.org or 818-986-9715. ©2017. All rights reserved.