Jeff Lynne vocal, guitar & piano (left 1970)
Greg Masters bass guitar, vocal
Dave Pritchard guitar, vocal
Roger Spencer drums, vocal
Mike Hopkins vocal & guitar (joined 1970)
Dave Walker vocal (joined 1970)
With the departure of Roy Wood and Mike Sheridan in 1966, The Nightriders (see Mike Sheridan and The Nightriders) remaining members Dave Pritchard, Greg Masters and Roger Spencer enlisted guitarist Johnny Mann from the recently split-up Carl Wayne and The Vikings and secured a recording contract with Polydor Records.
Some songs were recorded in London but before anything could be released Johnny Mann decided to leave the group. An advert was placed in the Birmingham Evening Mail for a “keen young guitarist” to replace Mann and this was answered by an almost unknown Geoffrey Lynne who was 19 at the time.
Jeff Lynne had formed his first band The Andicaps in 1963 with some friends and after leaving school he played guitar with a semi-pro local group called The Chads (previously known as The Sundowners) but was always looking for a chance to “turn professional”
and go full-time with an established band.
The Nightriders were impressed by Jeff Lynne’s innovative guitar technique so did not hesitate to offer him the position of lead guitarist. The band soon got together at Hollick & Taylor Studios in Handsworth to record a new single It’s Only The Dog/My Friend that was released by Polydor Records under the name “The Nightriders” and had drummer Roger Spencer on lead vocal.
In 1967, many innovative bands in the U.K. would become part of the rapidly developing “psychedelic” scene. In response to these changing trends, The Nightriders became “The Idle Race” (adapted from Idyll Race) with Jeff Lynne becoming the groups’ focal point as both songwriter and lead vocalist. Unfortunately, the band’s Polydor contract was allowed to expire but former Nightrider Roy Wood, now of the very successful Move, remained friendly with the group and through him, contacts were established allowing the Idle Race to record during off-hours at the Move’s Advision Studios in London.
The Idle Race continued to undertake bookings in the Midlands area and would drive down the M1 to London and record whenever studio time was available.
One song offered to them was Here We Go Round The Lemon Tree, written by Roy Wood
and was the b-side to the Move’s Flowers In The Rain single. The song was selected as the first Idle Race release by the management of Liberty Records who had signed the group, but as the Move’s version was receiving airplay, The Idle Race did not wish to be known as a “cover band” so subsequent negotiations resulted in the Idle Race version
of Here We Go Round The Lemon Tree not being released in Britain (the real reason may have been because The Move stood to lose royalties on the song due to the outcome of the infamous “Harold Wilson lawsuit”).
For the first U.K. Idle Race single, two Jeff Lynne compositions Impostors Of Life’s Magazine backed with Sitting In My Tree, were selected for release in October of 1967.
Despite airplay, the single did not chart but attracted much interest in the music press
and won many admirers.
The second single The Skeleton And The Roundabout/Knocking Nails Into My House,
also both written by Lynne, was released early in 1968 to promote the forthcoming
Idle Race album and although this single is probably their best known, it also missed out on a chart placing.
Despite lack of success in the charts, the Idle Race gained a considerable “underground”
following including the support of many prominent musicians and radio personalities.
This is reflected on the inside cover artwork of their first album The Birthday Party where invited “guests” are displayed in a photo collage and include such figures as
The Beatles, The Move, Brian Jones, Hughie Green and many of the Radio One DJs.
Eleven of the thirteen songs on the album were composed by Jeff Lynne and most displayed a simple, almost childlike pre-occupation with weird characters
and a lavish production reminiscent of the Beatles Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds/Fool On The Hill type of atmosphere.
The Idle Race’s live performances saw the band in a much heavier vein and
included many covers such as Purple Haze (Jimi Hendrix), Born To Be Wild (Steppenwolf) and People Are Strange (The Doors).
The band also did a heavy version of Tyrannosaurus Rex’s Deborah amongst various originals and 1950s rock ‘n’ roll standards.
In early 1969 the Idle Race began recording a second album which would be released at the end of the year. At about this time Roy Wood made an offer to Jeff Lynne to join
The Move as Trevor Burton had just left. Lynne declined the offer so Rick Price was selected as Burton’s replacement but Wood and Lynne remained in close contact.
Further Idle Race singles were released but despite extensive touring of the U.K. to promote them, the group could still not manage a chart placing.
The lack of chart success for the Idle Race despite critical acclaim remains a mystery,
especially as the band were no strangers to radio and TV appearances.
Even the appointment of DJ Kenny Everett as honourary fan club president
and the added flattery of having their compositions covered by other artists
did not achieve the results the group aspired to.
A music press article on the Idle Race in 1969 quoted Jeff Lynne as being disillusioned about the bands’ lack of chart success and this was further reinforced by the poor sales of the Idle Race’s second self-titled album released in November of 1969 on which Lynne himself had handled the production.
For Jeff Lynne, fate played into his hands when The Move’s lead singer Carl Wayne
quit the group in January 1970. Roy Wood again asked if Lynne would join the Move
and this time the offer was accepted (see The Move).
The other members of Idle Race were naturally disappointed with Lynne’s decision but decided to carry on with replacements Mike Hopkins, formerly of the Diplomats and The Lemon Tree, on guitar/vocals and Dave Walker from The Redcaps on vocals & harmonica.
Idle Race continued to tour and release singles with their cover version of Mungo Jerry’s In The Summertime managing to reach No. 1 in the charts in Argentina!
After a final Idle Race album released in 1971, further personnel changes took place
starting with the departure of Dave Pritchard who joined up with various Birmingham bands including the Poorboys. Dave Walker was next to leave and joined some well-known bands which included Savoy Brown, Chicken Shack, and Fleetwood Mac.
Roger Spencer moved into TV production and became the comedian “Ollie” Spencer
while Mike Hopkins joined the group Quartz.
The remaining original Idle Race member Greg Masters joined up with guitarists Dave Caroll and Bob Wilson from the Birmingham group Tea & Symphony along with drummer Bob Lamb who had also played in the group Locomotive.
Birmingham singer Steve Gibbons (see The Uglys) joined shortly after and in February 1972, Greg Masters finally left to be replaced by Bob Griffin who in return
was replaced by former Move and Balls member Trevor Burton.
The group dropped the Idle Race name and became the Steve Gibbons Band
who scored a top-20 hit with the Chuck Berry song Tulane in 1977.
# Here We Go Round The Lemon Tree/My Father’s Son (Liberty 55997) September 1967
# Impostors Of Life’s Magazine/Sitting In My Tree (Liberty LBF 15026) October 1967
# The Skeleton And The Roundabout/Knocking Nails Into My House (Liberty LBF 15054) March 1968
# The End Of The Road/The Morning Sunshine (Liberty LBF 15101) June 1968
# I Like My Toys/The Birthday (Liberty LBF 15129) September 1968 (withdrawn)
# Days Of The Broken Arrows/Worn Red Carpet (Liberty LBF 15218) April 1969
# Come With Me/Reminds Me Of You (Liberty LBF 15242) July 1969
# The Birthday Party (Liberty LBS 83132) October 1968
# Idle Race (Liberty LBS 83221) November 1968
I knew the boys fairly well, and remember seeing them a few times. One particular time was at The Chalet in Rednall. I loved Jeff Lynne, playing the guitar with a violin bow.
Afterwards I spoke to him about it, and I was to use the technique, on my Jardine Album.’Look In The Window’ The track ‘Roses And Ribbons’ being a good example.
Compiled by Keith Law
28 November 1966 – Belfry, Wishaw, West Midlands with Monopoly (Birmingham Evening Mail)
16 December 1966 – Morgue Club, King’s Head, Bearwood, West Midlands (Birmingham Evening Mail)
20 January 1967 – Waggon & Horses, Wall Heath, West Midlands (Express & Star)
25 March 1967 – Ship & Rainbow, Wolverhampton, West Midlands with The Maddening Crowd (Express & Star)
3 April 1967 – Cedar Club, Birmingham with Ben E King (Birmingham Evening Mail)
11 April 1967 – Wednesbury Town Hall, Wednesbury, West Midlands (Express & Star)
15 April 1967 – Le Metro, Birmingham, West Midlands (Express & Star)
16 April 1967 – Waggon & Horses, Wall Heath, West Midlands (Express & Star)
25 April 1967 – Bolero Club, Wednesbury, West Midlands (Express & Star)
28 April 1967 – Ship & Rainbow, Wolverhampton, West Midlands ((Express & Star)
24 June 1967 – Hednesford Civic Centre, Hednesford, West Midlands with The British Standard (Express & Star)
15 July 1967 – Waggon & Horses, Wall Heath, West Midlands (Express & Star)
16 July 1967 – Swan, Yardley, West Midlands with Riot Squad (Birmingham Evening Mail)
4 August 1967 – Cofton Club, Rednal, West Midlands with Today’s Post (Redditch Indicator)
22 August 1967 – Bolero, Wednesbury, West Midlands (Express & Star)
28 August 1967 – Mackadown, Kitts Green, West Midlands with Jimmy Cliff (Birmingham Evening Mail)
23 September 1967 – Papas, Landsdowne, Dorset (Bournemouth Evening Echo)
1 December 1967 – Woolpack, Wolverhampton, West Midlands (Express & Star)
3 December 1967 – Bolero, Wednesbury, West Midlands (Express & Star)
22 December 1967 – Ship & Rainbow, Wolverhampton, West Midlands (Express & Star)
4 January 1968 – Birdland, Castle Bromwich, West Midlands with Way of Life (Birmingham Evening Mail)
12 January 1968 – Woolpack, Wolverhampton, West Midlands (Express & Star)
9 February 1968 – Impsella Club, Chateau Impney, Droitwich, Worcestershire (Redditch Indicator)
12 February 1968 – George Hotel, Walsall, West Midlands with Max Baer and The Chicago Setback (Express & Star)
9 March 1968 – Queen’s Beat Club, Erdington, West Midlands (Birmingham Evening Mail)
5 April 1968 – Chesterfield Club, Castle Bromwich, West Midlands with Chester (Express & Star)
6 April 1968 – Ship & Rainbow, Wolverhampton, West Midlands (Express & Star)
24 April 1968 – Impsella Club, Chateau Impney, Droitwich, Worcestershire (Redditch Indicator)
27 April 1968 – Queen’s Beat Club, Erdington, West Midlands (Birmingham Evening Mail)
5 May 1968 – Bolero, Wednesbury, West Midlands (Express & Star)
29 May 1968 – Club Cedar, Birmingham (Express & Star)
6 October 1968 – Rainbow Room Club, Ship Hotel, Weybridge, Surrey (Woking Herald)
8 December 1968 – Bull’s Head, Yardley, West Midlands (Melody Maker)
4 February 1969 – Speakeasy, W1, London (Melody Maker)
7 February 1969 – Brunel University, Uxbridge, Middlesex with Honeybus and The Paul Williams Set (Melody Maker)
24 March 1969 – Quaintways, Chester, Cheshire with Elastic Band and Illusions (www.45worlds.com/live)
31 March 1969 – Bay Hotel, Sunderland (www.45worlds.com/live)
20 October 1970 – Marquee, Wardour Street, Soho, London with Judas Jump (Tony Bacon’s book: London Live)