Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Wally - Valley Gardens 1975

In 1973, after playing the northern pub rock circuit that included venues in Manchester, Harrogate, Leeds and Bradford, they entered a New Act competition organised by the music paper Melody Maker making it to the finals at London's Roundhouse. They did not win - that honour went to a Prog Rock band named Druid - but they caught the eye of one of the judges, "Whispering" Bob Harris of The Old Grey Whistle Test fame.

Their "runners-up" prize was the chance to record a session for Harris's BBC radio show, "The Monday Program". He took the band under his wing and set-up a recording contract with Atlantic Records. Their debut album, Wally, released in 1974 was co-produced by Harris, along with Rick Wakeman who had seen one of the band's warm up gigs before the Roundhouse final.

After its release the band, now managed by Brian Lane, best known as the manager of Yes, embarked on a series of tours taking in most of Britain, Japan and the United States. They supported Yes at a headline London concert at the Alexandra Palace and also made an appearance on The Old Grey Whistle Test. On their second album, Valley Gardens, Nick Glennie-Smith replaced Paul Gerrett on keyboards. However by that time continual touring had taken its toll, and the band eventually split after Atlantic decided to cut their losses and pulled the plug.

Webber set up a graphic design company, primarily working for Yorkshire Television but also with the Royal Armouries Museum. Pete Sage went to Germany to work as a sound engineer for the pop group Boney M. Nick Glennie-Smith was proposed as potential replacement for Wakeman in Yes and went on to be a leading session musician and soundtrack composer. Guitarist Pete Cosker died in 1990, as a result of a heroin overdose. Drummer Roger Narraway metamorphosed into a talented lead guitarist, and Paul Middleton retreated to the North Yorkshire Dales, becoming a carpenter and venturing out occasionally to play with Roy Webber in a country rock band, Freddie Alva and the Men from Delmonte. He now gigs on a regular basis with his own band, The Angst Band, featuring fellow bandmember Frank Mizen on pedal steel, guitar and banjo.

Paul Gerrett died of a heart attack in 2008.

After a thirty year hiatus, the surviving members of the original line-up - augmented by Frank Mizen on pedal steel and Will Jackson on guitar - performed to a sell out crowd in April 2009 in their home town of Harrogate. A DVD of the concert was released later that year.

A third album, Montpelier comprising reworkings of demos from the band's earlier incarnation, along with new material by both Webber and Middleton, was released in February 2010, and a second "reunion" concert took place in April. Funds from ticket sales will be used to erect a permanent memorial to Cosker and Gerrett. A recording of the 2010 reunion has been released as a live album entitled, "To the Urban Man" and a third reunion concert is scheduled for 2011, again in the band's home town of Harrogate.

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