Week of June 15, 1997
If ever a band epitomised the spirit of Jazz-Rock - it was If. Born of the early Seventies, this highly popular and innovative British band created an exciting new blend of musical influences. The founder members were all top rated jazz musicians, but with youth on their side, they were readily accepted in the world of pop and rock. Most jazz music relied heavily on open ended jamming on familiar, well worn standard tunes. By the late Sixties this just wasn't good enough as progressive rook bands were proving much more adventurous than their jazz counterparts. The birth of jazz-rock was sparked by the success of American pioneers Blood, Sweat & Tears and Chicago who brought a new clarity and blues power back to big band jazz. In 1969 If was born and the new band began to develop their own sound and approach. They used tightly written sax and guitar arrangements, deployed to back a powerful young lead singer. This new concept provided the way ahead for many musicians who might have languished on the under-funded, under-publicised jazz club circuit. If recorded a succession of albums, toured extensively throughout Europe and America and played to large, appreciative audiences. They also enjoyed all the fringe benefits of the rock life style. When several members of If held a reunion meeting in March 1997, they laughed long and loud at their shared memories of the good old days.
They came together to celebrate the release of this long lost live album recently found in the archives. As the band point out, this is the record that really captures the spirit of If. On cuts like "Waterfall", "The Light Still Shines" and the extended "Sector 17" you can hear the band throw themselves with great gusto into the songs, many written in unusual time signatures. The founder members of It were poll winning saxophonist Dick Morrissey (born Sutton, Surrey, 1939) and guitarist Terry Smith (born London, May 20, 1943), another Melody Maker Poll winner. They were the young lions of the London jazz scene, and Dick had been feted as a teenage prodigy for his command of the tenor and soprano sex and flute. His playing was inspirational in any setting, particularly when he led his own superb quartet with legendary drummer Phil Seamen and the late pianist Harry South. Dick had also played with The Animals Big Band and with Georgie Fame. Terry Smith, armed with a fast and fluent technique, was frequently matched with Dick on exciting jam sessions and it was only natural they should team up in the new venture. The third member of the front line was another highly rated and passionate player, the affable and highly organised Dave Quincy (born September 13,1939), a mean man on alto and tenor sex. They found the perfect front man in singer John Hodkinson (Born Leigh, Lancashire, 1949), whose bluesy vocal style was comparable to Steve Winwood of Traffic fame. The group was completed with the addition of John Mealing (born Yeovil, Somerset, April 5, 1942) on keyboards and backing vocals, Jim Richardson (born February 16, 1941), bass guitar, and Dennis Elliott (born Peckham, London 1950) on drums. Dennis was only 19 when he joined If and had previously been with the Shavelles and Ferris Wheel. When the band was put together in 1969, Dick, Terry and Dave were all part of a London based ten-piece outfit called J.J. Jackson's Greatest Little Soul Band In The Land, managed by American producer Lew Futterman. Says Terry Smith: 'We were all in the J.J. band together. One day the manager played me and Dick some tapes hed got of Blood, Sweat & Tears and Chicago and asked if we'd fancy forming our own band. He assured us it could be done. In any case some of the stuff Dick and myself had been doing already was not far off that style."
Futterman had previously produced jazz stars like Benny Golson and also managed singer Jimmy Witherspoon and organist Jack McDuff. When he heard Morrissey playing with Witherspoon, Futterman was impressed and swiftly recruited both Dick and Terry Smith to back J.J. Jackson. Dave Quincys rock and roll roots lay way back in the early Sixties when he played with Jet Harris & The Jet Blacks. His association with Terry Smith began when he ran the Three Tuns jazz club in Beckenham, Kent. He featured all the top British jazzmen like Ronnie Scott, Tubby Hayes, and Phil Seaman. Quincy recalls that David Bowie later took over the Sunday night sessions for his famed Arts Lab. Says Dave: "I had started getting into writing music as well as playing sax, and when Dick and Terry wanted to put a band together they turned to me. I remembered working with a singer called John Hodkinson in a band with Jimmy Nicol. Incidentally, Jimmy was the drummer who depped for Ringo Starr in The Beatles!" Quincy thought that John, who was a bit of a jazz fan, would be ideal for the new band. Around this time Terry Smith had been working with Scott Walker of The Walker Brothers. "I had to form a band to back Scott and I was his music director for a while." Scott was greatly impressed with Terry's playing and produced his solo album "Fall Out" (1968) which featured the Harry South Big Band.
Terry went to Japan with the Walker Brothers a couple of times and on his return had to decide whether to stay with Scott or go with the new band. In the end he chose If, but still has fond memories of his days working with the American superstar. The musicians were convinced that Jazz Rock would be an important and productive new direction, and Dave Quincy recalls how the new band devised its musical policy. "When you listen to this live CD you can hear there are extensive solos, but they are built into original compositions we put together as a band. It was a natural step forward for all of us." The bands structure was quite different from BS&T or Chicago. Says John Mealing: "One of the original things about our band was that we didn't have a trumpet. The front line was all saxes and guitar and most of the other jazz-rock bands had trumpets." Jim Richardson remembers the band's first rehearsals at a pub in Islington called The Pied Bull, which was run by a gentleman fondly known as 'Mad Phil' who was originally a ballroom dancer and still had the 1930s movie star hair style to prove it. "He was a great character. I remember him saying that If was going to be BIG!"
Lew Futterman signed If to Island in the UK and to Capitol for the US. They released their first album simply called "If" with its distinctive metallic cover design in 1970. The bands name was chosen by their manager and was noted more for its fashionable brevity than anything to do with the Rudyard Kipling poem. Says Quincy: "I remember one tour with Yes and If. Someone said it sounded like Egg and Chips! But it was a memorable name and the album cover won a design award." Terry Smith: "We used to play at the Country Club in Hampstead and the promoter Stuart Lyons always used to announce us as 'The Ifs."' They played their first major gig at Roundhouse in London eyed up by various American A&R men. The band were excited by all the new found attention, but events overtook them at alarming speed. "The whole thing moved much faster than we expected," says Quincy. "We were catapulted from rehearsing at the 'Pied Bull' pub to flying off to Los Angeles, where we were met by the record company at the airport and taken to our Hollywood hotel in limousines! It took us all by surprise." Says Jim: "That kind of treatment wasn't our main goal, but it turned out to be great fun!" It wasn't long before the bleary eyed musicians were succumbing to the rock lifestyle with all its temptations. There are many band legends about broken water beds and rampant groupies - but of course as each member will tell you - "it wasn't me!" There was work to be done and the band set off on tour supporting Traffic, before making their Hollywood debut at the Whiskey A Go-Go on Sunset Strip, where they received excellent reviews. Their album was released in the States in September 1970 and entered the Billboard charts. The band moved onto Chicago and New York, where they supported an amazing variety of top performers from Miles Davis, Muddy Waters, Willie Dixon, Laura Nyro, and The Association, to Ten Years After, Rod Stewart, Black Sabbath and Grand Funk Railroad. A couple of visits by their hero Miles Davis to a New York club gig unsettled Jim Richardson in particular: "We were playing in a tiny club. I looked up and suddenly saw him in front of me. I was so scared I threw up in the sink!" Dave Quincy reveals there was a lot of pressure on If during this hectic period. "We did something like 80 gigs in our first year including two U.S. tours. Being a seven-piece band there was more to handle than a three-piece like Cream." Terry: "It was expensive to run and there was an awful lot of rehearsing involved. We couldn't just get up and jam through a set. The arrangements were quite complex and Dave wrote a lot of stuff in different time signatures." Dave: "Well we wanted to get away from the old jazz club format of playing everything in 4/4. Unlike the Average White Band, we were never a dance outfit." Says Jim Richardson: "Well, it was a time when people came to listen to the music rather than dance. But we did have a great young rock drummer with us. Dennis Elliott was only 19 but he could handle jazz and rock styles. He really brought an authentic feel to the music."
After a few tours of the States If became increasingly popular in Europe and they toured Germany and appeared on TV's 'Beat Club' in Bremen. The endless gigging took its toll on their health and nerves, however, and although the albums sold well, they didn't create the kind of breakthrough the band expected. Dave: "We had to do two albums a year to keep the band financially afloat and it started to get to us. After a couple of years we needed a break."
"If 2" was released in 1970, followed by "If 3" (1971), and "If 4" (Waterfall) (1972). Quincy feels the "Europe 72" album serves as both a timely reminder of a great band and also fills the gap left by the studio albums. "Our performance on those albums was never quite right. We'd record a new song but they'd only start to develop once wed played them on gigs." Jim agrees: "This captures the essence of the 'live' band. There's one track on here that Dick wrote called "What Did I Say About The Box Jack?" that we used to play at every gig. On this CD it goes on for about twenty minutes. We used to tag things on and it became longer and longer!" The strange title comes from an episode when the band were recording the song for their first studio album. Lew Futterman's friend Jack McDuff was in the control booth and they were having a heated discussion. Lew's voice suddenly came over the PA saying: "What did I say about the box, Jack?" Well, you work it out. Some of the songs like "Waterfall" were first heard on the album "If 4" but these are all different 'takes.' The band's main soloists are featured in turn. Dick plays an extended flute solo on "Waterfall" and John Mealing plays piano on "The Light Still Shines" followed by Morrissey on soprano sax; Terry Smith gets stuck into an angular guitar solo on "Sector 17" and Dick plays tenor on "Throw Myself To The Wind" and more flute on "I Couldn't Write And Tell You". John Mealing switches to organ for "Your City Is Falling" which also provides a drum feature for Dennis Elliott. Everyone gets to shine on "What Did I Say About The Box Jack?" which also has a powerful blues vocal from John Hodkinson. The demise of the original If was hastened when Dick Morrissey became ill in the Summer of 1972 and the band came off the road.
Dennis Elliott went on to join Foreigner which became hugely successful, while Mealing and Richardson left to pursue separate careers. John Hodkinson sang with Darryl Way's Wolf ("Night Music" LP, 1974). He later returned to his home in Manchester where he still sings locally. Jim played in the house band at London's Talk Of The Town venue for a few years, and also toured with Georgie Fame. Dave Quincy formed new group Zzebra with Terry Smith which included Loughty Amao (flute and tenor sax), Gus Yeadon (piano and vocals), Liam Genockey (drums) and John McCoy (bass). They released the "Zzebra" album in 1974, then Terry left to go to Sweden with Dick where they lived with their families for a while. Dick later revived If for the final albums "Double Diamond" (1973), "Not Just Another Bunch Of Pretty Faces" (1974), and "Tea Break Is Over, Back On Your Heads" (1975). The following year Dick began working with guitarist Jim Mullen in Morrissey/Mullen. Dick also did some work with Herbie Mann and the Average White Band in New York.
Says Quincy: "The band kind of split in two stages. The original band reached a point where we became disillusioned about the whole thing."
Says Terry: "We were getting older and the touring became very tiring. While it was still fun, the money wasn't going up, and that brings you down." John: "The promise of the band over first few albums was not coming to fruition and it rather looked as though it wasn't going to happen. We were fighting a lot of battles outside the band that were beyond our control." In 1982, Terry formed his own Blues Band with Jo Ann Kelly (vocals), Tony Ashton (organ) and Micky Waller (drums). Terry is currently working with organist Bob Stukey and drummer Chris Karren. For the last few years Dick Morrissey has been unable to play due to a serious illness and has now virtually retired from the scene. However, Terry Smith reports that in 1996 he was able to team up with his old friend in Portugal. When Dick played his beloved saxophone again, he managed to summon up all the old Morrissey magic. Dave Quincy is delighted at the release of this 'live' CD and says: "If was always a great social band and these recordings capture all the excitement of a live gig."
CHRIS WELCH, London, 1997
(Taken from the Repertoire CD release, "Europe '72" REP 4653-WY)
1970 If 1970 If 2 1971 If 3 1972 If 4 1972 Waterfall 1973 Double Diamond 1974 Not Just Another Bunch Of Pretty Faces 1975 Tea Break Is Over, Back On Your Heads
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