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Mirkwood a brief History - Mirkwood as recalled by Jack Castle - Mirkwood The Album - The Songs - Jack Castle Album "The Line"
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MIRKWOOD a brief history
'Mirkwood' the band was formed in early 1971 by Jack Castle and Mick Morris. They had known each other since attending the local Grammar school in Dover, Kent where both had led their own bands, playing together for the first time when Jack stood-in with Mick's band. That particular outfit had started as far back as 1957 (Mick joined in 1961) and was called the 'Rolling Stones' until 1962, when a certain Mick Jagger and friends made the name famous with a different group!

A swift change of name resulted, and under their new title of the Playboys they were employed as the house band at a club in Folkestone. During this period they shared the bill (and the dressing room!) with many legendary bands including Cream, John Mayall's Bluesbreakers and the Jimi Hendrix Experience (Noel Redding was a friend of Mick's who had played guitar in a local band before seeking fame and fortune in London).

The Playboys folded in 1967, whereupon Jack joined forces with Mick in 'Take Five', which continued until the end of 1970. A single was recorded but didn't progress further than acetate stage: 'In the Meantime' (an original Castle/Morris composition) was backed by a cover version of the Moody Blues song 'Ride My Seesaw'.

By 1971 heavy rock had become the predominant musical force: Jack and Mick resolved to form a new band that would play entirely original material and feature dual lead guitars, three-part harmony vocals and a tight rhythm section. The outcome of their endeavours was named Mirkwood, with an initial line-up of Derek Bowley (lead vocals), Jack Castle and Mick Morris (both guitar and vocals), Steve Smith (drums) and Andy Broadbent (bass). In early 1972 D.Evans was brought in to replace Andy Broadbent, who had moved away from the Dover area.

Although there were no other changes in personnel, Mirkwood went through almost as many drummers as Spinal Tap. After Steve Smith came Nick 'Topper' Headon (who subsequently joined the Clash), Terry Prior and finally Dave Blakey.

Until their last gig in June 1975 the band played throughout the South East of England including support work to some well-known bands including, Supertramp. D.Evans recalls how small Mirkwood's fee was, even by those day's standards, for supporting bands like Supertramp (£16 on 23/9/72) and Silverhead (£18 on 25/8/73) at the Leas Cliff Hall.

Mirkwood got together just once more, in 1978 for a reunion performance at the Marlowe Theatre, Canterbury. .   

From the ashes of Mirkwood came a band called Sprinter (April 1976 to December 1978) featuring Derek, Mick, D. Evans and Dave Blakey) .

The songwriting partnership of Castle and Morris subsequently reunited with D.Evans to form "Easy Action", which enjoyed considerable regional success performing a mixture of original material and cover versions. Covers of two songs plus four original compositions ('Gone Eight Thirty', 'Love Ain't No Fool', 'Sudden Death' and 'I'm Alive') were recorded at Diploma Studios, Chelmsford in November / December 1983 - the master tapes of these sessions still exist but have never been transferred to vinyl, with just a handful of cassettes being made for the band members themselves.

Soon after this, Mick left the band and was followed by Jack who was replaced by Gerry Benson and the band continued until 1988. The final line-up played its last gig on 31st March '88 and then the original line up got back together for a farewell performance at the Louis Armstrong on 23rd December '88, its 323rd gig. (Incidentally, its first gig, with Andy Shilling, was an afternoon open-air performance at the Shaftesbury Society Home in Whitstable (31/7/80). A press cutting relates to the furore afterwards towards the miserable neighbours who got the gig ended prematurely, by complaining about the volume level, despite the home's residents enjoying the music in the sunshine. So the band packed up the equipment they went over to Dover to make an unscheduled appearance at the Louis Armstrong that evening).. Easy Action continued until 1988, by which time D.Evans was the only original member. Nowadays D. no longer plays on a regular basis.

Mick and Jack briefly reunited once again in a new version of Mirkwood in 1985, having persuaded Derek out of retirement and recruited a new bass player and drummer (D.Evans was still in Easy Action and Steve Smith, who had returned from London and given up playing drums, resisted all attempts to lure him back into the fold). However, in 1987 Jack moved to Wales and the band renamed themselves Icebreaker.

Mick and Derek continued with Icebreaker but have always kept in touch with Jack, who still performs as a solo artiste in Wales. Hardly a year goes by when a new Mirkwood album is not discussed.

The Album

The only 'proper' recording that Mirkwood made was originally licensed for an album on the Flams Ltd Label (catalogue No PR1067) a local record label owned by John Scott Cree. Recording commenced on 17 January 1973 (not 1971 as reported elsewhere) at Jack's house in Whitfield, Dover on a Revox reel-to-reel tape recorder! The machine was operated by Ron Nunn (hence the initials 'REN' on the back sleeve), he also designed the album's cover.
Steve Smith had moved to London by then to engage in session work, but he returned to the band for recording purposes. A mere 99 copies of the album were pressed, the majority ending up with family, friends and local supporters.

The equipment used in recording the Mirkwood album consisted of:
Burns Short-scale Jazz guitar (with various John Birch mods.) /Sound City Amp (Jack)
Gibson SG Deluxe/Fender Stratocaster guitars/ Carlsbro Amp (Mick)
Fender precision Bass (with John Birch mods)/ HiWatt Amp (D.)
Premier Drums with Paiste & Zildjian cymbals (Steve)

The material utilised on the album was culled from the band's first batch of songs: sadly their later material, including many of their finest songs, was not recorded. All that remains of the many compositions written and performed between 1973 and 1975 are some lyric and music sheets and a few very poor quality cassette tapes of live performances.

In 1993 The Mirkwood album was pressed in a limited edition of 500 numbered copies utilising the original artwork by 10th Planet.

By 2003 the original Flams vinyl copies were changing hands at between £600 and £700 per copy and the 10th Planet limited copies depleted.

At the end of 2003 a specialist German label Amber Soundroom approached the Kent band historian and media consultant Chris Ashman to try and find the members of Mirkwood, in order to secure a licence to re-release the album. Over the next 3 months some serious bargaining and negotiation ensued. The politics of "to release or not to release" went on for some time.
There are those who believe a rare album should stay rare for its value. There are others who believe that reproductions allow all to share in the beauty of a masterpiece.
Behind he scenes Chris hunted high and low for a mint un-played copy of the Mirkwood Album. The Master Tape had been lost along with the original artwork in 1973, when the pressing company went into liquidation.
To the rescue came Jackie Bowles of the famous Kent venue The Louis Armstrong Public House in Dover (the favourite haunt of the members of Mirkwood and the musicians of Dover for nigh on 40 years). Her spare copy had sat untouched in her record cabinet since 1973.

The realisation that the original recording quality could now be recaptured digitally in Hamburg using the latest technology was too much to miss, so common sense and peace once more reigned and contracts were signed. For the first time in over 30 years the writers' copyrights have been published and properly registered with MCPS. The compositions can now be used by other recording artistes.
Re-Release 2004 Label: Amber Soundroom (Germany)
This fine Album has been remastered and re-released on vinal in Gemany
At last there will be affordable Mirkwood albums available for all. Even those collectors sitting on one of the rarest records in the world can now buy a playable copy. The fear of playing a record because they might scratch it, gone forever. ----Thanks Mirkwood.

In 2008 in the Album's 35th year Red Admiral Records have released the album for worldwide download through the normal outlets like iTunes and Amazon and many others.
CD copies are available through the Red Admiral Records CD on Demand Service they have also licensed the album to German specialist
Garden Of Delights on their sub-label "Thors Hammer" (THCD 004) Distribution in Europe began in October 2008.
A limited vinyl release on Macchu Piccu Records USA was released in December 2013

Jack Castle has also released his magnificent solo album
The Line on Red Admiral Records in Aug 2008

The Storyof Mirkwood as recalled by Jack Castle.

At the heart of Mirkwood, is the relationship between Mick Morris and myself, Jack Castle. We first met at the Grammar School in Dover in the mid 50's. We have remained close friends ever since, and still meet often.
Inspired by bands like Buddy Holly, Rick Nelson, and The Shadows, Mick and I played lead guitar in, and created, a series of rival rock bands in Dover. These included, the Dover version of the Rolling Stones, the Vikings, The Playboys, and Carl and the Invaders. Eventually we teamed up, when Mick invited me to join a band called Take Five. This was essentially a covers band featuring excellent vocal harmonies. We were very successful, but soon began to look for something more creative and challenging.
After many hours of discussion (mostly in the pub!) we decided to create something new. We were influenced by bands like, 'Yes', Deep Purple,' and 'Queen'. We had considerable vocal ability, and were used to writing harmony parts. Take Five, for example, was one of the few bands in the area able to perform the Beach Boys 'Good Vibrations' live on stage. This vocal prowess was to be retained, and fused with double lead guitar playing. The idea of twin leads was inspired by the playing of Wishbone Ash, and the Eagles. Both Mick and I were widely recognised as two of the best guitarists in the area. The epic compositions of Yes, provided the influence for the creation of original writing in several movements. I recall being completely blown away after watching Yes perform 'Yours is No Disgrace' on Top of the Pops. We decided that Mirkwood would only play original progressive rock.

First, a word about me, and my songs on the album, before I turn to the other band members. It turned out that I was the more prolific songwriter. I would often come home from my job as an industrial chemist, sit down just before the band was due to meet, and write a song in time for the rehearsal. I have always written poetry, and found that I had a natural ability to produce original songs. I would often write four or five, and then choose the best one. It was this ability to know which songs would make the grade, and to weed out the poor ones, that was vital. Looking back it was one of the most creative times of my life

The songs on the Mirkwood album were some of the first written.
'Loves Glass of Sunshine', was the first epic song I wrote, featuring four part vocal harmonies, several movements, double lead guitar passages, and extended rock guitar solos. The words to 'Loves Glass' were written in an abstract style to create images and colours, to try and capture the tensions of teenage love. They make no literal sense, yet still convey a deep message. The second epic I wrote was 'Lavendula', this is the Latin name for Lavender. I happened to be reading a gardening book, and the phrase Lavendula. Coming to ya… seemed to write itself!!
The idea was to contrast the romantic images of love associated with lavender, with the rough and tough world of young love. Once more the song featured the vocal harmonies, fast guitar, slow double lead that was becoming our trademark. Perhaps the most professional sounding song on the album is 'Just Because'. This has a Nirvana like riff, underneath a simple but effective harmony duet between Derek and I. The words are a sad plea of a hard young man, who is looking for something more than violence in his life. The result is tight, and professional, even though its not my favourite song. The song, 'Clockwise' was always a favourite in the pubs. Its really a story about me. At that time a young man living in suburbia, but longing to live in the mountains or the Lakes or Scotland. I just hate cities, and the clockwise idea tries to capture the dizzy nausea I get from London traffic.
'Take my Love', is a simple blues-rock song. I really wrote it as a filler, to get some up-tempo rock into the programme. The guitar solo is me, its too long, and the treble is too way up…you should hear me play it now!! The mystery song on the album is, 'The Vision'. I really cannot remember how I came to write such a strange quasi religious song, or what its about. I'm afraid I do not like it much either!!!
The sad thing for me is that so many of my best songs never got recorded. As we gained experience, the music became better and better, and even more advanced. For example two of my most successful songs, 'Father to Son', and '360 to Repent', featured unaccompanied vocal harmony intro's followed by blistering double lead intro's over chords that ascended in semi-tones over a nine four beat! I suppose I must have written more than forty songs for the band. Two of these, 'On my Mind', and 'Softly raining', were beautiful sad ballads, that Derek Bowley, our lead vocalist sang with wonderful feeling. Whenever we played they were always the most requested songs. I have little doubt that they are world-class ballads, modesty was never one of my good points!
Let me say a word about Mick Morris. Whilst I made most of the creative song writing input, Mick was at the heart of the band. He is a wonderfully talented musician, and could play everyone else's instrument. This included drums, piano, sax, you name it and Mick would play it. He could always provide the answer to any musical challenge that arose. Mick is also a wonderfully unselfish player, and would always do the right thing for the band and its sound. Whilst my own guitar playing was rock and blues influenced, Mick's early heroes were jazz players. You can hear this in the solo Mick plays over the minor seventh passage in 'Just Because', which I think is easily the best guitar solo on the album. Mick is also an excellent lead singer with the ability to put in all those little vocal tricks that make it sound professional. 'The Leech'

Derek Bowley is a superb singer in my view, with wonderful tonality, power and accuracy. Usually Derek sang the main tune, Mick the next or middle harmony, with me mostly providing the high falsetto over the top. In my view the album does not due justice to the vocal harmonies, with the right effects, the band could be stunning. We usually had two practices in a week. On Fridays we would carry all our gear to Ringwould Village Hall, and rehearse the whole band. The acoustics there were terrible, and when the volume got up, you could hardly hear anything. We would console ourselves with a pint in the local pub. Mid week, Derek, Mick and I would usually meet at Mick's house to rehearse the vocal harmony. We would spend hours over chords, and harmonies to ensure we were singing correct musical triads. These were always relaxed, enjoyable evenings, and were the key to the band's success.

The original bass player was Andy Broadbent, who was replaced by D.Evans. D.'s playing was always accurate and reliable. He had some superb equipment, probably the best in the band. I recall that Deep Purples bass player was one of D.'s influences. D. also did the day-to-day management of the band, handling the accounts and bookings with infinite care and patience. Our first drummer was Steve Smith. Steve joined us when he was only 15 or 16, and in my view was a genius on drums. I remember he just sat a practiced 24 hours a day. Often Steve would play a drum solo as part of the long gigs. I recall that his bass pedal work was so fast that several other rival drummers accused him of not using one! By the time we made this album Steve had already left to go professional. His replacement in the band was Nick Headon, who later joined The Clash. Mick and I recruited Nick into the band, giving him his first real chance to play rock live at the big local venues like Leas Cliff Hall. I can recall a young Nick sitting in his front room with his drums when Mick and I auditioned him. He was absolutely delighted to join the band. Nick was also an amazingly good player for his age.

I suppose our best nights were at the Louis Armstrong pub in Dover, or L.A. This pub was the definitive musicians place to play, and was run by Bod and Jackie Bowles. Their first love was trad, jazz, but they supported us throughout. We ended up playing every Friday night. The pub was often packed to the hilt, and we had a very loyal band of supporters. As a songwriter it was wonderful to hear members of the audience shouting out the names of songs I had written. I remember that after playing and drinking to the small hours we would be so hot and sweaty that we made our way down to Dover beach for a swim. On one occasion I was so far gone that I was rescued and dragged up the beach by a passing troop of scouts, bound for the ferry!! In the end we played our farewell gig at the Louis, and I especially remember how Bod Bowles gave a speech thanking us for all the times we'd appeared at the pub, Mick's got it on tape and it still means a lot. Unfortunately Bod passed away some years back, but Jackie is still running the pub, giving bands a chance. The LA and its story deserves a book of its own.

The Mirkwood album was recorded in my house, in Bewsbury Crescent, Whitfield, near Dover. In effect it was sung and played live. There were no tricks, or special effects, we just sat in a circle and played and sang the numbers. Ron Nunn operated a simple reel-to-reel recorder nearby. I recall that I played a Burns short scale guitar; unfortunately I had very poor effects. The distortion sound in particular comes over as far too loud and treble, though I don't recall it sounding that bad when we played live!! In my defence I can only say the solos went down a storm when we played on stage. There was one interesting moment when after the third try, we had managed to play Lavendula correctly right through. Then the phone rang and we had to start again.

Perhaps I should also say a thank you to my wife Jane for her endless support of a fanatical musician. I still play live, but live in South Wales. I do a virtuoso rock guitar act playing Joe Satriani and the rest. If only I had played then, as I play now! Mick's wife Maggie, and Jane would come to most of the gigs, and they must have sat through hundreds. I recall that on one occasion when we were auditioning drummers in the lounge of my Whitfield house, Jane's skills as a trained nurse were put to the test. There was one very over weight drummer, who set out to play at a pace twice as fast as the band. It turned out that he could not breathe and play the drums at the same time! He simply held his breath. After several verses he got faster and faster, eventually collapsing over his drum kit, cutting open his hand which bled profusely over our lounge carpet. Despite our best attempts to remain professional, Mick and I were convulsed with laughter, while Jane revived him and bandaged his hand. He did not get the job!!

I do feel that there were times when the early Mirkwood line up should have gone professional, and that the strength of our songs and musicianship could have carried us along way. In my case I had a degree in Chemistry and a top job with an American multinational company, so throwing that lot away seemed foolish. Looking back I'm not so sure! We had a better set than many of the progressive bands that made it. I guess we always worried about the money, and we made very little. Yet in the end money was not the constraint, it was time, and the time has passed. I know Mick and I hope that someone out there is still listening to the album, and perhaps it conjures up those hot summer nights in the Louis Armstrong. Thanks to all our friends, especially Ron Nunn, and Bod and Jackie Bowles. Also to the musicians that contributed to the Mirkwood story. ..................................Jack Castle April 2004-04-14

In the words and copyright of John-Scott-Cree

Come Along Me Lucky Lads (the Louis Boogie)

There’s a place that I really want to be
It’s Dover and it’s Sunday with Bod at The Louis
You’re gonna be glad that you’re there too
So come along me lucky lads let’s be having you

Saturday’s Hard Travellin’, sweet acoustic folk
Friday night it’s Mirkwood, blasting out their rock
Thursdays Bill Barnacle with his BBQ
So come along me lucky lads let’s be having you

Mainstream Wednesdays listen to the band
Ron Nunn gonna tape them all, put them out on Flams
Lunchtime mug of coffee, Radio 2
Do the Mirror Quizword
Haven’t you got homes to go to?

Now in Heaven with your lip in, you can play the Chimes
Along with Louis and the heroes, no more closing times
Save a place for us so we can be there too
Come along me lucky lads let’s be having you

Mirkwood a brief History - Mirkwood as recalled by Jack Castle - Mirkwood The Album - The Songs - Jack Castle Album "The Line"

CD's available now

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