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
songs on the Mirkwood album were some of the first written.
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!
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'
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.
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