"THE STORY SO FAR"
FROM VIP's to ART
The VIP's had begun great things since arriving in London in autumn '65 - a year earlier. Having conquered Carlisle and the north it seemed the only way forward was to enter the "eye of the storm" and see what happened. They had driven the blue Commer van, with Albert Heaton at the wheel, down the long A1 arriving in the capital and somehow moving in. Accommodation to begin with ranged from a shared cellar somewhere in Berwick Street to a cosy bed in any stranger’s flat.
Mike Harrison, Greg Ridley, Jim Henshaw, Frank Kenyon and Walter Johnstone made up a soul/blues based group with a deep round sound wrapped in a great amount of confidence. They played at all the popular clubs, and became the band that other bands went to see. They also began to visit The Star Club in Hamburg, where their whole sound and image really did take over where the Beatles had left off. The first adjustment to the line-up came in 1966 when disillusioned by the life they were leading and homesick, drummer Walter Johnstone left the group. A very subtle and important link had already been formed with Birmingham due to the fact that the manager of The Spencer Davis Group, impressed by the VIP's sound & not least their attitude, had signed the group to a management and recording contract. The man in question was Chris Blackwell, and he was to play a very important role in the events that led to the creation of Spooky Tooth. At this time however Chris's greatest asset, apart from Millie Small and her recording of "My Boy Lollipop", was the singer with The Spencer Davis Group 17 year old Steve Winwood who, it was already clear, was more than just lucky! The Elbow Room, in Birmingham was where young Winwood spent much of his social time, often in the company of Jim Capaldi, Chris Wood and sometimes Mike Kellie. Jim was the leader of Worcestershire based band," Deep Feeling ", who had a strong following at The Elbow and included in their line-up Gordon Jackson, Poli Palmer, and a young, intense guitarist named Luther Grosvenor. Chris Wood for his part was playing tenor saxophone and flute in a Birmingham based band "Locomotive" with Mike Kellie on drums. News of the VIP’s need for a new drummer led Winwood to suggest a call to Kellie & friend Paul Medcalf ( later Mr Fantasy, on the cover of the first Traffic album) was asked to telephone Kellie at the sawmill in Olton at which he had a daytime job, to suggest that he may like to come to London to join a group called The VIP's. They needed someone fast as they were due in France the "day after tomorrow " and then on to Germany for another Star Club appearance. After thinking for 10 seconds Kellie said “yes” and that evening Steve gave the drummer a lift home to Marston Green where they proceeded to explain the great plan to Kellie's father, Peter. A slightly concerned Mr Kellie said," OK, if that's what you want to do I don't mind ", gave him a fiver and the party broke up! The following day, Kellie and his Ludwig drums were met at Paddington Station by Albert Heaton. In the blue Commer van and they drove the short distance to the ISLAND/SUE offices in Oxford Street. There he met Chris Blackwell, secretaries Penny Hansen and Penny Massot and the first two members of The VIP's, Mike Harrison and Greg Ridley and then on to meet the rest of the group. Kellie remembers Jim Henshaw's reaction on meeting him; " 's'this t'new drummer then?, ur, yud betta' be good........" It was now November 1966.
After a night’s sleep the new, un-rehearsed, line-up took the ferry from Dover to Dunkirk and drove to Paris where they were due to appear on a U.N.I.C.E.F. variety show taking place at the world famous Olympia theatre. Variety it certainly was with artists such as Danny Kaye, Marlon Brando and The VIP's! Their set was only about two or three numbers, including the newly released single "I Wanna be Free", which of course had been recorded before Kellie had joined. It was as if they had always been together (even Jim Henshaw was heard to remark later that the new drummer could keep his place!) and the after show party was a happy affair, with band mingling with stars they had only ever seen on film or Television. This appearance was almost totally responsible for the great success in the French charts of I Wanna be Free. On their return to France some weeks later they found themselves with a No 2 hit record.
Onward by road to Hamburg for an appearance at The Star Club, followed by a national tour with The Spencer Davis Group, Dave Dee & Co, two German groups The Rattles and The Rivetts, and a combo from Liverpool, " Ian & the Zodiacs ", who were virtually living in Germany, and making a better living than England could provide. By late December '66 they were heading back to Carlisle for Christmas, and whilst crossing the Shap mountain range Henshaw announced his departure from the group. He was soon to be followed by Frank Kenyon, which now left Harrison, Ridley & Kellie. The trio by now had permanent accommodation in London. Mike, Luther & Kellie had a flat in Sussex Gardens, shared with Sylvia Sigalias originally from Cardiff and a friend of Barbara the sister of Amen Corner guitarist, later to become Mrs Andy Fairweather-Low. Greg Ridley, always a ladies man, shared a flat in Kensington with a pretty secretary from the record company. He and Kellie would meet up daily and catch the tube into the office and later have poached eggs on toast at the Poland Street café and discuss plans for a way of moving forward. This was a routine that even they could see, HAD to change. One morning in early '67, Penny Massot suggested trying Luther Grosvenor from "Deep Feeling". Capaldi was by now actively forming Traffic with Winwood, Mason & Wood, and Luther, whom Capaldi had taken under his wing during their early days in Evesham, was a prime candidate for a move to London and a new musical challenge. Once again the train drew in to Paddington Station to be met by a VIP's representative, but this time the arrival was carrying a Les Paul & doctored Vox AC30 amplifier!
The Marquee Studios in Wardour Street is where they rehearsed, and the rest of the time was spent playing in France, Germany & selected parts of England. It has to be said that the new line-up with Kellie & Grosvenor benefited from the success of the single "I Wanna Be Free", but eventually it was obvious that this was a band that had a long term future. They auditioned Keith Emerson on keyboards and he joined until in Hamburg, Luther put a slimming pill in Keith's bottle of coca-cola. Halfway through the set Emerson could be seen enthusiastically shaking his hammond organ backwards & forwards, fascinated by the war-like explosion sounds coming out of the amp! Thus was born a seed of E.L.P... some months later Emerson left to form The Nice.
Chris Blackwell was by now concerned that the group needed a new identity and a new name. Guy Stevens, part of the SUE/ISLAND family was brought in to produce an album of songs by the unit, now called "ART". The album would be titled "Supernatural Fairytales". Any copies still surviving have become highly collectable.
Copyright Control Mike Kellie 2012
Hold on; Don't ever go; Life's here; I know.