The Wild Angels, The History

Wild Angels  Photo courtesy of Mitch Mitchell (left)

The Wild Angels rock 'n' roll band was formed in the summer of 1967. The original members were Mal Gray (vocals), Mitch Mitchell (bass), John Hawkins (lead guitar), Bob O'Connor (drums) and John Huggett (keyboards). Mitch had met Mal and Bob some two years earlier when he placed an ad in "Melody Maker" for "Musicians wanted - Rockers only", but although a group called the Rockin' Gold Stars had come out of this, they never did any gigs.

Originally, Mal had wanted to use the name "Wings Of Leather" for the band (from the lyric of Eric Burdon's "San Francisco Nights"), but Mitch noticed that the film "Wild Angels" starring Peter Fonda had just been banned in the UK by censors and thought that the band would get extra publicity from this. Five years later, "Melody Maker" ran an article on group names and reckoned that The Wild Angels was one of the best ever, as it really told you what sort of music they played.

The band's first gig was at The Nightingale Café in Biggin Hill in Kent. This café was the haunt of rockers and Hell's Angels plus several old Teddy Boys. The gig stormed it and the band became residents. A feature was the bank holiday 'run' when bikers from all over would gather at the 'Gale prior to riding to a coastal town (usually Margate or Folkestone) to seek a punch-up with the local Mods after having first rocked their socks off to the Angels' beat!

It was around this time that John Huggett left to do other things and he was replaced by Pete Addison on rhythm guitar. Pete only stayed around for a while and he was followed by Dave Jacobs who played rhythm and some piano. He fell out with Mal and left to be replaced by Wild Bill Kingston on piano. Bill was older than the other members of the band and had played in the 50s with Johnny Kidd, Bill Kent and Earl Sheridan. The band played several other gigs in the Kent and South London areas, but the big break came in May 1968 when Bill Haley & the Comets and Duane Eddy came to play gigs at London's Royal Albert Hall and The Sophia Gardens Ballroom in Cardiff. The promoters, London City Agency, were looking for support bands that would be accepted by the mainly Teddy Boy audience. The Wild Angels, being one of the very few rock and roll bands playing in Britain at that time of love, peace and psychedelia fitted the bill perfectly and stormed the gig.

Wild Angels & Phil Zynon
(From "The Teds" by Chris Steele-Perkins & Richard Smith)

In the audience that night were members of the Beatles and the Rolling Stones. A tour of Germany followed which was originally meant to be for 2 weeks playing first in West Berlin and the 2nd week in Munich, however, such was the bands' popularity, that this extended to 7 weeks playing extra dates in both Berlin and Munich and also in Salzburg, Austria. More gigs around England followed and then another 4 week tour of Germany, this time with Freddie 'Fingers' Lee on piano in place of Bill who was unwell. More UK gigs followed this and another German tour over Christmas 1968 meant the band didn't see much of their homes.

Then in January, a record deal was struck with Major Minor records. The single which followed had Eddie Cochran's "Nervous Breakdown" on the A-side and a song composed by the group's then manager, Pete Gage (a former guitarist with Geno Washington and Vinegar Joe) titled "Watch The Wheels Go Round". In the backing vocals on this side was Elkie Brooks who was married to Pete at the time. The record didn't exactly set the World alight and sold around 800 copies in Britain. However, it was released on Ariola in Germany and Switzerland where it sold better, doing about 4000 in Germany and the Swiss Cats bought around 2500 copies.

It was shortly after this that Mitch left the band to form a rocking 3 piece with Big Jeff Runacre (later lead guitar for The Rock And Roll All Stars) and Canadian Steve Day on drums (Steve later played for C.S.A.) The name of this outfit was "Somethin' Else" which was later changed to Alcatraz. Mitch was replaced by Rod Cotter and the band changed record labels to B&C records. They released an album "Live At The Revolution" which got into the budget-price album charts. Singles, "Buzz Buzz A Diddle It" and "Three Nights A Week" didn't sell too well, however.

Around this time, the group was selected to be Gene Vincent's backing group on his British Tour. It was to be Gene's last effort and, on his return to the States, the great man sadly passed away. Another good selling album, "Red Hot And Rockin"' followed and then Rod left to be replaced by Keith Reed. Shortly afterwards, Bob O'Connor vacated the drummers stool and his replacement was Geoff Britton who had been in the charts a year or so before as the drummer for East of Eden on their hit "Jig-A-Jig". The band then joined Decca records and Mal left, with Keith taking over lead vocals. They released an album "Out At Last" which received good reviews and healthy sales.

Next was a single "I Fought The Law" which got to number one in Sweden. This was followed by a lengthy tour of Sweden. Other releases were several songs from the musical "Grease". The band changed labels again to Pye and released another album. They were beginning to get a bit 'poppy' and were sounding like a poor man's Dave Edmonds when Geoff left to join Wings. He didn't stay with McCartney for very long and on his return to the UK, joined Manfred Mann's Earth Band. The other members of the Angels began to drift away and only Bill Kingston was left, but no original members remained. The band still gets booked at Rock 'n Roll Reunion gigs and Teddy Boy weekenders, the line up usually being Bill, sometimes Mitch and Geoff and whoever else is available at the time.

I hope that this little biography will be useful and if anyone wants to e-mail me, please do so. In the meantime, Keep rockin', rock 'n' roll will never die!

Mitch Mitchell

CLICK HERE: Rockin' On The Railroad Re-issued on RAUCOUS

Copyright (c)2001, Mitch Mitchell
For BlackCat Rockabilly Europe
Used with permission