Year of Release: 1969
Ken Howard and Alan Blaikley were major players in the British sixties scene, producing hits primarily for Dave Dee, Dozy, Beaky, Mick and Tich, but also sneaking out top-selling discs by a wide variety of other smiling sixties scoundrels too. Arguably their most famous composition amongst the cool kids in the beat collector cult is The Honeycombs Meek-produced "Have I The Right?" Besides that, they also worked with The Herd, Lulu, and even Elvis Presley.
Suffice to say, a band launched as a Howard-Blaikley project were normally assured big-time success, and Windmill, their first post-DDDBMT act, had high hopes attached to them. With press releases being rushed out assuring the public that Windmill would 'inject some dynamics into a dull scene', "Big Bertha" was the debut single. With it's strangely Higsons-esque (in retrospect) yells of "Hoo ha!", puffing flutes (hey! Dig that concession to the fast approaching prog rock movement!) and a driving chorus, only a fool would have betted on this single's failure at the time.
Nonetheless, it was a flop, and forty years down the line we're only left with the option of dissecting precisely why. Developing trends in music can't have helped - Dave Dee and his ridiculously-named pals were already rather passe by 1969, so introducing a new band producing similar cheery, upbeat pop with the same team behind them probably wasn't the wisest idea. On top of that, there's something very by-numbers about the sound of "Big Bertha". In a similar manner to the way that the lowest-ranking Stock Aitken and Waterman hits always sounded like cast-offs, "Big Bertha" feels similar, almost as if the chaps behind it offered it to a big-name act first, then threw it in the direction of their new boys when no other takers stepped forward. This is very probably wrong, but the track is memorable without being thrilling, catchy without having substance. The band give it plenty of welly and attempt to generate some excitement with their buzzing guitar noises and chirpy vocals, but something, somewhere, sounds rather flat. That's not to say that the single isn't worthy of a spin, and is certainly enjoyable enough for a few listens, but that's as good as it gets.
Windmill released a number of other singles - including the apparently psychedelic "Wilbur's Thing" - but none attracted the public's attention, and the band's career was cut tragically short when lead singer Dick Scott died in a car accident. The other members subsequently went on to form Prog Rock outfit Tonton Macroute, of whom I must confess I know nothing. But hey, there's a video of "Big Bertha" on Youtube here, which I surely can't be alone in finding incredibly surprising.