Year of Release: 1964
The London blues and R&B scene is the stuff of beat legend these days, and people of my generation have only hearsay to go by. Still, irrespective of how many obscure fringe acts were allegedly the best live bands in the world, we all know for a fact that there were endless pubs and clubs in the capital having bands playing approximations of authentic American sounds in their sweaty, smoky basement rooms. Some of these (The Rolling Stones) would go on to success of the kind that doesn't need to be emphasised, while others had to content themselves with cultish levels of appreciation.
The Wes Minster Five were a regularly gigging unit around the London bar and club scene, and are really seldom discussed on any level these days. Part of the problem may be that they were signed to an uber-obscure independent label without much clout, and another issue may be the fact that their recordings, while good, lack the abrasion and bite of The Pretty Things or The Birds. Still, what we have here are two enjoyable cuts, either of which could have happily taken the A-side spot. "Sticks and Stones" is a nice, stomping cover of the R&B classic, and "Mickey's Monkey" incorporates call and response vocals with hand clapping and a nagging enthusiasm, and nearly rips up the joint. Both tracks have come under some criticism from aficionados for giving two respected songs a British beat production, but that, I'm afraid, was the name of the game at the time. Very few British bands were able to ape the American styles 100% successfully (and what, indeed, would be the point of creating replicas in the studio anyway?) so putting their own blueprint on the tracks was fairly standard practice.
Consisting of Clive Burrows on sax, Dave Greenslade on keyboards, John Hiseman on drums, Brian Smith (aka Wes Minster) on guitar, Tony Reeves on bass and Paul Williams on vocals, the line-up was completed by chance purely due to Williams' connection with Georgie Fame and The Blue Flames - a fan and regular attendee of their Flamingo Club gigs, he managed to convince the outfit to allow him to occasionally get on stage and sing songs with them, and eventually Fame put him in touch with the other musicians who were in the process of putting an act together. The band are particularly notable for giving the Zoot Money's Big Roll Band two of its future members in Williams and Burrows.
Williams remains a practicing musician to this day, having worked with the likes of John Mayall and Juicy Lucy over the years, as well as gigging as a part of ensemble touring acts and as a solo artist. You can call me soft if you want, but it always brings a bit of cheer to my heart to be able to finish a blog entry talking about a musician's continued activity.
[Update - Terry Webster - the actual lead vocalist for this group - got in touch with me to correct some details! You can see more in the comments section].