THE FULL STORY
The past decade has seen the interest in psychedelic and progressive music grow to new heights. Bands who had little success outside of their home towns, have in recent years become famous in collectors circles. The record labels that issued their releases have become desirable, with releases on Vertigo, Island and Deram becoming much sought after. However the cream of the crop for many record collectors are the releases on small independent labels of the era. Many of these records were pressed in very small numbers (less than 100 copies) and were generally only available from the artists themselves. These so called "private pressings" began to take on an air of mystery which was reflected in steady rises in price. It didnt take long for re-issues of many of these titles to find their way onto the market, to be readily snapped up by collectors eager to hear these lost psych gems, prog masterpieces and acid folk monsters.
One of these bands was Complex who barring a few lines written in different publications and more recently both albums being re-issued on Tenth Planet and sister label Wooden Hill few people would have had any first hand knowledge of the band and their music.
Ian Southworth met the three longest serving members of the band, who surprisingly have never been interviewed for 20 years. The resulting conversation turned up some surprising facts including the release of a previously undocumented single on a major label, unreleased acetates and hours of unheard studio recordings from all different line ups of the band.
The original line up of Complex centred around the twin guitar partnership of Tony Fisher and Brian Lee, who had played together in a Blackpool based group, The Ramblers. This band active from 1961 were typical of many such outfits, playing a virtually all covers set and reflecting Brians love of The Spotnicks and The Shadows. Little evidence of The Ramblers remains, however they did cut a four track acetate, which is still in Brians possession. The band split in 1965, but while Brian was at university he continued to pursue his musical interests, playing with both a folk group, and N.S.U. a Hendrix influenced rock outfit. After completing his degree, Brian returned to Blackpool. Together with fellow ex-Rambler Tony Fisher, he set about forming his next band.
In a local music shop, Brian spotted a card reading "Bass player seeks ". This had been placed by Lance Fogg, who like Brian, had just returned from university studies intertwined with the distractions of a potential career in music. During his first year at Aberdeen university in Scotland, Lance formed a group, The Misfits who were to play regularly around the North of Scotland. Every band has its own particular claim to fame and The Misfits are no different. "We were the first band from the mainland to play in The Shetlands. It was like Beatle mania gone mad. When the ferry pulled at the quayside we were mobbed by masses of screaming kids." While the Misfits were to disband after their university years with no recording legacy, Lance also has one pre Complex recording under his belt. Whilst only 17, Lance had also cut an acetate with a local Jazz outfit, The Jerry Wilmitt trio. Only one copy was made, and it featured Lance playing double bass, a newly acquired gift from his parents for passing his A levels.
Lance, Brian and Tony now only needed a drummer, so in the Autumn of 68 they placed an advertisement in the Blackpool Gazette. Enter Tony Shakespeare, who not only could drum, but also proved to have an exceptional voice too.
The band began to play various venues around the North West, halted only temporarily by Tony Fishers decision to leave in 1969. His replacement was Chip Hughes, the proud owner of a Rickenbacker 12 string. Live the band began to expand their repertoire of covers and their set was peppered with numbers made famous by The Byrds, Manfred Mann, Jimi Hendrix and The Faces. A year later Chip Hughes was asked to leave, with Tony Fisher returning to the band. Amongst Complexs loyal following was a keyboard player and songwriter, Steve Coe. Impressed with the band he approached them with some of his songs. After playing them to the band, he was immediately asked to join. With a slightly unorthodox keyboard style, Complex became a 5 piece for a short while, before Tony Fisher once again left, quitting music for a career in the Army.
Steve Coes songs were co-written with his friend Bob Mitchell, who surprisingly some of the band never met. Vocalist and drummer Tony Shakespeare remembers, "No I never met the guy. He and Steve used to write in a similar way to Elton John and Bernie Taupin, with Bob handing Steve the finished lyrics for him to add the music." Whilst not the usual way for a band to write songs, it never the less proved successful, with the group compositions blending perfectly into the live set and proving just as popular with audiences.
Armed with a good live following and strong self composed material, Complexs obvious next step was to gain record company interest. Rather than follow the traditional route of sending demo tapes or attempt to persuade A&R men to leave their comfortable London offices, the group decided to make an LP and send it to record companies in order to gain some attention.
Remarkably, the album was recorded at a local pub in between opening hours, with vocal overdubs being added at Brian Lees home. Through a contact with Graham Atkinson, an employee of Granada TV, the group were able to add sound effects to the tapes. He was given a credit as sound engineer by way of thanks, and the tapes were then sent to Craighall studios in Scotland to be pressed. Barring a handful of test pressings, only 99 copies were pressed (thus avoiding purchase tax). The albums striking red and black artwork was drawn by bass player Lance Fogg and sent to a local printers to have sleeves made. However an error was discovered when the band attempted to slide the records into their sleeves. Rather than make sleeves to house a 12 inch LP, the printer had made the sleeves exactly 12 inches wide, leaving no room for clearance. The end result of this mistake is that today, most surviving copies of the LP have a split seam. This was not to be the only problem with the album. Upon playing the newly received LPs, the band were to discover, that the sound quality was less than perfect, giving a "thin" sound and noticeable surface noise.
The album was released in November 1970 and Brians mother (who successfully managed the group) dutifully sent out copies to various record companies. The remaining copies were sold at the bands gigs for a pound each, which equates to quite an investment, were you far-sighted enough to buy one at the time. Given that the album sounds deeply rooted in 1967/68, it is not surprising that Complex did not generate much interest from the major labels, intent on signing the next new thing. However E.M.I. were sufficiently impressed with the bands sound and song writing skills, to offer them an audition. So in January of 1971, they departed for Craighall studios in Edinburgh, and over the course of the weekend, re-recorded two tracks from the LP, "Norwegian Butterfly" and "Images Blue". Around the same time, Complex were to also record a session for BBC in Manchester. Whilst EMI turned down their option to sign Complex, the band remained in buoyant mood. Gigs were coming in regularly and the Coe / Mitchell writing partnership was continuing ti supply new material.
Material for the second album was recorded at 107 studios, which in truth was the number of Brians house. The tapes were sent to Deroy Sound in Carnforth, and in June of 1971 the second album, "The Way We Feel" was released. This tied in nicely with the groups most impressive gig to date. On the 4th of June, Complex were to share the bill with Mungo Jerry and Ashton Gardner and Dyke, playing to a sell out 2000 audience at Blackpools Empress ballroom. However at the same time, Steve Coe handed the band his notice, having accepted an offer of a place at teacher training college. As a side line to the story, it should be noted that Steve was soon to leave thoughts of teaching behind. Together with his lyricist Bob Mitchell, he signed a publishing deal with Mountain and was later to have success with, amongst others Monsoon, eventually marrying vocalist and now solo artist, Sheila Chandra.
Having been given 2 months notice by Steve, Complex set about recruiting a new keyboard player. After some initial reluctance Mike Proctor was tempted to join. Mike was a classically trained pianist and had until then played with THE local heavy band, Innocent Child. Mikes influence on the band was soon apparent. A big fan of Yes and Jethro Tull (of whom, Barrimore Barlow was a close friend), he pulled the group in a more progressive direction. Little evidence of this line up remains, but the group cut a 5 track acetate at Radio Blackburn (now Radio Lancashire) which amongst other tracks, featured their covers of "Witch Queen of New Orleans" and "Shaft".
After 12 months, Complex were again to lose their keyboard player and chief songwriter, with Mike Proctor leaving for another local band. Un detered, the band recruited Keith Shackleton from Bitter Harvest as his replacement. Now with a clearly commercial style the band began to write a new set of songs to reflect the pop tastes of the early 70s. They entered a rock contest sponsored by brewers, Tetley Walker and easily won a place in the national finals. Eventually they were to finish third to groups called Tommy the Toff and Quartz, but their chosen song was to prove important. This number, which developed out of jam session, was called "Smiley Anne". Without doubt a classic piece of glam rock, it proved a hit with audiences and also brought them to the attention of a local manager / promoter Johnny Burton. Seeing the hit potential of the song, he set about giving the band an image and took over the groups management (to the great disappointment of Brians long serving mother). Out went the denims and generally nondescript appearance, in came fashionable hair cuts and trendy clothes.
With new image in place, Johnny Burton set about getting the band a record deal. He played the track, "Smiley Anne" to Kenny Barker at Chapel Music. Equally impressed, they offered the band a publishing deal, to be shortly followed by a recording contract with Pye. However just after signing the publishing deal, Lance decided to leave the group. In part this was due to very minor internal disagreements, but of more significance was Lances growing displeasure with the bands more commercial direction. Lance was to soon form "Contraband", followed by "True Brit", who were to record one single for EMI in 1976.
Dave Yardley was chosen as the replacement bass player and in December 1975 the band entered Chipping Norton studios to meet the production team and cut their 1st single. This initial meeting was not a total success. Pye had selected Tony Atkins to produce, and his plans differed significantly from those of the band. Guitarist Brian Lee remembers, "We were a bit disenchanted with him at first. He wanted to record the single in mono. God, even our demos had been made in stereo. Then he decided "Smiley Anne" wouldnt be a hit, and said we should choose something else." After considering many numbers, Complex finally agreed on a track written by their manager, "Who got the love?". It came out on April 3rd 1976, but was soon forgotten. It received limited airplay on both Radio One and Luxembourg, but without any significant publicity, the chances of a hit were nil. It eventually sold a respectable 2000 copies and Pye reluctantly considered a follow up single. An abortive attempt was made to release a single called "USA" designed to tie in with the American bicentennial celebrations. However this was quashed by a producer within Pye who questioned the fact of an English band singing the praises of a foreign country. As Christmas 76 approached, Complex again entered Marquee studios. The track "You are my number one" was recorded and left with the producer for mixing, but this proved to be a mistake. Originally featuring some heavy guitar and powerful arrangements, the tracks had been mixed totally "flat" leaving a comparatively bland pop song as a result. The single never materialised and Complex were soon to part company with Pye.
The final two years saw a number of changes for the band. A new drummer, Carl Hutchinson joined in 1977, allowing Tony Shakespeare to concentrate solely on his duties as vocalist and frontman. Changes in musical style were considered, and one of the final recording sessions saw them recording a punk influenced number "Dial 999". In 1978, the group got involved with a video production firm run by Mike Ryle (ex bass player with Tony Christie). His company made music videos which were sold as additions to the main feature on films sent to oil rigs and similarly out of the way places. Using camera-men and staff from Yorkshire TV, five tracks were taped in a club near Barnsley. Surprisingly the band dont have a copy of the finished product.
Disillusionment was beginning to set in. Complex changed their name briefly to YoYo and even considered a punk set under the name of "Ronny Nose and the Snot Gobblers". As the end of 1978 approached, Lance Fogg returned to help out with live commitments following Dave Yardleys departure. On Christmas Eve, Complex played their final gig and there the story would have ended, had it not been for the interest of record collectors. I asked the group when they became aware of the value of their recordings.
Tony Shakespeare. - - - It was in 89 or 90, I was creosoting my garden fence when this guy called Greg Van Dyke phoned. He offered me £100 for any copies of the LP (He didnt know there were 2 LPs at the time) I thought he was mad, but put him in touch with Lance and Brian.
Lance Fogg. - - - Yeah I sold him a couple of copies too, then I found out hed done a bootleg of the first one. What really annoyed me was that it claimed to be done with our approval, which was totally untrue.
The band are still amazed at the value of their two LPs and after much deliberation are finally considering legitimate releases of all their recordings. For collectors this could prove to be an astonishing series of CDs which could easily run over for over four albums.
Copyright Ian Southworth 1998