English band Tomcats (who would later become July) spent most of 1965-1966 in Spain, where they played the clubs and released a string of thrilling EPs of feral R&B, collected here along with 1964 demos by The Second Thoughts, their early incarnation.
Apart from great versions of then-recent hits by English and American artists, this double LP includes several original compositions and two covers of Spanish songs made popular by the legendary Lola Flores, which
The Tomcats turned into wild, fuzzed-out rockers.
The Tomcats’ story begins in Ealing, West London, where Tom Newman (vocals, guitar), Peter Cook (lead guitar), Alan James (bass) and Chris Jackson (drums) first began playing together as The Dreamers. When Alexis Korner and Cyril Davies opened the Ealing Club in 1962, it became a magnet for young blues enthusiasts, many of whom would go on to form their own R&B groups, including The Rolling Stones, The Yardbirds and Manfred Mann. Evenings spent at the Ealing Club had a similar effect on members of The Dreamers, who soon afterwards retooled their repertoire and rebranded as The Tomcats.
Another Ealing-based group, The Second Thoughts, were thinking along the same lines. Singer Patrick Campbell-Lyons (later the mastermind behind pop-psych heroes Nirvana), guitarist Tony Duhig, harmonica player Vic Griffiths, bassist Mickey Holmes, drummer John “Speedy” Keen and conga player/backing vocalist Jon Field played in a similar roughneck R&B style to The Tomcats, and at many of the same venues. It was inevitable that their stories would eventually entwine. In 1964 The Second Thoughts recorded some demos at a studio in Rickmansworth. However, the band parted company shortly afterwards when three of the members (Duhig, Holmes and Keen) headed for Spain to accompany the French nightclub singer Teddy Ray. When they returned to England a few months later, they immediately set about putting a new band together with the intention of returning to Spain as soon as possible.
Meanwhile, after playing a lengthy residency at the Oxford Street club Beat City, The Tomcats had also broken up, so it was only natural that the remnants of the two bands join forces. Initially called The Thoughts, the new group featured Tom Newman (lead vocals, guitar), Tony Duhig (lead guitar), Mickey Holmes (bass), Jon Field (congas, backing vocals) and Speedy Keen (drums). Soon afterwards Speedy was replaced by original Tomcats drummer Chris Jackson, at which point they decided to readopt the Tomcats name.
The revamped Tomcats arrived in Madrid in early 1965 and took up residency at Club Consulado. The group’s long hair and fashionable mod clothes were a novelty in Franco’s Spain and they immediately began to attract attention. When Mickey Holmes decided to go home, original Tomcat Alan James came out to take over on bass. Vic Griffiths of The Second Thoughts returned as harp player for a short while too.
Philips signed the band, which resulted in the release of four EPs in 1965 and 1966. While the majority of the songs were remakes of recent hits, The Tomcats deliver them with enough guts and gusto to make them more than worthwhile. The group also chose to cover a few Spanish numbers, most notably ‘A tu vera’, a song best known by the iconic singer, dancer and movie actress Lola Flores. The Tomcats transformed the dramatic flamenco torch song into a wild, fuzz guitar-spattered rocker. They also recorded the title song to one of her movies, “Ay pena, penita, pena”, updated with a throbbing bass line, thumping jungle drums and a stinging fuzz guitar solo. A small handful of original numbers were also scattered across the four EPs, including the moody ballad ‘Running At Shadows’, ‘It Ain’t Right’, and the Mersey-style ‘Don’t Ask For Me’. While in Spain, The Tomcats were cast in a comedy film, “Operación secretaria”, performing the thrilling punk R&B number ‘Two Minds In Tune’. That song makes its first appearance on vinyl here, along with a fine version of Reverend Gary Davis’s ‘Cocaine’ and a rowdy original number, ‘Don’t Let It Go’.
The Tomcats’ Spanish sojourn came to an end in the summer of 1966. Back in England, Newman reunited with original Tomcats guitarist Peter Cook and the pair began writing new songs in a more complex psychedelic style. The Tomcats regrouped as a six-piece, and in 1968 recorded a pair of wonderful singles and an album for Major Minor, by which time they had changed their name to July. After July disbanded in 1969, Duhig went on to form Jade Warrior, while Newman became a successful producer as well as recording numerous solo albums.