|TWO MINUTE BISHOPS - Count Them And See !
THERE WAS a time when The Swinging Blue Jeans moseyed into a studio,
played the "Hippy Hippy Shake" for somewhat less than two
minutes, decided that was all right and moseyed back out again - with a
number one single.
That sort of carelessness (or should it be called spontaneity) has been
put to scorn by epic single makers from The Beach Boys through to Queen
but now a cosmopolitan bunch of roustabout pub rockers called The Count Bishops have loudly and
proudly put the clock back.
Their current EP "Speedball" (it ain't no soddin' maxi
single mates) is culled from 13 tracks of hot R&B laid down in five
I know this means they were tainted by modernism enough to take maybe half
an hour on some tracks but you will agree that basically the statistics
suggest all the doubts and hesitations of an express train.
The Count Bishops
are Johnny Guitar (American on you guessed), Zenon De Fleur
(Polish / English on guitar, if you get the pun in his name, quite
frequently the floor), Steve Lewins (proper English on bass) and Paul
Balbi (Maltese / Australian on drums). The singer on "Speedball",
Mike Spenser, a New York buddy of Mr. Guitar, has already
The band's French manager, Larry Debray, lamented: "Mike is a
good mover, all the ingredients to be a good singer but his attitude was
So Johnny and Zen are taking the vocals with a gentleman
called Laurie, lately of The Michigan Flyers (who? ah well now ...),
temporarily on mouth harp while they seek out a new front man.
Johnny, whose versatility extends to writing their intriguing press
handouts, said: "When we got together we rehearsed night and day for
a couple of weeks" (a couple of weeks? te he). "And then we went
into Pathway Studios in Islington with the idea of getting down as many
tracks as possible". It was "We'll bring the amps, you guys
bring the beer".
"After eight or nine tracks we'd stopped and were listening to the
playbacks and everyone was so enthusiastic we unpacked all the gear again
and recorded four more including "Route 66" and "Teenage
Letter" which we put on "Speedball".
Debray: "We captured the live sound which is very tight. The
beginnings of a band. The accent was on energy level rather than refined
There is certainly no danger of anyone describing the result as ...
"refined" but that raw, old sound (acknowledged Bishops' heroes are early
Stones and Yardbirds) is just what made them kick in the crypt. You have
no laugh - and bop.
Debray is dubious about such praise though: "We think people are too
'oooked on the nostalgia. This is R&B alive today ! It's not
just a matter of getting dusty records down off the shelf. The band is
writing its own songs now it's got used to playing as a unit".
They have so far sold out the 2,500 initial pressing of "Speedball"
(Chiswick Records) and plan further recordings on the Franco - Dutch label
for which Debray happens to be UK agent. Another year and could R&B be
back, could The Count Bishops
be feeling good?
|BISHOPS: OBSCURED BY CLODS
THE COUNT BISHOPS - "The Count Bishops"
- Chiswick WIK 1 ****
ONE WORD I haven't seen on t-shirts or arm bands recently and that's
integrity. A big one, I know, and I must confess it's not one of my
favourites, carrying as it does all kinds of "moral" and
"self righteous" connotations more appropriate to vicars and
monastries than the hot 'n' sweaty ambiance of rock 'n' roll. All the
same, you have to respect anyone with the balls to stick to what they
believe in, come hell or high water.
Take The Count Bishops,
they've been around a couple of years and were among the first bands to
get lumbered with that all but meaningless "punk" saddle. But,
although there's always been an abundance of talent and dexterity in the
band, so much so that they could probably pull off any generic aberration
(play whatever's the current definition of "punk" in other
words) of rock 'n' roll as well if not better than anyone else in the
ring, they've never taken advantage of what's "hip", preferring
to go on playing the music they've always played.
Someone recently compared the band to The Flamin' Groovies and that's a
worthy analogy. All the same I'd hate to see The Bishops go on being poor
cousins until some far off "Bargain Bin" or similar of the
future when they belatedly get their dues as "neglected greats"
And, tempting as it might be to side with underdogs simply because they're
underdogs I feel the need to stress that it just ain't the case with me
and this band. Because I happen to have this stubborn faith that if
something's good enough then it'll speak for itself and, provided enough
people get the chance to hear it it'll win through. See, I'm as convinced
now as I ever was that The Bishops'
"Train Train" b/w "Takin' It Easy" was
one of the finest 45's of last year and that, if it had only received half
the radio exposure it so obviously merited it would've been a huge hit.
Maybe, just maybe, it'll do a "Roadrunner" and flourish in
some more sympathetic future. Meanwhile there's few things that have
depressed me more recently than seeing this frequently excellent band
playing their hearts out to a dozen or so tourists, as happened at The
Rock Garden a couple of weeks back. It's just so unfair.
Still, maybe now that J. Rotten's come out and confessed that he's as
human as the next man and enjoys a wide variety of music, things'll start
to change and a somewhat more open minded attitude will prevail when it
comes to listening to "new" bands like The Bishops, Roogalator, Tyla
Gang and a dozen or so others I could name who are making good music as
opposed to simply regurgitating the first Ramones album mixed with the odd
Stooges or Velvets song.
Had "The Count Bishops"
just been shipped in from New York or Boston or dug up as a cut-out, I'm
pretty certain people would be falling over themselves to claim their
discovery. So what. This here's a very solid little album anyway, one
that's well worth keeping an ear open for. And yes, you're absolutely
right, it does make 90% of "Live At The Roxy" sound pathetic by
Let's hear it for these little guys. I mean, like I've said elsewhere, no
harm in liking what's hip but it's even better when what's hip and what's
good are one and the same. Like here, for example.
|AT LAST !
"Whereya gonto tonight den Terry?" inquired Alec, daintily
flicking a bogie across the gingham tablecloth.
"Dingwalls. To see The Bishops"
his mate peered over the top of Sporting Life and through a haze of N° 6
"The 'oo?" quizzed the ignoramus opposite him in the cafe.
y'know "Baby You're Wrong" and "Train Train"
and all that" his pal gesticulated wildly.
"Oh, yer mean The Count thingmies. All that old "Route
66" stuff, with the singer they all reckon don't fit in. They
still going then?"
"Thought they'd split up. Washed up by the New Wave"
"Nah mate" his friend was beginning to lose his cool. "Look
'ere". He picked up a crumpled copy of SOUNDS and opened it at page
14. "There you are see. A feature on The Bishops. Not before time
neither. Why would this bloke Dave Brahn waste his time writing about 'em
if they'd split up".
"But I thought he only wrote about legends ... And what are we doing
in this feetcha?"
THREE YEARS on and five
letters lighter, welcome The Bishops.
True, their appearances have been somewhat few and far between of late and
also true it is plenty long enough since that promising debut album was
released and only now have we got a follow up, and that a live album.
So, what happened? Was it a case of too much, too soon? Juicy internal
probs perhaps? Musical differences? What's it all about? Why are we here?
Why am I using all these question marks? (Because you're finding it hard
to start the feature. - Ed.)
Worry not children, all is well within The Bishops' camp as was revealed
in the luxurious surroundings of Chiswick Records HQ, up the stairs and
the first on the right.
There I found Johnny Guitar and the singer with the inferiority
complex, Dave Tice, who has taken to heart all the nasty comments
in the press about him not fitting in with the rest of the band. Never
mind mate, I won't mention it (much).
Dave joined the band when their original vocalist quit. Singer
numero uno left in late '75 and the band continued rock's rough road as a
foursome with musicians taking on extra vocal duties.
After auditioning upwards of 100 candidates they eventually drafted in Dave
from the States and he overdubbed vocals for their premier LP.
The next event in their story was the tour supporting John Cale, though
they didn't actually play many of the dates after all.
Johnny explains: "The tour was supposed to be using Zen's
(Zenon De Fleur) P.A. system. They (Cale and band) did the first
two gigs with it and said it wasn't good enough. So that was one of our
business connections with the tour blown for a start".
"That created a foul-up. Then we would arrive at 1,200 seat venues
like Cambridge Corn Exchange and there'd only be a couple of hundred
people there. And we'd get the blame. Even if we didn't play we got told
it was all our fault".
"It's all my fault" chips in tiresome Tice. "I don't
fit in". Oh shut up and get on with it Johnny:
"Anyway we slid some dates in of our own and we got more people
coming along to them !"
Next came an equally unlikely tour with Caravan:
"Though they weren't particularly our audience, they seemed to like
us and we got on well with the band too, right down to teaching them how
to play "Route 66"".
After that was a curtailed Motorhead tour, shortened due to an injury to a
band member, causing The Bishops
to gig on their own again. Following that came the crunch. The reason for
the few gigs of late.
"It was all due to a management / agency screwup" Johnny
reckons. "That forced us into a period of inactivity. Then, on top of
that all that, Stevie (Lewins) left to join Wilko".
"That came just before we had some Irish dates set up. Stevie
wanted to follow his own star so we were back to auditions again"
adds Dave. The current line-up is completed with the arrival of
bassist Pat (Paddy) McMullan.
"We played some really funny gigs in Ireland I can tell you. Rowdy
pubs with people down front tearing the shirts off one another. I think
they felt that anyone wearing leather jackets and playing fast rock were
punks so we got the full treatment: glasses, beer, spit - the lot" John
"We were all covered in bruises after that gig" Dave
|IT'S DA BISHOPS ! - Finally a feature in
Sounds on the former Counts
THEIR NEXT move was into the recording studios to do a second album.
"We were all ready to unleash ourselves on the public again. You
know, record the album, and straight back on the road, but it didn't work
out. That was because of the trouble with finding management. We've always
been pretty self contained but couldn't do everything ourselves. I mean it
is frustrating when you do a bunch of good gigs and you're left waiting
for the next step, cos' nobody has bothered working one out for you".
What happened to the second studio LP?
"We laid down 16 tracks, enough for an album and singles. Then we
played this Wordsworth gig at The Roundhouse and Chiswick were considering
this live sampler of their act and we thought of using some live stuff on
our new album".
"Anyway the live stuff was so good Chiswick decided on putting that
as an album on its own. Meanwhile, we've worked out that the next three
singles from the studio stuff, which leaves us with three quarters of a
studio album. That will be completed in the not too distant future".
Dave: "The album has been getting good reviews and the single
("I Take What I Want", a Stax golden oldie given the
treatment), has even been Kid Jensen's single of the week on Radio One.
That took me by surprise".
"I think it is due to an R&B renaissance", Johnny
"We enjoyed the live album. It was mixed for a couple of days, an
instant thing" says Dave. "That way you don't have time
to get bored or bogged down in introspective things. I believe you'll be
able to listen to that album in a couple of years and realise it was a
A criticism of the band is the lack of visual identity put out by them
live. How does that one grab 'em?
"We're not really maniacs you see. Except when we're drunk" Dave
"We're not necessarily quiet either. We're into playing a good set
first and foremost", Johnny emphasises. "You try playing
good while leaping in the air. Like if you watch Wilko Johnson you'll see
he does his best bits with his feet firmly on the floor. People say it is
better now to jump and miss a chord, well I disagree".
"The visual stance evolves from playing. There are a certain
limitations. Playing comes first with us. Anyway I'm really too tall and
awkward to leap about too much. And I'm certainly not going to bite
chicken's heads off on stage".
"I'm too short and stumpy" moans Dave. "I used to go
in for all that hi-heel boot stuff once. But what's the point? It's so
false". So, what happens next?
"Well, we finally have a new agency deal being sorted out, so we can
get down to playing gigs regularly again and bring home the bacon"
says Johnny. "Mind you, we did play three days in one week
"I was beginning to know where every crack in the wall was" Dave
"We should be writing new songs really, instead of sitting around
talking and drinking beer, I really want us to do a lot of gigs".
"When we're not gigging, inactivity breeds ... (deep thought) ...
inactivity. We don't all live in the same house ...".
"Thanks Christ" Johnny butts in and out.
"... but we do see other a lot. I don't think we'll have any problems
once we get back up there and playing again. I don't think we've ever had
any major problems once we've actually got on stage. It's getting on there
in the first place that's been the problem". But what about the big
"We don't want to change the world through our political thoughts or
ideals or anything" Dave suggests.
Johnny inevitably has the last word(s): "That's 'cos we're too
|A BLITZ FROM THE BISHOPS - The Bishops
PEOPLE BALANCED precariously on tables and chairs, girls straddled across
their boyfriends' shoulders, other not so cleverly situated (or so tall)
craning their necks, tippy-toe, pushing and shoving just to catch a good
look at the action going down on stage; yep, that's the kind of audience
you'll find at any od The Bishops'
current spate of gigs.
Hey, white boy, you want a shot of rivvum an' blooze? If so, you can
hardly find a more industrious, more entertaining or more genuinely
rivetting band than The Bishops
playing the club circuit these days, as their recent solid gold, four
encore proof gig at London's Nashville Rooms proved to me. Looking like
something right out the Stones' Eel Pie Island Club days (circa 1964), The
Bishops on stage were a
sight to behold.
Unexpectedly opening the set with a spoof of "You're The One That
I Want" they charged headlong into "Taking It Easy"
with Johnny Guitar ripping it up in his inimitable style with some
red hot licks. Dressed in black leathers, shades, and coming on like your
older brother's meanest pal, were it not for the hilarious onstage antics
of Dave Tice (vocals), Johnny would easily be the most visually
impressive figure in the band.
It's unusual in my experience to watch a band start a set and play as
excitingly as though they were coming out for the encores, and then
somehow sustain the action for the duration, flying higher and higher, but
that's just what The Bishops
did. And then some.
Their current set contains a whole clusters of numbers guaranteed to set
your pulse racing, all of them superbly executed by the band.
They do "Somebody's Gonna Get Their Head Kicked In Tonight",
"Teenage Letter", "Train Train" and a
new one, "Susie Sue". To mention so few though is almost
an injustice to the rest of their material. There ain't one not worth a
mention, and not one that wasn't a sure fire killer.
Pat McMullan (bass), Paul Balbi (drums) and Zevon De
Fleur (rhythm guitar) punch out the rhythm; fast and furious, like
their lives depended on it and the night could last forever.
Midway through the set the band were augmented by a guest harp player
whose name, shamefully, escapes me at this moment. But boy, could he blow
that mutha ! With De Fleur pounding out the chords and Johnny
Guitar steadily unleashing a flurry of electric blue notes, our
anonymous harp hero was free to wind his way in and around the big bad
sound, bringing the number (I think it was "Confessin' De
Blooze" to a crescendo of orgasmic Blue Wave delight. Too much,
The Bishops have got
to be easily one of a handful of truly great live bands still strutting
their stuff in and amongst the armpits of English clubland. It's where
they came from and, ultimately, it's in their environment that their music
works to greatest effect.
The gig was a complete success, without a doubt the best I've seen all
summer, maybe even all year. If there's any foundation in the popular
beleif at the moment that, indeed, we're in for a Blue Wave, then I for
one welcome it with open arms. Support your local R&B heroes, and
watch them give you all they've got to give.
Sounds - September 9, 1978
|THE BISHOPS - "I Want Candy"
Available - so far as I can judge by what I was sent - in both ten inch
and six inch format, this cover of The Strangeloves is contemporary
R&B at its best. Totally unassuming, it's enjoyable first and foremost
for its very simplicity - power driven guitars, steam drill bass and drums
and more guitars.
Remarkable only in the fact that The Bishops have never before
achieved a sound as good as this.
Sounds - October 28, 1978
THE COUNT BISHOPS, who have just finished a series of gigs with Dr
Feelgood, have lined up some more dates of their own to tie in with the
rapid progress of their "I Want Candy" single up the
They play Batley Crumpets October 27, Camden Electric Ballroom 28,
Middlesex Polytechnic November 3, Southampton University 4, Brentwood
Hermit Club 9. More dates are awaiting confirmation.
|BAD BREAK FOR BISHOP
THE BISHOPS' guitarist Zenon De Fleur was badly hurt in a
car accident at the week end. He was driving home from the group's gig at
Kensington's Nashville on Saturday when his car crashed and he was taken
to West Middlesex Hospital with a broken collar bone and several other
The Bishops' planned
May tour of Britain, which would have been followed by an extensive
European trek, is now in jeopardy, but no decision will be taken on the
tour or the release of the group's third album on Chiswick (which the
group have completed work on) until it's known how soon Zenon will
be able to rejoin the band.
|THE BISHOPS BATTLE ON
THE BISHOPS have decided to go ahead with their tour and album
following the death of Zenon De Fleur after a car accident. The
band will be joined by guitarist Blitz Krieg from Blast Furnace And
... for the tour, and the album, "Crosscuts", which was
completed just two days before Zen's car crash, will be released in
May. It'll be preceded by a single, "Mr. Jones" on
Chiswick on April 27.
The tour starts at Chelmsford Triad Leisure Centre May 2 and continues at
Leeds Fan Club 3, Hull College Of Education 4, Durham University 5,
Cleethorpes Winter Gardens 7, Sheffield Limit Club 8, Stirling University
10, Aberdeen University 11, St Andrews University 13, Chester Arts Centre
14, Portsmouth Polytechnic 17, Dudley JB's 26. More dates are now being
|PLAYING THEIR CARDINALS RIGHT - The
Bishops - Leeds
"WAKEY, WAKEY !" cried Bishop Dave Tice to the
inter denominational cluster of punters who had elected against The
Members in favour of an air conditioned dose of loose R&B at the Fan
Club. It turned out to be one of those nights where (excluding the
promoter) 150 people could not be wrong.
Isolationists to the last man, The Bishops are really an
Australian conspiracy (conceived by drummer Paul Balbi, and
latterly by fellow Antipodean, vocalist Dave Tice) designed to gnaw
away at the fragile superstructure of postpunk. In strong contract to the
New Wave's phoney social revolutionaries, these guys play it for laughs,
and they do alright.
As a commercial force, The Bishops
have admittedly got more than their fair share of problems - most of which
they bring on themselves. Technique they have, material they don't. It
goes without saying that, Feelgoods occasionals aside, all the best
R&B cuts have been made, and that any band which opts for this genre
needs songwriting IQ as badly as it needs stylistic suss. In the former
category, The Bishops
are suspect: of the "Crosscuts" songs, "I Take
what I Want" and "Too Much Too Soon" work, but "Your
Daddy Won't Mind" and "Good Times" are dated
somethin' awful, while "Heads Kicked In Tonite" is just
plain retrogressive, redundant.
Still, as a live act, they cut it. Pooling resources, spreading the
workload, this is a democratic outfit with their hearts, fingers and
mouths in the right places. Tice, heavy on the Brilleaux clenched
fist and the "Yeah-uh-RIGHT !" intros, more than earned his
supper, doing the songs the justice they didn't always deserve and blowing
an adequate harp into the bargain, while Johnny Guitar threw in all
the appropriate Green-Johnson-Mayo phrases and the self conscious Blitz
Krieg (visually incongruous, feeling his way) delivered on rhythm and
slide - often to great effect.
All in all, an impressive showing. The Bishops might not be in the
same league as some of their more obvious genre peers, but time and
experience will see them right.
|THE BISHOPS "Cross Cuts" (Chiswick
CWK 3009)** - DR. FEELGOOD "As It
Happens" (United Artists UAK 30239)**
REMEMBER THE Blue Wave? See, I thought you'd have forgotten already.
Supposedly a fresh injection of rhythm and blues, the Blue Wave made last
year's other falsely predicted money spinner, Power Pop, seem as stable as
a Chinese Dynasty.
It was fine idea in principle, even if it did sound like a Golders Green
hairstyle. Young white trash (or those that had convinced themselves they
were such) ripping through R&B classics in dingy pubs is always - if
little else - fun, and a suitable backdrop to sucking on a bottle of Pils.
But in practice it never got beyond just that. A few kids cranking out
R&B with little eye for dynamics seemingly ignorant of the fact that
their singer couldn't tell the difference between a note and a shout are
inevitably destined to remain in those pubs ... and let's leave Blast
Furnace out of this, okay?
Both The Bishops and
The Feelgoods, however, have moved out of that determinedly minor league.
Lee Brilleaux's elegant hooter has even been making regular appearances on
TOTP of late, probably scaring the hell out of under fifteens the length
and breadth of the land. And yet these two albums fall straight into that
R&B trap - all effort, no style.
In fact, that's being more than fair to The Feelgoods. "As It
Happens" is without a doubt the worst album they've ever made, a
shoddy, badly recorded, tired and sometimes off hand flash through their
most recent set, heavily concentrating on their own songs - you get bigger
publishing cheques that way - at the expense of their mostly superior
choice of covers.
Reportedly the last album of their current contract with UA, neither the
recording nor the packaging does anything to disabuse you of the suspicion
that it was planned as a quick get out. Fair enough, but it's really about
time The Feelgoods stopped relying so heavily on the Dickensian character
and forthrightly vulgar wit of Lee Brilleaux.
The Bishops were
originally named after a New York street gang. If street gangs made music
like this, they'd be the kind that strutted and preened and rumbled behind
closed doors with only a pillow and a baseball bat for company. The
singles included, "I Want Candy" and "I Take What
I Want", are both rumbustious enough to cover the pitiful
inadequacies of DaveTice's voice but most of the album has the
cutting edge of a Burger King Big Whopper - too much mayo, not enough
The guitars are never less than poised but they are hamstring by the
weakness of the original material and the unadventurous choice of covers
(who needs another "Somebody's Gonna Get Their Heads Kicked In
Tonight"?) and Tice's awful voice. He sounds like a
bullfrog with piles and displays the kind of intelligent phrasing you
expect from the Gene Simmons' of this world.
Me, I hope The Feelgoods wake up but for modern R&B I'll stick by
remembering the J. Geils gigs.
If you want to send a message, don't hesitate.
have to write my E-mail address in the "To"
zone of your E-mail program.
|© Herve Colombet, 2003 - 2005