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The Count Bishops

The U.K. Press



SOUNDS  -  January 1976
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 hours.
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 "moved on".
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 unprofessional".
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 recording".
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?




Sounds  -  1977 
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" or whatever.
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 comparison.
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.

Giovanni DADOMO


Sounds  -  June 3, 1978

"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 smoke.
"The 'oo?" quizzed the ignoramus opposite him in the cafe.
"The Bishops, 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 recalls.
"We were all covered in bruises after that gig" Dave contributes.



Sounds  -  June 3, 1978
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 philosophies.
"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 good night".
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 suggests.
"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 recently".
"I was beginning to know where every crack in the wall was" Dave chips in.
"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 one?
"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 stupid".



Sounds  -  August 26, 1978
A BLITZ FROM THE BISHOPS  -  The Bishops  -  Nashville

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, my son.
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"  -  Chiswick

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 charts.
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.


Sounds  -  March 17, 1979

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 injuries.
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.


Sounds  -  April 7, 1979

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 set up.


Sounds  -  May 19, 1979

"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.




Sounds  -  May 19, 1979
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 beef.
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.



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