20 May 2011

Sweet Folk to Bitchin Prog Rock (Part 2)

From Musical Chairs, 11:55 pm on 20 May 2011

Sweet folk to bitchin' prog rock - part 2

The farming family folk trio that took the name The Clevedonaires from their home town of Clevedon in 1963 could never have imagined they'd be groomed for international stardom in the UK with chart topping songs in Europe a little over a decade later.

The Cleves
After shortening their name form the Clevedonaires to the Cleves in Australia the group from Clevedon were regulars on the touring circuit and signed to Festival’s Infinity progressive rock label. From left to right: Graham Brown (drums), Rob Aickin (bass), Gaye Brown (keyboards) and Ron Brown (guitar).

Their 1970 progressive rock outings of an EP and several singles on Festival's newly formed Infinity label along with a self-titled LP, and an award-winning radio advert for Coke made a huge impression across the Tasman.

"We probably didn't realise it at the time how significant the album was going to become in the Australian music catalogue. It's actually getting better write-ups now than it was when we released it," says guitarist Ron Brown.

After the album was released drummer Graham Brown returned to New Zealand and was replaced by Australian drummer Ace Follington who had been with Chain. Vince Meloney who had been with Billy Thorpe and the Aztecs, the Bee Gees and Fanny Adams also joined for a time.

On arriving in England in late 1971 Kiwi band The Cleves became slick glam rockers Bitch and were booked around the circuit by the agency that handled the Rolling Stones. From left to right: Ace Follington (drums), Ron Brown (guitar), Rob Aickin (bass) and Gaye Brown (keyboards) front.

When Meloney left In October 1971, The Cleves moved to England changed their name, to better reflect the times and the music they were playing, and became Bitch. They recorded three singles in the UK on the Anchor label distributed by Warner Brothers which were also released in the US. Their booking agency, which toured them through the UK and Europe, represented only two other bands, the Rolling Stones and Queen.

The first two Bitch singles recorded at Apple Studios were Wildcat and Good Time Comin' which failed to achieve chart action in Britain but did rate highly in Europe. Good Time Comin' was sampled by Unkle and then the band Mustard who made it a small hit again in Europe in 2008.

Bitch recorded an album for Warners which was never released, although tracks from it will be part of a 'best of' compilation later this year.

After releasing a solo single Gaye Brown returned to New Zealand. Bass player Rob Aickin returned home in the mid-1970s and ended up producing Hello Sailor, The Dudes and Golden Harvest. He currently lives in Australia.

Guitarist Ron Brown returned to New Zealand around 2007 and along with Gaye and Graham Brown are now playing together again as The North Road Band.

Programme produced and presented by Keith Newman for Radio New Zealand.

Photos from the Gaye Brown collection, used with permission.

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