Them (band)

Them was a Northern Irish band formed in Belfast in April 1964, most prominently known for the garage rock standard "Gloria" and launching singer Van Morrison's musical career. The group was marketed in the United States as part of the British Invasion.[1]

The band featured Van Morrison on vocals and harmonica, Billy Harrison on guitar (born William Harrison, 14 October 1942, in Belfast, County Antrim, Northern Ireland), Eric Wrixon on piano and keyboards (Wrixon named the band, but never played on any published albums or toured the States), Alan Henderson on bass (born 26 November 1944, in Belfast), Raymond Sweetman on bass (born Dermot Robert Sweetman, 1 January 1948, in Holyhead, Anglesey, North Wales) and Ronnie Millings on drums (born c 1937, in Belfast), with other musicians replacing or contributing during the life of the band. Henderson was the only constant member of the band from inception through their 1972 breakup and 1979 reunion.

Formation of the group

When Van Morrison established an R&B club with entrepreneurs Jimmy Conlon, Jerry McKernan and Jerry McCurvey (known as the "3Js") at the Maritime Hotel in April 1964, he gave notice to the Golden Eagles, the group with which he performed at the time. This left him without a group. With an anticipated opening night for the new R&B club approaching, he embarked on a mission to find his ideal line-up. He had recently been introduced to The Gamblers, a Belfast East group formed by Ronnie Millings, Billy Harrison, and Alan Henderson in 1962. Still a schoolboy, Eric Wrixon had been recruited as piano player and keyboardist. Morrison soon joined up with this group playing saxophone and harmonica and sharing vocals with Billy Harrison. The group rehearsed together in a room over a bicycle shop in preparation for their debut at the Maritime. Deciding the group now needed a new name, they followed Eric Wrixon's suggestion, and The Gamblers morphed into Them after the 1954 sci-fi horror film.[2]

The Maritime Hotel days

In an enigmatic manner, the very first announcement of the band Them transpired on 14 April 1964 with an ad in a Belfast newspaper asking: Who Are? What Are? THEM followed with similarly curious ads and building interest, until the Friday ad before the gig announced that Them would be performing at the Maritime Hotel (Club Rado) that evening. Their initial club attendance in the two hundred capacity venue grew very quickly; within a week, people could be seen queuing well down the street hours before the show.

Them performed without a routine, and the act absorbed their fuel from the crowd's energy. Morrison ad libbed, creating his songs live as he performed. Their debut of Morrison's "Gloria" took place on stage here. Sometimes, depending on his mood, the song could last up to twenty minutes. Morrison has stated that "Them lived and died on the stage at the Maritime Hotel." The records and tours never adequately captured the true spirit of Them, as they fed off one another and the energy of the audience. Only the most rudimentary of recordings of the performances survive.

One of the fan's recordings of "Turn On Your Love Light" made its way to Dick Rowe with Decca Records. He was notoriously known for having turned down signing The Beatles after listening to a badly recorded demo. Not anxious to repeat this type of mistake, Rowe rushed over to the Maritime to hear Them and then rushed them into the Decca studios to sign away their rights on a standard two year contract. The minors had to have their parents' signatures and when Eric Wrixon's parents refused to sign, he was replaced with Pat John McAuley.[3]

Recording with Decca and touring

The first recording session took place in London England in Decca Records' recording studios in West Hampstead on 5 July 1964. Dick Rowe brought in session musicians Arthur Greenslade on organ and Bobby Graham on drums. Six songs were recorded during this session: "Groovin'", "You Can't Judge a Book by Its Cover", "Turn on Your Love Light", "Don't Start Crying Now", "One Two Brown Eyes", "Philosophy" and "Gloria". This session was remarkable in its employment of two drums tracks, which can be clearly heard in the stereo mixes of "Gloria" and "One Two Brown Eyes".[4]

The group released its first single "Don't Start Crying Now" b/w "One Two Brown Eyes", in August, which did not prove to be successful. Phil Solomon, the band's manager, and Dick Rowe then hired session musicians Jimmy Page, Peter Bardens and Bobby Graham to back Morrison on a cover of Big Joe Williams's "Baby Please Don't Go"(though Page contributed rhythm guitar, the lead guitar playing was the work of Billy Harrison).[5] It was released in November, and in December, Them made their television debut on Ready Steady Go!, joining The Rolling Stones on the same bill.[6] Solomon used his connections to have "Baby Please Don't Go" played as the weekly signature tune for the television show and within two weeks it was #26 on the charts. The single, which featured the now-legendary "Gloria" as its B-side, turned into a smash hit in the UK, finally peaking in the Top Ten on the UK Singles Chart.[7]

In January 1965, Them toured England for a second time, staying at the Royal Hotel, which disc jockey Jimmy Savile used as his London base. As with many other groups of the time, Savile helped to promote the band with write-ups in his column for The People. At this point, Them needed a dose of positive publicity as they soon had earned a reputation for bad manners and sarcasm in their interviews. Billy Harrison said the attitude problem may have been caused by anti-Irish sentiments on the continent at the time. But, when they were interviewed by a reporter from the Irish Independent, the reporter remarked, "They were the most boorish bunch of youngsters I'd come across in my short career". They even treated an attractive female reporter with arrogance, causing Phil Coulter who witnessed this interview to remark, "They would just sit and mutter monosyllabic grunts to themselves and give her off-the-wall answers". (Van Morrison as a solo artist later raised these tedious and combative interviews to a "negative art form".)[8]

Their record label Decca released an EP with a recording of "Philosophy" from an earlier session. They next released Them's biggest hit in the UK, "Here Comes the Night" b/w "All for Myself". Phil Solomon had brought in Bert Berns, an American, who had co-written the hit "Twist and Shout". Berns hired session musicians Phil Coulter on keyboards and Andy White on drums to play on this song, which was one of his own compositions. Three weeks after it was released it charted at #2 in March 1965 in the UK and it went to #24 in the U.S. that same May.[9] Their management promoted Them by scheduling appearances on Ready Steady Go! and Top Of The Pops where rather than performing live, they were expected to mime and lip snyc. Morrison said of this appearance, "It was ridiculous. We were totally anti that type of thing... and we had to get into suits and have make-up put on and all that...". He also revealed how the band had until that time considered the programme a complete joke, and, then, Them had to appear on it.[10]

On 11 April 1965 Them made a guest appearance at the NME Pollwinners Concert at Wembley Empire Pool. Jimmy Savile was MC for this event and perhaps was responsible for their appearance, as their newfound fame was too recent to have figured into that year's readers' polls. The 1965 concert remains the finest gathering ever of British pop acts, with The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, The Kinks, The Animals, The Searchers, The Moody Blues, Dusty Springfield et al. The bands had been expected to keep to their current hits but Them audaciously segued from "Here Comes the Night" into a seven minute version of "Turn on Your Lovelight".[11] At the time, Derek Johnson with NME characterized Them's lead singer as generating "more genuine soul than any of his British contemporaries".[12]

Them released their next single, "One More Time", chosen by Phil Solomon, in June 1965. This single bombed according to Billy Harrison because it never constituted single material.[13] The band released two albums: The Angry Young Them released by Decca in June 1965 (UK) and by Parrot Records (US) in July 1965, and Them Again released in January 1966 (UK) and April 1966 (US). Later that year "Mystic Eyes" released as a single in the US reached #33. Them Again had charted in the US, and so they began a tour in May 1966.[14]

From 30 May to 18 June, Them had a residency at the famous Whisky a Go Go in Los Angeles. For the final week, The Doors (with lead singer Jim Morrison) opened for Them (which was the first time the Doors played at the Whisky). On the last night, the two bands and the two Morrisons jammed together on a twenty-minute version of "Gloria" and a twenty-five minute version of "In the Midnight Hour".[15] Them went on to headline at The Fillmore in San Francisco, California, and then in Hawaii where things went awry, with disputes erupting among band members and with management over financial arrangements. The band broke apart, with Van Morrison and Alan Henderson returning to Belfast, while Ray Elliot and David Harvey decided to stay in America.[16]

Van Morrison has placed the Them break-up in context: "There was no motive behind anything you did [back then]. You just did it because you wanted to do it and you enjoyed doing it. That's the way the thing started, but it got twisted somewhere along the way and everybody involved in it got twisted as well, including me." (1967) "You can't take something like that, put it in a box and place a neat little name on it, then try to sell it. That's what they tried to do. That's what killed Them." (1973)[17]

Van Morrison went on to great success and fame as a solo artist, but Them's combination of garage rock and blues proved a major influence on the next generations of rock musicians, and the group's best-known singles have become staples of rock and roll.