Album review: THE BETTERDAYS – Backlash

The Betterdays - Backlash

NTB Records [Release date 14.09.18]

The Betterdays were the South West’s leading British r&b band in the mid-60′s. They paid their dues, did the mileage, filled the clubs and enthusiastically played a compelling mixture of rhythm and blues, all neatly captured in this fine 24 track release.

Such was their integrity that if they were playing a song that The Stones or The Animals started to play, they would drop it from their set.

This collection contains well played familiar fare, some two years into what was then the Brit R&B boom. And while they did have some record company interest at the time – they cut a promising single ‘Don’t Want That’ on Polydor, which is curiously absent from this collection – contemporaries such as The Pretty Things beat them to the punch.

The Pretties cut the same mix of Jimmy Reed, Bo Diddley, Chuck Berry and  Willie Dixon material, but had already included self penned material on their two 1965 albums.

Similarly, Manfred Mann who also played many of the same covers, but had also started penning their own material on their early EP’s.

All of this is by way of providing a context for The Betterdays in an a high standard British r&b scene that was already changing.

‘Backlash’ suggests The Betterdays had enough requisite energy, passion and innovation to move with the times, as they embraced exciting arrangements and interesting studio effects. Perhaps all that was missing was the will move to London?

In Richard Broczek they had a guitarist who explored a wide array of different tones, while Bob Pitcher’s piano and organ added both unexpected layers and some significant solos.

Rhythm guitarist and latter day executive producer Mike Weston – the man behind the project – also penned the excellent ‘Working Man’, a number that showcased the band’s capabilities and suggested a possible new direction as their music brushed psychedelia.

The big fazed guitar figure, buzz tone and gruff vocal evokes the Phil May/Dick Taylor combination at the heart of The Pretty Things, while the undulating psychedelic feel predated the changing musical times.

‘Backlash’ sets out the band’s stall on a nuanced version of Bo Diddley’s ‘Cracking Up’ and they positively jump out the trap on Jimmy Reed’s ‘Upside Your Head’.

They add a big slide figure, buzz guitar and double tracked vocals on ‘Don’t Lie To Me’ and explore real contrast with the opening harp-wail and cool organ  arrangement of Help Me’.

Bob Pitcher’s Hammond solo gives us an insight to how good the band must have been when they stretched out.

There’s vocal diversity too, ranging from Mike Hayne’s startling rasp and sore throat phrasing on ‘I Wish You Would’, to his Alexis Korner style growl on ‘Boom Boom’.

He’s more impressive on a close to the mic approach of ‘Don’t Start Me Talking’, while he adopts a Jerry Lee Lewis style rap on the closing ‘Roadrunner’.

It’s the sonic detail of ‘Backlash’ that makes it more than just another r&b retro collection.

Both the raw ‘Howlin’ For My Baby’ and ‘Two Fifty Three’ hit the kind of r&b seam that was to serve Dr. Feelgood so well all those years later, while The Betterdays’ sense of adventure leads them to a jug band arrangement of ‘High Heel Sneakers’.

Not everything works equally well though. The dynamic coupling of ‘Just A Little Bit’ and ‘Treat Her Right’ is undermined by a heavy handed Hammond break on the latter. Instead of a bristling resolution, it founders under the weight of the heavy organ part and a rock guitar solo out of keeping with the song’s inherent dynamic.

No matter, ‘Backlash’, is a snapshot of fine band that slipped through the cracks all those years ago. When you hear the band trying to keep up with Bob Pitcher’s manic piano on the ripping intensity of Berry’s ‘Too Much Monkey Business’,  you are hearing a hard driving combo that was an essential catalyst to a booming r&b scene at the time.

‘Backlash’ relives a golden music era fuelled by enduring rhythm and blues and played by a hugely underrated band.

This 24 track double album is a celebratory affair with the kind of  adventurous musical approach that was to serve the nascent British Blues Boom so well. ****

Review by Pete Feenstra

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