Ely’s Forgotten Bands: Higher Breed

This feature was originally scheduled for inclusion in the 1st edition of a local magazine called Rhythm Town that John Glover and myself were to publish in 1991. Sadly the magazine progressed no further than a few interviews and some layouts. Recently I came across John’s interview with Ely band, Higher Breed. So published for the first time is that interview from August 1991. Karl Bedingfield

Image: Higher Breed

If you like gutsy vocals, graveyard guitar licks and hard, railroad drumming in your music, then you’d better listen to HIGHER BREED’S new demo, the unusually titled ‘Chunk, Moth And The Fat Controller’. It’s spilling over with all three. Rhythm Town meets the band and digs the new breed!

Of Ely’s new breed of guitar grinding rock bands, Higher Breed appear to be among the leading contenders. Raw and gutsy, they have been winning new fans from all over the Cathedral City. Formed in February 1990 by brothers Christian and Lindsey Blicken and bass player “Squadge”. At this stage none of the band could play their instruments, an attitude harking back to the “I can do that” stance of punk. The spirit of ’76, indeed!

Their first gig in August 1990 was at Little Downham Village Hall, as support to those other local boys, Threehead. Since then the Higher Breed have notched up around 30 live shows, acquiring drummer Phil Smith along the way (he joined in March of this year). Through persistent graft on the local live circuit they have developed their own particularly distinctive style, which, as Christian modestly explains, is “just the wah-wah pedal, really”.

Things were beginning to go well until, unexpectedly, bassist “Squadge” left the band shortly before a gig in Harlow. Thankfully a temporary replacement was found in Ali Loker, singer of The Color Factory. Having only four rehearsals to learn the set, the band has nothing but praise for Loker, “He’s a very musical bloke. He picked it up in a week and we were as tight as we were before. He’s not a bass player by trade but he did a very good job.”

You’ve got The Man On The Moon, The Boat Race, and when you get a bit better – there’s The Alma!

Eventually Christian Fromont, formerly of recently disbanded local favourites Excitable PJ Maybe, was chosen to take over permanent bass duties, hopefully ushering in a fresh new era for the band – that’s if they can get the right kind of gigs, though. For a band who love to play live, the lack of suitable venues is frustrating. “At the moment there’s not an awful lot happening,” says manager David truthfully. “It’s not so much down to our problems finding a bass player, it’s the fact that there’s not much happening in the area. You’ve got The Man On The Moon, The Boat Race, and when you get a bit better – there’s The Alma!”

Although the band have their own distinctive sound, it is the result of a strange and diverse mixture of influences. Christian cites Hothouse Flowers, Faith No More, and above all Stevie Ray Vaughn, while Lindsey is a self confessed U2 freak. Phil is one of the legion of Smiths fans who still mourn the premature demise of the infamous Morrissey/Marr partnership.

Although the band are making huge advances musically, they are cautious when the subject of record company’s is bought up. When asked if they had sent their demos to any labels, Christian’s reply was typically restrained, “No,” he says, “we haven’t sent any yet. It’s not of a quality I would expect a record company to say “Oh, that’s brilliant!”, but it shows a certain direction. It’s very tight and we’re all good at what we do. I think a record company could see that. I’d expect the fourth demo we do would be more likely to get sent off. When we feel we’re at a level that we’re happy with, then we’ll really push it”.

Their distaste for the type of bands charting nowadays is obvious. “I watched ‘Top Of The Pops’ for two weeks in a row,” says Lindsey, “and I just thought how sad it was”. Their demo, ‘Chunk, Moth, And The Fat Controller’, shows a much more commercial appeal than they’ve achieved before, making it a far more accessible product than predecessor, ‘Elsibev’. “The difference between the tapes is quite a lot,” explains Christian. “When we first went into the studio we were all very serious, with songs such as ‘Angel’ and ‘Free’. The new tape is much more relaxed. By the sixth demo we’ll have it sounding how we want it.”

At some point in the future, we might even do a couple of slow songs!

The looser sound is explained more cosmically by manager David Darlington, “We’ve tried to change things a bit because we’re all coming to the end of our teens and we’re ageing hippies trying to relax everything. It’s all Stonehenge really”.

With Phil now working and with Lindsey and Christian at college, Higher Breed intend to stay defiantly local, pushing the band towards more frequent gigging and recording. “At some point in the future,” Lindsey adds, “we might even do a couple of slow songs!”

Would that be with or without Wah-Wah? Now, that would be progression indeed

Podcast: Higher Breed’s Music

Our featured track by Higher Breed is called ‘Free’ and was from their 1991 cassette E.P. called ‘Elsibev’.

[audio:http://www.elyonline.co.uk/downloads/higher_breed_free.mp3]

The complete tracklisting for ‘Elsibev’ was: Angel, Free, SX and 4-beat. All material was written by the band and recodred at Flight Path Studios.

9 replies
  1. Justin Norman
    Justin Norman says:

    The chap in the pic with the Blickems looks very much like my old mate Ian Turner and the bloke sitting on the rail could well be Liam (Griffen???) who used to be the drummer in my old band ThreeHead, mentioned in the article.

    I remember Higher Breed’s first gig in Little Downham, organised by Trish Maher, which ended in a lengthy blues Jam with members of ThreeHead and Mark Gamble who owned the guitar shop in the Club Mews, as it was probably my last in ThreeHead, I think Ian Turner replaced me but I had moved to Wales by then.

    I think Squadge was probably Mark Braybrooke who played bass for Higher Breed the first time we played with them at Needham’s Hall – despite what the article says I’m sure they had played together before as some sort of Christian Rock band – the Blickems, or at least one of them had found God at some point.

    ThreeHead played something somewhere between Goth and Pscychedelia and was formed from the ashes of a terrible trash metal band called Profesa Logik by Ogg Smith and me, with Mike Dickens on vocals and Liam on drums. Cathy Heald sometimes played keyboards and Raoul Nardonne joined just before we recorded our second demo, which I found for sale at a boot sale in Brighton a few years ago! I had Christian Weston as a mascot, and got into no end of trouble because of his relaxed approach to getting to gigs… We were nominated for best young band at the Cambridge Rock competition, despite me getting tangled up in my guitar leads and falling over an amp on stage. Soundchecking at 1200 for a 10pm slot was never a good idea… especially when the bar was so near.

    We were all probably inspired by the success of Nutmeg, who, lucky things (!!!!), supported the Hothouse Flowers and got a record deal (of sorts).

    A notable mention should go to This Replica who were mentored by Nutmeg and went from sounding like a Cure tribute band to being a decent rock band. Their line up was Darren (vocals and one finger guitar), Lyndsey (Keyboards), Chris Scurrah (bass) and Jim (drums).

    PJ Maybe had Josh Reid on vocals and Ant Turner on guitar as well as Christian on bass, can’t recall the drummer. They pitched themselves somewhere around the sound of the Ramones and Fromont used a bass I sold him when the band started. He also had a mad party at his house when Weston and me set up a strobe in the lounge, but that’s a whole ‘nother story.

    Not in touch with any of the boys any more, but this brings back some good smiles from the time that the Sixth Form centre at Ely was a veritbale hotbed of (not very good) rock.

  2. Ant Turner
    Ant Turner says:

    AAAhhh that magical time in the Ely area that will never come again. 1987-1992 was a very fertile time for Ely and music, of course, as Justin says inspired by Nutmeg. I first saw Nutmeg in 1986 when my brother, as chairman of the social committee, booked them for Ely sixth forms end of year do. The Ball started from there for Ely.

    I remember playing Johnny B Goode, Sex Pistols style with Justin Norman on Bass, Josh Reid on drums and Tom Jelico on vocals in Toms bedroom and played a gig on Tom’s skateboard ramp. Next Excitable PJ Maybe were formed with me on guitar, Christian Froment while still learning to play bass, Josh on vocals and James ‘Turkey’ Farmer on Drums. Later drafting Kathy Heald on keyboard. While Professor Lojik formed and from those ashes Three Head, and in the midst of this the Blickems starting what seemed as as U2 tribute.

    Mark Gamble Music was great resource, help and inspiration to all this as there were no other music shops in Ely, you could go a have a play on a guitar or bass, while smoking a cigarette.

    Remember tales of the Sonic Cathedral?

    After Excitable PJ Maybe disbanded in 1990/1, I left Ely and in about 1993/4 and was asked to join Cambridge guitar darlings The Nighjars. After coming third in the Band competition final and Steve Lamaq contacting us nothing further happened, apart from perhaps the birth of the last Nightjars guitarist Richard, now more renowned for the Shivers. After the Nighjars I joined Cambridge perennials Pogul Magee which after another band competition final decided to give it a rest for a while.

    What am I doing now? I have finally got my dream guitar, a rickenbacker 330 and am currently on the search, again, for other power popsters to create sweet tunes with.

  3. Karl Bedingfield
    Karl Bedingfield says:

    Justin, many thanks for your recollections on the Ely music scene of the late ’80s and early ’90s.

    I did a photoshoot of ‘The Excitable P.J. Maybe’, I did upload one photo from the session that you can view if you if you nip over to Flickr. I did have their demo but, alas, mislaid it.

    As you say, the ‘scene’ was pretty vibrant back then. If you ever feel the need to write an article elaborating on your post get in touch.

    Regards
    Karl

  4. Rob Curtis
    Rob Curtis says:

    Nice to see that there’s a bit of old Ely going on. Long live Fen-sound!

    Threehead deserve a mention as do the Maybe’s and This replica.

    Where are the Groovy Gang in all of this we wonder?

    Laters chap.

  5. Ed Gawn
    Ed Gawn says:

    Liam Collins was the drummer with Three Head, I remember many late night practice sessions in Mike Dickens Garage, and the home made, Stone Roses style tees! I designed the first demo cover – still have one at home somewhere! Was a good scene in the early 90’s, Liam studied drumming up in London and became part of Minifish a semi pro 3 piece and played most of the medium sized venues around the captial, and got some pretty good recognition and played support for bigger acts too! We still say in touch!

    Anyhow was good to reminice!

  6. Mark 'The Party' Hardy
    Mark 'The Party' Hardy says:

    Remember all of these people and all the bands, happy days. A very enjoyabe read, especialy the comments.
    I started out as the manager to the excitable PJ maybe, although I suspect it was more because I had a car than because I was any good at it 🙂 When they came to an end, myself (on drums) and Christian Froment (bass)formed a three piece with Jamie Smith (lead guitar). We then set about creating our own vision of a raw, garage, fenland funk band and we soon took on permanant members, Tom Jellicoe (congas/bongos), Ian ‘Lips’ Morton (trumpet), David Kirby (saxophone), and Josh Reid (vocals).
    And so The Groovy Gang was born, we funked the fens to bits for a few years and had a few extra members come and go, a keyboard player and a violin player. I left in early 94 and the band carried on for little while longer with none other than Higher Breed’s Phil Smith on drums (small world innit).
    Sorry but I’m not sure when Claire was involved, violin possibly or even maybe after I left. It’s fair to say I wasn’t always entirely aware of everything or everyone at the time ha ha ha, that’s rock n roll in the flat lands ….. oh and I still have my copy of Chunk, Moth and the FC

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