Spooky Tooth: The Island Years 1967-74

Gleam and gleam again: Tooth take their crown as UK blues-rock pioneers.

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In 1969, Island Records was in rude health, catching the post-psych wave of homegrown musical talent thriving on the UK’s fertile club scene to build a formidable stable. The label introduced its sparklingly esoteric roster by heisting the cut-price compilation concept just pioneered by CBS to release You Can All Join In and Nice Enough To Eat. For 14 shillings and sixpence (73p), it was possible to sample Island heavy hitters such as Traffic, Free, Crimson, Mott, Fairport, Tull and, on both sets, Spooky Tooth.

Even among such illustrious company, Spooky Tooth stood out, the first set’s Sunshine Help Me illustrating the heights of impassioned gospel-blues fervour the band could reach with its double singer-keyboard front line of Gary Wright and Mike Harrison, while the second collection’s Better By You, Better Than Me laid a sonorous template for the heavy riff.

Spooky Tooth started life when madcap producer Guy Stevens fashioned Cumberland band the VIPs into a psychedelic outfit called Art, releasing 1967’s spangled classic Supernatural Fairy Tales (disc one). The album’s blues-rock edge trailered fireworks to come after the band gained singer-songwriter Gary Wright, changed its name to Spooky Tooth, and producer Jimmy Miller arrived to make 1968’s storming It’s All About.

Miller excelled on 1969’s Spooky Two, which still grips with its haunting ruminations exploding into sky-scraping gospel chorales, the two frontmen stoking each other to cathartic heights. The nine-minute Evil Woman showcased Luther Grosvenor (later Mott’s Ariel Bender) as one of the UK’s most eloquently savage blues guitarists.

After bassist Greg Ridley left to join Humble Pie (replaced by Andy Leigh), the Tooth recorded Ceremony: An Electronic Mass, French experimental composer Pierre Henry producing the strange hybrid of Spooky blues, religious imagery and electronic doctoring that destroyed the band, although Harrison, Grosvenor and Kellie roped in Grease Band members to record 1970’s downhome The Last Puff.

From 1972, Harrison led different lineups, future Foreigner guitarist Mick Jones playing on 1973’s Witness and You Broke My Heart…So I Busted Your Jaw, which saw Wright return, joined by singer Mike Patto for 1974’s workmanlike The Mirror.

This nine-CD package surrounds the albums with out-takes, Peel sessions and a previously unreleased 1973 live set to provide the consummate monument to this overlooked band. Rarely was such magic in that heady air./o:p


Kris Needs

Kris Needs is a British journalist and author, known for writings on music from the 1970s onwards. Previously secretary of the Mott The Hoople fan club, he became editor of ZigZag in 1977 and has written biographies of stars including Primal Scream, Joe Strummer and Keith Richards. He's also written for MOJO, Record Collector, Classic Rock, Prog, Electronic Sound, Vive Le Rock and Shindig!