Cult Heroes No. 19: Nutz
They toured with Queen and Black Sabbath, were hotly tipped by many in the mid-70s to become big news, and even had a management connection with Peter Grant. But Liverpudlians Nutz were destined to be consigned to features such as this, eventually failing to make the grade in the unforgiving yet all too forgetful world of contemporary music. Malcolm Dome looks back at what might have been. Check out all the other Cult Heroes.
Some believe they suffered from the Scouse curse, the myth that the success of the Beatles came at a cost, with no other Liverpool band making a huge impact ever again (patent nonsense, of course, yet when the legend becomes fact…blah, blah, blah). But whatever the reality, the fact is that Nutz are fondly remembered by a diehard crowd, while having been almost forgotten by the rest of the world. Well, time to wake up because the band are back in the studio, working on new songs.
“Me, Dave (Lloyd, vocals) and Mick (Devenport, guitar) have gotten together again,” says bassist Keith Mulholland. “There’s no pressure on us at all. No label insisting we meet a deadline. We’re doing everything at our own pace.”
The thorny question remains who will play drums. John Mylett, who was with the band all the way through their career, died in a road accident in Ibiza during 1984.
“We actually got onstage and did a few numbers when the 20th anniversary of his death came around,” recalls Mulholland. “It was at a local pub called Fogerty’s. The place was heaving, and that got us thinking of doing more. There are a load of drummers who want to play on our stuff. We might use a few in the studio. But I’m not sure what we’ll do live – we haven’t even talked about that side of things.”
Although Nutz as a name wasn’t born until 1974, the band had been in existence for a few years prior to that. In fact, as Jiminy Cricket (dreadful name!), they were even involved with a single called Love Is A Seasaw!
“It was very poppy, and had a connection with Barry Mason, who co-wrote Delilah for Tom Jones. We got the chance to do this after answering an ad in the paper. But what we did get out of it was a small tour in Denmark. Because of that single, everyone thought we were this pop band (in fact, they started out as a covers act). So they got a right shock when we turned up and played a rock set! But that’s where our hearts were – being influenced by Jimi Hendrix, Cream and the like.”
As Harpoon (the name they used immediately prior to becoming Nutz), the band also gained valuable experience by doing a month’s residency at The Star Club in Hamburg – yes, the same one where another Liverpool band had learnt their chops a decade previously.
“We got really tight from doing that. It certainly stepped us up a notch.”
Managed by Mike Clifford and Chris Trendgrove, who were associated with Peter Grant, Harpoon got a deal with A&M – perhaps no surprise, because Clifford and Trendgrove were both former employees there. Presumably doing more than making the tea! It was at this stage that the band became Nutz.
“A&M decided we should change our name. Nutz had a very American ring to it. Nobody knows where it came from, but there is a story that during the Battle Of The Bulge in the Second World War, the Germans asked the Americans to surrender. They send back the message ‘nutz’.”
Their self-titled, debut album was released in 1974. It was a classy and varied album, with the band dealing with several different styles of rock in a cohesive manner. It deserved to do a lot better than was to be the case. Still, the album cover was a talking point at the time and still is. It has a woman bending over, showing off her rather nice legs, adorned in stockings and high heels.
“The woman was Linda Halpin, who was the wife of the photographer on the session. She was a professional model, specializing in leg shots for stockings and tights adverts. But there was a trick used here. If you turn the cover upside down, you can see that she is actually lying on a desk with her legs in the air. That’s how they do this sort of shot – it’s so much easier. And that’s why her arms are so straight.
“Linda was also the model on the cover of our second album, Nutz Too.”
This record came out in 1975, and had a more focused approach, being very blues-rock, but with enough touches of Zeppelinesque acoustic moments to prove the band were clearly a cut or three above average.
By the time of 76′s Hard Nutz, keyboard player Kenny Newton had been brought in; on the first album one-time Free member John ‘Rabbit’ Bundrick had played organ. On the second album, Paul Carrack guested on keyboards. In many ways this was the best of the band’s three studio releases. It has a richness of sound and genuinely creative arrangements. The addition of Newton had really stretched the band and taken them into new directions.
But they were only to put out one more album, 77′s Live Cutz, for A&M. UK support slots with Black Sabbath and Budgie (they’d opened for Queen prior to signing the record deal, and caused a stir by walking across the stage during Queen’s encore – stark naked!), plus a slot on the 1976 Reading Festival bill failed to kickstart their career. They were also the victims of music business politics.
“People always ask why things never happened for us. One of the reasons was that we were all set to go and tour in America when our management at the time, Quarry (who also looked after Status Quo among others), decided to try and get us a new record deal out there. When A&M found out, they pulled the financial tour support, and so the whole idea collapsed. We didn’t find out what happened until much later.
“It’s such a shame, because I truly believe we’d have been right for the States at the time. In the UK, punk had come along and swept bands like us away, But that wasn’t the case in America.”
The arrival of punk also played its part in scuppering the Nutz dreams, says Mulholland.
By 1979, they’d signed to Carrere, becoming labelmates with Saxon and Rose Tattoo. And in February 1980, the band appeared on the track listing for the seminal NWOBHM compilation Metal For Muthas, with the song Bootliggers, alongside the likes of Iron Maiden, Angel Witch and Praying Mantis. The logic of Nutz with four albums already behind them becoming part of the new metal movement was odd, to say the least.
“It was Carrere’s idea. They thought it would help us pick up a younger audience. Of course, it failed, as these things tend to do. But a couple of the Iron Maiden guys were Nutz fans and used to come and us, and one of their early singers used to roadie for us – unpaid.”
Carrere eventually persuaded the band to change their name to Rage (yet again, label interference), despite misgivings from Mulholland and the other three remaining members (Newton had quit to join Nightwing). And Rage released three albums, before things fell apart, the death of Mylett almost being the final seal. Fish was to write the song Mylo from Marillion’s Misplaced Childhood about the drummer; Rage and Marillion had the same manager at the time, John Arnison.
“I’d like to get back those three Rage albums, remix them and then put them out again. We had some good music there.”
So, Nutz disappeared down a road where so many others have gone before – one that leads straight over the precipice and into obscurity. Dave Lloyd formed 2AM (very much soft rock), before joining Uli Jon Roth’s band; he’s also been a in demand session singer for three decades. Devenport played with Lion in America, while Mulholland has worked with Chris Norman of Smokie (now there’s a potential future Cult Hero!) and also with Garth Rockett & The Moonshiners (featuring Ian Gillan).
However, not only are the trio back together, but there’s even a new live album coming out on August 9. through Market Square. Well, its not a new recording…
“It comes from March 1977, when we did a gig in Nottingham to warm up for the Black Sabbath tour. It was recorded by Radio Trent, and to be honest I thought the tapes had long since disappeared. But then this company called Market Square in Birmingham contacted me via Facebook, said they had the tapes and were gonna release a live album.”
Called Tightened Up!, Mulholland is quite happy with what’s coming out.
“We turned up, did a quick soundcheck and then played the gig. There are no overdubs at all. What you hear is what it was like on the night. And it is better than Live Cutz.”
The band would now like to be able to get back the rights for the four Nutz albums. They’ve been reissued in Germany, but the three haven’t seen any money at all from these – the usual story.
“We’ve even gone to the PRS, who say they can’t do anything to help us. But we’d all like to see these put out properly.”
Listening to Nutz now, it’s clear the band had far more talent than luck, and it is quite astonishing to think that we’re having to talk about them in such a manner. They should have been a force, but ended up the victims of a farce.
Let’s hope the reunion at least sparks a reassessment of their importance and value.
Find out all about Nutz (and Rage), go to www.myspace.com/nutzrage
Tags: 2AM, Angel Witch, Beatles, Black Sabbath, Chris Norman, Cream, Cult Heroes, Dave Lloyd, Fish, Garth Rockett & The Moonshiners, Ian Gillan, Iron Maiden, Jimi Hendrix, John 'Rabbit' Bundrick, John Mylett, Keith Mulholland, Kenny Newton, Led Zeppelin, Marillion, Mick Devenport, Nutz, Paul Carrack, Peter Grant, Praying Mantis, Queen, Rage, Reading Festival, Rose Tattoo, Saxon, Smokie, Status Quo, Uli Jon Roth