Cult Heroes No. 34: Money
They could have been the UK’s answer to Rush. But ended up almost forgotten. Birmingham’s Money had the talent and ambition. But every step they took forward led to two backwards. Bad luck? Bad decisions? Bad advice? You decided, as we present the latest in our Cult Heroes series. Check out all previous Cult Heroes.
Words: Malcolm Dome
There’s a novel in here somewhere. Maybe even a movie. The cautionary tales of rock ’n’ roll. Not so much a case of ‘Be careful what you wish for’. More like ‘Just what are you wishing for, anyway?’.
This is the story of Money. One filled with lucky breaks that went slightly wrong, inexplicable – almost suicidal – business decisions. And, ultimately, the virtual cremation of an album that could have become a significant part of everyone’s life in the late1970s, but has ended up us a vault classic, gathering dust, while other, lesser records did their own alchemy shuffle, turning gold, platinum, and beyond.
So, who are Money? Why is it most people won’t even have heard of them? Let’s go back to Birmingham in the late 1970s. By this time, two school chums had returned home from London a little chastened. Drummer Tony Bodene and guitarist John Overton had a band. Called Attila The Hun. They were signed to the Jet label, but things didn’t exactly go to plan.
“We were only kids,” recalls Bodene. “And got badly burnt by the experience. We really did come back to Birmingham with our tails between the legs!”
Now, the irrepressible drummer had an ambition: to put together something of a supergroup, featuring the best young musicians in a city that’s always been a shrine to hard rock. To this end, he persuaded May West bassist Larry Phillips to join the party. Thus was Gypsy Rose born, with Phillips also handling vocals. However, the twio were to be short lived. The Rose withered, although the dream didn’t die. Just a few months later, the three were back round the metaphorical table. Only this time they had a vocalist.
“I got a guy called David Mullen to come in,” says Phillips. “T be honest, I didn’t want to carry on singing. And I’d always found it tough writing lyrics. David, though, was brilliant at it. Give him an idea and he’d have lyrics written in no time. And they flowed beautifully.”
And, this wasn’t Gypsy Rose II. Oh, no. Bodene had another brainwave.
“I came up with the name ‘Money’. In fact, at the first band meeting, not only did I have the name. But I’d taken a bank note, cut the ‘k’ out of the phrase ‘Bank Of England’ and replaced it with a ‘d’…BAND OF ENGLAND.”
So, Money were ready to take on the world – but would the world respond? And what was the cunning plan that would separate them from their peers and a growing clutch of young hopefuls darkening the skies overhead, as the New Wave Of British Heavy Metal prepared for flight? Simple. It’s called fate…
“We’d all done the whole process of playing the toilets up and down the country,” explains Bodene. “You know, the workingmen’s club circuit. Now, we wanted to do something different, to concentrate on the songs and get a label deal first.
“At the time, I was working in a music shop called Drum Land. People like John Bonham and Bill Ward – who were big inspirations for me – used to come all the time. One day, when I wasn’t around, Bill said to the guy who ran the place: ‘Can you shoot Tony’s fucking legs off. He’s too good!’. But it was through Bill that we got the chance to come to London. He told me that Morgan Studios in Willesden (North West London), where Sabbath were recording what was to be their last album with Ozzy (Never Say Die), were holding auditions, with a view to signing up young talent. I decided to phone the man who ran the studio then, Monty Babson (a former, albeit unsuccessful, recording artists in his own right). He also owned Mr. Sam Music, which was connected with Gull Records, and they were to come into the picture a little later on.
“I called from a phone box, and had to keep pumping in ten pence pieces. Eventually I had to get him to call me back, because I was running out of change. This was long before mobile phones, remember. It turned out that we were too late for these auditions (as an aside, Japan got their deal with Ariola through this process), but Monty thought that I had more front than Harrod’s, so he invited the band down to London.”
“Typically, Tony never told the rest of us what he was up to!” smiles Phillips. “It was only after the whole thing had been set up that he let us know. So we piled into our transit van and headed south.”
Babson was impressed enough with the young, good-looking band to offer them the chance to record during ‘down time’ in the studio, which meant…
“We’d go in at weekends in 1978 when there was a studio spare,” continues Phillips. “We ended up recording a lot through the night, and sleeping in there during the day. There was more than one occasion when the cleaners would find us asleep on the floor, and kick us out, because Gary Moore or Colosseum were due in. Because of this, we had very little time for overdubs, or doing take after take of a particular track. We’d set up and play virtually as live, which I feel gave the recordings a lot of energy.”
These sessions were to turn into First Investment, the band’s sole album. Recorded over a span of six weekends across a two-month period, it was produced by Chris Tsangarides, and if the name now carries a considerable weight – thanks to a career that’s seen him work with giants like Judas Priest, Thin Lizzy, Gary Moore and Spider – when he got involved with Money he was still very much the new kid on the block.
“It was my first ever production,” says Tsangarides. “And I remember that we really did have to fit everything into when studios were spare. There was no budget – and we are talking about studios back then that cost £250 per hour to hire!”
Money also had to constantly deflect Babson from focusing on a song called Martini Romance.
“We wrote this pop song for fun,” laughs Bodene. “It was a throwaway tune that was different to anything else we had. But we made the mistake of playing it to Monty, and he wanted more of the same. Now, we had no intention of doing anything else like it, but he kept pushing, as it was a potential single. But that wasn’t what we were about!”
That was only one of the problems Money had to contend with. Another was the presence of Black Sabbath!
“Ozzy used to come into our studio all the time,” shudders the drummer at the recollections. “On one occasion, he wandered in, put his ear to the speakers, heard a track, and said, ‘There’s no fucking bottom end. I can’t hear the bass!’…”
“Actually that was a serious point,” interjects Phillips. “I was worried about that as well. There seemed to be no bottom end at all. I think Chris was experimenting with sounds, and if I have one criticism in general of the album’s production it would have be that. Even Ozzy agreed with my doubts. Don’t get me wrong, Chris was a great guy, but I do wonder if we’d have done better through working with a more experienced producer. But, this was being done with no funds.”
“Another time, Ozzy came in swigging from a bottle of red wine. I think Bill was with him then, and before we knew it, Ozzy was running around naked and all sorts of madness was going on. I was trying to get a drum sound at the time – doing my best John Bonham impression – but with everything that was going on around me, I had to give up at about 4.30 in the morning. A few years later, I met Ozzy at John Henry’s Rehearsal Studios in London. He was dressed in a Santa outfit, and we passed on the stairs. But he recognized me, and we did spent a little while recalling those mad times at Morgan.”
The result of such a heady brew of insanity, inexperience and talent was an album, where every song was genuinely a band effort.
“I know a lot of musicians claim that they write as a group, but in our case it was really true,” insists Phillips. “Back then, all four of us were involved at every point.”
The search for a label deal proved to be frustrating, as any interest soon turned to ashes.
“On one occasion, I remember Chris telling us that he’d taken the tapes into Island Records, and they didn’t like the ‘drum spread’,” sighs Bodene. “Er, what about the songs? And we weren’t punk enough for them either. That was another problem we had. When we first got started, punk was all the rage, and we didn’t fit in. Then, a couple of years later, we got lumped in with the New Wave Of British Heavy Metal – and we were never metal. If anything, we were a little progressive. John, for instance, was influenced by the Wishbone Ash album Argus, and also by Todd Rundgren. That was where we were coming from. So, we never seemed to fit in.”
Perhaps there was an air of inevitability that Money would end up signing to Gull, given the strong relationship between Morgan Studios and that company.
“I believe our biggest mistake was in not having any management at all,” admits Bodene. “If we’d had proper representation, then a lot of things may have been different. But we were a little paranoid about being ripped off by the music business – especially John. So we managed ourselves. In hindsight, that may have been the way things were angled by Monty Babson and David Howells, his business partner in Gull. They’d just lost Judas Priest to CBS (now Columbia) because that band had major management. It’s possible they wanted to avoid something similar happening with us. But, it was a big mistake from our viewpoint. All we wanted to do was make music – and our heads were full of business issues.”
It was also Gull who persuaded Money to record the song (Aren’t We All) Searching, as former CBS executive Howells believed the album lacked a single.
“David just said to us that there was nothing on the record that he could put out as a single,” reveals Bodene. “So, we hired the Quaker Hall in Birmingham, wrote (Aren’t We All) Searching and also the B side, Where Have All The Dancers Gone.”
“We were very excited when told that the single got played by Paul Burnett on Radio One on a Friday evening,” adds Phillips. “But that was it for UK airplay. I don’t think we got any more after that!”
First Investment actually got released in Japan in 1978, before it arrived anywhere else. And you know the cliché ‘Big In Japan’? Well…
“We genuinely were big in Japan!” insists Bodene. “The album sold well out there, as it ended up doing in Germany, and also oddly in New York.”
Indirectly, that Japanese success sowed the seeds for the band’s demise. It’s a complex part of the story that saw them get closer than they’d ever come to sniffing the long-awaited breakthrough, only to have it cruelly, and crucially whipped away from under their noses.
At the time, one of the most respected and powerful booking agencies in Britain was the Bron Agency. So when Gerry Bron, the head of that company (he also ran Bronze Records, home to Motorhead and Uriah Heep) asked Money to come down to London for a meeting, they didn’t hesitate. They were driven down from Birmingham in a white Jaguar, owned by Phillips’ older brother Jimmy (who was second guitarist in Earth, just prior to their name change to Black Sabbath), and arrived to a lavish reception.
“They laid on a room full of food and drink,” gasps Bodene. “And then Gerry Bron himself came in. He said that we were the best kept secret in the music business, and that he’d just been in Japan, and kept hearing our album…”
“He told us that he was putting together a 30+ date European tour for a major Canadian band,” continues to Phillips. “I was thinking to myself, ‘I know of only one band who fitted that description, and that was Rush. Surely it can’t be them!’. So, I asked Gerry who the band were…It was Rush. Basically, the tour was ours if we want it. I think they themselves asked for us, although I can’t be certain if that was the case. All the band’s management wanted was a £7,500 buy-on (a ‘buy-on’ was, and is, normal practise in the music business, whereby support bands paid the headliners a fee for the tour). We thought it was a done deal. And what an opportunity. The chance to tour with one of the biggest bands in the world just as our album was about to released in the UK and Europe. And, musically, we knew we’d fit with the Rush audience…”
The tour was due to kick off in Newcastle on April 23, 1979 and would feature 20 UK shows, before another batch in Europe, ending on June 2.
So, imagine the shockwaves sent coursing through the Money spine when Gull refused to pay the fee (usually, it is record labels who are responsible for funding such ‘buy-ons’, as it gives a potentially massive promotional boost to a band’s record).
“They wouldn’t do it,” says Phillps. “And, to this day, we don’t know why. It seemed like a such an obvious thing to do.”
In the end, Canadians Max Webster landed that tour support slot.
A second, more formal, meeting with Bron didn’t resolve the impasse, but it convinced Phillips and Bodene that there was no future in sticking with Gull. However, they met stiff resistance to this viewpoint from other Money pair.
“John rejected the whole idea of quitting Gull, and David went along with him,” says Bodene, still slightly stunned at Overton’s recalcitrance to this day. “I have no clue why John was so determined to stay with the label. Larry and I have our own theories, but the fact is it led to a stalemate in Money.”
The cracks within the band grew even wider when Overton suddenly stopped writing songs.
“We were demoing ideas for our second album, which was gonna be called Frozen Assets. Well, we thought that at least we had our music, even if things with Gull weren’t good,” recalls Bodene. “But then one day John just said that he didn’t want to carry on writing songs for that label. So, here we were: unable to leave Gull, because John wouldn’t go along it. But also now unable to write and demo songs for a new album, because John didn’t want to give these to the label! Now, you explain what was going on in his head!
“I still feel that, if we’d had major management back then, like Iron Maiden or Def Leppard, then this would never have happened. We did have offers. Mike Dolan of Arnakata, who looked after Judas Priest, was definitely interested (Money supported Priest at the Hammersmith Odeon in London in 1978). But nothing came of it.”
And then Money made the naïve mistake of spilling their hearts during an interview with Birmingham journalist Mike Davies. It all appeared in print.
“Every word was true,” insists Bodene. “But Gull were furious, because it put them in such a bad light. They demanded that we get a retraction printed, in which we claimed to have been misquoted. Larry and I refused, but John was ready to do it. I remember saying to him, ‘Do you really want to hang Mike Davies out to dry for telling things as they are?’.”
A retraction did eventually appear, as Money found their integrity compromised by music business expedience and reality.
Given the impossibility of the scenario now enshrouding Money, something would have to snap. Eventually, it was Bodene. In late 1980, he told the rest of the band at a show in Birmingham (Bogart’s) that he was leaving.
“I was getting session offers, and quite honestly we were drifting. I couldn’t see a way forward for Money. But even at that late stage, I could have been talked out of leaving!”
“With hindsight, I should have gone with Tony,” regrets Phillips. “I think if we’d both have left, then it might have forced the issue with John and David, and perhaps wed have persuaded them that we had to get away from Gull. But I somehow felt that I had to stay and steady the ship.”
The remaining trio went through three drummers as they attempted to salvage a career that was fast careering off the rails. Ray Fullard, Spencer Scrannagh and Eddie Fincher all gave it their best shot, but the magic had gone.
“Things took an ominous turn when John and David would go away, write songs and then present them to the band,” admits Phillips. “We weren’t writing as a team anymore.”
By the end of 1981 Money were metaphorically bankrupt. It was over. The promise and hopes of merely two years previously now dissipated into an indifferent ether. Bodene and Phillps did try to resurrect their musical relationship in a band called Monkey Run (“It was Money 2, really,” says the bassist), but it didn’t quite work.
However, Money’s reputation among musicians, which was absurdly the inverse to their commercial attainments, nearly landed Bodene a prestige gig in the mid-1980s.
“I was asked to audition for Robert Plant’s band. I didn’t get the job, but Robert did say that he’d asked me to come down after hearing a session we did for Tommy Vance’s Friday Rock Show on Radio 1. That session (produced by Tony Wilson at the Beeb’s Maida Vale Studios) did us a power of good. We got a lot of letters through it.”
“All of this might be coming over as depressing,” concludes Phillips. “Sure, there were tough times, but we also had a good laugh as well, and a lot of fun. Am I proud of what we achieved? Yes, but the frustration is that, looking back, it could have been so much more.”
First Investment is now over 30 yearold. But, despite its production deficiencies, inevitable given those circumstances described here, there’s a style, class and serenity to the music that’s priceless and rare. Strangely, it sits more comfortable in the 21st Century than residing in the late 1970s.And it’s available now on the Rock Candy label.
“We were never heavy metal as such,” maintains Bodene. “Someone in Sounds magazine, once called us ‘precious metal’. I like that.”
Here are some Money tunes:
Tags: bill ward, Black Sabbath, Chris Tsangarides, Colosseum, David Mullen, Def Leppard, Eddie Fincher, Gary Moore, Iron Maiden, John Bonham, John Overton, Judas Priest, Larry Phillips, Max Webster, Money, Motorhead, ozzy Osbourne, Ray Fullard, Robert Plant, Rush, Spencer Scrannagh, Spider, Thin Lizzy, Todd Rundgren, Tommy Vance, Tony Bodene, Uriah Heep, Wishbone Ash]