Early in 1966, with little more than a fiver in his pocket and a collection of self-penned songs, Adge Cutler 'broke into' John Miles' office armed with demo tapes and an idea about creating a West Country band to compete with the weird psychedelic bands of the time. At the meeting, the idea of Adge Cutler & The Wurzels was conceived with John Miles as manager (and John would remain the band's manger until the late 1980s). Originally the band was to be called The Mangold-Wurzels (after the vegetable!)- but it was felt that 'The Wurzels' had a more commercial feel to it.
Joining Adge in that first line-up were his good friend, banjo and guitar player Reg Quantrill, and Bristolian pub landlord and accordion player Reg Chant. Adge also poached an impressive rhythm section from Acker Bilk's Paramount Jazz Band - well-respected upright acoustic bass player John Macey and tuba player Brian Walker. On July 24th 1966, Adge Cutler & The Wurzels was unleashed upon an unsuspecting world at the Pensford Barbeque!
Asa result of the meeting - and calling in a lot of favours - John managed to negotiate a recording contract with EMI. With this came the EMI producer Bob Barratt and sound engineer Geoff Emerick. After a few months of gigging across the county, the Royal Oak pub in Nailsea was commandeered and the band's debut album was recorded. Bob Barratt's evocative sleeve notes from the back of the album recounts the event:
And 2nd November, 1966, was a night of entertainment to remember in Nailsea. For a studio recording you can reckon on allowing thirty minutes or more until the audience warms up and you begin to feel atmosphere. For a Somerset pub recording it took thirty seconds. The audience were a cross-section of cider-quaffing Wurzel-lovers from every corner of Somerset; from Westonzoyland to Monkton Combe. Nailsea's oldest inhabitant, wearing a top-hat for such a special occasion, was flanked by long-haired youths and mini-skirted girls.
At first the broadcasting men and journalists from rival stations and newspapers eyed each other somewhat coldly: the locals wondered if they should be on their Sunday-best behaviour with 'them thar record men from Lunnon in town'. By nine o'clock the journalists and television-men were clinking glasses like old friends as the TV cameras whirred; by 9:30 the locals were proving that not all the best voices are t'other side of the new Severn Bridge. At ten o'clock we sent out for fresh supplies of cider and beer and the landlord's wife was dancing a Highland fling with Adge; the camera men complained that the room was too smokey for photographs - then lit up fresh cigarettes. At 10:30 the Wurzels did a third encore of "Drink Up Thy Zider" and the Nailsea Mixed Voice Choir raised the rafters on the chorus.
It makes you want to have been there - or if you were there, it makes you wish you hadn't drunk so much cider that you can't remember the night! Such media coverage is always useful for an emerging band, and so it proved. Off the back of the recording, the BBC gave Adge his first taste of national fame with an appearance on The Frost Report - David Frost's "a live satirical show mixing monologues, sketches and music" - later that month.
A few weeks later (2nd December 1966), the double A-sided single 'Drink Up Thy Zider' backed with 'Twice Daily' was released as the band's debut single. The BBC promptly banned it - considering the lyrical content of Twice Daily (a shotgun wedding) as being unsuitable for their listening public. Shows how public opinion has changed over the years!
Adge's pioneering debut single was a massive success locally - topping the local Bristol single charts. It sold over 100,000 copies and reached the national singles charts - arriving at #45 on 4th February 1967, and disappearing the week after. This was one of the first times that a local release had "broken out" and hit the national singles charts.
On the back of that chart success, EMI quickly released the four-track 'Scrumpy & Western' EP (1st February 1967) containing two more songs from the Royal Oak sessions. This release was issued hurriedly to satisfy demand for more material following the success of 'Drink Up Thy Cider'. It was the only EP issued by Adge Cutler & The Wurzels - and the one that gave its name to the 'Scrumpy & Western' genre of music.
The 'Scrumpy & Western' EP was a stop-gap allowing EMI to complete the release of the band's debut album 'Adge Cutler & The Wurzel's which was released the following month (1st March 1967). It is interesting to note that all twelve tracks on the album were Adge Cutler compositions - an impressive showcase of the man's songwriting prowess.
This release gave Adge more chart success as the album hit the official UK Albums Charts at #38 on 11th March 1967. This is as good as it got though with the album dropping to #40 the following week before leaving the charts for good the week after. But for your debut album, two weeks in the national album charts is something to be proud of (and sadly something Adge would not better).
Coinciding with the album, EMI released the band's second single 'The Champion Dung Spreader' on 10th March 1967. 'Champion Dung Spreader' was Adge's answer to Lonnie Donegan's 1960 UK hit 'My Old Man's A Dustman' - but sadly the general public were more interested in rubbish than muck spreading, and the single failed to chart.
The band were quickly embraced across the country with appearances on top national TV shows including the prime-time chat shows hosted by former Radio Caroline/BBC 1 DJ Simon Dee. The band went from strength to strength, and although subsequent albums and singles may have failed to repeat the chart success of 'Drink Up Thy Zider', Adge Cutler & The Wurzels were now a national touring band playing - and selling-out - top cabaret and music venues across the country.
But along with success came the first casualty of success - Brian Walker quit the band and took his Wurzelphone back into the Bristol jazz scene from whence he came. Adge decided not to replace him, and it was John Macey's bass playing which held the band together through the touring and the recording of the band's follow-up album. A third single was released in July 1967 'I Wish I were Back On The Farm' as a prelude to the groups' second album 'Adge Cutler's Family Album': This album, recorded on May 3rd 1967, was, like the first, done in front of a live audience in the upstairs room of the Royal Oak pub in Nailsea in North Somerset and released in the October - the band line-up being Cutler-Quantrill-Chant-Macey.
The majority of the album comes from the pen of Adge Cutler - six songs including some of his best loved songs - The Shepton Mallet Matador, Easton-In-Gordano and The Somerset Space Race. However Adge offered the other band members a chance to bring their own songs to the table. As a result we get Drunk Again by John Macey and Reg Quantrill, John's own song Sniff Up Thy Snuff - as well as two parody/adaptations The Wild West Show and Freak-Out In Somerset by producer Bob Barrett, Sweet Violets - an music hall classic redone in the Wurzels style; and the brilliant Sheriff of Midsomer Norton by the mysterious Dwaine Detroit (a pseudonym if you've ever heard one!). The album failed to chart, but remains a popular release with fans.
There were several more line-up changes in 1967 - by the time the second album was released both John Macey and Reg Chant had moved on to other things and 'stand-in' Wurzels were Pete Shutler (of The Yetties) and Ken Scott.
The summer of 1967 saw the release of the band's third single 'I Wish I Was Back On The Farm' (7th July) which had been recorded earlier in the year.
In the late-summer of 1967, Henry Davies accepted an offer to join the latest pop sensation The New Vaudeville Band whose debut single 'Winchester Cathedral' had topped the charts in USA. With a chance for fame and fortune - and perhaps hoping for more of a musical challenge than The Wurzels offered - Henry accepted the offer, but not before suggesting to Adge that he appoint his friend Melt Kingston as his replacement. Melt arrived in Bristol and had one day to learn to how to play the band's repertoire - and the upright bass; his memories of that time are rather hazy!
Adge Cutler & The Wurzels' fourth single 'All Over Mendip' was released on 6th October just after their second album had been released. The single contained two new songs: another classic Adge Cutler song 'All Over Mendip' backed by 'My Threshing Machine'; an old folk song adapted again by the mysterious Dwaine Detroit.
The year ended with the arrival of Tommy Banner (accordion, organ and piano) to replace the departed Reg Chant (or rather the two 'stand-ins'). Tommy arrived from Scotland on 5th November 1967; According to the notes in the Wurzels Songbook, Tommy claims that 'The Wurzels could not get a good accordionist in England so they went to Scotland and got a bad one!' He originally took a three months booking with Adge Cutler & The Wurzels and he has been in the West Country ever since. Tommy arrived in Somerset expecting to join a "trendy pop group", and was surprised to find he was renamed "Jock McSpreader" by his fellow band members and expected to wear old second hand clothes on stage while singing songs about such arcane subjects (to him, anyhow) as dung spreading, pigs, scrumpy, tractors and the Pill ferry. The culture shock and problems he experienced in having to get used to scrumpy instead of Scotch, not to mention the language difficulties, are documented in Tommy's autobiographical song 'Haggis Farewell' on the 1977 album 'Give Me England'.
1968 Although he loved working with Adge, and got on well with his band-mates, Melt Kingston's time with the band was limited to less than a year. Down in London, things hadn't worked out for Henry Davies and in March/April 1968, Melt and Henry did a job-swap; Henry returned to The Wurzels, while Melt caught the train back to London to takeover tuba duties with the New Vaudeville Band. Over the next few months the band were gigging regularly but still found time to release three more singles -'Don't Tell I, Tell 'Ee' (April 1968), 'Up The Clump' (August 1968) and 'Ferry To Glastonbury' (September 1968).
Adge Cutler & The Wurzels' third album 'Cutler Of The West' was released in October 1969 with the Cutler, Quantrill, Banner, Davis line-up. Henry Davis is also the album's musical arranger and arranger. Like its predecessors it was recorded in front of a live audience. By this time, their huge local popularity required more space than the Royal Oak pub in Nailsea could provide, and the lucky venue selected for this historic occasion was the Webbington Country Club, Loxton in 'Zummerzet'. As usual, the album included some of Adge's humour and banter between songs, to give listeners to the album the impression of being there at a live show. The album features more compositions by other writers but nonetheless includes some of Adge's classics, notably 'Thee'sGot'n Where Thee Cassn't Back'n, Hassn't?' and Adge's Rock 'n'Roll number 'Up The Clump'. The addition of Tommy and Henry to the band's line-up added a new dimension to the band's sound. This is especially seen on 'In The Haymaking Time' where we have Tommy on accordion and some nice tinkley piano (which I suspect was added in the studio later!), while Henry's upright bass is bowed for the sad finale.' A Pub With No Beer' sees Tommy on piano and Henry on violin; as there is no obvious guitar or banjo on this track, maybe Reg was covering on bass (or outside watering the wurzel plant!).
In January 1969 , Henry Davies leaves The Wurzels again, this time for good (although he does reman a good friend of Adge and the band). He is replaced by another Londoner Tony 'Gaffer' Baylis (bass & sousaphone).
The album 'Carry On Cutler!' was released with the Cutler, Quantrill, Banner, Baylis line-up in October 1969. Henry Davis continues in the role as album's musical arranger and arranger.
The band by now had a heavy touring schedule and with the exception of two more single releases 'Poor, Poor Farmer' released in May 1971 and 'Little Darlin' single released in May 1972 no new recordings were released.
In 1972 a 'new' album was released 'Don't Tell I Tell 'Ee' which was a compilation of sorts in that it gathered up old recordings, not all previously released and 'live' chat to join it all up.
In 1974 Reg Quantrill left the group and was replaced by local rock and roller Pete Budd. Pete had stood in for Reg on previous occasions so was already au-fait with the music.
Adge Cutler's career was sadly cut short by his untimely death on Sunday 5th May 1974. Returning home from a successful week long residency at the Crystal Rooms in Hereford, Adge crashed and overturned his MGB sports car at Newbridge roundabout near Chepstow. He had been complaining about a cold during the week, and had decided to drive home to catch up on lost sleep. The inquest concluded that he had fallen asleep at the wheel.