Rave ups don’t come any wilder than ‘Road Block’ by the Wheels, who keep the party going on this CD of their complete output, 1965-1966. Tough, shouting R&B vocals and crunching riffs from Belfast’s other great combo.
‘Road Block’ and ‘Bad Little Woman’ are garage-beat classics of which anyone raised on American “Pebbles” albums will be very familiar. The Wheels, however, were not American; they were from Northern Ireland. Yet their band original ‘Bad Little Woman’ was picked up by Chicago garage deities the Shadows Of Knight, and in contrast they covered Paul Revere & the Raiders’ ‘Kicks’. Don’t even get me started on the feral intensity of their beat-punk opus ‘Road Block’.
Big Beat’s new Wheels collection comprises the A and B-sides of their three singles, released across 1965 and 1966, plus the remaining sessions they cut at Regent Sound; this is their album, its great period design making up for the fact that these talented young men didn’t get to release one first time round.
Like many who have bought Big Beat releases over the past 20 years, I came to the label knowing I would find great garage, beat and psych. Now the Wheels are in the company of the Beau Brummels, the Chocolate Watchband, the Zombies and Thor’s Hammer. And by heck, they deserve it. Anyone who has bought releases by those artists will adore the Wheels. Steaming out of Belfast’s Maritime Hotel (an R&B hotbed on par with the Crawdaddy in Richmond and Newcastle’s Club A’GoGo), where they graced the stage with friend Van Morrison and his similarly clued-up Them, before moving on to an obsessive following in the glamorous environs of Blackpool.
The Wheels lived their lives to the full, playing wild shows, popping pills and adapting R&B to their own means. Under the tutelage of industry bigwig Phil Solomon and producer Tommy Scott, they issued singles on Parlophone and turned heads with their long hair (or, in Brian Rossi’s case, bald head). It looked as if the charts would be theirs. Unfortunately, their sound and songbook may have shared too much with Them’s; Van and his gang stole the Wheels’ thunder and fashions changed fast.
In hindsight, the magnificent punk/R&B attack of ‘Road Block’ rivals anything the toughest US garage bands recorded, ‘Bad Little Woman’ was a really decent song, their choice of covers was inspired and there’s no denying their musicality or Rod Demick’s wild-but-soulful vocals. Okay, the Wheels were a beat band versed in R&B and they didn’t make an album like “Revolver” or sell many records, but by Jove they were exciting. The 12 tracks here are testament to that.
By Jon “Mojo” Mills
(To find out what Rod Demick and Herbie Armstrong did after the Wheels split, check out their interview with Trevor Hodgett in the current issue of Shindig! www.shindig-magazine.com.)