45-and-a-bit years after its original release, a new repro of the band’s 4-track 7-inch debut EP, now on pink vinyl – where it all started for Ace Records, folks.
As my sleeve note for the original “Speedball” EP proclaimed, “The Bishops are exactly the sort of band we were looking for when we started the label”. The tracks for the EP – the first-ever release on the Chiswick label – were recorded at Pathway Studios on 28 August 1975.
For a couple of years beforehand, I had been toying with the idea of starting an independent record label, to reissue classic, in-demand rock’n’roll 45s such as ‘Sea Cruise’, ‘The Wanderer’ and ‘Brand New Cadillac’. With bands such as Dr Feelgood, Ducks DeLuxe and Kilburn & the High Roads becoming popular around the London pubs, I was also considering the possibility of releasing records by acts that were diametrically opposite to the likes of Yes, Barclay James Harvest, Fruup and Gnidrolog.
In December 1974 I asked Roger Armstrong, who was managing the Rock On record stall in Soho Market, if he would maybe like to become involved in the record label. He was delighted to be invited as he already had some studio experience and was keen to find a way into the record business.
In February 1975 Mike Spenser flew into London from New York and soon found his way to the Rock On stall. Roger was playing ‘Confessin’ The Blues’ by the Rolling Stones when he detected a phantom harp player accompanying the record, which turned out to be Mike, who had been perving through a rack of pic sleeve 45s and just happened to have his “C” harmonica in his pocket.
Meanwhile, Mike had placed a small ad in Melody Maker which was answered by Zen De Fleur, who invited him to a gig by his band Chrome at The Brecknock. Around the same time Roger and I had heard Chrome playing at The Lord Nelson and invited them to cut some demos at Dave Robinson’s studio in the Hope & Anchor. Mike recorded a couple of vocals with them that day but Zen was dissatisfied with the results and decided to disband Chrome and start a new band with Mike.
They did a few gigs with Rob Murly (bass) and Bob Burgos (drums) but ended up recruiting Paul Balbi and Stevie Lewins to fill those roles in the band. Mike managed to persuade his old mate John Crippen (Johnny Guitar) – with whom he had played in the Kingbees, a Brooklyn blues band – to jump on a London-bound plane with his two Gibson guitars: the Count Bishops were born. The rest, as they say, is history.