Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Southern Style Rockabilly From A U.K. Pub Band

English band Matchbox weren’t a million miles away from late 70s/early 80s contemporaries Rocky Sharpe & The Replays (see earlier post) and Stray Cats (see future post), in that they drew inspiration from a musical style of a bygone era and took on the dominant styles of that time -namely punk/disco/new wave. The band started life back in 1971 with original vocalist Wiffle Smith leaving in 1977 and original guitarist/pianist Rusty Lupton soon after. By 1978 had settled on the stable line-up of Graham Fenton (vocals), Steve Bloomfield (lead guitar/vocals), Fred Poke (bass/vocals), Gordon Scott (rhythm guitar/vocals) and Jimmy Redhead on drums.

The band had years of live circuit experience behind them when they were chosen as the support act for a Bo Diddley/Carl Perkins tour of Europe in early 1979. Rave reviews led to a recording contract with Magnet Records and the hits started to flow. ‘Rockabilly Rebel’ was their first UK hit reaching #18 in late ‘79 and would go on to be the band’s signature tune. The song’s name basically defined the band’s sound. A self titled debut soon followed with respectable sales pushing it inside the British top 50, no mean feat given the fervent competition at that time. But Matchbox was no novelty act and soon showed they could back up their initial success with a string of top 50 hits.

Next to hit the charts was the old Freddie Cannon song ‘Buzz Buzz A Diddle It’ which peaked at #22 in early in 1980, the year being without doubt the high watermark of Matchbox’s commercial tide. There music was a mix of classic covers and original material. The single ‘Midnight Dynamos’ preceded the release of the group’s second album of the same name, climbing as high as #14 mid year. Soon after Matchbox scored their biggest hit single with ‘When You Ask About Love’ which soared to #4. A cover of the perennial standard ‘Over The Rainbow’ (#15) gave the band a solid presence on the singles charts at year’s end in company with the ‘Midnite Dynamos’ album which was on the slide following a high of #23.

Regrettably Matchbox were somewhat of a one year wonder on the charts as 1981 paled in comparison, their biggest hit and last top 50 effort being ‘Babes In The Wood’ (#46). Matchbox released their material in Australia under the altered name Major Matchbox, so as to avoid confusion with the Australian band formerly known as the Captain Matchbox Whoopee Band, who were by the late 70s simply called Matchbox. The British make of Matchbox enjoyed far greater success on the charts than their ‘colonial’ counterparts. ‘Rockabilly Rebel’ rocketed to #12 in Australia in mid 1980. Their album notched up solid sales and spent a total of 16 weeks on the OZ charts climbing as high as #32, though the follow up singles performed less credibly with ‘Midnite Dynamos’ peaking at #57 and ‘When You Ask About Love’ reaching #55 in early ‘81. Major Matchbox didn’t have another major hit in Australia and ‘Angels On Sunday’ was the last flickering ember of their presence on the charts here, reaching #86 in early ‘82.

All up Matchbox (with or without the Major) racked up record sales in excess of 5 million worldwide with hits across Europe and Australasia. When all around has circled a furious mix of punk/dance/disco/new wave/rap/grunge/heavy metal etc Matchbox have stayed the course the same way they started it, playing the music that they love. With an unchanged line-up of 30 years that are still touring regularly to this day, Matchbox may not have assumed the mercurial heights of namesakes Matchbox 20, but they’ve kept the flame alive nonetheless.

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