A Brief History
Out of dance band Contrasound in the
mid 70's bassist Jeremy (jumbo) Barker and drumming brother Steve
(ex Plastic Dreamboat) re-grouped as Red Express with Malcolm Tagg-Randall
(saxophone) and Bill Sharpe (ex Saffron Jack). Soon to be joined
by singer Larraine O'Dell, guitarist Mark Jackson (ex Saffron Jack)
and ex Telephone Bill and the Smooth Operators' drummer Brian Wren
(ex Baby Whale) when Steve moved to pastures new.
In 1976 Dennis Andrews (ex Soul
Committee), an ex US air force radar technician from Cook County,
Chicago with his Smokey Robinson-esque voice and soul influence replaced
Bill Sharpe's distinctive keyboard and singer/songwriter Dennis'
soulful voice and rhythmic congas created the idiosyncratic sound
of Red Express. Influenced by the likes of Steely Dan, the Crusaders,
classic soul and the up and coming jazz funk sound not often heard
around Cambridge at this time, the well rehearsed set was often found
to diversify into impromptu jam sessions.
Covering a wide range of
tunes, with a smattering of Santana and Stevie Wonder Red Express
soon made the Deodato version of 2001: A Space Odyssey their theme
tune and this grew to be the highlight of any live performance, along
with Donny Hathaway's The Ghetto. As writers Sharpe and Andrews became
more prolific the characteristic original songs soon overwhelmed
the set list, featuring Fairweather Girl, 59 th Street, the melodic
Waiting for the Man and the unforgettable Wop It Down Song.
Rehearsing at Great Sampford and recording in Bill's
front room in Bishops Stortford they played contemporary Cambridge
venues such as the Alma Brewery, the Grad Pad, Raffles and the Great
Northern Hotel, and were one of the acts at the original Strawberry
playing on a trailer at the first Strawberry Fair and several University
May Balls, supporting such diverse acts as Elvis Costello at Trinity
College, Darts, Landscape and Humphrey Littleton's big band, this
eclectic sound brought a huge following from the university students
and made Red Express one of the premier live acts to go and see in
the Cambridge area.
After Malcolm left the sixth member
of the band changed rapidly through Raff Ravenscroft (saxophone)
and Bubs White (guitar) until Keith Winter joined as the second guitarist
with Roger O'Dell bringing in his inimitable drums in the absence
Sadly the one and
only release from this unique band was 'Happy'
recorded at Spaceward studios, released on 12" single with Taxman
on the flipside.
In 1980 Roger, Bill and Keith found themselves becoming
more in demand with their jazz funk band Shakatak,
and Red Express found it difficult to continue without the distinctive
keyboard of Sharpe and like all good things slowly faded into the
memories of their loyal fan base in the Cambridge area.