The 70’s

red express #1 ’75
Bill Sharpe – Jumbo Barker – Brian Wren – Larraine Odell – Malcolm Tagg-Randall – Mark Jackson

Come In Style, Guys

Ah, the simplicity of youth. Don’t you just love that 1975 photograph? Lorraine looking all willowy floral hippy, surrounded by five frankly sheepish young men. Perhaps they’re embarrassed because they all showed up to the session wearing the bottom half of their best suit. Except Brian – if I’m not much mistaken, those are velvet flares.

Fast forward, if you will, to 1978. Times have changed. The pastoral idyll’s been replaced by an underpass in Harlow town centre, and no-one’s even attempting to smile. It’s a year after punk, but don’t be fooled: these guys could play a bit.

Funny thing about 70s music. Read about it in today’s press and all they ever talk about is glitter (nostalgically), disco (disparagingly), and punk (worshipfully). Those of us who were there at the time remember a much wider soundscape. Music that was funky and danceable without getting stuck on 120 beats per minute. Songs that weren’t afraid to be a little sophisticated round the edges. Musicians who understood the truth about jazz: that sometimes it’s better if you make it up as you go along.

Red Express were part of that vibe. For a brief period around 1978, I’d have put money on these guys getting a deal and going on to greater things, but music is more luck than logic.

Meanwhile, I’ve just dug out this ancient flyer for a gig I promoted with Mark Fowler: a Masque Ball at the Railway Hotel, Bishop’s Stortford, Saturday May 6 th 1978 (actually I’m guessing the year). Come in style . Music by Red Express.

The juxtaposition of ‘Railway’ and ‘Express’ may be the only time in their career when the name made any sense at all. And I have no idea at all why we put the gig on: probably just for the craic. Nor do I remember who I was going out with at the time, what the weather was like, who ran the bar, or what we chose to play in the warm-up disco.

Memory’s a funny thing. You can’t predict what’s going to stay with you. When you look back, all you get is a series of random pictures that somehow avoided getting locked in the vault of your subconscious.

My random pictures from that evening are all about Red Express. I’m pretty certain I could draw you a picture of where they were all standing. And I remember the 2001 thing, obviously – it was the closest they ever got to stagecraft. But most especially, towards the end of the evening, I remember a long, blissful, funky, make-it-up-as-you-go-along two-chord jam that fell out of whatever song they were playing at the time.

It was the sound of a band cooking , as only really good bands can. And no-one wanted it to end.

Mark Gamon