Jack the Lad

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The success of the Newcastle-spawned folk-rock group Lindisfarne -- which had enjoyed a pair of hit albums and a string of U.K. hit singles over the previous two years -- came to a crashing halt in 1973,…
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The success of the Newcastle-spawned folk-rock group Lindisfarne -- which had enjoyed a pair of hit albums and a string of U.K. hit singles over the previous two years -- came to a crashing halt in 1973, when the band decided to split. Alan Hull and Ray Jackson hung onto the name Lindisfarne, while bassist/violinist Rod Clements, drummer Ray Laidlaw, and guitarist Simon Cowe were left to their own devices. Among the first things they did was get guitarist/singer Billy Mitchell -- who'd played in an early incarnation of Lindisfarne -- back from Canada to rejoin his former bandmates. According to Laidlaw, they'd thought of calling themselves the Corvettes, but it sounded too much like a name that went with a rock & roll revival band, which they were not -- they ran through Larry the Lamb and Atilla the Hun, when they remembered a phrase they'd heard from Status Quo when they'd toured together, and the group settled on Jack the Lad. The resulting quartet was a lot more rootsy than Lindisfarne had been, much less a progressive folk-rock outfit, mixing blues and elements of jazz.

Charisma Records kept them under contract, hoping that the Lindisfarne split might yield two successful groups, and Jack the Lad ended up cutting three LPs for the label. But those were mere shadows of what the group was about -- starting out working in small pubs and moving up to larger venues and finally to festivals, they became known for their wild and woolly stage act, which included ludicrously funny monologues explaining their songs as well as antics in their playing that made their performances seem like theater-of-the-absurd. They made it to television showcases such as The Old Grey Whistle Test, and their on-air presentations were even more elaborate and seemingly anarchic, only with an overarching wit that was as pronounced as their musicianship was serious and virtuoso in quality. Clements departed in 1974, the demand for his violin playing leading him into session work for the next few years. He was replaced by two new members, Phil Murray (bass, vocals) and Walter Fairbairn (guitar, vocals), both of whom had previously played in the folk revival outfit Hedgehog Pie.

The group split up in 1976, after four tries with LPs and a string of singles that failed to chart. Laidlaw returned to working with Alan Hull, first in a band called Radiator and then in a revived Lindisfarne, which Clements and Cowe also joined. Murray became a member of the Doonan Family Band, while Billy Mitchell became half of the comedy duo Maxie and Mitch, while Fairbairn became a journeyman player on the English folk circuit.

Lindisfarne went on to draw audiences in England -- and especially their native Newcastle -- for the next 30 years, even outliving Alan Hull (who died very suddenly in 1996). Although it took some time to respond to what demand there was, Virgin Records, which had acquired the Charisma library and later became part of EMI, eventually reissued the three Jack the Lad albums in their vaults on CD.