The Belfast Gypsies

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The Belfast Gypsies were a direct spin-off of Them, featuring two members who had been in Them for differing spells in the mid-'60s: singer/organist/multi-instrumentalist Jackie McAuley and his brother,…
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The Belfast Gypsies were a direct spin-off of Them, featuring two members who had been in Them for differing spells in the mid-'60s: singer/organist/multi-instrumentalist Jackie McAuley and his brother, drummer Pat McAuley (sometimes also known as John McAuley). With a style very similar to early Them, the Gypsies hooked up with Kim Fowley on one of his London visits in mid-'66. Fowley produced most of the material that ended up on their sole LP (preceded by a couple of unsuccessful singles), which was issued in Scandinavia in August, 1967. A bit of an anachronistic throwback to the R&B/beat-boom sound of a couple years earlier, the LP is a successful approximation of Them's sound, the major drawback being the absence of Van Morrison.

Because of packaging that often found the record filed under Them rather than the Belfast Gypsies, and because the band's history was generally ill-documented, few British Invasion groups with a cult following among collectors have had their history as garbled or misrepresented as the Belfast Gypsies. It was only after the first legitimate reissue of the album on CD, more than 35 years later, that the group's true tale emerged. The story is incredibly complex for a band that issued only one LP (and a posthumous one, at that), but basically, the group formed when Them's lineup underwent a particularly volatile shakeup in the middle of 1965. When the smoke cleared, there were actually two different bands laying claim to the Them name. One of them, the famous Them, was headed by Van Morrison, with bassist Alan Henderson the only other original member. The other Them was formed by Pat McAuley and Them's original guitarist, Billy Harrison, and included drummer Skip Alan, bassist Mark Scott, and singer Nick Wymer (who had been in the Pretty Things-like group the Fairies).

In late 1965 and early 1966, both groups continued to compete for the Them name, the dispute eventually ending up in court. In the meantime the Harrison-McAuley lineup playing as Them underwent its own lineup shuffles, with Harrison quitting and Skip Alan leaving to join the Pretty Things, briefly replaced by Viv Prince (who Alan himself, ironically, was replacing in the Pretty Things). By the beginning of 1966, the personnel had settled into a quartet with Pat McAuley on drums; his brother Jackie McAuley on lead vocals, organ, harmonica, and occasionally other instruments; guitarist Ken McLeod; and bassist Mark Scott (though all of the musicians played other instruments in addition to their primary ones). In March 1966, however, it was ruled that the name Them belonged to the group headed by Van Morrison, although the ruling only applied in the U.K.. The Pat McAuley band was allowed to play in the U.K. under the name the Other Them, with a much lower visibility on the British circuit than the Van Morrison-fronted Them enjoyed.

In May 1966, Kim Fowley met the band and took them into the studio for a few sessions; a final session was recorded without Fowley in Copenhagen at the end of June. Having made little headway in the U.K., they spent most of the summer and the fall of 1966 touring Scandinavia, where they were allowed to use the name Them. Oddly, they never once played live under the name the Belfast Gypsies, although this is the name that they used for their debut single on Island Records that year, "Gloria's Dream"/"Secret Police." Although they had fair success in Scandinavia, the group disbanded near the end of 1966, with only Jackie McAuley going on to do much subsequent recording, both as part of the folk-rock duo Trader Horne (with ex-Fairport Convention singer Judy Dyble) and as a solo artist.

When the Belfast Gypsies LP did come out about nine months after the group disbanded, it bore the title Them Belfast Gypsies, with the name Them in huge lettering as part of the album's title on the sleeve. Understandably, then, many collectors have assumed that the album should be credited to Them, rather than to the Belfast Gypsies. Additionally, it's often been written that the Belfast Gypsies were formed after Van Morrison left Them in 1966, with one part of the remaining group (led by Alan Henderson) taking the Them name, and the other billing themselves as the Belfast Gypsies. This, too, is not the case; although Henderson did indeed continue to play and record in a different Them lineup after Morrison left; the Belfast Gypsies had in fact formed back in 1965 (albeit not under that name), about a year before Morrison left Them. As yet another point of confusion, one posthumous Belfast Gypsies single was issued under a yet different name, the Freaks of Nature (which the band never played as while they were together as a unit). It's a tough story to keep straight, but luckily it did result in a worthwhile album, heartily recommended to Them fans, whether you find it filed under the Them or the Belfast Gypsies' name.