Originally published Hot Metal #10, 1989
By IAN McFARLANE
WELSH band Budgie was long recognised as one of the hardest working, heaviest riffing outfits on the 1970s UK metal scene. Yet just what can you say about a band that slogged around for 15 years, releasing a batch of hard rocking albums without ever making it beyond the second division?
Normally, not a lot, but if sheer persistence is the keyword here – and after acknowledgement from the masters of modern power metal such as Van Halen and Metallica – then this driving three piece deserves a thorough examination. As one of the lesser-known pioneers of heavy rock, Budgie was often ignored or dismissed out of hand but the band’s place in the HM Hall of Fame is well assured.
With the witty avian-inspired name of Budgie, the band played on the heavy/light musical dichotomy as already explored by the likes of Iron Butterfly and Led Zeppelin. Budgie was the brainchild of bassist/singer Burke Shelley. He formed the band in Cardiff, Wales, during 1968 and remained its guiding light into the 1980s. He was joined by fellow Welshmen guitarist Tony Bourge and drummer Ray Phillips. As a power trio in the classic mould, Budgie eschewed the then prevailing sounds of progressive rock for a more basic, direct style.
Centred around Shelley’s brawny bass lines and his distinctive, high pitched vocal shriek, Bourke’s bludgeoning guitar riffs and Phillip’s expansive, double kick drum driven battery, the Budgie sound took on all the subtlety of a division of Sherman tanks lumbering across the countryside. Needless to say Budgie was far from fashionable but gradually built up a large cult following on the British pub and club circuit.
The band’s first break occurred in late 1970 when they came to the attention of producer Rodger Bain. Fresh from working on Black Sabbath’s seminal self-titled and Paranoid albums, Bain was impressed with Budgie’s ability to combine the dense riffing of Sabbath with the structural aspirations of Led Zeppelin. He went on to produce the band’s first two albums, Budgie and Squawk, providing a loud, gutsy and workmanlike sound on ‘Guts’, ‘Rape of the Locks’, ‘Whiskey River’ and ‘Young is a World’ which managed to highlight the customary Budgie trademarks.
It wasn’t until their third and fourth albums, however, that Budgie made a breakthrough in terms of album sales. The 1973 release Never Turn Your Back On A Friend was the band’s classic album, mixing their usual power drive attack with dynamic production values and better songs. Stand out tracks included ‘Breadfan’ (featuring the all-time killer Budgie riff), the epic ‘Parents’ and the pummelling ‘You’re the Biggest Thing Since Powdered Milk’ which was another in the group’s line of clever-as-shit song titles such as ‘Nude Disintegrating Parachutist Woman’ (from the debut) and ‘Hot as a Docker’s Armpit’ (from Squawk).
Never Turn Your Back On A Friend impressed the future members of Metallica who went on to cover ‘Breadfan’ as the B-side of the ‘Harvester of Sorrow’ 12″ and make the song a regular in-concert favourite.
The 1974 album In For The Kill was a heavier, moodier slab of rock and became the band’s first UK chart success (#29 in June of that year). The album’s highlights were the sledgehammer title cut
(covered by Van Halen in their early club days), the boogie driven ‘Running from My Soul’, the nine-minute ‘Zoom Club’ and the short, sharp ‘Crash Course in Brain Surgery’ with its galloping pace and lethal riffing. Once again it was Metallica who acknowledged Budgie’s pioneering work in the field of power metal by including their version of ‘Crash Course in Brain Surgery’ on the Garage Days Re-revisited EP from 1987.
For In for the Kill, drummer Ray Phillips had been replaced by Pete Boot who in turn was replaced by Steve Williams at the end of 1974. Williams’ first outing on vinyl was Bandolier (1975), followed by If I Were Britannia I’d Waive the Rules (1976) on their new label, A&M Records. Bandolier was a rockier and funkier collection, as evidenced by the infectious ‘Breaking All the House Rules’, ‘Who Do You Want for Your Love?’ and ‘Napoleon Bona-Part One and Two’, while on Britannia the band went for a more exploratory, commercial sound even adding keyboards on several tracks.
Any way you look at it, however, Britannia lacked the spirit of earlier releases, with only ‘Sky High Percentage’ and the atmospheric ‘Black Velvet Stallion’ standing out. Nevertheless, the change in style and label coincided with a drive to conquer fresh fields, with Budgie taking a break from the continual touring of the UK and Europe to work in the US. There followed a two year period of Stateside activity, culminating in the release of the lacklustre album Impeccable in 1978.
At the end of that year, guitarist Tony Bourge decided to call it quits after 10 years on the road. Little was heard from Budgie in the ensuing year, and the feeling was that Burke Shelley had finally given up too. Then in 1980 the band leapt back with new guitarist ‘Big’ John Thomas, whose barnstorming style injected new life into the old bird. The band’s musical stance took on elements of AC/DC style boogie rock and NWOBHM substance without losing sight of their individual and eccentric brand of metal mayhem.
In rapid succession Budgie released a 12″ EP, If Swallowed, Do Not Induce Vomiting, went on tour with Ozzy Osbourne’s Blizzard of Ozz and brought out a new album, Power Supply. The album was a stirling return to form, containing such latter-day Budgie gems as ‘Hellbender’, ‘Forearm Smash’ and the title track. The next album, Nightflight (1981), and its single ‘Keeping A Rendezvous’, continued the tradition but 1982 proved to be the year that Budgie finally received the acclaim they had worked so hard to achieve.
That year the band undertook a successful tour of the European Eastern bloc (where live rock music was like manna from heaven) and headlined the first night of the prestigious Reading Festival. In all they played more than 200 gigs in 1982 (thereby ranking alongside Gillan, Motorhead, Judas Priest, Iron Maiden and Girlschool as one of the hardest working British rock bands of the day) and released the arena rock styled album Deliver Us from Evil. Produced by American Don Smith, the album was a surprise for any who had, in the past, dismissed Budgie as dull plodders.
The album sounded polished and sophisticated as well as steeped in familiar Budgie power. They had added keyboardist Duncan MacKay to help fill out the sound, and the results were heard on tracks such as ‘Finger on the Button’, ‘Hold on to Love’ and the single ‘Bored with Russia’. At the time Burke Shelley was excited with Budgie’s progress, but strangely enough Deliver Us From Evil proved to be the band’s final release. So, after 15 years and 10 albums, the old bird was laid to rest, and probably at the most appropriate time in its lengthy career. After having been ignored, despised, in and out of fashion and undergone many changes, at least Budgie bowed out with a bang not a whimper.