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Queen before Queen

"Record Collectors"
Initial research John S. Stuart. Additional researh and text: Andy Davis.

Land Of The Giants
John Deacon (foreground) and Nigel Bullen in Beachamp School uniform,
playing at the Land Of The Giants on an Oadby housing estate in the mid-60s.


On 16th March 1968 for a gig at Gartree School, the Opposition changed their name once again. "We called ourselves Art," reveals Nigel, "because Dave was arty, that is, he was training as an artist. It was as simple as that." Dave agrees: "It was my idea, because I'd been doing art at school." Nigel Bullen was aware of another band using that name around the same time (the pre-Spooky Tooth outfit), but assuming them to be American, reckoned they'd be no confusion. As the Leicester-based Art never made it to London, there wasn't.

Despite wording like "A time to touch and feel, to taste and experience, to hear and understand" appearing on the group's tickets, Richard maintains that Art was "just the same band" as before. "Nothing changed."

"It was mutton dressed up as lamb, really," admits Ron Chester. "We thought if we were called something different, people might come because they were curious. But it didn't make a lot of difference. The audiences were captive at the places we played anyway. There was nowhere else to go on a Friday or Saturday night. Everyone used to roll up to see whoever was on, whether they'd heard of them or not."

1968 was the year psychedelia caught up with many provincial British bands. The Art were no different, but thier acknowledgement of what had been last year's scene in London was via sight rather than sound. Their light shows seems to have been particularly memorable, as Dave Williams explains: "They were brilliant. We used the projectors from school, filled medicine bottles with water and oil, and projected through them to get this lovely golden, amber backdrop. As the image came out upside down, when we poured in some Fairy Liquid, it dropped straight through in a blob, but came out on the wall like a giant green mushroom cloud. It was amazing, and we had about four of them at the back, projecting over the band."

John Deacon was party to another of Dave's exploits. "One day," recalls Williams, "John and I bought a 100-watt P.A. -- which was pretty big for those days -- and took it into the lecture theatre full of kids at Beauchamp School (which Deacon had attended since September 1966) for our version of Arthur Brown's 'Fire'. We cranked it up as loud as we could, put the light show on, and let off these smoke bombs, which were DDT pellets we'd got from the chemist. All the kids started choking, and then the headmaster walked in with a load of governors. You could see the fury in his face. One of the governors asked what we were doing. 'It's a demonstration in sound and light, sir,' I said. 'We're using these ink bottles turned upside down, but we're a bit worried about these DDT pellets so we might knock the smoke on the head, but we're still experimenting.' And he fell for it!"


Towards the end of 1968, a crop of new groups began to have a profound effect on the maturing schoolboys: Jethro Tull, the Nice, Taste, and in particular Deep Purple. Ron: "We used to buy Purple records and learn to play them. We'd seen John Mayall's Bluesbreakers and the Downliners' Sect in Leicester, the Nice, King Crimson. These sort of groups. We learned a lot from just watching them. They were influential. There was always a big discussion in the band as to whether we should do a particular song. Once we'd decided that, they'd be another big discussion as to how we should do it. Everybody had their say."

Hair, too, had finally began to grow: "John grew his quite long," recalls Ron. "We all had longish hair, but not shoulder length. We couldn't look too unkempt for the normal side of life, but we didn't want to be too prissy for the other end of the spectrum. That was when we started playing universities, and we went a bit heavier. The audiences were far more serious minded about music and more enthusiastic. In some of the youth clubs we'd been playing, the audience would be moving around on roller skates, or peeling bananas all over the place, things like that.

"We felt we were making an impression towards the last year or two of the band," he continues. But it went no further: "We were at school, some of us had jobs, and there was an element of common sense overriding what we would have liked to have done. None of us wanted to chuck in our apprenticeships or courses. If we'd had a flair for writing our own material, we might have taken off. But we just played what was popular, nothing diffrent from most other groups. That wasn't a basis on which to launch ourselves. So it never happened."

"We didn't think that far ahead," admits Richard Young. "I just thought of playing and getting repeat bookings. John was probably the least ambitious of all of us, to be honest. I think he felt that there was no mileage in what we were doing, although it was good fun. I think he had the impression that this was a hobby, a phase he was going through."

Sometimes in the Sixties, possibly 1969, but maybe earlier, Art recorded an acetate. Whatever the date, the crucial point is that John Deacon was present at the session. "We weren't asked to do it," recalls Nigel. "We just wanted to make a disc. I think it cost us about five shillings."

The venue was Beck's studio, thirty miles south east of Oadby in Wellingborough, Northamptonshire. "I'd never been in a studio before and it seemed awesome, really," recalls Dave Williams. "It was a fairly decent-sized room for acoustics. It was all nicely low-lit, with lots of screens. The guy knew what he was doing." Richard Young was less impressed, though: "I've been in studios all my life," he says. "That was just another session. Nothing about it stood out."

The "guy" Dave remembered was engineer Derek Tomkins, who informed the group that they could record three tracks in the time allotted. "We'd only gone in there with two, 'Sunny' and 'Vehicle'," says Nigel, "and we didn't want to waste the opportunity, so Richard knocked up a little instrumental called 'Transit 3' -- named after our new van, the third one -- right there in the studio. Although we were purely a covers band, everybody had a bash at writing, but we never did anything of our own on stage. The exception was 'Transit 3', which was incorporated into the set after the session."

"'Transit 3' was about about the only track we ever wrote," reckons Richard Young ("Heart Full Of Soul", as reported in 'As It Began', is in fact a Graham Gouldman number.). "I initially had the idea, but I can't really remember anything about it. It's very basic. It wouldn't take a great deal of effort to write something like that." To the objective observer, "Transit 3", taped in mono but well recorded, is a fairly uncomplicated, organ-led scalehopper, reminiscent of Booker T & the MGs. "Everybody was listening to 'Green Onions'," confirms Nigel, "so Booker T would have been an influence there." But for all that, it's well-played, with memorable lead and twangy, wah-wah guitar passages coutesy of Dave Williams. And, crucially, John Deacon's thumping bass is plainly audible throughout. On this evidence, the Opposition were clearly a tight, confident outfit. "Transit 3" could have been incorporated into any swinging 60s film soundtrack, and no one would have jumped up shouting, "Amateurs"!


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