Poppa Ben Hook

Poppa Ben Hook
Originally uploaded by fred pipes
When Helix split up in 1969, I got more involved with Guildford Arts Lab (reading poems at Boxer's coffee bar for example) and thought I'd try to get some gigs for the Arts Lab 'house band' Poppa Ben Hook using my contacts. It was on a visit to Pete Jenner at Blackhill and impressario promoter Stuart Lyon to drum up trade that someone suggested I manage them! Management seemed to involve storing all their gear in the bedroom of my first-floor flat on Epsom Road. I also sent out demo records to record companies and management agencies, with no success. Loving nothing more than doing a bit of Letraset, I produced a leaflet that was an exact rip-off of one Rick Welton had done for his Hull band Nothingeverhappens.

We did do lots of gigs however and I went along to all of them in the van. We very nearly played at the very first Glastonbury Fayre in 1971. I'd written to Arabella Churchill offering our services and she said to come along. We'd been booked to play a free festival at a place called Holcombe Rogus in Somerset, where Nick Black, a school friend of David Ambrose, had set up a commune, making pottery and generally spending his money.

The letter!

On the way back we called in at Glastonbury, I waved the letter and we went to the farmhouse. It was a bit chaotic as you can imagine and we were told to wait. Everyone was knackered - Bob in particular had spent all the previous night fighting off a randy hippie mother - and the concensus was to head for home. The rest is history. We also played the various University of Surrey Free Festivals (see the photos from 1971).

The line up was Bob Thomas on organ, electric piano and vocals, Roy MacGregor on guitar and vocals, Max Thomas on flute and alto sax, Phil Plant on bass, and Alan Butcher on drums. Bob did amazing things with the keyboards, slowing a Watkins Copicat tape to psychedelic effect. Tragically, Bob died young. Phil Plant went on to play with Stomu Yamashta and in 1976 played bass guitar on the soundtrack to 'The Man Who Fell To Earth' starring David Bowie. He's currently with Roxi and the Blue Cats. Al Butcher is also still playing - with Flying Visit. I'd like to think that Max is playing jazz somewhere.

Drum skin, as painted by Bob Thomas, Courtesy of Al Butcher
They were a great band and should have done better things. Here are some demos on acetate:


Buggy run

I live in a shed

Pure beef hamburger

Before the dawn

You won't miss me (vocals by Roy MacGregor)

Well, it took 45 years, but I finally got a record deal for  Poppa Ben Hook. It's a shared vinyl release from Record Collector with a band called Museum, who sounds rather like PBH, so is a good match. I'm still trying to track down Max Thomas and Roy MacGregor. It was released 2 January 2015 and costs £24.98 in the UK.


Anonymous said...

Hi, Hoping you’ll see this! I think my Dad was PBH first Manager... he passed away a few years ago and I’ve found lots of photos/ posters and paraphernalia in the attic! Would love to talk more x

vivavinyl said...

Hi 'Anonymous'! Was your Dad called Gus? I was at Guildford School of Art with Bob Thomas, around the time Poppa Ben Hook was getting started, and I recall Gus (who, if memory serves, was also president of the Students' Union) being involved with the band. I was co-ordinator of the Guildford Arts Lab and PBH played a number of gigs for us. Bob was a great musician and a fine artist too; tragically, he died of cancer in 1983, aged just 34. I'm sure Fred would be very interested in your memorabilia! Best regards, Graham.