Graham Reid | | 2 min read
Buried away in the typically interesting liner notes of this compilation by Grant Gillanders, he writes this: “The Cleves' second single You and Me was released during May 1970, the same month that they made their 100th appearance on Australian television”.
One hundred appearances on Australian television?
How many – how few – New Zealand artists could claim that number of showings on television shows across the Tasman?
My guess is none in '70. And damn few in 45 years since.
The Cleves incarnation was in fact the enormously successful transitional phase for this band.
It came between their first sibling incarnation as the folksy Clevedonaires (out of Clevedon south of Auckland) in the early Sixties, and their surprisingly glam-rockist edition a decade later as the bluntly named hard rock band Bitch when they relocated to Britain in that time when T.Rex, the Glitter Band, Mud, Sweet and others were commanding television attention for bellbottoms, big hair, leather'n'glitz and androgyny.
Curiously enough, under whatever name they appeared, this New Zealand band always seemed to fit.
Never threatening the top tier -- because they lacked originality -- but always at least in some creditable position slightly lower on the pop-rock totem pole.
As the sea changes in music happened they rode the waves -- name changing as they went -- and always sounded decently generic.
So as WhoEver, they were consistently good followers rather than leaders . . . as this 21-song catch-all collection proves.
As the Cleves they did a decent version of How You Lied (sort of sub-Springfields before Dusty embarked on a solo career), a more urgent version of the Poppies' girl-group classic He's Ready on which they nodded towards Yardbirds (followed by their more polite version of Yardbirds' Lost Woman) and a prissy trumpet-pop treatment of Donovan's Sunny Goodge Street (more romantic Penny Lane than the junkie underground station Donovan evoked).
By their Cleves incarnation however they were a full-fledged mainstream psyche-rock/big ballad band (with organ) like Badfinger, Grapefruit, Marmalade et al . . . plus phasing (You and Me) and Ringo-like drum fills (Michael).
In whatever version they appeared, the Clevedonaires/Cleves/Bitch were musically talented . . . but only ever a decent jobbing band who might have deservedly filled the lower place on the charts but could rarely be accused of striking originality.
However they certainly hit their straps as Bitch in Britain.
But while their unreleased Bitch album for Warmers – which finally came out on vinyl for Record Store Day this year – included hard rock songs which could have been on Top Of The Pops for a week in the Seventies (and deservedly on the soundtracks to Almost Famous or Dazed and Confused if they'd penetrated America) they did little more than work the same familiar changes.
While it is always good and right we should have access to the music of the past – as the Frenzy label and Grant Gillanders have been assiduously doing on our behalf – much of this music is of archival interest more than delivering up lost classics.
That said, Wildcat by Bitch is just bloody terrific.
If you'd been a 15-year old Brit-kids in a provincial city in '73 -- around the time Melody Maker and NME were hailing Bitch, as Gillanders quotes in his excellent liner notes – you'd have been having sweaty grope-sex to this in the carpark after a night of sneaked beer and borrowed cigarettes.
But, as so often happens, Bitch were caught in a label and money war and . . .
Their album was dropped.
In Britain during the competitive Seventies that was what happened.
And it didn't matter that -- in a world away, years before in another incarnation – they'd proved themselves in 100 television appearances.
Life is, indeed, a bitch.
Still, it got them out of Clevedon in the very early Sixties.
So all was not lost.