Tracker, actually based in Salisbury, have been cooking in the Bournemouth region for about eight months now, and at the time of writing, they are about to do their first major London gig, at the Global Village beneath London's Charing Cross Station. Although they are a relatively new band, three of the four members, Dozy, Beaky and Tich – well, suffice it to say that they've been in the business awhile.
Tich told I.M.
that "Beaky and I had been in a band together, and the drummer and bass player left. Beaky switched from rhythm guitar to drums, and we got hold of Dozy, who had had a pub for awhile, and started to play local pub gigs, just for the fun of it."
The fourth member Luke, joined when they cut a record for Dave Dee – of Atlantic Records – originally, as he says, because "Tich couldn't play steel and rhythm at the same time" – and it worked. Since then, there's been no looking back: they are looking for a keyboard player, but all in good time.
Tracker are aiming for a recording contract, and despite their considerable combined experience, they are well aware that things have changed. "It's not as open as it was. There was a time when you could go to a record company with an idea on tape, and they'd listen and even sign bands on the strength of that alone. Now they want the whole thing laid out on a plate before they'll listen."
The breakthrough, they reckon, will come with a buzzing single first, followed up by an assault on the London venues – colleges, pubs and clubs, anywhere that people can see them. A possibility is a rearrangement of Cat Stephens' "Matthew And Son", with one of their own numbers on the 'B' side. "We're heavy, but commercial as well," Luke added. "In our stage act, we do some Beatle numbers, but they're rearranged, and the bulk of the stuff is our own.
"The idea is to do what Ace did – get a single into the charts which is still honest and representative of what you are." The band's eyes are firmly fixed on London, but only after the buzz is on. "There is no real 'scene' in the South of England, there never really has been," Tich said. "There have been a lot of musicians from the area, the Troggs, and Uriah Heep, for instance, are both from this area. But there never has been the venues for a real scene to develop."
Tracker are philosophical about their future. As Tich put it, "You need the big one, the break, to really make it, and even that is largely luck. Ten years ago, you could get plays on Radio Caroline, the BBC, Radio Luxembourg – there was a lot more opportunity to make
"Now, it's just down to Radio One. Capital Rado, and Picadilly are alternatives, but they aren't really much compared to Radio One. There are only about five completely new records a week which get on the BBC playlist.
"All you can really do is what you enjoy, and just keep going. If you fall down, you just have to pick yourself up again and start over."
Tich plays a Les Paul Custom, with Colorsound wah-wah and Phaser, through a Fender Twin Reverb; Luke plays a Les Paul Custom, with a "dilapidated" Vox wah-wah pedal, through a Fender Reverb; Dozy plays a Fender ¾ scale Jazz Bass through a Hi-Watt amp; Beaky plays a Rogers kit with Paiste and Zildjian cymbals.
Building a career isn't an easy task in any profession, much less in music. For the past 18 months, Albatross have been having a go at it, with increasing success. Originally a country band under the name Wild Country, they eventually became "Cheesed off with Johnny Cash numbers", and, with the addition of drummer Malcolm Player, turned to heavy rock about a year and a half ago. Now they manage to work three or four nights a week in the South coast area, and have also had not immoderate success, both in Manchester, where they broke into the local top twenty, and in Switzerland, where their single, on the ill-fated Mooncrest label, reached the top five.
National success is next on the agenda – along with Tracker, they rule in the area around Bournemouth, and they released a single, "Tobacco Road", on the Gull label, on the 22nd of August. The success of this single is of course important to the band, but they aren't betting everything on it. "We'll be putting one of our own songs, 'Let It Roll', on the 'B' side, but we're not really a singles band", John Jones told I.M
. "Fortunately, I think Gull understand that as well. About 99.9% of what we do on stage is our own material, and while we've got enough material for perhaps two or three albums, we don't have quite the right stuff to make the first big impression yet."
While not particularly bitter about it, John does concede that the London bands do have a distinct advantage over bands outside the Capital. "Playing in London gives the A & R guys a chance to see you live, which is half the battle." With things going moderately well at the moment – despite an acknowledged lack of heavy venues in the area – Albatross are looking ahead. "Colleges are out at the moment, but once they open again, we should be doing more gigs in London," Malcolm Player said. Like Tracker, they feel the need for a respectable single before they can afford to go to tour the rest of the country.
One of the bright spots for the band is their relationship with Blue Eyes Productions, which guarantees them unlimited studio time – an advantage most bands would dearly love. "It gives us a chance to go in and get settled down, without worrying about the clock," John added.
Albatross don't have a manager as such. After a bad experience, they prefer to look after themselves. "We had a guy for awhile, but he wasn't doing anything. He still has a hold on us legally, but it isn't worth the trouble to make him work."
Things are fairly bright for Albatross, but there are still times when John Jones has to put down his axe during the day and go out to work on a building site to make ends meet. It's much the same for the rest of the band as well – they can't afford a keyboard yet, so what they use on a given night depends on who isn't working that same night.
"It's hard to keep your incentive," John added, but they don't really show any sign of giving up. "You live and learn."
The idea is to hit the charts, hard, with something new and the conviction that it's possible for Albatross, just as it was for Queen and Sparks, is one they fully believe in. I asked John Jones what would happen if it ever became clear that the band had no real future. "I don't know, we might go into another band, even into a Mecca band. I just can't see any of us doing anything else."
Terry Keyworth, lead guitar, plays a Les Paul Custom through a Fender Twin Reverb and uses a Jimz custom built fuzz box; John Jones plays a Fender Esquire through a Jennings J40L amp and a WEM 100 watt slave, as well as a variety of borrowed keyboards; Danny Balkwill plays a "home-made" bass, which he built with the help of Jim Parkins, through a 200 watt Hi-Watt; Malcolm Player plays a Hayman kit with a Ludwig snare and Paiste and Zildjian cymbals.