Des Henly's Rock and Roll Circus

Gig reviews - uk music papers

NEW MUSICAL EXPRESS
14 July 1973

Roskilde Festival, Denmark 1973
"Fumble in grope land"

FAR FROM THE walking streets in Copenhagen where you can buy inflatable women in pink plastic for around £20 and the American porn classic "Deep Throat" is showing to half-empty houses because it’s considered too ordinary and bouncing boobs are ten a penny, a rock festival is taking place.

You’d hardly know until you reach the actual festival sight because the scene is so quiet and the setting so beautiful. An English-style downpour of rain and six inches of mud, plus the dank smell of hot dogs, are all conspicuous by their absence. There’s not a Hells Angel in sight, nor a fence that has been gnawed through – not one Avis van, nor a large collection of ladies of dubious virtue.
This is Fumble in grope land, the first time the British band have topped the bill at a festival. They may still be striving to make a name for themselves in Britain, but in Denmark they have a single at six in the charts and the prospect of playing in front of 20,000 people fills them with horror.
Still, there’s a little time to worry about their fate. The Danish press gather round, first taking mug shots, next getting to grips with interviews.
They’re polite, these Danish journalists. A large Dane starts up: "I like the singing on the rek-oord" and smiles, expecting a similar reaction from the band. Lead singer Des Henly replies: "I liked your face the moment I saw it. Now there is a man with taste, I said to myself."

The tall Viking is nonplussed. Outside the wooden caravan which is their temporary dressing room, people wander around. In an effort to soak up the atmosphere I walk by the fence which divides the backstage area from the bulk of the crowd. The sound of running water turns out to be a vigorous Viking relieving himself.
In fact, as I stroll further, about 30 more blond bombshells are standing against a barbed wire fence doing more of the same.
Musically, so far, the festival is a downer. A local band are playing loud, nondescript music to a lukewarm reception. Only highlight is the launch of an over-ripe raw egg which lands with aplomb on the drum rostrum.

There are the usual hassles about timing. Fumble were due to appear at 10.30, but the organisers are now quoting 1.00 as a more realistic time. John Sherry, Fumble manager, hassles and reaches a compromise for 12.00.

It seems ourtageous Fumble should be ambassadors for Britain at a Danish festival. Outrageous when you look at them. A skinny pianist with short flicked back hair, an angelic face and trousers that are as tight at the ankles as they are at the waist; a drummer who could politely be described as having a high forehead; a bass player who’s nothing if not a short ass; and a lead singer who appears to be recovering from a hangover.
One thing unites them before they go out on stage – terror. There are 20,000 foreign kids out there, and Fumble are topping the bill.
They start off shakily – not so much due to the lack of confidence as equipment hassles. Fumble’s music is late 50’s / early 60’s, but don’t confuse them with Teddy boys or the Wild Angels. The group are more into sneakers, tapered trousers, high-school hopping and a grope in the back row of the cinema. They reek of nostalgia, of days when suspenders were the rage and reaching those few inches of spare flesh meant you’d scored.
There’s no violence in the stage act, just a certain amount of aggression mostly supplied by lead singer Des Henly. Perhaps more than most, Henly gives the band an image.
"Image was all I was interested in when I was young," he says. "I went up to London to see Bob Dylan when he first got popular because it seemed like a trendy thing to do, not because I liked his music.
"And when I saw the Shadows I was more impressed by the colours of the guitar than anything else. Even going back to the days of Elvis films, I remember seeing him in a check shirt and coming home and wanting to play guitar and wear the same gear."
Certainly, when you see Henly on stage singing "Teddy Bear" he becomes Elvis Presley. So respectful are they of that kind of music that they wouldn’t dare touch any number they couldn’t do justice to. Numbers like "Poetry In Motion", "That’ll Be The Day" and "Take Good Care Of My Baby" are performed with a certain reverence.

HALFWAY through the set they invited the crowds to light matches and, after a count of three, a magical sea of light stretched back into the night.
Certainly it had the effect of giving the band an added boost of confidence. Up till then, they could only guess how many people were out there in the darkness.
Henly teases them with the intro "This is a message song... the only one we do" before leaping into "Good Golly Miss Molly", which gets the crowd on their feet. He adds more weight to the number by cocking his left leg in the air, and being joined in his disjointed movements by mini bass player and Mafia lookalike, Mario Ferrari.

Getting the audience on an upper, they follow through with "Teddy Bear". Again a Henly metamorphosis to Elvis Presley – flared nostrils, curled lip, crotch movements. Yet the band are aware enough to suss when a quieter number is required.
The one weakspot was "Nut Rocker", with Sean Mayes playing too slowly in the opening. But it went unnoticed by the crowd who by that time were too far into the band to stop and criticise. Finishing with "Rave On" it was all down to: "Is Des Henly the new Buddy Holly. Is Holly alive and well and installed in the voice box of Fumble?"
Afterwards, with the gig behind them, the band are cooler, calmer and pleased. They admit it was a big gamble asking evryone to light a match. It is something they haven’t done in Britain but then in Denmark, where about half their money goes in tax and one in three young ladies is alledgedly riddled with minute animal life, life is different.
– JULIE WEBB -