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GONZALEZ / OUR ONLY WEAPON IS OUR MUSIC….Plus
On a good night anytime when you went to see Gonzalez during the early to mid-’70s you could find yourself packed in so close in a sweaty little club that you’d be shoulder to shoulder with a group of like-minded music-loving strangers.
It might be uncomfortable but it would be worth it. And anyway it was some small compensation to see that up on stage the band were squeezed in even more tightly-cramming up to 13 musicians on the band stage. You felt almost short-changed on one of those rare nights that Gonzalez appeared with only their absolute minimum of 9 players.
Of course you could never be quite sure exactly which 13 or so musicians would be appearing under the Gonzalez banner on any given night – it was the band’s proud boast that they never took to the stage two nights running with exactly the same line-up.
Long before footballing coaches built themselves international reputations by fine-tuning a rotating squad system – Gonzalez had been pioneering the concept of keeping their performances fresh sounding each night by utilizing the same tactic of continually appearing with an ever-changing personnel.
“It really was like being in a football team, where different players would come in and add a little bit of their own magic on a given night”, recalls tenor sax player Mick Eve. “You’d know that whenever you played there was going to be at least one change in the line-up. It would never be a radical shake-up, just something a little bit different.”
Mick himself, together with keyboard player Roy Davies, trumpeter Ron Carthy, flute and sax man Bud Beadle and Chris Mercer on tenor sax were pretty much ever present. Guitarist Gordon Hunte was also more likely to be there than not.
But as for the rest – it was anybody’s guess who would be there on the night in question.
Though the band made a virtue of its ever changing personnel, it was really an unavoidable inevitability of the way Gonzalez worked. The sheer size of the group coupled with the number of gigs they performed – they’d be out for 250 nights a year at the height of their fame – meant it would be logistically impossible anyway to boast a steady and settled line-up.
All of them were already in constant demand to play for other groups. Though most made their living working as studio session men, they were always being asked to go out on tour with other acts. Johnny Nash and Rod Stewart were particularly partial to raiding the Gonzalez ranks for backing musicians whenever a tour loomed.
“The rule was that if you got offered another gig you gave the rest of us plenty of warning so we could bring someone else in,” says Mick. “Then, by the time you got back from whatever tour it was, whoever had been depping for you was probably off on tour with someone themselves. The fun of being in Gonzalez anyway was to play with people who just loved playing. Going out on tour with some of the big names, playing some of the big stadiums, could get a bit contrived sometimes.
So we’d have one or two members of the band who – when somebody came in and offered them a tour – would quote some ridiculously high figure for their services in the hope that they could price themselves out of the job and be able to stay with us. It didn’t always work, people would still sometimes meet their outrageous asking price and they’d reluctantly have to go off on tour with whoever it was.”
Mick had first put the band together with Roy Davies in the summer of 1971. Both were veterans of the 60’s club scene – Mick as a member of Georgie Fame’s Blue Flames and Roy with Freddie Mack. They’d just come back from working together in Italy as part of Herbie Goins and the Night Timers and were sitting in the audience at Ronnie Scotts London club one July night with some other members of the Night Timers watching Mongo Santamaria when they bumped into some players from another ’70s band, The Gas.
Members of both bands got talking about how nice it would be to play somewhere in the evenings to wind down after a day in the studios and promptly found themselves offered a spot upstairs at Ronnie’s club the following Saturday night.
About 10 people took to the stage for that first performance. “We didn’t even have any tunes,” laughs Mick. “We had about 5 or 6 skeleton ideas which we managed to stretch out for an hour or two. We’d start with riffs from Donny Hathaway or Marvin Gaye or Mongo Santamaria and just develop them from there.”
They also didn’t have a name. But Bob Stevens, the manager of the Upstairs room at Ronnie Scotts, promptly booked them back for the following Saturday and, sensing a Latin groove in what they were doing, christened them Gonzalez.
Pretty soon the Saturday night booking became a regular thing. Then they were playing Friday night upstairs at Ronnie’s too. In no time they found themselves doing 5 nights a week around London, turning clubs like The Speakeasy, Hatchetts, The Pheasantry and Samantha’s into regular haunts.
As their reputation grew, so did the demand for them to travel further afield – and also for them to put down on record the sort of stuff they were playing night by night.
The “Gonzalez” and “Our only weapon is our music” albums, recorded in 1974 and 1975, and collected here in this compilation, faithfully capture the spirit of the Latin jazz funk fusion that had turned Gonzalez into one of the hottest live draws in the country.
Added here as an extra bonus track is “Haven’t Stopped Dancing Yet”, the bands one and only Top Twenty Hit. Initially recorded in 1977, it had been neglected when first released and only charted 2 years later when re-promoted after first finding success in the discos of New York.
The song had been written for the group by U.S soul singer Gloria Jones – who had moved to Britain as a member of T.Rex and girlfriend of that bands lead singer, Marc Bolan. Bolan and Jones would regularly turn up at Gonzalez gigs and cause something of a stir.
“We’d be playing and suddenly girls in the audience would start screaming during one of Chris Mercer’s solos and I’d turn round and see that Marc had popped his head round the corner of the stage,” Mick remembers.
The hit changed the course of events for Gonzalez, as it moved them away from the club circuit where they’d been playing to 400 people a night and into the 2,000 seater ballrooms. “The crowds then would come just to hear the single and the D.J’s in the clubs would tell us to get on and play it and get off again and not hang about because the audiences there were only used to seeing people miming to their hits anyway,” says Mick.
Gonzalez soldiered on regardless, only finally calling it a day after the death from cancer of Roy Davies in 1986. all the band had lucrative work with other musicians and in the studios to fall back on.
And had it not been for the Japanese, the story of Gonzalez might have ended there with the band remaining just a happy memory for those lucky enough to have seen them at their best.
But in the mid-’90s the track “Rissoled”, originally from the “Our Only Weapon” album resurfaced on a big-selling Japanese dance compilation CD prompting latter-day Gonzalez bass player Kuma Harada to issue an invitation to his old colleagues to come and join him in the Far East to play again and maybe even to record some new stuff.
“I don’t know about the rest of the band but I’d be sorely tempted to get on a plane and do it whenever I next need some duty frees to keep my smokers cough going,” wheezes a happy Mick Eve.
GONZALEZ-GONZALEZ/OUR ONLY WEAPON IS OUR MUSIC…Plus
1. PACK IT UP ( Chandler, Gonzalez) 1974
2.CLAPHAM SOUTH ( Gregory) 1974
3. NO WAY ( Eve, Gonzalez) 1974
4. ADELANTO NIGHTRIDE ( Mercer) 1974
5. UNDERGROUND RAILROAD (Harper) 1974
6. GONZALEZ ( Gonzalez) 1974
7. TOGETHER FOREVER ( Davies) 1974
8. SAOCO ( Ramon Paz) 1974
9. FUNKY FRITH STREET ( Gonzalez) 1974
10. GOT MY EYE ON YOU ( Miles, Marshall) 1975
11. DE ME LA COSA CARAMBA ( Davies, Steele) 1975 solos Malcolm/Robert
12. THE LOVE YOU’VE GIVEN ME ( Rimson) Solos – Chris/ Ron 1975
13 AIN’T IT FUNNY ( Hunte) 1975 Solos – Lance/ Chris
14. RISSOLED ( Gonzalez) 1975
15. NOTHING EVER COMES THAT EASY ( Finesilver) 1975 Solos Gordon/ Mick
16. AHWAI FIVE-O ( Ahwai) 1975 Solos Bud/ Steve/ Robert
17. D.N.S (Hunte, Zakatek) 1975
18. LOVE ME, LOVE ME NOT ( Zakatek, Hunte) Solo – Steve 1975
19. OUR ONLY WEAPON IS OUR MUSIC ( Mercer) 1975 Solo – Chris
20. I HAVEN’T STOPPED DANCING YET . Bonus Track. ( Gloria Jones) 1977. Hit single version.