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David John & The Mood

Though they only released a handful of singles in the mid-'60s, David John & the Mood's brash version of British R&B made them cult favorites in the decades that followed. Those singles -- 1964's "Pretty Thing" and 1965's "Bring It to Jerome" and "Diggin' for Gold" -- were equally defined by John's piercing, raspy tenor and the band's raw attack, which was inspired by American heroes like Bo Diddley and Jimmy Reed and shaped by producers like Shel Talmy and Joe Meek. While they didn't have much commercial success during their lifespan (and their management woes didn't help), their small body of work was so gripping that by the '70s, their singles were highly sought-after collectors' items and their songs appeared on compilations like Pebbles, Vol 6: The Roots of Mod. David John & the Mood finally got their due with 2023's Diggin' for Gold: Joe Meek's Tea Chest Tapes, a collection of their recordings with a focus on their time with the one-of-a-kind producer. Born in Preston, Lancashire, David John Smith fell in love with rock 'n' roll as a teenager during the 1950s, and often assisted local acts such as the Bobcats with setting up their equipment at shows. One of the biggest helping hands he gave to a band was in late 1962, when he wrote to the BBC suggesting that the broadcasting company put a group he had seen on his lunch hour on television. That group happened to be the Beatles, and Smith's letter-writing campaign resulted in the band's first national media attention. Paul McCartney befriended Smith, giving him the stage name David John (previously, Smith had gone by his nickname Miffy). By that time, David John had started singing with two of Preston's leading rock bands, the Thunderbeats and the Falcons, and brought the influence of John Lee Hooker, Jimmy Reed and Bo Diddley to both groups' music. Eventually, David John & the Mood -- named for their singer's captivating effect on audiences -- was formed by members of each band, with bassist/vocalist John Brierley and rhythm guitarist Peter Atkinson (the Thunderbeats) and lead guitarist/harmonica player Peter Illingworth and drummer Fred Isherwood (the Falcons). With the band's lineup finalized in early 1964, David John & the Mood made a name for themselves as a live act playing shows at venues such as the Queens Hall in Preston. Eric Easton, one of the Rolling Stones' managers at the time along with Andrew Loog Oldham, took an interest in David John & the Mood and had them record their debut single. Working at London's Regent Sound studio with producer Shel Talmy (and Mick Jagger on maracas), they cut a version of Diddley's "Pretty Thing." The B-side, "To Catch That Man," was an original song the band credited to W.C. Charnley (Charnley was the name of the street where their managers' office was located; W.C. stood for "water closet"). "Pretty Thing"/"To Catch That Man" appeared in May 1964 on Decca's Vocalion imprint, around the same time the label released David Bowie's debut single "Liza Jane" (as Davie Jones & the King Bees), leading some to think that David John was another Bowie alias for many years. David John & the Mood supported the single by joining a package tour with the Stones and Peter & Gordon where they played their own sets and accompanied another artist on the bill, singer Julie Grant. Though working with Easton allowed them to play to crowds in the thousands and perform on television, the group felt they were being treated as a backing band rather than artists in their own right, and left the Eric Easton Organisation at the end of the tour. Working with manager Captain Kevin Beery, David John & the Mood continued to play London clubs such as the Crawdaddy and Eel Pie Island and appeared with Hooker, the Yardbirds, and Sonny Boy Williamson. Beery got them a gig opening for P.J. Proby, but when Proby was displeased with his share of the money from the tour's opening night, he didn't appear for the second date and demanded his fee upfront on the third; the tour was canceled. Beery then introduced the band to Yardbirds manager Giorgio Gomelsky, who secured shows at the influential Ricky Tick club as well as other London venues. Gomelsky wanted David John & the Mood to make a record with him, but they decided to work with groundbreaking producer Joe Meek instead -- a choice that resulted in them being effectively banned from London's clubs. Working at Meek's 304 Holloway Road studio, the band's sessions employed some of his unusual techniques: Another Diddley cover, "Bring It to Jerome," featured an extra percussive punch that came from dropping the chain from a toilet onto a biscuit tin. Arriving in March 1965 on Parlophone, "Bring It to Jerome"/"I Love to See You Strut" became the band's best-selling single, but it failed to chart. Unable to get a gig in London, David John & the Mood returned to Lancashire and paid to be released from their contract with Gomelsky. A last-minute show filling in for the Hollies at the Nelson Ballroom led to another management deal with the venue's owners, Nelson Imperial Agency. While they played local shows, they continued to record with Meek in London. Their third single, "Diggin' for Gold"/"She's Fine," was released by Parlophone in July 1965; though it received some airplay on the then-pirate radio station Radio Caroline and was used on an American television series, it didn't make much of an impact. The lack of support from their management added to their frustration, and David John & the Mood disbanded in early 1966. After the band's breakup, most of its members left the music industry: Brierley joined the police force, Isherwood joined the Merchant Navy, and Atkinson went into retail. David John continued with music for a time, working with guitarist Dave Millin at the studio/label/collective Holyground on the 1971 limited-edition album Astral Navigations. Illingworth had the most success with his post-Mood career. He performed with the hard psych-rock outfit Purple Haze, which changed its name to Little Free Rock and released a self-titled album in 1969 (a collection of previously unreleased material, Nirvanating Nervesounds, appeared in 2015). As time went on, David John & the Mood's reputation as one of the fiercest British R&B bands of the '60s grew, and their singles appeared on compilations including English Freakbeat, Vol. 6, Trans-World Punk, Vol. 2, and Pebbles, Vol 6: The Roots of Mod. The definitive document of the band's work arrived in July 2023 with Cherry Red's Diggin' for Gold: Joe Meek's Tea Chest Tapes, one of the early volumes of material unearthed from the producer's massive collection of unedited sessions that the label purchased in 2020. Along with David John & the Mood's three singles, the collection included unreleased material as well as instrumental and alternate versions of their output.
© Heather Phares /TiVo


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