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Welsh hard rockers Budgie are often cited as one of the first U.K. heavy metal bands, known for their dark, blues-infused sound built from gloomy melodies and fierce guitar riffs. Along with Led Zeppelin and Black Sabbath, Budgie made music that hit harder than their peers, and without the smiling disposition that was common among bands of the psychedelic era. Budgie's first albums -- 1971's Budgie, 1972's Squawk, and 1973's Never Turn Your Back on a Friend -- made them stars in the U.K. and cult heroes in America with their blunt power trio attack. Although they broke up in the late '80s, a resurgence in interest (prompted in part by Metallica citing them as an influence and covering their songs) led to a reunion that produced the 2006 album You're All Living in Cuckooland. Budgie was formed in Cardiff, Wales in 1967 by bassist and lead singer Burke Shelley, guitarist and singer Tony Bourge, and drummer Ray Phillips. Originally playing out under the name Hills Contemporary Grass, they began gigging locally in 1968, and within a year had recorded their first demo tape. By this time, they had dropped the name Hills Contemporary Grass, and after briefly trading under the name Six Ton Budgie, they shortened it to Budgie, liking the contrast of the heaviness of their sound and the small bird that lent them their name. The British branch of MCA Records signed Budgie to a record deal, and their debut album, simply titled Budgie, was issued in 1971; it was produced by Rodger Bain, who had helped Black Sabbath capture their overpowering sound on their early releases. Budgie returned to the studio with Bain for their second LP, 1972's Squawk, another exercise in heavy rock that would go gold in the United Kingdom, though the band's U.S. label, Kapp Records, had little success promoting them in America. Budgie's third album, Never Turn Your Back on a Friend, initially wasn't even released in the United States, as Kapp was going out of business, but it fared better in the U.K., producing two of the band's best known songs, "Breadfan" and "You're the Biggest Thing Since Powdered Milk." (Playfully eccentric song titles would become one of Budgie's trademarks.) Between the release of Budgie's third album and beginning work on their fourth, Ray Phillips left the band, and Pete Boot was behind the drumkit when they recorded 1974's In for the Kill!, though one of the album's most popular songs, "Crash Course in Brain Surgery," was actually an outtake from a 1971 session. By this time, Kapp had been absorbed by MCA, and the LP was released in the United States, though sales weren't impressive. Pete Boot's time in Budgie was short, and Steve Williams had taken his place for the recording of 1975's Bandolier. MCA's American branch had seemingly lost enthusiasm for the band, and nearly a year after Bandolier appeared in the U.K. and Europe, it was issued in the U.S. by A&M Records, which would also issue 1976's If I Were Brittania I'd Waive the Rules. While the band remained a trio in the studio, in 1975 they added a second guitarist for touring, Myf Isaac. Budgie's seventh album, Impeckable, was released internationally by A&M in 1978, though the year proved to be difficult for the band. Founding guitarist Tony Bourge and touring member Myf Isaac both left the band, replaced by guitarists Robert Kendrick (ex-Trapeze) and Huw Lloyd-Langton (previously of Hawkwind). Kendrick and Lloyd-Langton didn't get along, and within a year Kendrick convinced the other bandmembers to fire him. Around this time, A&M dropped Budgie, and in 1979, Kendrick left the group, with "Big" John Thomas taking his place on guitar. They landed a new recording contract with Active Records, a British offshoot of RCA focusing on hard rock and metal acts. Their first album for Active was 1980's Power Supply, followed by 1981's Nightflight and 1982's Deliver Us from Evil (the latter saw the band adding a keyboard player, Duncan Mackay). By 1983, Budgie were once again without a record label, though they still found work as a live act. Many bands on the New Wave of British Heavy Metal scene cited Budgie as an influence, especially Iron Maiden, winning them some new fans. They also landed a spot as an opening act on Ozzy Osbourne's 1981-1982 world tour, and maintained a cult following in the United States, particularly in Texas, long a market friendly to hard rock. In time, Budgie ran out of momentum, and in 1987, they broke up. Just as Budgie was seemingly over and done with, longtime fans Metallica began citing the band as a major inspiration. In 1987, they recorded a cover of "Crash Course in Brain Surgery" for The $5.98 E.P.: Garage Days Re-Revisited, and in 1988, their version of "Breadfan" popped up as a B-side to their single "Harvester of Sorrow." Other metal and hard rock acts were also covering Budgie's work and namechecking the band, including Soundgarden, Alice in Chains, the Melvins, and Megadeth, and in 1995, Burke Shelley assembled a new lineup of Budgie to play a handful of festival dates. In 1999, Shelley officially re-launched the band, with Simon Lees on guitar and Steve Williams on drums; the reunion coincided with the release of a number of live and archival albums, including 1997's We Came, We Saw: Live on the BBC, 1998's Heavier Than Air: Live on the BBC , and 2002's Live in San Antonio. 2006 brought a proper reunion album from Budgie, a ten-song studio effort titled You're All Living in Cuckooland. In 2007, Simon Lees resigned to launch a solo career, and former Dio guitarist Craig Goldy was his replacement. In November 2010, Budgie were in the midst of a tour of Eastern Europe when Burke Shelley suffered an aortic aneurysm that forced him to cancel the remaining dates and return home. He would soon be diagnosed with Stickler syndrome, an ailment impacting the body's connective tissues, and he would struggle with poor health until his death on January 10, 2022, at the age of 71, effectively bringing Budgie to a close.
© Mark Deming /TiVo


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