BRAND X

The circumstances surrounding the genesis of Brand X are lost in the mists of time. Suffice to say that, some time in 1975, its various members ran into one another in a recording studio and made an album so obscure no-one seems to have a copy of it: 'The Eddie Howell Gramophone Record' (later released as the 'Man from Manhattan'). The musicians on this recording were:

  • Robin Lumley - keyboards
  • John Goodsall - guitars
  • Percy Jones - bass
  • Phil Collins - drums amd
  • Jack Lancaster - various wind instruments

Of course, in the same year, Collins and Jones had worked together on the Brian Eno album 'Another Green World' which may have had something to do with it. But, anyway, connections were being made through the spring and summer of 1975 which resulted in the band (now minus Lancaster) performing two gigs in December 1975 along with various recording sessions. This then translated into another, rather more official, recording released in July 1976: 'Unorthodox Behaviour'; released on Genesis's then label, Charisma. More scattered gigs ensued as Phil attempted to fit them into to his usually hectic Genesis schedule (i.e. between the Trick of the Tail tour and recording Wind & Wuthering).

The fruits of some more snatched recording sessions in December 76 and January 77 were released in April 1977 when 'Moroccan Roll' was issued, again on Charisma. Now though, Phil had to give pride of place to Genesis recording and touring and other drummers slipped onto the drum stool. However, in November 77 a live album, 'Livestock', was released which featured Phil on three of the five tracks (recorded at Ronnie Scott's in September 76, Hammersmith Odeon on 12th November 1976 and the Marquee Club in April 77).

In September 1978, the album 'Masques' was released, sans Collins, and an autumn tour took place.

In the Spring of 1979, Phil rejoined for the making of 'Product', recorded at Ringo Starr's Startling Studios in Ascot, Berkshire (previously John Lennon's house, Tittenhurst Park, where the film for the 'Imagine' single was made). Apart from the end result, these sessions were signifcant for Phil as they involved two 'firsts':

  • his first use of a drum machine
  • his first use of his home 8-track to record demos then used in a studio

The album's release in May 1979 was followed by a brief tour on which Phil played, which took in two dates in the UK and a quick thrash round the more sophisticated music cities of the USA.

From then on, the history of Brand X drifts away with a series of albums culled from earlier sessions involving Phil (i.e. 1980 - 'Do They Hurt?' [Product sessions]; 1982 - 'Is There Anything About?' [various earlier sessions]), compilations (1986 - Xtrax, 1992 - The Plot Thins, etc.) and a live album (1996 - Live at the Roxy).

In 1997, a reunion tour took in the UK, Italy and Germany in a hectic few weeks in May and June (between the two halves of the 'Dance into the Light' World Tour). At the same time two more albums emerged from dust covered Brand X archives: 'The X-Files' and 'Brand X: A History 1976-80'. They are clearly being bred in captivity somewhere.

In its disjointed early days, Brand X gave Phil an outlet for his interests in jazz-fusion music which had been triggered by his love for bands such as Weather Report and the Mahavishnu Orchestra.

For more information about Brand X albums click on the links below (ones marked * feature Phil in whole or in part):

Further information about the band can be gleaned from Chris Welch's sleeve notes to the 1992 release, 'The Plot Thins':

Freedom! Ah yes, a heady wine, and one that we don't always appreciate until we've drunk too deeply, and lost it. Freedom to experiment and play the music that appealed to hearts and minds, was one of the fringe benefits rock musicians enjoyed during the Seventies. Before the winds of change blew through "the music business, "it was possible to create hugely successful commercial rock bands, AND find room for imaginative, creative diversions too.

Brand X was one such unique gathering of like-minded musicians. For them the joy of playing and writing together was the main motivation. The fact that the band became extremely successful, sold lots of albums, toured extensively and won many popularity polls showed that music for its own sake, could still find an audi-ence, even in the punk era.

Not that Brand X was a bunch of faceless, character-less musos, intent on gloomy self-indulgence. Indeed the band was noted for its desire to communicate, and a crazed sense of humour! Brand X played jazz-rock, but that didn't mean they surfed on a tide of flash. Amidst the waves of improvisation, and complex arrangements there were vocals and themes that a rock audience could relate to and enjoy.

The band enlisted a great number of players in a shifting personnel, during its seven year existence, but two of the most important figures were keyboards player and producer Robin Lumley, and that bearded, long haired young drummer/vocalist Phil Collins! Indeed Brand X became known as "Phil's other band" during the late Seventies, when he was seen dashing up and down the streets of Soho, London, in search of fulfilment. Fronting and backing Genesis would be hard enough, but full of energy and enthusiasm, Phil lent all his powers to the musicians' collective that was dubbed Brand X.

Some fifteen years after the band finally broke up, there has been a burst of re-newed interest in the music they made together. It still sounds fresh and invigorating, and the original vinyl albums, released on the Charisma label, have been re-issued by Virgin on CD with great success. This compilation celebrates the history of the band that had its roots in casual jam sessions.

Back in 1974 guitarist John Goodsall was rehearsing a funky Average White Band-style outfit, when he bumped into keyboard player Robin Lumley who had been rehearsing an album project with bass player Percy Jones. They teamed up and the new, band began rehearsing at Island Studios. The head of A&R at Island, ex-Melody Maker critic Richard Williams encouraged the new project, and as they were still unnamed, jotted down into the studio diary: "Brand X." The name stuck. Their first drummer was Phil Spinelli, but when he decided to concentrate on singing, Phil Collins came along for a blow, enjoyed himself and decided to stay. Although Phil was already committed to Genesis, where he had taken over as lead singer from Peter Gabriel, he felt he could fit in recording dates and gigs with the alternative project. It gave him a chance to get his rocks off, for Phil was a supremely inventive contemporary jazz drummer.

Although Brand X recorded an album under Richard's auspices at Island, it was never released. Their musical direction had under-gone a sea change. The early soul-funk policy was replaced by a firmer jazz-rock direction, and they recorded a new album for Charisma. Lumley, Goodsall, and Jones were signed by Genesis' manager Tony Smith and the band was put on a firm footing. The first album was called "Unorthodox Behaviour" and reached the top thirty. The band started gigging and two weeks at Ronnie Scott's Club, established their credentials. They took on board an extra percussionist Morris Pert and they released a new album "Moroccan Roll." The band's fame spread and they embarked on a U.S. and Canadian tour in 1977 where fans welcomed this gifted, unusual concept with open ears.

By then however Phil was too busy with Genesis work to tour with Brand X and he was replaced by a deputy, Kenwood Dennard. More jazz festivals and club gigs followed, and during one show supporting Peter Gabriel in Paris Brand X played to 115,000 people.

The band was voted Best Jazz Act in various polls, while Percy Jones was voted Best Bassist and Robin Lumley Best new Keyboardist. By 1978 Lumley was much in demand as a producer and like Phil, took on a deputy, Peter Robinson, keyboard player from the Stanley Clarke Band, while new drummer Chuck Burghi came in from AI DiMeola's group. A live album "Livestock" was followed by a new studio album "Masques." (1978) This included Chuck on drums and was produced by Lumley.

After more American tours, Phil and Robin returned as full time players and recorded in most unusual fashion. Two versions of the same band recorded in the same studio - at the same time! This involved yet another dep drummer Mike Clarke, playing with Peter Robinson and Percy Jones.

The "other" version featured Collins, Lumley and Goodsall with bass player John Giblin. This relay team was ensconced in Ringo Starr's studio, and worked 24 hours a day for a month, in two shifts, as The Day Band and the Night Band! With the musicians becoming inter-changeable on each other's sessions, the result was some 20 titles, some of which were used on the 1979 album "Product." The following year a second album from these sessions was released called "Do They Hurt?" More tours followed, then came the final album, recorded for CBS in 1981 called "is There Anything About." The band felt they had reached the end of a creative cycle and split up after seven years and seven albums.

Robin Lumley has happy memories of those far off days and says: "It was great that everyone really got on well, from beginning to end. Funnily enough there was never really a leader. People recognised Phil as a figure head and he had his own status, but generally it was a band without a boss. We were all very good friends socially, and we all shared the same sense of humour. Yes, there were some very silly episodes with Super Glue on the road! I refuse to take all the blame for that. But I did manage to get some industrial strength glue that was used for sticking aeroplanes together. So as far as sticking hotel room furniture to the ceiling was concerned - that was easy!"

Robin feels the band had most fun when he and Phil were both in evidence, but explains that Brand X didn't break up because of the usual "musical differences."

"The fact is we wore it out. We certainly didn't hate each other. We could no longer write any-thing together that made us happy and we just got on with other things. Phil of course went into his solo career, which became fantastically successful. The interesting thing is that now the old Brand X records are selling really well. I guess they are appealing to people who have worn out their vinyl copies and want the CDs! We never objected to being called a jazz-Rock band, but really we were playing rock 'n' roll with jazz bits in it. We did all kinds of crazy things. When I came back into the band we decided to keep on my dep, Peter Robinson, because we had such fun together. We built this huge castle of keyboards, about ten of them, which made it look more visual. With two keyboard players we could play all the overdubs live, and we made a joke out of diving in and out of this huge rig. You could probably squash all that lot down into three keyboards now. They used to be a roadie's nightmare!"

Despite all the jokes and on the road lunacy, Brand X got down to some serious music making. It would be hard to image Phil today singing Sanscrit lyrics, as he did on "Sun In The Night" on "Moroccan Roll." Brand X showcased the musicianship of excellent players, not least the innovative Percy Jones, whose mellow and melodic playing give a new dimension to the bass guitar, on pieces like "Masques," and those who have fond memories of Brand X will recall the frantic percussion displays of Morris Pert. He was the man the band said: "Hit everything from the QE2 to Idi Amin and undiscovered parts of Scotland!"

It would be interesting to hear Phil, Robin, Percy & Co. revive the music of Brand X in a live situation. After all, the technology of everything has improved - including the Superglue!

Gigs With Brand X
?.12.75 London School Of Economics London UK
20.12.75 Friars New Addison Centre Bedford UK
30.7.76 Marquee Club London UK
26.8.76 Reading Festival Reading UK
?.9.76 Ronnie Scott's Club London UK
12.11.76 Hammersmith Odeon London UK
15.11.76 Free Trade Hall Manchester UK
20.11.76 New Vic Theatre (With Marscape) London UK
?.4.77 Marquee Club London UK
10.9.77 Fete De L'Humanite La Courneuve Paris France
28.11.77 Old Waldorf Theatre San Francisco USA
?.9.79 Mountford Hall Students Union Liverpool UK
16.9.79 The Venue Club London UK
20.9.79 Old Waldorf Theatre (2 Shows) San Francisco USA
21-23.9.79 Roxy Theatre (2 Shows) Los Angeles USA
25.9.79 Park West (2 Shows) Chicago USA
26.9.79 Bottom Line Club NYC New York USA
30.9.79 Tower Theatre Philadelphia USA
28.10.79 Long Island Coliseum Long Island NY USA
Brand X Tour 1997
14.5.97 Jazz Cafe London UK
18.5.97 Alley Cat Reading UK
20.5.97 Irish Centre Leeds UK
21.5.97 Music Box Manchester UK
25.5.97 Leadmill Sheffield UK
26.5.97 Zodiac Oxford UK
27.5.97 Fleece & Firkin Bristol UK
28.5.97 Arts Centre Colchester UK
3.6.97 Centro Culturale Polivalente Marano Sul Panaro Italy
4.6.97 Stereorainotte Broadcast Rome Italy
5.6.97 Frontiera Rome Italy
6.6.97 Teatro Pasubio Schio (Vi) Italy
7.6.97 Teatro Albatros Genoa Italy
8.6.97 Atlantis Basle Switzerland
9.6.97 Altes Schutzenhaus Stuttgart Germany
10.6.97 Schlachthof Munich Germany
11.6.97 E-Werk Erlangen Germany
12.6.97 Tunnels Cologne Germany
14.6.97 Sumpfblume Hamelin Germany
15.6.97 Sinkhasten Frankfurt Germany

Gig details courtesy of Alan Hewitt's book 'Opening the Music Box: A Genesis Chronicle'.
For further details about the book please go here.