On the long list of things that make the mid-60s such an idyllic fantasyland to young pups such as I is the prominence of the musicians willing to lug a Hammond organ around seven days a week to play tiny pubs and clubs. There’s nothing like it, that sound, played through a Leslie speaker, swirlin’ and a-whirlin’. Bands these days either aren’t interested or can’t be doing with completing out a risk assessment to carry a ten-ton weight up some stairs and down again when smashed out of their skulls on pints of brandy. Only the other week I witnessed Jim Jones and the Righteous Mind disguise their use of a common-or-garden keyboard by quickly constructing a faux wood contraption to give the impression they were rocking an ancient organ. No backbone these bands. Or maybe it’s the old timers like Zoot Money who no longer have one; years of poor manual handling practices taking their toll.
Some of the hard labours Zoot Money and his Big Roll Band put in are collated in Big Time Operator, a new 4-CD boxset, boasting their entire (original period) recorded output plus gigs and live performances for the BBC.
It’s clear Money comes alive whenever in front of an audience as the ebullient 1966 performance on Live at Klook’s Kleek which opens disc one demonstrates. You can almost feel the sweat of the band, the condensation running down the walls, as the audience soul-clap along to Ray Charles, Otis Redding and Curtis Mayfield numbers and go crazy for a throaty James Brown medley. This is an archetypal Hammond and horns stew, London (via Bournemouth) style, yet despite their full-blooded rambunctiousness the occasional use of flute, included on the fabulous instrumental ‘Florence of Arabia’, adds a shade of subtlety. The night closes with ‘Barefootin’’, a song Zoot would frequently take literally and remove not only his shoes but those of as many members of the audience he could, a procedure that invariably turned to chaos as Denson’s and Mary Janes flew through the air.
This colourful showmanship defined Zoot’s shows. You were gonna shout and shimmy, have fun, and Zoot would make you laugh even if it detracted from the band’s musicianship. Georgie Fame exuded an air of stand-offish cool sophistication; Graham Bond and his Organisation were dangerously unhinged madmen loaded with violent virtuosity; Brian Auger was happy to share the spotlight; George Bruno Money, meanwhile, jumped on tables, leaped on cars at festivals, gurned, dropped his trousers and knocked over glasses of whisky and Coke.
Another show from the same year, Live at The Flamingo, the venue where the band took over Georgie Fame and the Blue Flames' residency, features on disc two. The nineteen songs, all different from the Klook’s set, recorded by saxophonist Nick Newall on a Grundig tape recorder with two little plastic microphones barely a foot apart on the stage, are a riot of raucous rhythm and soul. Despite the low-tech recording technique the sound quality is very good and captures the atmosphere superbly as they tear through ‘Oh Mom (Teach Me How To Uncle Willie)’, a rip-roaring ‘Hallelujah I Love Her So’, ‘Hide Nor Hair’, ‘Ain’t That Peculiar’ and more. Although the band’s main preoccupation was unearthing American recordings to bring to British audiences they did, with the help of Tony Colton, have a few fine original numbers. ‘Big Time Operator’ the most obvious, gave the band their only chart single; the record buying public weren’t entirely stupid, it was by far the most hit-sounding. The mod-club friendly ‘Train Train’ could’ve been another but sadly was never completed in the studio.
Disc three’s Live At The BBC is wonderful. Eighteen songs (including many not appearing elsewhere in the box – ‘Picture Me Gone’, ‘I Can’t Turn You Loose’, ‘The Morning After’, ‘Cool Jerk’, ‘Ain’t That Love’, ‘You Can’t Sit Down’ etc) with plenty of chat with presenter Brian Matthew. By January 1967, Zoot’s discussing his interest in the emerging psychedelic scene, only to then perform ‘The Star of the Show’, which belongs in the same chicken in a basket cabaret bag as ‘Ballad of Bonnie and Clyde’ and ‘Simon Smith and his Amazing Dancing Bear’; even Brian Mathew cheekily ribs Zoot about its chart failure and being ‘best forgotten’. Within months Zoot got with-it, bought a kaftan, the Big Roll Band lost a few wheels, painted their equipment white and rode into the burgeoning underground scene as Dantalion’s Chariot on a wave of LSD.
Back to 1965 and It Should’ve Been Me, the Big Roll Band’s solitary studio album, is placed on the disc four; a typical collection of rhythm and blues tunes with a touch of jazz (John Patton’s ‘Along Came John’ and Jimmy Smith’s ‘The Cat’). Compared to the flat sounding lookalike reissue I’ve had for years it sounds miles better and comes to life in way I’d not expected (vinyl is not always king kids). ‘I’ll Go Crazy’ and ‘Jump Back’ get things off to a storming start and apart from a couple of bluesy numbers that drag it’s enjoyable if seldom catching the personality of the band like the live recordings.
Across the discs are spread the rest of the band’s singles, B-sides, EP tracks and rarities. Housed in a hardback book-style package with Zoot providing a track-by-track commentary plus guitarist Andy Somers/Summers sharing his Flamingo Club memories, the set is the same style as Repertoire’s Graham Bond Organisation: Wade In The Water and makes a welcome companion.
Zoot Money’s Big Roll Band haven't been as well served by the reissue market as their peers so Big Time Operator puts that straight. Nearly five hours of music, over 80 songs (very few repeated), the much-missed Brian Matthew brought back to life, and Zoot and co having the time of their lives, this joyful stuff. With no danger of losing your shoes, getting drinks spilled on your new strides or having a bulky Hammond player land on your head, enjoy Big Time Operator from the safety of your own home now.
Big Time Operator by Zoot Money’s Big Roll Band is out now on Repertoire.