The Story of Mirkwood At the heart of Mirkwood, is the relationship between Mick Morris and Jack Castle. They first met at the Grammar School in Dover in the mid 50's where they both had led their own bands. They have remained close friends ever since.
Inspired by bands like Buddy Holly, Rick Nelson, and The Shadows, Mick and Jack both played lead guitar in, and created, a series of rival rock bands in Dover. Including: -
1957 The original Rolling Stones Mick Morris talks rocks early days in Dover and The (other) Rolling Stones (until 1962, when a certain Mick Jagger and friends made the name famous with a different group!) - The Vikings - Carl and the Invaders
The Playboys: Were employed as the house band at a club in Folkestone. During this period they shared the bill (and the dressing room!) with many legendary bands including Cream, John Mayall's Bluesbreakers and the Jimi Hendrix Experience (Noel Redding was a friend of Mick's who had played guitar in a local band The Lonely Ones before seeking fame and fortune in London).
In 1967 Mick invited Jack to join his band Take Five. This was essentially a covers band featuring excellent vocal harmonies. They were very successful, but soon began to look for something more creative and challenging.
After many hours of discussion (mostly in the pub!) the pair decided to create something new. Now influenced by bands like, 'Yes', Deep Purple,' and 'Queen'. They had considerable vocal ability, and were used to writing harmony parts. Take Five, for example, was one of the few bands in the area able to perform the Beach Boys 'Good Vibrations' live on stage. This vocal prowess was to be retained, and fused with double lead guitar playing. The idea of twin leads was inspired by the playing of 'Wishbone Ash', and 'The Eagles'.
Both Mick and Jack were widely recognised as two of the best guitarists in the area. The epic compositions of 'Yes', provided the influence for the creation of original writing in several movements. Being completely blown away after watching “Yes” perform 'Yours is No Disgrace' on Top of the Pops they decided in 1971 that the new band Mirkwood would only play original progressive rock.
Initial line-up of Derek Bowley (lead vocals), Jack Castle and Mick Morris (both guitar and vocals), Steve Smith (drums) and Andy Broadbent (bass). In early 1972 D. Evans was brought in to replace Andy Broadbent, who had moved away from the Dover area. Until their last gig in June 1975 the band played throughout the South East of England including support work to some well-known bands including, Supertramp. Mirkwood got together just once more, in 1978 for a reunion performance at the Marlowe Theatre, Canterbury.
The only 'proper' recording that Mirkwood made was for an album on the Flams Ltd Label (catalogue No PR1067) a local record label owned by John Scott Cree. Recording commenced on 17 January 1973 (not 1971 as reported elsewhere) at Jack's house in Whitfield, Dover on a Revox reel-to-reel tape recorder! The machine was operated by Ron Nunn (hence the initials 'REN' on the back sleeve), he also designed the album's cover. Steve Smith had moved to London by then to engage in session work, but he returned to the band for recording purposes. A mere 99 copies of the album were pressed, the majority ending up with family, friends and local supporters. The equipment used in recording the Mirkwood album consisted of: Burns Short-scale Jazz guitar (with various John Birch mods.) /Sound City Amp (Jack) Gibson SG Deluxe/Fender Stratocaster guitars/ Carlsbro Amp (Mick) Fender precision Bass (with John Birch mods)/ HiWatt Amp (D.) Premier Drums with Paiste & Zildjian cymbals (Steve) The material utilised on the album was culled from the band's first batch of songs: sadly their later material, including many of their finest songs, was not recorded. All that remains of the many compositions written and performed between 1973 and 1975 are some lyric and music sheets and a few very poor quality cassette tapes of live performances.
In 1993 The Mirkwood album was re-pressed by 10th Planet in a limited edition of 500 numbered copies utilising the original artwork. By 2003 the original Flams vinyl copies were changing hands at between £600 and £700 per copy and the 10th Planet limited copies depleted.
The New Album At the end of 2003 specialist German label Amber Soundroom approached the Kent band historian and media consultant Chris Ashman, to try and find the members of Mirkwood, in order to secure a licence to re-release the album on Vinyl. Over the next 3 months some serious bargaining and negotiation ensued. The politics of "to release or not to release" went on for some time.
There are those who believe a rare album should stay rare for its value. There are others who believe that reproductions allow all to share in the beauty of a masterpiece. Behind the scenes Chris hunted high and low for a mint un-played copy of the Mirkwood Album. The Master Tape had been lost along with the original artwork in 1973, when the pressing company went into liquidation. To the rescue came Jackie Bowles of the famous Kent venue The Louis Armstrong Public House in Dover (the favourite haunt of the members of Mirkwood and the musicians of Dover for nigh on 40 years). Her spare copy had sat untouched in her record cabinet since 1973. The realisation that the original recording quality could now be recaptured digitally in Hamburg using the latest technology was too much to miss, so common sense and peace once more reigned and contracts were signed.
For the first time in over 30 years the writers' copyrights were properly registered and published by Cringe Music. The compositions can now be licensed and recorded by other recording artistes.
At last there were affordable Mirkwood albums available for all. Even those collectors sitting on one of the most rare records in the world could buy a playable copy. The fear of playing a record because they might scratch it, gone forever. - Thanks Mirkwood.
2013 with vinly copies stil hard to obtain across the world American specialist label are releasing a limited quantity of new vinyl December 2013 Machu Picchu / M'Lady's (PICCHU3)
In 2008 to celebrate the 35th anniversary of the Mirkwood recording and in memory of the life Ron Nunn, Kent record company Red Admiral Records LLP contracted to release the recording on Compact Disc to ensure the album's future availability.
Mirkwood - Red Admiral Records LLP - REDAD CDA556.
Downloads - Red Admiral Records LLP has released the album for downloads worldwide in all of the popular formats, first available June 2008 from the major download stores.
Album Reviewed in The Classic Rock Society Magazine by Dave Winstanley
Licensed for limited CD pressing and distribution German specialist Garden Of Delights on their sub-label "Thors Hammer" (THCD 004) Distribution in Europe began in October 2008.
Mirkwood - Original album quoted as No.56 of the 200 rarest albums of all time. Nov 2008.' Record Collector'
The Songs and The Musicians
It turned out that Jack was the more prolific songwriter and would often come home from his job as an industrial chemist, sit down just before the band was due to meet, and write a song in time for the rehearsal. He had always written poetry and found that he had a natural ability to produce original songs, often writing four or five, and then choosing the best one.
Jack On Jack and his songs. “Looking back it was one of the most creative times of my life".
The songs on the Mirkwood album were some of the first written.
'Loves Glass of Sunshine', was the first epic song I wrote, featuring four part vocal harmonies, several movements, double lead guitar passages, and extended rock guitar solos. The words to 'Loves Glass' were written in an abstract style to create images and colours, to try and capture the tensions of teenage love. They make no literal sense, yet still convey a deep message.
The second epic I wrote was 'Lavendula', this is the Latin name for Lavender. I happened to be reading a gardening book, and the phrase 'Lavendula coming to ya'… seemed to write itself!! The idea was to contrast the romantic images of love associated with lavender, with the rough and tough world of young love. Once more the song featured the vocal harmonies, fast guitar, slow double lead that was becoming our trademark. Perhaps the most professional sounding song on the album is 'Just Because'. This has a Nirvana like riff, underneath a simple but effective harmony duet between Derek and I. The words are a sad plea of a hard young man, who is looking for something more than violence in his life. The result is tight, and professional, even though its not my favourite song.
The song, 'Clockwise' was always a favourite in the pubs. It's really a story about me. At that time a young man living in suburbia, but longing to live in the mountains or the Lakes or Scotland. I just hate cities, and the clockwise idea tries to capture the dizzy nausea I get from London traffic. 'Take my Love', is a simple blues-rock song. I really wrote it as a filler, to get some up-tempo rock into the programme. The guitar solo is me, it is too long, and the treble is too way up…you should hear me play it now!!
The mystery song on the album is, 'The Vision'. I really cannot remember how I came to write such a strange quasi religious song, or what its about. I'm afraid I do not like it much either!!! The sad thing for me is that so many of my best songs never got recorded. As we gained experience, the music became better and better, and even more advanced. For example two of my most successful songs, 'Father to Son', and '360 to Repent', featured unaccompanied vocal harmony intro's followed by blistering double lead intro's over chords that ascended in semi-tones over a nine four beat! I suppose I must have written more than forty songs for the band. Two of these, 'On my Mind', and 'Softly raining', were beautiful sad ballads, that Derek Bowley, our lead vocalist sang with wonderful feeling. Whenever we played they were always the most requested songs. I have little doubt that they are world-class ballads, modesty was never one of my good points!”
Mick Morris. Whilst Jack made most of the creative song writing input, Mick was at the heart of the band. He is a wonderfully talented musician, and could play everyone else's instrument. This included drums, piano, sax, you name it and Mick would play it. He could always provide the answer to any musical challenge that arose. Mick is also a wonderfully unselfish player, and would always do the right thing for the band and its sound. Whilst Jack's guitar playing was rock and blues influenced, Mick's early heroes were jazz players. You can hear this in the solo Mick plays over the minor seventh passage in 'Just Because', which I think is easily the best guitar solo on the album. Mick is also an excellent lead singer with the ability to put in all those little vocal tricks that make it sound professional. Mick also wrote The Leech.
Derek Bowley is a superb singer, with wonderful tonality, power and accuracy. Usually Derek sang the main tune, Mick the next or middle harmony, with Jack mostly providing the high falsetto over the top. The album does not give due justice to the vocal harmonies which if recorded today, would be stunning.
The band usually had two practices a week. On Fridays they would carry all the gear to Ringwould Village Hall, and rehearse the whole band. The acoustics there were terrible, and when the volume got up, you could hardly hear anything. The band would then console themselves with a pint in the local pub. Mid week, Derek, Mick and Jack would usually meet at Mick's house to rehearse the vocal harmony, spending hours over chords, and harmonies to ensure they were singing correct musical triads. These were always relaxed, enjoyable evenings, and were the key to the band's success.
Andy Broadbent the original bass player was replaced by D. Evans. D.'s playing was always accurate and reliable. He had some superb equipment, probably the best in the band. Deep Purples bass player was one of D.'s influences. D. also did the day-to-day management of the band, handling the accounts and bookings with infinite care and patience.
Steve Smith was the band's first drummer. He joined Mirkwood when he was only 15 or 16, and was a genius on drums. He literally practiced 24 hours a day. Often Steve would play a drum solo as part of the long gigs. His bass pedal work was so fast that several other rival drummers accused him of not using one! By the time the the band made the album Steve had already left to go professional. His replacement in the band was Nick Headon, who later joined The Clash. Mick and Jack recruited Nick into the band, giving him his first real chance to play rock live at the big local venues like Leas Cliff Hall. Jack recalls young Nick sitting in his front room with his drums at the audition. “He was absolutely delighted to join the band. Nick was also an amazingly good player for his age.” Other drummers were Terry Prior and finally Dave Blakey
Jack the Story Teller - I suppose our best nights were at the Louis Armstrong pub in Dover, or L.A. This pub was the definitive musicians place to play, and was run by Bod and Jackie Bowles. Their first love was trad. jazz but they supported us throughout. We ended up playing every Friday night. The pub was often packed to the hilt, and we had a very loyal band of supporters. As a songwriter it was wonderful to hear members of the audience shouting out the names of songs I had written. I remember that after playing and drinking to the small hours we would be so hot and sweaty that we made our way down to Dover beach for a swim. On one occasion I was so far gone that I was rescued and dragged up the beach by a passing troop of scouts, bound for the ferry!! In the end we played our farewell gig at the Louis, and I especially remember how Bod Bowles gave a speech thanking us for all the times we'd appeared at the pub, Mick's got it on tape and it still means a lot. Unfortunately Bod passed away some years back, but Jackie is still running the pub, giving bands a chance. The LA and its story deserves a book of its own.
The Mirkwood album was recorded in my house, in Bewsbury Crescent, Whitfield, near Dover. In effect it was sung and played live. There were no tricks, or special effects, we just sat in a circle and played and sang the numbers. Ron Nunn operated a simple Revox reel-to-reel recorder nearby. I recall that I played a Burns short scale guitar; unfortunately I had very poor effects. The distortion sound in particular comes over as far too loud and treble, though I don't remember it sounding that bad when we played live!! In my defence I can only say the solos went down a storm when we played on stage. There was one interesting moment when after the third try, we had managed to play Lavendula correctly right through. Then the phone rang and we had to start again. Perhaps I should also say a thank you to my wife Jane for her endless support of a fanatical musician. I still play live, but live in South Wales. I do a virtuoso rock guitar act playing Joe Satriani and the rest. If only I had played then, as I play now!
Mick's wife Maggie, and Jane would come to most of the gigs, and they must have sat through hundreds. I recall that on one occasion when we were auditioning drummers in the lounge of my Whitfield house, Jane's skills as a trained nurse were put to the test. There was one very over weight drummer, who set out to play at a pace twice as fast as the band. It turned out that he could not breathe and play the drums at the same time! He simply held his breath. After several verses he got faster and faster, eventually collapsing over his drum kit, cutting open his hand which bled profusely over our lounge carpet. Despite our best attempts to remain professional, Mick and I were convulsed with laughter, while Jane revived him and bandaged his hand. He did not get the job!! I do feel that there were times when the early Mirkwood line up should have gone professional, and that the strength of our songs and musicianship could have carried us a long way. In my case I had a degree in Chemistry and a top job with an American multinational company, so throwing that lot away seemed foolish. Looking back I'm not so sure! We had a better set than many of the progressive bands that made it. I guess we always worried about the money, and we made very little. Yet in the end money was not the constraint, it was time, and the time has passed. I know Mick and I hope that someone out there is still listening to the album, and perhaps it conjures up those hot summer nights in the Louis Armstrong. Thanks to all our friends, especially Ron Nunn, and Bod and Jackie Bowles. Also to the musicians that contributed to the Mirkwood story. ……………Jack Castle - April 2004
The songwriting partnership of Castle and Morris subsequently reunited with D. Evans to form "Easy Action", which enjoyed considerable regional success performing a mixture of original material and cover versions. Covers of two songs plus four original compositions ('Gone Eight Thirty', 'Love Ain't No Fool', 'Sudden Death' and 'I'm Alive') were recorded at Diploma Studios, Chelmsford in November / December 1983 - the master tapes of these sessions still exist but have never been transferred to vinyl, with just a handful of cassettes being made for the band members themselves. Soon after this, Mick left the band and was followed by Jack some time later. Easy Action continued until 1988, by which time D. Evans was the only original member.
Nowadays D. no longer plays on a regular basis. Mick and Jack briefly reunited once again in a new version of Mirkwood in 1985, having persuaded Derek out of retirement and recruited a new bass player and drummer (D. Evans was still in Easy Action and Steve Smith, who had returned from London and given up playing drums, resisted all attempts to lure him back into the fold). However, in 1987 Jack moved to Wales and the band renamed themselves Icebreaker. Mick and Derek continued with Icebreaker until its demise but have always kept in touch with Jack, who still performs as a solo artiste in Wales. Hardly a year goes by when a new Mirkwood album is not discussed.
Summer 2013 Jack and Mick start recording together again. "Mirkwood 2" ????
Jack Castle and Mick Morris have both released solo albums on Red Admiral Records
In the words and copyright of John-Scott-Cree
Come Along Me Lucky Lads (the Louis Boogie)
There’s a place that I really want to be
It’s Dover and it’s Sunday with Bod at The Louis
You’re gonna be glad that you’re there too
So come along me lucky lads let’s be having you
Saturday’s Hard Travellin’, sweet acoustic folk
Friday night it’s Mirkwood, blasting out their rock
Thursdays Bill Barnacle with his BBQ
So come along me lucky lads let’s be having you
Mainstream Wednesdays listen to the band
Ron Nunn gonna tape them all, put them out on Flams
Lunchtime mug of coffee, Radio 2
Do the Mirror Quizword
Haven’t you got homes to go to?
Now in Heaven with your lip in, you can play the Chimes
Along with Louis and the heroes, no more closing times
Save a place for us so we can be there too
Come along me lucky lads let’s be having you