Snafu

TrackAlbum
Don't Keep Me WonderingAll Funked Up
Drowning In The Sea Of LoveSnafu
Funky FriendSnafu
Goodbye USASnafu
Lock And KeyAll Funked Up
No Bitter TasteSituation Normal
Playboy BluesSituation Normal
Ragtime RollSituation Normal
Said He The JudgeSnafu
That's The SongSnafu

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Contributor: Rob Millis

I was thrilled recently to play a couple of gigs at London’s most cherished jazz club, Ronnie Scott’s. Thrilled because I am no jazzer at all. I’m a bare bones R&B organist; a rock & roller. Ronnie Scott’s is a place where people like me go as punters. The late organist Jimmy McGriff and New Orleans genius Allen Toussaint are the kind of people I go to Ronnie Scott’s to see. Me? Play there? Gosh. We (“we” being the Ali Maas Band) were opening up for Mud Morganfield, eldest son of Muddy Waters, so it all made sense – they wanted a bluesy night. On guitar in Mud’s band was to be Micky Moody, late of Whitesnake of course, but a fine player at anything from fingerpicked country blues through to ear-splitting rock. But always with an American feel, an easy groove – there’s no “stiff” British vibe about Micky.

Despite Micky working regularly with two mates of mine (Ali Maas and guitar maestro Papa George) and being a resident of nearby Twickenham, thus no stranger at all to the various local watering holes that still have live music, it was in the soundchecks at Ronnie Scott’s that I first had the chance to have a decent natter with Micky. He paid me a lovely compliment on the Wurlitzer electric piano sound I’d been using on my Nord keyboard (I chickened out of trying to take a Hammond on the Underground). Said he was a sucker for that sound, that it reminded him of Little Feat.

A light bulb went on. Cogs meshed, and pulley wheels dropped onto rubber drive belts. Snafu! The British funky, rootsy band of the early to mid seventies that Micky had been in, along with Pete Solley (keyboards and fiddle), Colin Gibson (bass), Bobby Harrison (vocals) and Terry Popple (drums). One of the least British sounding bands you’ll ever hear, with big dollops of Americana in their sound. And in the late nineties, singer Harrison toyed with the idea of reviving the name Snafu. It only got as far as rehearsals in the end, and I was the keyboard player! I told Micky this and we had a good chinwag about Snafu.

Artwork by Roger Dean was about the only typically British rock ingredient of the self-titled debut LP issued on WWA Records in 1973. Far more telling was the band’s name logo, which had a distinctly “Griffinian” West Coast vibe. Moody’s rootsy guitar contrasted with the switch between Hammond, Wurly piano and country fiddle of Pete Solley, the amazingly funky rhythm section keeping things distinctly Transatlantic in feel, and Harrison’s big voice (Harrison had been an early member of Procol Harum on drums, then been lead vocalist from behind the kit in bluesy trio Freedom, before changing focus just to vocals) soaring over the top effortlessly. The LP opened strongly with Long Gone, a slow riffy number underpinned by exactly the kind of electric piano Micky and I had been discussing, but as the years have gone I find other moments of the LP to be more rewarding, and we’ve only got five selections. I’ll take Drowning In The Sea Of Love (the old Gamble/Huff stalwart) to kick off the Topper 10, along with the Hard To Handle-esque, funky That’s The Song. Two soulful selections that closed a side of the LP each.

Said He The Judge is fantastic, full of those old Bessie Smith type chord changes under the vocals but in a Band-cum-Little Feat-style framework, and those conversational lyrics that remind one of the Dead’s Dupree’s Diamond Blues (conversation with a judge) or Bernie Taupin’s lyric for Son Of Your Father (Tumbleweed Connection track; another prime slice of Anglo-Americana). The American influence continues with the aptly named Goodbye USA, telling of their experiences on tour but also of a longing to be home, with vocal harmonies reminiscent of Steely Dan and some synthesiser passages from Solley sounding like a second cousin to Welsh band Man, another act known for sounding uncannily American.

I’m not one for five choices from an LP generally but I’ll have one more: Funky Friend for its delicious combination of Moody’s chomping rhythm guitar (note to Brits: that’s how you play rhythm guitar, okay? Like Micky Moody does on this song. Got it?) and Solley’s hoedown fiddle.

Solley’s fiddle and general influence was to come to the fore more on second LP Situation Normal (of course, the first two words of the old army saying of which S.N.A.F.U. is an acronym – Situation Normal: All Fucked Up), which again was very American sounding. Playboy Blues, a lengthy cut, has more of that slow burning funk with clavinet from Solley and before each chorus a beautiful bit of guitar from Moody that can only be described as “Abbey Road in four seconds”! From this LP we’ll also take No Bitter Taste, a gorgeous country ballad opening with Solley’s best barroom piano and bottleneck work from Moody that might even be a pedal steel (I must ask him). As ever, vocal harmonies are strong, especially on rollicking closer Ragtime Roll and its gorgeous half-time choruses.

Despite more Stateside touring, Snafu were not taking off and the departure of Solley – such a crucial ingredient owing to his ability to play fiddle or his arsenal of keyboards – to Procol Harum after the second LP must have been a blow, particularly for Bobby Harrison who’d been fired from that band just as they hit big time!), The band soldiered on for one more LP, All Funked Up with keyboards from Brian Chatton and the gregarious Tim Hinkley. The LP is a pleasant listen but you can hear them scratching around for ideas: one recycled track, two soul/blues covers and an awful lot of clever sounding but directionless funk. Let’s take two strong moments and wrap up.

Don’t Keep Me Wondering is an Allman Brothers song reimagined in a measured, funkier vein; Gibson’s bass playing is worth the price of admission alone. Lock And Key had been a slide guitar and vocal workout on Situation Normal, here re-recorded as a full band song and I think it weathered the transition well. Micky Moody’s bottleneck work is as you would expect it to be – flawless and exciting.

Around this time Moody got the call from post-Purple David Coverdale and the rest is history – as was (after wrapping up any remaining dates with Clem Clempson on guitar) Snafu: a very brave experiment in that pointedly Stateside direction (funkier than The Band; rootsier than Steely Dan) that very nearly worked, with a standard of musicianship that still holds up beautifully today.

PS – as I finish this, my frequent gigging buddy Nigel Bagge reports he had recently played a Sussex-area gig with Terry Popple drumming. I enquired after how Popple’s playing was and Nige replied “Oh! Loooove-ly!”…

 

Micky Moody wikipedia

Snafu biography (iTunes)

TopperPost #358

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