Never judge a book by its cover, and never judge a band by it’s name. Because despite their rather unsavoury epithet Fresh Maggots were neither a punk or grunge band, but were a forward thinking melodic Folk Rock duo from Nuneaton circa 1971. Pete Chambers Investigates!
Leigh Dolphin and Mick Burgoyne had been friends for many years, both keen guitarists, with Leigh favouring a finger-style acoustic and Mick the electric. They often went for weekends in places like Breen Down, Linton and Lynmouth and would always take their instruments and play the local Cafe’s. By some strange chance in 1970, the guys were playing a cafe’ in Lynmouth when they were approached by a group who called themselves Boots who also came from Nuneaton! The band asked Mick & Leigh to support them on their next booking, the answer was of course yes! So the hunt for a good name began, whilst reading the Tribune they spotted an advert for Riley’s Sports shop proclaiming “Fresh Maggots always available” and that was it, the name was decided.
Another lucky break was to come their way, because at that very same gig in Wolvey Village Hall was none other than Mike Berry (this guy was from Sparta Florida music not to be confused with the singer/actor Mike Berry). He had liked what he had heard and offered them a chance to demo their material in London. Just a week later and the guys were signing a publishing contract in his Oxford Street office. “It took a while before we got an actual recording contract,” admits Leigh, Mike takes up the story. “We were playing a gig in Coventry during the set there was a power cut. I had a transistor amplifier that ran on batteries, which I used to tune up with so we carried on the set. Afterwards two blokes came and told us they were from RCA. A week later we were in London signing the record contract”.
Their one and only album was recorded over a period of a several months at The Radio Luxembourg studios in London. What came out of those sessions was a unique blend of melodic acoustic folk juxtaposed with screaming fuzzed electric guitar all topped off by Mick’s pure vocal style! It may sound a recipe for disaster but the whole thing worked perfectly, stunning guitar work providing the perfect crescendo for the quieter though provoking passages. It’s often hard to believe there are only two people making this music. Having said that one track on the album Night Ride was recorded with a 12 piece string section. Mike again, “The most terrifying was Night Ride, we recorded it at the BBC Aeolian Studios but had to wait for a session being recorded by the BBC symphony orchestra to finish. They asked us if we would play our instruments live, usually a live session means just singing along with a recording of the backing tracks, we agreed. About a dozen musicians in suits and bow ties came in carrying there instruments and were given sheet music. We then realised they were going to add the strings live. During the tea break they all started discussing our music which was difficult as neither of us read music”. The album cost £1,500 to make (including £700 for the string section). The cover was shot in Blackwater Park in Buckinghamshire and designed by prog-rock cover-king ‘Keef’. It hit the streets in Autumn 1971.
The album started picking up rave reviews, with those who were originally put off by the name being pleasantly surprised with what the heard, and many pundits tipping the duo to be a huge success. Like any band with an album to promote gigging was the order of the day and they supported the likes of Peter Hammill’s Van der Graaf Generator, Medicine Head and John Martyn. They also played two live Radio One shows and the famous Marquee Club supporting Wild Turkey. Despite their success they were reluctant to leave their day jobs, this of course had a negative effect on their career.
“In the winter of 1971 we released our only single Car Song”, reveals Leigh. it was a clapping sing-a-long type thing, the music paper Disc seemed to like it, then our manager Mike got bored with us and moved on, we tried to do it on our own but it was difficult especially with full time jobs and by 1972 we just fizzled out”.
The legend of the ‘Maggots’ never goes away though, many years later the band were regularly being played on American radio, prompting the release of the album on CD in 1995 on Amber-sound. A few months ago, Record Collector ran an article about the band and the talk is that the CD will soon get a new airing. I’ll leave the last words to Leigh , “It was a trip of a lifetime, not a lot of local bands have done it, it was a great experience, it’s amazing how far just one LP and single can take you”!
Fresh Maggots Trivia
- Fresh Maggots were the first band to play live on Radio Luxembourg on Kid Jensen’s show.
- The Song Who’s to Die was inspired by a near fatal car accident in Coventry’s Eagle Street, and the title of the song Rosemary Hill was inspired by the Kenilworth road of the same name.
- Johnny Walker had their album as Record of the Week and played a track each day!
- A Fresh Maggots LP in mint condition would set you back £350.00, Leigh remembers seeing them in the sale bin In Nuneaton Woollies for 50p. “I can’t believe I never bought any.” He admits.
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