The nucleus of The Web was drawn from the fertile pool of jazz and rock players prevalent around the Bournemouth area during the autumn of 1965. Drummer, vibraphone player and percussionist Lennie Wright from Parkstone was a mainstay of the local jazz scene and the instigator of several popular trios, quartets and quintets. On occasions, visiting acts from London such as saxophonist’s Don Rendell and Tubby Hayes, trumpeter Shake Keane and flautist Johnny Scott sat in with Lennie’s bands at their regular gigs at Le Disque A Go! Go! or the Ritz. Saxophonist Don Fay had played in various jazz bands, including several of Lennie Wright’s combo’s prior to spending a year with the Mann-Hugg Blues Brothers, forerunners of chart toppers Manfred Mann. He had also been a member of the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra. Don was the son of drummer Syd Fay, co-owner of a music shop in Old Christchurch Road with saxophonist Bill Mader and leader of an orchestra that regularly accompanied dancers at the Royal Arcade Ballrooms and tea dances at the Pavilion.
Lennie and Don approached three rock musicians from Poole, drummer Kenny Beveridge, a former Poole Grammar school boy who was originally in Unit Four with Greg Lake, guitarist Tony Edwards, a long-term member of the Kapota All Stars and The Tallmen and bassist Dick Lee-Smith, to form a band they christened Sounds Unique. The last pieces of the jigsaw were Tony Letts on vocals and guitarist Tim Large from The Trackmarks, but they didn’t last. Letts wasn’t replaced and Large made way for Chris Eaves, who was then superseded by Leeds born guitarist and former Bournemouth School for Boys pupil John Eaton who lived in Queens Park. He was also a former member of The Tallmen and spent time in The Indigos with future King Crimson drummer Andrew McCulloch.
The band made an impression locally at Le Disque A Go! Go!, the Westover Ice Rink and the Royal Ballrooms in Boscombe, before undertaking a four month long character building schlep around the RAF bases of Cologne, the clubs of Munich and Garmisch in Bavaria and on a short detour to Salzburg in Switzerland. While they were across the channel in mainland Europe slogging away six nights a week for a pittance, there was talk of a single called “Ride Your Camel” backed with “Another World” being readied for release on the Polydor label, but it never saw the light of day.
On their return in the summer of 1966, they signed a recording contract with the Decca imprint Deram, for a not to be sniffed at £50,000 advance and updated their image by spending two hundred quid on trendy clothes. The Sounds Unique brand was also dropped for a more appropriate name, The Web. At the start of the new year, they relocated to the creative hub of the capital, where London born Tom Harris took over on saxophone from Don Fay, as he defected to Georgie Fame and the Blue Flames. Of more significance, the band also drafted in vocalist John L. Watson, an African / American former airman hailing from Clarksdale, Mississippi. Watson had spent the last three years fronting the curiously labelled John L. Watson and the Hummelflugs, (German for flight of the bumblebee), what’s even more curious is that the bulk of the group were not from Germany, but hailed from Swindon. The newly configured septet heralded another name change to John L. Watson and the Web.
Initially, the band made routine forays back to Bournemouth for engagements at the Pavilion, Papa’s, the Linden Hall Sports Club in Boscombe and Parley Sports Club, as well as making headway on the thriving London circuit under the guidance of their new manager, Laurence Myers. He worked tirelessly securing dates at the hippest clubs in town such as the Revolution, the Scotch of St. James, Blaises, the 100 Club, the Marquee, the Cromwellian where Tom Jones sat in with the band, the Playboy Club where they supported The Peddlers and at the Speakeasy, the favoured hangout for Jimi Hendrix who got up and joined them for a blow. Another gig at the Klooks Kleek club in West Hampstead was a game changer, as they bumped into an old friend from Bournemouth, Zoot Money, who was recording next door at Decca Studios with the producer Mike Vernon.
Vernon liked what he heard and agreed to oversee their debut album, Fully Interlocking, a smorgasbord of themes and off the wall experiments. The record covered a myriad of bases including the pop of “Harold Dubbleyew”, which name checks the then prime minster Harold Wilson and the Queen’s party loving sister Princess Margaret and the herbally conceived “Sunday Joint”, which isn’t about a lump of roasted red meat in case you were wondering. Then there’s the jazz / rock of “Green Side Up”, the balladry of “Hatton Hill Morning”, the African world music influences of “Watcha Kelele”, (Swahili for ‘Shut Your Noise’) and the psychedelic whimsy of “Did You Die Four Years Ago Tonight”. As for the bizarre “Wallpaper”, The Web gave the Bonzo Dog Doo Dah Band a run for their money. The album builds to a climatic finale on “War or Peace”, a nine minute plus suite in five parts featuring explosions, gunfire, a full orchestra and blaring horns arranged by Terry Noonan and whispered vocals. The schizophrenic nature of the record probably scuppered any chance of success, but it didn’t deter the New Musical Express from putting in a good word, “A most versatile band of English musicians with a fine coloured (sic) singer. Surely a group which will burst forth singles-wise before long”. They did burst forth with three 45’s, “Hatton Hill Morning” (August 1968), the non-album offering “Baby Won’t You Leave Me Alone” (November 1968) and “Monday to Friday” (May 1969) but the UK public weren’t buying, although inroads were made into the continental market off the back of their many forays over the channel to mainland Europe.
For Mike Vernon, producing The Web was a busman’s holiday from his real stock in trade, committing the great and good of the British Blues Boom onto vinyl. He had already overseen sessions with John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers, Fleetwood Mac, Chicken Shack and Duster Bennett and had worked with visiting American blues men, Eddie Boyd and Otis Spann. For the New York boogie pianist Errol Dixon’s album, Blues in the Pot (The Big City Blues of Errol Dixon), Vernon roped in guitarist Stan Web, drummer Dave Bidwell and bassist Andy Silvester from Chicken Shack and for brass embellishments and added percussion he looked no further than The Web’s Tom Harris and Lennie Wright plus former Web member Don Fay from Georgie Fame and the Blue Flames.
Profile raising TV appearances on the Michael Aspel Show and with Basil Brush, plus a slot on the bill at the Royal Albert Hall’s 1969 ‘Pop Proms’ with Amen Corner and Marmalade stood them in good stead to record a sophomore album Theraphosa Blondi (a Goliath bird-eating spider of the tarantula family). This time out they ditched the psychedelic trappings and scatter gun approach for a harder jazz / funk edge, giving the album a slightly more coherent feel, although at times they still sounded like a band searching for a direction. To supplement the original material, the band padded out the album with four covers. A brass infused stab at Cream’s “Sunshine of Your Love” that works instrumentally but suffers from incongruous vocals, a string drenched take of Gilbert O’Sullivan’s “Till I Come Home Again Once More” which sounds totally out of place with the rest of the material and a mash up of John D. Loudermilk’s “Tobacco Road” and Bernstein and Sondheim’s “America”. As for the band compositions, the world music influences were still in place on the frantic percussion and vibraphone free for all of “Bewala” and the lounge bar crooning of “Kilimanjaro (African Lullaby)”. The remaining three tracks offered the smooth pop of “1,000 Miles Away”, the shifting time signatures and expert blowing of “Like the Man Said” and the jazz stylings of the instrumental “Blues for Two T’s”. Theraphosa Blondi marked the end of John L. Watson’s involvement with the band as he left to pursue a solo career, which was no bad thing as his vocal style was often at odds with the material. He was replaced by the Hampshire born singer and keyboard player Dave Lawson from Episode Six. Bassist Dave Lee-Smith also departed, allowing John Eaton to switch to bass, and they dropped the definitive article by becoming the shortened Web.
For album number three, I Spider recorded at Wessex Sound Studios, they kept the production in-house with Lennie Wright taking over from Mike Vernon and new boy Dave Lawson made a considerable impact by composing all the material. With their latest offering, the band changed tack by moving into the realms of progressive rock spurred on by Lawson’s dominant organ. The five tracks include “Always I Wait”, an eight and a half minute brew of intricate organ, guitar and vibraphone interplay, “Love You”, a dynamic rock song driven along by a frantic organ and brass riff topped off with fuzzed drenched guitar, the rhythmic instrumental “Ymphasomniac” and the standout, but darkly foreboding title track. That leaves the ten and a half minute song cycle “Concerto for Bedsprings”, an arrangement in five parts that are at times dreamy and soporific, other sometimes jazz inspired and finally rocking and hard-hitting. Again the Melody Maker was on board, “All the material is the work of their newest member, organist Dave Lawson, and this gives their work the desired unity of conception and direction. The level of musicianship is higher than all but a handful of British bands, which is just as well because the writing demands performing skill”. Without a doubt, I Spider is the pinnacle of the Web’s output and should have been the springboard for better things to come as it easily stands up to comparisons with other jazz / rock albums from the period. As it turned out, the album became the Web’s swansong, but not the end of the story.
In 1971, the Web morphed into Samurai in a concerted effort to move away from the jazz / rock leanings of the past. There were some minor changes in the line-up as Tom Harris quit and Don Fay returned, bringing saxophonist Tony Roberts with him to augment the arrangements, but apart from that Dave Lawson wrote all their compositions as before and Lennie Wright remained in the producer’s chair for their self-titled album. Housed in a cover depicting two naked oriental looking hippies rolling a joint, the music ploughed a lighter, progressive furrow than before and is reminiscent of bands that were coming out of the Canterbury scene in the early seventies such as Caravan, Hatfield and the North and Kevin Ayers and the Whole World. This lone album is where it all comes together, as the sound, arrangements and writing all coalesce into a complete whole. Nothing overstays its welcome, and the playing by all concerned is of the highest order. The two brass players and use of vibraphone remind the listener that most of the musicians originated from a jazz background, but they never hijack the concise arrangements with interminable blowing, or detract from the songs which are all strong, melodic and in places almost poppy. Stand out track, “As I Dried the Tears Away”, is an eight minute plus exercise in mood, texture and style. Released on the short-lived Greenwich Gramophone Company imprint, a subsidiary of Chapter One records, the record didn’t stand a chance as the promotional budget was non-existent and the label went to the wall within the year.
At the time a plethora of similar bands made inroads into the charts with quirky albums, but not Samurai, the unusual blend of instrumentation, thoughtful arrangements and eccentric lyrics inexplicably failed to find an audience condemning the record to the bargain bins and becoming yet another lost gem of the progressive rock era. Despite the band trundling around the club circuit and undertaking a tour of colleges and universities with their Greenwich label mates Open Road and The Woods Band during November and December 1971, the inevitable split occurred the following year.
John Eaton now lives in Teignmouth, Devon, Kenny Beveridge is back in Poole where he was born, Tony Edwards died in France a few years ago and as for Lennie Wright and Dick Lee-Smith their whereabouts are unknown. Don Fay played the clarinet on The Small Faces hit single “The Universal”, tenor saxophone and flute on Elton John’s debut album Empty Sky and various other albums by John Dankworth, Bob Downes, Labi Siffre and Pete Atkin. He returned to Bournemouth in the winter of 1971 and took over his father’s orchestra, before moving to Australia. He is now back and living locally. Tony Roberts went on to record and appear with jazz luminaries such as Michael Gibbs, John Dankworth and Nucleus, progressive rock bands Egg and Galliard and folk artists such as John Renbourn, Danny Thompson and Shelleyan Orphan. He is now in his eighties but still plays around Bridport in west Dorset where he lives. Dave Lawson joined Bournemouth drummer Andy McCulloch in Greenslade, then became a member of Stackridge and is now a respected session musician, John L. Watson died in 2014.
The Web / Samurai Discography
The Web Singles
Hatton Hill Morning c/w Conscience: Deram (DM 201) 1968
Baby Won’t You Leave Me Alone c/w McVernon Street: Deram (DM 217) 1968
Monday to Friday c/w Harold Dubbleyew: Deram (DM 253) 1969
The Web Albums
Fully Interlocking: Deram (SML 1025) 1968
Theraphosa Blondi: Deram (SML-R 1058) 1969
I Spider: Polydor (2383 024) 1970
Fully Interlocking: Esoteric (ECLEC2080) 2008 CD re-issue with three bonus tracks
Theraphosa Blondi: Esoteric (ECLEC2055) 2008 CD re-issue with two bonus tracks
I Spider: Esoteric (ECLEC2027) 2008 CD re-issue with two live bonus tracks
Compilation albums featuring The Web
Looking at the Pictures in the Sky: The British Psychedelic Sounds of 1968: Grapefruit (CRSEGBOX 040) 2017 “Did You Die Four Years Ago Tonight”
Night Comes Down: 60 British MOD, R&B, Freakbeat and Swinging London Nuggets: Cherry Red (RPMBX 535) 2017 “Afrodisiac”
Album featuring members of The Web
Errol Dixon Blues in the Pot (The Big City Blues of Errol Dixon): Decca (SKL 4962) 1968
Give a Little Love c/w More Rain: Decca (DL 25 493) 1971
Samurai: Greenwich Gramophone Company (GSLP 1003) 1971
Samurai: Esoteric (ECLEC 2025) 2008 CD re-issue
Compilation album featuring Samurai
Maximum Prog (16 Rare Gems From the Golden Age of Progressive Rock): Past and Present (PAPRCD 2117) 2009 “Saving it up For so Long”