Welcome to my on-line tribute to the London based Chiswick label. Started in 1975 and, under various guises, still going strong to this day, Chiswick put out some of my favorite records ever. Here you'll find an ever growing collection of info, record sleeves, old advertisements and whatever comes to mind. So dig in and enjoy!

Saturday, May 27, 2006


Count Bishops - Speedball E.P.
Catalogue number: Chiswick SW 1
Release date: 28 Nov 1975
Tracks: Route 66, I Ain't Got You, Beautiful Delilah, Teenage Letter
Personnel: Mike Spencer: vocals, harp
Zenon De Fleur: guitar, vocals
Johnny Guitar: guitar, vocals
Steve Lewins: bass
Paul Balbi: drums
Produced by Roger Armstrong
Engineered and mixed by Barry Farmer
Executive producer: Ted Carroll
Recorded at Pathway Sudios, London
Recording date: 28 Aug 1975
Remix date: Sept 1975


(1975 biography)

The Count Bishops are one of the newest and most vital of the bands in London's Pub scene. They feature the classic rock an roll line-up, two guitars, bass, drums and vocalist. Their background is international, the story of their organization a case of the right individuals being in the right place at the right time. Mike Spencer the vocalist, and Johnny Guitar, guitarist, were in a New-York City based RnB band known as the Kingbees in 1974. Following the demise of that group, Mike headed out for London, intrigued by what he heard of the reception afforded RnB in the British pub circuit. After sitting in with a few groups he met, through an advertisement in the Melody Maker, Zenon De Fleur (guitar) who was with one of the established Pub groups. This group was Chrome, and Mike was added on vocals. Zenon and Mike soon started looking for new and more RnB based directions for Chrome, and the name was changed to Count Bishops.
Personnel problems followed this change in musical focus and Mike called Johnny Guitar in New-York, who had just left another group. Johnny came over in July 1975, and the band then immediately began to search for a permanent rhythm section. Once again ads were put in the M.M. and the first bassist and drummer they auditioned turned out to be the ones. Steve Lewins (bass) had been with an acoustic band in Hatfield called Spaniel Mountain, but was looking to get into some RnB and was immediately assimilated, providing a melodic and powerful flavor of his own. Paul Balbi (drums) was next to come and the powerful style he had been developing in bands in his native Australia counterpointed perfectly Lewins flowing bass line. The Count Bishops soon plunged into the London Pub and club circuit with a residence at the Kensington Pub and gigs at the Marquee, 100 Club, Nashville Rooms, Hop and Anchor etc.
Ted Carroll and Roger Armstrong from Rock-On, a specialty record shop with three London outlets, were looking for someone to kick off their newly formed Chiswick Records label and had seen the earlier incarnations of the Count Bishops. They came to see the new band and then approached them with the idea of an E.P. This was duly recorded, a four song effort featuring some of the Bishop's favorite RnB classics, and indeed became the label's first release. The Count Bishops mean while branched out into college concerts and some larger halls, playing support at places like The Kursall Rooms in Southend and The Greyhound, Croyden, while continuing in the pubs with more residencies at the Kensington, the Rocking Red Cow, and others.


Two minute Bishops-
count them and see!

(Sounds, Jan 1976 by Phil Sutcliffe)

There was a time when the Swinging Blue Jeans moseyed into a studio, played the Hippy Hippy Shake for somewhat less than two minutes, decided that was alright and moseyed back out again - with a number one single.
That sort of carelessness (or should it be called spontanity) has been put to scorn by epic single makers from the Beach Boys to Queen but now a cosmopolitan bunch of roustabout pub rockers called the Count Bishops have loudly and proudly put the clock back.
Their current EP 'Speedball' (it ain't no soddin' maxi-single mates) is culled from 13 tracks of hot R&B laid down in five hours. I know this means they were tainted by modernism enough to take maybe half an hour on some tracks but you will agree that basically the statistics suggest all the doubts and hesitations of an express train.
The Count Bishops are Johnny Guitar (American on you-guessed), Zenon De Fleur (Polish/English on guitar, if you get the pun in his name, quite frequently the floor), Steve Lewins (proper English on bass) and Paul Balbi (Maltese/Australian on drums). The singer on 'Speedball' Mike Spencer, a New York buddy of Mr. Guitar, has already 'moved on'.
The band's French manager Larry Debray lamented: "Mike is a good mover, all the ingredients to be a good singer but his attitude was so unprofessional"
So Johnny and Zen are taking the vocals with a gentleman called Laurie, lately of the Michigan Flyers (who? ah well now...), temporarily on mouth-harp while they seek out a new front man.
Johnny, whose versatility extends to writing their intriguing Press handouts, said: "When we got together we rehearsed night and day for a couple of weeks" (a couple of weeks? te-he) "And then we went into Pathway Studios in Islington with the idea of getting down as many tracks as possible. It was 'We'll bring the amps, you guys bring the beer.'
"After eight or nine tracks we'd stopped and were listening to the playbacks and everyone was so enthusiastic we unpacked all the gear again and recorded four more including 'Route 66' and 'Teenage Letter' which we put on 'Speedball'."
Debray: "We captured the live sound which is very tight. The beginnings of a band. The accent was on energy level rather than refined recording."
There is certainly no danger of anyone describing the result as 'refined' but that raw, old sound (acknowledged Bishops' heroes are the early Stones and Yardbirds) is just what made them kick in the crypt. You have to laugh - and bop.
Debray is dubious about such praise though: "We think people aree too 'oooked on the nostalgia. This is R&B alive today! It's not just a matter of getting dusty records down off the shelf. The band is writing its own songs now it's got used to playing as a unit."
They have so far sold out the 2,500 initial pressing of 'Speedball' (Chiswick Records) and plan further recordings on the Franco-Dutch Skydog label for which Debray happens to be the UK agent. Another year and could R&B be back, could the Count Bishops be feeling good?

Recommended CD: Count Bishops - Speedball + 11
(Chiswick CDWIKM 161)


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