The Riot Squad was a London based pop group, initially managed and produced by Larry Page and later, following a changes of personnel, they recorded for Joe Meek and continued under various managers.
The life-time of the Squad, from 1964 to 1969, saw many changes of personnel, two or three of whom reached some kind of fame and success – their only constant member was to be Bob Evans (tenor saxophone, vocals and flute) who, from the very first split in the group, oversaw every re-shuffle until near the very end itself, when he went to Venezuela in July 1968. That re-shuffle was left to another long serving member, Del Roll.
Between them, Roll, Butch Davis and Evans saw through the three main changes - so when the ‘Final Chapter’ came, those three members had held the Riot Squad lineage.
The Riot Squad story began in 1964, when producer Larry Page decided to put together a group whose sound would be a more ‘pop’ focused brand of British Invasion-style rock than that of his one big success at that time, the Kinks. The resulting line-up came from a bunch of session musicians, recording for him. They included Graham Bonney (guitar/vocals), Ron Ryan (guitar/vocals), Mark Stevens (organ), Mike Martin (bass), Bob Evans (tenor saxophone/vocals and flute) and ‘Mitch’ Mitchell (drums). With the exception of Evans, they were all young, but they all had surprisingly extensive experience as studio musicians. Each of them was proficient on more than one instrument, which gave Page the potential to use them in a multitude of modes, styles and musical capacities. Originally Page was just going to call them ‘Riot’, until Bob Evans proposed the alternative of ‘Riot Squad’ to which Page agreed. No sooner had Page assembled the band and they began working together than they ironically found themselves turning in the opposite direction musically, to Page’s intention - the sextet discovered that they shared a natural affinity for the more ‘bluesy’, R&B inflected side of British rock & roll.
Bob Evans: "Obviously Larry Page (The Teenage Rage) had great contacts - it was unusual for an unknown group to go straight onto TV.” The Riot Squad’s TV appearances included Scene at 6.30, Discs a gogo, Ready Steady Go, Lucky Star Special and Z Cars."
They roared into Jan.1965 with a debut Ron Ryan single, ’Anytime’ b/w ‘Jump’ a double-sided soul shouter. It got great reviews and showed that the band had potential enough to go head to head with the Rolling Stones or the Animals, let alone the Kinks. A follow-up single eight weeks later, ‘I Wanna Talk about my Baby’ b/w ‘Gonna Make you mine’ garnered similar high praise. Both singles earned considerable airplay without actually selling a lot of copies, which back then, was a rarity, unlike today. The A-side ‘I wanna Talk about My Baby’ was a superb piece of smooth blue-eyed soul, closer to Georgie Fame than to the Animals. By now the group was starting to build a reputation as a live act and their shows were pulling serious crowds. Sadly things started to go wrong. Just as they were looking up, when the band's hopes were hinged on a tour with the Kinks and the Yardbirds, the Kinks had to pull out, owing to an injury to Ray Davies and the tour fell apart. As the Yardbirds’ commitment then also became shaky, what had seemed a golden opportunity had now become a non-starter. A third single (with Bob Evans at his very best, on tenor saxophone and lead vocal) ‘Nevertheless’ b/w ‘Not a Great Talker’, was also well reviewed and seemed to portend great possibilities, but amid the efforts to break through in 1965, there were already internal stresses threatening the group. Making the decision to pursue a solo career, Martin was the first to exit, followed by Ryan, who’d sung lead on the first two singles; then Bonney decided to opt out in favour of a solo career. (He did get to no. 1 in the UK charts with this ‘Supergirl’ and on to a career, with hits in Germany).
This seemed to mark the end of the group as a cohesive unit and even before that point, Larry Page had moved on to other opportunities. ‘Mitch’ Mitchell jumped to Georgie Fame's band the Blue Flames, then later on, to drum for Jimi Hendrix and that seemed to be the end for the Riot Squad. Sax- man, Bob Evans, however, recognizing that the group had a stage reputation and also that the positive reviews of the first records comprised of something to build on, decided to try and salvage something from their work.
He re-assembled the Riot Squad by recruiting and integrating a promising London-based outfit called the Chevrons. The new line-up, with Evans on sax, included Keith ‘Nero’ Gladman (vocals), Terry Clifford (guitar), Butch Davis (organ), Roger Crisp (bass), and Del Roll (drums). They already had a soulful American sound similar to the Riot Squad and Bob was very convincing in his pitch to the band backstage at a gig in Edmonton for them ditch their name and to become the Riot Squad. (Oct. 1965)
Next came a serious brush with greatness, when they managed to get a recording contract with no less a figure than producer Joe Meek for whom Bob had also worked as a session man.
Meek did the new Riot Squad a huge service on their debut single, ‘Cry Cry Cry’ b/w ‘How it is done’. The A-side was a somewhat more pop-ish than their previous records and featured a more flamboyant organ part, which has been credited (wrongly) to John Lord, who joined Deep Purple. (N.B. Lord played no part in the Riot Squad, ever. Likewise, David Bowie never ever played saxophone with the Riot Squad). ‘Cry Cry Cry’ however, did still have enough of a soul edge, to became no.1 in Venezuela. It should have been a contender for airplay in the pop-focused rock & roll world of 1965; the B-side was a cool shouter that showed off everyone's instrumental prowess and was catchy in its own right, as well as a little harder and the single actually made the lower reaches of the U.K. sales charts. Not for the first time however, it was ‘How it is done’, the Evans’ B-side that proved to be an enduring classic of its genre – with its punchy, driving beat and memorable breaks.
They worked with Joe Meek again on ‘I Take it that we're Through’ b/w ‘Working Man’, which once more got great reviews, but failed to chart. In the meantime, between their own gigs and recording sessions, Meek kept them busy backing various other artistes of his - they included Glenda Collins and they were happy to go along with that and to show their admiration and their respect for him as a producer. By this time, it was becoming clear, however, that despite his abilities as a producer Meek, lacked the clout or the resources to promote the group's records in the same way that one of the majors would have been able to. They tried one more single, ‘It's Never too Late to Forgive’ b/w ‘Try to Realize’ in the summer of 1966. It also failed and by this time the band members were seeing an ominous pattern emerging to all of their efforts – they were simply not gaining any traction with the public.
During this period, wholly separate from any efforts on behalf of the band they found themselves named the most popular group in Venezuela. They'd never played, or even been there, but a chance encounter by a popular disc jockey with ‘Cry Cry Cry’ had resulted in a massive amount of airplay, sales and requests. There is no way to tell what this bizarre moment of popular success might have led to, for in early 1967, the roof fell in on the Riot Squad once again, with Meek's death. Their producer, a brilliant but unstable personality, died in a bizarre murder/suicide incident that also took the life of his landlady.
Bob Evans: "Joe Meek had thought that we were not a sexy group, but there’s no argument about the famous unique Meeksville sound, he did us proud. The bombshell of his death left us devastated".
When the smoke cleared from the tragedy, the band was left without a producer or a recording contract. Everything they had done had been legally organized through Meek. Ironically, the band had as many bookings as ever, in contrast to their recordings, the one area where they'd enjoyed immense success was as a live act. They had a substantial and devoted following and could easily have gone on earning a decent living in that capacity; they even received an offer to back Wilson Pickett on a British tour, which was in perfect keeping with their sound (as it had been, under Page). Although their records made with Meek had been respectable, they weren't really representative of what the Riot Squad was about. They mostly performed covers of American R&B, to an audience that was wholly focused on that sound, and on-stage they rarely played any of their songs, except perhaps for the A and B sides of whatever their latest single happened to be.
What we can loosely call the ‘Meek’ Riot Squad split in March 1967, with Bob Evans (who had been handed the Riot Squad name by Larry Page) Butch Davis and Del Roll remaining with it. For a group that scarcely made it into the charts, their members and some of the songs that they recorded have showed surprising endurance. ‘Nero’ Gladman, Terry Clifford, and Roger Crisp formed their own soul group called Pepper, that included a brass section and they also recorded for Pye Records. It later became the core of a band known as the Stuart Inspiration.
Then came another brush with fame for the ‘Meek’ originals.
In 17th March 1967, at Bob’s invitation, they were joined by David Bowie, who, up until then, had had record releases, but no hits. It is believed that even during his time with the Riot Squad, he was still recording material for an album (maybe even for ‘Space Oddity’). The group then consisted of six members: Bowie (lead vocalist, mouth-harp and guitar) Rod Davies (guitar), ‘Croke’ Prebble (bass), Bob Evans (tenor-saxophone/vocasl, flute), ‘Butch’ Davis (keyboards) and ‘Del’ Roll (drums). Evans recalls that before a gig at Tiles club in Oxford Street (London) David had produced a hand-made sandwich board, promoting the event and had walked up and down outside the club, wearing it. This incarnation went on to record several tracks with David. They include a cover of The Velvet Underground's ‘I'm Waiting for the Man’ (Disc 1 track 8), the Velvet-influenced Bowie original ‘Little Toy Soldier’ (Disc 2 tracks 2 and 3) and his own original - ‘Silver Treetop for Boys’ (Disc 1 tracks 10 and 11 were the Bowie directed rehearsal tape) He introduced Croak to the Vocals.
Bob Evans: "David fronted the Riot Squad for over twenty gigs and during this period, we recorded with him privately and with him at Decca studios for his album ‘The World of David Bowie’. - some titles have been bootlegged over the decades.”
Bowie stayed just long enough to get the beginning of a solo career off the ground - it seems to have always been understood that he was working on plans of his own, in between gigs with the band.
The latter-day, post-David Riot Squad endured, indeed flowered as a performing outfit with Evans, Roll, and Davies at the core, Croak (from within the group) taking over the vocals. Their first gig was opening for Cream. After this there were further personnel changes and a series of gigs that went nowhere, but it did pay the bills. This culminated with an appearance on a British amateur/variety show called Opportunity Knocks (think ‘Star Search’ in the 1960s) that was legendary for the band doing some absolutely outrageous antics on-stage and generally trashing the programme. Strangely enough, sometime in the midst of this slow downward spiral for the post-David Bowie band, an earlier Riot Squad B-side provided a piece of inspiration for another band, Keith Dangerfield & the Way Ahead. Their single ‘No Life Child’ (now regarded as a freak-beat classic) was a near copy of the Riot Squad’s ‘How Is It Done’ (another Evans’ B side composition) After securing the slot on Opportunity Knocks in July of 1967, the Riot Squad was picked up by the legendary American producer Lee Magid and taken to Advision studios to record new material, engineered by Eddie Offord at the beginning of his successful career. Lee also recorded them live, over two nights at the Flamingo in London - (any sign of them anywhere?).
After over some 500 plus gigs, numerous ‘line ups’ and recordings, Bob Evans finally heeded the call of fate and took off for Venezuela, to cash in as best he could on the band's status there and lend some authenticity to a home-grown tribute band. What was left of the Riot Squad kept going mostly taking advantage of gigs that were still available to them in continental Europe and they reportedly even got to jam one night in Frankfurt with Jimi Hendrix and with their old band mate, ‘Mitch Mitchell’. The Riot Squad was mostly forgotten, except for parenthetical mentions in some of the more detailed bios on Bowie and Hendrix. In 2003, however, Castle Records assembled a superb CD compilation of the group's singles, filled out with surviving demos and also their work with Glenda Collins.
At the age of 81, Bob Evans is still gigging both in Japan and in the UK, but will settle for the former and emigrate a.s.a.p.
Bob Evans: "I hope you enjoy this collection as much as I have enjoyed revisiting it, some 45 years later. Please excuse the condition of some of the material - its historical interest overrides leaving it locked away. If anyone can shed light on the location of the other recordings, photos or TV appearances please get in touch - I would love to hear from you".