Find complete Verden Allen news and information at the official site for his band Soft Ground: www.softground.net.
‘Verden was a first-rate musician who could play the sensitive and subtle, the brutal and bellicose and all musical steps in between. In a song like ‘The Journey’, his playing and sound ranged from celestial to industrial, from a whisper to a scream, always complementing the mood and intent of the song. When Verden Allen left, it was the end of the Mott The Hoople that played so hard and fast. It was the end of the Mott The Hoople wall of sound that bands like Slade used to hear, and then argue about just what made that sound. Well, much of it was Verden Allen.’
- Dale Griffin
Terence Allen – (Verden was adopted as a variation on his father’s name by Island ‘producer’ Guy Stevens) – moved to Hereford from his home town of Crynant South Wales, in the early sixties. He had received classical piano tuition as a youngster and passed various Grades of Examination at the Victoria College and Royal Schools of Music but in Hereford, his uncle, who was a pub pianist, attracted him to a more ‘uninhibited style of playing’. Influenced musically by Liberace, jazz albums and organ players such as Jimmy Smith, Jimmy McGriff, Richard ‘Groove’ Holmes and Booker T., Verden appeared in his first bands in 1964 – The Inmates, followed by The Astrals.
By 1967, he linked up with a re-formed version of The Shakedown Sound (who had originated in Worcester with vocalist Jess Roden) but was soon invited to join The Doc Thomas Group, who included future Mott personnel Mick Ralphs, Pete Watts and Stan Tippins in their line up. Declining DTG’s offer to join them in Italy, (please consult the sleeve notes to Angel Air’s 2 on I CD SJPCD020; The Doc Thomas Group – The Italian Job / The Silence Shotgun Eyes), The Shakedown Sound answered a Melody Maker advertisement for Jamaican singing star Jimmy Cliff who required a backing band, and three days later Verden and his group were performing in Paris. Allen would soon play on one track on Cliff’s Island album Hard Road To Travel, produced by Jimmy Miller.
Future Mott drummer Dale Griffin joined The Doc Thomas Group after they recorded their Italian LP, but Mick Ralphs was also spending time playing with The Shakedowns and would be instrumental in bringing Verden into DTG. The quintet soon adopted The Shakedown Sound name and then Silence, signing to Guy Stevens and Island Records in May 1969, and becoming Mott The Hoople following the recruitment of Ian Hunter.
Verden had started live performance in the early sixties with a Hohner Pianet and a Vox Continental keyboard (‘influenced by The Animals) but he soon acquired a Hammond M100 organ. As Allen’s musical knowledge developed in his early groups, he was already starting to devise a playing style and sound that would later distinguish Mott The Hoople’s material. Verden was one of the first rock musicians in Britain to own a Leslie tone cabinet and he subsequently developed a totally unique sound for Mott, much admired by rival bands, using American Acoustic amplification and speakers with a fuzz facility. His playing was always special and thoughtfully or passionately complemented the dynamics of Mott The Hoople’s material.
Suffice to say, the period involving Verden (1969-1972) captured the true essence of Guy Steven’s Mott. Allen’s playing was always a crucial part of their sound but it wasn’t until their fourth and final Island album. Brain Capers, that he made his songwriting debut with the highly personal, emotional and autobiographical ‘Second Love,’ a song about conflict between romance and religion.
Verden also co-wrote ‘How Long’ with Ian Hunter for Brain Capers, but Guy Stevens, a frequent magpie when it came to names and titles, ‘borrowed’ the more dramatic ‘Death May Be Your Santa Claus’ from a disturbing but little known art house movie of the period.
‘Soft Ground’ was Allen’s second composition for the group, appearing as it did on their David Bowie produced All the Young Dudes LP and, in this case, Pete Watts rates Verden’s contribution highly. ‘I thought “Soft Ground” was brilliant and even now, it’s the best song on the album for me. It wasn’t very “Mott-ish”, but it was more futuristic than anything else we’d ever done.’ Re-recordings of ‘Soft Ground’ and ‘Death May Be Your Santa Claus’ are included on this collection.
Upon David Bowie’s suggestion, during an American tour in December 1972, Ian Hunter assumed leadership of Mott The Hoople, a tactic that Dale Griffin acknowledges was discussed and met with the explicit approval of the group. It was the right and sensible thing to do in Griffin’s view but it was soon to cost them the services of Verden and Mick Ralphs. Allen quit Mott in January 1973 and the band were sad to lose him. ‘I think the group changed after Bowie.’ admits Mick Ralphs. ‘We became commercially acceptable and Ian found the knack of writing hits. Verden didn’t really feel the same after that. The band was different.’
Allen had written several songs which were not being used by Mott The Hoople in his later period with the group: ‘Wine Ridden Talks’, ‘Nightmare’, ‘For Each Other’, ‘Black Staff’ and ‘Two Miles From Heaven’. He had also composed ‘Hymn For The Dudes’ with Ian Hunter which would be included on 1973’s highly acclaimed Mott album, the band’s biggest selling UK UP and one of their ‘greatest hits’.
Although Verden has subsequently released several solo singles and an album, his career, post-Mott, has been erratic and hasn’t received the commercial coverage or profile he deserved. His first single was recorded in July 1973 with Mooni, and released by Polydor later that year, featuring two of his own compositions, ‘Wine Ridden Talks’ backed with a re-recording of ‘Nightmare’,which Mott had already taped in demo form in October 1972. Verden sang the B-side but let Mooni take the lead vocal on the A-side, something in retrospect that he feels he should not have done. ‘After the split from Mott The Hoople, I was introduced to Polydor Records by Nicky Graham. Nicky worked with David Bowie prior to being with the label, but it was Hedley Leyton, John Leyton’s brother, who signed me. Looking back now, it was all very rushed and the deal with Polydor didn’t mean that much.’
Verden’s next project was a band called The Cheeks, formed early in 1974 with drummer Martin Chambers and guitarist James HoneymanScott, both from Hereford. ‘It took a year after Mott before I finally moved out of London to go back to Hereford. I first met bass player Kelvin Wilson there and then went to see Martin playing with The Dave Stuart Sound at the Hillside Ballroom. After a brief chat, the three of us got together at a local studio in Bridge Street, Hereford. The night of that rehearsal, Martin had a gig with his band, but at the end of our session, we had to carry him to my car, an old Ford Zodiac, and drive him to the gig minus his drums. He stumbled into the ballroom and laid flat out on the floor. Dave Stuart went crazy. Martin groaned and got up and said to Stuart, ‘I won’t be playing for you any more Dave, you can stuff your band, I’ve just teamed up with Verden and Kelvin.’
‘That night was the birth of The Cheeks and after that unforgettable first session, we started the hunt for a guitarist. I placed an advertisement in Melody Maker and over a period of a month we had various people who came up from London, but we just couldn’t find anyone to suit. Then, one night, in a local pub, Jimmy Scott turned up. Back at the studio we ran through a song called ‘Eight O’Clock At The Corner’ and James Honeyman-Scott became a Cheek.’
The Cheeks survived until 1976 and played numerous live dates under MAM Agency, including support slots with1be Arrows, Hot Chocolate and Trapeze, and three appearances at the London Marquee, cheered on one occasion, by Ian Hunter, Morgan Fisher and Overend Watts. The Cheeks, under encouragement from Jack Nelson of Queen fame, recorded three Allen compositions at Trident Studios in London during October 1975 – ‘On The Rebound’, ‘Sweet Sweet Girl’ and ‘Hypnotized’. Sadly, they never released any material as Verden did not sign a new deal after Polydor.
In August 1975, Allen was re-united briefly with Mott’s original mentor and ‘producer’ Guy Stevens at AIR Studios in London, when he was asked to play with a group called Little Queenie, featuring future Clash guitarist Mick Jones, Mick was considered superfluous when the band did a showcase for Warner Brothers and Guy, who wanted to recreate a keyboard-dominated group in Mott The Hoople vein. They taped three songs including Mott’s ‘No Wheels To Ride’ and a Flaming Groovies cover, and Stevens re-named the band Violent Luck, but the project was aborted at an early stage. Verden recalls Guy, as eccentric as ever, coming into the studio with toy money to pay for the session!
Verden Allen’s Seven Inches was the next group formed and, like The Cheeks, they were prominent on the college concert circuit. Then, in 1978, Verden decided to record a second single with guitarist Luther Grosvenor who had replaced Mick Ralphs in Mott in 1973. Signed to Don Arden’s Jet label by Brian McMenemy, brother of football manager Lawrie McMenemy, the single featured two new Allen songs, ‘On The Rebound’ backed with ‘A New Way’ produced by ELO’s stage mixer, Jake Commander. Issued in July 1978. as Verden & Luther, the disc was reviewed by a couple of music journals but sank without any active promotion or live support, Grosvenor refusing to play any gigs. ‘Luther was a loveaftle bloke,’ says Allen. ‘The trouble was I had a band called Seven Inches before that, and we were going great on college gigs but as soon as Luther turned up, he really didn’t want to do any playing.
By 1982, Verden decided to launch Spinit Records to release his material and invited Grosvenor into the studio again, with Martin Chambers and bass player Norman Jarrett. Allen’s first release on Spirit was ‘Colleen’ backed with ‘Through and Through’, although this was soon re-issued with ‘Sweet Sweet Girl’ as the A-side and ‘Colleen’ moved to the flip. Verden then worked with Overend Watts and Dale Griffin and recorded ‘This Way Now’ and ‘Tomorrow’, the label proclaiming, ‘Arrangement and Production by Mott the Hoople Minus Two.’ The two singles were difficult to find because of limited distribution, so Allen remixed ‘Sweet Sweet Girl’ and put a new song, ‘Come On Back’ on the Aside, then re-issued ‘About Tomorrow’. ‘Come On Back” sold well according to Verden but at this time the Independent Record Labels Association he was working with went bust and the single died.
Allen’s recorded output ceased at this juncture but he continued to perform in various hands around South Wales and Hereford. By 1990 he had joined a group called The Business who played frequent gigs and asked Verden to contribute new material. When Allen took more control, the bass player and singer departed and they recruited Rob Hankins as replacement. The group continued gigging for a further year and a half but, in 1992, changed their name at Hankins’ suggestion to Thunderbuck Ram (after the Mad Shadows track of that title).
Verden decided to put together an album of material for commercial release and eventually, a 14 track CD, entitled appropriately, Long Time No See, was released in 1994 on Spinit for distribution at gigs and through a mail order company. The album has now been given the wider stage it deserves when it was re-packaged by Angel Air in 1998. Since then, Verden has issued three more solo albums on Angel Air: ‘For Each Other’, ’20 Year Holiday’, and his latest, ‘My Masochistic Side’.