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Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Buster


Formed in 1974, Liverpool teen band The New Attraction (as such issued an indie E.P. in '74) became Buster after signing with RCA in 1976.
Robert Fennah (lead vocals, guitar), Kevin Roberts (bass), Pete Leay (guitar), and Les Brians (drums) then teamed up with songwriting/production team Ronnie Scott and Steve Wolfe who had success with Bonnie Tyler ("Lost in France", "It's a Heartache") around the same time and recorded their infectious debut single ("Sunday" #49 U.K., June 1976) and self-titled non-charting (at home) album, which was issued in early 1977.



However, by that point in time there was a bit of a backlash on behalf of the British media towards all things teenybop.  Slik had hit number 1 in January '76, but then struggled to reach Top 30 mere four months later.  The Rollers were concentrating on more lucrative overseas markets (the U.S., Japan, Australia).  And then there was Punk.  To make a long story short, Buster's bandwagon had long since left the station...
A pity, really, since the first Buster album is a bona-fide pop classic!  In my humble opinion the third best album of 1977 - right after the Sex Pistols' "Never Mind the Bollocks" and the Rollers' AOR extravaganza "It's a Game".
A catchy collection of near pop perfection, mostly penned by Messers. Scott & Wolfe, it's a shame this record is so little known.  Apart from the single selections, lost pop gems such as "We Love Girls", "Pretty Legs", "I'm a Fool" and "Saturday Night" have 'potentially-tremendous-mass-appeal' stamped all over them.
Thankfully, then, there were the Japanese.  And boy, did they appreciate Buster!  In early '77, when Buster were basically dead in the water at home with their last single release there, the Spector-esque "Love Rules" (a German hit, though, lest we forget), in Japan they were in the Top 10 with "Sunday".



And thus the race was on - hammering the iron while it was hot.
Four Japanese hit singles and two albums later, the game was pretty much up though.  But before that Buster sold out the Budokan AND appeared in a Japanese TV commercial or two...



The album "Buster 2", in spite of some excellent well up to standard Scott/Wolfe compositions ("Goodbye Paradise" and "Don't Stop the Music" in particular) sounded understandably rushed, while "Buster Live", recorded on their U.K. tour in early '77, was practically unlistenable due to unintentional (one hopes!) butchering of rock & roll classics like "Twist and Shout" and "Johnny B. Goode".  Well, these were the '70s after all and everyone from Gary Glitter to Sid Vicious was obligated to do a bad rock & roll cover or two.



Nonetheless, Buster's swansong of a single was also probably one of their very best as well.  (Rob Fennah, however, doesn't agree with me: ,,She Ain't My Baby isn't the strongest song.  I love the verses, but I certainly wasn't too fond of the chorus, but that one ended up being a single...").  The maturing - and promising - power pop sound of "She Ain't My Baby was a Japan-only release in November 1978, preceding a 'best of' collection, "Diary", which also included an excellent early single-only release "Beautiful Child".


Apparently Buster changed their name to Jax in 1979 and issued a U.K. indie single cover of the Dave Clark Five's "Bits & Pieces", which did nothing chart - or other - wise. 


Rob Fennah: ,,The name Buster became a big problem in the U.K.  We had no chance of moving forward in the U.K. unless we literally dropped the Buster name and pretended it never even existed...just don't mention it!"
Thus, in the early '80s Rob Fennah roped in his younger brother Alan and along with Brians and Roberts, and they became Alternative Radio.  In 1982 they entered and won the Liverpool 'Battle of the Bands' competition.



During the '80s AR on regular basis churned out ordinary inoffensive indie pop and it is my understanding that they still exists today, although in a limited capacity and led exclusively by the Fennah brothers who have also had some success in writing musicals.
In 2008, Japanese re-issue label Airmail Recordings treated us with wonderful reissues of all three Buster albums on CD for the first time, complimented by rare and previously unissued bonus tracks.  Among which were demo "rock versions" of some of their earliest Scott/Wolfe stuff.  These are absolutely essential!

HAJ August 2011 with loads of help from Wikipedia, YouTube and Myspace.com 

And very special thanks to Buster drummer Les Brians (now Lez Smith) who was kind enough to grant me the following e-mail interview in early August 2011. 


Q: Scott/Wolfe - How did that come about?

A: Scott and Wolf came about because they were looking for a teenie band to front one of their songs and we were chosen from around 200 bands -so I believe!

Q: Although clearly capable as is evident in some of the early demos which have been made available, were you guys allowed to play your own instruments from the get-go?

A: Yes!

Q: The first album is a pop classic! But the second LP sounds a lot less cohesive. What was different?

We didn’t think the first album would be such a huge success and we had to make the second very quickly.

Q: Buster was clearly marketed as a teen band in the Bay City Rollers-mould.  In hindsight, was that a mistake this late in the game ('76/'77) when even the Rollers themselves were moving away from that image and things like Punk was pushing such things aside?

A: Most probably but at the time RCA were responsible for our image-sadly!

Q: The rock/demo versions of "Love Rules" and "We Love Girls" (Bonus tracks on the JPN CD issue of the 1st LP) are fun. Were they ever seriously considered for a release in '77?

A: Sadly no.

Q: Rob was always the obvious pin-up within the group. Did that ever cause a friction?

A: No should of done? (Joke)

Q: There's something - almost - so melancholy about the music of Buster. Do you agree...or is it just me?

A: It’s most probably just you but, who knows maybe it was

Q: Massive Japanese success: What was that like?

A: What do you think? It was brilliant

Q: Was Buster more of a rock group than a teen band?

A: Most definitely! We were playing "Squonk" from Genesis [album “Trick of the Tail” – Ed] when we where 14 years old live on stage

Q: Alternative Radio - any thoughts about the chances there?

A: A.R is and always will be Robbie Fennah’s baby - ask him.  I’ve been living in Germany for the last 20 years or so and have virtually no contact with the rest of the band sadly.

Q:What are you up to nowadays...or what have you been up to since the early '80s?

A: I left England in ‘86 and toured the EU  for 4 years eventually settling in Germany in October ‘90. I am now a stage tech and am at the moment working in the main stage at the biggest city festival in Europe (2.3 million people in 17 days). I am still making music in a band called "Likewater" (http://www.likewater.de/) and I do session work as a singer and percussion player in Hannover.

Q:Any chance of a Buster reunion?  As I am sure you very well know, there is a big nostalgia market in Germany what with those "Oldie Nacht" package concerts.

A: Bob Fennah thought about that about three years ago but they did the reunion show without me!


BUSTER Discography (compiled by HAJ)

Singles (U.K.):

“Sunday”/”Salt Lake City – Silver Gun” (RCA 2678) (May 1976)
“Beautiful Child”/”Daybreak” (RCA 2732) (August 1976)
“Love Rules”/”Who Told You” (RCA PB 5001) (January 1977)

Singles (Japan):

“Sunday”/Daybreak” (RVC/RCA SS-3070) (February 1977)
“Love Rules”/”Who Told You” (RVC/RCA SS-3081) (1977)
“Dance with Me”/”Salt Lake City – Silver Gun” (RVC/RCA SS-3097) (1977)
“Beautiful Child”/”But If It Happens” (RVC/RCA SS-3117) (1977)
“She Ain’t My Baby”/”Certain Kind of Feeling” (RVC/RCA SS-3178) (1978)

Albums (U.K.):

“Buster” (RCA PL 25026) (1977)

Albums (Japan):

“Buster” (RVC/RCA RVP-6177) (1977)
“Buster 2” (RVC/RCA RVP-6225) (1977)
“Buster Live” (RVC/RCA RVP-6250) (1977)
“Buster Diary – Best of” (RVC/RCA RVP-6341) (December 1978)

CD Re-issues (Japan):

“Buster” (Airmail/Archive AIRAC-1446) (2008) W/4 Bonus Tracks.
“Buster 2” (Airmail/Archive AIRAC-1447) (2008) W/4 Bonus Tracks.
“Buster Live” (Airmail/Archive AIRAC-1448) (2008) W/3 Bonus Tracks.
"Best & New" (Airmail/Archive AIRAC-1720) (2014) 2CD


Now if you, for instance, want the full story behind Pete's massive sideburns, there is a rather good, homemade, in-depth Buster documentary covering all aspects of their career available on their very own YouTube channel.  Check it out:

Pt.1

Pt.2

Pt.3

Pt.4

Pt.5

Pt.6

Pt.7

5 comments:

  1. OMG!!! Until two weeks ago, I had never heard of BUSTER. Now they are one of my all-time FAVORITE groups!!! Thank you so very much for introducing me to their fantastic 70's Brit-Pop. My life will never be the same!
    ---Brady B.

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  2. Thank you! I agree - they were brilliant.

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  3. Hi was wondering if you still had les Smith's email my parents have been looking to get in contact with him as they were friends in Germany or if you can pass my email address to him saying that Jennifer mulligan is his biggest fan with one hand

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  4. Hi Hannes, just incase you didn´t know sadly Peter Leay died in a tragic accident on new years eve/new years day morning at home. He is sorely missed by all of the band and of course his family. This shortly after the release of a double CD in Japan in late 2014.

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  5. They are awsome i can.t stop playing sunday and love rules

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