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Friday, April 16, 2010


I remember it like it was yesterday. I sat in my bedroom listening to The Damned and my brother walked into the room. We got into a debate about music and he walked over to the stereo, lifted ‘Dammed Damned Damned’ off the turntable and put on some hippy looking album with a bird on the cover. We were only a few bars into ‘Breadfan’ by Budgie and I was sold. This welsh outfit were to join the very short list of heavy metal bands that were going to be allowed to infect my record collection. That was over thirty years ago.

There was always something unique about Budgie. It was a mix of Tony Bourge’s unique guitar sound – I can’t put my finger on what was unique about it, it just was – Burke Shelley’s almost lead guitar like bass and his voice. I don’t normally like blokes that sing like girls, but with budgie it some how worked a dream, very similar to Geddy Lee from Rush.

Tracks with titles like ‘Nude Disintegrating Parachutist Woman’, ‘Napoleon Bonaparte one and Bonaparte two’ and ‘In the Grip of a Tyrefitter's Hand’ were soon starting to fill up my shelves – much to the disapproval of my punk mates.

With the exception of a drunken blurry night at the Reading Festival in 1982, I never really got to see them live properly before they split in 1988. Then in 1998 while booking a gig with Man, Man’s manager asked me if I would be interested in Six Ton Budgie as a support. Next thing I knew I was sat in the home studio of original Budgie drummer Ray Phillips in his home in Trefil. I was transported to my youth and sat there for hours listening to tales of life on the road with Budgie. Of course I wanted them as a support, I was never going to get the proper Budgie (as far as i knew they were disbanded with no intention of reforming), but Six Ton Budgie were, as Ray put it, Budgie - only heavier.

The Shelly incarnation of Budgie played sporadic one off gigs during 1995 and 96, then officially reformed in 1999 but left it till 2006 to release an album, the typically Budgie titled ‘You're All Living in Cuckooland’. They must have played near by at some time recently but tonight’s gig In Pontypridd’s Muni was the first I had heard about in advance and duly set about sorting myself with a ticket.

Appropriately tonight, as dinosaurs and prehistoric birds walked the earth once more, Europe was grounded due to a cloud of volcanic ash floating above us. As we arrived I felt unusually young, with many of those that had turned out probably going to see Budgie while I was still in junior school and still yet to go through my bedroom Budgie epiphany. We arrived shortly before the doors opened and there was already a queue. Not being one for queue’s, or watching covers bands (support was in the shape of Merthyr Tydfil’s metal cover band, Celtic Pride) we headed for the pub.

Once the text arrived notifying us that Celtic Pride had left the stage we walked the short distance from the Patriot Bar to the packed Muni and started to feel even younger. The room was full of people who think £16 to see a live band is cheap, Judas Priest t-shirts are cool, queueing to get a venue before it has opened is normal and it is acceptable to have a covers band on a bill for proper bands.

I put my snobbery in my back pocket and we set up camp to the right of the stage and waited for the arrival of the second best heavy metal band in the history of the world (Ozzy era Sabbath obviously being the first).

When they finally arrived I nearly had by eye poked out. Current guitarist, Craig Goldy of the Ronnie James Dio’s band, was wearing unfeasibly tight leggings not really appropriate for a man of 49; it looked like he had a cricket box down his pants.

Then they began.

Shelly had turned sixty this week. Well done Mr Shelley. Now I hate to be ageist, but sixty is most definitely too old to rock and roll, and sadly Burke Shelly is an example of this. Whilst he actually looked fitter than me, his voice is not what it used to be and given that voice was a vital ingredient that made the band so special, this was not good. His nifty bass work was also pivotal; I am not sure if it was the sound engineer not understanding the band or if again age was a factor, but the bass was barely audible.

As for the unique guitar sound? Well it was clearly unique to the original guitarist, which was not Mr Goldy. It is not that he is not a good guitarist, he is clearly a very good guitarist and threw in some pretty amazing finger wizardry. However, that was not what Budgie were about and trying to make Budgie sound clever makes Budgie sound like – not Budgie. They sounded like a heavy metal band; a very talented metal band, I’ll give you that, but as odd as this sounds, I don’t actually like metal. The Budgie I loved as a kid sounded special and different, the Budgie that I saw tonight did not. ‘In for the Kill’ hinted at the old Budgie, but the encore of that classic ‘Breadfan’ left me feeling very sad.

A bit of me wished I had not gone, that memory of Budgie all those years ago had been slightly defiled – and lets face it, thirty years later with only one original member, it was obvious there was a good chance that would be the case – but hey, I would have never forgiven myself if I had not gone. I am glad I went, but I won’t bother again.

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At 6:12 pm , Anonymous Anonymous said...

Ahhh C'mon man, Burke's just getting older. he plays bass fine from what ive heard from them in recent years on just thankful that we have had this band that is so dedicated to their fan to tour as relentlessly as they do. Y'know, just because someone is old doesn't mean they cant rock. it just means you're more open to criticism (Unfairly, i might add. Look at zeppelins amazing runion!) The point here is that you canstill have fun with it and thats what burke does. thats what The Who are doing. sure, they may not be what they once were, but they give their heart to the industry. Calling them "Turkey" is abit much..

At 9:25 pm , Blogger Clint Iguana said...

In fairness, the turkey jibe was a cheap bird joke and probably a little unfair.

The other day i spotted a book in a shop titled 'the 100 greatest heavy metal albums of all time'. If i were writing that book, every one of budgie's albums would be in it.

But the current band are not really Budgie, it is the burke Shelley band. Without Tony Bourge they are a shaddow of their former selves. Like i said, the current guitarist is very good at what he does, i just dont like what he does.

As a night out it was interesting for nostalgia purposes, but they did not have me enthralled or get the hair standing on the back of my neck. I want more than to just watch a band on stage, i want an all round experience.

I am sure he does sound fine on youtube, he is a genius, but that's not what i heard last week. I think the sound engineer might have had his part to play in that though.


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