If you’re sitting comfortably, let me tell you a story of a band of musicians back in 1967, who were based in and around Middlesbrough and decided that a move to London was the only way to gain the success their latent talents deserved.
The band was called The Wildflowers (well, it was the 60s!), the vocalist was Paul Rodgers and the lead guitarist was Micky Moody… success eluded them in London too and the band left Paul Rodgers behind and returned home to the North East. Paul, of course, met Kossoff and Free became a reality. Meanwhile, back in the ‘Boro, Micky was invited to join a new venture by another local musician, vocalist and harmonica player John McCoy (not the larger-than-life Gillan bassist) and this band became known as Tramline and secured a two-album deal with the Island label. The tales told by Micky in his book of his formative years (and Whitesnake and beyond) explain further the happenings during this period and is thoroughly recommended.
Their debut, Somewhere Down The Line, came out in 1968 but made little impression despite the obvious quality on display: excellent covers of blues classics ‘Look Over Yonder Wall’ and ‘Statesborough Blues’ and the superb instrumental, ‘National Blues’ with Micky already showing his dazzling slide guitar skills, are a few highlights. However, their second album with the indecipherable title Moves Of Vegetable Centuries was even better and it is this one I am dipping into here.
Only three originals appear: ‘Sweet Satisfaction’ and ‘Harriet’s Underground Railway’ are McCoy/Moody compositions. The first is a heavy blues-based song that borrows and has been borrowed from many bands. Bearing in mind how young he was, they show Micky’s growing skills and understanding of both the instrument and the genre. The second is a rapid-fire, pure 60s romp with more neat guitar that nods to Lawdy Miss Clawdy but is still original enough to be thoroughly enjoyable. The third, called ‘Grunt’ is a Moody instrumental of complexity and dexterity with a seven-minute running time for him to stretch out on…. he doesn’t disappoint as, backed by a solid riff and great piano and bass keeping it nailed down, he plays some great solos that were well ahead of the time.
The covers are a few well-worn classics with a couple of surprises. ‘Pearly Queen’ opens the album with an interesting reading of the Traffic original: typically 60s sounding but with the tell-tale Winwood touch and brilliantly heavied and psyched up with the strident piano and Moody’s guitar taking it up a notch. ‘You Better Run’ is a song from ’66 by The Young Rascals which I thought had passed me by, but was covered by Peter Criss, Pat Benetar and Eddie and the Hot Rods… this version is the best one as its naivety and guitar work elevates it to something very different. ‘Sweet Mary’ is an old blues song whose origins are lost in the mists of time and so is listed as “traditional”. The early version by the great Lead Belly is probably the inspiration for this one… made for Micky’s blues sensibilities, he picks it very cleverly and makes it a real treat, although the sax solo isn’t my cup of wine. McCoy makes a damn good job of the vocals too. ‘I Wish You Would’ is a Billy Boy Arnold blues song from 1955 but made more famous by The Yardbirds with versions available covering the Clapton, Beck and Page tenures (the Jeff Beck is by far the best)! This cover is faithful but with added keys and brass and Micky isn’t overawed by the previous players and adds some sparkling runs to make his mark. ‘Good Morning Little Schoolgirl’, is a classic by the blues genius Sonny Boy Williamson whose original outshines John Lee Hooker, Muddy Waters and Clapton IMHO. It receives a fairly faithful Moody interpretation that, with the laid back, semi-spoke vocal makes it a fascinating version that stands up to all of the many others and can be enjoyed as if you hadn’t heard them. The almost countrified picking on the outro is a delight.
If you like blues, blues-rock and/or 60s run’s this is a real treat as well as being important in music history as the fledgling star that is Mr Moody, spreads his wings and leaves no doubt as to his (or his bandmates) abilities. Both of Tramline’s albums deserve to be reassessed and are now available on CD.