One of the first gigs I went to was Budgie. A Budgie gig was a rite of passage if you lived in Norwich in the early 70’s because they seemed to play at least twice a year while other bands avoided East Anglia to concentrate on the sexier venues like Wakefield or High Wycombe.
We only had two significant venues, the University of East Anglia (UEA) and St Andrews Hall. The UEA could pretty much book who they wanted in the days when higher education was fantastically well funded. On the other hand St Andrews Hall handled proper promotions so tended to take the bands who would sell well. Gigs at St Andrews were slightly edgier affairs as anyone with money could go so it might attract some of the rougher types even, gasp, people from outside Norfolk ! Big draws amazingly were Camel and Tangerine Dream as well as ‘inevitably, Budgie.
Budgie were hard working guys and deserve respect for that alone, if they hadn’t taken the trouble to drive over from Wales I wouldn’t be writing this now and they would be just a little bit less famous. Going to see them was as inevitable as my brief flirtation with heavy metal.The bands that one would write in biro on our canvas school bags were inevitably Purple, Sabbath, Zep and Quo. I tend to like songs or records rather than bands so I couldn’t really commit to this level of worship but I did own a copy of 24 Carat Purple and thought that the intro to Fireball was one of the best pieces of music ever (still do). For most of the 70’s heavy metal seeped into my skin through repeated, often unintentional, listening.
Budgie were, and in fact probably still are, a power trio from South Wales. Their location didn’t help, if they had started out a few years later in south Yorkshire they would probably have been huge but prior to the 90’s we just didn’t know how to handle Welsh rock, it wasn’t a matter of wherever it was done well or badly just the fact that it was done at all made it interesting. The only other Welsh band around was Man and they couldn’t be arsed to come to Norwich.
The main man in Budgie was Burke Shelley who bore an uncanny resemblance to Geddy Lee from Rush in that he looked the same, played bass and sang in a high pitched wail. Their career followed the usual template. Bunch of mates get together record their early stuff from 71-75 which is regarded as their best. Then members start leaving, record quality drops and punk render’s them unemployable.
So far so Gentle Giant but Burk Shelley was made of sterner stuff and kept the band going when no one gave a monkeys which meant that there were still a few crumbs left on the table. The New Wave of British Heavy Metal gave them a much needed shot in the arm and actually allowed them to headline the Reading Festival. The Band still amount for something in Eastern Europe (just as Man are apparently HUGE in Belgium). This enabled them to carry on with a shifting personnel of journeyman musicians until Shelley was hospitalised (in Poland) with an aortic anaurism . This means he cant play bass and sing at the same time although I suspect that wont stop him for long, after al the Drummer from Def Leppard lost his arm and Ozzy Osbourne lost most of his brain and still continued.
As for the music, I haven’t got a clue, I cant remember any memorable moment from St Andrew’s Hall and in fact until today I never listened to the Band again. Yeah, I know its hardly the Sex Pistols at the Free Trade Hall or the Velvet Underground at Max’s Kansas City but that’s my life.
Here they are doing something live