The Knack

"The Knack" is a great name for a rock group; so good in fact that not only did the late 70s "My Sharona" crew adopt the name, but there were also at least two bands trading as "the Knack" in 1966. One was a group of American garage rockers who recorded several singles for Capitol Records, but it is the English Knack - the original Knack - who are the subject of this compilation. Between 1965 and 1967, the Knack issued six singles, starting off as a hard-driving modish outfit who snarled their way through "She Ain't No Good" and several other quintessential R&B styled stompers before adopting a slightly more refined approach under the auspices of Piccadilly/Pye A & R man/producer John Schroeder that culminated in the swinging London observational pop of
"(Man from the) Marriage Guidance and Advice Bureau" and "Dolly Catcher Man." The group would go out on a high note with "The Lights on the Wall," a superb psychedelic pop number that was recorded as a demo in 1967 just prior to group leader Paul Gurvitz pulling the plug on the Knack to form Gun, a hard rock quartet who would score a major chart hit with "Race With The Devil" in late 1968.

The group that ultimately became the Knack was formed in the London suburb of Ilford in 1963 by singer/guitarist Paul Gurvitz, who at the time went by the name Paul Curtis. Gurvitz explains that "When my parents divorced by father changed his name to Curtis from Gurvitz and at the time I thought that Curtis was more rock n' roll than Gurvitz," It was not until the early 70s when working with former Beatles producer George Martin did Paul - and his brother Adrian - resurrect the Gurvitz name.

Toiling by day as a hairdresser in a men's salon, Gurvitz - as did 90% of the male population of England between the ages of 10 and 25 - had vague ambitions of forming a pop group. Upon learning that one of his regular customers, Brian Morris, was also a guitarist, Gurvitz and Morris decided to get a group together. Having the off hours use of the salon for rehearsals, the duo secured a drummer and bass player and in short order were honing their craft at American military installations in Germany and France. Upon returning to England, they were hired to back 50s rocker Gene Vincent, who had temporarily set up a base of operations in the UK. This opportunity came through Paul Gurvitz's father, Sam Curtis, who had previously worked as road manager for the Shadows and who was currently working as Vincent's road manager. After several months backing Vincent, the group were hired for a long term engagement at the legendary Star Club in Hamburg Germany. Performing under the name, The Londoners, they became a top attraction and were even invited to record a 45 for the Star Club's in-house record label. The single, which coupled a reasonable update of Elvis Presley's "That's My Desire" with a beat group rendition of Sam Cooke's "Bring It On Home To Me," was issued only in Germany. While hardly an earth shaking debut, it was an important milestone in the groups development and helped to spark their interest in recording. This compilation also includes a third track that was recorded at the time, which was an energetic run through of Chuck Berry's "Back In The USA."

The Londoners returned to England in early 1965, determined to build on their German success and to make a name for themselves in their home country. But before they could set about making a name for themselves, it was decided that they first needed a new name. Group leader Paul Gurvitz had quickly and correctly surmised that a name like the Londoners wouldn't fly in the UK circa 1965, so he rechristened the group, the Knack, after the recently released Richard Lester movie. Short and punchy, the name was perfectly suited to the powerful sound that the group had developed while in Germany. The group also adopted something of a mod image, though Gurvitz admits "there was a mod influence in the early days but more in fashion than in music."

Along with the new name, the decision was made to upgrade their rhythm section, which meant bringing in fresh blood in the form of Gearie Kenworthy on bass and drummer Topper Clay. The new lineup quickly coalesced into a formidable live unit and it was not difficult for Paul Gurvitz's father to leverage his music industry contacts to get the group a deal with Decca. The first Knack single to be issued through Decca was a high-octane cover of a recent Kinks b-side, "Who'll Be The Next In Line," which was backed by the pounding "She Ain't No Good." "Who'll Be The Next In Line" had been suggested to the group by former Shadow Tony Meehan. Released in September 1965, it sold well enough to interest Decca in a second single but it was not a significant success.

The group closed out 1965 with a second Decca single, "It's Love Baby (24 Hours a Day)" which was backed by "Time Time Time." Both "Time Time Time" and "She Ain't No Good" were songs that had previously appeared on a February 1965 Pye single by the London band, the Clique. Gurvitz remembers that Larry Page - who had produced the Clique single - was advising the Knack at the time and assumes both songs were suggested to the group by Page.

Once again, the single chalked up good reviews and respectable pockets of sales, but it was not enough to maintain Decca's interest, who declined to issue any further recordings by the Knack.

While most groups of that era would have folded after losing their record deal, having their Decca deal terminated was a mere annoyance to the Knack. Sam Curtis - who by this time was working as a road manager for the Kinks - once again stepped in and helped secure a group deal with Piccadilly records, an imprint of the Kinks label, Pye. The Knack debuted on Piccadilly in April 1966 with a cover of the Lovin Spoonful's "Did You Ever Have To Make Up Your Mind." Pretty much a straight cover, Gurvitz remembers that "In those days English bands were doing covers of US hits hoping for the same success." Chart success remained elusive for the Knack however and the group returned to playing live and looking for new songs to record.

"Did You Ever Have To Make Up Your Mind" made little impression in terms of sales or airplay, but that did not deter Piccadilly from issuing a second Knack single in June 1966. The b-side, "Younger Girl" was yet another Lovin Spoonful cover, but the plus side, "Stop," was a dramatic high energy pop song that was propelled by an unusual rhythm that vaguely evoked the recent Unit 4 + 2 charge hit, "Concrete and Clay." "Stop" proved popular with the offshore pirate radio stations and it climbed as high as #22 on the influential Radio London chart.

The modest success of "Stop" insured that the Knack would remain on the Piccadilly books for the time being and a third single - "Save All My Love For Joey'/"Take My Love" - was issued in October 1966. This record saw the band returning to the energetic sound of their earlier Decca sides. "Save All My Love For Joey" was solid commercial pop, while "Take My Love" was an urgent performance that still maintained the basic pop orientation of their recent Piccadilly tracks. Despite the high quality of both the songs and performances, the single failed to replicate the admittedly minor success of "Stop." The song title itself presumably helped to inhibit sales. While a close listen to the song confirms that the "Joey" in question is indeed a girl, in less enlightened times perhaps it was simply too much to expect record buyers to embrace a disc by four lads intent on telling the world of their love for a subject going by a name that's predominately associated with the male gender.

Had the group been on parent company Pye, it is likely they might have been dropped at this juncture, but on Piccadilly, the Knack were actually one of the more successful - in both artistic and even commercial terms - acts on the roster of the rapidly floundering label. As such, they were given an opportunity to cut a fourth single for the company, "(Man from the) Marriage Guidance & Advice Bureau"/"Dolly Catcher Man," which was issued in February 2967. The single was their first - and ultimately last - self composed effort, with Brian Morris penning "(Man from the) Marriage Guidance & Advice Bureau" and Paul Gurvitz providing "Dolly Catcher Man." The single was also something of a departure for the group in the prominent use of acoustic guitars. It was a highly promising effort, but again failed to sell many copies or garner significant airplay.

The Knack would record no further materials for Piccadilly. The label was in its final days (Pye would absorb Piccadilly in the late summer of 1967) and Paul Gurvitz had plans for a new direction for the Knack, pushing the group in a more progressive direction. There were also several lineup changes, with Topper Clay leaving (he went on to drum for New York Public Library) and being replaced by Louis Farrell. Soon after, Brian Morris also left the group and was replaced by not another guitarist, but instead by keyboardist Tim Mycroft.

The summer of 1967 also found Paul Gurvitz performing - albeit very briefly - as a member of a group known as Rupert's People. Earlier in the year, aspiring pop manager Howard Conder had recorded a single entitled "Reflections of Charles Brown" with the London based band Fleur de Lys. The single was to be issued under the group name of Rupert's People. Shortly before the release of the single, however, a disagreement between Conder and Fleur de Lys left Conder with a single that needed to be promoted but no band. A new "Rupert's People" was hastily assembled by Conder, comprised of keyboardist John Tout, bassist John Banks and former Merseybeats drummer, John Banks. Rounding out the group were Paul Gurvitz on lead vocals and guitar and his brother, Adrian, also on guitar. The new Rupert's People line up only played a handful of live shows before they were allegedly sacked by Conder and replaced with the group Sweet Feeling, who assumed the role of Rupert's People.

In addition to his Rupert's People dalliance, Gurvitz remained busy with the Knack throughout the summer, playing the UFO club on June 30, 1967 with Tomorrow and Dead Sea Fruit. One of their last shows as the Knack was an October 6 date at the Roundhouse with Denny Laine.

While the new version of the Knack never released any material, they did make one final recording. In the fall of 1967 the group went into Olympic Studios with producer Denny Cordell to cut a new song by Paul Gurvitz entitled "Light On The Wall." Gurvitz explains that "Lights on the Wall came from the fact that we used to tour with out own lighting guy who used the oil/slide psych thing that was happening at that time and I just got the idea from that." The song was assumed to have been long lost until a white label acetate of the track surfaced in the 1990s. The acetate bore the group name "Happy Vegetable," but Gurvitz is adamant that there was never a group called Happy Vegetable. "My brother (Adrian Gurvitz, who would team up with Paul in the 1968 version of Gun) and Louis may have at one time been thinking of forming a group with that name, but nothing ever happened." How the acetate came to be labeled as being by "Happy Vegetable" remains a mystery, though Gurvitz's assumption was that the acetate originated from someone close to the group back in 1967.

The Knack finally changed their name to Gun once and for all after the October gig at the Roundhouse and soon recorded a BBC session under their new name, which was transmitted on 12 November, 1967. The session featured four tracks, including a heavy rendition of the Supremes "Stop In The Name of Love" and a superb version of "Lights on the Wall." As the song ends, DJ John Peels notes that "I certainly hope they do release that as a single as a matter of fact. These are The Gun, who used to be called The Knack, and 'The Lights On The Wall'". Gun never did record "Light On The Wall" for commercial release, in fact, none of the four tracks recorded for the debut BBC session were ever issued.

Shortly after the first BBC session was aired, the Gun lineup was expanded, with Paul Gurvitz's brother Adrian being brought in as a second guitarist and future Yes vocalist Jon Anderson also joining the group. Anderson would be with the Gun for only a few months until it became clear that his voice was not particularly suited to the new material being penned by Paul Gurvitz. Soon after Anderson's departure, Mycroft and Kenworthy left the group, leaving Gun as a trio with two guitarists. Having several outstanding engagements to honor, Paul Gurvitz switched to bass in order to enable the three remaining members to perform as a trio.

The new power trio approach worked well, and from that point on, Gun went in a much heavier direction. After being signed to CBS in early 1968, they scored a massive hit with "Race With The Devil," which was issued as a single in October 1968.

Given the success of Gun, the Knack have largely remained in the shadow of that perennially popular group. But when the entire output of the Knack is brought together as it is on this compilation, it's abundantly clear that they were one of the better groups of the era and that they deserve to be appreciated on their own considerable merits rather than as simply the launching point of Paul Gurvitz's long and rewarding career as a performer, producer and songwriter.



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