Hoggin' The Stage. Groundhogs:The Classic Years
Martyn Hanson (Northdown, 2005)
'Hoggin The Page’ is a worthy effort that traces the parallel rise of The Groundhogs, and guitarist Tony McPhee with the musical shift from blues to progessive rock via a short dalliance with soul.
Author Martyn Hanson has certainly done his homework as he painstakingly traces Tony’s early family life and musical influences, before majoring on his early blues period with the Dollar Bills and John Lee’s Groundhogs. The latter’s relationship with Tony’s blues hero John Lee Hooker is also well captured with judicious references to recent tomes on the great boogie man.
Yet it is not until nearly halfway through the book before we get to the meat of the Groundhogs history with the seminal 'Thank Christ For The Bomb’ album and the commercially successful 'Split’. And it is only with the latter album that the author moves away from a curious detached and uncritical style to attempt to unravel McPhee’s demons that played an integral part in the lyrics of 'Split’
For the rest this soft backed biography moves on apace, and the well detailed chronology is punctuated by quotes from past band members. There are also plenty of previously unseen photos, and long forgotten press snippets and the like to illustrate different periods of the band’s history.
But there’s a feeling of a scissors and paste affair at the expense of a more analytical approach. The potentially interesting subtext of the band’s changing management for example is for the most part glossed over, and the reader is left with intriguing annotated references to industry heavy weights such as Don Arden, Wilf Pine, The Mafia, and even The Kray twins but with little idea of their impact on the band. And it is undoubtedly clear that with more astute management the band wouldn’t have missed out on the American gravy train, a subject that is only given cursory attention.
For the rest there is a curious rushed finish, in which we get the classic statement that circa the mid 90’s the band had 'been through too many line-up changes to mention here’, and barely a page later the book leaps to a hurried conclusion.
There is still much to recommend here, and Groundhogs devotees will lap this up, but if anything this is an opportunity missed, with the reader none the wiser about the enigmatic Tony McPhee, save for his stances on anti hunting and vegetarianism. All in a all a good coffee table book, that will appeal to Hogs and early 70’s rock fans alike
Review by Pete Feenstra
***** Out of this world | **** Pretty
damn fine |
*** OK, approach with caution unless you are a fan |
** Instant bargain bin fodder | * Ugly. Just ugly