MARCH - MAY 1967
David Bowie: Vocals, Guitar, Harmonica, Tenor Saxophone
Rod Davies: Guitar
Brian "Croak" Prebble: Bass
Bob Evans: Saxophone, Flute
Butch Davis: Keyboards
Derek Roll: Drums
Waiting For The Man | Dirty Old Man | It Can't Happen Here | Silly Boy Blue | Toy Soldier | Silver Treetop School For Boys
Having completed the David Bowie album, David entered a period which lacked the continuity of previous band relationships. The first of many sporadic line-ups that flickered briefly between 1967 and 1972 was The Riot Squad, an East London band who were on the lookout for a new vocalist when David joined them for a run of about twenty gigs in the spring of 1967. Signed to David's former label Pye, The Riot Squad were adjusting to the sudden death on February 3rd of their biggest champion, the legendary producer Joe Meek, who had produced their most recent (and, as it would turn out, final) Pye single "Gotta Be A First Time", released just a month earlier.
David encouraged the band to wear extravagant, clownish face-paint and to use psychedelic accessories on stage. "David was always a laugh," saxophonist Bob Evans later told Paul Trynka. "He liked us because we'd do anything." Reviewing one of the gigs fronted by Bowie, The Walthamstow Independent observed that the band "dress up as flowers and their instruments have been converted into flowers", and went on to divulge the startling news that "offers from all over the world have come flooding in, so much so that the group has had to turn down an offer of a tour in Venezuela." Kenneth Pitt records that The Riot Squad appeared at Oxford Street's Tiles club on April 13th with a flashing red police lamp, and that their live act included The Velvet Underground's "Waiting For The Man" and The Fugs' "Dirty Old Man". Bowie later recalled that "I also made them cover Mothers Of Invention songs. Not happily, I seem to remember, especially as my big favourite was "It Can't Happen Here". Frank's stuff was virtually unknown in Britain, and re-listening to that song I can see why he wasn't on any playlists."
In its review, The Walthamstow Independent reported that "The crack of a whip breaks through the sound of loud, erratic music. Teenagers, dancing in a frenzy, gaze towards the music makers to see a lean, coconut-haired youth being whipped. A bizarre orgy? No, just a scene from Waltham Forest's Riot Squad's stage performance." A performance, to be precise, of Bowie's sado-masochistic Velvets-styled composition "Toy Soldier", for which Bob Evans later recalled that "My role was that of Little Sadie, a schoolgirl who liked to go home and be whipped by her toy soldier." It was with The Riot Squad that Bowie recorded his fabled studio version of the number, alongside one of his earliest attempts at "Waiting For The Man", at Decca Studios on April 5th with Gus Dudgeon in the producer's chair. These and other Riot Squad recordings, including rough attempts at "Silly Boy Blue" and "Silver Treetop School For Boys" taped during rehearsals at The Swan in Tottenham, were released on the 2012 album The Last Chapter: Mods & Sods, and 2013's The Toy Soldier EP.
After David's departure, The Riot Squad remained active for a few months before Bob Evans emigrated to Venezuela (his connections with the country having sparked the earlier talk of touring there), and the remainder of the group disbanded in 1968.
by Nicholas Pegg
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