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It was 19th November 1931: In the small village of Portishead in Somerset, Jack and Dorothy Cutler looked on their new born son with pride – and named him Alan John Cutler. This was soon abbreviated to ‘Adge’ – and musical history began to be made!
Young Adge left school at 14, spent a short time working in his father’s bicycle-come-taxi-come-coach business, moving on rapidly to work with the local cider company, ‘Coates’ and then as a labourer on a nuclear power station in North Wales. For a few years he turned road manager for musician Acker Bilk before moving to Spain for a year looking into development opportunities for holiday homes. This final move turned out to be disastrous and Adge moved back to England and settled in London. Music was in his blood and with several self-penned songs he began to scrape a living singing in pubs and clubs right across the country – even doing some solo lunchtime appearances in the famous ‘Cavern Club’ in Liverpool. Early in 1966 he already had appearances booked on local west-country radio and television and spent hours travelling between London and Bristol to sing to crowds in his beloved Somerset.
His reputation grew, but with it his need to earn a proper living, so Adge visited the office of his good friend John Miles, which was situated above the offices of Acker and Dave Bilks’ building company.
Adge was pretty hard up, living in a bedsit in Pembroke Road, Clifton and doing labouring work as he had just returned from a year in Spain looking for sites to build villas with the Bilks’ building company. The venture didn’t work out as the British Government had stopped all transfers of money for foreign investment, so he had returned to the UK, penniless.
When Adge and John sat down together on that sunny afternoon in June 1966 Adge expressed how he would like to make some money singing the songs he had already written and discussed his forming a proper backing group. Adge suggested ‘The Mangold Wurzels’ but he and John eventually agreed that just ‘The Wurzels’ was better. John had spent the last eight years managing pop groups and had done lots of business with EMI, hence the reason he contacted them first to see if he could persuade them to offer Adge a recording contract. He succeeded in obtaining a recording contract - and then agreed to act as “The Wurzels’” manager and agent: this continued for next 20 years.
December 1966 – the world would never be the same again! A band of strangely dressed men with odd looking instruments leapt on stage at the ‘Royal Oak Inn’ Nailsea, Somerset and proceeded to record a ‘live’ album for the EMI record company. This was Adge Cutler & The Wurzels’ first LP and it sold in massive numbers, quickly followed by a single which charted nationally and then an EP “Scrumpy & Western” – this was the start of a musical revolution that is still going strong over 40 years later!
Adge and his Wurzels were on a roll! Wurzelmania hit the UK. The band was inundated with gigs across the country – everyone wanted to sing along to ‘Drink Up Thy Cider’ and listen to ditties about the champion dung spreader and others. Another album, also ‘live’, was recorded in 1967 entitled ‘Adge Cutler’s Family Album’ and was once again a tremendous success. Over the next few years a total of 8 singles and 3 further albums were recorded and snapped up by Scrumpy & Western enthusiasts everywhere. The band even went on a tour of Germany! Adge’s popularity, along with that of his band of Wurzels, was unsurpassed - they even had plans to tour Canada where they had a strong following. Their popularity was reflected by the number of television appearances – and when Adge’s Wurzel stick was stolen the story was covered by ‘Police Five’ – the 1970s equivalent of today’s ‘Crime Watch’.
But Adge’s reign as King of Scrumpy & Western music ended abruptly and tragically. On Sunday 5th May 1974 came the shattering news that Adge had died in the early hours when his car overturned at a roundabout approaching the Severn Bridge. He was returning alone to his new house at Tickenham from a successful week of shows in Hereford. The eulogies made were numerous, but in the end Adge Cutler was just a true countryman: a Somerset man who knew his homeland, its characters and their foibles. The wit of his lyrics encouraged Somerset folk to laugh at themselves. He was that rare bird – a born entertainer, just slightly bemused even to the end that his little songs had brought so much pleasure to so many people.
So what was to happen to Adge’s remaining Wurzels? – at the time comprising of Tommy Banner, Pete Budd and Tony Baylis. They were devastated of course, but were determined to carry on Adge’s legacy and keep his name on the lips of scrumpy fans across the world. So carry on they did, and the following year recorded their first solo album “The Wurzels are Scrumptious”. A success, but not as good as they felt Adge’s memory deserved. The following year they recorded a ‘live’ album at a country club near Bristol. One of the songs was then released as a single. This song, all about a farm implement, was picked up by Radio 1 DJ Noel Edmonds who championed it. Within weeks the Wurzels hit the big time – their first solo single ‘The Combine Harvester’ shot to the top spot in the UK charts – their first No. 1 – and Pete, Tommy and Tony were inundated with radio and television interviews and appearances. Ten years after Adge recorded his first single, the Wurzels were a huge success and a household name. How proud Adge would have been!
After the huge success of Combiner Harvester the Wurzels knew that they would have difficulty maintaining this level. The problem was solved very quickly when Pete Budd was playing around with the tune ‘Una Paloma Blanca’; the lyrics ‘When the moon shines on the cowshed’ materialised out of the scrumpy-laden air and their follow-up single ‘Cider Drinker’ was born. This record, rocketing up the charts and selling 250,000 copies, proved to the world that the Wurzels were not a one-hit wonder and were indeed here to stay!
Another single, ‘Morning Glory’ also hit the charts as 1976 rapidly turned into Wurzel-year. With all this chart success appearances all over the country in a wide variety of venues were scheduled from cowsheds to top nightclubs and a constant stream of bookings for radio and television such as ‘Arrows’, ‘Multi Coloured Swap Shop’. ‘Top of the Pops’, ‘Saturday Scene’, ‘Pebble Mill at One’, ‘Seaside Special’ and ‘The Ken Dodd Show’.
For several years Wurzel life was a mixture of touring - two sell-out nationwide tours and world tours taking in Canada (which gave them their first No.1 single outside the UK with Combine Harvester/The Blackbird), Tenerife, the Middle East and Cyprus – and TV appearances finding time to appear on numerous shows including ‘That’s Life’, ‘Crackerjack’ and ‘The Basil Brush Show’.
Four more albums and seven singles of fresh Wurzel music hit the shops over the next few years – and the record company was forced to release several ‘best of’ compilations to satisfy demand! But as with all chart-busting groups eventually the pace had to slow – even lashings of the local scrumpy couldn’t help the boys keep up this neck-breaking speed of life!
In 1986 with the release of the single ‘All Fall Down’ – a little ditty reminding us of the perils of over-indulging in the zummerzet brew - life for the Wurzels returned to a more sedentary style as they decided to return to their roots away from the glare of the cameras and once again appear in the local pubs and clubs where they so enjoyed performing.
In the mid- 80s the band could be found performing just as in the old days before fame and fortune hit – giving pleasure to fans in pubs and clubs with both traditional Wurzel numbers and new songs written by the band. They may not have been hitting the headlines but life was just as busy.
A rare excursion to the recording studios in this period was when the Wurzels were commissioned to produce a 7” single ‘Sunny Weston-Super-Mare’ – extolling the virtues of this seaside town in the band’s effort to help the dwindling local tourist trade – the single even had an instrumental ‘B’ side for the buyer to sing along to!
Then, in 1995 came the opportunity for the band to return to the spotlight. The Eddie Stobart haulage company was looking for a group to produce a song to advertise the company: The Wurzels were approached and the band’s first single for several years was cut. The single, which actually consisted of four brand-new Wurzel tracks, was a great success, even reaching the national charts. It was also a first – for not only was it produced in the common cassette format, but also appeared in a ‘lorry shaped’ 7” vinyl picture disc and the modern (at the time!) CD. Sales were good, the company received great publicity and the Wurzels once again came to the attention of the nation! Although a follow-up album was planned (and was advertised on the cassette sleeve notes) it never materialised.
Hot on the heels of this success Wurzel fans were repaid for their loyalty by seeing the issue of a new album on cassette (made available at gigs) the first ‘live’ Wurzels album for over 20 years. Recorded in Barnstaple early in the year, “Mendip Magic – Live!” was, and indeed still is, a superb example of the band’s exciting live performance, undiminished over the years and still as fresh as ever.
Although the band weren’t topping the charts and appearing on TV with such regularity as in the mid 1970s, life was no less busy as they continued to perform for fans old and new alike – but with the dawn of the new millennium things were about to take off once again.
In 2000 a new CD was issued ‘The Finest Arvest of the Wurzels’ – a massive collection of the Wurzel’s hits. This major seller was closely followed by ‘The Wurzels Collection’ – more back numbers reissued. The band came under new and proactive management in the form of Sil Willcox, an established manager and record producer (most well known of his groups perhaps being ‘The Stranglers’). Under his care and guidance the Wurzels produced a new album ‘Never Mind The Bullocks’ which consisted of covers of modern pop songs.
Two singles from this album were to put the band back on the map. The first was ‘Combine Harvester remix 2001’ – an upbeat version of their 1976 chart topper, closely followed by ‘Don’t Look Back In Anger’, originally sung by a group known as Oo-Ar-Sis or should that be Oasis! These releases opened the floodgates and the Wurzels haven’t looked back since – and certainly not in anger!
Further albums of fresh recordings followed along with numerous appearances on TV shows. Requests for gigs poured in – it is not uncommon for the band to play to crowds numbered in their thousands and their fan base increased massively taking in children, university students and adults alike. In the summer of 2000 the Wurzels achieved the ultimate accolade – they played at the Glastonbury Festival! Adge Cutler would have been so proud of his legacy!
The Wurzels’ first commercial video was released in 2002 along with another CD - both now highly sought after by collectors. In recent times several albums and singles have been released, including their first collaborative single ‘Cider Drinker 2007’ along with DJ Tony Blackburn – a single to raise money for a prostate cancer appeal following band member Tommy Banner’s fight with the disease. More recently a re-recording of the single ‘One For The Bristol City’, also a charity single for prostate cancer, tickled the national charts.
Demand for Wurzel music has also resulted in yet another ‘Greatest Hits’ collection - there appears to be no end to the phenomenon of ‘The Wurzels’ – hardly a day goes by now when they can’t be found on stage, appearing on TV shows, raising money for charities close to their hearts and most of all bringing so much pleasure to so many people with simple sing-along numbers extolling the virtues of living in the land of cider and sunshine.
The Wurzels are regularly asked how long will they keep going. The band always respond that they intend to keep going whilst they enjoy performing – and that suits the rest of us just fine!