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“Pop group, are you?”
Which musical moment is the most definitively “Yardbirds”? The thrilling rave-ups of “I’m A Man”, which were so inspirational to David Bowie? Jeff Beck’s devastating one note feedback solo on “The Nazz Are Blue”? A delivery during which, as Simon Napier-Bell recalls in the following pages, Jeff just “glared at the band through the glass”? It’s a classic. But topping the lot would surely have to be the thirty second burst of madness about one minute and 45 seconds into the 1966 single “Happenings Ten Years Time Ago”.
In historical terms, we welcome this as one of the few recorded instances of the Jimmy Page/Jeff Beck Yardbirds of June-October 1966. On a more visceral level, though, it does something less easy to rationalise when a warning siren sounds and Jeff Beck begins a series of bombing runs on his guitar. One guitar solo threatens to start, but then another one, oblivious to the first begins on top of it. After a few seconds, someone starts talking – actually, more like heckling. “Pop group, are you? Bet you’re making money…” At this, there is mad laughter in the mix. “Why you got to wear long hair?”
It’s disorientating, but it feels representative of how things generally were for this band: hectic, confusing, often magnificent. The Yardbirds, like their more storied contemporaries like The Rolling Stones made a successful transition from R&B enthusiasm to professional pop and psychedelia (something they did markedly better than the Stones). It’s inescapable, though, that they are today better known for giving a home to Eric Clapton, the late Jeff Beck, and Jimmy Page, than for their own collective output.
In the face of overwhelming odds, we’ve made some sense of it all. Inside you’ll find in depth reviews of the band’s intriguingly scattershot catalogue, presented alongside our pick of archive interviews. The Yardbirds own lifespan was an explosive five years, so beyond that, we’ve taken the opportunity to follow Jeff Beck’s career, from blues rock, to jazz fusion and even drum ‘n’ bass as he maintained a hunger for fresh sounds, much like his friend David Bowie.
In 2016 he looked back with Uncut to a time when, as ever, the Yardbirds were up to their necks in a tricky situation. On this occasion, it was playing a show at the San Remo Song Festival – but doing so with a very drunk singer.
“During rehearsals,” Jeff told David Cavanagh, “Gene Pitney came up and said, “You guys better watch out because that singer is di-a-bolical.” I suddenly felt very protective of Keith and went, “Fuck you. We do not do cheesy pop songs. We don’t even know what the fuck we’re doing here.”
“We wanted nothing to do with it,” Jeff said. “But I think we sold 80,000 singles the next day because the kids loved us.”
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