Hailing from Cardiff in 1967 and taking their cue from Led Zeppelin and Cream, Budgie originally performed as ‘Hills Contemporary Grass’ and ‘Six Ton Budgie’ before shortening the name.
The trio’s big-riffing style first took shape on their 1971 self-titled album, recorded in just three days at Rockfield studio with Black Sabbath producer Rodger Bain using primitive eight-track technology.
Budgie developed a fanatical grassroots following through live work – which was crucial as the London-based music press wrote them off as mindless metal merchants from the principality.
Radio Luxembourg DJ Kid Jensen liked their debut album, though, and played it incessantly on his ‘Dimensions’ programme.
Squawk (1972) saw Budgie attempting to occupy more prog-inclined airspace, as best displayed on Hot As a Docker’s Armpit, a song indebted in part to Mars from Holst’s The Planets Suite.
The album featured the first sleeve illustration by Roger Dean, who developed the band’s budgie figure into something of a Planet Of The Apes-style hybrid.
The albums Never Turn Your Back On A Friend (1973) and In For The Kill (1974) were both created at Rockfield, as their predecessors had been. The band’s preoccupation with bizarre song titles continued, with You’re The Biggest Thing Since Powdered Milk and In The Grip Of A Tyrefitter’s Hand being just two examples.
In For The Kill would prove the band’s first and, shockingly, only UK Top 30 album, peaking at #29.
The title track proved a classic while the wordplay in songs like Crash Course In Brain Surgery marked Budgie out as hard rockers with a sense of self-mocking fun.
Following the departure of Ray Phillips in 1973, Budgie began to experience drummer problems.
With new drummer Steve Williams in place for Bandolier (1975), the band’s fortunes appeared to have finally stabilised – only for co-founding guitarist Tony Bourge to leave three years later.
Bandolier became Budgie’s second UK chart album, stalling at #36.
Myf Isaac, who’d played with Steve Williams in early 70s band Quest, was brought in on second guitar and served from 1975 to 1978. After leaving Budgie, he’d become musical director for Welsh-language television channel S4C.
After a debut US tour in 1976, sharing stages with Sparks, Montrose and Captain Beyond, major changes were implemented. Not only did Budgie sign with A&M, but they also took the decision to concentrate on the American market, choosing neighbouring Canada as their base.
Their 1976 album If I Were Brittania [sic] I’d Waive The Rules saw Cardiff keyboardist Richard Dunn added to the studio ranks while the band produced with the help of Richard Manwaring, their live soundman, who would go on to oversee City Boy’s 5705 hit.
Impeckable (1978), recorded in Canada, was their first LP put together outside Wales, but Budgie’s relocation to Toronto didn’t work: marriages and relationships were falling apart and Tony Bourge felt 10 years was enough.
Shelley and Williams’ search for a replacement alighted on sometime Hawkwind man Huw Lloyd Langton and Rob Kendrick, once of Trapeze. Both were to be used in tandem, but Kendrick not only convinced the band to use him alone but also persuaded them to relocate to Texas.
Both decisions failed to pay off and, flying home on borrowed money, Budgie toured the UK in 1979 to pay back their debts before inviting Kendricks to sling his hook.
Salvation came in the unlikely shape of John Thomas, a genial Brummie who had been playing guitar in expatriate American George Hatcher’s band. He supported Budgie at their last gig with Kendrick and was immediately identified by Williams and Shelley as their new lead guitarist.
With their bankability fortuitously enhanced by the NWOBHM, Budgie opened for Ozzy Osbourne on his first two solo tours and headlined a night at the Reading festival in 1982. They also very nearly scored that elusive hit single when Keeping A Rendezvous peaked at #71 in October 1981
By 1988 the band were on an indefinite hiatus, finally reactivated in 1995 as Burke Shelley was broke.
Guitarist John Thomas suffered a stroke in 2000, and in 2010 Burke Shelley was diagnosed as having a six-centimetre aneurysm of the aorta that was leaking blood and could have burst at any time. A two-hour 40-minute operation saved his life and Budgie have been on ice ever since.