The sole Harmony Grass LP, This Is Us (1970), is arguably the finest UK soft rock release of the last three decades of the 20th century. Bandleader Tony Rivers (real name Tony Thompson) was an enormous Beach Boys fan, and it was his enthusiasm for the California sound which defined his sonic template.
Until 1968, Harmony Grass traded as Tony Rivers & The Castaways, gaining a reputation as England’s Beach Boys, and attracting the attention of UK pops’ two most influential managers.
As the 60s wore on, Rivers picked up any new American musical developments. The Castaways’ 1967 residency at London’s Marquee Club was used to hone an act which included versions of The Tradewinds’ Mind Excursion, The Lovin’ Spoonful‘s You Didn’t Have To Be So Nice, and an up-tempo Association-style rendition of Walk On By.
By late 1968 the name Tony Rivers & The Castaways was sounding dated, and their post-Epstein manager decided Harmony Grass sounded much hipper.
The renamed group signed with RCA and issued Move In A Little Closer Baby in December 1968. The song late became an international hit for Cass Elliot from The Mamas and The Papas.
Although subsequent Harmony Grass singles flopped, the band released some gems, totally at odds with the formulaic fare that might be expected from a band stranded on the chicken-in-a-basket cabaret circuit by the end of the decade.
Foremost amongst them was Mrs Richie (included on the This Is Us album), a self-composed song (about a landlady in Stockton-on-Tees apparently) influenced equally by the harmonies of Crosby, Stills and Nash and (uniquely for a British band) Love.
Despite the lack of single success, RCA released This Is Us. Tony Rivers produced most tracks and wrote seven of them. The soaring harmonies of What A Groovy Day were on a par with the best of The Association.
Of the other new songs, the atmospheric Byrds/Beach Boys amalgam I’ve Seen To Dream was a stand-out. Cover versions of Chatanooga Choo Choo, Tom Dooley and Spanky & Our Gang‘s Byrd Avenue blended seamlessly into the album.
After the album failed to chart, RCA decided Simon and Garfunkel‘s Cecilia might be the song to get Harmony Grass back into the charts. They released the single, relegating Mrs Richie to the B-side.
Insulted, Tony Rivers departed the group. Harmony Grass carried on without Rivers, issuing a final single, the Bubblegum styled Stand On Your Own Two Feet, and then got heavy, first as Grass and then as Capability Brown.
Tony Rivers moved into production for CBS and worked as a session singer on projects ranging from the budget cover version Top Of The Pops collections to Roger Daltrey’s One Of The Boys album. In 1975 he became Cliff Richard‘s vocal arranger, staying with him until 1986.
Original drummer Brian “Shirt” Talbot was killed on 5 December 1964 when the band were involved in a head-on collision with a truck in Lanarkshire whilst on tour. Several other band members were injured in the crash, including bassist Ray Brown who went through the windscreen and spent several months in hospital.
Brian Hudson succumbed to cancer on 21 September 2001.
Guitar, organ, vocals
Brian ‘Shirt’ Talbot
John ‘Lon’ Lyons