The summer of 1966 was on the way and all kinds of good and varied things had been topping the charts that year in Britain – The Spencer Davis Group‘s Keep On Running, The Walker Brothers‘ The Sun Ain’t Gonna Shine Anymore, plus the then-inevitable Beatles, whose Paperback Writer was a tenth #1 for the Liverpool crew.
Suddenly, in that sunny June, there were rumblings of something important happening to pop music – in Andover, Hampshire of all places. Not an area generally noted for the uninhibited high life, and certainly not for rock & roll revolutions.
But from Andover emerged a band called The Troglodytes, a rather uncommercial name which was shortened to The Troggs once they landed a recording contract with Fontana.
What manner of men were these blinking into the daylight from the heart of sleepy Hampshire?
Ostensibly a bunch of country bumpkins, they had a lead singer named Presley – Reg Presley to be exact (his real name was Reginald Maurice Ball) and quite definitely no relation to Elvis.
There were four Troggs: Guitarist Chris Britton, bassist Pete Staples, drummer Ronnie Bond and Presley, and their first record was the ludicrously inept Wild Thing, recorded in 45 minutes (along with With A Girl Like You) at Olympic Studios, off Baker Street, in February 1966 and produced by their manager Larry Page.
Page knew a thing or two about what made pop music tick. He’d toured and recorded under the billing ‘Larry Page the Teenage Rage’ and had his share of controversial headlines. Then he had switched to production and management.
The record came just at the right time to upset the psychedelic apple cart which was infecting the straightforward pop scene. Presley rasped out the lyrics in a blatantly sexy manner and there was a positive minimum of musical adventure or invention about what went on behind that rurally-accented voice – “woild thing oi think oi love you”.
Their records rang with a naive enthusiasm which allowed the group to build a respectable following on the club scene, where they continued to recreate the good old days.
Wild Thing was a song by Chip Taylor, a very experienced writer, and The Troggs simply lambasted both melody and lyrics. A couple of years later it was to become a highlight of the stage act of one Mr Jimi Hendrix.
By the time of I Can’t Control Myself, controversy really hit The Troggs. One line in the song had them banned in Australia, placed on the BBC’s ‘restricted list’ and widely criticised by the battalions of self-appointed guardians of pop morals.
The line was “your slacks are low and your hips are showing” was regarded as being unnaturally outspoken at the time. But the truth was that Reg Presley had developed a style of vocal delivery that could make reading from the telephone directory appear sexy.
With The Troggs it wasn’t a matter of the songs they sang being all that sexy – it was the way they sang and played them.
The controversy fired The Troggs to develop their rustic personalities. They exaggerated their accents, splattering conversations with “oi’s” and “moi’s”, and they deliberately cultivated the use of country bumpkin language.
The second record was With A Girl Like You, a #1 where Wild Thing had reached second place.
The third, I Can’t Control Myself, went to #2 and then came Any Way That You Want Me, Give It To Me, Night Of The Long Grass and their flower-power ballad Love Is All Around (which was destined for greater fame over a quarter of a century later at the hands of Wet Wet Wet – and Bill Nighy in the film Love Actually).
Two Troggs’ albums, From Nowhere and Trogglodynamite, were big sellers, but in LP form it must be admitted the group’s musical imperfections and weaknesses came through.
At no time, though, did their sheer exuberance and energy dry up.
Then after just 18 months of fervent furious activity, The Troggs stopped having Top 20 hits, and the band were all washed up charts-wise by early 1968, despite a number of comeback attempts.
But in that short space of time, they had laid claim to being ‘living legends of pop’.
Legal hassles with Larry Page no doubt contributed to their demise as a chart band, but they did continue working overseas clubs with the occasional tour of one-nighters in Britain.
Then in 1973, there were unmistakable and unexpected signs that The Troggs were becoming cult figures in America. After all, it was US audiences who failed to make The Troggs superstars when they first had the chance.
The Troggs old, sexy singles were being played over and over again on radio stations, injecting a bit of old-fashioned fire into what was in danger of becoming a staid rock scene.
There had been personnel changes. Chris Britton had got fed up with the delay in finding fame a second time around and went off to run a disco in Portugal and was replaced by Canadian-born Richard Moore. And Tony Murray had taken over from bassist Staples.
But there was still the ebullient, podgy, amiable and outspoken Reg Presley doing the singing, and drummer Ronnie Bond improving his interpretation of the role of rustic layabout.
As America latched onto The Troggs, so did Larry Page (again) who patched up old differences and took the band back into the studios. The first single from the new period was a version of the old Beach Boys‘ hit Good Vibrations, and it proved a very good talking point.
It was talked about mostly as a strong comeback bid, whereas in truth Reg Presley had not done badly out of pop. There had been royalties coming in from his songs over the years, and he had built his own £50,000 Swiss chalet-style house, overlooking the Hampshire hills near Andover.
In Andover, he was still known as Reggie Ball. The Presley moniker had been given to Reg by Larry Page (who obviously didn’t think Reg Sinatra or Reg Crosby would do the trick).
What sustained The Troggs over the years was that things in pop come and go in cycles. They played unabashed, straightforward rock and didn’t give a damn for those who thought it was repetitive and unadventurous.
The psychedelic and progressive eras put them temporarily out of business but every so often The Troggs came up with that kind of offbeat ingredient for survival.
There was a chart-topper in Spain called Strange Movies which Reg wrote and contained a string of eminently bannable clichés. But it managed to escape the normally ever-vigilant Spanish authorities.
Ronnie Bond passed away in December 1992, five years after Presley and Britton fired him because years of alcohol abuse had slowed the drummer so much.
Reg Presley lost a battle with lung cancer on 4 February 2013. He was 71.
Ronnie Bond (Bullis)