With his wholesome good looks and thick dark hair, Hertfordshire-lad Tommy Moeller had been a rival local attraction to another Cheshunt rock ‘n’ roller, Harry Webb, who later adopted the stage name Cliff Richard.
By 1962, Tommy was singing in a modern folk quartet called Unit 4, in which he also played piano and guitar.
Among the group’s early members was Brian Parker, who briefly tasted fame as guitarist with The Hunters, an instrumental act whose records included a minor classic called The Storm, which Parker co-wrote before the group broke up after drummer Norman Stacey was killed in a car accident.
Despite only a short spell with Unit 4, Brian continued writing songs with Moeller and one of the first fruits of this songwriting relationship was Couldn’t Keep It To Myself, an odd hybrid of hootenanny and Merseybeat.
The group’s repertoire also mixed pop-folk tunes like Cotton Fields and La Bamba with big ballads such as Climb Every Mountain (from The Sound Of Music) and Nat King Cole‘s When I Fall In Love, which were draped in lush four-part harmony.
By 1963 it seemed the line-up had stabilised with Moeller, second vocalist Peter Moules, and guitarists Howard Lubin and David ‘Buster’ Meikle (who had once led The Daybreakers).
At the suggestion of manager Johnny Barker (a sort of Hertfordshire Brian Epstein) Unit 4 broadened their scope by adding a rhythm section. With bass guitarist Rodney Garwood and drummer Hugh Halliday, Baker closed a deal with Decca on behalf of Unit 4 Plus 2.
Though Green Fields touched the lower regions of the charts, the soft ponderous accompaniment and pastoral lyricism of it – and the follow-up, Sorrow And Pain – conjured an alien atmosphere to the Big Beat that dominated British pop music in 1964.
The third single, Concrete And Clay, began life as a slow, soulful semi-acoustic track much like the other two.
It was, however, ultimately recorded with a harder staccato edge and a pronounced Latin American touch, possibly propounded when two old acquaintances were invited to help out. These were Russell Ballard and Robert Henrit, who had respectively played keyboards and drums in Meikle’s Daybreakers.
The single reached a respectable Number 28 in the USA, prompting the group to next update Jimmy Rodgers’Woman From Liberia purely for the American market. Unfortunately, they fell from grace in America as quickly as they had risen.
The Unit’s next three UK releases refined the jerky style realised at the Concrete session but, though they gave a good account of themselves in the Top 30, they could not recapture the unique qualities of the blueprint. The more straightforward Stop Wasting Your Time (the B-side of Hark) showed that they were able to branch out into other areas.
Unit 4 + 2 were blessed with a talented – though underrated – source of original material in Tommy Moeller and Brian Parker.
The feverish tension of Baby Never Say Goodbye for example, was every bit as engaging as Concrete And Clay if only because a more legato approach belied the Costa del Hertford arrangements of earlier efforts.
The song had originally been given to Harrow’s Bo Street Runners, winners of a Ready, Steady, Go! R&B contest in July 1965. A turntable hit on pirate radio, the Runners version rendered Baby Never Say Goodbye old hat by the time their benefactors’ version reached the shops six months later.
When the band transferred to Fontana Records in March 1967, Halliday and Meikle called it a day and Ballard and Henrit joined on a permanent basis.
With Russ now contributing to the songwriting pool, the group were buoyed by DJ John Peel‘s belated advocacy of I Was Only Playing Games and other latter-day singles, which only served to stretch things out a bit longer.
Unit 4 + 2 roamed the British college and dancehall circuit until their feet began to crumble in 1969.
Peter “The Count” Moules
Tommy “Sweat” Moeller
Vocals, guitar, piano
Howard “Lem” Lubin
David “Buster” Meikle
Rodney “Humble” Garwood
Hugh “Pygmy” Halliday
Keyboards, guitar, vocals