The Krewmen started as a rockabilly band, then played the best rockin’ blues you could find in England in the early 80’s and finally evolved, under the influence of leader Tony McMillan into one of the most influential psychobilly band of the mid 80’s. It was worth an article, don’t you think.
The rockabilly – rockin’ blues years
The Krewmen were formed in 1982 by Tony Mc Millan and, at that time, played rockabilly. (according to some sources the band went under the name of The Starlites until 1984). This early formation starts to build a name and a following and in 1985 they are hired to play Elvis’ band in “Elvis the musical” which brings them to the USA and Canada. Back to Europe, Lost Moment offers them a record deal but the other two decide to leave to pursue personal projects.
Mc Millan on double bass soon recruits Jimmy Fahy on drums and Carl “Sonny” Leyland on piano, guitar, harmonica and vocals to play more blues influenced material but still with a heavy rockabilly flavour in it. The band releases two singles on Lost Moment (both excellent) now very rare but available on the compact disc Klassic Tracks Fom 1985! (still on Lost Moment) and some other unissued recordings are available on Carl Sonny Leyland’s album “I Like Boogie Woogie” (On The Hill OTHRCD 001).
Among their best songs is “Ramblin’” a great “delta-blues meets Chicago blues” tune. The electricity is here but you still have a big country flavour. It also shows what a great slide guitarist is Carl Leyland, too bad he doesn’t play it anymore. The b-side, “I’m gonna get it” is a Jazz Gillum song. Listening to this version shows that the Krewmen were more than a “cover band”. They play this song and make it their own. The song, the voice and the harp are clearly bluesy, but the way McMillan slaps his bass and the scorchy guitar look toward rockabilly. Let’s call it rockabilly blues.
In late 1985, tired of playing covers and with the will to play a more modern music, Mc Millan thinks it’s time for a change of direction. This leads Leyland and Fahy to leave. Leyland joined various bands before moving to the USA where he built a solid reputation as a boogie-woogie, jazz and blues pianist, Fahy later teamed with Get Smart, a band which described itself as Jazzabilly.
Introducing Mark Cole – The Krewmen goes psychobilly
The brand new line-up consists of Mc Millan on guitar (his former instrument), Mark Cole on vocals (sometimes close to Guana Batz’s singer, Pip), Dominic Parr on drums and Jason Thornton back on double bass (he played with The Starlites). They play fast rockabilly / psychobilly and original material
Their first album, in 1986, “The Adventure Of…” entirely written by Cole and McMillan became highly influential on the psychobilly scene, for good reasons. The rhythm section is tight, Cole is one of the best vocalist of the era and the songs are really well crafted and original, still anchored in the rockabilly idiom. The band doesn’t try to put as many songs as possible and with 10 songs there’s no filler.
“Sweat Dreams” follows in 1987 and is based on the same recipe. It’s even better. The band is tighter, so are the songs, and McMillan adds a bit of metal to his guitar style. Once again the songs alternate fast and slow parts, with well played breaks. Another unusual thing, three songs out of ten are more then 6 minute long, including the fake live version of the Isley Brother’s Shout.
Next is “Into The Tomb” still in 1987. And it proves they manage to record three classics in a row. But this time, the sound hardens a bit and it features more covers : The Clash’s Should I Stay Or Should I Go (a song which proved to be very popular on the psychobilly scene), T-Rex’s Solid Gold Easy Action and the traditional Hava Nagila .
Exit Cole and a step toward metal…
But all good things comes to an end and Cole leaves the band in 1987.
McMillan takes over the vocal duties, but in 1988 Cole is followed by Parr and Thornton. It was time for a new line-up with Steve Piper on drums and various bass player Mark Burke then Graham Grant.
The sound changes with the line-up too, getting harder and harder with elements of metal, punk, glam rock. “Plague Of The Dead” in 1988 combines all those influences. The choice of the covers reveals this orientation and McMillan’s varied tastes. From Eddie Cochran’s Jeanie, Jeanie, Jeanie to Gary Glitter’s Do You Wanna Touch via The Who’s My Generation and Steppin’ Stone (Paul Revere, The Monkees but also covered by The Sex Pistols). In his influences, Tony cites Chuck Berry, Alice Cooper, Elvis, The Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin, Jimmi Hendrix and Sex Pistols.
If not unforgettable, it suffers the comparison with the “Cole period”, “Plague Of The Dead” has some good moments like “Legend Of The Piper”, “Take A Little More” and the previously mentioned covers. Despite the credit, it seems that McMillan plays the bass parts on this album, not satisfied with their bassist. It was before he finds Paul Oxley.
After his stint with The Krewmen, Burke formed The Phantom Rockers in 1988.
1988 and 1989 are busy years for the band and they tour a lot in the USA. The band enters the 90’s with the release of “Power” (a perfectly suited title) which goes further in the direction announced by “Plague…”. “Knight Moves” is clearly metal, “Devil’s Lair” mixes hard-rock guitars with slap bass and a good part of the rest is hard-core influenced. What a long way since the rockin’ blues days. But all in all “Power” is better than the previous. More coherent, entirely self-written and very well produced. Cherry Red has issued a live DVD with the “Power” line-up (Mc Millan, Hoxley, Piper).
The final adventure? Maybe not…
The following year with “The Final Adventure…” The Krewmen return to a more “classical” sound. Something like the missing link between “Into The Tomb” and “Plague…”. The single issued from this album is good too. Forbidden Planet is one of the best song written by McMillan. The b-side features a country song (but with The Krewmen treatment) and a cover of the Rolling Stones’ Paint It Black with electronic drums (!). If you can’t find the original single, these songs are available on the cd “Single Out” that gathers the singles recording since McMillan took over the vocals.
In 1992, Steve Piper left the drums to play rhythm guitar and Tony Gallagher replaced him on the drummer’s seat. On the recording front everything has been very quiet since then, but Lost Moment reissued the classic trilogy on CD.
The Adventures Of- Lost Moment LM08
Sweet Dreams – Lost Moment LM10
Into The Tomb- Lost Moment LM14
Plague Of The Dead- Lost Moment LM20
Power – Lost Moment LM21
The Final Adventure Of- Lost Moment LM23
Ramblin’- Lost Moment LM024
What Are You Today- Lost Moment LM12034
My Generation- Lost Moment
Do You Wanna Touch- Lost Moment LM045
Forbidden Planet- Lost Moment LM050
Klassic Tracks From 1985- Lost Moment LMCD054
Singled Out – Lost Moment LMCD024