The Masters Apprentices ‘Choice Cuts’ 1971 EMI Records
The ‘Masters’ were one of Australia’s best bands in the late ‘60s to early '70s and ’Choice Cuts’ captures them in their prime.
Choice Cuts as an album stands the test of time, right up there with the best psych-tinged hard rock from any band of that era. Recorded in the famed Abbey Road Studios, the band’s talent had brought them a long way from their bubblegum pop roots in Adelaide South Australia.
The story of the Masters Apprentices rise and fall is well documented, a career thwarted by clueless record company executives, bad management and the tyranny of distance for an Australian band at that time (in 1970 they travelled to the UK on the good ship Fairsky, a one-class vessel famous for transporting £10 migrants to Australia).
Signed to EMI records Australia, the classic line-up of singer Jim Keays, drummer Colin Burgess, guitarist Doug Ford and Glenn Wheatley on bass, were given a 500 dollar advance and the opportunity to record at the Beatles Abbey Road studios in St John’s Wood, but the band still had to fund travel costs from their own savings.
With esteemed producer Jeff Jarratt and engineer Peter Brown the lads went to work and within one month had realised the 10 songs which became ‘Choice Cuts’.
Although the album was released to critical acclaim in the tough London market, The Masters under the managerial guidance of Glenn Wheatley were now close to broke. With no finances forthcoming from EMI, the band was forced to return to Australia to embark on a national tour. The live album ‘Nickelodeon’ was recorded on that tour.
Whilst the album Choice Cuts was a hit in Australia especially with the first single ‘Because I Love You‘ the band’s hard slog of touring was not getting them any closer to the action in England or Europe.
Then the call came to return to London to tour and promote ‘Choice Cuts’ in the UK – so it was back aboard the ship again for another two weeks voyage. On arrival in the UK the buzz from the album had diminished somewhat and getting bookings proved difficult.
However, a lifeline offer was on the table to join Bronze records who had just signed Uriah Heep. Fearing legal repercussions the band refused to sign and EMI refused to release them from their contract thus denying the band a chance to crack the international market.
Its no wonder Australian bands found it such tough going to make it on the world stage.
The album ‘A Toast to Panama Red‘ (which now changes hands for big dollars) followed in 1971 but it wasn’t on par with 'Choice Cuts' apart from the single ’Southern Cross’. On the whole the album was a patchy affair and the band unceremoniously broke up soon after its release.
The band had many re-formation tours in Australia and they continued to be a top-notch live act, usually without Wheatley who became an entrepreneur-manager for the likes of Johnny Farnham and Little River Band. Glenn Wheatley also had a holiday at Her Majesty’s request for tax evasion.
Not only was Wheatley clever with his accounting he was pretty handy with the fender bass, pulsing out strong riffs on ‘Michael’ and ‘Easy to Lie‘ off ‘Choice Cuts’.
‘Rio De Camero’ is the opening track, a Ford-Keays composition combining Spanish influences. Ford uses electric and acoustic playing to great effect, adding a powerful crescendo.
What is apparent on ‘Choice Cuts’ is the big fat production of layered guitars. Track two ‘Michael‘ is a perfect example of Ford’s Gibson Les Paul pumped through a wah-wah pedal pumping out a heavy metal riff.
Doug continues the same style on ‘Easy to Lie‘ with plenty of heavy chording.
It might be argued that Doug Ford (formerly of The Missing Links) is the star here with his playing being the vehicle for the others to follow. But the creative impetus is also the dual composition between Ford and Jim Keays.
Side one continues with the familiar ‘Because I Love You‘. The video of this song sees the lads walking the hills of Hampstead Heath flamboyant in ruffles and fur coats.
The fashion conscience band being poverty bound might be attributed to one too many trips to Chelsea’s Kings Road boutiques.
The legend goes when drummer Colin Burgess, dressed in a canary yellow suit, met Ginger Baker it prompted some unkind remarks from the Blind Faith percussionist.
The Ford composition ‘Catty’ closes side one.
Opening side two, ‘Our Friend Owsley Stanley III‘ has a touch of Jethro Tull influence. Athough Keays and Co. never met the LSD guru and inventor of ‘Purple Haze’, they admired his work and wrote trippy lyrics in his honour.
Once again Doug takes centre stage with his composition, the dramatic ‘Death of a King‘. It’s based on the death of Martin Luther King and the chorus is sung by Ford with respectable results.
Ford and Keays join forces again for ‘Song for a Lost Gyspy ‘ apparently written in Amsterdam after learning of the death of Jimi Hendrix. A good rocker.
The momentum continues with ‘I’m Your Satisfier‘, which was also the second single from the album. Ford’s riffing is given accompaniment by some slide guitar and Claude Lintott on Jew’s Harp.
It’s a good blues based song drawing on the British blues renaissance which inspired many bands at the time.
The group penned ‘Song For Joey Part II’ as an acoustic instrumental and low-key finish to what is a rocking album throughout.
Everything about ‘Choice Cuts’ was a recipe for success, the production, the band’s playing and the compositions.
Even the cover art, a ghost like hand emerging from behind a leather chair was captivating. Executed by the famous design studio Hipgnosis who did covers for Pink Floyd and Led Zeppelin.
The story of what could have been is now part of Aussie rock‘n’roll folklore yet the album remains a Choice Cut for fans of the rock legends.
Released on Lucky Pig Records in Germany The Masters Apprentices enjoy cult status in Europe.
Sadly Jim Keays passed away in 2014.
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