In the English rock'n'roll scene it's not unusual that some well-known musicians from other bands come together to form another band. Solid Smoke (with a name borrowed from the American record label of releases like Johnny & Dorsey Burnette's "Together Again" album issued in 1980) was originally an idea of Mick Wigfall's, the bassplayer with the Enforcers. Mick has backed and played within a lot of well known acts like Sonny West, the Blue Rhythm Boys, Kid Rocker, Rabbit Action, Number Nine (he's still a member today), the Flying Saucers and even some American legends like Sleepy LaBeef, Ray Sharpe and James Burton (whilst in America).
Then Mick and Darrel Higham formed the Enforcers in '94/'95. This year, Darrel found himself playing the part of Scotty Moore in the 'Elvis' musical in London so Mick decided to have his own band, becoming a singer delivering a wild rockin' vocal while playing the upright bass (like bands such as the Dave Phillips & The Hot Rod Gang, Jets, Sidekick Trio, Granny's Roosters or the Runaway Boys.) In doing this he wanted to be surrounded by the best musicians he could find on the rock'n'roll scene so he contacted guitarist Carlo Edwards (Carlo gained his fame with the Blue Cats and also Matchbox later on) who was at this time available and willing to play. Then Mick enlisted drummer Les Curtis, his pal from the Enforcers. Les has worked with the Metrotones, Kid Rocker, Mouse Zinn & The Cheezie Bitz and with Darrel in Bob & The Bearcats. At the beginning Les was not too interested in becoming a member but a successful rehearsal warmed him to the idea.As Carlo introduced a pedal steel into the band for some numbers the trio needed a second guitarist to strengthen the rhythmic beat. That is why Ritchie 'Sticks' Francis was contacted. Ritchie is the lesser known of the other musicians in the band, having played (and still in) Johnny Fox & The Hunters; he can also be counted a member of the Tazmanian Devils and the Unknowns. Ritchie is not only the second guitar player in the band but also the second singer and that is one of the band's characteristics. His excellent bluesy vocals and guitar skills serve as another avenue for Solid Smoke to travel down.
Their debut performance was in May of this year at 'The Rayners Hotel' in Harrow, Middlesex and despite the lack of rehearsal they played a good show. Although they only perform covers, they have a good style of their own performing rarer material in their own way such as "Travellin' Band", "Big Town", "Big Fool", "(Did You Mean) Jelly Bean", Crazy Blues", "Turnip Greens", "Chicken & The Hawk", "Feel So Good", "Long Legged Girl", "Western Union", "Sittin' On Top Of The World", "I'm Out" and two instrumentals "Night Train" and "Green Onions".
Unlike most bands that try to recreate the 'authentic' sound, Solid Smoke prefer to play rock'n'roll as they feel it. For instance, Carlo's 'Cliff Gallup' guitar style becomes more orientated to an Albert Lee country rock style which is very unusual on the rockin' scene and brings with it a certain degree of originality. The band doesn't stick to one rocking style but plays many forms such as straight rock'n'roll, rockin' blues, hillbilly, jump and even some rock'n'roll ballads...in fact everything that deals with rock'n'roll. On top of that Mick likes to say that there is no particular leader in the band. The musicians are free to express themselves. A totally democratic band playing loud and rough.
Since their first gig in May I was quite impressed, thinking that they were creating something new. So, I decided to invite them to the South of France for a four gig tour from July 5th-10th in Aix-En-Provence, Montpellier and Marseilles during which I could see that the band had become more experienced and confident since their first gig. During one of the two gigs in Marseilles, guitar man Jim Carlisle (ex-Blue Rhythm Boys, Girl Can't Help It etc.), who now resides in Marseilles (having reformed his own band the Jumpin' Jacks again, who just shared the bill with Sonny Burgess in Lyon last month) joined the band onstage to perform "Let's Rock Tonight" and "Matchbox" - a great moment! The tour was great fun, especially for the boys who took the way back home via many beers and mostly kebabs for their happy eater and driver Barney.By Michael Morley