Art Wood

Frontman of the Artwoods


Arthur Wood, singer and graphic artist: born London 7 July 1937; twice married (one son); died London 3 November 2006.

In the mid-Sixties, the mod favourites the Artwoods were tipped as the next big thing to follow the Yardbirds and the Animals. Formed by the vocalist Art Wood, the five-piece group regularly played on Eel Pie Island and at the 100 Club in London. They covered some great rhythm'n'blues material, released five singles, an EP and an album on Decca and even appeared on Ready, Steady, Go! However, they are better remembered now as the band for which Jon Lord played keyboards before launching Deep Purple.

Art Wood and his brother Ted also had an important influence on the career of Ronnie, the youngest Wood brother, who was also in a mod group, the Birds, and went on to join the Creation, the Jeff Beck Group and the Faces, and has been the Rolling Stones guitarist since 1975. In fact, the Faces evolved from a short-lived group called Quiet Melon which Art Wood formed in 1969. "Ron and the members of the Small Faces were between jobs at the time and completely skint," he recalled.

"I had some studio time so we rounded up Rod Stewart, Kenny Jones, Ian McLagan, Ronnie Lane and Kim Gardner and recorded the songs "Engine 4444" and "Diamond Joe". We played a few Quiet Melon gigs afterwards. But then Rod and Ronnie blew me off, the little bastards, and went on to become hugely famous as the Faces. Oh well."

Born in 1937, Art was the first child of Arthur Wood, a tugboat skipper who also led a 24-piece harmonica big band, and his wife Lizzie, a polisher who later gave up her job at the HMV plant in Hayes to look after Art and Ted. Both boys came down with whooping cough during the Second World War and their father moved the Anderson air-raid shelter from the garden into the house and gave the boys crayons and drawing books to take their minds off the bombings.

In 1950, Art Wood enrolled at Ealing School of Art, and took a keen interest in typography, graphic design and fine art. He was the first from the college in a long line of wannabe musicians which would include both his brothers, Pete Townshend of the Who, Freddie Mercury of Queen and David Bowie. "Ealing was very unusual," Wood remembered.

"It was a straight art school when I first went there in 1950. But it soon started to get this very musical feel to it. Everyone was getting very experimental. It was the beatnik era, the beginnings of what would become skiffle, it was all happening! Anyone who had even the remotest artistic or musical bent was just carried away! "

In 1955 Art Wood received his National Service papers and spent the next two years posted in Devizes, Wiltshire, where he formed a skiffle group. When he returned to London, he began playing interval gigs at the Regal in Uxbridge with the Art Wood Combo. While Ted became a jazzer, Art was the blues and rock'n'roll fan, covering the songs of Chuck Berry and Fats Domino and occasionally teaching them to Ronnie, who acted as the peacemaker when his older brothers argued about music.

By 1962, Art was one of several singers with Blues Incorporated, the ensemble led by Alexis Korner and Cyril Davies which featured Charlie Watts on drums and also gave guest spots to Mick Jagger, Paul Jones and Long John Baldry. They took over the Marquee Club and inspired the British rhythm'n'blues boom which followed.

In 1964, the Art Wood Combo became the Artwoods, with a line-up comprising Wood, Lord, the guitarist Derek Griffiths, drummer Keef Hartley and bassist Malcolm Pool. They turned professional, secured a residency at the 100 Club in Oxford Street and signed to Decca Records. The group developed a formidable reputation as a live attraction and issued five singles, including dynamic versions of Leadbelly's "Sweet Mary" and Sam and Dave's "I Take What I Want", an EP called Jazz In Jeans and an album entitled Art Gallery - all now very collectable - between November 1964 and November 1966.

While none of their Decca 45s charted in the UK, they developed a following in continental Europe generally, and France in particular, thanks to appearances at La Locomotive in Paris, although a paucity of original material did for them. In 1967, they had a one-off single - "What Shall I Do?" - on Parlophone before changing their name to St Valentine's Day Massacre and posing as gangsters to try and cash in on the popularity of the film Bonnie and Clyde. "We released a single of the old Bing Crosby hit 'Brother Can You Spare Dime?'", Wood said. "It was an ill-fated venture, which I would prefer not to dwell on, virtually signalling the end of the band apart from a few heavy-hearted gigs with a changed line-up."

Art Wood attempted to form the ArtBirds and then Quiet Melon with Ronnie, but eventually joined his brother Ted in setting up West Four, a graphic design business. "They used to interweave, the art and the music," Art said. "West Four did commercial art: brochures, leaflets, book jackets, classical album sleeves for the Phillips label, as well as the bands Ted and myself were in."

He also played with the Downliners Sect, another British beat group, and occasionally performed at mod conventions with a revised line-up of the Artwoods. In 1998, the three Woods recorded two tracks for Money Due, an album credited to Art Wood's Quiet Melon, and appeared together at the Eel Pie Club in Twickenham. "Me and Ted were always happy that at least one of us made it," Art told Terry Rawlings, author of Rock on Wood (1999), "and Ronnie made it big enough for all three."

Pierre Perrone

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