July 1st, 2010
Mick Tinsley, Alan Laud, John Stewart, Ray Honeyball, Leslie Dash - 1965
Tainted as one-hit wonders thanks to UK top-5 smash, the tongue-in-cheek protest song ‘It’s Good News Week’ in 1965, Hedgehoppers Anonymous never achieved such dizzy heights again despite the stewardship of producer/songwriter Jonathan King. When follow-up 45s failed to chart, the band was consigned to the history books. Or so it seemed.Original beat combo fell under the creative wing of aspiring producer Kenneth (aka Jonathan) King, releasing five singles for Decca from September 1965-December 1966. Early singles displayed a beat/folk-rock bent but fourth outing, the dynamite, ‘Daytime’, is a Mod/freakbeat classic. An entirely revised line up struck gold in South Africa in 1969-1971, mining a more soulful rock/ballad direction and recording a rare, sought after album as Hedgehoppers.
Who were they? Singer Mick Tinsley; lead guitarist John Stewart; rhythm guitarist Tony Cockayne; bass player Ray Honeyball and drummer Les Dash were all Royal Air Force, working on ‘V’ bombers at RAF Wittering in Cambridgeshire. They formed The Trendsetters in 1963 but soon became ‘Hedgehoppers’ - RAF slang for low-flying planes. When Alan Laud took over on rhythm guitar, the band attracted Cambridge Uni student Kenneth King, who offered to produce if they recorded his protest song ‘It’s Good News Week’ and suggested ‘Anonymous’ tag. Tom Fox and Glenn Martin succeeded Honeyball and Dash for remaining singles but none could match the irresistible ‘It’s Good News Week’. A Swedish tour in October 1967 proved the band’s swansong, leaving Tinsley to kick-start a solo career.
Martin signed on with Sandie Shaw’s backing band, The Streamliners led by guitarist Tony Kaye. After he left in early 1968, Kaye took over The Hedgehoppers Anonymous name. Together with current Streamliners - organist Dave Birkenhead, bass player John Askey and drummer Bill Honeyman they toured the Northern club scene.
Phil Tunstall whose band The Colour Supplement had played two dates on Hedgehoppers’ Swedish sojourn joined as a charismatic front man in December 1968. But it was the arrival of lead guitarist Mick Matthews, a prolific songwriter with a strong melodic sensibility and a knack for banging out memorable tunes that proved turning point artistically.
Destined for obscurity and trading on the original band’s glory, luck changed when Decca in South Africa re-released the three-year old ‘Don’t Push Me’, stimulating demand for live and recording appearances. The selling point was a three-month gig at Durban’s top nightspot, Tiles. After a whirlwind two-day flight, the jet-lagged band (now comprising Tunstall, Matthews, Honeyman and bass player Colin Turner) arrived on 26 February 1969 to be feted as rock royalty.
Matthews penned the South Africa top 15 hit ‘Mary Mary’ but success was overshadowed by Tunstall’s tragic death in a road accident on the eve of their appearance at South Africa’s ‘Woodstock’, a stadium rock extravaganza on 31 May 1970.
|Hedgehoppers - 1971 - Clockwise from front, Alan Avon, Bill Honeyman, Colin Turner and Mick Matthews.|
The guitarist, who has co-penned a yet-to-be published autobiography I Started Out To Write A Song, and went on to form top selling South African band, Ballyhoo, recounts: “The car had gone out of control and rolled, and Phil lay unconscious, but alive on the roadside for hours until an ambulance came.
“When it arrived, the guys refused to help because he was the wrong fucking colour! The ambulance was for non-whites only and, as a result, they turned around and went back without Phil, saying they would send a white ambulance. Some two hours later the ‘correct’ ambulance arrived and took Phil away. He was only pronounced dead on 1 June, as nobody worked on Sundays and public holidays.”
Alan Avon, a charismatic, soulful singer, came to the rescue, reuniting with Honeyman. “I’d been involved with Bill from when I was about 14, we were in a band [called Alan Avon & The Presidents],” says Avon. “When he was in Hedgehoppers he contacted me to finish the contract in South Africa.”
Avon was responsible for two highly collectable singles - ‘Say Goodbye To Yesterday’ c/w ‘Send My Love To Lucy’ on Polydor (as Toyshop) and ‘These Are The Reasons’ c/w ‘A Night To Remember’ on Concorde (attributed to Alan Avon & Toyshop). The latter, a musical take on the Titantic disaster, has been described as a haunting slice of psychedelia (and is available on Best of Rubble Collection Vol 1.)
Their album: Abbreviated to Hedgehoppers, the quartet recorded the stupendous Hey! for CBS in April 1971, a South African chart topper. A masterful collection of soulful ballads and rock-orientated material, it mixes covers like Stephen Stills’s ‘Rock & Roll Woman’ and a frantic take on George Gershwin’s ‘Summertime’ with Matthews’s strong originals.
The haunting title track topped the South African radio chart. The infectious anthem ‘A Song For Pete’, written as a tribute to English expat guitarist Pete Clifford, was another top-5 radio hit. Other standouts include Matthews’s excellent rocker ‘Near Her’ (see Fresh Music’s Astral Daze Volume 2) and the yearning ‘She’s Been Hurt’, a tale of lost love and eventual seclusion.
Why weren’t they better known? The originals struggled to come up with a worthy successor to debut 45. “It was a lack of good PR work and radio promotion,” argues Tinsley. “It was presumed that ‘Don’t Push Me’ would automatically make a chart entry but the presumption was a huge mistake. More should have been done to promote the band after the huge success of ‘It’s Good News Week’.”
Tunstall’s death was tragic enough but when Honeyman died in a second road accident, the life and soul of the band was ripped out. Despite scoring sizeable South African hits and recording a brilliant chart-topping album, Hedgehoppers never recovered.
“In them days if they had any road work diversions all they would get is a big 50 gallon oil drum, paint it red and white and stick it in the middle of the road,” says Avon, who had returned to the UK and been replaced by another singer. “Bill saw it last minute, swerved the van, fell out the door and the van rolled over him. I never went back. Bill was something special. He was like a big brother to me.”
Thanks to Mick Tinsley, Jonathan King, Glenn Martin, Mick Matthews and Alan Avon. Also Tertius Louw for the photos/scans and Gavin Furlonger for book cover. Thank you Mick Matthews for the use of the Hedgehoppers songs. Keep an eye out for Fresh Music’s forthcoming CD compilation of the South African years.
For more information on this band’s history visit: