Steve Traveller is the drummer of Castle Farm, a band from around Romford in northeast London. I first discovered them on a compilation called Cosmarama - Blow Your Cool 2 and was immediately taken with the hard rockin', glam-infused single 'Hot Rod Queen'. A while later, a fan of the band contacted me via Youtube and gave me the welcome news that the Castle Farm "Studio Sessions 1971-72" album was digitally released around December last year. I got it straight away and, in one of those precious moments of finding an obscurity leading to something really exciting, was ecstatic to find that the promise of Hot Rod Queen was reinforced by a set of skillful and varied hard rock and blues, some proto-metal, and Tex Benike's killer slide guitar. Just check this out for confirmation:
After hearing this I knew I had to get something down here on Aftersabbath, and had my second happy discovery, a mention of Castle Farm on Robin Wills' ever-great PUREPOP blog and a lead on one of it's members, drummer Steve Traveller.
Denny Newman: vocals
Gram 'Tex' Benike: guitars
Steve 'Spyder' Curphey: Bass
Steve Traveller: drums
John Aldrich: guitar, vocals
Roger Curphey: bass (replacing his brother Spyder, in late 1971)
So that's the brief intro over, and here is the resulting interview with Steve. If you like what you hear (you will), the album can be purchased on Amazon, iTunes and other such sources. 'Studio Sessions 1971-72' on: Spotify web player.
I guess it started when I was in the Boy Scouts. I wanted to be in the marching band and play the bugle, but they didn't have a spare one so they gave me a side drum! But I took to drumming like a duck to water, and then I built my own kit at home out of biscuit tins with knitting needles for sticks!
Q02. How and where did the members of Castle Farm meet? What prompted the formation of the band?
I was in a local 'pop' outfit and we fired the lead guitarist after he didn't turn up for a gig one Easter. We didn't have a bass player, so I was left with just a not very inspiring pianist and rhythm guitarist. So I put a postcard ad in the window of a local music shop and the next thing Steve 'Spyder' Curphey and Gram 'Tex' Benike turned up on my doorstep. They were both at Barking Tech college at the time, and really looked the part - proper long-haired rock band material. They came round and we jammed in my parents' front room - and we blew each other away! Spyder and Tex were into the same stuff I was. They pulled in a singer they knew from the college and Castle Farm was born. We made our way through a couple of relatively uninspiring singers before we met Denny Newman in a pub we used to use in Brentwood. Denny was on our wavelength, and a fantastic singer. A little while later Den introduced us to his mate John Aldrich, who was a brilliant guitarist, and we traded up to be a five-piece, with John bringing so much more colour and depth to the band's music.
It was the end of the sixties and I had grown up with The Beatles, Stones, Kinks, Who, Cream, Jimi Hendrix, Pink Floyd, Led Zeppelin, Taste, etc. There were these amazing drummers coming through - Keith Moon, Ginger Baker, Jon Hiseman, Ian Paice, John Bonham, Glenn Cornick, etc. I was influenced to some degree by all of them.
Q04. Did Castle Farm play any live gigs or festivals? Which bands were billed along with you?
We soon established a loyal following in the Brentwood and Romford areas, playing the King's Head in Romford and St Theresa's Hall in Brentwood, and then we were gigging regularly all over London and throughout Essex and Kent. Latterly we moved on to the university and college circuit, bought a six-wheel Tranny from Badfinger, and were on the road as far as Winchester and Leeds. We supported Rory Gallagher, Deed Purple, Savoy Brown Blues Band, Climax Blues Band, Quintessence and many others. One of our best gigs was at the Cliffs Pavilion in Southend, supporting Atomic Rooster - I remember the band coming and standing in the wings during our set to watch us. We had a residency at the Esplanade in Southend too, where a nascent Dr Feelgood even supported US!
|Castle Farm 1971|
We had become very frustrated with the record industry, which in those days was in the habit of signing promising bands and then leaving them on the shelf to stop them being a threat to the acts they were promoting. We got caught up in one of these scams, and it was a huge hassle to get out of the contract. But we had a great following, and knew that we could sell records, so we decided to fund our own single. We had met a guy called Hedley Leyton, who had worked with John Hiseman's Colosseum on their live album, and he helped us produce it. We had 2,000 copies pressed, distributed them through local record shops, and they sold out within a few weeks.
|Castle Farm Hot Rod Queen / Mascot single|
'Jewels Of Fire' was recorded on 25th March 1972 at Pye No. 1, and produced/engineered by Miki Dallon. We then went back to Pye No. 1 on 13th April 1972 to re-record 'Hot Rod Queen' as Miki was interested in reworking it.
The version of HRQ that you have here [link below] is actually an edited version of the original recording, which ran to over four minutes - Miki being a 'pop' producer with a strict timing policy. We much preferred the longer version!". Both versions of Hot Rod Queen are included in "Studio Sessions 1971-72".
A few years ago someone told me that 'Hot Rod Queen' was on a prog/psych compilation album, so I bought a copy in HMV, initially feeling chuffed that Castle Farm's music was still remembered! But then I felt a little less charitable when I realised there was some scavenging company (Start Entertainments Ltd) out there stealing copyrighted work and making money without permission. A quick trawl around the internet revealed that in fact 'Hot Rod Queen' had had a new lease of life and was even being featured on American college radio playlists! Given this new interest I uploaded Hot Rod Queen' and 'Mascot' onto YouTube, and then set about getting the illegal downloads taken down from iTunes, Amazon, etc. At the same time I had recordings of six tracks from an earlier session, and two from a later one ('Jewels Of Fire' and an alternative take of "Hot Rod Queen'), which I had cleaned up as best I could. These represented the best of the Castle Farm recordings that still existed, so I thought they would make a nice little download package.
Here is some further information from Steve, found at PUREPOP: "I have pulled together the best examples I have of the band's recordings, but unfortunately these only exist in either acetate or cassette tape format, the original master tapes having been lost over time.
I've cleaned up the tracks for digital transfer as much as possible, with the help of my son Paul, who's a sound engineer, and has worked wonders replacing the intro to 'You Go Your Way', which was lost on a chewed up cassette tape, and tidying up a less than perfect drum fill on 'Jewels Of Fire', which we didn't have time to correct in the studio, and has bugged me for over 40 years!
All the tracks were recorded in one or two takes with minor overdubbing - most were self-funded and we were on a very tight budget!"
'(Maybe A Little Black) Witch' was usually our opener, and got everyone rocking from the start. I think 'Jewels Of Fire' is about the best thing we ever recorded, with absolutely stunning dual-guitar work from Tex and John, but I guess our real signature number was a really heavy, slowed down, crunching 20 minute version of 'Summertime Blues' that tended to end our shows. The improvised middle section and drum solo were always journeys into the unknown, but never failed to bring the house down!
Q08. Castle Farm’s music is fantastic, all the members performances gel brilliantly. While it’s generally got heavy blues style, there's early metal/punk songs like “(Maybe a Little Black) Witch” and “Lunatic”, a glam vibe like ‘Hot Rod Queen’, and ballad/relaxed songs like ‘All In A Day, All In A Year’ and 'You Go Your Way'. Can you share your thoughts on the band’s versatility and what influenced the sound of Castle Farm?
I like to think 'Lunatic' was six years ahead of its time with its punk vibe, but although we saw ourselves as a rock'n'roll band ('Highway 61', 'Rock Me Baby', etc.) we all had so many musical influences and appreciated so many different styles, and we really liked to mix it up to make the shows more interesting.
After using a second-hand Ludwig kit in the early days that I bought off Spyder for 50 quid, I progressed to a Premier 2000 double kit in 1971. This is now regarded as a classic kit, and would be worth a fortune now in good condition. But mine led a hard but exciting life, both in my hands and my son's, from as soon as he was tall enough to reach the pedals. Paul soon overtook me in terms of drumming prowess - check this out.
Q10. What was the song-writing process of the band? Who was the creative leader, if there was one?
Tex and Spyder came up with most of the ideas for our own songs, and we would just play around with concepts and each add our own ideas and build them up at rehearsals.
Tex was, and still is, one of the best slide players I've ever seen. It's his riff and his song, and it was great to watch him really getting into it at live gigs.
Q12. Did you intend on making more music, or an album, and why did it not happen? What were the future plans for Castle Farm at the time of the singles?
Yes, we would have carried on, but we were getting into other things - Spyder had left the band at the end of 1971 and his brother Roger joined us on bass. That was just before we recorded 'Hot Rod Queen', and we went on to do 'Jewels Of Fire' and then carried on gigging until the end of 1972.
We would love to have 'made it' big, but we'd given it three years and needed to get out and earn some regular money!
Q14. Do you think Castle Farm had the potential to last longer and be more successful?
I think it had the potential - we just lacked the lucky break!
I went into advertising, Tex moved to his native US, Denny carried on with music and now lives in Germany, fronting a great little blues band which has worked as Mick Taylor's backing band (Google 'Denny Newman'), Spyder went into a very successful T-shirt business but is sadly no longer with us. We've had the odd reunion over the years, the last one being at the 100 Club in London for a memorial concert for Spyder in 2008.
Q16. Do you have any great Castle Farm memories or stories (amusing or otherwise) that you think would give readers some more insight into the times and the band?
Loads of great memories, but one of my favourites was when we were booked to support Barclay James Harvest at the Basildon Arts Centre. BJH couldn't make it, so instead they booked a band called Slade - previously a skin-head band in the late sixties but now embarking on a glam-rock course. They were managed by Chas Chandler (ex Animals bass player and Jimi Hendrix's manager) who was strutting around the place in a pink and yellow kaftan, looking a bit of a prat! Basildon was part of our stomping ground and our fans were out in force, so we were really getting into it and were overrunning a bit. But just when we got into our second encore Chas Chandler pulled the plug on us. Tex was absolutely furious - he jumped off the stage, went round the back and found Chandler and gave him the biggest smack on the nose you ever saw. Great times!
Here's a comment I received after this article was first posted, from guitarist Tex:
"Just read this interview about Castle Farm ... I was in that band along with Steve, Spyder and Denny ..( this is Tex from Phoenix, AZ. ) The Basildon Arts Lab I remember ... total chaos at the end. We were banned from ever playing there again because a bunch of seats got destroyed by fans during our " Summertime Blues " finale . I remember a shocked and white faced Chas Chandler walking into our dressing room after our show asking if our gigs were always like that ... " usually " was our reply. Then Slade came on ... they were on the rise but not Superstars yet but really loud !! .. we went down the pub !! ... great memories from this band - fun times back then ... I'm still breathing ... still playing here in Phoenix, Arizona ... still playing slide. Enjoyed the article !!! ..... Best, Tex."
Thanks for your time Steve! Let's hope we see and hear more of Castle Farm one day...
If anyone has questions for me or Steve regrading Castle Farm, drop a line to TDATS at the usual address.