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Digital Subscriptions > Vintage Rock > Jul/Aug 2019 - Stray Cats > PLAYING WITH FIRE!

PLAYING WITH FIRE!

40 years after Matchbox took slap-bass rock’n’roll back into the UK Top 20, Vintage Rock meets Graham Fenton, Steve Bloomfield and Gordon Scott from the original rockabilly rebels…
© Geoff Barker (courtesy of Gordon Scott) unless otherwise stated

Matchbox’s rhythm guitarist Gordon Scott is thinking about fame. “We didn’t aspire to it,” he says. “You see TV talent shows today where people say, ‘All I’ve ever wanted was to be famous.’ But I think if you speak to any band from our era, we did it because we liked playing. We enjoyed the buzz, it was a good bit of fun and a great social outlet. We didn’t say, ‘I’m going to sell a million records.’” It didn’t matter, for Matchbox hit the big time beyond their dreams when they soared into the British Top 20 with Rockabilly Rebel, a song that was also a hit in Germany, Switzerland, Ireland and New Zealand, where it stayed on the chart for 16 weeks and peaked at No.1. For many teenagers in 1979, the sing-along anthem was their first introduction to the word ‘rockabilly’ and it ignited a craze for the music that, for a few years in the early 80s, made the slap of double-basses as common on the airwaves as the synthesisers of the New Romantics.

Shakin’ Stevens, The Jets and The Polecats all followed Matchbox from the underground rockin’ scene to Top Of The Pops, along with America’s Stray Cats, who crossed the pond to see what all the fuss was about. Matchbox, meanwhile, piled up the hits with Buzz Buzz A Diddle It, Midnight Dynamos and Babes In The Wood, plus their biggest smash, a Top 5 cover of the Crickets’ When You Ask About Love that showed off the lilting, Gene Vincent-inflected vocals of Graham Fenton. “We were in the right place at the right time,” Scott continues modestly. “We were lucky.”

”We liked playing, enjoyed the buzz. We didn’t say, ‘I’m going to sell a million records’”

Yet it wasn’t exactly a case of overnight success for the band, which came together in West London in 1971. The first line-up included the current rhythm section of bassist Fred Poke and his brother-in-law, drummer Jimmy Redhead, with Iain ‘Hound dog’ Terry on guitar and Leslie ‘Wiffle’ Smith as lead vocalist. Unable to settle on a name, they invited a pub audience to write down suggestions. The first name pulled out of the hat was Matchbox – a reference to the Carl Perkins song.

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