Them were a Northern Irish band formed in Belfast in April 1964, most prominently known for the garage rock standard "Gloria" and launching singer Van Morrison's musical career. The original five member band consisted of Morrison, Alan Henderson, Ronnie Milling, Billy Harrison and Eric Wrixon. The group was marketed in the United States as part of the British Invasion.
Morrison quit the band in 1966 and went on to a successful career as a solo artist. Despite their relatively few hit singles, the Belfast group had considerable influence on other bands, such as the Doors.
Them in 1965
|Origin||Belfast, Northern Ireland|
In April 1964, Van Morrison established an R&B club at the Maritime Hotel, Belfast with entrepreneurs Jimmy Conlon, Jerry McKernan and Gerry McKervey (known as the "3Js"). Morrison gave notice to the group with which he performed at the time, the Golden Eagles. With an anticipated opening night for the new R&B club approaching, he embarked on a mission to find his ideal line-up. He had recently been introduced to The Gamblers, an East Belfast group formed in 1962 by Ronnie Milling (drums, born 27 April 1940), Billy Harrison (guitar and lead vocals, born William Harrison on 14 October 1942), and Alan Henderson (bass guitar, born 26 November 1944, died 9 April 2017). Eric Wrixon, who was still in school, had been recruited as piano player and keyboardist. Morrison joined in on tenor saxophone, harmonica and vocals. The group rehearsed over Dougie Knight's bicycle shop in Shaftesbury Square, Belfast in preparation for their debut at the Maritime. As the group now felt they needed a new name, they followed Eric Wrixon's suggestion and the Gamblers changed to Them after the 1954 sci-fi horror film.
On 14 April 1964, an advertisement in a Belfast newspaper asked: "Who Are? What Are? THEM". Similarly curious advertisements followed until the Friday before the gig (17 April 1964) announced that Them would be performing that evening at Club Rado at the Maritime Hotel. Attendance at the two hundred capacity venue quickly grew with a packed house by the third week.
Them performed without a routine, fired by the crowd's energy: Morrison later commented that while the band was "out of our element" making records... "The way we did the numbers at the Maritime was more spontaneous, more energetic, more everything, because we were feeding off the crowd." Morrison ad libbed songs as he performed and "Gloria", the classic song he had written at eighteen years old, took shape here and could last up to twenty minutes. According to Morrison, "Them lived and died on the stage at the Maritime Hotel" but only very rudimentary recordings survive. One fan's recording, of "Turn On Your Love Light" made its way to Mervyn and Phil Solomon, who contacted Decca Records' Dick Rowe, who then travelled to Belfast to hear Them perform. Rowe and Phil Solomon agreed on a two-year contract with the members of the band then signed up to Solomon. Morrison, at eighteen, had to have his father sign for him. Within a few weeks, the group was taken to England and into Decca's recording studio in West Hampstead for their first recording session.
Them's first recording session took place in London on 5 July 1964. "Turn on Your Love Light" and "Gloria" were recorded during this session as were both sides of their first single, "Don't Start Crying Now" and "One Two Brown Eyes" as well as "Groovin'", "Philosophy" and Bo Diddley's "You Can't Judge a Book by Its Cover". This session was remarkable in its employment of two drums tracks, which can be clearly heard in the stereo mixes of "Gloria" and "One Two Brown Eyes". Rowe used session musicians Arthur Greenslade on organ and Bobby Graham on second drum kit. At this late stage it became clear that the parents of Eric Wrixon, a minor in law, would not sign the contract on his behalf so he was replaced by Pat John McAuley. The single, released in August, did not prove successful.
Their next single, Big Joe Williams's "Baby Please Don't Go" substituted Andy White on drums, Phil Coulter on second keyboard, and added Jimmy Page on rhythm guitar. Lead guitar was the work of Billy Harrison. It was released in November with "Gloria" as its B-side. In December 1964, Them made their television debut, joining The Rolling Stones, on Ready Steady Go!. Their manager, Phil Solomon got the track used as the show's signature tune and within two weeks it was at No.19 on the UK Singles Chart, eventually peaking at No.10.
In January 1965, Them toured England for a second time, staying at the Royal Hotel, which disc jockey Jimmy Savile used as his London base. Savile helped promote the band in his column for The People but Them earned a reputation for bad manners and sarcasm in their interviews. Billy Harrison said the attitude problem may have been caused by anti-Irish sentiments on the continent at the time. But, when they were interviewed by a reporter from the Irish Independent, the reporter remarked, "They were the most boorish bunch of youngsters I'd come across in my short career". Phil Coulter recalled the band's interview with a female reporter: "They would just sit and mutter monosyllabic grunts to themselves and give her off-the-wall answers". (Morrison as a solo artist raised such interviews to a "negative art form"). Their management promoted Them by scheduling appearances on Ready Steady Go! and on Top Of The Pops where, rather than performing live, they were expected to mime and lip sync. Morrison said of this appearance, "It was ridiculous. We were totally anti that type of thing... and we had to get into suits and have make-up put on and all that...". He also revealed how the band had, until that time, considered the programme a complete joke.
Their next release was Them's biggest hit in the UK, "Here Comes the Night". The producer was also the writer of the song, Bert Berns, an American, who had also co-written "Twist and Shout". Backed with "All for Myself" it charted in the UK at No.2 on 22 April 1965, five weeks after entering the charts, and went to No.24 in the U.S. in May. Both tracks originate from the same session in October 1964 that yielded "Baby Please Don't Go" but were temporarily shelved by Decca in favor of Lulu's version of "Here Comes the Night" which only reached # 50 on the British charts.
On 11 April 1965, Them made a guest appearance at the NME Pollwinners Concert at Wembley Empire Pool: Jimmy Savile was MC for this event, which also included The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, The Kinks, The Animals, The Searchers, The Moody Blues and Dusty Springfield. The bands had been expected to keep to their current hits, but Them audaciously segued from "Here Comes the Night" into a seven-minute version of "Turn on Your Lovelight". After the performances, NME's Derek Johnson commented that Morrison had "more genuine soul than any of his British contemporaries".
The band released their first album, The Angry Young Them, in June 1965 (UK) and it appeared in the USA on Parrot Records in July. But Them's next single, "One More Time", chosen by Phil Solomon, failed – according to Billy Harrison because it never constituted single material. In July 1965, the band added English drummer Terry Noon and Scottish lead guitarist Joe Baldi (born Joseph Baldi, 10 March 1943, in La Spezia, Italy) but they left in September. Their second album, Them Again, was released in January 1966 in the UK and in April 1966 in the USA.
The group was marketed in the United States as part of the British Invasion. After the success of "Here Comes the Night", the band scored a chart hit again later in 1965 with "Mystic Eyes", which reached No.33. Them Again, released in April 1966 in the US, also charted and the band began a US tour in May 1966. From 30 May to 18 June, Them had a residency at the famous Whisky a Go Go in Los Angeles. For the final week The Doors opened for Them and on the last night the two bands and Morrisons jammed a twenty-minute version of "Gloria" and a twenty-five-minute version of "In the Midnight Hour". Them went on to headline at The Fillmore in San Francisco, California and then to Hawaii, where disputes erupted among band members and management over money. The band broke apart, Morrison and Henderson returning to Belfast while Ray Elliott (born Raymond Elliott, 23 January 1939, in Belfast, Co Antrim, Northern Ireland) and David Harvey (born David Tufney, 29 July 1943, in Bude, Cornwall) decided to stay in America.
Van Morrison has placed the break-up of Them in context: "There was no motive behind anything you did [back then]. You just did it because you wanted to do it and you enjoyed doing it. That's the way the thing started, but it got twisted somewhere along the way and everybody involved in it got twisted as well, including me."(1967) "You can't take something like that, put it in a box and place a neat little name on it, then try to sell it. That's what they tried to do. That's what killed Them." (1973)
Van Morrison went on to great success and fame as a solo artist, but Them's combination of garage rock and blues proved a major influence on the next generations of rock musicians, and the group's best-known singles have become staples of rock and roll.
In late August 1965, Billy Harrison and Pat McAuley formed a rival Them, competing with the Morrison/Henderson line-up and leading to legal action. In March 1966, the latter won the rights to the name while the former, now without Harrison but with Pat's brother Jackie McAuley (born John McAuley, 14 December 1946, in Coleraine, County Londonderry, Northern Ireland; ex-Them, ex-Kult), were only allowed to call themselves 'Other Them' in the U.K. The McAuley brothers became, unofficially, the Belfast Gypsies (or Gipsies), though they were never actually billed as such, and recorded two singles on Island Records (one released under the name Freaks of Nature) and one Swedish-only album, all produced by Kim Fowley. They toured Europe billed as Them and released a French EP under that name but broke up in November 1966. Not long after that the Morrison line-up also reached the end of the road. In March 1967 Morrison did a short tour of the Netherlands backed by Cuby & the Blizzards and then left for New York to start his solo career. The rest regrouped in Belfast, recruited Kenny McDowell (born Kenneth McDowell, 21 December 1944, in Belfast, County Antrim, Northern Ireland) (ex-Mad Lads) as lead singer and continued touring and recording steadily after relocating to the USA in early 1967 at the invitation of producer Ray Ruff. Two albums, Now and Them and Time Out! Time In for Them, found the band experimenting with psychedelia. Then Jim Armstrong and Kenny McDowell returned to Belfast to perform as Sk'boo (Armstrong, McDowell and Ray Elliot reunited in Chicago in 1969 as "Truth" and recorded a number of demos and soundtrack songs later released as Of Them And Other Tales). Henderson hired session musicians for two more records for Ray Ruff's Happy Tiger Records, in a hard rock vein with country and folk elements; Them (1970) featured Jerry Cole as guitarist while Them In Reality (1971) featured lead guitarist Jim Parker and drummer John Stark (both ex-Kitchen Cinq). Henderson also co-wrote a rock opera, Truth Of Truths, produced by Ray Ruff in 1971. These efforts were met with consumer indifference and in 1972 Them dissolved. Alan Henderson, Billy Harrison and Eric Wrixon reunited in 1979, without Morrison, recording another album, Shut Your Mouth and undertaking a tour of Germany using Billy Bell on guitar and Mel Austin as vocalist. Since the 1990s, Wrixon had toured under the moniker of "Them the Belfast Blues Band", at one point comprising ex-Them guitarists, Jim Armstrong and Billy Harrison.
The band's 1964 recording of "Gloria" was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame in 1999. It was rated at No.69 on Dave Marsh's 1989 book, The Heart of Rock and Soul, The 1001 Greatest Singles Ever and "Mystic Eyes" was rated at No.458. "Gloria" was listed at No.208 on the 2004 Rolling Stone magazine's feature, The 500 Greatest Songs of All Time.