The Eyes Of Blue evolved during the mid-sixties from covers and R&B band The Mustangs, based in Neath. The early line-up consisted of Wyndham Rees (Vocals), Ray Williams (Guitar), Ritchie Francis (Bass), Melvyn Davies (Guitar) and David Thomas (Drums). Thomas had replaced Byron Phillips in October 1964 a month before the change of name, and before too long Melvyn Davies also decided to leave, reducing the Eyes to a four-piece. Starting out as a soul-based R&B band the Eyes quickly established a strong reputation in the South Wales music scene. They played the same circuit as many other familar groups, The Bystanders, The Jets, and took in gigs in Llanelli, Swansea, Skewen, Cardiff and Neath, winning a few local talent competitions on the way. Early in 1966 drummer Thomas was off and away, and John Weathers was drafted in as a temporary replacement. From another Neath based band - the Smokestacks - came keyboard player Phil Ryan, and vocalist Gary Pickford-Hopkins.
By May that year the band were ready to turn professional. During the late spring and summer of '66 Eyes Of Blue entered and won the national Melody Maker 'Beat Contest', which offered the chance of a one year Decca recording contract. This turned out to be something of a poisoned chalice as none of the tracks recorded for Decca were representative.
Once the Decca contract had expired the band signed with the Mercury label, and during March to July 1968 recorded their first album across a number of sessions in Chappell Studios, London. Later that year the Eyes backed american singer-songwriter Buzzy Linhart on his album 'Buzzy' released on the Phillips label. When some critics suggested that this could be a more productive route an angry Ritchie Francis responded; "We will not be called a backing group for anyone"
Crossroads Of Time
The Eyes debut album 'Crossroads Of Time' was eventually released early in 1969. It included two Graham Bond R&B songs (Bond also wrote the sleevenotes) 'Love Is The Law' and 'Crossroads Of Time' which was especially written for the band. It also included an interesting version of Love's '7 + 7 Is' while The Beatles' 'Yesterday' is given a treatment suggesting something of a jazz hymn. Ritchie Francis claimed the remaining songs of which 'Inspiration For A New Day' is noteworthy and 'Prodigal Son', which features some psychedelic guitar work from Ray 'Taff' Williams. 'Largo' is an arrangement of the Handel piece by Ritchie Francis and he claimed this was indicative of the way the group were going.
Following on from their earlier collaboration with Buzzy Linhart, the Eyes also worked with Quincy Jones when they contributed to the unreleased 'Toy Grabbers' film score. Later they also appeared in the film 'Connecting Rooms' as well as playing on the soundtrack, but the film wasn't given a general release in the UK.
Wyndham Rees was eased out of the Eyes Of Blue before the spring of 1969, having reputedly contributed little to the band. He was present during most of the Chappell Studios early recording sessions for the group's second album 'In Fields Of Ardath' but was gone by the time they gravitated to more modern eight-track facilities. It was released in November and is generally regarded as the more successful and 'progressive' of the two albums released under the Eyes Of Blue name. Quincy Jones supplied the sleevenotes this time, and commented; "All the ethnic qualities which I had recalled about the people of Wales were manifest in that tape. There was a native sensuality in their playing. Eyes Of Blue was musically curious." The record has also been described as having "Pop, R&B jazz, classical, psychedelic and Eastern influences." A fair sprinkling one must admit.
In a further collaboration, John Weathers and his co-Eyes Of Blue members Gary Pickford-Hopkins and Phil Ryan also helped out when Welsh based band Ancient Grease entered the studio to record the 1970 album 'Women And Children First'. After the album was released in July 1970 the band reverted to its original name, Strawberry Dust, and spent a short while in Hamburg. They disintegrated on their return but Gareth 'Morty' Mortimer and Graham Williams later lined up together again in Racing Cars.
In an attempt by Mercury's UK A&R chief Lou Reizner to revitalise the Eyes Of Blue, the group released their final album under the name Big Sleep but the group never performed live under the new name, and folded within months of its release. The album, 'Bluebell Wood' is accomplished enough but the quirky nature of the production does sometimes fail to integrate the music into a seamless whole. Sombre in overall feel, Phil Ryan described it in 1976 as; "the most miserable LP - it makes Lou Reed look like the Bay City Rollers!" With two keyboard players the album is laden with piano/organ textures and , as Martin Mycock noted in his 1993 TWC review; "Overall the album is definitely more coherent than previous [Eyes Of Blue] efforts with more emphasis on instrumental work - rightly so with players of the calibre of Taff and Phil".
The Eyes Of Blue played their farewell gig at the Gwyn Hall in Neath during the summer of 1970, bowing out in style and on home ground.
The fortunes of Phil Ryan, John Weathers, Taff Williams and Gary Pickford-Hopkins can be followed through incarnations of Man and other acts from the Man family tree. Phil joined Pete Brown in Piblokto! before moving on to Man, and John joined Gentle Giant, spent time with Phil in the Neutrons, and then became Man's longest serving drummer after the band reformed in 1983. Gary fomed Wild Turkey with Glenn Cornick and Graham Headley-Williams (of Strawberry Dust). Taff Williams became a Neutron for a while in the mid seventies, and teamed up with Gary again in The Houseband in 1980. The pair performed as a duo in Re-Session, and with Terry Williams and Dai Bell worked as The Broadcasters into the early nineties. Ritchie Francis stayed with Lou Reizner at Mercury, and under his guidance recorded and released a solo album, 'Songbird', on the Pegasus label before eventually dropping away from the music business.
Whilst there have been partial reunion gigs played in 1972 and 1977 it looks unlikely that the full original line-up will ever get it together again.
RITCHIE FRANCIS gtr
GARY PICKFORD HOPKINS vcls
PHIL RYAN keyb'ds A B
WYNDHAM REES drms
RAY WILLIAMS bs
1 Crossroads of Time 5:00
2 Never Care 3:18
3 I'll Be Your Friend 3:48
4 7 + 7 Is 2:32
5 Prodigal Son 5:27
6 Largo 3:14
7 Love Is the Law 5:16
8 Yesterday 4:22
9 I Wonder Why 3:13
10 World of Emotion 2:48
11 Inspiration for a New Day 3:09
The Eyes of Blue's debut album is a rather typical bottom-drawer late-'60s psychedelic effort, going over much of the musical map without charting new territory or doing especially interesting songs. Chunks of British harmony pop, soul, trendy Eastern-tinged psychedelia, and early progressive classical-dipped melodies and arrangements all bump around in the mix, though they don't cohere too memorably. The Welsh group did have a more organ-based sound than many of their U.K. peers, and the band's keyboardist, Phil Ryan, has admitted that Graham Bond was a big influence on his style on this album. Bond's input wasn't limited to this; he also wrote two of the songs, "Crossroads of Time" and "Love Is the Law" (though they were credited to "D. Stewart," aka his girlfriend, Diane Stewart), both of which Bond himself would record slightly later on his 1969 album Love Is the Law. The Eyes of Blue's version of "Love Is the Law" sounds more like the early Bee Gees than Graham Bond, though it's actually one of the better songs on the record. "Crossroads of Time" is likewise one of the relative highlights, starting off with an atomic explosion and Phantom of the Opera organ, though its lyrics are pretty blatant hippie sloganeering. It's an indictment of the weakness of the group's original material (by guitarist Ritchie Francis) that the most notable other track is one of the most eccentric covers of the Beatles' "Yesterday" you'll hear, arranged to sound almost like a classical hymn.
Rip from CD 256@ (full artwork included)