Who Is City Boy?

CITY BOY MARK IV (1980 - 1982)

Lol Mason
Mike Slamer
Max Thomas
Roy Ward

An excerpt from The Gibralter Encylclopedia of Progressive Rock:

"City Boy [UK]

City Boy (76), Dinner At The Ritz (77), Young Men Gone West (77), Book Early (78), The Day The Earth Caught Fire (79), Heads Are Rolling (80)

This Birmingham-based (West Midlands, not Alabama) folk-turned-art-rock sextet was quickly signed to Phonogram Records in 1975, presumably because of they sounded so much like 10cc. (Remember, this was about the time Godley and Creme split from 10cc to make the Consequences triple album. It was apparently feared that the band would break up.) In spite of the similarity, City Boy are not merely 10cc rip-off artists. Their stronger emphasis on hard-rock sets them apart immediately.

Early on, strong identification with progressive rock and a couple of funk-orientated tracks give them further distinction. The self-titled debut is probably the one which will most appeal to prog-fans. The eight-minute "5000 Years/Don't Know Can't Tell" is a highly underrated slab of prog-rock, with fiery guitar, simmering synth and mellotrons galore. It's also carried over well by the dual lead vocals of Lol Mason and Steve Broughton, a distinctive feature of this band. The other outstanding progressive track on the album is the haunting "Sunset Boulevard." Here the whole of the song is anchored around the electric piano of keyboardist Max Thomas, while the dynamics are punctuated by lead guitarist Mike Slamer and the rhythm section of Chris Dunn (bass) and Roger Kent (drums).

It's all too rare to find bands this tight. The rest of the album isn't really what I'd call "progressive," but I like most of it anyway. Highlights include "(Moonlight) Shake my head and leave" (crystalline pop), "The Greatest Story Ever Told" (an infectious 10cc-esque rocker) and "Haymaking Time" (a beautiful folkish ballad). Also of note is "Oddball Dance," which is just plain weird. The album would be perfect except for a couple of embarassingly dated-sounding funk-orientated songs ("Surgery Hours" and "The Hap-ki-do Kid") which smack of the dreaded D-word.

The band's sophomore effort, Dinner At The Ritz, shows stronger 10cc influence, while expanding the band's stylistic pallette. Highlights include "Narcissus," a raunchy rocker with rolling Hammond organ and wailing guitar and an amazing middle section with guitar-and-synth unisons, and "State Secrets--A Thriller," which is a three-part satire on secret-agent films ending with a climactic instrumental section with synths and layered guitars. Elsewhere, there's some fine hard-rockers and a brace of shimmering pop pieces, notably "The Violin," which is an old-fashioned romantic tear-jerker complete with strings, autoharp and steel-guitar (by B.J. Cole). Also appearing: David Jackson and Peter Hammill from Van Der Graaf Generator on the title-track! Young Men Gone West seems to ditch any pretensions of being a progressive band, and just presents a set of rock and pop songs. Still good, especially the hard-rock numbers ("Dear Jean," "Bad For Business," "The Man Who Ate His Car"), and the album-closer, "Millionaire," which has a nifty arrangement for brass-band.

Book Early brings them into the big-leagues-- commercially anyway-- with the big hit single "," which caused a bit of controversy by spelling out the Mercury Records phone number out in touch-tone at the beginning of the song. (Thus, it's not surprising that their next two albums were issued on Atlantic in the U.S.) It also introduces us to the band's new drummer Roy Ward, who also sings co-lead vocals on "" with Mason, giving the band THREE lead vocalists. The album is similar to Young Men... with its balance of rockers ("Summer In The Schoolyard," "Moving In Circles") and ballads ("Goodbye Laurelie," "Beth"). Again the climactic track is the last one, "Dangerous Ground."

The band followed up this LP with "What A Night," a single not included on any album. Apparently they still had art in their system, hence The Day The Earth Caught Fire, a concept album of sorts concerning their fears about what the upcoming decade may hold, beginning with the orchestrally augmented, Supertramp-esque title-song, and culminating in the twelve-minute, four-part "Ambition." But three of the songs on the A-side (notably "Interrupted Melody," a Springsteen-clone, and the melodic pop of "Modern Love Affair") have nothing to do with the concept and break the album's flow. Still, "New York Times" (apparently a much older Broughton/Mason composition updated for vocals by Ward) is a stunning ballad with orchestral backing, while "Up In The Eighties" and "Machines" use synthesizers effectively to create a 1980's sound a year early. One of their better efforts.

Broughton left to rejoin his brother Edgar's band, leaving Heads Are Rolling primarily Mason and Ward's show. It's their weakest effort, but there's nothing really wrong with it, it's just doesn't form as much excitement as previous efforts. Most of the rockers sound too forced and commercially-geared. Thus unlike earlier efforts, the best tracks are the ballads ("Speechless," "You're Leaving Me," "Life on the Balcony"). I've heard of something called Bear Tracks released on German Vertigo (CD) circa 1990, but I'm not sure what this is. A compilation would be my guess."

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