by Christophe Simplex
Tim Staffell was the vocalist, bassist and founder member of the pre-Queen outfit, Smile - a band that also included Brian May and Roger Taylor. Tim Staffell subsequently joined Morgan Fisher's prog-rock band Morgan, and when Morgan folded in 1973, Staffell worked with underground artists such as Jonathan Kelly, Kieran White and Tailfeather. He gradually dropped out of the music business, though - to concentrate on a career in model-building instead (hint: Thomas the Tank Engine) - but he returned with his first ever solo album in 2003, and a follow up is scheduled for 2005!
Author's note: the quotes in this article are mostly taken from my own e-mail correspondence with Tim Staffell and Morgan Fisher conducted during 1998 and 2000. A couple of quotes are lifted from Uncle Tim's Answers..., a Tim Staffell question/answer website run by Tim's friend Paul Culmsee. Quick links:
Smile | Humpy Bong | Morgan | Jonathan Kelly | Tailfeather | solo | illustrated discography
- with SMILE -
Tim Staffell was born in London on February 24, 1948. He met Brian May for the first time in 1964, at a Chris & the Whirlwinds concert in Murray Park in Whitton. Brian May was there with his friend and bassist Dave Dilloway. Tim already knew Brian by sight - they were both attending Hampton Grammar School. At the time, Tim Staffell was the singer of a band called the Railroaders, but Brian and Dave, intrigued by Tim who played harmonica in the wings during the Wirldwind set, persuaded him to join their new band called 1984 instead, as singer and harmonica player. Other than Brian and Dave, 1984 comprised John Garnham (guitars), Dave Dilloway (bass), John Sanger (keyboards) and Richard Thompson (drums). With Staffell on board, 1984 played their first concert in Twickenham on Oct 28, 1964 - but John Sanger would soon leave the band, and was not replaced. For the next three years, the quintet played schools, pubs and clubs with a set that consisted of classic rock and rhythm 'n' blues songs (by the Beatles, the Who, the Byrds, the Small Faces, Chuck Berry, Otis Redding, Bo Diddley, etc). In 1965, Brian May enrolled at the Imperial College, studying Physics and Astronomy, while Tim Staffell started a Graphics and Drawings course at the Ealing College Of Arts. Pete Townsend and Ron Wood had graduated from Ealing a couple of years earlier. In 1966, Tim met a new student, Frederick Bulsara (aka Freddie Mercury) and they soon became best friends, sharing a love for music. 1984, meanwhile, continued to gig around London, and on May 13, 1967, they opened for Jimi Hendrix at The Imperial College, and had the nerve to play "Purple Haze"(!) and reportedly met the Rolling Stones backstage ! This was a memorable date for Tim because he will always remember his short meeting with Jimi Hendrix who asked him "Which way's the stage, Man?" Another interesting gig was Sept 9, 1967 (Top Rank, Croydon) when they played "Stone Free" and won a talent competition. On Dec 23, 1967 (the Olympia, London), they supported Tyrannosaurus Rex, Herd, Hendrix, Traffic and Pink Floyd at a festival called "Christmas On Earth" (only to find their booking fee stolen and their vehicle impounded!) This really marked the end for the band, and at the beginning of 1968, both Brian May and Tim Staffell quit the band.
With the addition of Chris Smith (keyboards), they put together a new project they called Smile. Chris was a friend of Tim from school. Roger Meddows-Taylor joined them on drums - after successfully auditioning on a pair of bongos! He had replied to their "Wanted Ginger Baker / Mitch Mitchell type drummer" ad, but he turned up at the audition without his drums. Brian and Tim were suitably impressed, though - and decided to give him a try. Roger Meddows-Taylor had previously spent time with a band called the Reaction.
Tim Staffell came up with the Smile logo, and made posters for their upcoming concerts. The band signed to Rondo promotion agency (other clients of theirs include Genesis and Nick Drake) and after hooking up with Peter Abbey (manager), John Harris (sound engineer) and Pete Edmunds (roadie), they played their first concert at the Imperial College (26/10/68), supporting Pink Floyd. As Smile was only a four piece band, Tim Staffell picked up the bass - he bought himself a 6-string Danelectro. They played a few originals, plus cover versions like "Rollin' Over" and "Can't Be So Bad" (Moby Grape). Chris Smith was eventually fired, when Brian and Tim wanted to go the power-trio route, having experienced Cream first hand! Smile often returned to the Imperial College (opening for Family and Tyrannausorus Rex) and they also played at the Richmond Athletic Club in February 1969, supporting Yes.
Around this time, Tim introduced his band mates to his friend Frederick Bulsara who soon became a friend and a fan of Smile. Tim taught him some rudimentary guitar lines, and shortly after Freddie Mercury (as he was now calling himself), joined Liverpool band Ibex, as their singer. Smile played an important festival at the Royal Albert Hall (27/02/69) in support for the "Benefit Concert For The National Council For The Unmaried Mother And Her Child" - opening for Free, Joe Cocker, Bonzo Dog Doo Dah Band and Spooky Tooth, and they played four songs : "If I Were A Carpenter", "Mony Mony" (both covers) and "Earth" (by Staffell), "See What A Fool I've Been" (by May - this would be a B-side for the second Queen single in 1974!). The press were supportive, writing that, without mentioning their name, they were the loudest band in western world!
Through Roger Taylor, who came from the area, Smile spent a lot of time in Truro (mostly playing at the PJ's and at the City Hall). On April 19, 1969 they performed at the Speakeasy Club in London were they were spotted by Lou Reizner. Lou was a talent scout for Mercury Records and he arranged for them to record one single for the label. The band teamed up with producer John Anthony (know for his work with Van Der Graaf Generator and Rare Bird) and engineer Pete Kelsey, in Trident Studios in June, where they recorded three songs: "Doing Alright" (a May / Staffell composition), "Earth" (Staffell) and "Step One Me" (May / Staffell). Much to the band's surprise, the single was released in USA in August. It turned out their record deal was with Mercury America, not Mercury UK as they were led to believe! The single coupled "Earth" with "Step On Me" - the latter originally written for May's previous band, 1984. Not surprisingly, the single flopped, but Mercury believed in the band, and paid for the band to record more tracks. Smile entered De Lane Lea Studios in London with producer Fritz Fryer (ex guitarist of the Four Pennies), and cut three songs: "Blag" (composed by Roger Taylor), "Polar Bear" (Brian May) and "April Lady" (an obsure cover version with lead vocals by Brian May). The latter was recorded at the suggestion of the record company. In the end, Mercury Records passed on the option of releasing the album - it stayed in the vaults until 1982, when it was issued as "Gettin' Smile" in Japan. The LP contained all six songs recorded by the band. It was re-issued on CD by Pseudonym in Holland in 1997 under the title "Ghost Of A Smile". The May / Staffell song "Doin' All Right" was subsequently re-recorderd by Queen for their debut album.
Back in 1969, Smile became desillusioned when Mercury dropped them, and were slowly falling apart. Their last concerts were December 13, 1969 at the Marquee (opening for Kippington Lodge with Nick Lowe) and January 31, 1970 at The Imperial College (supporting Mighty Baby). The band took a break when Brian May left for three months (to study the Zodiacal Light in Tenerife) - but in the interim, Tim decided he'd had enough - and when May returned in April, Staffell officially left the band. Smile spent some time looking for Tim's replacement, and finally settled for Freddie Mercury on lead vocals (who, after his stint with Ibex, played with local bands Wreckage and Sour Milk Sea). They also enlisted Mike Grose on bass, and Queen was born. They made their live debut at the City Hallin Truro (June 27, 1970), billed as Smile, since the concert had been arranged earlier. And the rest, as they say - is history. Says Staffell: "We (Smile) split in good terms, I just wanted to do something different - it's funny, because what I did with Morgan was even further away from I wanted to do than before, although, looking back now, some of it wasn't too bad, considering."
- with HUMPY BONG -
Tim Staffell meanwhile, heavily influenced by Ray Cooder's first album, answered an ad which turned out to be a new group called Humpy Bong, formed by ex Bee Gees drummer Colin Petersen and Jonathan Kelly. Tim Staffell joined them as lead vocalist and harmonica player. The band only lasted a couple months, but found time to record a single - "Don't You Be Too Long" b/w "We're Alright Till Then" were released in August 1970 and they performed it on BBC TV "Top Of The Pops". For their second "Top Of The Pops" appearance, the band played a song called "Don't You Believe It". This was actually a Jonathan Kelly solo single (Parlophone R 5851, the B-side was "Billy"), released shortly before Humpy Bong got together. The single featured Eric Clapton on lead guitar - but Clapton was unavailable for their "Top Of The Pops" appearance so Staffell played the lead guitar parts (it was only permissible to mime the song on TV if the BBC could be present while the track was re-recorded especially for the TV show). Remembers Staffell: "I struggled to duplicate a guitar part that Eric Clapton had played, because we had to re-record it for "Top Of The Pops", you weren't allowed to mime, and Eric Clapton couldn't make the session. I was in a bit of a shambles, I can tell you". Humpy Bong broke up shortly after, without playing a single gig. Staffell remembers: "As I recall, it went like this - Colin Petersen (ex Bee Gees drummer and Australian child TV star, and also manager of the band) played drums, I played bass at first, but was crap, so we used, I think, Rick Kemp from Steeleye Span a couple of times. Jonathan Kelly played guitar and wrote the songs, and I have an idea that Tim Renwick from Quiver might have played lead once or twice, and we had Peter Wood on keyboards (Quiver, Sunderland Brothers). Actually, there was never really a firm band. Humpy Bong never did a single gig, anyway, so I guess they weren't really a proper band."
- with MORGAN -
Spotting another likely looking ad in Melody maker, Tim Staffell successfully auditioned for Morgan, a band formed from the ashes of the Love Affair. Morgan was named after keyboard player Morgan Fisher, and Bob Sapsed (bass) and Maurice Bacon (drums) made up the band. Morgan Fisher remembers: "We auditioned a few people and when he (Tim) sang some of his song with a guitar I was very touched by his melody, his voice and poetic image. We also auditioned Ian McDonald (sax player of King Crimson) but he disappeared." Morgan was based on Fisher's keyboards and ELP-like melodies, and Staffell became the band's lead vocalist and lyricist. He also played some acoustic guitar. Staffell and Fisher were also responsible for the bands logo, and together they designed tour posters and tickets.
Morgan debuted, supported by Jonathan Kelly (a friend of Staffell from Humpy Bong), at the Marquee on September 03, 1971. Brian May was in attendence, he became a fan of the band and often went to their concerts (Morgan played a total of 23 dates at the Marquee, the last was on December 7, 1972). Remembers Fisher: "I remember the Marquee concerts vaguely. Jonathan (Kelly) was a nice man and a passionate Irish soul. I remember the difficulty I had programming the VCS3 synth during the shows - no program memory on those old synths! We also did a little tour in England/Europe but I don't remember where". Morgan were managed by Maurice's father, the late Sidney Bacon, and he arranged for them to cut some demos at Dick James Studios. Morgan: "I remember recording a few demos there as he was our publisher. "Tiger" and "The Fall Of Xandar" were two that never made it onto album. I no longer have those tapes and wonder where they are." Another (unreleased) song dating from this period was "Dancing Moon". Unable to attract interest from British labels, the band signed with RCA Italy instead, who flew the band to the RCA studios in Rome on June 15, 1972 to start work on their debut album.
"Nova Solis" was recorded in just one month, with Gianni Grandis producing - and was released at the end of the year. The album featured two songs penned by Fisher / Staffell ("Samarkhand The Golden" and "War Games"), plus "Alone" (by Staffell). Side B contained a suite, based on "Jupiter" by Holst - and incorporated some Fisher instrumentals ("Theme", "Take Off", "Asteroids", "Hyperspace", "Nova") plus two short acoustic songs by Staffell ("May I Remember" and "Earth"). The latter was a good version of the Smile song, but Staffell never liked the way this, or the Smile version turned out: "Actually, I never liked the way 'Earth' was recorded at all. I always felt that it was far too simple a song for either of the treatments that it recieved".
Staffell designed the LP cover - a futuristic design that complemented the music well. Morgan supported the album with a short Italian tour at the end of 1972, starting with with a warm-up gig in the RCA Studios in Rome. Says Fisher: "No live recordings (by Morgan) exist, except one of a gig played in RCA Studios for the press. Sadly I no longer have the tape. At another gig (in Italy) we arrived and it was a small filthy club with electricity problems, so we decided not to play. We drove away but the club manager chased us and made us come back. We thought he might be mafia so we didn't argue". The band also played some British dates in December 1972.
Morgan returned to the RCA Studios in February 1973 to record a second album, "Brown Out" - again with Gianni Grandis behind the controls. During their stay in Rome, Morgan Fisher also found time to record a solo album in-between sessions for the Morgan LP. The working title of the solo album was "Morgan Fisher's Hand Job". However, neither album got released when RCA Italy cancelled their contract with the band - but the band got to take the master tapes back to England, where they were mixed at Marquee Studios in April. The band decided to call it quits when they couldn't find a label willing to release the tapes. Fisher recalls: "With Morgan, the best was simply getting my music onto disc. It was a very creative time indeed, and in spite of some disagreements, RCA Italy were very helpful. Their studio was full of weird instruments (used in Fellini soundtracks, etc.) such as a 1930 Neo-Bechstein "electric" grand piano! The worst was a night at the Marquee where during the sound check we had so many problems that I walked out of the club and walked home - it took me two hours. That, I think, was the end of the band."
The second Morgan album, "Brown Out", was finally released in USA in 1976, and in England in 1978 (retitled "The Sleeper Wakes"). This time around, Fisher's keyboards were even more up front, and Staffell's acoustic guitar is hardly audible. Like its predecessor, one side was made up by short compostions ("Fire In The Head", "The Sleeper Wakes" and "The Right"), while the second side comprised just one number called "What Is-Is What". Staffell was actually unaware that this album had been released. Staffell: "Now that's a real surprise. I think because as we knew we were not going to survive as a band, but had to make the album for contractual purposes, it allowed us to loosen up, but it was a good try. I am proud to have been associated with Morgan, I think it is great music. Recording in Italy was difficult. There was a slight conflict of cultural approach, but the results I think, justify the tension, and maybe we were a little petulant at times. I remember one time, at a gig up North, not too far from Rimini I believe, we were booked in at an establishment run by a bunch of thugs. First, we arrived late, then we were treated like shit, the, when we tried to abandon the gig in disgust, we were marched back with threats of violence. Since the venue did not have enough power to run our lights ans equipment, we kept tripping the cut-out on the power supply. The whole thing was a fiasco from beginning to end... We had some fun with Morgan, but we worked hard. We used to share a house in Brookmans Park near Heatfield, North of London. I remember the girls more than anything! I guess the best Morgan experiences were in Italy. When we toured, we were based in a town called Figline, in the Val d'Arno, in Tuscany. The ambience of Firenze was memorable".
The world had to wait until 1984 to hear Fisher's solo album (which was retitled "Ivories" by then), although exerpts from it were used on the B-side to Morgan Fisher's "Geneva" solo single from 1978.
- with JONATHAN KELLY'S OUTSIDE -
After Morgan's demise, Tim Staffell had a stab at a solo career, but he only played one gig (at the Marquee on October 25, 1973). He also laid down some track in the studio. Says Staffell: "I once did a solo demo tape at Dick James Studio in New Oxford Street, (long since gone) as part of my deal with Together Music back in the Morgan days. I can't remember what tracks I put down. I also recorded a solo single at RCA Studios in Rome. I can't for the life of me remember what that was either. Wouldn't it be strange if some of that material had survived?" (note from the author: I have never found traces of a solo single by Tim... can someone confirm that it was released?)
Instead, he joined Jonathan Kelly's new band, called Jonathan Kelly's Outside. The band had recorded an album (entitled "Waiting On You") shortly before Staffel joined, but he got to illustrate the inside cover. Staffell joined the band on the road, adding backing vocals and percussions - the rest of the band consisted of Snowy White (guitar), Kuma Harada (bass), Dave Sheen (drums), Darryl Lee Que (congas) and Jonathan Kelly (vocals and guitar). Tim was a long-time admirer of Kelly, and ended up spending two years as a member of his band. It was with Kelly, that Staffell made his third appearance on BBC "Top Of The Pops" - the group performed a song called "Outside". However, Staffell and Kelly had split up by the time Jonathan Kelly's Outside made their second album, "Two Days In Winter" - but Staffell was once more asked to illustrate the cover. Shortly after, Jonathan Kelly became a Jehovah's witness, and left the music business altogether. Remembers Staffell: "Jonathan Kelly's Outside was the complete opposite (of Humpy Bong). A wonderful band. There was some nervous tension, but on a good night, it was the best band of it's kind in the UK. Although I played on stage with them for some time, and we toured the country a bit, I never actually recorded with them. The album "Two Days In Winter" which had most of the players on, was a Jonathan Kelly solo album, I think. Anyway, I wasn't on it. I illustrated the cover, though!" When Outside broke-up, Tim reckoned he would never be involved in anything as good as this again, so he decided to give up his full-time carreer in music and go the semi-pro session musician route instead. Staffell: "I got a (day-time) job for money, but still I played whenever I could". One of the sessions he did, was singing backing vocals on the first album by his friend (and ex Steamhammer member) Kieran White.
- with TAILFEATHER / REFUGEE / THE CROSS -
In 1977, Staffell formed a new combo with Canadian guitarist Richard Lightman. They called their band Tailfeather, but only got to release one single ("Don't Count Your Chickens") before splitting up. The rest of the band consist of Bernie Fullavove (bass) and Richard Burgess (drums). Says Staffell: "How did you ever hear of Tailfeather? This was a short-lived outfit, basically myself, and one Richard Lightman, a Canadian friend and guitarist, I saw him yesterday, as a matter of fact! We wrote a few songs together and recorded them. I have an old tape with a couple of tracks on it, somewhere. We might have played a gig or two, but it didn't last very long." The tape that Tim speak about was recorded between April 27, 1977 and May 3, 1977, and it featured five unreleased tracks : "By The Time I Get To Phoenix" (a Jim Webb number), "Give Me Satisfaction" (Lightman/Staffell), "Country Life" (Lightman/Staffell), "Stray" (Lightman/Staffell), "Stray" (Staffell) and "Faith In Your Love" (Lightman/Staffell).
After Tailfeather, Tim joined Refugee, another short-lived outfit who mostly played colleges and pubs with their soul / jazz influenced music. The band sported a brass section, but no personnel details are known.
As the 70s came to a close, Tim Staffell left the music business to take up a career in model-making. He worked among other things with models for the children's programme "Thomas The Tank Engine". Staffell: "I've just about managed to scrape a living at my model-making for twenty years, probably by a combination of luck and bullshit. Tommy the tank was the only networked thing I've ever done, but I did make a load of weapons for the movie "Quest for Fire", and the Riot police helmets for "Brazil"; of course there have been numerous commercials. Chess pieces #1 for British Rails, Moby Dick for Guinness - there's two fairly high profile ones for you, but there's been thousands, I guess". In 1981, Staffell was very surprised to find one of his models used for the cover of "Fun In Space", the first solo album of ex-Smile member Roger Taylor - and also on the accompanying single, "Future Management" (pictured right).
On December 22, 1992, Tim Staffell and Brian May joined Roger Taylor and his band The Cross at the Marquee for a "Smile reunion" - they performed "Earth" and "If I Was A Carpenter", 24 years after they broke up!
- solo / recent updates -
On Sunday May 12th, 2002, Tim Staffell & the Amigo's played live at the 17th Official International Queen Convention, in Prestatyn Sands, Wales
(UK). They were Tim Staffell (vocals & guitar), John Webster (guitar), Peter Hammerton (guitar, ex Others), Rob Tolchard (aka Bob Freeman, guitar,
ex Others), Richard Lightman (bass) and Andrew Staffell (drums, Tim's son). Here are links to a couple illustrations from the gig:
Amigos | Tim Staffell
Tim released "Amigo", his first solo album, in 2003 - with the help of some old friends as Chris Smith (keyboards, ex Smile) and Richard Lightman (producer, bass, guitars, keyboards), plus Brian May, Morgan Fisher and Snowy White. The album contained new versions of "Doin' Alright" and "Earth" (CD cover pictured right). More info!
Another great news is that a song called "Silver Salmon", composed by Tim during the Smile era, will probably feature in the future Queen box set (no
date of release yet) with Freddie Mercury on vocals. It seems to be a demo recorded in 1970 or 1971.
NEW WEBSITE! Tim Staffell now has his own website - be sure to check out www.staffell.com for more information, biographies and sound clips!
, welcomes your comments, corrections and/or additions!
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