HiFis, The


Band members               Related acts

  line up 1 (1963-65)

- Brian Bennett (RIP) -- vocals, keyboards

- Ted Harvey -- vocals, bass

- Malcolm Lenny - vocals, lead guitar, backing vocals

- Mel Wright (RIP) -- drums, percussion, vocals

 

  line up 2 (1965-67)

- Brian Bennett (RIP) -- vocals, keyboards

NEW - Mike Douglas -- lead guitar, backing vocals

- Malcolm Lenny - vocals, lead guitar, backing vocals

NEW - Gary Unwin - bass (replaced Ted Harvey)

- Mel Wright (RIP) -- drums, percussion, vocals

 

 

 

- The Packabeats (Ted Harvey and Malcolm Lenny)

 

 

 


 

Genre: rock

Rating: 5 stars *****

Title:  Snakes and HIFis

Company: Star-Club

Catalog: 158 035 STY
Year: 1967

Country/State: London, UK

Grade (cover/record): VG / VG

Comments: original Germany pressing; minor ring wear

Available: SOLD

Catalog ID: 5681

Price: SOLD $200.00

 

The HiFis (also known as The Hi-Fis) are a major mystery to me.  Judging by this 1967 album they were easily as talented as far better know UK competitors, yet they're all but unknown outside of collectors circles where they're lone German-issued LP is a sought after and expensive collectable.

 

Featuring the talents of singer/keyboardist Brian Bennett, bassist Ted Harvey,  lead guitarist Malcolm Lenny (Harvey and Lenny had been members of The Packabeats), and drummer Mel Wright they came together in 1963.  The band began generating some buzz on the London club circuit, eventually signing  to Pye Records.  (A 1963 single on Picadilly credited to The Hi-Fis ('Take Me Or Leave Me' b/w 'I'm Struck' (Piccadilly catalog number 7N 35130)) was a different band.)

 

Over the next year Pye released a series of three unsuccessful 45s:

 

- 1964's 'Will Yer Won't Yer/She's The One' (Pye catalog number 7N 15635)

- 1964's 'I Keep Forgettin'' b/w 'Why Can't I Stop Loving You' (Pye catalog number 7N 15710)

- 1965's 'Baby's In Black' b/w 'Kiss And Run'  (Pye catalog number 7N 15788)

 

Pye subsequently dropped the band at which point they signed a one-shot deal with the small Alp label.  The resulting single proved no more successful than any of their earlier work:

 

- 1966's 'It's Gonna Be Morning' b/w 'I Wanna Hear You Say Yeah' (Alp catalog number 595 010)

 

Frustrated by their inability to catch a break the band subsequently underwent a personnel change that saw original bassist Ted Harvey quit.  He was replaced by Gary Unwin.  The band also added a second guitarist in the form of Mike Douglas.  The revamped line up also decided to try a different marketing plan.  Seemingly unable to break in the hyper-competitive English marketplace, they accepted an invitation to play clubs in Hamburg, West Germany where they were eventually picked up by the Star-Club Records label.  Their German debut came in the form of the 1967 single 'I'm a Box' b/w 'No Two Ways' (Star Club catalog number 148 578 STF).  That was followed by a second single - 1967's 'Snakes and Ladders' b/w 'Tread Softy for the Sleepers' (Star-Club catalog number 148 548 STF).

 

The singles did quite well on the German charts (at one point in time they were actually both in the German top-10) and the Hamburg-based Star-Club label quickly moved to finance an album - 1967's "Snakes and HiFis".  With Bennett, Douglas, Lenny, and Unwin handling the writing chores the album showcased a largely original set of material that was nothing short of wonderful.  Perhaps because expectations on the group were low, they band responded with a collection that was never less than fun and charming.  Don't go looking for big political or social statements since there weren't any.  On the other hand , propelled by Bennett's likeably voice and energetic performances from the rest of the band this was clever and commercial pop easily as good as anything their UK-based competitors were churning out. 

 

- Previously released as a German single, 'Tread Softly For The Sleepers' was a near perfect slice of British psych - Fantastic melody, blazing group harmonies, complemented by Wright's pounding drums and Bennett's ringing organ.   rating: **** stars

- Originally recorded by The Rip Chords, the lone cover tune 'Here I Stand' managed to out-Four Seasons Frankie Valli and the boys.  Too bad the former didn't do a cover of The HIFis version as it would have provided them with a top-40 hit.  Lead guitarist Lenny handled lead vocals on this one.   rating: **** stars

- One of those tracks that drills into your head and then simply will not leave, 'Snakes and Ladders' offered up a beguiling mix of Beach Boys vibe and a glistening slice of bubblegum pop.  'Course these guys turned it in a full two years before the bubblegum genre became popular !   rating: **** stars

- Anyone under the impression mid-1960s pop was nothing more than 'moon-in-June' puffery need only check out the hysterical lyrics on 'Grade A Girl'   10cc had nothing on these guys.   rating: **** stars

- Opening and closing with a cool keyboard sound that sounded like an early synthesizer, 'Whatís A Bulb' sounded like The Hollies overdosing on Red Bull energy drink.     rating: **** stars

- Imagine hyper-caffienated Hollies hanging out with 10cc for a month and you'd get a feel for 'Calorie Ann'.  An amazing combination of Hollies-styled melody and 10cc humor ...  Great bass pattern from Unwin.   rating: **** stars

- One of two disappointments, 'Up and Over' was a bland ballad done in a mock upper crust accent.  The cheesy bird and crowd sound effects couldn't salvage the track.  At least the punchy Stax-ish horn arrangements were nice.   rating: ** stars

- Built on a Motown-styled framework, 'Odd Man Out' had it all - another amazing melody, driving Douglas vocal, insidiously catchy organ pattern.  How could this not have been a major radio hit?   rating: **** stars

- The omm-pa-pa melody that propelled 'Iím A Box' didn't immediately appeal to me, but the lyric was quite clever and ultimately won me over.   rating: *** stars

- The beautiful acoustic ballad 'Your Haunting Me' may simply be the best Beach Boys imitation you'll ever stumble across.   rating: **** stars

- I was expecting 'Uwe Aus Duisburg' to be the band's token German-language nod to their audience ...  instead it turned out the be a hysterical slice of new wave-styled mod-styled pop.  The song would have sounded right at home on a Nick Lowe album.  Simply great !!!   rating: ***** stars

- All hyperbole aside 'My Cards Numbered 17' was another one of those 'should've been a hit' songs.     rating: **** stars

- Hard to image but 'No Two Ways' was even better.  If you set out to build a mid-1960s top-40 hit this is what you would have come up with.     rating: ***** stars

 

My only complaint is the album was too short and they never got a chance to record a follow-up set.  A true overlooked classic ...   

 

 

"Snakes and HiFis" track listing:
(side 1)

1.) Tread Softly For The Sleepers   (Brian Bennett - Mike Douglas) - 
2.) Here I Stand   (Jack Nietsche) - 
3.) Snakes And Ladders   (Brian Bennett - Mike Douglas) - 
4.) Grade A Girl
   (Brian Bennett - Mike Douglas) - 
5.) Whatís A Bulb
   (Gary Unwin) - 
6.) Calorie Ann
   (Brian Bennett - Mike Douglas) - 

(side 2)
1.) Up And Over   (Brian Bennett - Mike Douglas - Malcolm Lenny) - 

2.) Odd Man Out   (Gary Unwin) - 
3.) Iím A Box   (
Gary Unwin) - 
4.) Your Haunting Me   (
Gary Unwin) - 
5.) Uwe Aus Duisburg
   (Brian Bennett - Mike Douglas) - 
6.) My Cards Numbered 17
   (Brian Bennett - Mike Douglas) - 
7.) No Two Ways
   (Brian Bennett - Mike Douglas - Malcolm Lenny) - 

 

 

I haven't done a great deal of research on the principals.  Harvey still occasionally performs with guitarist Lenny in The Packabeats.  

 

Lenny's career seems to have taken him into television, but he remained active in music working as a sound engineer, playing in the local band Happy Daze, and occasional reunions with The Packabeats.

 

Unwin apparently stayed in Germany and enjoyed quite a bit of success as a sessions player and songwriter (Boney M, Amanda Lar, he Munich Machine, Silver Convention, etc.).  He now lives in Tuscany and operates a bread and breakfast-type of enterprise.

 

http://www.aplaceinitaly.it/Pages/AboutUsE.html

 

 

Wright seems to have disappeared and is not the same Mel Wright who worked with a long list of groups including Dynaflow Blues, The Nighthawks, The Brunning Sunflower Blues Band, Traitor's Gait, Chris Youlden's touring bandand is now a member of the Celtic band The Flying Chaucers.  (I checked.)

 

 

 

Thanks for your note and the link to The Hi Fi's. I would have included the band on my website if I had been a member but, I wasn't!  They've mixed me up with another Mel Wright, perhaps still drumming away too.  
 
Cheers
Mel Wright

March, 2009

 

 

In 2008 the British Wooden Hill label finally reissued the album in CD format (Wooden Hill catalog number WHCD022).  The reissue included extensive biographical material and 14 bonus tracks, including singles, live track and unreleased material.

 

1.) London Look   (Graham Gouldman) - 

2.) McKillroy Is Watching You    (Karrasch - Moslem) - 

3.) I'm Not Ready For You Yet   (Hampton - Cason) -

4.) Heaven Knows   (Roger Cook - Roger Greenaway) -

5.) Mickey's Monkey   (Brian Holland - Lamont Dozier - Eddie Holland) - 

6.) I Get Around   (Brian Wilson - Mike Love) - 

7.) Summer In The City   (John Sebastian - Steve Boone) - 

8.) In The Midnight Hour   (Wilson Pickett- Steve Cropper) - 

9.) God Only Knows   (Brian Wilson - Asher) - 

10.) Yellow Submarine   (John Lennon - Paul McCartney) - 

11.) I'm A Box (mono single mix)   (Gary Unwin) - 

12.) No Two Ways (mono single mix)     (Brian Bennett - Mike Douglas - Malcolm Lemmy) - 

13.) Snakes And Ladders (mono single mix)   (Brian Bennett - Mike Douglas) - 

14 ) Tread Softly For The Sleepers (mono single mix)   (Brian Bennett - Mike Douglas) - 

 

 

So in an odd coincidence a couple of weeks after I sold this album I got the following email:

 

Hi There, 

 

This is Malcolm Lenny, lead guitarist of The Hi-Fi's. I've just read your review of our Star Club Album, Snakes and Hi-Fi's. My God! I've never read so many compliments about the band anywhere before!  Thank You, Thank You, Thank You. I hope you don't mind, but I thought I ought to correct you on a couple of minor details. 

 

1) - 1966's 'It's Gonna Be Morning' b/w 'I Wanna Hear You Say Yeah' (Alp catalog number 595 010) was not recorded by The Hi-Fis that I knew. There was another band around at the time that we were on the Piccadilly label. 

 

2) Micky Douglas (he sang most songs), Brian Bennett, Gary Unwin and me Malcolm Lenny, all took lead vocal parts on the album. 

 

3) "Their German debut came in the form of the 1967 single 'I'm a Boy' b/w 'No Two Ways' (Star Club catalog number 148 578 STF)". ` It was called "I'm a Box" not "I'm a Boy". That was The Who, as I'm sure you know. 

 

4) "With Bennett, Douglas, and Unwin handling the writing chores". I co-wrote a couple of tracks too. 

 

5) "Here I Stand" was originally recorded by THE RIP CHORDS. I sang the lead vocal on that one. 

 

6) "Opening and closing with a cool keyboard sound that sounded like an early synthesizer", (It was a Claviolene. The same monophonic keyboard that The Tornados used on "Telstar")' Whatís A Bulb' sounded like.............. 

 

7) "- One of two disappointments, 'Up and Over' was a bland ballad done in a mock upper crust accent. The cheesy bird and crowd sound effects couldn't salvage the track". This was a demo written for comic BENNY HILL. Producer Siggi Locke put it on the album. "At least the punchy Stax-ish horn arrangements were nice". The horns came from Irish friends The Boston Showband, who later became The Glitter Band. 

 

8) "- Built on a Motown-styled framework, 'Odd Man Out' had it all - another amazing melody, driving Bennett vocal, insidiously catchy organ pattern". Micky Douglas sang this one, not Brian. 

 

9) "- The beautiful acoustic ballad 'You're Haunting Me'( not Your) may simply be the best Beach Boys imitation you'll ever stumbled across". Gary Unwin wrote and sang this one. 

 

Please don't take these as criticisms. It just nice to have the correct info and we're grateful that anyone remembers us at all these days. Micky and I both play in HAPPY DAZE and still have a great time, even though we're both in our late 60s! 

 

Unfortunately both Brian Bennett and Mel (Malcolm) Wright have gone to that great gig in in the sky in recent years. We still miss them and the fun we had together. Incidentally, 90% of the songs on "Snakes and Hi-Fi's" were written about people, places and incidents that happened to us as we went along. Check out the sleevenotes. They kinda explain it all. All the best and thanks again for the review. 

 

Malcolm Lenny (Ex Hi-Fi's '63-'67)

September 2010

 

 


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