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High On The Hogs: Artists On The Genius Of The Groundhogs
Patrick Clarke , August 5th, 2021 09:59

Artists including Brix Smith Start, Luke Haines, Underworld's Karl Hyde, reflect on the overlooked genius of Tony McPhee and The Groundhogs, and pick their favourite albums and tracks


Marc Riley on ‘Eccentric Man’ from Thank Christ For The Bomb (1970)

The first time I heard of The Groundhogs would probably have been around 1973. I’d started buying the NME in the hope of finding a Bowie related article or interview. The Groundhogs were often mentioned, whether it be a review, a spotlight or in the infamous Gig Guide.

Being a fan of Bowie, T Rex, Lou Reed, Mott The Hoople et al, I would see a photograph of this hairy trio and dismiss them as another boring band in the same category as Free and Bad Company, and as a result I never went anywhere near them. To bolster my suspicion, anything written about the band would usually include two words I didn’t really have any love for. ‘The Blues’. I even remember seeing posters for upcoming gigs at my usual haunt The Free Trade Hall. Not interested. At all.

Shunt along four years and here I am in the company of my new mate and leader of my favourite band on the planet, Mark E. Smith of The Fall. I’d regularly go round to Mark’s flat where he’d subtly try to ween me off the glam bands I loved, and steer me in the direction of either the great pioneers (Johnny Cash and Bo Diddley) or the off-kilter (Can, Captain Beefheart and Frank Zappa). He’d always have records playing at his place and a lot of my future loves were discovered there. But for some reason Mark never chose to introduce me to one of his favourite bands, The Groundhogs. He did mention them, and of course went on to cover some of their songs with the band, but he never sat me down and played me anything by Tony McPhee, Ken Pustelnik and Peter Cruikshank.

It wasn’t until around 16 years ago when I was sent a promo CD of a reissue of Thank Christ For The Bomb that my opinion changed. The CD was playing in the car, but I had the sound turned down. I turned it up just as ‘Eccentric Man’ kicked in and I felt that unforgettable thrill of discovering a fantastic, favourite ‘new’ band. It was one of the greatest things I’d ever heard. I then devoured the whole album and went on to buy Split which again blew my mind. Ever since then I’ve been deeply in love with The Groundhogs.

I went to see them at a venue in Burnley called The Mechanics just months before Tony had his stroke. I count my blessings for this. After the show I went to the loo and got lost on my way back to the exit. I opened a door and there was Tony putting his guitar away. For one split second I thought I’d introduce myself and fawn, but I decided to leave him be, apologise for the intrusion - and buzzed-off to find my mates. I do regret that decision, and ponder the questions as to whether I’ll ever get to see Tony play again. I can live in hope.