Budgie and me
I don’t remember exactly when I first became aware of Budgie, but I believe that it was one day in the middle of the seventies. I was in a Co-op store in Gothenburg and as usual I ended up in the record department. I was going through all the records from a to z when i saw these exciting album covers with men with bird of prey heads. At the time I didn’t realise that they were budgie heads, I didn’t even know what Budgie meant even though i used two own a budgie myself at two different times when I was younger. In swedish the bird budgie is called undulat, so that didn’t give me a clue. Anyway, I was completely taken by the front covers of the Budgie albums and when a classmate leant me “Never Turn Your Back On A Friend” I was very excited about the music. But when I looked inside the gatefold I was confused. The bass player and the drummer looked very much like Geddy Lee and Neil Peart of Rush on those pictures. It was even more confusing when I started to listen as the vocals that also was very similar to Rush, even the song Breadfan was pretty close to Bastille Day. Where these guys playing in two different bands? I had to put on Rush – Caress of Steel to find out. Well, I soon realised that even though these bands had some similarities, they certainly were two very excellent but different bands.
Anyway, I loved the album and it had a perfect cover by Rodger Dean to match the music. All of the songs had a kind of suggestive feeling that I had never heard before. Of course I soon had to buy my own copy. After quite a few listening’s both the music and the lyrics for “Parents” stood out as my favourite track of the album, and still today it’s one of my all time favourite songs by any band, even though “Breadfan” and “You’re the biggest thing since powdered milk” was almost as good.
In 1977 my family moved to Eau Claire, Wisconsin in America. This was the time when I started collect albums. The first store that I visited was UMS that was mostly an instrument store, but they had some albums as well. I was very excited when I found the American version of Bandolier. The front cover was just as interesting as “Never Turn Your Back on a Friend” and even though the music was a bit different it was just as good, except for the cover “I ain’t no mountain”. Of course “Breaking all the house Rules”, “Who do you want for love” and “Napoleon Bona Part-one, Napoleon Bona Part-two” was immediate favourites. I couldn’t stop playing the album and realised that Budgie now was one of my favourite bands. By this time I had found another much better record store where I had become good friends with one of the staff members, Herman Shilts. I asked him if he could help me to get the albums I didn’t already have. It turned out that they already had “In for the kill” and “If I were Britannia I’d waive the Rules” in the store but “Squawk” was out of print and the first album wasn’t even listed. Of course I bought the once they had and even though I didn’t think that they were quit as good I still liked them a lot, especially “In for the kill” with the stand out tracks “Zoom Club” and “Living on Your Own”.
It took about half a year before I happened to find a used copy of “Squawk”. I rushed home, as I couldn’t wait to put the album on the turntable. This was a little bit different Budgie, the production wasn’t as good but the songs were. “Young is a world” had a similar feel as “Parents” and “Hot as a docker’s armpit” was the other stand out track. That album became the soundtrack to the summer of 1978 for my American friends and me. But now I’m getting ahead of myself.
One day in the beginning of 1978 when I took my daily trip to Truckers Union Herman looked a bit shrewd. Of course he knew that I was a big fan of Budgie. As it now was two years since the last album I had asked him several times if he had heard anything about a new album. This was finally the day, Herman took out “Impeckable” from under the desk where he had hid it for me. He also gave me a big promotion poster that I still have. I wasn’t sure about the cover, it was still clever but I missed the logo and the painted Budgie men from previous albums. The music was still fine even though I missed the longer songs. I think that “Pyramids” was my first favourite song after a couple of listening’s.
Ok, let’s get back to the summer of 1978. One day I saw an ad for a summer fest in Milwaukee and to my amazement Budgie was going to play there. I immediately asked my friends if they wanted to go, but unfortunately they all felt that the five-hour drive was to far away for a concert and I didn’t have driver’s license.
At the time I didn’t know that I was about to miss a legendary gig and my only chance to see Budgie with Tony Bourge. Had I know I would have made it there someway or another.
Not to long after the gig I read in a rock magazine that Tony had left and was replaced by Rob Kendrick from Trapeze, and that was the last thing I heard about Budgie for almost two years.
Then, in the summer of 1980 I found out about the “If Swallowed do not induce vomiting” Ep. By this time I had moved back to Sweden. Of course I immediately bought it. I wasn’t thrilled with the cover but it was great that the band was back again. But it wasn’t Rob Kendrick on guitar; it was John Thomas, whoever that was. I had seen an ad for the George Hatcher Band in Melody Maker, that’s all I knew about him.
He had a very different style from Tony Bourge and this new Budgie had a more metal feel to their songs. Anyway, around the same time, also in Melody Maker, I saw that Budgie was going to play at the Reading Festival in England. I talked to some of my friends and we all decided to go. Unfortunately all of them changed their minds, one after the other. Well, I wasn’t about to miss Budgie one more time so I bought ferry tickets to England as well as tickets to the festival by myself. I had no idea how I would get the 140 plus miles from Felixstowe to Reading. Luckily I met some other swedes on the ferry, that also were going there, and they had brought a car and had room for me. Need I say that the gig was excellent? They played a lot of my favourites as well as the two best tracks from the Ep, “Panzer Division Destroyed” and “Wildfire”.
Some months later “Power Supply” was released with a fantastic cover painting and Budgie was back for real. I didn’t get a chance to see the band aging before they disbanded, even though they almost played in my hometown Gothenburg. Unfortunately that gig was cancelled with no explanation.
But I got to meet John Thomas in 1983 when I was backstage at the Monsters of Rock Festival at Castle Donington. I had a long and interesting talk with him and it didn’t seems to be any plans for Budgie to disband. I even missed some bands festival performances as it was much more interesting for me to talk to JT. A week later at the Reading Festival I finally found a copy of the debut album ”Budgie” which at the time was very hard to find, at least in Sweden.
I never liked the albums with JT as much as the ones with Tony Bourge but they were still a great band with some excellent tracks like ”Gunslinger”, ”I Turned to Stone”, “Don’t Lay Down and Die” and “Flowers in the Attic”, so I was very sad when they split up. Thankfully that wasn’t the end of Budgie and in 1999 I once again got to see them play live, this time at the Sweden Rock Festival. I managed to get backstage as well and I did a long interview with Burke, which was never published. It was still a very interesting talk and I also got to meet JT once more but I didn’t see Steve anywhere. This was the last time I saw the band, but I haven’t given up hope that they will reform once more both live and on record. However, if that doesn’t happen I would like to thank all the members of Budgie for enriching my life with their fantastic music. I still listen to their albums regularly; enjoying them as much as when I first heard them and that in it self says something about the quality of their music.
In 2015 I got a facebook friend request from JT (I was already friends with Steve Williams) as he had seen a picture of him and me from Castle Donington in 1983 that I had posted on facebook. It was good to connect a bit again. Little did I know that he would not be with us anymore by the time I had completed these words. Unfortunately JT past away in 2016.
R.I.P. Big John Thomas
Ps. This is a reworked text from my foreword to “Time to Remember”, the third book about Budgie by Chris Pike.