Greasy Bear started out in 1969 as a folk trio. After "Black Stan the Table" left, Chris Lee and Ian Wilson began to get recognition as a very original folk duo.
Bruce (the lung) Mitchell then joined on drums and their first electric booking was at Stockport's "Warren Bulkeley Hotel" with a full band, this was followed by other gigs around the North West of England including Liverpools "Cavern Club".
Christened "Manchester's answer to The Grateful Dead" and managed by Roger Eagle, Greasy Bear were one of the city's best live acts, they were polished, tight and extremely "eccentric" mostly due to the stage antics of Chris Lee and Bruce Mitchell.
They then moved to Coventry, giving them wider recognition and a good base to invade nearby London.
Ian Wilson started playing in bands in the sixties and was professional by the time he was 17 years old. His first band, Greasy Bear supported BJH at the Houldsworth Hall, Manchester in 1969.
After many years of gigging and being in great demand to produce and perform sessions, he formed the band Sad Café with the late Paul Young (latterly of Mike & The Mechanics); the band responsible for classic hits such as Everyday Hurts and My Oh My.
Ian has worked with many of rock and pop’s most influential artists, including: The Who, Little Feat, Paul Rodgers, The Ramones, Oleta Adams, Wendy James (Transvision Vamp), The Quireboys, Johnny Hallyday (whose album Rough Town he co-produced in 1994) and many, many others.
After their first meeting in ’69, Ian went on to become vocal 'anchorman' on The BJH album Welcome To The Show and Les Holroyd's Revolution Days.
- Steve Whalley originally from Staleybridge started out playing with The Bridgebeats then later with Dhayani and The Puritans (who became Nazareth - not the Scottish band). Steve has just left 70s supergroup Slade who he played with for fourteen years after replacing singer Noddy Holder. He is pursuing a solo career.
Chris Lee and Bruce Mitchell formed anarchic-satirical rock band "Alberto Y Los Trios Paranoias". Later, Bruce Mitchell drummed for "Durutti Column
". More info on Chris Lee can be found here
Greasy Bear recorded an album on Philips-Vertigo. The tracks, which had a Country-Folk feel were produced by Terry Brown, who had previously worked with Martin Carthy and Dave Swarbrick. Suggested album titles included "Live at Pott Shrigley", "Is Adrian There?" and "Fair deal for bears" but the deal fell through and the album was never released.
Hello everyone!& many thanks for your coverage of the most influencial band in my career!
I`m collecting stuff for my website www.stevewhalley.de so any material (pics, articles etc) are greatly appreciated.
I met with John Gibson and Ian Wilson recently and a friend of Johns emailed the Musicforce poster to me of which I`m very proud! Between us we have a wealth of wonderful stories, etc, which I think should be chronicled so that The"BEAR" can assume it's rightful place as one of the most pivotal bands of that period. If this is of interest please let me know.
Big respects & thanks to you all. This goes out also to: Doc.C.P.Lee, Ian Wilson, Buce Mitchell & John Gibson - thanks again
From Grass Eye
GREASY BEAR is not a name which lends itself easily to mental pictures, but to those in Mandist who appreciate good music, it needs no explanation.
Greasy Bear is, quite simply, the collective name of CHRIS LEE and IAN WILSON. Their music (usually played on two guitars, tho' Chris occassionally resorts to the flute) is an intriguing form of country-blues, with other elements being exposed from time to time. The twosomes following in Mandist is ever on the increase, and indeed, I have yet to meet anyone who actively dislikes them. Their appearance on the Country Joe concert was no slight success, and, with a recording contract with a well-respected company on the horizon, everything seems to be happening for the two.
This interview below was recorded recently at the Magic Village:
CHRIS LEE: It all started about two years ago, with two groups - one called the SouL Purpose, who played soul music, and another called Jacko Ogg, who played head music. Ogg got as far as it could, and like Cream split up. Soul Purpose found that there were too many soul bands about, and so for about a year and a half, wandering the wildernes were two musicians looking for a lost cause (or chord, if you'll pardon the pun). About three months ago, Ian phoned me up and said, "Can you give me the number of Apple, .'cos I've written some songs and I'd like to send them up.". At the time I was musing over forming a new group, and so I asked Ian over to my house, and we sang some songs together. (At that time there was another guy in the group, called Black Stan Table, who played incredibly strange guitar, but Stan left for pastures new, which left the two of us). Fortunately, we found that we were able to play :our own type of music - something which we found we enjoyed, and which was fairly indefinable.
So Greasy Bear first appeared on the scene about two and a half months ago; Our first break came at the Country Joe concert, when Principal Edward's Magic Theatre couldn't make it. There we made our first proper debut. We think it was a reasonably good success, and now things are moving very well.
IAN WILSON: Yeah! that was great! We thought we had better reviews than Country Joe, because it just told about Country Joe, but said what we were like, and what we did etc..
C.L.: We are now being immediately accused by the dreaded reader of an ego-trip!
C.L.: We were originally going to be called a : various number of names, all of which are patented such as the Lighthouse Big-Time Band, how about the Smedley Jug Band - anything else?
l.W.: Pink prick? -
C.L.: Er, NO! Cut that! actually, someone was musing over two songs, one called 'Bear Mel' by Jefferson Airplane, and one called 'Greasy Heart', and so we decided to call ourselves 'Melting Heart' but as it came out, we were called Greasy Bear, and so here we are today!
C.L.: Well, first; "Three Wheels on my Tank" - Dear Lyndon Johnson - this isn't aimed at you! I, myself, am politically active to a degree, and try to get some sort of feeling into the songs.
Our own songs - the ones which we write ourselves - tend to be personal experiences. For instance; I had one particular experience in the past few months which has produced some of the best songs I've yet written and ever think that I'll write. Also, I'm producing poems and paintings as well, which must prove that to be a good artist, you've got to be a nut or something! (laughter on tape). The adaptations of people's songs we do- there are a lot that we could do, but - well, Leonard Cohen's "So Long Marianne" - that is, to us, about the ultimate in what we wish to achieve - pity he beat us to it!
Dylan songs we like to interpret our own way. The music we play I've been trying to get into for about a year, but never hit it before, and now, quite suddenly, I've found that quite a lot of people are getting fairly sick of the heavy/funky blues scene, and are turning on to quiter music - they're not disregarding blues or anything like that, but they're opening their ears in a lot more directions, which is a good thing. What we hope to attain is some sort of musical contrast to what else is going on in the Underground. In fact - what you could call us if you want to is "Country Blues/Fork/Soul duo"! (More laughter on tape).
C.L.: No, definitely not!
I.W.: It's becoming more meaningful through the lyrics. The thing is,people couldn't open their ears - they had to shut them against the noise. Take Led Zeppelin for instance - they say, "Oh, we're getting louder.". Well, I don't see the point of it, because noisc isn't anything when you're supposed to be producing music.
C.L.: Yes, but at the time that heavy music came in, there was this big thing of mixed media - light shows and very heavy, funky music, which was to affect all your senses. You had the odd group like the Incredible String Band, who'd hit upon this formula for quitness - I think to a degree they were misunderstood too - but for the past year or more; Underground music has reached a stagnation point; its absorbed itself far too much.
The band I used to play in, was this sort of heavy music, mixed with a light show, etc, etc., and this was just the natural development - I'm not going against the groups that play loud, 'cos I dig bands like that as well, but this what we say - people are now opening their ears, and are not only digging bands like Canned Heat and the late, great Cream - they're now digging a lot softer sounds. Dylan's "Nashville Skyline" is a knock-out "John Wesley Harding" started it all off. Tim Buckley too - only he's very underrated in this country.
I.W.: Yes. Take tonight, for instance, at the Village. We said, "Now we're going to do a blues number." and about half a dozen people said, "Great", and if half a dozen say it, you can bet that most of the audience are thinking it. There's this tendency to be a blues purist, and 'Nothing Else Counts'. They just want this 12-bar riff because it's simple to get into. Now, our music is simple - you can't read much into it because it's not designed to be read into - it's just there - it's pleasant.
C.L.: Actually, I think that the thing that's happening to blues at the moment is going to happen to country music in about six months time. There'll be a big boom - already noticeable in things like Melody Maker and IT - this swing over to Johnny Cash, all the emphasis shifting from Lightning Slim to Johnny Cash, which is perhaps fortunate, but you lose too many people on the way, in the transition.
I.W.: Well, people are so used to being brain- washed with this fuzzed and attacking guitar that it's going to take about six months for them to get used of the steel pedal guitar, which is, undeniably, very beautiful.
C.L.: Well, blues is now 'in', and we've hit something here in Mandist which we like, and judging by audience reaction, other people like too.
C.L.: No, this was designed. Originally, my idea for the band was to have a complete band line-up; and in fact, hopefully, if we earn enough bread, this is what we'll develop into, with girl vocalist plus drums, bass and maybe steel guitar. The idea was for a very tight, close-knit band of real musicians, playing very easy, relaxing music as a contrast to what was/is still going on.
However, as it's happened, we've got this harmony thing which we dig, and the songs we do are especially suited to this type of duo. For example - 'So Long Marianne' - we hope we've added our little bit to it by adding this. It's one of my own personal favourites.
I.W.: For things like that, well, for all our stuff really, we should practise much more, but what usually happens is we end up writiing songs instead of playing them - or making endless cups of coffee. Sometimes, Chris's mother comes in and says, "Come on, get on with this practising." and we say, "Yes" and when she goes out we start writing another song.
C.L.: I never knew George Harrison's mother pushed him (riotous laughter on tape) but mine really digs "So Long Marianne". It's really odd... It's funny that you should say that Michael.. (even more laughter) because she has this uncanny knack of picking the right songs, actually.
I.W.: She also has the knack of noticing what can be done to them. She's not an ordinary mother,... (Laughter).. .
C.L.: I take that as an insult!!
I.W.: She's not like my mother - she just says, "Oh, yea. That's very pretty." but Chris's mother can see a song's potential, and the best arrangement. She is like us in one way though - none of us has ever had any musical training!
C.L.: Yes. Well, we've 'clicked' ever since. We'd played/gigged a bit...
I.W.: I drummed for Jacko Ogg.
C.L.: I think we knew where we each were musically and a lot of tunes had been going about my head not all my own tunes - tunes by people like Dylan, which I dug. I'd to try these arrangements, and Ian heard them, and liked them too.
I.W.: But mostly, when we do our songs, I can't put my feeling down in words, so the songs we write together, you can always tell I've written, the tune, because, well, I don't know if it's my personality, but I always seem to do a very melodic type of thing. I try to get beauty over, because there's so much ugliness going around in music now. Chris's words - they can be harsh, and they can be very nice, and this is the way the songs come out.
C.L.: Yea. Basically, we try to write the musical riffs first, but at the moment, it's just not working out!
I.W.: Chris has written so many words, and I've been writing the tunes, and it's just not worked out.
C.L.: Yes. I've been going on an emotional kick, and I used to write lots of poetry. I found that I was writing lyrics, but no tunes, and that's no way to do things. What you should always do, budding song-writers, is to get yourself a rif'f; and work your way from that! That's where we'd been going wrong.
C.L.: I've been playing for about four years on guitar - very badly! I used to be on the folk circuit, which wasn't too good, and we all used to say Bob Dylan was a traitor and a perverted genius and things like that. Now we've got this something. Ian is a much better musician than I am.
I.W.: I started playing when I was at primary school. I had a girl-friend there (I started sex young! ) who had a brother, somewhat amazingly, who played the guitar, and he taught me. One school-friend joined in, then another, then another, and by the time we finished, we had the Beatles! After a while, we'd got several musicians in, and threw some out. He was a very excellent guitarist, was Mr. Starkey. Nobody's ever heard of him because he plays in his fantastiic house on his own. He taught me how to play, and gave me a Burt Weedon book, and I carried on from there. We had a quite successful soul band, but we were really frustated 'cos we wanted to play blues, but couldn't, 'cos we couldn't get the bread, and then exams brought our demise. There was a lull of nine months, and then, like we said before, I rang Chris up, and things happened from there. To be quite honest, at first I didn't like the idea, as I was on the heavy music then, I really liked it, and I couldn't see much potential in what Chris had said. But after about five minutes together, I really liked it, and so ....
C.L.: Well, in all probability we'll be moving base down to Coventry, because it's much more central for getting about England. Record-wise, our demo's will be touted around the various companies, although we think we've more or less "already settled for one. Just wait for the highest bidder, that's all!
Musically, we need to practise more, and write more, and gig more, and earn more. That's about it.
And that's about Greasy Bear, Mandist's answer to Tyrannosaurus Rex.
Chris Lee and Ian Wilson- I wish you the best of luck. Who knows within a year or two, you may even 'Filmore'.