Bill Hurley & The Inmates – Interview

September 3, 2008 in Uncategorized

Here's an article called 'Back In History - The Inmates' that we ran in Issue 53 of Blueprint in 2001.

With two albums out and following a barnstorming gig at the Borderline in September, 70s R&B giants The Inmates are back on the loose again. Keith Shackleton talked to lead singer Bill Hurley over a couple of pints, and learnt all about the soulful and bluesy world of both Bill and the band…

KS: Tell me about the re-released records! How did you come to make 'Meet The Beatles'?

BH: One of our first big breaks as a band, even though we were semi-pro …a Czech guy who was into blues came to watch us quite regularly, spoke to a friend of his who had a good rock club in Paris. They asked us to do a gig there. Little did we know that this particular guy had set it up with Radio France to be broadcast, so almost overnight we were big stars! The French newspaper 'Liberation' was a big fan of the band and in 87 they had an idea of celebrating the 20th anniversary of the Sgt. Pepper album, with a rough and ready band just like the early Beatles and Stones.. so they asked us!
We did the concert in the suburbs of Paris, 6000 people present, and Vic Maile did the production on the mobile. It was a tall order since the Beatles had three main singers; of course in The Inmates I'm the only lead singer.. but we did it! The album did well in France and was #1 in Scandinavia and it re-established the original band; I had left The Inmates in the mid 80s because of illness. From 87 up to today we kept the original line-up. Gil from Riverside Records had been a fan of the band from his days in France, and I got to know him when he came to London. He called and asked who had the rights to the Beatles record; we weren't sure, Mute/Sonet who released it originally had closed down, and we didn't even have a tape or album of the gig. In the end I think Gil found an original copy and put it out.

KS: And with great timing, the release ties up with the Warners 'Best Of' which is out now…

BH: Another guy at Warners who is a fan! He has license to do special projects and someone in France also had the same idea a couple of years ago. The two of them together with Pete and Tony from The Inmates made the selection of songs.

KS: All the original line up on the records?

BH: Myself singing, Peter Gunn and Tony Oliver on the guitars, Ben Donnelly on bass and Eddie Edwards on drums.

KS: How did it all begin? Have you always known the guys in the band?

BH: My dad was a singer, did all the big bands in the 50s, recorded for HMV, and so I was originally influenced by a lot of the people he liked: Dinah Washington, Jimmy Rushing, Joe Williams. That's why I wouldn't run away from doing a ballad. But I took my own influence from rock and roll and rockabilly - Presley, Eddie Cochran, Gene Vincent - then all the sixties group when they came through - Yardbirds, Pretty Things, Small Faces.
I was working for IPC Magazines and was offered a job with The Count Bishops, but couldn't leave my job to do that. I kept looking through the Melody Maker and finally saw an advert for a band into Wilson Pickett, Stones, Chuck Berry, Howlin' Wolf… looking for a singer. So that's when I met Pete and Ben. The three of us sounded good! Then along came Tony Oliver from The Cannibals and also John Bull, the drummer who played on the 'Dirty Water' single. John left a little bit before we got our deal.
We thought we'd just be semi-pro, but we managed to get a gig from John Eichler at the Hope and Anchor on a Monday night. He liked us and gave us four more Mondays: by the fourth Monday, there was a queue round the block! Then we got the Nashville and it started to build. Max Bell reviewed one of our gigs in Melody Maker, Andrew Lauder from Radar saw it and signed us up.
We'd already recorded the Standells song 'Dirty Water', did the rest of the tracks and that became the 'First Offence' album and I quit my day job when it was going up the charts! ....

KS: The Inmates influences always seemed a little more soulful that the other 70s R&B bands.

BH: I'd say that Ben and I are the two soul fans in the band: Wilson Pickett is my favourite singer, Otis Redding, Bobby Womack, people like that. The other guys, well, Pete is into Chuck Berry, Duane Eddy, Merseybeat, and Tony likewise. I like 50s rock and roll as much as 60s Stax and 70s soul. I was never quite sure what I should be when I was a bit younger, a mod or a rocker!

I'll tell you a funny story.. I'd just come back from a tour in France in 1981, wanted something to do so I got the newspaper, Etta James is on that night at Dingwalls, so I just had to go. I couldn't get in, sold out. I was just walking away when I heard this voice say 'Who was that?'. 'It's Bill from The Inmates'. I was called back and Etta hadn't turned up, stuck in Paris fog-bound, the band was there so I had to rush in, make a set list and we did it! Every soul song I knew...

KS: You came back after your illness very strongly with the 'Double Agent' album.

BH: I put a band together called The Blueberries which was Geoff Britton, Gypie Mayo, Johnny Guitar and The Rumour horn section, so fortunately I got some very good players. That was a start but what really got me back into singing was Juice On The Loose, they used to invite me down to get up with them. I was given the chance to do the solo album; I paid the guys what I could afford and it got me gigs in France too, including one great headlining gig replacing Eric Burdon as top of the bill. This was alongside The Inmates who had Barrie Masters singing for them at the time!

I was trying to get something more serious together and met Drew Barfield and Brad from The Specials, which gave me a change to do the JB's All Stars record... and then on to The Big Heat. I took round the demos for that band and the record companies were telling me it was too authentic, too 'black'.. which disillusioned me a little. However I'd send a tape to Elvis Costello just to ask what he thought and he came on board as producer. Of course record companies were a little more interested!

But touring with a twelve piece band without big record company backing was a problem.. and then Ben called and asked me to come back and sing with The Inmates because Barrie was reforming the Hot Rods, so the Beatles album was around the start of that second period.

KS: You took a little sideways turn with the Elvis album, which was a big challenge. You didn't just do the rock and roll songs but his whole career, the Vegas songs.

BH: I don't know, he is really a favourite singer.. it was strange, it was something I'd always wanted to do but I was wary of doing it because of the Beatles album, I didn't want us to get pegged as a covers band. It was a fun project but there were times I thought it would never see the light of day.

KS: And you've been doing some more straight-ahead blues too.

BH: I know some of the people on the current blues scene too, the guys in the Blues Connection poll. Corrine Grayson calls me up to sing sometimes, I know Todd (Sharpville)... I like going out and about to jam sessions if I'm not playing. A friend Andy Neill phoned me up out of the blue and I'm hoping to do an album with The Enforcers line-up.

In the 60s quite often I used to go and see blues acts like Freddie King, Buddy Guy and Otis Rush when they were here. I remember seeing Freddie on a Tuesday night blues club in 1967 in Finsbury Park! I looked in the newspaper regularly for that gig. One time it said 'Next week - The New Yardbirds'. We pop down there with our mohair suits on (I suppose we were mods actually!) and the name is crossed out on the posters. Underneath of course is written Led Zeppelin. We thought it was some third-rate rock band and as it was raining we decided to go in to while away an hour, and we watched Jimmy Page and his mates do the whole of the first album!

KS: What now for The Inmates? Interesting times...

BH: I definitely want to do some dates, there are various festivals in place for next year and we're talking to European agents. There's a possibility that we might go to Japan too. Gil's masterplan is that he would love us to go out with Nine Below Zero, the Hot Rods and the Feelgoods as a package.

KS: The Japanese do seem to like R&B so much, I'm sure you'll do well.

BH: There were two other occasions when we would have gone there but didn't; once with Wilko and once with the Feelgoods. I know what you're saying about Japan, a fanatical guy set up a web site for us and we helped him when he came to England and wanted to see Southend and the R&B scene.. we put him in touch with Chris Fenwick. I think they like the music because of the aggression and power in the playing. Touring the continent too, they take an interest in you, before, after and during the gig. Great audiences!

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Comments (12)

 

  1. Ian Anthony says:

    I was a big Inmates fan back in the 70’s. Bill is a great vocalist and a really nice guy to boot. Great interview. Thanks.

  2. Hi Ian, Bill was certainly on good form when I did the interview (a good few years ago now), we sunk a few Guinnesses and had a great time. Keith

  3. eric ranzoni says:

    I’ve played the piano with Bill Hurley at several gigs few years ago. He was the most incredible singer that I’ve met and such a nice man too. Hope he gets well soon and goes straight back onto a stage!

  4. Lynne says:

    I worked with Bill at IPC, he was a pretty quiet guy in the office as I remember … but when I saw him on stage I didn’t recognise him … he just came alive!!!!!! Such a nice guy 🙂

  5. Bobbie says:

    Bill is now better than he was and hopefully on the long slow road to recovery. Although he has his hair shorter now and has gone for the grey look and a beard he is looking really well. He was seen wowing the punters at Around Midnight a couple of weeks ago when he got up to do a couple of numbers with Eric Ranzoni.
    Lynne .. will pass on your wishes to Bill

  6. Joel Letort says:

    Well Bill I hope to see you sometimes at the Coach and Horses Leyton sometime. Get well fella. So that I can enjoy that voice again. Really one of the nicest guy in the business I have ever met. So get well mister. Peace. From that French bass player.

  7. Tim Aves says:

    Bill and the late, great Lee Brilleaux, were people I looked up to as I was attempting to learn my craft as a singer. They are performers I revere and respect and will do until the day I die.
    Bill is definitely one of the very finest singers and frontmen this country has ever produced and I, for one, will be thrilled to see him back where he belongs – on stage.
    On a more personal note, I have had the good fortune to get to know Bill a litte, to call him a friend and to share a stage with him many times, so it is good news indeed to hear at long last, he is feeling better.
    He’s one of the good guys!

  8. So glad Bill is on the mend ! I have played guitar for him a few times at the Archway Tavern and a few other places some years ago now. I met him through his mates The Cruisin’ Mooses who I sessioned for sometimes. Always great gigs. Geoff Everett.

  9. Ashwyn Smyth says:

    So very pleased to read this good news about Bill. He has been missed! Please pass on my very best wishes to him and my hopes for a continued successful road to full health.
    Ashwyn

  10. Roy Webber says:

    What fantastic news. Great to have you back Bill.

  11. Paul says:

    Bill’s performances fronting ‘The Inmates’ at The Torrington in Finchley in 1978 were some of the first gigs I went to. I remember being bowled over by Bill’s vocals and stage presence.

    That autumn I went to Reading Uni and couldn’t believe my luck when ‘The Inmates’ played my hall in the first term. In fact I did a bootleg recording on my cassette player which I still have!

    When ‘First Offence’ came out the following year I was disappointed as IMHO the edge and rawness were missing.

    Come 1985, Bill was back at The Torrington again with ‘The Bill Hurley Band’ and, sadly, that was the last time I saw this great man perform.

    30 years and many hundreds of gigs later, I have yet to hear a voice like his.

  12. Mike Candlin says:

    I caught the Inmates at the fantastic Casablanca club in Cardiff in the 70’s. It was a weekday night and the gig was fantastic, I can still hear it now!!
    Bill Hurley was a fabulous lead for the band with a voice that was never forgotten and as part of a band that brought those old R n B and soul numbers to life.
    I saw many a great band at the Casablanca but this was one that was never bettered.

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