A tribute to another soul who has left us although he has had little attention in the media accept in the area of Wales where he was from. Gareth Mortimer or ‘Morty’ as he was known, was the singer in Welsh band Racing Cars. They had one hit, written by Morty, They Shoot Horses Don’t They, inspired by but otherwise not connected to the 1969 film of the same name that featured Jane Fonda and Michael Sarrazin. I won’t ruin it for you by telling you what it’s all about, you’ll just have to see it.
Racing Cars were wiped out by Punk. In fact they suffered terribly from being without genre. It seems that one of the reasons that Punk came along was to sort out whose side you were on but it wasn’t about that for Morty – he was primarily a singer, not a member of a movement. For me who couldn’t figure out why Steve Hillage had to be replaced by Sex Pistols, Morty’s lovely song, that delicate arpeggio and his characterful Welsh timbre had me swaying along with the rest of the Rhondda Valley community. As it happened, the UK as a whole liked this one song, they had been signed to a major label before Punk had A&R men desperately signing anything with a safety Pin. Headline – Mothercare sign to EMI. But in this time of great high profile change for the public at least, They Shoot Horses Don’t They managed to get airplay and Racing Cars made it to Top Of The Pops, the song eventually reached No.14 in the UK charts in 1977. But in reality in this changing climate they didn’t stand a chance and this was their only hit. Having formed in 1973, they made three albums Downtown Tonight (1976), Weekend Rendezqous (1977) Bring On The Night (1978) before breaking up unable to follow up the hit from their first album. Morty made a solo album Love Blind (1980). In 1981 he joined The Bleeding Hearts before forming his own band GTM. He sang backing vocal for Bryan Adams, Tina Turner and The Beach Boys? I can only imagine this was as a session musician looking for work.
Don’t get me wrong here, I’m not suggesting that the world would have been a better place if Racing Cars were the pinnacle of musical achievement, but like a fool I had imagined that there might be room for everybody. Racing Cars and The Ramones, Sad Cafe and Sex Pistols, Climax Blues Band and The Clash. The worst of it is that although there’s been some lovely tributes in small local Welsh papers and his long time collaborator guitarist Graham Williams has shared sweet memories of his friend and I know that Morty was 66 and died of cancer – I can’t find Morty’s date of birth anywhere and that is usually the first line of any significant death. Of course all death is significant if you’re related to the deceased but I just felt that with all the recents losses we’ve had that Morty might be remembered better, more equally for both Racing Cars and his former band Ancient Grease.
Digging deeper into the past, Morty and Graham Williams were part of a rather good, forgotten underground seventies band called Ancient Grease that in their era were also rebelling against whatever was going at the time – Rolf Harris, Brotherhood Of Man and the England World Cup Squad or some such thing, or simply, like Punk, they were the sound of the youth of their day. Along with Dick Ferndale on drums and Jack Bass on bass, Ancient Grease were signed to Mercury records as Strawberry Dust but when the album came out in 1970 they were called Ancient Grease as executive producer Lou Reizner didn’t like their name? Also note the different UK and US cover art – it seems obvious which is which.
It was a member of local Welsh band, Eyes Of Blue and future Gentle Giant drummer, John Weathers (see pic) that discovered the band. He produced the album and played drums on one track. Additional musicians are listed as Phil Ryan on keyboards and Gary Pickford-Hopkins on backing vocals who are there because they were also members of Eyes Of Blue – friends helping out. Interestingly as Strawberry Dust were a covers band, it was Weathers that either wrote or co-wrote most of the songs with either Phil Ryan or Graham Williams (using a pseudonym of Stevens). A friend, Greg Curran wrote Prelude To A Blind Man.
But Ancient Grease weren’t signed and given studio time because of the songs, they were signed because they were a happening band with a great singer and great lead guitarist in Morty and Graham Williams. It wasn’t about hits in 1970, it was about bands, it was about albums. Their debut and only album took a week to record – it was probably all they were given. Ultimately with no promotion the band went nowhere and they split.
Graham Williams and John Weathers joined Glenn Cornick’s Wild Turkey and then Graham Bond before Morty and Williams hooked up again as Weathers joined Gentle Giant after Malcolm Mortimer was seriously injured in a car crash. Morty had been in another band called Good Habit and soon after found himself reunited with Williams, bassist David Land, guitarist Ray ‘Alice’ Ennis and drummer Robert James Wilding to form Racing Cars.
So that’s the story, Racing Cars did actually reform to make Bolt From The Blue in 2000 and Second Wind in 2007 and perhaps if Morty hadn’t got sick they might have continued. RIP Morty, sadly missed, condolences to friends and family.
Note: Side 1 actually starts around 23 minutes, go back to the beginning for Side 2.
Where Snow Lies Forever
Mother Grease The Cat
Time To Die
Prelude To A Blind Man
Women And Children First