On This Day #58 – Country Gazette in London

On this day .. 

On April 19, 1976, Country Gazette played at 8th The International Festival of Country Music at the Empire Pool (re-named the Wembley Arena in 1978), Wembley, London. 

The band consisted of Roger Bush (bass), Alan Munde (banjo), Kenny Wertz (guitar) and Roland White (mandolin).

Alan Munde remembers the event well ……..

“Part of the deal for Country Gazette and many of the other American acts was that you had to depart from Nashville all on the same flight. So, the trip over we flew with Dolly Parton, Jim and Jesse and the Virginia Boys (I can’t remember who was in the band), Don Williams and his band, Marty Robbins (I did not see him as he flew first class), Johnny Gimble, Loretta Lynn, and many of the others who I can’t remember. Don Williams and his wife were in the row in front of me. While I was sleeping, my glasses slipped off my lap onto the floor and wound up being stepped on and broken by Mrs. Williams. She was very apologetic, but it was certainly not her fault. Jim and Jesse, if you recall, were brothers and looked similar and always had their hair similarly fixed. Because they looked so alike, Dolly Parton would greet which ever one she came upon with “Hello, Jim or Jesse,” as if she couldn’t tell them apart.  Dolly was all over the plane talking to folks – a very joyous soul.

I sat next to the guitar player and singer with the Don Williams band – again, I can’t remember his name. We had a good time and I asked him all sorts of questions about his career and gigs. I don’t remember if he had any interest in mine, possibly not as my music career was almost solely in the bluegrass realm and not that much crossover with his. 

The whole event was memorable for sure with all that talent, and it was fun being back stage and being a fly on the wall. As to the concert I really enjoyed Johnny Gimble’s performance with his version of What A Friend We Have in Jesus, where he undid the hair of his bow from the frog and wrapped it around the entire fiddle to allow him to bow all four strings at once. It sounded somewhat like an organ – really beautiful. He also had a small instrumental hit called Fiddlin’ Around, that was pretty wonderful. Being a bluegrasser, I really enjoyed Jim and Jesse’s performance. They are always wonderful.  Our show went well, as I remember.  

The audience was warm and enjoyed the music for sure. It was a great event and I was thrilled to be a small part of it.”

Country Gazette’s most recently released album at the time was Don’t Give Up Your Day Job (United Artists UA-LA090-F) from October 1973. 

This set features the same line-up as that which played at Wembley – Roland White (mandolin, vocals), Kenny Wertz (guitar, vocals), Roger Bush (bass, vocals) and Alan Munde (banjo).

The audio was recorded at Berkshire Mountain Festival, Ancramdale, New York, on July 31, 1976. 

The International Festivals of Country Music invariably had a day with artists presenting traditionally inclined country music and, along with Country Gazette, Jim & Jesse McReynolds, The Dillards, John Hartford, Johnny Gimble, Vernon Oxford, the Ozark Mountain Daredevils, and Pete Sayers, the English multi-instrumentalist and singer who took the Grand Ole Opry to the Suffolk town of Newmarket, performed during that weekend (April 17th, 18th and 19th, 1976). 

Canadian radio disc jockey, film actor, and a compere of country-music shows and festivals, Murray Kash, was MC. 

Impresario Mervyn Conn was responsible for staging the International Festivals of Country Music at the venue, in north London, for 23 years. The first festival was in 1969 with the final curtain falling in 1991. However, in 2012 he brought it back because of the interest in country music. 

Thanks to Bo Maltanski and Kjell Fredell for the black and white pictures, taken at a show in Forsbacka, Sweden, in May 1976. 

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About the Author

Richard Thompson

Richard F. Thompson is a long-standing free-lance writer specialising in bluegrass music topics. A two-time Editor of British Bluegrass News, he has been seriously interested in bluegrass music since about 1970. As well as contributing to that magazine, he has, in the past 30 plus years, had articles published by Country Music World, International Country Music News, Country Music People, Bluegrass Unlimited, MoonShiner (the Japanese bluegrass music journal) and Bluegrass Europe. He wrote the annotated series I'm On My Way Back To Old Kentucky, a daily memorial to Bill Monroe that culminated with an acknowledgement of what would have been his 100th birthday, on September 13, 2011.