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Hedgehoppers tracks set for re-release in South Africa
Hedgehoppers: l-r Mick Matthews, Colin Turner, Alan Avon and Bill Honeyman
In 1971, the band released their best-selling album Hey! in South Africa

Rare recordings by a 1970s pop group composed of leading north Staffordshire musicians are being re-released.

After one-hit wonders Hedgehoppers Anonymous disbanded in the mid-60s, musicians headed by lead singer Phil Tunstall and Mick Matthews took on the name and found success in South Africa.

South African label Fresh is bringing out the remastered songs on CD.

Other Staffordshire musicians in the band were Bill Honeyman, John Askey, Dave Birkenhead and Alan Avon.

The original Hedgehoppers Anonymous found fame with a protest song It's Good News Week, which entered the Top 10 in 1965.

The revised line up with the Staffordshire members, now called just Hedgehoppers, found unexpected success in South Africa between 1969-1971.

The re-release has been welcomed by rock music journalist and historian Nick Warburton. He said the tracks were "..a masterful collection of soulful ballads and rock-orientated material, mixing covers of Stephen Stills's Rock 'N' Roll Woman with a frantic take on George Gershwin's Summertime, and Matthews' strong originals."

North Staffs connection

When the singing star Sandie Shaw wanted a new backing band in the mid-Sixties, she chose The Streamliners, led by guitarist Tony Kaye from Stoke-on-Trent. His local connections ensured the band was based in north Staffordshire.

By a circuitous route, he also eventually took on The Hedgehoppers Anonymous name.

Leading lights recruited into the outfit by late 1968 were Phil Tunstall (from The Colour Supplement) and the Newcastle-under-Lyme lead guitarist & songwriter Mick Matthews. Bill Honeyman, based in Leek, joined the band too - having been in the popular Stoke-on-Trent R&B band, The Marauders.

Although the band were playing widely, they were enjoying limited success, until, by a stroke of luck, Decca in South Africa re-released some old tracks, leading to the offer of a tour there in 1969. While there, Matthews wrote the South African hit Mary Mary.

Road accident

With audiences there growing, the band looked destined for continuing success. But hopes were dashed when Phil Tunstall died in a road accident, just as they were due to appear at South Africa's equivalent of Woodstock in May 1970.

It is Mick Matthews' belief that Phil died because of the apartheid laws: "An ambulance that was only supposed to deal with non-whites turned up to our call - and left again, saying it could not deal with the case!

"It was a considerable time before a whites-only ambulance eventually got to us."

Hedgehoppers: l-r Alan Avon, Bill Honeyman, Mick Matthews and Colin Turner
Mick Matthews (2nd from right) has written his story of the band (pic: Gavin Furlonger)

The band recruited Stoke singer Alan Avon to replace Tunstall; and an album Hey! was recorded and released for CBS in 1971. Both it and the single from it did well in the South African charts.

This album supplies most of the songs being re-released by Fresh.

Sadly, another death hit the band when Bill Honeyman died in a second road accident in 1972; and the band lost heart, to fold shortly after.

Fresh Records

The South African record label Fresh specialises in reviving old recordings, particularly from the country's psychedelic era. The Hedgehoppers' Near Her - written by Mick Matthews - has already been re-released on the label's compilation Astral Daze Volume 2.

Now the label's owner Benjy Mudie has said they will be able to release the band's South African album, plus some extra tracks comprised of singles A&B sides, in March 2011.

The company announced its plans to re-master and release the 1970s recordings on hearing that Mick Matthews is looking for a publisher for his recently-written autobiography I Started Out To Write A Song.

Research and facts in this article supplied by music writer Nick Warburton




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