by Robin Bell
While youngsters in England and America in 1959 were listening to hits such as Forty Miles of Bad Road by Duane Eddy and Guitar Boogie Shuffle by Bert Weedon, over in Scandinavia two young Swedes were busy forming their own guitar based group.
Bo Winberg, who designed and built much of the complicated electronic used by the group as well as playing lead guitar, and Bob Landers, singer and rhythm guitar are still playing with The Spotnicks in 2007, although the line up of the group apart from these two has changed over the years.
At one stage they included Jimmy Nicol on drums, who played with The Beatles during their tour of Australia, when Ringo Starr suffered tonsilitis.
Like many groups of the early sixties, the Spotnicks (originally called The Phrases) served their apprenticeship in the clubs and bars, working long and late shifts. As Bob Landers recalled “We worked from 2am to 7am – we played so much we had bleeding fingers”.
Looking for a gimmick, they finally settled on a “space” theme and obtained space suits for their stage appearances. These were so ungainly that it was impossible to play live in them, so many of their gigs at the time featured playbacks, while the group mimed as best they could in their out of this world gear.
For some reason, the Spotnicks gained more approval outside Sweden than in their home land. They were particularly successful in France and when they were offered a short gig to play one tune as a half-time “filler” in a show starring the French singer Johnny Halliday and the Australian singer Frank Lfield at the Paris Olympia, they grabbed the chance with both hands.
Ignoring instructions they played a ten minute set and received a fantastic response from the French fans. “They were calling out “Les Spotniques! Les Spotniques!” It was just unbelievable!” recalls Bob Landers. From then on they were given a regular spot on the bill.
Bo Winberg had designed a small transmitter for his guitar, so he could move around without the hindrance of a guitar cord. Unfortunately on the second night of the tour they discovered that the frequency he was using was the same as the Paris police used for their radio communications. Needless to say Bo Winberg quickly changed the frequency.
In 1962, following their success with High Flyin’ Scotsman and Orange Blossom Special, they toured England and were guests on many of the radio and television shows there, such as “Thank Your Lucky Stars” and “Saturday Club.”
The producers of “Saturday Club” wanted The Spotnicks to play Orange Blossom Special live in the studio, not knowing that the guitar solo was impossible to play live. The original recording, featured on The Spotnicks first LP – Out-A-Space – had been recorded using a slow version of the lead, which was then speeded up on the recording.
So The Spotnicks used the same approach for their “live” appearance. Bo Winberg recorded a slowed down version to tape, speeded it up and hid the tape deck behind an amplifier. At the correct moment he pressed the “play” button for the speeded up version and the rest of the band played live to the tape lead. No-one noticed.
Building on their success in Sweden and Scandinavia, The Spotnicks built up a huge fan base in Japan, and toured there several times, even singing in Japanese at times for the local fans. They were also very popular in such unusual places in the world as Mexico, Thailand and The Philipines.
In 2003 The Spotnicks released a new CD called Back To The Roots, which featured the group standing in the same location – Picadilly Circus in London – as they had been for the sleeve photograph for their first LP. This time, however, there were no space suits.
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