Formed in Belfast, Northern Ireland, in 1963, Them's tempestuous career spawned some of the finest records of the era. The original line-up - Van Morrison (vocals/harmonica), Billy Harrison (guitar), Eric Wrixen (keyboards), Alan Henderson (bass) and Ronnie Millings (drums) - were stalwarts of the city's Maritime Hotel, where they forged a fiery, uncompromising brand of R&B. A demo tape featuring a lengthy version of 'Lovelight' engendered a management agreement with the imposing Phil Solomon, who persuaded Dick Rowe to sign the group to Decca Records. The group then moved to London and issued their debut single, 'Don't Start Crying Now', which flopped. Brothers Patrick and Jackie McAuley, had replaced Wrixen and Millings by the time Them's second single, 'Baby Please Don't Go', was released. Although aided by session musicians, the quintet's performance was remarkable, and this urgent, exciting single - which briefly served as the theme song to the influential UK television pop programme Ready, Steady, Go! - deservedly reached the UK Top 10. It was backed by the Morrison-penned 'Gloria', a paean to teenage lust hinged to a hypnotic riff, later adopted by aspiring bar bands. The follow-up, 'Here Comes The Night', was written and produced by R&B veteran Bert Berns. It peaked at number 2, and although it suggested a long career, Them's internal disharmony undermined progress. Pete Bardens replaced Jackie McAuley for the band's debut album, which matched brooding original songs, notably the frantic and exciting 'Mystic Eyes' (with its long pulsating opening instrumental) and 'You Just Can't Win', with sympathetic cover versions. Further defections ensued when subsequent singles failed to emulate their early success and by the release of Them Again, the unit had been recast around Morrison, Henderson, Jim Armstrong (guitar), Ray Elliot (saxophone/keyboards) and John Wilson (drums). This piecemeal set nonetheless boasted several highlights, including the vocalist's impassioned reading of the Bob Dylan composition, 'It's All Over Now, Baby Blue'. Dave Harvey then replaced Wilson, but this version of Them disintegrated in 1966 following a gruelling US tour and a dispute with Solomon. Posthumous releases included the extraordinary 'The Story Of Them', documenting the group's early days at the Maritime in Belfast.
Morrison then began a highly prolific solo career, leaving behind a period of confusion that saw the McAuley brothers re-emerge with a rival unit known variously as 'Them', 'Them Belfast Gypsies', the 'Freaks Of Nature', or simply the 'Belfast Gypsies'. Meanwhile, ex-Mad Lads singer Kenny McDowell joined Henderson, Armstrong, Elliot and Harvey in a reconstituted Them, who moved to Los Angeles following the intervention of producer Ray Ruff. Now And Them combined garage R&B with the de rigueur west coast sound exemplified by the lengthy 'Square Room', but the new line-up found it hard to escape the legacy of its predecessors. Elliot left the band in 1967, but the remaining quartet completed the psychedelic Time Out, Time In For Them as a quartet before McDowell and Armstrong returned to Belfast to form Sk'Boo. Henderson then maintained the Them name for two disappointing albums, on which he was supported by anonymous session musicians, before joining Ruff for a religious rock opera, Truth Of Truths. He subsequently retired from music altogether, but renewed interest in his old band's heritage prompted a reunion of sorts in 1979 when the bass player recruited Billy Harrison, Eric Wrixen, Mel Austin (vocals) and Billy Bell (drums) for Shut Your Mouth. True to form, both Harrison and Wrixen were fired prior to a tour of Germany, after which the Them appellation was again laid to rest.
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