Although they never attained major popularity, hits or even a US release, the Count Bishops played a small but important role in the development of British punk. First, they provided a stylistic and chronological link between the raw R&B revivalism of Dr. Feelgood and early demi-punk flailings by Eddie and the Hot Rods. Second, the four-song 7-inch Speedball was the debut release by the first independent new wave label in England, Chiswick (which preceded Stiff by a matter of months).
The group’s only recording with American (Brooklyn, no less) singer Mike Spencer (replaced by the gravel-throated Dave Tice soon after, for reasons that are audibly obvious), Speedball clearly defines the group’s style. Combining rock-a-boogie raveups of mid-’60s-style material with mid-’70s chops and energy, the Bishops re-cover the same R&B and rock’n’roll songs favored by the first wave of British beat groups (Stones, Yardbirds, Kinks) and American punks (Standells, Strangeloves). The idea was obviously to recapture the rawness and spontaneity of that period and, although the concept is both limited and doomed almost by definition, Good Gear (probably drawn from live-in-the-studio demos) is so raunchy and spirited that it succeeds, even if it is essentially a copy of a copy.
Trouble set in with the first real album, The Count Bishops. How do you convey a style that works best after a few beers and really offers nothing new to vinyl? Even with two solid guitarists and a fine rhythm section, the Bishops were never quite able to resolve the problem. Though it sounds nasty as hell on Bishops Live (issued on both 12-inch and 10-inch vinyl), Tice’s growl is hard to take over two sides of a recording made in the rarefied atmosphere of the studio. And where most bands use cover versions to fill space, the filler here is the Bishops’ self-penned stuff. With rare exception, their originals are sub-Status Quo boogie, which just about destroys most of Cross Cuts. Following the death of guitarist Zenon de Fleur in an auto accident just prior to the release of Cross Cuts, the Bishops called it a day.