Highway Shoes - On The British Scene

First published in Country Music People, July 1982 

London's Highway Shoes Now On National Map

I first came across Highway Shoes in the summer of 1979. They'd only been together a few months, though the various band members had several years musical experience behind them, ranging from the famed Portsmouth Sinfonia to New Wave bands, with Ian Fox's claim to fame being that he was in a band that included two guys who went on to form Spandau Ballet. 

In the three years since the band's formation and the winning of this year's Talent Competition at the Wembley Festival, the band have undergone changes, Sally Macarthy, who handled keyboards and vocals, and Neil John Levers on steel guitar, have departed to pastures new. With the passing of time the band has trimmed down from a five-piece to a tight and very accomplished four-piece. Founder members Ian 'Billy' Fox, Gary Rickard and Ian 'Nipper' Croft are still there, with the latest recruit being Roger Gaymer, who doubles on keyboards and guitar.

Though the band has only been actively involved in country music for a relatively short period of time, it has not taken them too long to realise the difficulties a British country band is up against. Having won the most important talent competition on the British country scene and being based in London, Highway Shoes should be poised for overnight stardom, but that's not the way it happens on the British scene. And they are fully aware of the situation.

“Having won the Talent Competition, it would be easy for us to rush up and down the country wearing out Transits,” says Ian Fox. “But what would it achieve? Nothing! And I'm sure I speak for the rest of the lads when I say that's not what we want. We'll turn fully pro when the right time comes along, but that time isn't now.”

The four members of Highway Shoes are more than just excellent musicians, singers and writers. There is a great sense of humour and togetherness running through the band, and also frustration. They want to take their music somewhere, but don't know where. They should expect that record companies would be knocking at their door, astute managers begging them to sign on the dotted line, yet six weeks after winning, all they've received is a few extra and better quality bookings.

Drummer 'Nipper' Croft, who wrote the would-be-classic Rodeo Riders, summed up the feelings of the band when he said: “We've been playing our music now for three years and we've not been allowed to progress at all. The scene won't allow it. All of the country gigs are the same, for two or three people who are really into what we are going, there's a hundred or so who don't give a damn.

It makes no difference that we won that competition, the audiences out there are going to be just the same. Either it is going to be those dressed up as cowboys who don't understand the music, or you hit a place where they do, but a succession of duff bands has killed their enthusiasm.”

The band has thought things over very carefully, and they are determined not to fall into the trap that catches so many British country bands. They would like to make their mark in Britain, but feel trapped in a corner. The prize money for winning the Talent Competition all went to pay off outstanding debts. So for the time being they will hold on to their daytime jobs, work gigs around their London base, and see what transpires in the future.

“Greed,” said Gary Rickard, half jokingly, “is what the band is all about. We are in this to make money.” And the rest of the band laughs at the irony of that statement. “We want to achieve something, make it big, we might have to go to America. We don't really know. I guess all we can do is just keep working at it and hope that something happens.”

Highway Shoes are the best act to have won the Talent Competition since the Duffy Brothers. They've turned out to be just about the best band around for years. Their music is a cross between the past and the future—it's country orientated with plenty of rock thrown in tastefully. They have two lead singers, excellent three-part harmonies, original material, and a togetherness that puts them in a class of their own, they inject enthusiasm and spirit into everything they do.

One of these days, maybe soon, after the publicity that surrounded their win at Wembley, the British public will take the trouble to investigate this band, and then ask themselves why it took them so long. Though somehow I have my doubts that it will happen. Highway Shoes, with their totally original approach to contemporary country music, are doomed by the British country scene to slip back towards obscurity, and leave people like myself in a few years time, when listening to some Merle Haggard or Slim Whitman sound-alike, to plead: ‘Oh what happened to Harmony & Slyde, Strange Blend, Highway Shoes, and those other under-rated bands that used to produce real music of their very own?’