The Groundhogs fronted by Tony McPhee on guitar and vocals were a top progressive blues-rock group. Emerging in the early sixties as a blues band, noted for backing visiting American Blues Artists such as John Lee Hooker. They released their debut LP, ‘Scratching The Surface’ in 1968 produced by Mike Batt, later the man behind the remarkable success of The Wombles. For the second Groundhogs LP in 1969, ‘Blues Obituary’ (with which the band tried to distance themselves from their image as a blues band, hence the album title), McPhee was the producer, and the considerably increased sales of that album brought the band to the brink of fame.
The LP which actually achieved that milestone was ‘Thank Christ For The Bomb’, released in 1970, which peaked in the Top 10 of the UK album chart. In 1997, McPhee recalled the circumstances behind the album with the attention-grabbing title, which ran against fashionable philosophy at the time (although some say that fearsome weapons like the Atom Bomb and the Hydrogen Bomb are the major reason for it being over 50 years since the last World War). McPhee refuses to take the entire credit for this revolutionary theory, admitting: “Well, it was forced on me a bit”. Roy Fisher suggested that McPhee should think of something controversial for the new LP. “John Lennon had just made his famous quote about The Beatles being more popular than Christ, and everyone was up in arms. So Roy said ‘Let’s marry it up with the bomb. How about ‘Thank Christ For The Bomb?’. So I went home and I had to write these lyrics, and my initial thoughts were that in the First World War, if you were injured you were sent home. And that was my first idea – a soldier is blown up and his toes are blown off so he goes home again. No, that’s not enough. So I thought, well, let’s make it the atomic bomb, really piss people off. My thought was, and it’s been said by other people, that once something is invented you can’t forget it, it’s there, so there’s no point in trying to pretend it doesn’t exist. I always felt that through the ages, the broadsword must have been the ultimate weapon at one point, because they could chop people’s heads off all over the place, and the crossbow and the longbow – there’s always been the ultimate weapon, it’s just a question of degree, really”.
The album made The Groundhogs a fashionable chart act, helped, interestingly enough by a certain disc jockey: “It did very well. I’ve got to say that John Peel broke that album because he had that Sunday afternoon radio show, and he did the same for us as he did for ‘Sabre Dance’, he played that to death and he broke it, and he picked on ‘Soldier’ as a particular track and he really broke that album”. As an aside, one of Peel’s reputed favourite all-time acts, The Fall, in fact covered a Groundhogs song from the album after ‘Thank Christ For The Bomb’, ‘Split’.
‘Split’ was a much-loved opus with a side-long concept piece that delivers the mighty ‘Cherry Red’, McPhee’s take on The Beatles ‘A Day In the Life’, a sideswipe at junk food and a glorious interpretation of John Lee Hooker’s ‘Groundhogs Blues’. Fire Records re-issued their debut ‘Scratching The Surface’ for RSD 2018 and later that year ‘Blues Obituary’ to commemorate its 50th Anniversary in a limited edition die-cut sleeve blue vinyl. ‘Thank Christ For The Bomb’ was reissued for RSD 2019 with special editions to commemorates its 50th Anniversary (‘Major Edition’ on double vinyl gatefold sleeve that includes a poster, poppy download card, stamp book and ration book – and ‘Private Press’ edition with special artwork edition vinyl). Their opus ‘Split’ will be reissued in a limited edition double red vinyl with gatefold sleeve for RSD 2020.