(Steve's part in the formation of the Pink Fairies - The Band, and how he came to become an outright frontman for his own group)
Although he had made the break from Marc, it would seem that at thi s point of Steve's career, he still thought of himself in terms of being a supporting component part of a band rather than a creative leader or solo artist in his own right (in the same sense as Marc was). It was the events of the next nine months were to set the pattern for Steve's career throughout the 1970's. At this point, however, Steve's first instinct was not to form a band on his own but to club together with others to form a shared group in the format he would have desired Tyrannosaurus Rex to be. Accordingly, his first move was to contact Twink with a view to follow up projects to the Think Pink LP (which was eventually released in the summer of 1970.) As fate would have it, Took's old friends The Deviants had been through a similar fatal crisis while on tour in the US at the same time (and as part of the same Musician's Union deal) as Tyrannosaurus Rex, with Mick Farren returning home from the US alone (the others would not find their way back until March 1970!) Consequently, Farren, Twink and Took's first plan was to team up and form a band together. In honour of the drinking/motorcycle gang of which they had all been members, they decided to call their band The Pink Fairies.
The idea was simple enough; the three intended to form an underground supergroup in which all would have an equal partnership. Farren would sing, Took would play guitar, Twink would drum and, although she had never played the instrument before in her life, Twink's girlfriend Silver Darling would play keyboards, "shamming" bass on them. A gig was booked for Manchester University, October 1969. Unfortunately, the four were never able to get any songs together for the show, and instead ended up jamming aimlessly for several minutes on stage before dissolving aimlessly as Twink recalled in Heartbeat magazine, "We said, "right now ladies and gentlemen, we present The Pink Fairies...it ended up, there was no music, with us standing in the middle of the audience, just talking to people, pulling down our trousers, farting in their faces - it was unbelievable. I think it was at that point that I realised that the Pink Fairies we had been planning wasn't going to work." Similar chaos reportedly ensued at two further gigs at the Speakeasy, ironically endowing the later, more serious Fairies a considerable amount of advance interest a few months later, based on a lunatic reputation garnered for them by this embryonic outfit. At the time, however, the band as things stood did not seem to be a seriously feasible plan - and thus it was back to the drawing board.
Despite this setback, Farren, Twink and Took continued to work together on Farren's solo album "Mona The Carnivorous Circus," a lengthy Terry Gilliam-esque LP primarily dedicated to a condemnation of the criminal justice system. As well as featuring more of Steve's percussion and vocal work (including one short verse of lead vocal (Deep inside the castle, the prisoner lies in chains...), on Side One, there is a brief interview with Steve on Side Two, one of only two prolonged recordings in circulation of Took in conversation, in which he recalls his imprisonment in 1968 in Ashford Remand Centre for possession of drugs. For anyone who has only ever read a print interview with Took, hearing his rather stilted, written-English style of speech is quite a revelation. "The people who were there were fairly obnoxious to me, treated me really badly, used to shove me around and swore at me and called me 'Elizabeth', used to make me unscrew the screws ... They give 'em a bit of a radio with screws in it and they say "unscrew the screws" and that's all you have to do, unscrew screws, people shouting, throwing bits of shit around ... really weird, man! Afterwards, they get all the cats, man, and they put 'em in a toilet a little small toilet, about the size of this said room. And you just get left in there, man, thirty cats all smoking their cigarettes. That was pretty obnoxious. And if you're a vegetarian, all you get to eat - well, all I got to eat anyway - was potatoes!!!"
Twink split apart from the other two shortly after the dawn of the '70s, forming a more serious version of The Pink Fairies with the other Deviants in March after they finally got back from the U.S. The parting was not amicable, as Farren recalled in his meriors, since Twink deliberately triggered a loud argument with the other two and then subsequently publicly compained that Steve and Mick has been "freaking me out with their negativity." It would emerge afterwards, however, that Twink and the Deviants' manager Jamie Mandelkau, had already made a deal via telephone to set up the new more serious Fairies, causing Farren to accuse Twink of showing "duplicity" in stage-managing his fallout with the other two. Steve and Mick, meanwhile , were still intent on forming a band together and accordingly headhunted Larry Wallis and Tim Taylor, guitarist and bass player for the Entire Sioux Nation, a very happening Underground band who were unfortunately somewhat under siege from loan sharks. Wallis in particular was very impressed with Steve and a strong creative and social bond formed between the two. "He was like nobody else I'd ever seen before, he was a fucking pixie!" Wallis recalled. "I remember sitting in this living room with this cross legged pixie, with his little beard, covered in velvet and dripping talismen, crucifixes and scarves and talking like nobody I'd ever seen before. I was completely and utterly mad about him from the moment I first saw him." For his part, Wallis was (and still is) an exceptional lead guitarist very much in the virtuoso mould, but with far too much energy to fall into the fretboard-bore category. His teperament was also well suited towards friendship and musical partnership with Took and Farren, as evidenced by Wallis's first meeting with Farren, in which the latter commented of Wallis' and gilrfriend Shirley Divers' identicaly fluffy hairstyles "My God, they match!" - a comment which Wallis found highly amusing, but which Farren in retrospect felt most people would have taken as an insult.
Tookie and Chairman Mick got down to work, "half-writing a couple of half-songs" as Farren put it, and Farren even managed to get some early press for the band, already identified as Shagrat, in one early 1970 interview, in wich he discussed playing concerts once the then-current cold season was over. Eventually however, Farren and Took began to have differences over writing style, Steve feeling that his structured songwriting was not well complimented by Farren's chaotic poetry (ironic since Farren has identified Steve, along with Syd abrrett, chrissie Hynde and occasioanlly Neil Young as the only songwriters he knew who worked free of structural restrictions.) Wallis and Taylor sided with Took and decided to form a band around Steve and his songs, much to the annoyance of Farren, who walked off from the final band meeting in a huff! A drummer, Phil Lenoir, ex of Black Cat's Bones, was recruited and the band decide to retain the moniker Shagrat (as previously quoted in the press by Farren), a contraction of Shagrat The Vagrant, the name under which Steve had been credited on Mona for contractual reasons. Originally, Shagrat was the name of an evil Orc Captain from Tolkein's "The Lord of the Rings" but Wallis offers an alternative explanation. "'Steve Took' was Steve Took's real name as far as we were concerned so he decided to take on another persona, 'Shagrat' who was the guy with the slanty eyes, pointed beard and the suede shoes." Interviewed in 1972, Steve himself offered yet another explanation: "I am gutter Rock, I'm a schneide. That's why I had Shagrat - it was a rat trip. Rats turn over at an amazing pace and they have a lot of kids. Not only do they eat the poison but they thrive on it and get bigger and they can still slip under doorways. It's the ecology trip. Do you know how many rats were killed in New York last year? 'Cos I don't! Hah! I can't remember my figures."
With a stable line-up, band concept, and band name, the group developed at a handsome pace. After extensive rehearsal at "a stone hall" late at night, which would apparently disturb neighbours, Shagrat proceeded to the studio, specifically to 10CC's Strawberry Studios in Stockport. There, they recorded a session of three tracks, Boo! I Said Freeze, Peppermint Flickstick and Steel Abortion, all three of which survive on acetates. Unfortunately the first two tracks were pressed onto acetate at an awkward speed while the disc of the last track is rather seriously crackly. Neither of these problems are insuperable to anyone armed with a tape player equipped with a speed selector and tone control, however, the former fault in particular has caused many to wrongly diagnose Shagrat's sound as 'doomy freak rock' befitting the band's malevolent namesake or, as Mark Paytress put it, 'the obverse of the hippie coin flipped by Tyrannosaurus Rex.'
However, hearing the tracks played at the correct speed, it comes across more like they were quite a wild, fast paced combination of Alice Cooper and Iggy Pop And The Stooges, with a Hendrix soundalike on lead guitar.In particular, the track Peppermint Flickstick, which Nigel Cross compared to Pink Floyd's Astronomy Dominé when heard at the correct speed is more an alternating mix of the pulsating energy of the Sweet's Hellraiser and the opulence of Bowie's Ziggy Stardust title track, although another obvious influence is the rising chromatic chord sequence of Love's "My Little Red Book"(itself ironically, often cited as an influence on the said Pink Floyd track.) In terms of subject matter, Boo describes Steve's aforementioned experiences of tripping out on the motorway and then being picked up by the LAPD in October 1969. Interviewed in early 1972, Took also put a considerable anti-materialist slant on the song, citing the verse "You live high in your apartment/ Watch people turn into machines/ I'm scratching hard to pay my rent/ Hope to God that I die naturally." which, Took, claimed, was aimed at Tyrannosaurus Rex's well-financed management (although not at Bolan himself.) Peppermint Flickstick, which Wallis cited as his personal favourite in a 1987 interview, concerns a man who develops a severe crush on the Cadbury's Flake girl (yes, that advertising campaign has been going on for that long!) and consequently goes out and spends his life savings on the aforesaid brand of chocolate bars. He then returns home and spends his days locked in his house eating the Flakes and having sexual fantasies over them! Steel Abortion, the longest track of the three (running to over seven minutes) concerns a convict escaped from jail who quickly drops by his girlfriend's house for sex but soon has to get moving to avoid the police. The song was to become a long running staple of Took's live back-catalogue, as will be seen later. (One line from this song - "It don't feel good, 'cos it was made out of wood!" had in fact already turned up, snarled by Steve, during the extensive "Society Of the Horsemen" jam on Side One of Mona.)
Rehearsed and with a demo made, the band were booked for their first gig, at the Phun City Festival near Worthing, Sussex on 24th-26th July 1970. The band played a reasonably successful 30-45 minute set, including all the songs from the Strawberry Studios session plus others (Wallis recalls another song entitled One Stroke, but this is probably just the slow middle section of Steel Abortion. He also recalls a cover version of ""Seven & Seven Is" by Arthur Lee & Love) They got a particularly good reception from the multitude of Hells Angels on show that day, although the performance was given some added energy by Lenoir speeding his way through the set, having downed a considerable amount of amphetamine sulphate beforehand. It is also highly probable that Shagrat's performance was caught on film, as a movie was being made of the festival as part of a finance deal Mick Farren (who co-promoted the festival with longtime Deviants/Pink Fairies roadie Dave "Boss" Goodman) had secured with Ronan O'Rahilly, the Irish entrepreneur behind Radio Caroline, however it was never completed (although it was briefly under contract to British Lion) and the footage currently remains untraced. The gig had certainly got the band off to a cracking start, but problems set in immediately afterwards. Phil Lenoir left (Took claimed that they 'never saw him again' after the festival) as did Tim Taylor, leaving Shagrat in search of a new rhythm section. A new drummer was recruited in the form of Chicken Shack's Dave Bidwell, while Steve himself strapped on the vacant bass (according to some accounts, he did this at Phun City too.) They continued to rehearse together in preparation for several live dates which had been booked and Steve received approaches from several record companies. Many of them however were put off by Took and Bidwell's taste for drugs (Bidwell was a long-term heroin addict) and the fact that Shagrat lacked formal management - having had a bad experience at the hands of Enthoven & Gadyon, Steve had been left very wary of the business side of running a band.
Part of the problem was that at that point bands like Alice Cooper, Iggy & the Stooges and Hawkwind had yet to take off big in the UK. As a result, many UK record company personnel perceived Shagrat to be deeply uncommercial. When the aforesaid bands all took off a couple of years later, Steve was not in the least hesitant to shout 'I told you so' to the clueless A&R staff. "I rang up this recording man, because we ran out of money, and we kept it going for a few months, but they didn't want to buy 'Steel Abortion' or 'Peppermint Lickstick' [sic]. A bit naughty, the words, but then I'd taken in all this American culture and American society in general, and got chemicalised out of it, a general trip, and put it into words. Now there's Alice Cooper's 'School's Out' and 'Killer', Hawkwind and the general thing there is now and it wasn't there then because they couldn't accept that it was going to sell. I was saying to 'em, 'Look, man, look at the Yanks because we're about three years behind them as far as youth culture is concerned. This is what's gonna sell' and they'd say 'Oh yes, lads, sure, do they really want to hear this sort of thing?...So here we are in this present day lunacy when Hawkwind are stars. I mean they're all Syd Barrett heads.I mean, what a gas, we're taking over." Back in the pre-Glam days of 1970 however, A&R personnel were still primarily interested in arty prog rock at one end of the market, starless session musician-produced bubblegum at the other. This situation was only finally resolved, ironically enough, by Took's old boss Marc Bolan's defection from the underground and the subsequent birth of the UK Glam Rock explosion. Shagrat, like many bands ahead of their time, just didn't fit in.
In the end what finally terminated Shagrat as a performing entity was the fact that Steve was the band's only full time member. Chicken Shack had never actually broken up and during 1970 regenerated into Savoy Brown, taking Bidwell along with it. Wallis meanwhile had joined a band called Blodwyn Pig and not long afterwards got a spot in the band UFO, (a period of his career which Larry mainly spent hating lead singer Phil Moog's guts!) The upshot of this was that for Larry and Dave, participation in Shagrat became very much an out-of-hours activity. This didn't mean they actually left the band - indeed they conducted rehearsals and a photo session (taken outside Steve's flat during a particularly stormy gale) during late 1970 and into 1971. They continued together as a social group and both would work again with Steve, all together as a threesome on one of the most important recording projects of Steve's career (as detailed in the next chapter) and both reappearing separately at various later points in Steve's career. But with Steve as the only full time member, the band ceased to truly be a band. With gig bookings looming, and Steve not wishing to cancel, his only option was to play those gigs by himself. And that is exactly what he did.