(Steve's brief 1977-8 career revival, and the story of Steve Took's Horns)
In comparison with the early seventies, the second half of the decade might seem, on the face of it, to have been somewhat more quiet for Steve. As we have seen, a lot of this had to do with the slow death of the hippy world on which Steve relied to provide him with a berth in which to engage in his musical activities. Much of the hippy squatting community that had faithfully come to his gigs was gradually mentally fading as repeated drug use sapped away their mental capabilities. They would finally be forced out of their slumbers by mass evictions at the end of the decade; in the meantime, most of the underground was frankly too bombed out to do anything, and they were increasingly becoming a less and less profitable audience for a struggling musician like Steve to sell his music to. Yet 1977-8 was to prove a brief creative oasis for Steve Took.
An early highlight of the year was when Steve was briefly reaquainted with his old partner, Marc Bolan backstage at the Rainbow Theatre on the showcase London date of T.Rex's tour with the Damned. An opportunistic photographer took the chance to take a reunion photograph of the two which is reproduced here. Despite all that had gone down between them, Steve (who, being after all a Slade fan, was clearly not a total abstentionist from commercial Pop) had never truly been the devout arch-anti-Bolanist many hardline underground idealogues would have perhaps liked to consider him to be - back in 1972, Steve commented "He writes nice singles and I've always admired his writing ability," although he preferred other people's attempts at the same sort of thing, as evidenced by the quote "In some ways I can dig what Marc's doing right now, that's what rock's all about, but I think Alice Cooper does it better" from another interview from the time. Skipping forward in time to the Penetration interview, in 1974, when asked about T.Rex, Took commented "Yeah, he's quite a jolly little writer ... Marc's doing rock 'n roll I suppose, boogie music I think it's called, some of which I find highly entertaining - the singles, that is."
Remarkably, the feeling was reciprocated when Steve sent him some tapes - they made sufficent impression for Bolan comment on them in one of his regular Record Mirror columns. "I still get letters asking about some of my early partners like Steve Peregrine Took from the Tyrannosaurus Rex days and Mickey Finn from T.Rex" wrote Marc, in between praise for skateboarding and applause for the Jam. "Steve's writing songs - he sent me some tapes recently and they sounded interesting. He turned up to the T.Rex concert at the Rainbow and we still see each other now and then. He left me because he wanted to get into a heavy rock band." The article then went on to mention how Mickey was working on his own material and Marc was considering helping him, which raises the interesting possibility that he might have been prepared to do the same for Steve. But then again Bolan was known for flights of fancy so whether this would have happened is open to conjecture as Bolan died before anything was actually done. A 30th birthday party was planned for Marc by London fan Ros Davies at which Marc planned to play for free and was going to play reunion gigs that night of both Tyrannosaurus line-ups, which could have led to greater contact between Took and T.Rex fandom and the beginning of a whole new fanbase for Steve. These plans, however, were thrown out of the window by Marc's death in a car crash on 16th September 1977
Still, all was not in vain. Steve, like Marc, had certainly taken to heart the do-it-yourself attitude of Punk (as did many people around both men - Larry Wallis, for instance, was working for bands such as the Adverts on Stiff Records and was joining them as a solo performer on package tours) to the extent that he even cut his hair short in a Punk style. In addition, ever since his time with Nik Turner down in Kent, he had been working on another band. This band, christened Steve Took's Horns, had been in loose existence since 1976. In mid 1977 Steve gained a new manager, Tony Landau, the boyfriend (and later husband) of Lou, the mother of Took's son Luke, and decided to upgrade the project into his own Punk band, a five piece outfit which, as the 2004 CD release testifies, proved to be his best band ever, better even than Shagrat. It was built on Steve's partnership with yet another talented guitarist, Judge Trev Thoms, who had been drafted in on the recommendation of Ermano. The remainder of the band consisted of Jamie Roberts on keyboard and, for a bass player, initially one Steve Scarsbrook and then later a German biker called John who seems to have raised the hiding of his surname to the level of an artform. The band rehearsed for around a year in a studio soundproofed with mattresses and around this time, they also went into Pathway Studios and, financially aided by Landau, recorded three tracks, "It's Over", "Average Man" and "Woman I Need".
The remarkable results achieved on the recordings of the three numbers covered that evening, speak for themselves as testimony to the ferocity and captivating brilliance of the Horns as a band and also to Steve Took’s unique genius for sharp catchy hook-laden songwriting. It’s Over is a thrashing exploding Punk/Heavy Metal stomping anthem, with excellent use of well-timed band drop-outs to create an almost theatrical aura of aggression, punctuated with sudden lead guitar stabs from Thoms, as well as Took’s ferocious war-cry “STYALL!!!” Average Man is a gloriously arrogant R ’n B strut in A major, recalling the similar brutally sexual vibe of Rod Stewart’s “Hot Legs” or the Rolling Stones’ “Brown Sugar” and “Honky Tonk Woman”, as cocksure as any stud might be fuelled by a half-bottle of dark rum down the hatch. Woman I Need, meanwhile, taps into another colour of the Stewart/Faces spectrum, the confessional love ballad slipping from booze-loosened lips, an honesty which a more sober mood might be embarrassed to admit. The track is elegantly furnished with a tinkling keyboard part from Roberts (echoing Took’s own Pixiephone contributions to Tyrannosaurus Rex) as well as a magnificent Thoms guitar solo.
It so happened that Larry Wallis (who, prior to getting work and releases at Stiff Records had briefly been a founding member of Motorhead after leaving the Pink Fairies) was in the studio and in 1987 he recalled the session to Nigel Cross. "I was recording with Nick Lowe or somebody at Pathway Studios and as we finished our session, Took's band - Steve Took's Horns were coming in. Took asked me to stay around and help out. So they did the backing tracks which were great, but Took immediately said he couldn't sing a note unless he was a relaxed man. And 'relaxed' meant half a bottle of dark rum. Well, by the time the bottle of rum was halfway through, Took was slurring his words, getting it all wrong and everyone knew it. I said I was going to have a piss and I went outside, picked up my guitar and crept away. It was embarrassing and that was the one time that I did desert Took." Possibly Steve sobered up to some extent and recorded the vocals properly later (as is hinted by an out-take version of Average Man in which Took forgets his words and improvises lyrics for the second verse) More likely, Wallis himself failed to appreciate that Took had finally learned to master that whole booze-ridden vibe and manipulate it to get the resiults required.
Whatever the case, one person vehement in his disagreement with Wallis was interviewer Cross. In the course of research for his 1991 essay, Cross became one of the few people at that time who did get to hear the master tapes of the session and reported that the results of the recording were actually quite superb. "I don't agree with Larry's vitriol" he wrote, "the finished tracks sound fine, Took showing off what powerful lungs he has, even if his vocals are a trifle slurred. There's a Stones/Mott the Hoople feel and Took had obviously taken 'new wave' to heart - one is also put in mind of post-'Kings of Oblivion' Pink Fairies whilst 'Woman I Need' is mellower, with a Mink De Ville swagger and a beautiful guitar break by Thoms."
Clearly this band, perhaps more than any other Took formed, could finally have shown the world what it was missing out on in ignoring Steve, turning the old underground face into a genuine star at last. In the event, however, until 2001 when the owners of this website set about getting the tapes released, the only people to have got a taste of the outfit, other than the band's immediate associates and the lucky few over the years who heard the session, were the audience at the band's one and only gig. This performance, (which, contrary to the implication made by Dave Thompson in 1995, did go ahead as scheduled,) took place at the Roundhouse on 18th June 1978 as part of an event entitled "Nik Turner's Bohemian Love-Fest." The Horns went on a bill which incorporated poets, performance artists and a band fronted by SF writer Michael Moorcock. Although they managed to get the whole of the way throught their set, the band were unhappy with their performance, which was somewhat hampered by Took's consumption of Mandrax prior to and during the set. The event was reviewed by Chris Brazier for Melody Maker who generally dismissed the whole event as a convention of timewarped flower-children and lambasted the Horns' set as having "slammed the doors [of Perception] in my face with flagrantly retrogressive hard rock from the sewer of 1971". In many ways it is a pity that Took does not appear to have done very many interviews at this time, since it would be quite fascinating to have seen his own take on his career and the world at large from around this time.
Sadly Steve Took's Horns did not play any further gigs nor release any material. In fact, they broke up after the gig, largely due to their dissatifaction with their performance that night. Thoms later went on to join Nik Turner's Inner City Unit, who play an important role in the next chapter. The one great lasting souvenir of this era were the tapes and, as Nigel Cross commented, 'it would be justice indeed if somebody could finally release these three cuts as a single or 12'' ' and eventually in 2004 this indeed happened. Back in 1977-8, however, no such hope existed - according to Judge Trev, Landau was never able to secure what he could regard as a satisfactory financial offer from any record companies and so the tracks were never released and this particular brief Took renaissance faded away. This was certainly the final real time in his life that opportunity knocked at his door, but it wasn't quite the end of Took's career, and had Steve lived there was a real possibility for more chances, as we shall see.