When towards the end of 1974, The Troggs announce their latest comeback single will be a cover of The Beach Boys’ “Good Vibrations”, it’s an occasion for much mocking laughter in the offices of what used to be Melody Maker.
Dapper assistant editor Michael Watts, who fancies himself as a bit of a wag, wonders to no-one’s great amusement if they should have renamed it “Good Vibrators”, such is the band’s reputation for a certain sauciness. I’m reminded of this because of the sad recent news of the death of their lead singer, Reg Presley.
The Troggs then as now are most famous, of course, for their almost cartoonishly lubricious 1966 version of “Wild Thing”, which if nothing else certainly put the ocarina on the musical map. When Hendrix subsequently revisits the song, he turns it into something orgiastic. By contrast, The Troggs’ take on it was somehow sniggering, a quick cloakroom wank rather than the ecstatic fuck of Jimi”s iteration. They go on to have a succession of similarly suggestive hits, but are never taken especially seriously. They are often regarded in fact as a bit of a joke. This is in part explained by them coming from Andover and not making much of an attempt to disguise their broad West Country accents, which in the opinion of sophisticated toffs like the aforementioned Watts makes them sound like ill-educated yokels. I wonder, however, when I meet Reg, just as “Good Vibrations” is released, how much it perhaps suits Presley to play up to the part of the vaguely gormless bumpkin.
Whatever, he turns out to be very funny. He”s come up to London it turns outon one of those new-fangled high-speed trains, an experience that”s left him somewhat breathless. “My word, those things don’t ‘arf go fast,” he says, in wonderment, as if previous journeys to the capital have been made by horse-drawn coach, highwaymen a potential menace, and stop-overs at inns along the way where Reg, like some bucolic country squire in an episode of Poldark, would have enjoyed a flagon or two of local mead, followed by venison pie, a brace of grouse and the amorous attentions of a bawdy serving wench. “We didn’t try to immertate in any way whatso’er the original,” Reg says of The Troggs’ re-working of “Good Vibrations”. “We wanted to make it diff’rent, loik, which were difficult with a number loik that. It’s very thought out, as it were. It took three months to record, y’know.” What, your version? “Oooo-er, no! Not ours! The original,” Reg wheezes, like an asthmatic having a turn. “We knocked ours off after an afternoon in the pub.”
The Troggs’ last big hit had been “Love Is All Around” in 1967. They could badly do with another one now. “I wrote quite a few hits,” Presley says. “So we’ve always had a bit of money coming in (his royalties will go through the roof when Wet Wet Wet’s 1994 cover of “Love Is All Around” spends 15 weeks at No 1). But the money’s starting to dwindle now and I’d love to have some to invest in the stage act.”
What would he spend it on? “Lights,” he says, making it sound as if until now The Troggs had appeared only on stages illuminated by large candles and a couple of bicycle lamps. “I think they’d definitely be a help,” he goes on, looking forward no doubt to a future in which perhaps for the first time the band will be able to see each other onstage. “People expect a bit of a show when you’ve had a few hits, even if they can’t remember what they were until you play them and even then you can see “arf the crowd thought some other bugger did them.”