Reg Presley, the lead singer of the Troggs, passed away on 4th February 2013 at home surrounded by family and friends. Presley retired from performing early in 2012 after being diagnosed with lung cancer and had recently suffered a string of strokes.

The Troggs, although part of the British Beat Boom of the 1960s, never strayed too far from their garage R & B roots. Although they would touch on the then current trends like psychedelia, they never fully embraced any particular movement like many of their contemporaries. While the Small Faces, the Who and other Mod bands changed with the times, or progressed some would say, the Troggs, more than any other 60’s band, appeared to be more honest, more real and more approachable even when their singles dominated the upper regions of the all important charts.

Presley was born Reginald Ball in Andover, where he lived all his life, on 12th June 1941. He trained as a bricklayer (a job he would return to occasionally during those times when the Troggs’ popularity waned), and was still working on building sites until the band’s second single, a cover of Chip Taylor’s ‘Wild Thing’ picked up airplay and entered the charts. Although that song has been covered many times through the years, the Troggs’ version is regarded as the definitive one, reaching number one in America while just stopping short of the top spot in the UK. That honour was reserved for the follow-up, a Reg Presley original ‘With a Girl like You’.

The Troggs formed in 1964 with, as well as Presley on vocals, guitarist Chris Britton, Pete Staples on bass and drummer Ronnie Bond. The boys were soon signed by Larry Page, a young record producer who was making a name for himself. Page produced the Troggs’ first single for CBS in February 1966, ‘Lost Girl’, which mysteriously sunk without a trace. Not a million miles away from the sound of the Kinks, another band Page was involved with, the song really did deserve a better fate. That primeval Troggs sound was already there. The tribal drums, a fuzzed guitar solo from Britton and Presley’s snarling vocals prove that although the band didn’t write their biggest seller, ‘Wild Thing’, the song was tailor-made for them (no pun intended).

Though the song bombed, the B-side, another Presley original, ‘The Yella In Me’, was actually better than many 45s making the charts at that time, another excellent slice of beat-era R & B which, like many Troggs’ B-sides to come, could have been a hit if given radio play.

It was only two months before ‘Wild Thing’ was released, and the Troggs, for the next couple of years at least, couldn’t put a foot wrong. It is hard to imagine now, forty seven years later, just how raw, suggestive and original ‘Wild Thing’ sounded the first time it was heard, even the tinniest transistor radio came into life when that song was played. It simply blew everything else away.

It’s been said that everyone who bought the first Velvet Underground album when it was originally released started a band, but Reg and the boys also had that effect on many teenagers. Here were four good-looking yet approachable lads, who despite the stripey suits, still managed to look like the most unlikely pop stars ever, led by a cherub-faced, cheeky front man who could drive the girls wild while still keeping respect and admiration from many usually jealous boyfriends. The music they played sounded like it was simple, that anyone could do it and that is what kept the band popular for so long.

Any doubts that the band would survive after the runaway success of ‘Wild Thing’ were quickly dispensed with. ‘With a Girl like You’, this time another Reg Presley original, was quickly released in July 1966. Featuring the first showing of what became a Troggs trademark, those “bah-bah-bah” background vocals, it became the band’s only number one in the UK. While the sound had lost a little of the spiky, punky edge the band’s earliest recordings featured, it still shone like a little diamond, lighting up the charts and every TV show the band appeared on.

Presley and the boys didn’t mess too much with a winning formula. While every 45 the band released in some way showed some progression and at times a complete change of direction, Presley could rewrite former hits and make just the right amount of changes to pass them off as new songs. ‘I Want You’, which appeared on the B-side of ‘With a Girl like You’, was a copy of ‘Wild Thing’, albeit a brilliant copy.

The Trogg’s fourth single, couldn’t fail. September 1966 was when Presley could be heard shouting “Oh No”, the opening words of ‘I Can’t Control Myself’, out of every radio. It featured typical simple Presley lyrics which, in those more innocent times, always raised a few eyebrows, “Your slacks are low and your hips are showing” would offend few now, but back then this was risqué stuff especially when sung suggestively by Presley.

To close the year the Troggs released yet another Chip Taylor song. ‘Any Way That You Want Me’ was the first time the band had chosen a ballad for a single and it paid off. Although sales were not as healthy as the band’s previous singles, it still made number 8 in the UK and showed a side to the band that many didn’t expect. The sensitive reading by Reg and the boys didn’t fair so well in the States, but Evie Sands had more success there with the song later.

So in 1966 The Troggs released five 45s. Four of them reached the UK Top Ten and three of the songs were original Reg Presley songs. They also managed to issue an album, ‘From Nowhere’, which featured some really good original songs. Not bad for a band who were unknown at the start of the year.

If 1966 was an exceptional year for the band, then 1967 wasn’t far behind. While the all important chart positions were not as high as the previous year, the songs got even more interesting. ‘Night of the Long Grass’ showed that the band could embrace psychedelia as well as any other. Haunting female background vocals dragged John Leyton’s Joe Meek-produced, ‘Johnny Remember Me’ into a new era. Once again Presley’s lyrics not for the last time raised comments. Was “With lips apart I thought that you were going to call my name/Instead the kiss that followed was enough to melt my brain” drug inspired? Not so according to the band (“We had enough trouble with beer and scotch” was Britton’s response), but it didn’t stop the comments coming.

The lyrics to ‘Love Is All Around’, the band’s last 45 of 1967 and Presley’s most tender love song, even had some people reading more into the lyrics than Presley intended. It seems impossible now that lines like “I feel it in my fingers/I feel it in my toes/Love is all around me/And so the feeling grows” could in any way be drug related but coming out of the summer love many were still searching.

Apart from a greatest hits collection the band also released two albums, ‘Trogglodynamite’ and ‘Cellophane’, in 1967, which were littered with classic pop songs. While songs like ‘Girl in Black’ and ‘Seventeen’ harked back to the garage sound that made the Troggs so popular (and also displayed more lyrics that some would find suspect) Presley showed a much more sensitive side in tracks like ‘My Lady’ and ‘Last Summer’.

While the Troggs would never again achieve the success they enjoyed in 1966 and 1967, they kept touring and still released brilliant songs into the early seventies. Songs such as 1968’s ‘Little Girl’, again a controversial Presley lyric dealing with an unmarried girl’s pregnancy, which at the time was enough to minimise airplay, deserved a much better chart placing considering that it was coupled with Chris Britton’s ‘Maybe the Madman’, without a doubt the band’s most psychedelic recording.

The Troggs did make mistakes later in their long career; did we really need their version of ‘Good Vibrations’ or the numerous re-recordings of their hits? The answer is no but somehow the band still managed to hold onto their credibility.

In 1992 the Troggs released ‘Athens Andover’ an album produced by Larry Page and featuring Peter Buck, Mike Mills and Bill Berry from R.E.M. along with John Keane, Peter Holsapple and Daniel Boone that helped keep the band’s name and music alive. R.E.M. had recorded the previous year a marvelous, stripped-down version of ‘Love Is All Around’, introducing a new generation to the Troggs.

Wet, Wet, Wet took their version of ‘Love Is All Around’ to number one in 1994 where it seemed to stay for half the year (it actually stayed in the charts for 37 weeks). The royalties helped Presley in his later years pursue his interest in crop circles and UFOs resulting in a surprisingly readable book, ‘Wild Things They Don’t Tell Us’, in 2002.

The Troggs and particularly Reg Presley’s contribution to music has never been fully appreciated. They released nine singles alone in 1966 and 1967, the majority reaching the charts; four albums during the same period that featured not only brilliant songwriting but also exceptional playing, and still continue to influence musicians today.

Chip Taylor, who travelled from America, was just one of the musicians who attended Reg Presley’s funeral which was held at Basingstoke Crematorium on 14th February 2013. Reg leaves behind his wife of more than 50 years, Brenda, two children, five grandchildren and a remarkable catalogue of music that will still move and touch people for many years to come.

I learnt of Presley’s passing as I was listening to the radio walking past a local UFO monument. As the snow started gently falling, my sadness was lifted for a few seconds. Reg was still sprinkling that fairy dust over everything…

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