The Churchills' story
Photo courtesy of Ugly Things
By Jesse Rifkin (August 2003)Israel is not a country that's often ignored by the press. Also, rock music is not what generally comes to mind when most people think of the country. However, the Churchills - Israel's own psych-rock pioneers - certainly deserve recognition. In their all-too-brief career, the Churchills (also known as 'Jericho Jones' and 'Jericho' in their later years) put out some amazing records, and came closer to international fame than any Israeli rock act before, or since.
The Churchills story began in Israel in 1965, when Mickey Gavriellov noticed Haim Romano playing a mandolin for a small group of friends. Gavriellov, who wanted to be in a band, started following Romano around with his guitar, trying desperately to get noticed. Gavriellov soon started playing bass with guitarist Yitzchak Klepter, drummer Ami Treibich, and vocalist Selvin Lifshitz. Going under assorted names, including Tequila and the Whisperers, the band soon added Romano on lead guitar. The group soon became known as Churchill's Hermits (in tribute to Herman's Hermits), and eventually just the Churchills. "Churchill" was a nickname Klepter had been tagged with in high school because of his resemblance to the late English prime minister.
At this point in time, rock music in Israel was hardly a major art form. According to future member Rob Huxley, "All the Israeli bands played the same music. That's how the audiences judged how good the band was, by how well they could copy the record. Nobody played their own stuff!"
Huxley had come to Israel from England in 1967 as a member of one of the various touring incarnations of the Tornadoes, the band that, in their original line-up, had a hit with the Joe Meek-written and produced "Telstar." Since Meek owned all the rights to the song and its accompanying band, he formed and reformed assorted groups to play as the Tornadoes. When the Tornadoes finished their tour in Israel, the bassist and drummer decided to return to England, but Huxley and the band's keyboardist decided to stay. After playing in a few groups in Israel, Huxley came across the Churchills. "The band would play two sets," Huxley told me in a recent interview, "one of pop covers and one of American soul music, on which they were joined by [Canadian singer] Stan Solomon." At the time, Solomon was singing in a band called the Saints. Huxley and Solomon became friends very quickly, and soon moved in with each other.
In 1968 Lifshitz and Klepter were drafted into the Israeli army. Solomon was almost immediately asked to become the band's new lead singer, and he in turn recommended Huxley as Klepter's replacement. The change was dramatic. "Stan and I had the other members of the band over to our apartment," Huxley said, "where we smoked a bunch of hash, which there was a lot of in Israel at that time... We introduced them to the Doors, Vanilla Fudge, and Hendrix - that kind of music, and they just freaked out! They totally loved it!"
Romano and Gavriellov made their own important contribution to the group's sound as well. Gavriellov recalled in an interview with Joel Ron that "Haim and myself... came from an Eastern, call it Asian, background, while the rest of the guys in the band were Westerners... it's not as if we made calculated decisions to use these sounds, it came from our background, it's only natural... Stan and Rob were totally mind blown by the revelation of these Eastern sounds."
This unique mix of Eastern and Western music became very popular in Israel, no doubt helped by the fact that, thanks to Huxley and Solomon, the Churchills became the first Israeli rock band to play original material. "Nobody in the band besides me and Stan had done originals before," Huxley said. "When we started writing songs together…the songs just flowed out of us. At that point, Stan and I basically took over the band and said, ‘This is what we're going to do.'"
The band soon released its first single, "Too Much in Love to Hear," a Huxley original, backed with Solomon's "Talk to Me." Not long after the single was released, the band ventured to Denmark, where they spent four months opening for Deep Purple. Romano recalled, "We had hundred-watt Marshall amps. They [Deep Purple] had six- hundred watt Marshalls. When we played, we turned our amps low and the club owner complained that we were too loud. When Deep Purple got up, they turned up loud and blew the fucking place, and the owner loved it! We couldn't believe it! One night... we decided to turn our tiny amps up full volume and the owner fired us."
When the band returned to Israel, they were asked to create a soundtrack for the film A Woman's Case, a bizarre movie about an advertising executive who falls for and later plots to kill a lesbian fashion model. The songs Huxley, Solomon and Gavriellov wrote for the movie became the basis for the band's 1968 self-titled debut album. This album, which according to Record Collector magazine is one of the rarest psychedelic albums in the world, put all of the group's strengths on display, from "So Alone Today" and "Strange People," which recall Jimi Hendrix and the Doors respectively, to "Debka" and "Subsequent Final," which showcased their Mediterranean influences.
In 1969, Stan Solomon left the band and returned home. "Stan's father was one of the richest men in Canada," Huxley explained. "He wanted Stan to come back and join the family business, which was a clothing business. He even paid for people to spy on the band for him. Of course, we always knew who they were. [The spies] would make up ridiculous stories to tell him, like that I was gay [with Stan]."
"[Stan's quitting] was a crisis," said Gavriellov. "We were left a quartet not exactly knowing what to do."
While Huxley temporarily took the lead singer role, the band also got involved in other projects. For a while, the group backed solo singer Arik Einstein, and Gavriellov and Huxley became his primary songwriters. The group, with Einstein, also contributed to a Hebrew version of "Give Peace A Chance," which mirrored John Lennon's original version featuring other Israeli stars singing along. The Churchills also got involved with arranger Noam Sharif and conductor Zubin Mehta of the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra. On Sharif's suggestion, the band learned Bach's "Coral for Young Lovers" and "Double Concerto" and performed them with the orchestra for two nights. "We tried to play very soft," remembered Romano, who I also interviewed recently, "and he [Sharif] was angry and said, ‘I didn't bring you for this! Play at full volume!'" For fear that orchestra subscribers might cancel their subscriptions, the Churchills performed first, and were only joined by the orchestra after a break. The results of these shows were released on an EP entitled Churchill Sebastian Bach.
In early 1970, Huxley briefly went back to England to get married. When he returned, the other band members informed him that while he was gone, they had added a new lead singer - Danny Shoshan, formerly of the Lions of Judea. "In my opinion," said Huxley, "Danny Shoshan became the other Stan Solomon. He and I started writing together like I had with Stan. But Danny sang with a very ballsy voice, so we started doing harder stuff because we could."
Similarly, Romano said, "Stan Solomon copied Jim Morrison in the way he behaved, the way he sang, the way he wrote. Danny was more into Led Zeppelin. So our music changed to (be) more like Led Zeppelin."
The band's new direction was apparent on the first two singles they released with Danny Shoshan, covers of the Beatles' "She's A Woman" and Led Zeppelin's "Living Loving Maid."
In 1971, the band decided to make London their new base of operation. They quickly hooked up with producer Alice Elias and recorded their Junkies, Monkeys, and Donkeys album, which Gavriellov described as "very American [influenced], and very Danny Shoshan." Because of their concern over how the British public would feel about the name "the Churchills," the band rechristened itself Jericho Jones - a name that was supposed to marry their roots in Israel ("Jericho") with their contemporary sounds and new location ("Jones"). The following year, the band shortened its name to "Jericho," and released a self-titled album, again produced by Elias. The album featured songs such as "Ethiopia" and "Justin and Nova" which marked a stylistic change in the band's music toward more of a prog-rock sound in the vein of King Crimson.
Throughout this period, the band toured relentlessly, including stints opening for Rod Stewart and a particularly memorable tour with Gary Wright. "[Wright] was, I think, getting pissed off that we, his opening act, were so well liked by the audience," Romano recalled, "so he had his sound man fuck with our sound every night... just before the tour ended, we stole his sound cable. We fucked him over!"
However, the success the band gained on tour did not translate into record sales. The band was not receiving anything more than "cult status," as Gavriellov put it. This frustration led to Gavriellov and Treibich quitting to return to Israel. The rest of Jericho continued with Shoshan on bass and Englishman Chris Perry on drums. While Huxley said that the music the group was making at this point was "absolutely tremendous stuff," the end was already near.
Romano said that after a successful tour in South Africa, the group's managers at the time told them that the promoters liked Jericho and wanted them back for double the money. "We said, ‘Double for you, not for us! We want success here, in England!' We had a fight, but we had signed contracts and he was in control, and he told us to fuck off, if we didn't do what he said then that was it... We were friends with Led Zeppelin's manager [Peter Grant], and he invited us to tour with them and he would manage us. We rehearsed; we were ready to do it. We went to record our next album, and he [Grant] got in touch with our manager, who wanted 5,000 pounds to release us, which was a lot of money! He fucked us over."
After that rare opportunity passed them by, the group soldiered on for a while, with Ritchie Dharma replacing Perry, but, according to Huxley, Jericho was more dead than alive. "The booking agency stopped getting us gigs because they knew we were falling apart," he recalled. "We sold off some of our equipment each week for some money just to keep going."
Huxley soon bumped into a friend from the past - Stan Solomon. Solomon was then working for his father's clothing business in Miami and offered Huxley a job. Huxley agreed and moved to Miami, effectively ending the band.
Shoshan continued on playing music in England. Romano went back to Israel, where he now is an in-demand session musician and plays Greek music with his own band, Romano's House. Gavriellov became a successful solo singer in Israel. Treibich dropped out of music and now runs a chicken-processing factory in Israel. Huxley remains in Miami, where he works as an ice-cream distributor and plays music on the side.
What became of Stan Solomon, however, is in the dark. Huxley said he doesn't know if Stan is dead or alive. Solomon got heavily into drugs, and the last Huxley heard from him was that he was living in a seedy hotel in Miami, which has since been demolished. When Huxley looked for a phone number, he could not find one listed. He recalls hearing things about Solomon, including reports that he had Hepatitis and that he had had facial reconstructive surgery after a bad car accident, but he stressed that none of this is certain. In 2002, at an event in Israel honoring Gavriellov, the Churchills - Romano, Huxley, Treibich, Shoshan, Klepter and Lifshitz - took the stage once more. Huxley described it as "the most fantastic thing since the Churchills broke up."
"I want to get the band back together," said Huxley, "for an album and a tour. It probably won't happen and that's a pity." However, while Romano said of the band, "people change, lives change - it was good but it is finished," he did mention that an Israeli-American promoter recently inquired about reforming the Churchills for a few U.S. shows. "We might do it," Romano said. He seemed optimistic about it. If so, the Churchills story may add another chapter.
- Interviews with Haim Romano and Rob Huxley conducted by the author
- Interview with Mickey Gavriellov from Ugly Things magazine
- Churchills article by Yoav Kutner, translated from Hebrew by Noga Westerlund
- General articles about Israeli rock: http://www.miorecords.com/IsraelProg.html and http://www.jpost.com/com/Archive/11.Nov.1998/Features/Article-0.html
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