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Alan Henderson 4/2017

Alan Henderson,bass player for ThemApril 9, 2017 – Alan Henderson (bass for Them) was born in Belfast, Northern Ireland, on November 26, 1944. He caught the music bug during his teenage years and set his sights on becoming a professional musician.

In 1962, he was recruited into the Gamblers, a Belfast-based band  founded by guitarist Billy Harrison. With Ronnie Millings as their drummer and pianist Eric Wrixon coming aboard a little later, the group specialized in hard American-style rock & roll and R&B, with a repertory that included both Elvis Presley and Little Willie John. It was sometime after Wrixon joined that he and Harrison crossed paths with songwriter/singer/sax-player Van Morrison, and not long after that – depending on whose story carries more logic – either Morrison joined the Gamblers or they agreed to become his backing band. And as Billy Fury was already backed by a group called the Gamblers, they were forced to change their name in order to have a chance of getting heard in England, and they became Them. Since the name Them was chosen (after the 1954 Sci-Fi Horror movie) and not Van Morrison and Them, we may safely assume that at that point Van’s ego was still under control.

Early Them performed without a routine, fired by the crowd’s energy: Morrison later commented that while the band was “out of our element” making records… “The way we did the numbers at the Maritime was more spontaneous, more energetic, more everything, because we were feeding off the crowd.” Morrison ad libbed songs as he performed and “Gloria”, the classic song he had written at eighteen years old, took shape here and could last up to twenty minutes. According to Morrison, “Them lived and died on the stage at the Maritime Hotel” but only very rudimentary recordings survive. One fan’s recording, of “Turn On Your Love Light” made its way to Mervyn and Phil Solomon, who contacted Decca Records’ Dick Rowe, who then travelled to Belfast to hear Them perform. Rowe and Phil Solomon agreed on a two-year contract with the members of the band then signed up to Solomon. Morrison, at eighteen, had to have his father sign for him. Within a few weeks, the group was taken to England and into Decca’s recording studio in West Hampstead for their first recording session.

Blending American-style rock with blues and R&B influences, Them earned a reputation for their rousing live shows and ended up signing a record deal with Decca. Their first record, The Angry Young Them, was released in 1965, and the band soon joined of a wave of U.K. groups that were promoted in the U.S. as the British Invasion during the mid-1960s.  Them probably became best known for their 1964 garage rock classic “Gloria,” which has been covered by The Doors, Jimi Hendrix and Patti Smith. Other very memorable songs include “Mystic Eyes,” “Here Comes the Night,” and their cover of the blues standard “Baby, Please Don’t Go.” 

As they grew in popularity, the band’s constant lineup changes became rather confusing with 16 new musicians coming and going and returning all the time. Henderson and Morrison being the only consistent members. The situation became even more confusing when former members of the group, started up a rival version of the band, though Morrison and Henderson ended up winning a lawsuit to retain the rights to the name.

“Around mid-1965 we all decided to split it up. I was still under contract, as was one of the other guys, the bass player [Alan Henderson], so we decided to finish the contract out. We got a new group together but it just wasn’t the same group. I mean, the name was ‘Them’ but it ended up that I was making records with four session men, and they were putting ‘Them’ on the label. Then they got me and some other people on the road, and ‘Them’ was just a name…Then we put out a record called Them Again…We were making records where I was making maybe three songs on an album with just studio cats, and maybe the rest of the songs with two studio cats and three members of the group. It was kinda like mish-mash, and it wasn’t really any good.” – Van Morrison

It was sufficiently confusing to their record label as well, so that most of the working members of Them weren’t even permitted to play on their records – Morrison sang and Henderson played bass on everything, but virtually every other contributor to their sound was a session musician hired for the occasion. That being the case, their music across that time was amazingly consistent, and Henderson’s playing was a match for the best work on those records. Henderson ultimately became the force holding what was left of the group together, following Morrison’s departure in 1966.

The band started a US tour in May 1966. From 30 May to 18 June, Them had a residency at the famous Whisky a Go Go in Los Angeles. For the final week The Doors opened for Them and on the last night the two bands and Morrisons jammed a twenty-minute version of “Gloria” and a twenty-five-minute version of “In the Midnight Hour”. Them went on to headline at The Fillmore in San Francisco, California and then to Hawaii, where disputes erupted among band members and management over money. The band broke apart, Morrison and Henderson returning to Belfast while Ray Elliott and David Harvey decided to stay in America.

Van Morrison later placed the break-up of Them in context: “There was no motive behind anything you did back then. You just did it because you wanted to do it and you enjoyed doing it. That’s the way the thing started, but it got twisted somewhere along the way and everybody involved in it got twisted as well, including me. “You can’t take something like that, put it in a box and place a neat little name on it, then try to sell it. That’s what they tried to do. That’s what killed Them.”

After Van Morrison’s departure, Them splintered into the Belfast Gypsies, who released an album that (except for the vocals) approximated Them’s early records, and a psychedelic outfit, led by Henderson, that legally kept the name Them, releasing four LPs with little resemblance to the tough sounds of their mid-’60s heyday.

The rest of the band regrouped in Belfast and hired Kenny McDowell (ex-Mad Lads) as a singer and relocated in 1967 in the United States. They released the album “Belfast Gypsies” (1967), “Now and Them” (1968) and “Time Out! In Time for Them “(1968) with which they experimented with psychedelics and separated again. Henderson hired session musicians for two later works more hard rock “Them” (1970) and “Them In Reality” plan (1971). In 1972 the group disbanded after Henderson, a devout Catholic, recorded a Christian rock opera, Truth of Truths with Val Stöecklein of The Blue Thing in 1971. Henderson rejoined with original founder Harrison for a short reunion of the band in 1979, during which they recorded a last studio album, “Shut Your Mouth”.

Back home in Belfast, the Belfast Gypsies, featuring ex-Them guitarist Jackie McAuley as lead singer, outclassed Henderson’s group in the voice department. 

Henderson worked in construction while keeping the Them franchise going well into the ’80s, far longer than one would have expected for a group with a relative handful of hits from the ’60s to fuel recognition and demand. At the start of the ’90s, several ex-bandmates – coalescing around Harrison -re-organized themselves as the Belfast Blues Band, which does the same kind of R&B-based music that Them used to do, only with far greater skill. Henderson, for his part, retired from music after the ’80s.

He passed away on April 9, 2017 at the age of 72.



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