50 Years Ago: Spinal Tap Begins Journey to Stardom as the Thamesmen
Long before they were worshiped as heavy metal gods, cranking their amplifiers to 11, Spinal Tap were barely known as the Thamesmen. In 1965, the fledgling ensemble released a single whose A-Side and B-Side contrasted the looming psychedelic era's childlike whimsy against ageless pragmatism. The songs in question were "Gimme Some Money" b/w “Cups and Cakes,” and they became the first major hits for future Spinal Tap leaders David St. Hubbins and Nigel Tufnel.
Just about one year prior, Tufnel and St. Hubbins had launched the Thamesmen from the ashes of an earlier group, the New Originals. That band, formerly simply the Originals, had, in turn, brought them together following separate stints in long forgotten skiffle groups, the Creatures (David) and the Lovely Lads (Nigel). At this point officially minted as the Thamesmen, alongside bassist Ronnie Pudding and drummer John “Stumpy” Pepys, the quartet released its debut single through Abbey Records, and soon found themselves performing it nightly (and daily) in a variety of regional TV shows.
Sadly, footage from these shows has since been mostly erased by the BBC in order to make way for assorted political debates, children’s shows, and snooker championship matches. That is, except for the boys’ now treasured performance of “Gimme Some Money” on the short-lived TV show Pop, Look and Listen.
Like many British bands working at the height of Merseybeat, the Thamesmen soon shipped out to major cities in continental Europe, in order to cut their teeth in local clubs that were often situated in rather dangerous and unsavory neighborhoods. For the Beatles, this rite of passage meant a tenure at the infamous Star Club in Hamburg’s Reeperbahn. For the Thamesmen, it was Amsterdam’s not-quite-as-legendary Long-Hair Club, where they took up residency after extensive touring across the Benelux nations.
Listen to the Thamesmen Perform 'Cups and Cakes'
During this brief tour, the Thamesmen even briefly augmented their lineup with 16-year-old homegrown keyboardist Jan van der Kvelk (current whereabouts unknown) before they returned, at last, to England a quartet once again. The Thamesmen’s exciting passage through the U.K. charts with “Gimme Some Money” and “Cups and Cakes,” however, had been altogether brief and they would soon morph into something new. Seeking to stay current with the fast-changing musical fashions of Swinging London, the Thamesmen became Spinal Tap.
By 1967, Spinal Tap were once again enjoying an enormous hit single in “Listen to the Flower People,” and, always thinking on their feet, later evolved to exploit the rising tide of heavy metal with classic ‘70s and ‘80s albums like Brainhammer, Intravenus de Milo, Shark Sandwich and Smell the Glove.
However, during the latter LP’s supporting tour – famously documented in Marty DiBergi’s revealing rockumentary, This is Spinal Tap – the band's oft-forgotten Thamesmen past came back to haunt them. Fans will remember a Golden Oldies radio DJ spinning “Cups and Cakes,” only to unfairly claim that Spinal Tap were “currently residing in the ‘Where are they now?’ file.”
Naturally, such pithy aspersions were neither new, nor in any way upsetting to Tufnel and St. Hubbins, who know deep down that all the glory they achieved was in some ways made possible by their first taste of stardom as the Thamesmen, via “Gimme Some Money” and “Cups and Cakes.”
See the Top 50 Metal Albums