The Peddlers were one of the most improbable success stories in British popular music of the 1960s and 1970s -- sporting a spare, minimalist image (right down to their dark clothes and short hair), they played a brand of pop-jazz that was far removed from the rock 'n' roll they had played or the rock music that was sprouting around them, but they scored enough successes to keep going for a decade and record for two different major labels. Singer/keyboard player Roy Phillips (born May 5, 1943, Parkstone, Dorset) had previously played guitar with the Joe Meek-produced harmony-based rock & roll group the Dowlands, while bassist Tab Martin (born December 24, 1944, Liverpool) had been with the Tornados (another outfit out of Meek's orbit) and drummer Trevor Morais (born October 16, 1943, Liverpool) had been with Faron's Flamingos, a top local Liverpool band of the early '60s. The trio got together in 1964 and began playing a brand of lean pop-jazz that went over well at venues such as the Scotch of St. James club in London, where they nailed a residency early on. Martin and Morais were a very tight rhythm section, and Phillips was a superb soloist on organ or piano, and together they generated music that was long on improvisation without losing pop listeners -- they were roughly comparable to Jimmy Smith or the early Brian Auger & the Trinity, with their own brand of cool and their own image.
The Peddlers first brushed the British charts early in 1965 with their bluesy version of the Teddy Randazzo song "Let the Sunshine In," released on Philips Records. This led to a pair of LPs for the label but no further chart success over the next few years, just lots of gigs at locales ranging from upscale London night spots to working men's clubs in the north of England -- their fans included the Rolling Stones, Princess Margaret, and Eric Sykes. The group shifted to CBS Records, the U.K. arm of Columbia Records, in 1967, and came roaring back, this time onto the LP chart with their album Freewheelers early the following year. That release was produced and arranged by Keith Mansfield, who would mastermind most of their recordings for the next few years. Two more albums, Three in a Cell and Birthday, carried them into the end of the 1960s, the latter moving in both folk and progressive directions. In 1969, they had the biggest hit of their career with the Top 10 single "Birth," a group original that elevated the Peddlers to major U.K. stardom and propelled them to six years of profitable and successful live gigs. During the late '60s and early '70s, in addition to extensive work in cabaret, the trio's music was also heard on television as accompaniment for the introductory and exit segments on various programs. In 1971, Philips Records issued Georgia on My Mind, followed a year later by Suite London.
Morais left the lineup in 1972, though the group continued through 1976, recording for Philips and for EMI. Roy Phillips later left music and has reportedly resided in New Zealand for more than two decades, while Martin worked as a session musician before moving to Portugal, and Morais has been a session player on records by Bryan Ferry and others, and runs El Cortijo Studio in Malaga. In 2002, British CBS released the double-CD Peddlers anthology How Cool Is Cool...The Complete CBS Recordings, which contained the songs from their three LPs, their singles and B-sides, and a pair of previously unissued tracks. They retain a major fandom in England at the outset of the 21st century, 25 years after their last sides were recorded. ~ Bruce Eder