By Howard Whitman
The “Reader’s Digest” condensed version of the Flash story goes something like this: British progressive rock band. Yes offshoot. Made three cool albums. Sexy covers. Imploded in 1973. End of story. But the tale doesn’t end there!
Forty years after the release of the band’s classic eponymous debut LP, founding members Ray Bennett (guitar) and Colin Carter (vocals) have formed a new Flash. With a CD in the works and plans to tour, Flash is back in business, ready to embrace its legacy as pioneering prog-rockers for a new generation of fans.
Yet misconceptions linger, like the idea the band was a spinoff of Yes formed around its original guitarist, Peter Banks. Founding Yes keyboardist Tony Kaye also played on Flash’s debut, creating misguided theories about how— and why — Flash came together.
“The story’s always told wrong,” said Bennett, who played bass in the original lineup. “It’s always told that Peter Banks and Tony Kaye left Yes and formed a band. That’s not how it happened. The band happened because Colin saw an article in ‘Melody Maker’ saying that Peter Banks was on the loose, he was out of Yes. He decided to go and find Peter and talk him into forming a band. … Colin instigated the whole thing. … At exactly the same time, I was living in America and called up Bill Bruford (the original Yes drummer was a former bandmate of Bennett’s) and said ‘I’m coming back to London … do you know anyone who’s putting a good band together?’ He said, ‘That’s funny. Peter just hooked up with this singer.’ I arrived back in London about two weeks later and I went down to see Pete. I said ‘I hear you’re putting a band together. I’m your bass player.’ I met Colin, and the three of us got along great. The next step was auditioning drummers and keyboard players. Mike Hough was by far the best drummer who showed up.”
The original four-piece Flash was formed. But the band never did settle on a keyboard player. Flash brought in Kaye as guest keyboardist for the debut, but with a secret agenda: “Everyone thought once Tony was in the studio with us, ‘Let’s try to talk him into joining the band.’ He didn’t want to be in another band just like the one he left.”
Still, Kaye’s trademark Hammond organ, plus Banks’ distinctive guitar style, created a sound that was reminiscent of their former band — but not by design.
“It seemed so absurd that people were comparing us to Yes because we (had) the same guitar player. People accused me of copying Chris Squire … I didn’t even think about it. I happened to end up with the same bass, the blonde Rickenbacker.”
In keeping with the name (which, legend has it, was suggested by journalist Chris Welch because it was short and would fit easily on a marquee) things happened fast for Flash. Following its formation in 1971, Flash signed with Sovereign Records, a subsidiary of Capitol, and released a self-titled debut in 1972 — complete with a suggestive cover by Hipgnosis.
While Flash’s sexy graphics may seem to be part of some master plan, Bennett said the opposite is true: “That was one of those sort of accidental things. … (Hipgnosis) came up with four or five ideas … we were there for 15 minutes and we said, ‘Oh yeah, we’ll do that one.’” The cover for “In the Can” (1972) came as a surprise. “(That) was done by Capitol Records,” Bennett recalled. “They didn’t even tell us. We thought it was a tasteless knockoff … That’s how things happened back then.”
Hipgnosis returned to design the third, final LP, “Out of Our Hands” (1973). By the time of that album, tensions within the band had reached a boiling point, culminating in the band breaking up while on tour in Albuquerque, N.M. According to Bennett, the problems all came down to Banks: “He was almost entirely to blame for the early Flash breakup, and for a major amount of friction and unrest in our camp — and not just with the band — almost everyone around us, too: manager, producer, Capitol Records and others. I’ve restrained myself from just saying it bluntly in the past, but Flash didn’t just ‘implode on the road. We’d had enough of Banks.”
Despite this friction, Flash did enjoy some success in its brief career; “Small Beginnings” from the debut hit No. 29 on the Billboard chart and got radio airplay. And the ex-members continued to work together. “From 1973 to 1983, Pete and I worked together maybe four or fi ve times,” Bennett stated. “Me and Colin worked together on some things. Mike, Colin and I worked on some things.
” This continued interaction, plus Flash’s growing cult following, led to an attempt to reunite the original band in 2002. It didn’t work out. Bennett and Carter wanted to explore new approaches — such as the two of them playing guitar on some songs. Banks was adamant that the band stick to the original format. And the personality conflicts reared their heads again.
“We went through these various stages,” Bennett said, “Pete was going to be in, and then he kept us hanging for a while, and I could tell he wasn’t really serious about it. Mike Hough, same thing. And eventually it came down to just me and Colin.”
It was a two-piece, semi-acoustic Flash that played at the 2005 Baja Prog Festival in Mexico. Then the duo set out to rebuild the band.
Now based in Las Vegas (with Carter living in Oregon), Bennett tapped his town’s local talent, adding drummer Mark Pardy, bassist Wayne Carver and — for the first time in any Flash lineup — a permanent keyboardist, Rick Daugherty. Bennett went full time on lead guitar. Expectedly, there was concern among fans that Flash without Banks would have no ... well, flash. But, when the lineup played its first major gig (following some warm-up club dates) last September at Prog Day in Chapel Hill, N.C., response was overwhelmingly positive.
“A lot of people said ‘I’d really like to see this band, but I’m not sure how it’s going to be without all of the original guys, without Peter,’” Bennett said. “It was 100-percent unanimous that it sounded great ... it went very, very well. We got a standing ovation.”
With a solid lineup in place, it was time to take the next logical step: A new CD, a mere 40 years after the band recorded its debut.
“It was done in two segments,” Bennett said. “The first three songs were done a year ago.”
The band considered putting out an EP of those tunes, but instead opted to do a full album and wrote new material. For Bennett and Carter, it was like old times, as they did most of the songwriting for the original band (in fact, Bennett wrote most of “Out of Our Hands” solo). Flash did live tracking at a Vegas studio owned by Thad Corea (son of jazz legend Chick), adding overdubs at the home studio of Bennett, who’s producing the CD. The album was almost done by the end of 2010 when the band decided to add one more track — a cover (a Flash first) of Nine Inch Nails’ “Hurt.”
“It’s a great song,” Bennett stated. “It could get us some attention.”
Once that’s “in the can,” and Bennett’s completed mixing, there are a few decisions left to make: Choosing a title, finalizing the cover and deciding how the CD will be released.
“There’s been a bunch of titles kicked around,” Bennett said. “One of the titles that popped into my head was Flash 4, to draw attention to the fact that Flash has three other albums.”
As for the cover, don’t count on another sexy design.
“I was thinking of taking The Beatles approach and having a graphically stripped-down , black-and-white (design) for a change,” Bennett commented.
The band has talked to a few labels, but is considering releasing it themselves. “An independent release is such an easy reality now,” Bennett commented. Bennett said Flash is considering an East Coast tour in spring, as well as more prog festivals: “This band is so good, it would really be a crime if (we) weren’t seen.”
For Bennett, this is the culmination of a dream:
“The thing that Colin and I talked about when we started working together again was that both of us felt the same way that Flash was really unfinished business. We felt that the old band had such potential that was not even really tapped. ... So we’re back, hard at work.”