Bombed during World War II, St George’s Garrison Church survives as an evocative ruin with recently conserved mosaics, and a modern canopy roof, now available for all to enjoy.

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Newly discovered - The Birds – A slice of UK R&B History at the Garrison Church!

Newly discovered - The Birds – A slice of UK R&B History at the Garrison Church!

Enquiries sparked by the recent discovery of one or two photos taken at St George’s led to this review - gathering a little information, some issued recordings and more photos which relate to The Birds when they visited St George’s Garrison Church!

The Birds was a group formed in 1964 by West London based lads. Originally The Thunderbirds, the name was shortened to The Birds. The lead singer was Ali McKenzie who currently fronts the Ali Mac Band. On guitar and vocals was Ronnie Wood who later joined The Jeff Beck Group, The Creation, The Faces, and since February 1976 The Rolling Stones. Unfortunately, the bass Kim Gardner (later in The Creation and Ashton Gardner and Dyke) and guitarist Tony Munroe have died, one 20 years ago the other more recently. Information about the drummers Bob Langham and Pete Mc Daniels has not yet been found. The group was signed to Decca in late 1964 [referenced in Ronnie Wood’s autobiography “Ronnie” (St Martin’s Press) 2007] and later Rob Stigwood’s Reaction label.

The Birds visited St George’s in the Decca period, we guess in late 1964 or early 1965. It was the manager’s idea for a day out and photoshoot. The band went into the Church and up to the Chancel and then stood in front of the altar with the St George mosaic behind. A photographer took photographs of the group which were used for the cover of released vinyl recordings and within the booklet accompanying a later compilation CD. The band went onto the Royal Artillery parade ground and stood by a cannon – this was also photographed. It was an exciting day and after the photoshoot they drove back home.

There is further local interest in that Ronnie Wood’s book “How can it be? A rock and roll diary” (Genesis Publications, 2015) sets out gigs played by The Birds in 1965 including a residence in February and March 1965 at The Savoy Club in Catford and a gig at The Falcon pub in Eltham on 14th July 1965.

The photos at St George’s were taken by David Wedgbury then Decca staff photographer. In that role he took wonderful photographs of many artists including the Birds, The Rolling Stones, The Who, David Bowie, Marianne Faithfull and the famous “Beano” cover of John Mayall’s Blues Breakers featuring Eric Clapton. A book of his work at Decca “As Years Go By” Pavilion Books 1993 is a fascinating photographic record of musicians from those early days of rock music. Sadly David Wedgbury died in 1998.

Some relevant Birds recordings are:

Leaving Here* (Holland Dozier Holland) / Next in Line* (Wood) April 1965 Decca

No Good Without You* (Stevenson) / How Can It Be* (Wood) – Oct 1965 Decca

*Re-released on “The Birds” EP – 1995 EVA courtesy of Decca – cover photo taken at St George’s

Say Those Magic Words – Sep 1966 Reaction – cover photo taken at St George’s

Freakbeat Scene – 1998 Decca compilation with cover photo taken at St George’s

The Collectors Guide to Rare British Birds – compilation CD 1999 Deram – inside photo taken at St George’s and back cover on the RA parade ground

Please see a selection of photographs taken at our church and other images relevant to this story in our Events section - no breach of copyright is intended in this review:

The Birds at the altar with the now missing alabaster panels to the left (assumed Decca)
The Birds at the altar with part of the alabaster panel to the right (assumed Decca)
Detail of the altar showing carved figures (assumed Decca)
The Birds in the Apse (Deram CD insert)
Detail of the now sadly demolished Upper Apse wall (Deram CD)
Decca EP cover with the band in front of the altar
EVA (courtesy of Decca) re-release EP cover front with same photo
EVA (courtesy of Decca) re-release EP cover back
EVA (courtesy of Decca) re-release insert
Reaction single cover with same photo again
Decca Freakbeat compilation cover
The band by a cannon (assumed Decca)
Deram CD back cover with another photo of the band by a cannon
David Wedgbury’s Decca photo for the John Mayall “Beano” cover
The Decca John Mayall “Beano” cover

The Ali Mac Band in October 2019 (C Lambert)

The images in this review are photographs or scans taken in 2019 including vinyl or CD or book items bought in the open market, or downloaded from freely available resources.

We hope that more information on this fascinating aspect of the church will be discovered and if so will be presented in a future article. Meanwhile check out the music and books...The Ali Mac Band play gigs, recently at the Royal British Legion in Old Basing organised by The Lions Club of Basingstoke - with a set list of R&B Soul and Rock classics expertly performed. More details on the Events page.

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St George's Garrison Church in Woolwich, with its modern canopy roof and stunning mosaics, is both an evocative ruin and a contemporary space. Designed by Thomas H Wyatt in an Italian-Romanesque style, the Church was built between 1862-63 to serve the Royal Artillery in Woolwich. Today it is run by a local group, the Woolwich Garrison Church Trust who are committed to making it available for all to visit and enjoy. Directly opposite the Barracks in Woolwich, South East London, come and enjoy its beauty and peaceful garden.

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