Never turn your back on Budgie, an excellent British rock band

Sarah Collins, Editor-in-Chief

Budgie is a band known by relatively few. Even the biggest classic rock fans have never heard the name. 

Originally called Hills Contemporary Grass, the group formed in 1967 in Cardiff, Wales. The original line-up consisted of Burke Shelley on vocals and bass, Tony Bourge on guitar and vocals and Ray Phillips on drums. In 1968, the trio changed the band’s name to Budgie, which was quite a peculiar change. For those who do not know, a budgie is a type of parrot. 

In an archived post from Classic Rock magazine, Shelley said that the name change was because he “loved the idea of playing noisy, heavy rock, but calling ourselves after something diametrically opposed to that.”

“Noisy, heavy rock” is exactly what Budgie would go on to make. Described as a cross between Rush and Black Sabbath, Budgie is now considered one of the earliest metal bands.

After the release of their self-titled album in 1971 and Squawk in 1972, Budgie came out with 1973’s Never Turn Your Back on a Friend. This album featured “Breadfan,” one of their most popular songs. Metallica covered “Breadfan” on 1998’s Garage Inc. and also covered “Crash Course in Brain Surgery,” another brilliant Budgie tune, on the Garage Days Re-Revisited EP.

In addition to Metallica, Budgie has influenced a wide variety of rock acts. Iron Maiden, Megadeth, Van Halen and Soundgarden have all cited Budgie as an important influence and covered their songs. 

“Because of [these bands] covering our songs, we’re not just this seventies rock band. People come to check us out a lot. Metallica did us a great favour. I’m really pleased they like us,” Shelley said in an interview with Louder Sound.

Budgie’s popularity has grown in recent years, but their following pales in comparison to the followings of their hard rock contemporaries. For a multitude of reasons, the band has never gotten the recognition that they wholeheartedly deserve. 

After they signed to MCA, the record label urged them to go a more commercial route. Shelley and the others refused, deciding instead to make the music that they always wanted to make. Budgie fans are thankful for this choice, but it hurt the band in the long run. Since Budgie did not do what MCA wanted, the label failed to successfully promote and manage the band, leading to little radio play and meager album sales. 

“Bad management, the fact we should have gone over to The States to perform a lot sooner than we did — you can lay blame at any number of doors. But what’s the point in looking back? Gets you nowhere,” Shelley said in an interview with Wales Online

Regardless of the obstacles that stood in their way, Budgie survived. The band was still touring as of 2010, but health issues impacted Shelley’s ability to perform. He was diagnosed with a six-centimeter aortic aneurysm while on tour in Europe. This condition keeps Shelley from singing and playing bass like he once did, so the band does not tour anymore. 

All in all, classic rock fans should definitely check out Budgie’s 11 studio albums. The band’s music is heavily underrated and worthy of praise that is long overdue.