I was sad to read that Reg Presley, lead singer and principal songwriter of The Troggs, has died at the age of 71. The Troggs were always regarded as one of the ‘footnote bands’ of the 60s by music snobs, but they were much better than that. The snobbery resulted from the fact that they spoke (but didn’t sing) with accents typical of who they were – lads from rural Hampshire – when the only cool accents were from London or Liverpool. But it also stemmed from the fact that they didn’t take themselves especially seriously at a time when music was all about Being Very Serious.
A good example of that was one of their songs from 1967. Presley was aware of the rising tide of drug-rich psychedelia at the time, and realised that The Troggs could do with a song to fit in with the trend, even though it was pretty far removed from their usual style. ‘Night Of The Long Grass’ was the result.
Years later – during, if memory serves, one of the many interchangeable “nostalgia TV” shows from the early 2000s – Presley admitted with a laugh that although most people had assumed he wrote it high he actually wrote it “with a nice cup of tea”. It’s possible Presley was using “tea” as a Rutles-style euphemism (he wouldn’t have been the first or the last 60s musician to do that), but I don’t think so: I think he actually did sit down with a nice cup of tea and bodge his way through an approximation of the “mystical doors of perception” nonsense that was surrounding drugs at the time. That would be typical of the man, anyway – not taking it too seriously, and getting a secret one over on the po-faced druggies in the 60s scene.
These days I’d guess Reg Presley is best known for writing ‘Love Is All Around’, the song that Wet Wet Wet mercilessly slaughtered in a dank recording studio before pegging out its rotting corpse at the top of the UK charts for 15 long weeks in the summer of 1994. Their version is truly horrible – in my opinion, one of the worst number ones of all time – but The Troggs’ original is wonderful, and everything that the Wet Wet Wet travesty isn’t: understated, sweet and radiating utter sincerity from every bar.
If I’m honest, I don’t know all that much about Reg Presley the man. I know he was a true believer in crop circles, but I think that was emphasised in a lot of potted biographies – and now obituaries – just because it plays into the stereotype of the dumb yokel, and a lot of people want to assume that’s all people with Presley’s accent are. To me, he always seemed to radiate a fundamental quality of down-to-earth niceness. I always had the impression that he was direct and to the point (having heard the ‘Troggs tape’ [NSFW language] it would be hard to argue otherwise), but still basically a decent bloke. Compared to all the internecine back-stabbing of other 60s bands, a simple stand-up row is a relief.
It’s as a songwriter, though, that he deserves to be remembered. When they’re compiling ‘most influential’ lists of the 60s, people concentrating on the British band scene will drone on endlessly about The Beatles, or The Stones, or The Who. But the longer I think about it the more convinced I become that the two most influential British songs of the 60s – not necessarily the best, but the ones that sound now like they were anticipating the future – were ‘You Really Got Me’ by The Kinks and ‘Wild Thing’ by The Troggs:
That’s Reg Presley’s legacy and epitaph right there.