The V.I.P.s were one of the leading R&B acts to emerge from the North of England in the 1960s, and while they never reached genuine stardom, several the group's members would go on to international fame after the combo broke up. Formed in 1963, the V.I.P.s hailed from Carlisle, a town in North West England not far from the Scottish border. The core members of the V.I.P.s had previously worked together in another Carlisle combo known as the Ramrods; after bassist Dave McCumiskey left the band to relocate to London, Greg Ridley took his place, joining vocalist Mike Harrison, lead guitarist Jimmy Henshaw, rhythm guitarist Frank Kenyon, and drummer Walter Johnstone. Newly christened the V.I.P.s, they became a regular attraction at the Cosmo Club in Carlisle, and in 1964 they signed a record deal with noted producer and manager Larry Page.
Page licensed the V.I.P.s' debut single ("She's So Good" b/w "Don't Keep Shouting at Me") to RCA, but the deal was a one-off and when the disc failed to chart, the group cut a 45 for CBS in the U.K. and another single that appeared only in the United States on Philips. (The group also found its name briefly changed to the Vipps, supposedly in the hope that the new brand would seem more contemporary.) The V.I.P.s left Carlisle to settle in London and were regulars on the big city's club circuit, and after they parted ways with Larry Page they signed a new deal with Island Records in 1966, who promptly issued "I Wanna Be Free" b/w "Don't Let It Go," with "Straight Down to the Bottom" b/w "In a Dream" following in 1967. The band didn't enjoy much chart success at home, but fared better in France after Fontana released three EPs there drawn from their Island recordings.
By the end of 1967, Henshaw, Johnstone, and Kenyon left the V.I.P.s, and Harrison and Ridley recruited three new members -- Keith Emerson on keyboards, Luther Grosvenor on guitar, and Mike Kellie on drums. This edition proved to be short-lived, as Emerson left after a few months to join the Nice (he would go on to major stardom a few years later with Emerson, Lake & Palmer). The remaining four members continued on under the new name Art, and cut an album in 1967 called Supernatural Fairytales. The Art album was a commercial disappointment, but they belatedly found an audience in both England and America after Gary Wright joined the group and they adopted the new name Spooky Tooth. Grosvenor would later depart Spooky Tooth to join Mott the Hoople (using the new stage name Ariel Bender), Greg Ridley went on to play with Humble Pie, and Mike Harrison cut a pair of solo albums and later joined the Hamburg Blues Band. The V.I.P.s' singles and EPs were belatedly reissued in 2006 by Repertoire Records in a two-CD collection called The Complete V.I.P.s. ~ Mark Deming, Rovi