Review by Mark Deming
Modern mathematics isn't quite capable of counting how many R&B bands existed in Great Britain during the 1960s, but like a significant number of them, the V.I.P.s were destined to win greater recognition after they called it quits than while they were together. The final version of the V.I.P.s evolved into Spooky Tooth, who enjoyed chart success in both Europe and the United States during their late-'60s/early-'70s heyday, while guitarist Luther Grosvenor became a member of Mott the Hoople after changing his name to Ariel Bender (he also received some less than flattering reviews from several young women in the documentary Groupies, but that's another story). Given their résumé and the obscurity of their catalog, one might not expect much from The Complete V.I.P.s, but this double-disc compilation makes it clear this band was better than the average gathering of blues-wailing Brits. Lead singer Mike Harrison's voice was strong and emotive enough to carry material like "Smokestack Lightning" and "Straight Down to the Bottom" with style, guitarists Frank Kenyon and Jimmy Henshaw (the latter of whom was later replaced by Grosvenor) played with tough, no-frills menace, and bassist Alf "Greg" Ridley and drummer Walter Johnstone (later replaced by Mike Kellie) held down the rhythm with a solid, potent groove. The Complete V.I.P.s, true to its title, collects everything the band released between 1964 and 1967 -- one single each for RCA, CBS, and Phillips; two 45s for Island; two three-song EPs for French Fontana; and a pair of stereo mixes from a Fontana compilation -- along with an impressive live set recorded for German radio and two unreleased tracks. If the V.I.P.s aren't enough to make anyone forget the Yardbirds or the Pretty Things based on this material, they could certainly hold their own in a contest with most of their other contemporaries, and the segue from the frantic rocker "Rosemarie" into a jazzy take on "In the Wee Wee Hours" (here called "Late Night Blues") shows they had impressive versatility. Anyone with a taste for Anglo R&B from the classic era would do well to give this a spin.