As Van Morrison's first major group, Them will always have a place in rock history. But, as well as being the launch pad for the Ulster bard's solo career, Them were one of the most exciting acts of the British R&B boom. Endless line-up changes killed the band, but not before they'd produced a clutch of classic 45s and album tracks, many featuring Van at his primal best. George Ivan Morrison, the withdrawn, music-obsessed son of a Belfast Jehovah's Witness family, had been playing in bands since he was 12 and had first found success on the Irish showband circuit with The Monarchs. After the band split, Morrison collected together a group of fellow blues, soul and R&B purists into the proto-Them. Like their contemporaries, the Animals, Stones and Pretty Things, Them specialized in covering obscure numbers by black American acts, but investing them with a garage punk energy that would have horrified their creators. With Van on vocals, the line-up was Billy Harrison (guitar), Alan Henderson (bass) and Ronnie Millings (drums), all from Belfast group The Gamblers, plus Eric Wrixen on keyboards. At first, they were greeted with showers of coins wherever they played, until a chance set secured them a residency at the Maritime Hotel. Here, the band found a blues-loving audience they could work into a sweat-drenched frenzy with wild extended versions of "Turn On Your Lovelight" and other R&B faves. Van has always mythologized this scene as being the 'real' Them, before they were ruined by the pressures of the music business. Yet, even before they'd left to try their luck in London, Pat McCauley had taken over on organ duties, the first of many such replacements. Signing to Decca, Them debuted with a weak cover of Slim Harpo's "Don't Start Crying Now". However, they hit gold the second time around, with the double whammy of "Baby Please Don't Go" backed with "Gloria". The top side was an astonishingly powerful slice of souped up R&B, crowned with Van's manic blues howl; in Britain it was a Top 10 smash and adopted as the theme tune for TV's Ready Steady Go. But it was the flip side that went on to inspire hundreds of cover versions from garage bands the world over, not to mention Jimi Hendrix, The Doors and Patti Smith. With its strutting EDA riff, Them's "Gloria" remains simple to play, but maddeningly impossible to better. It is the Zen koan of garage punk. Them's next single, "Here Comes The Night", was an even bigger hit, reaching #2 in the UK and #24 in the US, and paved the way for a debut album, (Angry Young) Them (released as Here Comes The Night in the US; 1965). Kicking off with the explosive "Mystic Eyes", one of the few occasions where the intensity of Them at the Maritime was captured in the studio, the record was a powerful collection of rowdy covers mixed up with interesting early Van compositions, most notably the bitter-tasting "You Just Can't Win". But from here on it was strictly downhill for the group. None of the following singles had the immediacy of their earlier output, and playing musical chairs with the personnel sapped morale. Worst of all, their 'Angry Young Them' image had started to backfire as the drunken exploits of the band alienated press and promoters alike. Still, sessions continued on a second album, Them Again, which emerged in 1966. An erratically inspired collection, it had a few treasures and an interesting attempt to develop the group's sound with the folk-rock flavoured "My Lonely Sad Eyes" and "Hey Girl"; the latter's dreamlike mood and swirling flutes pointing forward to Van's transcendent Astral Weeks album. A few more tracks were to surface on posthumous singles and compilations, including a lengthy spoken blues called "The Story Of Them", in which Van painted a nostalgic portrait of Them's outlaw status at the Maritime - the first of Van's many musical journeys into his past. But the story doesn't quite stop here. Them did a final tour of America, climaxing with a legendary gig at the LA Whiskey A GoGo with The Doors and Captain Beefheart. Completely burned out, the band split and returned to Belfast. Subsequently a Van-less Them (with only the bass player from the original Maritime line-up) decided to return to the US, where, trading under the notoriety of "Gloria", they carried on their career as garage rockers. After two albums, Now And Them and Time Out Time In For Them, this band split yet again. A further incarnation - one of several Them-styled groups kicking about formed by disgruntled former band members - released a couple more mediocre albums. All of these Thems, however, without Van, were doomed to failure.