Forgotten Artists – Arbre

For many, Arbre will be not so much a forgotten band as one they have never heard of – but this is a band that could claim to be among the earliest British exponents of Americana, long before the term “Americana” was in common usage.

Hailing from Newcastle-Upon-Tyne, the band were fronted by the Caffrey Brothers, Phil, Peter and Paul, who brought great sibling harmonies to the vocals, the band was completed by Roger Askew, lead guitar and keyboards, Tony Davison, Bass and Bill Bissett on drums. The music press called them the “British Eagles” and they certainly had that California sound down pat but they brought a British muscularity to the sound, through the work of the power trio behind the singers. They were also prolific songwriters with all members of the band contributing to the songwriting on their albums.

I was lucky enough to be a student in the city of Newcastle in the 70’s and frequently saw them at various gigs around the area, even putting them on at the college a few times when I was social secretary. They were a great live band, really tight and focused and everyone who witnessed their gigs predicted great things for them; no-one was surprised when they signed their record deal.

They were snapped up by DJM Records, the label that launched Elton John, among others and their debut album, ‘Time and Again’, came out late in 1976. Unfortunately for Arbre, 1976 was also the year that bands like The Damned and The Sex Pistols started to emerge and Punk Rock burst out onto the streets of Britain – a “British Eagles” was always going to be fighting an uphill battle against the shifting musical trend. They released a second album, ‘Arbre’, just over a year later, early in 1978, and both album releases enjoyed strong critical acclaim but, musical fashions being what they are, the band struggled to build an audience and, not long after the second album release, they called it a day.

Listening to those mid/late 70s recordings today, it’s amazing just how contemporary they sound and you have to suspect that, had Arbre emerged in today’s Americana friendly market, they would’ve enjoyed a lot more commercial success.

The story didn’t end with the break up of Arbre. The Caffrey Brothers continued to work and record together for a number of years in various incarnations. These days Phil and Pete Caffrey still work together in The Caffreys (who were finalists in the BBCs 2017 ‘Best British Part Time Band’ programme) and Phil continues to work as a songwriter and host regular Songwriters’ Circles in his native North East. Guitarist Roger Askew moved into engineering and producing, working with the likes of Wilko Johnson and Joe Strummer and in 2019, he produced the debut album from Americana trio, Ragtop Down. He has also continued with his songwriting, recently working with rising UK singer/songwriter Emma Ballantine and Nashville recording artist Anna Howie.

Arbre are, perhaps, the perfect example of what happens when a band are a victim of a shift in musical fashion – they produced some great music but they were just in the wrong place at the wrong time. It’s worth seeking out their albums (though record fairs are likely to be your best option) to hear a band that were ahead of their time and among the first of the British Americana bands.

About Rick Bayles 354 Articles
Now living the life of a political émigré in rural France and dreaming of the day I'll be able to sing those Cajun lyrics with an authentic accent!
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Keith Hargreaves

This great Rick, great article

John Jenkins

I have a promo 7 inch single of “Senorita” from the mid 70’s which i had completely forgotten about until i read about this – Good one x


there’s a performance of this song on YouTube worth a watch.

David Rickinson

Great little article! I saw them supporting Fairport at the City Hall in 1976. They were excellent (with the gift of hindsight, probably so much better than the headline act).

I’m listening to my second hand copy of Time and Again now, it has some seriously good songwriting. They deserved so much more, as you say.


a very good band I saw on number of occasions including a tour with Jack the Lad, loved ‘Fallin’ how it was not a hit god only knows, the Caffreys are still gigging and still a great night out

Richie Muster

They used to play at a WMC close to me. I’ve still got one of their hand-painted badges (a single tree against a blood-red sky.)

Pam Hopper

I saw them at The city hall. Supporting Liverpool Express. They were so much better the main band of the evening. I can’t remember what year it was tho.

Garry Marsh

My wife, Joan and I were at college in Newcastle upon Tyne from 1973 to 1977. We lived in Whitley Bay, and saw Arbre quite a few times during our time there. We saw them perform in Wallsend, in Whitley Bay supporting String Driven Thing, and at the Durham Dome Fest in 1976. I manged to obtain both albums in 1978, Time and Again contained all the songs they used to play at the gigs where we saw them. We met and spoke with them many times, they were really nice people. I corresponded with Phil about 15 years ago, and so managed to get their, then, latest CDs. We first heard about them on Tyne Tees TV being interviewed by an American lady Carlotte Allen, they were then just the Caffrey Brothers and presumably about to form Arbre. Anyway they sang, but I can’t remember the song, but it caught us anyway. We visit Whitley Bay every couple of years, and hope to say hi one of these days. We still play their albums.

Richie Muster

They used to play at Bold St WMC a lot. I still have one of the hand-painted badges they produced, after 43yrs!