Reg Presley obituary

Lead singer with the Troggs, best known for their hits Wild Thing and Love Is All Around

The Troggs were not among the most technically proficient of British pop groups of the 1960s, but they generated great affection among audiences and disc jockeys alike. The naivety of their sound, their songs and, above all, the singing of Reg Presley, who has died of lung cancer aged 71, made records such as I Can't Control Myself and With a Girl Like You into big international hits.

Presley's most lasting performances, however, were on Wild Thing (a 1966 hit soon adopted by Jimi Hendrix) and the wistful 1967 ballad Love Is All Around, given a new lease of life when a version by the Scottish band Wet Wet Wet was used in the 1994 film Four Weddings and a Funeral. In the 1970s, the Troggs were feted by the punk generation, while the infamous "Troggs tapes", a recording of a heated discussion at a studio session, was said to have inspired a scene in the cult 1984 film This is Spinal Tap.

Presley was born Reg Ball in Andover, Hampshire. After leaving school at 15, he played the guitar in a local skiffle group, but by day worked as a bricklayer. His musical career lay dormant until the early 1960s when a fellow worker, Howard Mansfield, suggested forming a band. Mansfield was the singer and lead guitarist, with Ball on bass guitar. When Mansfield left, Ball reluctantly took on the role of lead vocalist, accompanied by Ronnie Bond on drums, Chris Britton on guitar, and a bass player, Pete Staples. As the Troglodytes, they won a Battle of the Bands talent contest in Oxford in 1965, and sent a demo tape to the rock entrepreneur Larry Page, who shortened their name to the Troggs.

They signed a recording contract with CBS Records and a nondescript first single, Lost Girl, appeared in 1966. At this point, Page asked the New Musical Express journalist Keith Altham for help in finding a better stage name for the lead singer. In order to get media attention, Altham suggested altering Ball to Presley and the new name was listed alongside those of the other Troggs in the NME's next issue. Unfortunately, Page omitted to tell his lead singer of the name change and Ball, enraged, confronted Page, thinking that he had been replaced in the group.

Next, Page had the group tackle the inane-sounding Wild Thing, by the US composer Chip Taylor. Despite their misgivings about its corny lyrics, the Troggs achieved almost instant success with their version, thanks to Presley's mock- seductive vocals and the tense pauses in the instrumental backing. Presley was still working on a building site, with a colleague who had a transistor radio tuned to a pirate radio station. After playing Wild Thing, the DJ announced that it had just risen from No 44 to No 8 in the hit parade. "I thought, whew, and threw my trowel down," Presley told an interviewer. "I put my head in the door and said, 'clear out my tools, I'm off'."

Wild Thing reached No 2 in the UK charts and went one better in the US. The next single, the gentler With a Girl Like You (1966), written by Presley, became the group's first and only No 1 in Britain. The Troggs were immediately part of the pop elite, setting off on a tour with the Walker Brothers. "It was so great," Presley recalled. "It was like landing on the moon for the first time."

For the next three hits, Presley, as writer and singer, reverted to the cartoon lust approach of Wild Thing. I Can't Control Myself (1966), which was banned from radio in several countries, was followed by Any Way That You Want Me (1966) and Give It to Me (1967). Night of the Long Grass (1967), with its hint of drug references, sold less well, but it was the prelude to Love Is All Around, a No 5 in Britain in the autumn of 1967.

That was the final top 20 hit for the Troggs and it was during the vain quest to repeat the peaks of 1966-67 that the Troggs tapes were made. On the recording, Presley and his colleagues can be heard arguing with expletive-strewn incoherence about the need to "sprinkle fairy dust" over their latest efforts.

With the advent of the punk aesthetic, the Troggs were recognised, slightly inaccurately, as a pioneering "garage band", who had not allowed themselves to be held back by a lack of musical virtuosity. In 1981 they recorded a live album at the New York club Max's Kansas City and in 1991 combined with three members of REM to record the album Athens Andover. In later years, Presley also devoted himself to the study of crop circles and UFOs, and published a book on the subject, Wild Things They Don't Tell Us, in 2002.

The Troggs continued to perform to loyal fans in Europe. They were especially welcomed in Germany, where they were touring when Presley was taken ill in December 2011. When the seriousness of his condition became apparent, he announced his retirement.

Presley is survived by his wife of 50 years, Brenda, and by a son and daughter.

• Reg Presley (Reginald Maurice Ball), singer and songwriter, born 12 June 1941; died 4 February 2013


Dave Laing

The GuardianTramp

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