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Friday, March 17, 2017

Les Brians / Lez Smith (Buster) R.I.P.


It has been brought to my attention that Les Brians (Also known as Lez Smith), formerly the drummer of '70s Teenpop band Buster, has died.
His friend, Lesley Thompson, recently posted the following comment on my You Tube channel page:
Lez had been ill for a couple of years (and) eventually his liver failed to protect him from the infections.  He passed away at the beginning of Nov. 2016.  R.I.P
I do hope I'm allowed to re-post this, but since it was originally posted in a public forum I can't really see the harm.
I had the pleasure to exchange a few e-mails with Les/Lez a few years back, the results of which you can read about HERE.  I enjoyed and appreciated his candor and wit - he will be missed.

Pete Leay (Left) & Les Brians (Right) in 1977.

After briefly reforming Buster for an album, "Best & New" in 2013, sadly two members of the band have now passed - guitarist Pete Leay died in December 2013.
My most sincere condolences the family and friends of both Pete and now Les.  R.I.P.


Monday, March 6, 2017

Ian Mitchell Band, etc. (1979-1983)

The Ian Mitchell Band is yet another challenging albeit interesting subject for the ‘70s teenpop blog. Although reportedly massively successful in the Far East during their time (1979-1980), very little seems to have been documented on them in the intervening decades.  Not to mention their other incarnations La Rox, Identity Crisis and Bachelor of Hearts.  So about bloody time I'll say.  And here, then, is the "whole" fragmented story...
Disillusioned, having left Rosetta Stone in early 1979, Ian Mitchell didn‘t rest on his laurels for long.  On the contrary, he quickly signed up with manager Tay Devlin and several solo demos were promptly recorded with former Rosetta Stone producer (and ex-Tremeloe) Alan Blakley (Sometimes also credited as Alan Blakely).  Among those were original compositions „It‘ll Do You Good“, „Get Down“ and the controversial – child molestation being the subject – „Jailbait“; the latter two of which ended up on the first Ian Mitchell Band album.  On the strength of these a deal was struck with Warner/WEA and by spring ‘79 The Ian Mitchell Band had been formed.  Consisting of Ian on guitar and vocals, along with John Jay (Sometimes spelled Jon, on bass), Paul Jackson (Guitar), Lindsay Honey (Real name: Simon James Honey, on drums) and, a little later, Nicky Diamond (Keyboards).

Lindsay, John and Paul had previously played together in the Artful Dodgers, who released one single, "Here We Go", in 1978, and later evolved into 20th Century Heroes before eventually becoming the Ian Mitchell Band. 

The Ian Mitchell Band debut single „Suddenly You Love Me“, a disco-fied version of The Tremeloes‘ mid ‘60s hit, was released in Japan in time for their successful late August tour of the country, to be followed by an album of the same name in November.  Confusingly, „Lonely Nites“ was the European single (autumn ’79) and album (early 1980), neither of which did anything chart-wise.


The „Lonely Nites“/“Suddenly You Love Me“ album suffered somewhat from over-production.  The material itself deserved better, comprising of covers and band originals in equal measure.
Del Shannon‘s „I Go to Pieces“ had been earmarked for the first Rosetta Stone album two years earlier, while the Carole King/Gerry Goffin chestnut „Goin‘ Back“ was done few favours by the aforementioned over-production.  Canadian Swiss-born singer/songwriter Phil Carmen (no relation to Eric) was drafted in to supply „Only Seventeen“, a bitter-sweet ballad, and to co-write the mid-tempo single cut „Lonely Nites“ with producer Blakley, both of which were clear teenpop fodder.
The band originals included Paul Jackson‘s bouncy „Having a Good Time“, a couple of Mitchell/Jay co-writes, „Jennifer Squeeze“ and „Crazy Way of Life“, and „Get Down“ and „Jailbait“, remnants of that Ian Mitchell solo demo session, reappeared.

Indifference from critics and the public alike pretty much rendered the practice futile from the start.  Ian blamed the record company for its short-sightedness by catering to the rapidly vanishing teenpop market.  Consequently WEA dropped the Ian Mitchell Band - in all markets except for Japan where the „Suddenly You Love Me“ album had fared quite well.  Thus, „Goin‘ Crazy“, the second IMB album came to fruition, where a much more interesting aspect of the band was explored.

Although the band – and production - personnel was the same as on the first album one could not be blamed for thinking otherwise since it sounded like a complete different scene altogether. 

Of the 12 tracks only one, Pete Bite‘s „Peekaboo Love“, came from an outside source.  The stronger efforts included „Everybody‘s on the Fiddle“ (Believe it or not, not dissimilar to something like Blur might‘ve done 15 years later, at the very height of Brit Pop!), the pure pop of „Hold on to Love“ and „Take Me Back“, not to mention the weirdness of „ABCD I Love Me“, and then-current musical trends like ska being light-heartily explored in tracks like, well, „Ska Music“.  Furthermore, the naughty side of IMB got an outlet in the title track, „Peekaboo Love“ and the slightly sexist „Girls“.
 

Which brings us to the rather unfortunate yet inescapable X-rated escapades of the Ian Mitchell Band.  Before the band began drummer Lindsay Honey made his living as male stripper Hot Rod (Partly due to his visual resemblance to Rod Stewart, I guess) as well as appearing in the occasional X-rated film.  Parallel to the Japan-only release of the „Goin‘ Crazy“ album there was an adult video tape of the same name unleashed on the then-burgeoning home video market in the U.K.  Ian told music weekly Sounds in August 1980 that the film „is a really dirty type of ‘Saturday Night Fever‘.  But it‘s all based on fact.  Our life IS one long love-in – sex, sex and more sex.“
Now that being told, the album and the single „Take Me Back“ were issued in Japan during the summer of 1980.  By that autumn though both Paul Jackson and Nicky Diamond had left the band, and were replaced by Lea Hart (Guitar) and Kim Wylie, who took over on drums while Lindsay Honey assumed keyboard and tambourine duties.  In the mid-‘80s Jackson released a lone solo single, „The Story of Gone With the Wind“, a tad reminiscent of a-ha, while later carving out a career as a Freddie Mercury impersonator of some repute.  He currently resides in Thailand.

Lea Hart (Real name Barry Hart), a talented and versatile songwriter, had a long career behind him.  Having first come to prominence in the mid ‘70s as a member of the heavy rock/glam band Slowbone, he had also toured as a support solo act with Judas Priest and recorded one album with superb power pop outfit Roll-Ups.  As if that wasn‘t enough he – and the Roll-Ups – also played a vital role on Joan Jett‘s eponymous solo album in 1980, which was post „I Love Rock & Roll“ repackaged and retitled as „Bad Reputation“.
Wylie, meanwhile, was better known on the U.K. new wave/punk circuit as John Towe, having honed his skills with seminal – some would even say legendary - acts such as Chelsea, The Adverts, and Generation X.
In late August of 1980 this new incarnation of the Ian Mitchell Band embarked on a tour of Japan while a second single off the „Goin‘ Crazy“ album, „Peekaboo Love“, was prepared for a regional relase.
Upon returning to the U.K. further gigging ensued.  Eventually, though, the band was renamed La Rox – undoubtedly in an effort to re-establish itself as a more serious musical entity as well as distancing itself further from its teenpop past.  Just a retroactive guess, mind you.  The first La Rox gig was at the Embassy Club in London on July 2nd 1981.
(Photo courtesy of Dave Thompson)
A new image was constructed.  Glammed and tarted-up the boys took to „the road“ – i.e. the clubs of London.  Their gig at the legendary Marquee club in Wardour street in Soho will be remembered infinitely by all who attended.  Music writer Dave Thompson, who ran the La Rox fan club for a while, says „I still rank La Rox among the best live bands I ever saw – they had great songs, great musicianship, and they knew how to put on a great show, no matter how silly it sometimes looked.“  Ian Mitchell has given great credit to Lea Hart and his songwriting abilities in this aspect as well: „The man was absolutely brilliant when it came to composing the music for La Rox!  In fact, at one point, almost half of the songs that La Rox used during our set were written by Lea“. 

So, naturally, when it came to committing some of this stuff to tape, Lea‘s songs were at the top of the litter.  „Photograph (It Doesn‘t Matter)“ was recorded for a proposed debut single but before that could happen bassist John Jay upped and left the band, so the single was scrapped.  Jay briefly joined the Hitmen and recorded with them at least one single – „Ouija“ in 1981 – before rejoining Lea Hart in a rejuvenated Roll-Ups in 1982.  Lea Hart & The Roll-Ups then re-recorded „Photograph“ with Japanese singer Ann Lewis for her solo album „La Saison D‘amour“ (1982), which was produced by Lea Hart.

Replacing John Jay in La Rox was one Murray Ward.  With him the band recorded another Lea Hart composition, „Can I Bring You Love“, previously released as a single by Hart‘s old band Slowbone way back in 1977.  The La Rox recording of it, however, was also eventually scrapped, although Lea Hart & the Roll-Ups, including John Jay, later recorded a version of it for a Japan-only album in 1982.
Meanwhile, Lindsay Honey, Kim Wylie and Lea Hart had formed Small Ads, a band that released three novelty singles on Bronze Records in 1981; the most popular of which, „Small Ads“, reached number 63 in the U.K. singles chart in April 1981.  Consequent releases, „HP Man“ and „Friday-Nite Cowboys“, however failed to impress and that was the last anyone ever heard from Small Ads.

While Lindsay, Lea and Kim had their fun with Small Ads, Ian became a part-time DJ and an occasional member of Splodgenessabounds of „Two Pints of Lager and a Packet of Crisps Please“ fame, although he apparently had absolutely nothing to do with that particular piece of popular culture.

Lea Hart then left La Rox and reformed his Roll-Ups with John Jay and others and a Japan-only album, „Lea Hart & The Roll-Ups“ was issued in early 1982.  Later that same year The Roll-Ups also appeared on that Ann Lewis album which Lea also produced – a task he also undertook on the second Panache album, „Heartbreak School“ (1982). 
Later on Lea Hart & the Roll-ups evolved into the Lea Hart Band which then became Ya-Ya which included ex-Panache members Terry Jackson (Bass) and Graham Garrett (Drums).  By then John Jay was long gone, and as Lea recently commented, „John just vanished years ago, no-one seems to know anything about him.“
Lea himself though has enjoyed a long and successful career in the music business, both as a performer,  either solo or in groups such as Fastway, and as a manager of ex-Iron Maiden singer Paul Di‘Anno.
After Lea‘s departure La Rox became Identity Crisis – less glam, more straight ahead no- frills pop-rock – and promptly recorded a new album with old hand Alan Blakley.  The band now consisted of Ian Mitchell (Guitar, vocals); Murray Ward (Bass), Lindsay Honey (Keyboards), and Kim Wylie (Drums).

The first – and only – Identity Crisis single „Eloise“/“Boulevard L.A.“ was issued on FMR Records in the U.K. in 1982.  It did absolutely nothing.  „Eloise“ was a credible cover of the grandiose late ‘60s Barry Ryan hit which ironically enough became a Top 3 U.K. for The Damned less than four years later.

By the time the album „On the Boulevard“ eventually arrived in 1983 Identity Crisis had become Bachelor of Hearts.  The record was only ever released in Japan and a couple of European territories (Holland and, er, Romania).  By then Gary Cotter had joined on guitar and vocals and, oddly enough, Pat McGlynn, Ian Mitchell‘s replacement in the Bay City Rollers in 1976, was pictured on the sleeve of the Japanese issue although he had nothing whatsoever to do with the album as such, but the band later toured Japan billed as Bachelor of Hearts featuring Ian Mitchell and Pat McGlynn.

Or perhaps it wasn‘t so odd after all since the Rollers had now reformed as a seven-piece unit completing a successful tour of Japan in July 1983 where a „Live in Japan“ album was recorded at the Budokan hall in Tokyo.  And that, effectively, signalled the end of Bachelor of Hearts.  The Rollers then did a few tours and another album – „Breakout“ (1985) – over the next couple of years before the band imploded amidst personal agronomy and band infighting (See ‘70s Teenpop blog Bay City Rollers - That First Reunion).
As for our current main subjects, the Ian Mitchell Band/La Rox/Identity Crisis/Bachelor of Hearts, after having joined (along with fellow Roller Stuart Wood) and left South African band Passengers, Ian moved to Los Angeles in the late ‘80s where he quickly bumped into Duncan Faure, another ex-Roller, and formed the Joybuzzers, which at one point also included his old IMB chum Lindsay Honey on drums.  Ian became a U.S. citizen sometime around the turn of the century and various endeavours – musical and otherwise – ensued.
(Photo courtesy of Dave Thompson)

Lindsay Honey moved back to the U.K. and assumed the alter-ego Ben Dover; probably the most productive and powerful entity within the British porn industry during the last two decades.  Recently, Lindsay/Ben has been diagnosed with a bladder cancer.  We wish him well.
According to Wikipedia, long time Ian Mitchell producer/collaborator Alan Blakley died of cancer in June 1996, aged 54.  Apart from being a member of The Tremeloes during their most successful spell from the mid-‘60s through to the early ‘70s.  Alan also produced the Rubettes, Rosetta Stone, Bilbo Baggins, and, of course, the Ian Mitchell Band and Identity Crisis/Bachelor of Hearts.
Murray Ward, John Jay‘s replacement in La Rox, has also passed on.  R.I.P.
Former La Rox fan club president Dave Thompson, now a successful music writer, contributes the following info on drummer Kim Wylie/John Towe: „The last I heard about John Towe, and I don‘t know if this is true (although I hope it is), is that he is now a commercial pilot, flying cargo around the world.  Which is a sobering thought...“



Indeed.  And that is all he wrote.

Special thanks to Dave Thompson.

Discography:

Ian Mitchell Band:
45‘s:
„Suddenly You Love Me“/“Only Seventeen“ (Atlantic/WEA Warner-Pioneer P-457A, Japan 1979)
„Lonely Nites“/“Jailbait“ (WEA K 18100, U.K. 1979)
„Lonely Nites“/“Suddenly You Love Me“ (WEA 18 070 N, Germany 1979)
„Lonely Nites“/“Having a Good Time“ (WEA Warner-Pioneer P-501J, Japan 1979)
„Take Me Back“/“Danny‘s on the Dance Floor“ (WEA Warner-Pioneer P-562J, Japan 1980)
„Peekaboo Love“/“Hold on to Love“ (WEA Warner-Pioneer P-624J, Japan 1980)
LP‘s:
„Suddenly You Love Me“ (Atlantic/WEA Warner-Pioneer P-10725A, Japan 1979)
„Lonely Nites“ (WEA 58 070, Germany 1979).  The same LP as above – but a different title & artwork.
„Lonely Nites“ (WEA K 58070, U.K. 1980).  Same as above.
„Goin‘ Crazy“ (WEA Warner-Pioneer P-10872J, Japan 1980).  A Japan-only release.
CD‘s:
„Rearranged“ (Woodpecker Productions Wdpkr 101, U.S.A. 1995).  A compilation also featuring Bachelor of Hearts.
„Suddenly You Love Me“ (Airmail Archive AIRAC-1485, Japan 2008).  A re-issue.
„Goin‘ Crazy“ (Airmail Archive AIRAC-1486, Japan 2008).  A re-issue w/one bonus track.

Identity Crisis:
45:
„Eloise“/“Boulevard L.A.“ (FMR Records FMR 1, U.K. 1982)



Bachelor Of Hearts:
45‘s:
„Boulevard L.A.“/“I‘m a Winner“ (Teichiku, Overseas Records YE-25-V, Japan 1983)
„Boulevard L.A.“/“Get Me Out“ (EMI 1A 006-1271077, the Netherlands 1983)
LP:
„On the Boulevard“ (Teichiku, Overseas Records FEX-24-V, Japan 1983)
„On the Boulevard“ (EMI 1A 068-1271081, the Netherlands 1983)
„On the Boulevard“ (Electrecord ST-ELE 02866, Romania 1986)
CD:
„On the Boulevard“ (Airmail Archive AIRAC-1488, Japan 2008).  A reissue.


Artful Dodgers (Featuring Paul Jackson, John Jay and Lindsay Honey – Pre-IMB!):
45:
„Here We Go“/“Sing It Again“ (Cat Records SELEC 015, U.K. 1978)

Small Ads (Featuring Lindsay Honey, Lea Hart and Kim Wylie):
45‘s:
„Small Ads“/“Motorway Madness“ (Bronze BRO 115, U.K. 1981)
„HP Man“/“Radio Love“ (Bronze BRO 125, U.K. 1981)
„Friday-Nite Cowboys“/“I Wanna Fly Concorde“ (Bronze BRO 135, U.K. 1981)
The Hitmen (Featuring John Jay):
45:
„Ouija“/“Shade In, Fade Out“ (CBS A1591, U.K. 1981)
Lea Hart & The Roll-Ups (Featuring Lea Hart and John Jay):
45:
„It‘s New to Me“/“Your Love Affair‘s Over Now“ (Victor, Japan 1982)
LP:
„Lea Hart & The Roll-Ups“ (Victor VIP-6818, Japan 1982)
Lea Hart (Featuring The Roll-Ups, uncredited):
45‘s:
„Crispina“/“Blackmail“ (Victor VIPX-1666, Japan 1982)
„It‘s New to Me“/“Your Love Affair‘s Over Now“ (RCA 170, U.K. 1982)
„No One Left to Blame“/“Hideaway“ (RCA 257, U.K. 1982)



Ann Lewis (W/The Roll-Ups, featuring Lea Hart and John Jay):
45:
„La Saison“/“Clumsy Boy“ (Victor SV-7223, Japan 1982)
LP:
„La Saison D‘Amour“  (Victor SJX-30160, Japan 1982)



Paul Jackson (Ex-Ian Mitchell Band):
45:
„The Story of Gone With the Wind“/“The Story of Gone With the Wind“ (Instrumental) (Hippodrome HIPPO 110, U.k. 1987)

Thursday, December 15, 2016

HELLO - The Albums


A mere two-hit-wonder as far as the British record buying public is concerned, Hello during their mid-'70s heyday nonetheless racked up an tangible track record elsewhere - particularly in Germany where they were a viable option until the end of the decade when the original line-up of Bob Bradbury (Vocals, guitar), Keith Marshall (Guitar), Vic Faulkner (Bass) and Jeff Allen (Drums) disbanded.  I would - and have - go as far as to say that Hello is probably one of the most underrated U.K. acts of the 1970's.
Kudos, then, to Cherry Red/7Ts for recently unleashing this impressive package consisting of four CD's featuring what I gather to be pretty much everything ever committed to tape during the band's tenure with both Bell/Arista and Polydor.  A scrumptious array of bonus tracks and previously unissued rarities is the main bait here, as well as the first-ever CD release of 1977 Japan-only album "Shine on Silver Light".  Better late than never!

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

The Rubettes


The popularity of progressive rock was probably at its height during the early to mid 1970s.  With acts such as Genesis, Yes, Pink Floyd, and Emerson, Lake & Palmer, "prog rock" was supposed to be more advanced, complex and, above all, smart than what had come before.  Musical wizardry was the norm and long drawn-out solos were both encouraged and applauded.  Still, not everyone was taken in by the hype and some even longed for the more basic music of yesteryear.  Thus the door was left a jar for a return-to-roots rock & roll revival.  In fact, one could almost claim that said revival preempted punk as a knee jerk reaction to prog by a good few years.
The simplicity and raw energy of the music of Elvis, Jerry Lee, Chuck, et al, found new audience in the U.S. through films like "American Graffiti", and bands like Sha-Na-Na, and Flash Cadillac & the Continental Kids.  Meanwhile in Britain, there was the historical London Rock and Roll Show at the Wembley Stadium in August 1972, starring giants of the genre like Jerry Lee Lewis, Little Richard, and Chuck Berry.  Subsequently, the ball really began rolling in earnest with homegrown acts such as Wizzard, MUD, Showaddywaddy, and...The Rubettes.


A happy accident as it were, the Rubettes were initially brought together in late 1973 as mere session musicians to record a demo for the songwriting & production team of Wayne Bickerton & Tony Waddington.  The song in question was a little ditty called "Sugar Baby Love", which had a distinctly '50s feel to it for sure, with some doo-wop styled harmonies and cutesy innocent lyrics thrown in for a good measure.  And as the song was turned down by Showaddywaddy, Bickerton & Waddington became even more convinced that the demo had that certain "something" and should be issued as is...or rather, was.  Thus a real band was needed to back it up and the gig was promptly and aptly offered to the session musicians who had recorded the song - namely; Alan Williams (Guitar and vocals); John Richardson (Drums), and Peter Arnesen (Keyboards).  Vocalist Paul Da Vinci, the owner of that falsetto, was otherwise engaged and politely declined the offer.  Tony Thorpe (Guitar and vocals); Mick Clarke (Bass) and a second keyboardist Bill Hurd completed the line up and The Rubettes were born.


To make a long story short, "Sugar Baby Love", once released, became a massive hit - in fact, one of the biggest hits of 1974, knocking that quartet of chirpy Swedes whose name now totally escapes me, off the coveted U.K. No. 1 spot in the spring.
And although The Rubettes never eclipsed that initial burst of bubbly brilliance, there were several more hits in the coming years, as well some fine albums - five of which have recently been collected together, including extra tracks and everything, in a CD box set, "The Albums 1974-1977", released by Caroline International (CAROLR032CD).


Through numerous line-up changes, The Rubettes flirted with glam, gave Smokie a run for their money with countryfied anglo pop, but above all their rock & roll roots always shone through.


For a number of years now there have been two versions of The Rubettes touring the nostalgia circuit; the Alan Williams-led version on one hand, and keyboardists' Bill Hurd's Rubettes on the other.  I've only had the pleasure to see the latter outfit on a number of occasions and I can attest to the fact that they're pretty good - and very nice guys as well.
As much as I love hits like "Juke Box Jive" and "Little Darling", as well as catchy and sometimes self-penned album tracks a la "Judy Run Run", Rumours" and "Don't Do it Baby" (also a U.K. Top 10 hit for Mac & Kate Kissoon), I have a confession to make though.  One of my all-time favourite Rubettes tracks just happens to be this early '80s (Oh, the sheer shame of it all!) gem....

 
Foe-Dee-Oh-Dee :-)

Thursday, March 10, 2016

Classic '70s Teenpop album: The Sweet/"Funny How Sweet Co-Co Can Be" (1971)


It's an indisputable fact that The Sweet always sold more singles than they did albums.  That is not to say their long players weren't up to scratch.  Far from it, since both "Sweet Fanny Adams" (incredibly enough their only L.P. to trouble the U.K. charts, not counting "Best of" compilations) and "Desolation Boulevard" are quintessential mid '70s rock albums - IMHO as good as anything either Purple or Zeppelin ever did.  Nonetheless, the band will always be best remembered for their impressive run of classic pop-glam 45's, a la "Ballroom Blitz", "Blockbuster", "The Six Teens", "Fox on the Run", et al.


Semi-conspicuously absent from the above rundown is the hidden gem that is The Sweet's debut album, "Funny How Sweet Co-Co Can Be", from 1971.  In essence a bubblegum record, it's a curious mix of the band's first hits ("Funny Funny" and "Co Co" - both Nicky Chinn/Mike Chapman originals), covers of '60s pop classics (Lovin' Spoonful's "Daydream", The Supremes' "Reflections"), some more Chinnichap filler ("Chop Chop", "Tom Tom Turnaround" - the latter originally a hit for New World), as well as some early band compositions ("Santa Monica Sunshine", "Spotlight").


About a year ago the Cherry Red Records imprint 7T's issued a double deluxe version of the album, including seventeen bonus tracks.  Among which are early hits "Alexander Graham Bell", "Poppa Joe", "Wig Wam Bam", and "Little Willy", single B-sides, and, on disc 2, the earliest non-charting Sweet singles starting with 1968's "Slow Motion" and concluding with 1970's "Get on the Line" (an Archies cover, no less).  A year later The Sweet's fate was sealed after they were taken on by the Chinnichap songwriting team, a veritable hit machine, and as a result, enjoyed their first taste of chart success with "Funny Funny".  And the rest is, as they are prone to say, history.


The entire "Funny How Sweet Co-Co Can Be" episode is a true testament to the earliest - and lightest - side of The Sweet; a period the band later often went to great lengths to distance themselves from.  And perhaps understandably so; most of the time session musicians were used on the records and the band wasn't allowed to include too many of their original compositions, and when they were allowed to do so, the material all too often ended up as mere B-side fodder.  Truth be told though, Chinnichap had the magic touch, were indeed supplying the band with chart-making material which, as time went on, did get heavier - and, indeed, better. 
Still, "Funny How Sweet Co-Co Can Be" can easily be enjoyed as what it was probably always meant to be: a light, fluffy piece of bubblegum pop - or, quite simply put, a '70s teenpop classic.
 
The Sweet in all their glam rock glory, circa 1973.


Monday, February 29, 2016

Bay City Rollers - That First Reunion.


If the press and the hype surrounding the Bay City Rollers' recent December 2015 U.K. reunion tour is to be believed, that reunion was pretty unique.  Not only was there a new album release (a mind-boggling Christmas CD, starring Les McKeown as Phil Spector, recorded in all but name by  McKeown's band a year earlier), but this was apparently also the first time since circa 1978 that the three participating members - McKeown, Stuart Wood and founding member Alan Longmuir - shared a stage for a semi-prolonged time.
That is not entirely accurate though.  After McKeown's departure in 1978 followed a three year commercially disappointing but artistically rewarding period as The Rollers, with Duncan Faure as the band's lead singer, which came to an abrupt end in 1981, after the "Ricochet" album failed to re-ignite an interest in the enterprise.
In some corners of the world though, the Bay City Rollers name was still a viable asset.  So in the autumn of 1982, mere four years after their initial break-up, the fab five (McKeown, Wood, Eric Faulkner, brothers Alan and Derek Longmuir) reunited for a lucrative tour of Japan.  A year later they upped the ante, added Pat McGlynn and Ian Mitchell to the line up, and, in the process, recorded a double "Live in Japan" album at Tokyo's famed Budokan hall.


Inexplicably, a cover of a recent Buck Fizz U.K. hit, "Piece of the Action", was issued as a Japan-only single.  Eric for one may now dismiss it as a "throwaway", but really, it wasn't half bad.


Side projects Karu (for Stuart Wood, with Duncan Faure) and Bachelor of Hearts (for Ian Mitchell and Pat McGlynn) then beckoned and put a temporary damper on the proceedings.
But in 1984 the Rollers regrouped for some recordings in the U.K. and an Irish tour which at one point featured Duncan Faure in the line-up.  After the tour group co-founder and original drummer Derek Longmuir left the band for good.


Around that time it is possible that they also recorded the mysterious "Love in the World"/"It's For You (One on One)" single, previously written about in these pages as The Great Lost Rollers Single, which received a very limited release in Switzerland a year later, and is arguably the rarest Bay City Rollers item ever.  And, "It's For You" very well just may be the last great Rollers song recorded.  Furthermore, it is also rumoured that some recordings from this time were scrapped and re-recorded later as the Japanese "Breakout" and Australian "Breakout '85" albums.  But these rumours remain unconfirmed.
The Rollers' music was now more dance oriented, which shouldn't have surprised anyone since it was now essentially becoming the McKeown and McGlynn show, with the others (Faulkner & Wood, namely) now contributing less and less.

 
 
At any rate, the "Breakout" project came to fruition - and conclusion - in late summer 1985 and was aptly enough followed-up with Japanese and Australian tours - and rather ill-fated at that.  The band imploded in a spectacular fashion during the Australian leg, when band members one by one left the fold like the sinking ship it most certainly was fast becoming.
And then there was that late '90s reunion, but don't get me started on that...

******

South African drummer George Spencer, who played with the Rollers during the mid '80s, was kind enough to share his recollections with me recently via a couple of e-mails.
I was working as a session player in Johannesburg when Woody and Duncan come out to do some shows with their band Karu. Initially they had an American drummer who left, then they used Neil Cloud from Rabbitt, then I got the gig. We, as Karu played a few dates, whilst the single Duncan and Woody wrote 'Where is the music' climbed the SA charts. Woody and Duncan decided to return to the USA and invited me to join them, which I did. We recorded a few demos in LA and played a few shows.
A few months later the Rollers decided to put the band back together for an album, and Irish, Japanese and Australian tour. Woody left Duncan and myself in LA to start tour rehearsals with the Rollers in Scotland. A week later, he called up and asked Duncan to front the band and bring me along on back-up vocals and percussion. During the first meetings in Scotland, Les decided to re-join and Duncan left to pursue a solo career in the USA. I stayed on, toured Ireland as percussionist and swapped to drums with Derek on percussion for a few Woody compositions during the Irish tour. After the Irish tour Derek decided he did not want to tour, so I took over the drumming responsibilities, we returned to Scotland and put in some rehearsal/demo time at Les's home studio, basically writing the Breakout '85 album.
We recorded the Breakout '85 album at Matrix in London (most of the drum parts were sequenced with very little live playing from me). Once the album was completed, tour dates for Japan and Australia were agreed upon. As a South African, politics determined that I could not tour Japan, so I had to hand write out all the drum parts, and fax them to a Japanese drum machine programmer, who together with Pat, Les and Woody created the drum tracks for the Japanese shows.  The band completed their Japanese shows and flew on to Australia. I joined the band in Australia for a few rehearsals ahead of a 13 week Australian tour. Before the end of the tour Eric decided to leave, then so did Les and Pat, leaving Woody, Ian and myself to complete the last few shows.
After the Australian tour I went back to SA to join up with Neill Solomon, I invited Woody and Ian over to SA and we put "The Passengers" together. The Passengers played dates in SA and returned to Scotland for a Scottish tour. after the tour I returned with the band to SA.  At this point Ian decided to stay in the UK, but Woodz came back to SA again and worked with the band and Neill Solomon for a few months before deciding to return to Scotland. I stayed in South Africa and formed another band called "Beat the Clock"....
I don't know anything about the second recording. The Breakout '85 album I know was certainly mostly driven by Les and Pat compositions. I remember Vic Martin (Ed. Eurythmics) was a session man that added some keys.
Bay City Rollers 1985.  Upper row from left to right: Stuart Wood, Les McKeown, Eric Faulkner, George Spencer.  Lower from left to right: Ian Michell, Pat McGlynn.
 
 
Bay City Rollers - Mid '80s Discography:
 
Singles:
 
"Piece of the Action"/"Seen This Movie" (YE-22-V)(Teichiku/Overseas Records, Japan) 1983.
"Love in the World"/"It's For You" (MS 172)(Activ Records, Switzerland) 1985.
"When You Find Out"/"The Whip" (SO7P1067)(London, Polydor K.K., Japan) 1985.
"When You Find Out"/"The Whip" (PDW 0284)(Powderworks, Australia) 1985.
 

 
LP's:
 
"Live in Japan" (UPS-675-6-V)(Teichiku/Overseas Records, Japan) 1983.
"Breakout" (L28P 1218)(London, Polydor K.K., Japan) 1985.
"Breakout '85" (POW 6015)(Powderworks, Australia) 1985.
* Breakout and Breakout '85 differ slightly, both aurally and visually *
 
 
With very special thanks to George Spencer.
 

Saturday, January 23, 2016

Arrows


"Everybody's Talkin'" (Fred Neil), "Without You" (Badfinger), and "I Love Rock & Roll" (Arrows).  These are just few examples of  great songs that should've been hits for the people (in brackets) who wrote and recorded them originally - but weren't.  The history of popular music is littered with them.
And that's were our subjects this time around come in.  Arrows, a three piece mid '70s glam rock act, will forever be linked with a song they themselves never had a hit with (although they certainly did have other hits); namely the classic rock stable "I Love Rock & Roll" - a song that made at least one career (Joan Jett's, in case anyone's in doubt who exactly I'm referring to.  We won't even mention arguably atrocious latter day cover versions such as Britney Spears' and Miley Cyrus').

 
In 1973, glam rock reigned supreme on the British music scene.  Amongst its many hopefuls was Streak - a trio which managed at least one great single, "Bang, Bang Bullet", which later became a "Junkshop glam" classic, before they imploded.
U.S. born guitarist Jake Hooker and English drummer Paul Varley then contacted an old pal of Hooker's from New York, bassist/singer Alan Merrill, son of Jazz singer Helen Merrill, who in 1968 had followed his mother and stepfather Don Brydon to Japan, but Mr. Brydon worked for the UPI News Agency in Tokyo.
 when they relocated to Japan in the early '70s.  While over there Alan became a successful model as well playing and releasing music solo and with the band Vodka Collins.
Alan immediately joined Varley and Hooker in England and collectively they became Arrows.
In 1974 Arrows signed with RAK Records, the home of glam rock giants Suzi Quatro, and MUD, among others.  And the songwriting duo of Mike Chapman and Nicky Chinn just happened to be at the top of their game in 1974, penning hits for Quatro, MUD, The Sweet and others.  They supplied Arrows with their first and biggest hit.
 

 
"Touch Too Much", Arrows' debut single, was classic Chinnichap.  Produced, as was the majority of their output, by RAK boss Mickie Most, it entered the U.K. singles chart in May 1974 peaking at no. 8.  So far, so good.
However, the follow-up, "Toughen Up", another excellent Chinnichap composition, inexplicably failed to make the chart altogether.
 
 

Arrows' next crack at the charts fared somewhat better, in spite of it being probably their weakest single release.  "My Last Night With You", a '50s sounding Rock & Roll ballad-type-of-thing, became the band's second and last hit in early 1975, peaking at number 25.
 
 

Their next single, "Broken Down Heart", although fine on its own merits it was yet another non-original composition which contained the self-penned "I Love Rock & Roll" as its flip-side.  By this point in time the band was understandably becoming increasingly frustrated with the outside material Mickie Most fed them, and demanded the single be reissued with "ILR&R" as the A-side.  Which it was, with little if any immediate fanfare though.  They were only to reap the rewards some years later as it is believed that Joan Jett picked this single up on her first U.K. sojourn with The Runaways in the autumn of 1976.  So, as history would later establish, it really wasn't all in vain.
 


Followed up by another fabulous flop, "Hard Hearted", which went absolutely nowhere, Arrows somehow landed themselves one of the hottest gigs in town...their very own T.V. show. 
You see, The Bay City Rollers were apparently "deserting" their homegrown audience for greener pastures in Japan, the U.S. and Australia, so they really didn't have the time nor need to extend their Granada T.V. hit show "Shang-A-Lang" for another season/series.  So, enter Arrows...
 
 
 
But thus also begins the band's final and most frustrating era.  While being ever so visible daily to the teenagers of Great Britain, Mickie Most and the Arrows management weren't seeing exactly eye to eye.  As a result, RAK didn't release any more Arrows material to (finally) their adoring and awaiting public.  Albeit not before Arrows one and only LP had seen the the light of day. 
"First Hit", produced by Bill Martin and Phil Coulter of BCR/Kenny/Slik-fame, was an overall stylistically diverse and multi-dimensional debut.  A lost gem if you will.  From it, "Once Upon a Time", a big ballad worthy of (well, almost) The Righteous Brothers was culled as a single...
 

 
The Arrows' T.V. show ran for two series in 1976/77, after which the band had pretty much ran out of steam and all went their separate ways.  A second guitarist, Terry Taylor, briefly joined the band.
Sadly, both Paul Varley and Jake Hooker have now left this dimension while Alan Merrill is still musically active and well as far as I know, and carrying the Arrows' torch...


ARROWS Discography

(U.K. – unless otherwise noted) 
 

Singles:
 
Touch Too Much”/”We Can Make it Together” (RAK 171) 1974.

Toughen Up”/”Diesel Locomotive Dancer” (RAK 182) 1974.

My Last Night With You”/”Movin’ Next Door to You” (RAK 189) 1975.

Broken Down Heart”/”I Love Rock & Roll” (RAK 205) 1975.

Hard Hearted”/”My World is Turning on Love” (RAK 218) 1975.

Once Upon a Time”/”The Boogiest Band in Town” (RAK 231) 1976.

 
Album:
 

First Hit” (SRAK 521) 1976.  11 track Martin/Coulter produced L.P.

 
Selected CD Releases:
 

First Hit” W/10 Bonus Tracks (REP 4865) Repertoire Records, 2000.  Germany.

Singles Collection Plus…” (GLAMCD11) 7T’s/Cherry Red, 2002.  A compilation.

Tawny Tracks” (Gel-003) Geltoob Records, 2002.  A prev. unreleased rarities comp.

A’s, B’s & Rarities” (7243 8 75998 2 6) EMI Gold, 2004.  A compilation, but including recently recorded old material as well.

First Hit” W/11 Bonus Tracks (WPCR-16200) Parlophone/Warner Japan, 2015.