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Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Rosetta Stone - Early Years (1977-1979)

The Private Stock Era.

On Monday December 22nd 1975, the Bay City Rollers played the ABC Theatre in Belfast, Northern Ireland, supported by local lads the Young City Stars.
By April 1st 1976 the YCS guitar player, 16 year old Ian Kevin Mitchell, had replaced BCR bassist Alan Longmuir (Rollers guitarist Stuart "Woody" Wood took over Alan's duties on bass), and thus begun Ian's 6 month, near-literal, roller coaster ride as a proper mid-1970s pop superstar.  By autumn '76, however, the ride was over, Ian citing mental and physical exhaustion as the reason for his willingness to return to his relatively calmer, former life as a Young City Stars guitarist.
Formed in their hometown of Downpatrick, a mid-sized town 33 km (21 miles) south of Belfast in County Down, Northern Ireland in 1973, the band first went under the names of Albatross, and later Bang before settling on the Young City Stars - in no doubt as an homage of sorts to their Scottish counterparts.
The band consisted of the three McKee brothers, Damian (Vocals), Terry (Drums), and Colin (Bass), as well as their childhood friend Ian Mitchell (Guitar).  Other members came and went, but this was always the core of the band which locally plied their trade in pubs and clubs which eventually led them to that fateful December night in Belfast when the Rollers came to town.
When Ian left for his Rollers sojourn, his replacement in YCS was Belfast boy Andy LeGear, from the band The Wooden Shoe.
Upon Ian's return to the fold in late 1976 the band became a five-piece (Ian, Andy, Terry, Colin, Damian).
Ian's return also marked the beginning of the band's involvement with Rollers manager Tam Paton, who suggested they pick a new name, which they promptly did with Rosetta Stone (After the memorable B-side to the forgettable Barry Blue 1975 single "If I Show You I Can Dance"; clearly, the boys had little or no knowledge of The Rosetta Stone, an ancient Egyptian artifact), and set out to get them signed to a recording contract.  And in the summer of 1977 that goal was reached as Rosetta Stone signed a worldwide recording deal with Private Stock Records (Then the home of MUD, Frankie Valli, David Soul, and others).
Paton later told this writer that he tried in vain to replace lead singer Damon McKee with future Kajagoogoo pin-up Limahl, but he didn't succeed in this endeavour because the McKee brothers stuck together and protected their own.
In December 1977 Rosetta Stone's debut album "Rock Pictures" appeared in Japan, while the rest of the world had to wait until spring '78.  It had been preceded by a couple of singles, both of which were covers of '60s pop classics.  First came a rather odd version of Cream's "Sunshine of Your Love", and then a spot-on reading of (Via Italy) Amen Corner's "(If Paradise is) Half as Nice".  Both saw some chart action in Japan, where, thanks to Ian's brief plaid past, the band was already huge, as well as in Germany where this T.V. appearance was taped...

Produced by U.K. pop industry veteran Roger Greenaway, "Rock Pictures" is a typical '70s Teen pop fare, consisting mostly of cover versions with a handful of originals thrown in for good measure.
The next time around, however, the band teamed up with another U.K. pop industry veteran - albeit slightly more notorious...although his notoriety hadn't yet reached the heights it later did - namely, Jonathan King.  Although credited only as "J.King" on Rosetta Stone's third single, a cover of Tommy Roe's "Sheila", there can be little doubt as to who the culprit really is.  On a recent CD re-issue of Rosetta Stone's second album a previously unreleased recording of King's very own "Tall Order for a Short Guy" is included as a "hidden" bonus track.  Undoubtedly it originates from the "Sheila" sessions.


But for their aforementioned second - and, as it turned out, their last - album, "Caught in the Act", former Tremeloes member and future Ian Mitchell associate Alan Blakley was behind the controls.  That album was only ever issued in Japan in January 1979 and was preceded by the single "Try it On", a cover of Chinn/Chapman's 1976 flop single for the group Exile (Of later "Kiss You All Over" fame).


An album without any apparent, coherent musical direction to speak of, it can only be assumed it was done in great haste to cash in on what little momentum the band still had in the Far East, and at that, just in time for Ian Mitchell's imminent departure from the band.  Because shortly after its limited release Ian left Rosetta Stone and by mid-year 1979 had formed the Ian Mitchell Band.  There he continued his musical relationship with Alan Blakley. 
In 1999, the "classic" Rosetta Stone line-up came together for the first time in 20 years at a so-called fan fest in Colorado Springs, Colorado.  And, according to the official Rosetta Stone website (where I also got some of the info above), there have been sporadic reunions in recent times. 
But post-Ian Mitchell and post-Private Stock, Rosetta Stone enjoyed their probably most prolific and artistically satisfying period... 

Rosetta Stone - Early Years (1977-1979) Private Stock Discography:


"Rosetta Stone Message Sheet" (1977) Japan-only.  Given away with Japanese teen mag Seventeen.


"Sunshine of Your Love"/"Steel Willie" (1977)
"(If Paradise is) Half As Nice"/"Penny" (1977, Japan)
"(If Paradise is) Half As Nice"/"Drive On" (1978)
"Sheila"/"I Don't Like it" (1978)
"Try it On"/"Gonna Grab it" (1978) No U.K. release.


"Rock Pictures" (Private Stock/Toshiba-EMI, EMS-80970) (1977, Japan)
"Rock Pictures" (Private Stock, PVLP 1031) (1978, U.K.) Slightly different sleeve.
"Rosetta Stone" (Private Stock, PS 7011) (1978, U.S.A.) Same album - diff. title & sleeve.
"Caught in the Act" (Private Stock/Toshiba-EMI, EMS-81155) (1979, Japan)  JPN Only.


"Retrospective Roller: Rosetta Stone 1977-1979" (Wizzard in Vinyl, WIV-034CD) (2005, Japan)  The whole Private Stock output collected on one CD.
"Rock Pictures" (Airmail Recordings Archive, AIRAC-1483) (2008, Japan) (W/3 Bonus Tracks: "Hiding from Love" (1981); "Remember" (1981) and "Debut Message to the Fans" (The 1977 Flexi Disc).
"Caught in the Act" (Airmail Recordings Archive, AIRAC-1484) (2008, Japan) (W/3 Bonus Tracks: "Sheila"; "I Don't Like it", and the previously unissued "Tall Order for a Short Guy") 

(All scans/pix from my private collection)


  1. HI,
    Do you know where I can buy the CDs? Or if you can burn them for me? :D

  2. Hi Glenn,
    They sometimes pop-up on eBay. Sorry mate, I don't do any burning :-)