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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)

Friday, February 15, 2013

Rosetta Stone - Latter Years (1980-1982)

The Post-Private Stock Era.

Singles Discography '80-'82 (Primary releases listed):
"If You Could See Me Now (Loving Arms)"/"Boys in Action"/"It's All Been Done Before" (Ariola, ARO 203.  U.K. 1980)

"I Don't Like School"/"When I Get Back to You" (Ariola 102055-100.  Germany 1980)

"Hiding From Love"/"When You're Standing There" (Limo Records, LIMO 1.  U.K. 1981)
"Remember"/"London Girls" (Limo Records, LIMO 5.  U.K. 1981)
"Goodbye Guitarman"/"When You're Standing There" (King Record Co./Ariola, K075-7019.  Japan 1981).  WAS THERE EVER A U.K. RELEASE FOR THIS ONE?  IF ANYONE KNOWS DROP ME A LINE...AND A SCAN.
"Straight From the Heart"/"Too Bad (You Won't Be Back)" (Sire 929935-7.  U.K. 1982)
"Hiding From Love" - Extended 5 Song EP (Ready Records, ER 021.  Canada 1982)
Tracklisting: "Hiding From Love"/"When I Saw You Standing There"(sic)/"Goodbye Guitarman"/"Remember"/"Too Bad (You Won't Be Back)"
When Ian Mitchell left Rosetta Stone in 1979, after their second album "Caught in the Act" had been issued only in Japan, he was promptly replaced by one Paul Lerwill (AKA "Flash").  Consequently, the band's contract with Private Stock also ran its course.
In early 1980, a new look (schoolboy), a new sound (slightly new wave-ish) and a new label (Ariola) were all premiered on the oddly chosen single "If You Could See Me Now (Loving Arms)", a cover of an early '70s Country & Western song previously recorded by Elvis Presley, Dobie Gray amongst others.  

Next single "I Don't Like School" was the first and only original composition of theirs to be issued as a single A-side.  It's also one of their rawest and almost under-produced pieces of work - as well as one of the lesser known.  It was also their last Ariola release in the U.K. it seems.
Enter Limo Records...and Bryan Adams.  A somewhat softer image was also developed (See top pic).  Furthermore, seasoned pop producer Peter Collins (Alvin Stardust) was roped in for Rosetta Stone's debut 45 on Limo Records (Cat. # LIMO 1, no less), a cover of then virtually unknown Bryan Adams' almost impossibly catchy "Hiding from Love".
Next single "Remember" was another Bryan Adams composition (both "Remember" and "Hiding from Love" had originally appeared on Adams' first self titled solo album in 1980), and so was its B-side "London Girls", which seems to have been penned exclusively with Rosetta Stone in mind.

However commercially viable these singles sounded, they were all dead in the water chartwise.  And so, it seems, was Limo Records (Also, equally briefly, the home of Atack - Brothers Tim and Keith Atack formerly of Child).
So re-enter Ariola.  Rosetta Stone's next single "Goodbye Guitarman" seems to have been issued only in certain European territories (Holland, Germany) as well as in Japan, and then only backed up with recycled B-sides from their Limo Records era.  Nonetheless, it's an interesting and entertaining revamp of Cherrie Vangelder-Smith's 1973 Nederglam classic...

Naively enough (or perhaps not) I, for the longest time, always thought this was Rosetta Stone's big kiss-off to Ian Mitchell.  With the "Big smoke city" reference in particular.  However, draw your own conclusions.
But, ironically enough, this was actually the last thing they ever did with Ian's replacement, guitarist Paul Lerwill. 
Poor old Paul, he apparently became so traumatized after his two year stint with Rosetta Stone that in order to distance himself from this period in his life he reappeared as Gregory Gray in the early '80s with indie band Perfect Crime (they supported both O.M.D. and U2 at one time or another) before entering into a largely unsuccessful '80s and '90s solo career later on...
Several years ago I can recall reading somewhere on the almighty www quotes from Paul/Gregory about his time with Rosetta Stone.  How he "hardly knew how to play the guitar (at the time)" and, afterwards, how he tried to distance himself from it 'cause he had thought it was "Naff".  His words, not mine.
Lerwill's/Gray's replacement Enda Walsh (later an associate of Van Morrison amongst others) entered the picture just in time for Rosetta Stone's swansong of a single, Bryan Adams' "Straight from the Heart" (1982).  Apparently Adams wrote the song in his teens.  The original version of it was recorded in 1980 by raspy-voiced Canadian singer Ian Lloyd (Ex-Stories).  The Rosetta Stone version appeared on Sire Records world wide, and it was issued in November 1982.  A mere month later Adams issued his own version of the song as a single and it duly became his first worldwide bona fide hit, reaching the U.S. Top 10 in the process.  Tough luck, guys...
And that was it, I think, for Rosetta Stone.  But if anyone, anywhere, knows otherwise, feel free to leave a comment and/or drop me a line.  Would love to hear from band members, in particular, or anyone associated with them.
(All featured scans are from my private collection)