This interview was conducted with Andy Ellison, John's Children lead singer and living legend, in September 2000 via e-mail. Drummer Chris Townson also butts in on the odd occasion.
Interview by Mikko Kapanen
Did you have any musical interests before joining the band since your singing sounds very confident on The Silence's demos from 1965 (which were recorded quite shortly after you became the lead singer)?
Apparently I used to sing very loudly from my pram, aged two, in Finchley High road. Until a canopy mysteriously fell on my head outside the local butchers shop. When I was a little older I would practice to Sam Cooke and Billy Fury records, on my Dansette record player, well not actually on top of it, but bouncing on the sofa. My parents sent me off to a boarding school in Devon. Here I would frighten the horse's, cows and chickens but not the pigs with my Eddie Cochran and Elvis impersinations. When I persuaded most of the school to run away, one morning at break time (taking a good supply of live chickens in sacks for food), and live on Exmoor for two days, before finally being caught by police helicoptors. I was expelled and sent to Box Hill Outward Bound School in Surrey. Yes it was here on this very spot that I met...Chris Townson, who had recently been expelled from some other boarding school. We bounded outward together. And it was also here on this spot that we wrote our first song, Chris playing an old ukelele and me annoying the rest of the dormatory with our first masterpiece "Hey little Anaconda". (Going to try and put it on the new album, bet ya'll can't wait?)
I believe a lot of people would like to know who were some of the band's initial influences or inspirations, apart from the obvious comparisons like The Who... And what did you guys think about your contemporaries (like The Creation, The Game, The Action...) at the time? Was there any affinity between you and other groups that are now thought to represent a similar style? Did you perhaps know some of the bands personally (I know The Action played at your club)...?
The manic drum solos, guitar feedback and the occasional mad chanting that was recorded on songs like "You're A Nothing", "Perfumed Garden Of Gulliver Smith", "Why Do You Lie", "Daddy Rolling Stone" and now "Train In My Head" have become sort of a trademark John's Children sound. Obviously those parts are the closest you ever came to the sound of your chaotic live shows in the recording studio? How did you come up with the idea of all that?
ANDY: Fuck knows, it just happened.
CHRIS: What Andy is trying to communicate is that intrinsically, those parts which represent that which is devient, deconstructed and yet a psychodynamicly inherant dogma (or is it dog muck) we will never know.
JANINE TOWNSON of violin fame also butts in but only the once: No, no, no this is an unfinished sentance, however I have no more to add.
Ok stop this!!... the interview has already gone silly and it's only question 3.
A lot has been written and said about some of your legendary tours (mostly the one with The Who, obviously)... For a change, are there any interesting or funny stories that might not have been publicly told yet about your early tour supporting the Small Faces? Or any other tours for that matter?
Possibly...Ok, alright, here's one of many. The Welsh mountain story ... We were on our way to Rhyl Pier, North Wales, to play with the Small Faces, and got lost in the Snowdownia National Park. We stopped on a mountain road in the middle of nowhere, sorrounded only by goats and sheep, and thought we might wake them up a bit. Chris got his entire kit out, and finally his drums, and set them up just as if he was playing on stage. You've never heard anything like it, the side of the mountain and the valley below echoed to the sound of a thunderous CT drum solo. Panic stricken goats and sheep scattered everywhere, one jumped in the back of the Transit van by mistake. We took it took to see the Small Faces.
Sheep was not impressed, and later took us into the back of the van to see the Small Feaces. NOTE: Animal lovers everywhere, have no fears, we took the sheep back safely ... to Leatherhead and it lived happily with John for some time (ooops!)
Do you have any theory about why bands such as yourselves and most notably The Creation seemed to meet with a lot more success in mainland Europe (particularly Germany) than in the UK?
I sink viz uss... it voss za sielk heils vot done it... geezer.... As far as the the Creation are concerned, well it must have been the trousers.
Who are some of your favourite bands and artists these days? Do you still listen to stuff from the '60s? What about newer bands, how do you feel about the music scene of the last ten years or so?
Don't listen much to 60's stuff these days, although I have been playing Abbey Road recently. The music scene is pretty healthy at the moment, bands like Fun loving criminals, The Wannadies, Foo Fighters, Manson, Coldcut, Coldplay, Fat boy slim, Moby, Robbie Williams, Babybird, Prodigy, Leftfield, Embrace, Chicane, Steps. Herd of Herring.
What are your recollections from the "14 Hour Technicolor Dream" show in 1967? You guys also played a set at the "Recurring Technicolor Dream" in 1998, how was that?
They very unwisely decided not to put us on one of the many stages, and told us to play in the middle of the arena under one of the giant pillars, amidst the audience... Right... so no songs, just horrendous feedback.
Marc walked around with the guitar on his head, Chris hit everything in sight including the bemused punters, and I ripped open ten or so feather pillows and started a fight with John. Apparently we were having "A Happening!?" according to one of the reports. Whatever the fuck that is, did we invent it? As we watched the news on television about the show at Alexandra Palace the next day, it wasn't hard to notice that all the bands being interveiwed were covered in feathers, even the reporter was trying to blow one off the end of his nose. And so to the the ICA 30 years later... I think we only managed to do about five or six songs before they unplugged us. Only because they put us on too late, apparently it was a great set, although just as I had done at Alexandra Palace, I threw feathers over everybody , which didn't go down very well with the management. Boz was on tour with Morrisey, so I played guitar, it was just the three of us. Martin, bass, (his first initiation into the wonderful world that is JC). Chris, drums and meeself.
How did you feel about the Orgasm album coming out in 1970 when the band had already broken up and public interest in the band was probably (temporarily) pretty low...?
Can't remember thinking about it
The best way to hear John's Children music now is obviously the NMC label CD's (or Get Back vinyls) Smashed Blocked! and Jagged Time Lapse. There is still some material that wasn't included on these two volumes, like The Silence demos, even more alternative versions of John's Children tunes and some of your solo stuff. Any chance of a third CD coming out at some point?
Dunno mate, but most probably yes.
How did the '90s reunion of the band come about; whose initial idea was it? Did you approach either of the original members about it? Boz Boorer has apparently become a rather important part of the "new" band, is he possibly more in tune with the "John's Children spirit" than Geoff for example ever was?
Boz is more in tune with the spirit of JC than even Marc was. I was in my local newspaper shop one day...(lets go back ...go back.... go back.) when I was approached by this cool looking rockabilly type guy, who said 'You used to be in my favourite band!'. 'Oh yes' I said, 'which one was that?', having been in three. 'John's Children' he replied, shaking me by the hand, 'I'm Boz, fancy doing some gigs? I'll play guitar, I know all the songs'. It was at one point after a few years that we thought we should maybe give John a chance on bass. Up until then he had been dead against the band reforming, as he now had a problem with the lirics, being a born again Christian, and wanted to change the words. Anyway we had this gig at the Borderline coming up so we phoned him, and surprisingly he came along to rehearse. It wasn't long before we realised the error of our ways, his bass playing got steadilly worse, and at one point Boz went over and placed John's finger on the correct fret, then walked back in silence. By the end we were having to change the song to fit his bass pattern. It was getting too silly. Boz held his head in his hands and walked out of the studio. Later in the pub, after prayers, John said to Boz 'So ... are you in the band?' Boz fell on the floor and crawled under the pool table. We had a gig in two days, so we got Johnny Bridgewood from Morrissey's band back to help us out. Chris did once do a rehearsal with John and Geoff Mclleland, at John's request . I declined this fabulous offer. Apparently...and this is how bad it can get...John, who can't play guitar let alone bass, took over from Geoff on guitar at one point, and... it sounded better!?!? Chris told me later that he was praying that no one had recognised him on the way in, or see him from any of the ajoining studios, as it was the most embarrassing sound he had ever heard.
You recorded a fantastic new CD in 1999. How did it feel to be working in the studio again with Chris as John's Children after all this time? Any plans to re-record more of the old stuff (you did a brilliant job with "Sara Crazy Child")...?
Obviously it was a real pain in the arse, having to put up with Chris in the studio again, but I managed it. No more plans to re-record old stuff, sorry! we are getting a little fed up with doing that, infact we are about to form a new band. (shit... just what the world needs now....more about that later, but not in this interview)
What about new songs then? The two new tracks on the new CD were surprisingly good! There has been talk of an album entitled Bonfire At Baxters (note: this was a working title at the time, the album was eventually released as Black & White in 2011), is it true that you're working on an album?
Who told you that?.... Don't be stupid we all died years ago.
Given the chance, what would you change about the band's history?
ANDY: 4.17 pm, tuesday november the 3rd 1979 , oh no....or was it a thursday...oh fuck it seems such a long time ago....yes....YES IT WAS TUESDAY! Actually come to think of it I would have called it Andy's Children.
CHRIS: Nay , t'would be Chris's Brethren.
MOOD... oh sorry she comes later: I would have.
PAGE 5.. things are not going as well as expected.
There must have been a time following the group's demise that you thought John's Children would be forgotten forever...? When did you start noticing a renewed interest in the "legacy" of the band and how did you feel about it? These days using the term "cult following" wouldn't be very out of place...
Listen matey, I was a complete cult from the moment the canopy fell on my head.
The people who are interested in the band's history and music could be roughly divided into three groups; the '60s fans, the Marc Bolan fans, and the punk/Radio Stars fans. Is there any preference in what you'd like the band to be remembered for or do you feel comfortable with all variations?
Withall, you'll always find me withalling when I'm comfortable. Sorry could you repeat that question... due to a large chemical intake...
What are your most and least favourite John's Children tunes to play and to hear?
Desdemona and Desdemona
Do there exist any live recordings or film material of John's Children's shows from the '60s? If so, are there any plans to release any of it?
Apparently we were filmed at the Alexandra Palace 14 Hour... Oh Thingy...sorry I got bored with typing then, ... By Pete Townshend, who has the film locked up in a disused church somewhere in Fulham, good luck to him, if he finds it, poor sod. No live recordings have yet surfaced, which is possibly a blessing to mankind.
Some of your songs had rather tricky time signatures, I for one didn't quite understand how you keep "Not The Sort Of Girl" from falling apart until I read it somewhere that it's in 5/4 time... Was it ever difficult for you to keep in time on that type of songs?
Believe it or not, behind the chaotic, crazy facade that is JC, lurks a quite accomplished set of musicians, it's just that we have this overpowering urge to break everything down and deconstruct it all.... fuck it up basically, on stage and in the studio. As for the 5/4 time... Actually no it wasn't hard, and I dont think any body has attempted it since... and why on earth should they??
While being interviewed for the BBC broadcast that can be heard on the Smashed Blocked! album, John Hewlett talked about an album that the band had been recording "for the past month or so". Why did this planned second attempt at an album never materialise? Which songs were lined up for inclusion?
The second Album following 'Orgasm', was going to be titled 'JC, The Second Coming' (Geddit). Some years later to be used by the Stone Roses...Bastards!! Midsummer Night was ready for inclusion, other songs, only rehearsed were Jasper C Debussey, Cat Black, The Lilac Hand Of Menthol Dan, Third Degree, Its Been A Long Time and Hot Rod Mama.
How come there are so many different versions and takes of many John's Children songs? You recorded mostly at Advision studios, what were your sessions usually like - describe a typical John's Children recording session?
Nice... No actually, Simon (Napier- Bell, 60's musical guru and our manager) would book us in at Advision or in this typical case, Spot Studios in south Molton St, where Cream were also recording. Then after Chris had lent around the door and shouted obscenities at Ginger Baker, we would all go out to lunch in some expensive restaurant in Soho. Marc would carry on drinking bottles of red wine, and we would fall back in to the studio at about 4pm. Chris would then take handfulls of blues to get himself straight, and we were off. Experimentation was the name of the game. Marc with his home made feed back screens, breaking plates and bottles, banging the Jordon Amps against the wall and then fighting in the studio, especially Chris and Marc (not quite sure why. Chris was always punching Marc). After about an hour Simon would casually say over studio intercom, 'that's great, why don't you all go over to the pub across the road for a drink'. While we were there, Simon would chop it up, snort it, then chop up the recording and reassemble it in a completely new order. Later after taking me out to the Lotus House in Edgware Road, (where we would drink copious amounts of champagne and brandy and throw things at the Chinese waitors who just smiled politely). I would return with Simon to the studio, to put down the lead vocals on verses and chorus's that had mysteriously changed position. We would then fall about laughing and go off to the Speakeasy to join the others and re-do the whole thing the next day. Infact I don't remember that much about recording, just eating and drinking and clubbing and fucking. Fuck knows how we ever recorded anyhthing.
Judging from Chris' guitar playing on "Arthur Green" he was probably in fact the best guitarist in the group - legend has it that Chris even had to tune Marc's guitar when he wasn't around. Even though you guys usually give the impression that the music was always secondary to you, it would seem that to some extent Chris was actually the driving force, or "musical director" of the band. What do you think of this theory?
Don't be stupid it was me!!...Ouch!! ... fuck off Chris!!
How did you feel about Marc re-recording some of his John's Children material with Tyrannosaurus Rex, i.e. "Mustang Ford" and "Hot Rod Mama"?
CHRIS: Did Marc write those songs!!... I thought it was me!!
ANDY: When JC split up eventually, having played the Star Club Hamburg, replacing the Bee Gees, who were ill... bless em...with Chris Covill our roadie on drums (never played them before) and Chris Townson on guitar, and well ...Say no more. I went off to the South of France for a while and had no idea what the fuck was going on back home. It came as a great surprise to me some time later, when I heard Marc singing a John's Children song on a radio in a bar in St Rapheal.
Can you tell us how on earth it was possible that you used to have rockers as your bodyguards, instead of a scooter escort for instance?! How did your mod following react to that?
ANDY: I spoke briefly with our Mood Follwing and she was fine about it.
CHRIS: Mikko!! I didn't know you knew Mood!! See also question 13. Mood is philosophical.
You finally got to play in America in 1999! How were you received, was the audience familiar with the band? What about other recent live shows - I would have imagined that you'd concentrate on the music a bit more these days as opposed to all the chaos of the '60s shows but from what I hear this hasn't exactly been the case?
CHRIS: We were received very well. However the audience at the San Diego gig were a little too familiar I thought, after all, we hadn't really been properly introduced!!
ANDY: Chaos reigns supreme.
In recent years there has also been a lot of renewed interest in your other bands Jet and Radio Stars whose music has also been reissued on CD's. If you had to decide, which band/era of your musical career do you like best yourself?
Oh God...ysgdgvcblsudywe90w2-2eoudhcxsjxkhdoiszzzzzzzzzzzz Sorry my mind went then. I'd have to say I had some really crazy experiances with Martin, Ian and Steve (Panty) in Radio Stars, too many stories to recount. But then again Jet was the funniest period. But then again, again JC, well... thats why it's a legend.
Since this interview will be exclusive to the John's Children website, let's bring up the subject of the Internet for one question... How much of an e-mailer and web surfer are you? Can you maybe tip us off to any of your favourite web sites?
Thank you very much for your time, Andy! Any last comments you wish to say to the web site visitors?
Exclusive Martin Gordon interview
This interview was conducted with Martin Gordon (Jet/Radio Stars/reunited John's Children bass player) in August 2000 via e-mail.
Interview by Mikko Kapanen
In John's Children biographies and articles your existence always starts at being the bass player with Sparks. Can you tell us a bit about what you were doing before you were in that band?
Before Sparks, or BS as we say in the trade, I was doing various odd things ranging from bluffing my way as a technical author, where I wrote instruction manuals about how to prevent your oil tanker blowing up at inoportune moments (my speciality was Inert Gas Systems, as I recall; the daughter of the owner of the company fancied me, so that rather explains that one). I also worked in a car repair garage, where I was sacked after two days for setting fire to a customer's car with a blowtorch, evidently not what they required. I had to face it - I just didn't have what it took to ascend the greasy pole of automotive maintenance. And so I decided to join a group, any old group would do, it was better than inert gas. Or so I thought at the time. I auditioned for Supertramp (in a dingy house in Earls Court), Roxy Music (in a dingy basement in Holland Park) and Sparks (bucking the trend with a rather swish cricket club in Barnet). The first offer I got was from Sparks. I had my own local band who played what we thought was pop music - saxophone, bass and drums, no vocalist, so I daresay that it wasn't pop music at all. But we thought it was, that was the point.
Were you aware of John's Children when they were originally together in 1966/'67? If not, when did you first hear about them?
I have a vague idea that when I was at school in those times, I remember hearing the name, when the 'big boys' (ooh err missus) would bring records in to show off their mature status. Although leading such a sheltered early life as mine (no TV, no music radio, no pop records, due to parental sanction), I existed in a kind of pop-cultural wasteland. And then Bolan threw some retrospective light on JC due to his later success. When the Sparks thing happened in the 70s, I discovered more about JC through Hewlett and Chris, who I also met at that time and got along well with. Chris played on a couple of the Sparks drum auditions - why he wasn't asked to join I'm not sure. Probably Hewlett knew that he wouldn't put up with much bullshit - he was rather direct in those days, and there was quite a lot of bullshit to put up with...
Were you ever into the music of that period, such as The Who, The Creation, etc.? Who were some of your personal influences or inspirations?
I used to go and see the Who regularly and once managed to catch a piece of Townshend's smashed SG guitar as it flew off the stage (at Dunstable Civic Hall). Chris wasn't playing drums though. My friends who were a bit older were into the post-mod thing - I think I liked weird pop, Todd Rundgren et al. And still do, of course. I do remember hearing the Nice at school, with a completely outrageous guitar solo from Davey (as I later discovered). I was at Chris's house later (many years later, actually) and Davey showed me a royalty cheque he'd got for Nice recordings. I was dead impressed to be in such exalted company. Then he fell over.
The "JC story" gets a bit confusing around the time the band originally split up. Can you tell us a bit about how you hooked up with Chris and Andy in the first place?
I enter the picture in 1973. Hewlett managed Jook as well as Sparks. When he decided to move a couple of players from division 2 (Jook) up to division 1 (Sparks), I found myself out of a job (1974). Chris called me up one day shortly after the beginning of the PS phase and we met for a chat. Hewlett's idea was to keep Jook going with me as bassist, but it never was seriously considered by anyone, least of all by me. Chris said he had this friend who could sing a bit... one Andy Elephant. We met in a pub (nothing's changed there, then). Andy turned up with a green builder's anorak and a long trunk... But we booked a rehearsal session and obviously everything seemed to work out. Then Chris's drums were stolen from the rehearsal room, which didn't put us off, and we rehearsed for a while as a trio, added a guitar, added another guitar, narrowly failed to avoid having keyboards.
As soon as Jet got together, you became the main songwriter. How did you assume that role?
That's what I did, you see, play bass and write songs. Nobody else was going to play bass, were they, if I was the bass player. Course not, wouldn't make sense at all, one of us would have been completely redundant. Similarly, nobody else seemed to have any material and I did. Except for Davey O'List, who had a few rather bonkers psychedelic things - a couple of them are on the Nothing To Do With Us/Jet compilation. He was a great, not to say fantastic, guitar player, but his skills as a songwriter were not so remarkable. Well, it's a common thing... So I presented my tunes and we recorded them. Actually I'm not a big fan of democracy in this area, having listened to too many musical camels which began life as horses. Much better to have one vision right or wrong than a round-the-table compromise that doesn't offend anybody but which satisfies no one. Most of my favourite records are by artists who, in this way, do what they're good at; you know, the good guitarist plays guitar, the good singer sings and the good writer writes. Let's face it, the Beatles got rid of the Harrisongs, didn't they... Chris and Andy came up with the words to Whangdepootenawah, and I sorted out a jolly little tune for it. We played it on the recent tour and I think I'm not overstating the case if I say that it could well give flash-in-the-pan ballads like Stairway To Heaven and My Way a good run for their money.
Jet did a version of "Desdemona" as well... How did that come about? Did you ever play that one live?
We played it often - fast, slow, loud, er... not so loud. It was an excuse to get Davey to do what he could do best, to wig out a bit. I can't remember exactly who suggested it - something from the collective unconcious, maybe. We used to rehearse in Chelsea - whenever we came back pissed from the Roebuck pub at lunchtime, first we would do 'tuning up', a great game which lasted for hours sometimes, then we'd do Desdemona, then we'd practise smashing the equipment up, then it would be time for the pub again. Ian was always better at tuning than Davey. He could do it, I mean. Davey would assault the tremelo arm, in the name of art, and of course it would sound great for the first song but then the whole guitar would be about a fourth flat to everybody else. Well, actually it would be a minor third flat to the keyboards, they had their own tuning issue going on. Davey would then peer in baffled astonishment at the guitar neck, as though there was some dreadful mechanical problem that had suddenly developed which he could actually see. I looked at the back of his guitar one day to see that he had taken off three of the five springs that were supposed to help the thing stay in tune, but it didn't help. 'They're for the tremelo arm', he said plaintively, 'to make it work'. It was time for another Special Brew.
In hindsight, Jet seems a bit like a transitional period between John's Children and Radio Stars because the group didn't last very long. What are your best memories from the Jet days?
Chris once said that his best memory of Jet was the free sandwiches in the studio. Indeed..... My best memory is falling into the River Thames while Chris and the others were trying to help me back on board my boat after a long night out. Well, the boat where I lived, I should say. So, I can say that my best memory of Jet is falling face first into a pile of stinking shit. Everything else was much less fun.
Actually Chris and I were arrested by Her Majesty's Polite Farce for uprooting a flower bed and attempting to carry it off in a couple of plastic carrier bags. They were not amused and locked us up for the evening. Chris's (broken) leg was in plaster, and he kept them very amused with his drunken shouts of 'Assault a cripple, would you, you bastards? Police brutality!' and such like. We had a warm friendly evening with the fuzz, sitting around with hot tea exchanging funny stories and life philosophy, and we came up before the beak on the morrow. We told him that he'd got us bang to rights, no worries, we put our hands up to this one squire but that we felt society was to blame. He didn't agree and sentenced us to life imprisonment followed by deportation to Barnet. (OK, it cost us a fiver. Each, though).
Although Jet "transformed" into Radio Stars quite naturally (without a decision to quit and put together a new group), the style of music changed a bit. Why's that?
Well, actually we did stop playing together. I joined a group called Neo, yet another Hewlett-masterminded project for Island Records. Andy came down one day to see how it would be for him as a singer, but the resident songwriter also had designs in this area and was a bit nervous about it (see answer to question 5, if you ask me). Also his trunk was a bit on the small side, and you now how touchy our American cousins can be..... Andy was quite keen to be involved, he told me at the time. Andy and I kept in touch anyway, and when I got a small budget to record some demos, I invited him along, and also Jet's last guitarist Ian Macleod. Chris had told us emphatically that he was out of the picture by this time. That line-up became the first Radio Stars, later. In terms of changed musical approach, it was just the effect of listening to what was going on around me, getting better at writing and at achieving what I wanted, and my own tastes changing a bit, as they do when you grow up (it happens to some people, anyway).
Andy has always been quite a wild performer, and not least so during the Radio Stars days. Didn't you ever think he was going to seriously hurt himself on stage some day?!
Frequently. And he did - he ended up in hospital a few times, with broken appendages. Once he was injected by a member of the audience and once, thanks to him, the roof fell down on top of us as we were playing. Another time he fell off a nun, and that was nearly fatal, not least for the nun. And then there was that time with the schoolteacher in Paris...... but I digress.
Jet and Radio Stars material has been reissued on CD during the last couple of years. Are you still happy with those records?
The first Radio Stars album I like a lot, the second has nice parts to it although the plot had been lost slightly, the Somewhere... compilation (www.acerecords.co.uk) is most enjoyable, and Jet is certainly of historical interest. Although saying that, it's curious that the few Jet tunes we recorded for this new Herring CD sound fabulous, even though I say so myself.
The Jet reissue in particular was a pretty cool package. What was it like going through all those old demos and things again...?
A strange exercise - I stopped being judgemental and just worked on the stuff as best I could from an objective point of view. Some of the stuff is very funny, especially the second CD. And the live stuff is hysterical, although unintentionally so. When my girlfriend heard some of my backing vocals on the live stuff, and noticed me cringing, she said 'It's OK, people will understand it's meant to be a joke'. It wasn't meant to be a joke, I shouted as I smashed her to the floor. That was one difference between Jet and Radio Stars, actually - Jet was a bit serious. Not that you can tell by listening to the record but it was supposed to be.
When you're working with artefacts that comes from another time, it's a strange feeling to look back and see how you worked or reacted; it's like climbing into a time machine. One thing that I absolutely could not listen too was a live cassette that was running in the studio while we were working with Roy Thomas Baker. It's just recordings of chat - intergroup banter, directions from RTB, arguments, me behaving like a twit, normal stuff but for me quite unbearable to hear generally awful I was. So I didn't. The original idea was to use pieces of it on the CD, for the Nothing.... release, but it was too appalling to even listen to - when I made a DAT copy of the cassette, I had to turn the monitors off.
As you were the main songwriter in both Jet and Radio Stars, which songs do you hold dearest?
Beast Of Barnsley, Dirty Pictures, Accountancy Blues, It's All Over (edited), Sex In Chains, No Russians, Cover Girl, Don't Cry Joe, Nervous Wreck. Some of them play with the song format, others just have nice tunes and the odd funny lyric.
You have also worked as a record producer. I understand you've been involved with world music quite a bit?
Yup, that's one of the things that keeps me occupied. Latest and best productions are Smart Boys by Mustapha Tettey Addy (www.weltwunder.com), Bad Blood & Blasphemy by the Tiger Lillies (www.tigerlillies.com) and Surela by Metin & Kemal Kahrman (www.sesplak.com but it's Turkish). I drag my equipment to wherever the band is, we record and I bring it home and finish it off here in Berlin. In the above cases it was Accra, my bedroom and Istanbul. I now have a G4 Mac-equipped studio here and a collection of ADATs that travel with me.
The thing that attracts me to 'world music' - silly term - is that there are performances in there, it's not only about how well someone can programme his (or her, I should say) sequencer or how many CD-ROM sound libraries he (or she - the thing about being even-handed is it takes up so much bloody time and plays havoc with yer syntax) can afford. So the best thing for me, and some of my favourite production are like this, is where you have a combination of humanity (people, I mean) and technology - one brings out the best in the other, for me.
In the '90s you got together with Andy and Chris again to play some John's Children reunion gigs. How did that come about and how did it feel to play with them after a long time...?
Actually it was tried once before, in the mid seventies I suppose, when Hewlett proposed a reformed JC with me instead of him (he didn't get where he is today without proposing etc. etc.), Adrian Fisher and Trevor White, both being guitarists from Sparks, and Andy and Chris. We rehearsed a few times but it didn't seem to be a serious proposition. So then many years after Radio Stars, or my Radio Stars anyway, I saw in Time Out, the London listings magazine, that there was some kind of Bolan convention gig going on. Bugger me if I didn't find Andy and Chris, and a stash of other people that I knew, performing John's Adults Unplugged. We kept in touch, met in various pubs and then Andy asked if I'd like to do a couple of gigs with them. Which I did (Notre Dame and the ICA), the Notre Dame gig being my last night as a UK resident, so that was a nice way to go out. Andy kindly drove me and my 25 cases of stuff to the airport the following day, and it all fell down the stairs and broke. Nice thought, anyway. Then later the Grand San Diego Fiasco Festival wanted to book us for threepence and a kiss, so I went to the UK to rehearse and then we all starved to death in San Diego for ten days. It was great, it must be said, not least because we all had known each other for twenty five years by this point. Chris's false teeth (alright, tooth) fell out on stage, as we all know, and entered the JC Mythology (in this household anyway). (Yep, same here! Anyone who hasn't yet purchased the Jet CD, there's more about this essential chapter of the JC mythology in the liner notes - worth the price of the CD alone! -Mikko)
Why were you not on the "new" John's Children CD from 1999? How do you like the record?
Interesting, especially the flower arranging and wigs. I was probably in Pakistan or Guatemala or Turkey or Ghana, if it was 99. I don't think there is a bass player on it, actually.
What are your most and least favourite John's Children tunes to play and to hear?
My least favourite to play used to be Perfumed Garden, but it's now my favourite to listen to because it's (the new version, anyway) so great. Can't work it out, meself. Any list of other old unfavourites must give an honourable mention to This Is Your Wife. It's great fun playing It's Been A Long Time and Jagged Time Lapse (new version). Hippy Gumbo is a bit baffling sometimes, especially the bit where it goes from A minor to, er...., A minor. My thoughts tend to wander a bit at this time. Did I feed the cat, did I turn the gas off, is there life after death, when does the bar close, this sort of existential grappling.
There's a live CD coming out from the John's Children/Jet/Radio Stars mini tour called Music For The Herd Of Herring. Why is it called that?
Have you written any new material together with Andy and/or Chris, to be used on a possible John's Children project in the future? There has been talk of an album called Bonfire At Baxters, what's the deal with that? Any other projects in the works?
Well - we threw in a new tune for the Nothing... tour but then we threw it out again, cos life's too short sometimes. I'd love to do a proper studio recording of the band as it is today - I now have the recording and production skills that I hadn't mastered in the early days and we could do something quite special, even though Chris hates studio recordings. But his drums on Herring sound 'just as they should have before', he says, so maybe there will be some opportunity... Bonfire At Baxters is an old album by Jefferson Airplane, is it not, which came out in 1967 if my memory serves. Not quite sure how this fits into the general scheme of things...
What type of music do you listen to these days? What do you think of the rock music scene of the past decade or so?
Last few CDs I bought: ConstruKction Of Light by King Crimson (released 2000), Turn It Over by Tony Williams Lifetime (rel. 1971), Monkjack by Jack Bruce (1995), It's A Curious Life by Anthony Hindson (1999), The Shape Of Jazz To Come by Ornette Coleman (1959), Music For Hangovers by Cheap Trick (1999) and With a Twist by Todd Rundgren (1997). (Plus a lot of 'world music', of course, but I get all that free). I just love neurosis these days, especially quality neurosis with great singing, and these CDs all deal with aspects of the condition. OK, Ornette Coleman wasn't such a great singer, but I daresay you take the point.
I don't find there is an enormous quantity of groovy music being created at present - I spent a long time working with vocalists and machines (Boy George, George Michael, Sonique, Primal Scream remixes, S'Express) and I've had enough of that thank you - I like stuff that's decently composed and structured (lyrically as well as musically) and that has some humanity about it. And possibly a bit of wit, if it's not too much to ask. Well, that narrows the field down by about 95%.
Since this interview will be exclusive to the John's Children website, let's bring up the subject of the Internet for one question... How much of an e-mailer and web surfer are you? Can you maybe tip us off to any of your favourite web sites?
I spend a lot of time time hunched over a tiny screen swearing at the slowness of the download and calculating my phone bills, so yes, I do it, it's essential to my work these days. I tend not to surf around so much but I check into these two sites to see what's happening:
Tiger Lillies at tigerlillies.com
Fan Mael at fanmael.net
Plus there's a very well written magazine at www.furious.com/perfect called something like Perfect Sound Forever, which has some great JC stuff as well as other ramblings.
Thank you very much for your time, Martin! Any last comments you wish to say to the web site visitors?
Ah yes, the and-finally-any-funny-stories question so beloved of journalists . Actually I think it's great that anybody is interested in anything at all today, given that so much is just dumped on yer plate pre-digested, interaction-free, no thought neccessary. It's great that there are people who are discerning and who express preferences, like the geezers who look at your site. Keep it up, as the actress said to the bishop.
I met the enigmatic Andy Ellison for afternoon drinks in Soho. Betraying his previous hedonistic lifestyle, he’s fit, tanned with blonde spiky hair and a cheeky smile. He still looks capable of jumping up and hanging from the lights without any effort or warning, but he’s softly spoken and well-mannered and there wasn’t a hint of a feather pillow. We chatted about his teenage years, memories as lead singer and songwriter with the Silence, John’s Children, Jet and Radio Stars, wild adventures and Hells Angels. We discussed Simon Napier-Bell, The Who, fights, banned records, white clothes and his solo career. And we talked about Marc Bolan and the fondness that still remains.
Let’s begin by chatting about your formative years. I was born in Hammersmith but we moved to Finchley. I was a hyper-active kid, and driving both my parents up the wall, so they thought I should be in an environment where I could learn some control. Eventually, I was taken out of a secondary modern school at fourteen. I was sent to a boarding school in Devon, it housed forty other uncontrollable boys. It was quite a shock to the system but I had a fantastic time, although I was still pretty rebellious. After two years, I managed to get the school closed down by getting all the boys to run away one morning break-time (except for two kids in the sick bay) and we camped out in a forest on Exmoor for a few days where we lived off chickens which we stole from a nearby farming school and put in sacks. We made makeshift tents out of bracken, killed the hens, plucked them and cooked them on makeshift spits. By the second day, we were like something from Lord of the Rings. This was a great adventure until we were found by a police helicopter. The story even appeared on the front page of the Telegraph, luckily my parents read the Daily Express. I was immediately expelled but the school soon closed down as the kids were too much to handle. I was moved to Box Hill Outward Bound School in Surrey which was an expensive public school, so the move was financed by my grandmother and a local government bursary, I was sixteen and still out of control.
How did you and Chris Townson become friends? I’d seen Chris around Box Hill School but didn’t meet him until a few months later. I was pretty good at art, so the headmaster decided I should paint the backdrop for a school play and Chris was sent to do the same task after deliberately treading on his National Health specs to get out of lessons. We hit it off and got more boisterous as we chucked paint at each other and all over the screen. The headmaster returned and said it was the best backdrop the school ever had! Chris and I struck up a good friendship after that. We used to sit in the rooms at the top of the school and Chris would play ukulele while I sang and played harmonica. In fact, me and Chris started out playing folk music and decided we were beatniks. We spent the summer hols on a road trip around the South of England, Jack Kerouac style! We convinced people on the way to give up secure jobs and join us on our travels, but me and Chris would sneak off and eat properly in cafes while they scavenged for food. We left them behind as we grew tired of it, so I don’t know what ever happened to them after we got the train home!
How did you both get involved with a band after leaving school? We left school in 1963 and Chris went on to art school and I worked as a photographer’s assistant at Rome Studios in Soho. Chris would sometimes turn up with a girl and they’d smoke joints while trying to entice me off work but I was actually quite restrained. I supplied him with art work from the studio to help him through his degree. Chris decided to get extra art tuition and visited Mr Dawsett who was a college tutor living in nearby Fetcham. When Chris arrived at his house, he heard live music coming from another room. Mr Dawsett explained that it was his son, Chris, playing keyboards, his daughter on drums and their friend, Geoff McClelland, on guitar. Chris was invited to meet them and he asked if they needed another guitarist. Chris D said they needed a drummer as his sister was too young, so Chris said “Yes, I can do that” and proceeded to smash his way around the kit like some mad man. There was a long silence as they looked on non-plussed, then Chris D asked him if he wanted to join the band, so that was the end of his extra tuition and they regularly rehearsed blues music in the Dawsett’s living room. A few months later, their band, the Clockwork Onions, had secured a local gig and Chris invited me along. I was still playing harmonica and made a gunslinger belt from my dad’s old army belt, it sat diagonally across my chest and held lots of different harmonicas, I was very influenced by Cyril Davies at the time. I went to the gig and Louis Grooner (another Box Hill ex-pupil) was lead singer but he leapt off stage halfway through the gig when he saw someone chatting up his girlfriend. He jumped off stage and chased the guy out of the club, the rest of the band played on but it didn’t seem like he was coming back, I jumped on stage and started playing my harmonica, then I made up the words to the next song and the next, somehow we got through the rest of the gig. The band asked me to replace Louis, so that’s how it started.
What became of the Clockwork Onions?
We changed the name to the Few, not sure why as the Clockwork Onions was a great name, and played venues around Kingston, Richmond and Guildford. Then we changed our name to the Silence because we played very loud and liked the juxtaposition. I was also a fan of the 1963 film of the same name by Ingmar Bergman. We covered R&B classics but had started to perform some of my own songs including ‘Green Light’ and we recorded four songs in a garage in Dorking! We were going to see other bands such as the Small Faces, the Kinks and Geno Washington. But it was The Who’s gig in Guildford that really blew us away. We were emulating the musical style of the Rolling Stones with songs by Muddy Waters etc but The Who gave the blues more of an English twist with heavy guitar and we knew that’s how we wanted to play. Martin Sheller went to the same art school as Chris, he was a devoted mod and joined the band on keyboards and supplied a lot of drugs! We were playing more mod covers at this point and had a good following and a weekly residency at the Bluesette Club in Leatherhead (known as the Chuck Wagon). Martin eventually drifted away from the band, he later formed The Regents who had a hit with ‘7-Teen’ in 1979. I bumped into him in the mid-80s when I went to Ibiza with my young family, he was still into drugs and hadn’t changed much but it was good to see him. Sadly, he passed away in 1999. After Martin left our band, some of the guys swapped instruments and John Hewlett came along and pretended he could play bass and had lots of influential contacts. Of course, he was lying on both counts but he looked the part, so he came on board. He played a huge, low sound which really worked for us
Don Arden was interested in the Silence, why didn’t you sign with him? Don asked us to support the Small Faces and Kiki Dee at a few gigs in the South of England and Wales. We were also Kiki’s backing band, so we had to quickly learn her songs and somehow John managed to get through it with his limited guitar-playing! We had a good time and they were all really nice to us but they did their own thing. Don invited us to his office in Carnaby Street and wanted to sign us but it was only because he planned to break us up afterwards. He was worried that we would be in competition with the Small Faces, so he wanted to control us. We were a pretty mod band with a good following. We were a bit scared of him and we decided not to sign up.
There seems to be quite a story leading up to meeting Simon Napier-Bell It’s a long story! We were invited to play at the summer pool party at the beautiful Burford Bridge Hotel in the North Downs. However, Chris T and John went missing the weekend before the gig, we discovered they had been invited to the South of France by Gordon Bennett, who was the manager of the Bluessette club and had been in prison for using rubber cheque books. They promptly packed their bags and drove to Heathrow but the car ran out of petrol, so they hailed a taxi and Gordon paid the fare by cheque as well as their single flights to Nice. They got another taxi to Cannes where they booked into a plush hotel and drank champagne while Gordon bounced more cheques. I was getting ready for work on the Monday morning when my mum brought in a telegram which said ‘We are in St Tropez. Bring the equipment. John’. I phoned Geoff and he had received the same telegram. We decided not to cancel the gig as it was such an important one for us. Gordon disappeared and John met a dodgy Bardot look-a-like and he and Chris continued to party.
How did they cope without Gordon and his cheques? They didn’t. The hotel manager knocked on their door with two gendarmes and asked for Gordon Bennett (That really was his name!). Chris, John and the French girl were taken off to the police cells but the girl was released. Chris and John were up in court the next day and said they had no idea the cheque book was stolen or that Gordon was a known fraudster. John was allowed to go and raise the bail money while Chris went back to the cells. John returned to the hotel and saw the French girl who persuaded him to go to St. Tropez. He thought he could charm a millionaire with his sob story and pay the bail money, so he got on the back of her scooter and off they went. When they arrived, they walked along the lit-up harbour which was bustling with rich playboys and dolly birds, John loved its glamour and nightlife. They passed the Voom, Voom club where he recognised the loud sounds of the Steampacket. They went in and Long John Baldry and Julie Driscoll were on stage singing to the rich and famous. As they passed a table, someone asked what a good-looking boy was doing with a horse! John was invited to join the table for drinks and the French girl went off to dance. John recognised a few faces but was stopped in his tracks when he saw the real Bardot sitting at their table; he even managed to have a dance with her and his dubious French lady friend stormed out of the club. The man who invited him over was Simon Napier-Bell, a young and influential entrepreneur from Ealing who was managing the Yardbirds. John explained the whole police saga to Simon and told him about the Burford Bridge show. Not only did Simon agree to pay the bail, he also said he would come to the gig. Simon drove John back to where he was staying in St. Tropez while John drunkenly threw up over the plush white leather seats in the open-top Bentley. Simon took him to the shops the next day and kitted him out in an expensive suit and they drove to Cannes and paid the bail money. Chris couldn’t be released immediately and John was anxious to get back to the high life, so he left Simon’s address at the station and they headed back to St. Tropez expecting to see Chris later. The problem was that Chris had no money or passport!
How did the adventure end? Poor Chris had to hitch along the French coastal road and managed to steal fruit along the way. He met a hitchhiker and they were offered a free passage on a boat heading for St Tropez. However, not too long into the journey, they realised the men were running guns to Africa. They managed to jump overboard and a passing motor boat took them back to the coast. Chris had no passport as John had all their belongings, so he decided to hitch to the British Consulate in Nice. It was now the night before the gig. Meanwhile, John and Simon had returned to London via a stopover in Paris. He crashed at Simon’s flat in Victoria before joining us in Surrey the next day. He called Geoff to let him know what had happened and learned that Chris hadn’t arrived back. John presumed that he had returned to London, he wasn’t aware that he had his passport. He said not to cancel the gig as Simon was coming along. I arrived at the Dawsett’s house and saw John in his new clothes, he looked tanned and handsome and I couldn’t believe it was him; he looked like a film star. Soon after Chris arrived, a bedraggled, barefoot, dirty character limped up the path, swearing profusely. Chris had found his way back.
It’s a surprise that you actually managed to make the gig! Only just! Chris was still in a foul mood and refused to have anything to do with John. I explained John’s story to him and said that Simon was coming along to watch us, so we had to turn up. I mean, he was the Yardbirds’ manager! But Chris was having none of it and kicked our van, yelled in pain and limped off home. Geoff drove after him and calmed him down and said to come back and take a bath and change into fresh clothes. Later, we headed off to the venue with an exhausted Chris snoring in the back of the van. We set up around the pool, I had three inter-connecting mic leads to give me the freedom to run around, which I had been doing for a while now, and I quite fancied the idea of singing from the top diving board. By 5.00pm, guests were arriving and the DJ was getting everyone in the mood. We played our first set at 6.00pm and there was no sign of Simon, Geoff was doubtful that he would show. We played our second set at 8.00pm and then we spotted a well-groomed, expensively dressed man smoking a large cigar by the far end of the pool. John confirmed it was Simon as we broke into a raucous version of ‘Rosalyn’ by the Pretty Things. I climbed across tables, and while we were playing ‘Gloria’ by Them, I went up to the top diving board and as I belted out ‘G-L-O-R-I-A’, I dived into the pool and the mic lead sparked and fused the PA system. Chris was still furious and kicked his drum kit into the pool. There was stunned silence, then rapturous applause and cheering from the startled guests! I couldn’t see Simon and thought he had left in disgust but he came up behind me and placed his hand on my shoulder and said it was “Interesting”. I got changed and we piled into his Bentley and he drove us to a country pub. Geoff followed in our battered van. Simon plied us with drinks and entertained us with hilarious stories. After many brandies and much laughter, he announced that he wanted to sign us.
How did the whole concept of John’s Children come about? I gave up my job at the photographic studio much to the horror of my parents. John gave up his job and Geoff told his parents that he was chucking in his accountancy job which he loathed. Chris T had just passed his art exams with flying colours, helped by Rome studios. Chris D was pressured by his parents to continue with his art studies and had already left the band. He eventually went on to become Professor of Art at Oxford University, so it was a pretty wise decision. The four of us went to Simon’s flat and signed the contract. The next day we found ourselves in the Yardbirds’ rehearsal room using their Selmar equipment. Simon asked us to write new songs, so we took a few classics and rewrote the lyrics. ‘My Generation’ by The Who became ‘But She’s Mine’. We were often double-booked as Simon had booked over our pre-contract dates, but we still wanted to play both shows. So, as Geoff was prone to fainting, we decided that he should ‘faint’ after a couple of songs, then we could collect our fee and go to our other gig. However, things didn’t go to plan at the Ricky Tick club in Guildford, Geoff pretended to faint but fell forward and his face was covered in blood. The manager said we should get him to hospital, but after collecting payment, we got him in the van and played our next gig in Epsom, bloodied face and all. Simon invited me and Chris for a meal at the Lotus Restaurant near Marble Arch. He was worried that John was the weakest musician and felt left out. Simon suggested we changed our name to John’s Children to make him feel more included. John had charisma and great looks, he was good for us. We were cool and agreed, so we became John’s Children and Simon also suggested the white clothes. He wanted us to look angelic as we came on stage and then create absolute mayhem!
‘Smashed Blocked’ is a cult classic, what’s the story behind the recording? It was inspired by ‘The Love You Save’ by Joe Tex. ‘Smashed’ was a mod term for drunk and ‘Blocked’ was a mod term for being high on speed. Simon wanted the song to have a bigger sound, so he went to LA and recorded session musicians and asked me to record the vocals over the top. This didn’t sit well with the band, particularly Geoff, but John was quite chuffed that people would think it was him playing the fabulous bass riff. Chris wasn’t bothered as long as it got airplay. There were a few different versions but Simon preferred the one with spoken words. When I played it to my girlfriend Jane, she broke down in tears, I knew this song was special but had no idea it would still be played decades later. Simon needed a B-Side and he recorded some British session musicians and asked me to record vocals. I had to make up lyrics on the spot. I went into a booth with three very special backing singers, Rod Stewart, Dusty Springfield and Madeline Bell. I made up the words and the result was ‘Strange Affair’. White Whale Records released the single ‘Smashed Blocked’ on the West Coast where it became number one but EMI said they would only release it in the UK if the title was changed, so it became ‘The Love I Thought I Found’. It didn’t do as well over here but it got rave reviews in the music press.
The video has recently resurfaced on YouTube, where was it filmed?
Simon booked a club called The Establishment which was in a basement in Greek Street, Soho. It was a very controversial place owned by Peter Cook and satirical comedy started from there. We had it for the afternoon and had a great time filming. Simon’s background is film editing, so he had a strong creative vision and technical knowledge. One version of the film on YouTube has been spliced together from unedited clips of the shoot, so I don’t know who made that but it’s great to see it out there again. Simon insists it was the beginning of psychedelic music, he returned from LA where the Flower Power scene was in full flow and he claims to have invented the word ‘Psychedelic’ on the flight back. I didn’t even know we were psychedelic until much later! I seemed to have covered many genres in my career, blues, mod, psychedelic, glam rock, punk. I’m running out of things to do now!
White Whale Records wanted to release a John’s Children LP in the US. Tell us about the unique recording of ‘Orgasm’. It was recorded at Advision studios in Bond Street, an amazing studio and the most high-tech place we had ever been in. Simon asked us to play our full set straight through; he seemed pleased with the result and took us for drinks at the Duke of York. As we headed off home, Simon pulled me aside and asked if I would return to the studio as he wanted to try something out. The two of us went back and he asked me to scream ad-libs at the band and play up to the crowd as if I was on stage. Simon came into the sound booth and shouted the intro “Will you all be quiet, this is John’s Children!” He wanted the LP to sound like a live concert, so he added other effects to make it authentic. Screaming was provided by the Beatles’ fans at Shea stadium and the film ‘A Hard Day’s Night’. He did an incredible job; you could even hear girls screaming “John! John!” which was obviously meant for Lennon and not Hewlett! We were all invited back to the studios to hear the final cut. Chris and Geoff weren’t too happy but me and John loved it, he couldn’t believe that it sounded as if we were playing live to masses of fans. Simon announced it was to be called ‘Orgasm’.
What happened to the release? Despite huge advance orders and a promo campaign, it got banned because of the title and erotic sleeve design. The US moral guardian group ‘The Daughters of the Revolution’ protested and our US tour was cancelled, which disappointed us and EMI refused to release it in the UK. White Whale re-issued it a few years later and Cherry Red managed to put it out in the UK. John’s Children had long disbanded but we were pleased it was finally out. In hindsight, it would have been better to have originally released it under a different name and as a live studio recording, I would have preferred it raw without all the effects but it was a classic example of Simon pushing the boundaries and I really admire him for that, it was an amazing piece of work. He loved that we fought on stage and I took off my top and dived into the crowd. In fact, one night when John and I were having a pillow fight in a hotel, the pillow split open as Simon walked in. So, it was his idea to throw feathers everywhere and take the stage act to the limit.
How did you all end up owning a nightclub? Simon had seen us perform many times at the Bluesette Club in Leatherhead. In fact, he once joined us on keyboards but was so drunk, he fell off stage. He bought the club with some of the money we had made from our US hit ‘Smashed Blocked’ and he renamed it John’s Children Club. It was a fantastic venue for live music; we had bands such as the Action and Tomorrow. We also had an enormous jukebox which gave out such a fabulous rich sound. Chris even lived there for a bit! It was great to have somewhere to rehearse and we had a weekly residency. Simon appointed two guys to act as our club and personal managers. They were Chris Colville and Ian Moody who were hardcore mods from Shepherds Bush. The south London gangsters, the Richardsons, turned up one day and tried to get protection money but Chris Colville had equally dubious connections and managed to put a stop to it, we never knew how and didn’t dare ask! He was the inspiration behind Pete Townshend’s character ‘Jimmy’ in ‘Quadrophenia’. Sadly, Chris has passed away but he was such a big character and became our roadie and even played in the band on a few occasions.
Most bands wanted to use Marshall amps, what was so special about your Jordan amps? It was at the club that we first used the Jordan amps. I remember a huge lorry arrived with twenty enormous speakers. They had been made by NASA and Simon had them shipped over from Houston, Texas. The sound came out in front of us, so it was even louder 30 feet away from the stage. If this was a ‘Spinal Tap’ interview, I’d have to say “Yeah, our band’s amps go up to fourteen and the Marshall amps only go to eleven!” Seriously, they were extremely powerful! Each amp had a satellite speaker that would fit above it and link to the next amp and so forth. It created a huge wall of sound and we had our own sections. We couldn’t fit them all on stage, so we had to store some in the back of the club but there were gigs where we used all twenty and it blasted the audience away! The sound was incredible and so powerful that you could feel walls vibrating.
What was the deal with John’s Children and Hells Angels? Simon managed to get in touch with the local Hells Angels chapter and paid them very well to escort us to and from gigs while we were driven about in Al Capone’s white convertible Oldsmobile which Simon had shipped over from Chicago. They were great with us and more Hells Angels joined us as time went on, some rode their bikes in front of the car and others at the back. A few guarded the front of the stage while the rest waited outside on their bikes. It sometimes caused tensions with rockers who thought they had sold out to mods, so they would turn up for a fight. Simon loved all the commotion and publicity, of course. But they did a good job and we felt really protected by them and sometimes we needed it.
Strangely, John’s Children supported Jimmy Cliff in Paris, how did this work out? After the disappointment of the LP, Simon booked us to support Jimmy Cliff for a month at the Bus Palladium club in Paris. He drove there in his Bentley while we set off in our battered old van. We arrived at a bohemian apartment just off the Place de la Concorde and we were greeted by a very camp man with a patch over one eye and gold-topped walking cane, he was very creepy and slowly looked us up and down. He was a promoter and was supposed to look after us while we were there for the month, even Simon was worried when he met him. The one-eyed Frenchman booked us into a seedy hotel which turned out to be a brothel but it was close to the club. Meanwhile, Simon booked into a 5-star hotel. We went to the venue and met the manager who was just as sinister with her gravelly voice and a lit Gitane dangling from her lips. She was pretty shocked when she saw all our equipment, we only brought ten amps but they took up all the stage. Jimmy Cliff was not impressed by us or how loud we played. The club actually shook as we launched into our first song and the manager ran over and told us to turn it down and the audience covered their ears. We only got to play two songs before we were told to stop completely. We weren’t off to a good start. Simon had to leave the next day and left a note to say that Monsieur Delagarde (the scary promoter) would be on hand - literally! But the shady French man never showed his face again. We managed a few more songs the following night but the manager still kept running out and screaming to turn it down. Of course, we turned it back up as soon as she disappeared. Needless to say, we played a very short set every night; I can’t say we went down very well.
Did you watch Jimmy Cliff’s show? After we finished our set of about three or four songs, we would rush out and stand at the front of the stage to watch him come out in complete darkness to the sound of his backing band. He was dressed in black apart from his brilliant white plimsolls which were picked up by the ultraviolet lights. We would be in hysterics which wasn’t the reaction Jimmy wanted. Once the lights went up and he went into his first number, we left. It was the same every night and just as funny. Chris named it ‘The Dancing Plimsolls Moment’. It’s safe to say, Jimmy Cliff and John’s Children weren’t fans of each other.
Did things improve for you in Paris? They got worse, we eventually ran out of money and each lived on one ham baguette per day while Simon thought we were being looked after by the elusive promoter. Geoff was getting ill and thinner each day and missed his girlfriend. We collected our baguettes from the club but ended up eating most of Geoff’s as we walked back and the poor guy thanked us for his small morsel each day. We were trying to get hold of Simon without any luck. Chris hooked up with a waitress and stayed at her place, so he was okay. John and I walked around Montmartre while scrounging leftovers from market stalls. We wrote to Simon and explained the situation and that we needed help but we didn’t know where he was. We were really fed up and didn’t even bother to turn up our amps to annoy the manager. Geoff only got out of bed for the gigs, he was fading away. We weren’t sure how much longer we could cope.
Did Simon eventually come to your rescue? Yes, thank goodness. Simon turned up and treated us to a slap up meal. We ate like tramps that hadn’t eaten for months and our once pristine white outfits were shabby and stained. Simon said he had booked us to support The Pretty Things at the Locomotive club in Paris for the following night. Geoff cheered up and retrieved all our equipment from the Bus Palladium club and drove it to the new venue which was a big improvement on the last. Once we set up, Geoff said he was going back for a nap and would be back for 7.00pm. There was still no sign of him by 7.30pm. But just as we were about to go on, he arrived all bloody and dishevelled. He explained that he had crashed the van in a back street and panicked, so he ran all the way to the club. The poor guy was crying and apologizing but Simon told us to get on stage and then he disappeared. The gig went surprisingly well, despite the state of Geoff, and the crowd loved us. Simon returned after paying off the police and suggested we went back to England before there were any repercussions. We had to leave our amps behind and ‘Humpy’ the van was left parked in a Parisian shop window. We drove back in Simon’s Bentley but not before stopping off at a chemist en route as Chris revealed he had a dose of the clap.
This brings us to your first meeting with Marc Bolan Once we arrived back in England, Simon took me, Chris and John out for dinner at the Lotus House. He announced that he wanted us to try out a new guitarist; we thought he meant bring in an additional musician. He explained that he no longer felt Geoff was suited to the band and it was worth trying out this other guy that he managed. We discovered a long time after; Kit Lambert wanted to sign us but didn’t want Geoff, our lanky guitarist, in the band. We felt really uncomfortable as Geoff was our mate and he was from the original line-up. The next day, Simon drove me to Wimbledon and we pulled up outside a small prefab with a neat front garden and he said ‘This is where Marc lives”. Simon explained that Marc Bolan was a folk singer and had never been in a band but he thought his songwriting would be good for John’s Children. He left me to meet him and said he would pick me up later. Marc was really friendly and made me mushrooms on toast; afterwards he sat cross-legged and played some unusual songs on acoustic guitar. One song was unfinished and he suggested I helped him. It was ‘Midsummer Night’s Scene’ which is now a rare and sought after record. He had Dylan records scattered across the floor of his parent’s living room. I liked him and we got along really well. Simon came to collect me and I agreed for Marc to meet at our club the following afternoon.
Did you have any doubts about Marc fitting in with such a wild band?
Yes, I was worried whether his quiet, folky personality would fit in with our outrageous behaviour and loud music. Geoff was unaware about Marc’s audition as he worked during the week. We borrowed a Red Gibson SG from our mate, Trevor White, who played in a band called the A-Jaes. Simon brought Marc to the club and we introduced him to John and Chris and showed him the guitar by the wall of amps. Marc looked overwhelmed as he stared at our equipment which included the silver double Slingerland drum kit! He sheepishly picked up the guitar and Chris explained the volume knob. Once he had the strap over his head, he turned the knob, struck a chord and promptly fell over. He held his hands over his ears and screeched in pain. “That’s normal”, I said. Chris started drumming like a lunatic and we showed Marc a few chords to a song and he started to play and bop across the stage. It wasn’t great at first but we noticed a change in our sound and we really started to come together. By the end of the session, Marc was really in to the electric guitar and we left him to make all kinds of wonderful sounds. Simon came back and said that he had to get him home. Marc returned the next day and learned more of our songs and we played some of his work including ‘Sara, Crazy Child’. He eventually bought the guitar from Trevor as he loved it so much. When I first knew Marc, he spoke with a strong cockney accent whereas we were reasonably well-spoken Surrey lads, but he was like a sponge, soaking up from those around him, so he took the accent to another level and ended up sounded really posh!
What happened when Geoff was told that he was out of the band? On the third day, Marc’s girlfriend drove him to the club and they arrived with some old-fashioned dressing screens covered in silver foil. He placed them around his section of amps and said it would help control his feedback. We weren’t convinced but they looked good, especially when he knelt down playing guitar in front of them. We knew that we had to let Geoff go as Marc was a brilliant addition to the band and we sounded so much better. On the following Saturday, Geoff strolled in as usual with his guitar and was pleased to see us. We felt terrible and Chris started fiddling with the drums. Geoff noticed the screens and was amazed and asked where they came from. John decided to take on the role of spokesman and he explained that Simon also managed a guy called Marc Bolan and the screens belonged to him. He said that Simon felt Marc was more suited to the band and how much we all appreciated what Geoff has done for us. After an awkward silence, Geoff asked if he was out of the band for good and John confirmed. Geoff picked up his guitar case and thanked us, he had tears in his eyes as he wished us well and then he walked out. It was so sad and we struggled with the decision but we knew it was the right thing to do, but it didn’t make us feel any better. Geoff went on to form a band called Misty Romance with Chris Dawsett.
How was Marc’s first performance with John’s Children? Marc was still trying to learn the songs, it was taking him some time and we had a show in Watford at the end of that week. On the night, he was so nervous that he drank two bottles of red wine before he went on stage and forgot most of the chords. He left after the third song and broke down in tears, we tried to console him in the dressing room but he was really upset. Luckily, it was a very small audience. In fact, most left after the first song and they all left after Marc messed up the chords, then the manager told us to get off the stage. Marc was still crying as we dropped him off at Wimbledon. It wasn’t how he had expected his first rock and roll gig to pan out. But it didn’t take long for him to settle in and make fantastic, deafening sounds. It didn’t matter if he struck the wrong chord by then.
Did Marc join in with your stage antics? Yes, he was up for it. Funnily enough, none of us got drunk before we went on stage, despite our reputation of being hell raisers; we took the drink and drugs afterwards! All the stage fighting and smashing equipment was done while we were stone cold sober. Simon loved it when we got really outrageous and Marc joined in and was just as bad, he even used chains to wreck guitars. Simon constantly had to replace our equipment and white clothes! We were like four brothers who went mental for an hour on stage. This was long before punk rockers came on the scene.
Tell us about the Brian Matthew sessions Simon booked us on the ‘Saturday Club’ for Radio One; we had to perform four live songs. We finished with a raucous version of ‘Daddy Rolling Stone’ and began to smash up our equipment in the studio. I was writhing around the floor making strange sounds into the mic. Afterwards, Brian asked Simon if we were on drugs. Simon replied “That’s just what they do”. There are some bootleg recordings of those sessions. We sold out many gigs on the strength of that show as people got a renewed interest in John’s Children.
John’s Children signed to Track Records, how did this come about? Unsurprisingly, Columbia dropped us when Simon revealed our next record would be ‘Not the Sort Of Girl You’d Like To Take To Bed’. We played a gig at Tiles in Oxford Street and Kit Lambert was good friends with Simon and expressed interest in us, especially now Geoff was no longer in the band. He was a great raconteur with a clipped upper-class accent; he amused us with fascinating stories of his life. He was managing The Who and formed Track Records with Chris Stamp, the brother of actor Terence Stamp. Kit and Chris met us after the gig and Kit suggested we call ourselves the Electric Bunnies as he thought that’s how we performed. He agreed to sign us and we were thrilled as Jimi Hendrix and The Who were two of our heroes and now we were on the same record label. Marc was a big fan of Townshend and Hendrix; he would always make sure he sat close to their table at the Speakeasy club. Chris Townson was a massive fan of The Who, so you can imagine how we all felt when Kit suggested we support them on a stadium tour of Germany. We couldn’t believe our luck!
This was the infamous tour! What was the first gig like? We went to the south coast in Simon’s car and drove it on to what looked like a WW1 aircraft which flew about 40 feet above the English Channel. We could see the waves through the gaps in the old parachute doors. We were relieved to land on the French coast in one piece. We drove across the German border to Nuremberg, it was a long drive and Marc was hilarious as we play acted and he pretended to be a huge rock star with Chris as his Jewish manager. Simon added from the driver’s seat “Don’t forget, your best move as a rock star would be to die tragically”. “Yeah, man. That’s good” Marc replied. “Maybe some kind of car accident….in a white Rolls Royce” Simon suggested. Marc stared out at the autobahn and said “No man, it has got to be a Mini”. We arrived at our hotel which was the building that held the Nuremberg trials. Our roadie, who was Oliver Reed’s cousin, arrived in a lorry with our Jordan amps and equipment. We went to the venue for a sound check after the roadie set up our wall of amps in front of The Who’s wall of Marshalls. Chris started to play his drums as Marc and John plugged in and played very loud guitar. Suddenly, Pete Townshend and Roger Daltrey ran out from backstage and Pete looked at our amps and shouted “What are these?” Keith came out and looked at Chris’ drum kit, kicked it and went backstage. Pete returned with his guitar and angrily asked where to plug it in. After thrashing out a few sounds, he pushed an amp over but his guitar still played out. He growled “Fucking hell, what are these made of?” The frostiness between us didn’t improve in their dressing room. They didn’t shake our hands and sniggered at us. It was worrying and we decided to tone down our act that night. However, just on our last number, I leapt into the audience and began to smash up one of the wooden seats. As soon as I got back on stage, the audience took it as a lead to smash up their seats and they went mental, it took quite a while to calm down but The Who came on stage to the most energetic welcome they had ever received. However, Kit wasn’t impressed; despite the fact the night had been a big success, he was lumbered with a huge bill from the venue for damages.
Did you calm down in Düsseldorf? Not at all, it was held in a huge sports arena and we thought it would be funny if me and John used fake blood capsules while we were fighting. After a few songs, I crawled back on stage and grabbed John’s legs and brought him and his bass guitar straight down to the floor. The fight got worse and although staged, it often brought out an inner resentment in John, so I would retaliate! It was like he really wanted to beat me up at times. Chris and Marc threw out incredibly loud sounds from the drums and guitar while me and John writhed about with fake blood all over our white clothes. I managed to fall into the pit and heard something snap in my neck but I got back on stage to finish the set. I collapsed in the dressing room and was in agony. The next morning, I couldn’t move my head and Simon drove me to Cologne while the others went to the next venue. Apparently, Cologne has the best physios; I don’t know how Simon knew that! We pulled up at a German version of Harley Street and the specialist managed to pop everything back in place and the pain disappeared. Simon threw money at him and we hastily drove to Mannheim where we stayed at the same hotel as The Who. Simon brought a fresh batch of white clothes to our rooms and caught me and John in the middle of a pillow fight with feathers flying everywhere. He loved it and told me to take pillows to the gig and rip them open as I ran through the crowds. As we were getting ready to leave the hotel, we heard a loud explosion and everyone had to vacate the building. It turned out that Keith had let off a cherry bomb in Roger’s toilet, there were police everywhere. Kit had to pay off the hotel manager, so more expense! Things hadn’t improved with The Who and Kit argued with Simon that we were upstaging them with our antics and would have to go if this continued.
Pete Townshend said John’s Children were “Too loud and too violent”. Did they make no effort to get along with you? The only members of The Who with a true sense of humour were John and Keith who we socialised with more than Roger and Pete. Roger didn’t like us at all; he probably still holds a grudge about the Germany tour! We used to enjoy teasing Kit and complain that Pete was stealing our riffs, he never twigged that we were pulling his leg. Chris and I were in the hotel bar with The Who but there was a was a stony silence, then Keith broke the atmosphere by goose-stepping around the table and doing a Nazi salute which he had seen us do on stage. Chris joined in and I got up as well, Pete was in hysterics and it seemed to break the ice for a bit, although the hotel guests weren’t impressed. The staff threw us all out of the bar and we were still laughing as we went to our rooms. At that night’s show, I ripped open the pillows and there were feathers everywhere, it was like a snow storm. Marc was smashing the footlights while me and John had our usual fight and Chris was pounding the drums like a maniac. The Who came on to the best reception yet, but Kit was still unhappy and said if we didn’t calm down, we were off.
What did you decide to do? The next morning we drove to Ludwigshafen but there was a strange atmosphere in the car. Our clothes were filthy by now; we had lost so many outfits or left them in dry cleaners that Simon had given up buying more. He broke the silence and reminded us that Kit had said to calm down or get kicked off the tour. Marc said that we should do what we had to do as it was too exciting to stop. We all agreed and Simon said “Ok, tonight will be special”. When we arrived at the hotel, I stole as many pillows as I could. As we drove to the Massahalle stadium, we knew it was going to kick off that night, the adrenalin was building. The German media was full of this odd band upstaging The Who and people were curious to see what the fuss was about. The concert was a sell-out. We could hear the crowd cheering as the lights dimmed, and then people raced to the front as Chris leapt on to his drums and thrashed the life out of the skins. The rest of us ran on stage, John pounded the bass so low that it almost shook the walls of the auditorium, Marc smashed into the opening of ‘Jagged Time-Lapse’, we knew we wouldn’t be on stage for long and had little time to cause chaos. On the second number, I kicked in the lights and somersaulted over the bouncers and ran through the crowds throwing feathers from the ripped pillows, the vibrating sounds from the Jordan amps and the screaming mayhem sent the Germans crazy! I actually got worried whether I would make it back to the stage as they became hysterical and I got kicked and punched. Somehow the bouncers got me back on stage and I started singing which sent the crowd ballistic and seats were thrown around, it was getting really violent. John and I started stage fighting, which probably wasn’t the best thing to do. Marc was whacking his guitar with chains, sending out loud and eerie sounds that bounced across the venue while Chris was going demented on the drums as fists and feathers flew everywhere
How did you manage to get off the stage? The riot police arrived in record time, they must have been waiting! They came in from the back and ran through the crowds as the violence spilled out on to the stage; Simon dragged me off and screamed at the others to follow. Our amps were being smashed and torn down, Chris was last to escape but managed to join us as we ran down the stairs and out through the stage door into Simon’s car. The riot police were using water canons on the crowd, it was total chaos. We saw chairs flying out of the windows as we drove past. We sat in silence as we headed to Munich and took in what had just happened. It was safe to say that we wouldn’t be supporting The Who on the following night.
What was the outcome of all this? The next morning, Simon gathered us in the hotel lobby to confirm that Kit had thrown us off the tour and the police were after us. They had impounded what was left of our amps and equipment and we had no choice but to get out of Germany as quickly as possible. We gathered up what little possessions we had left and Simon drove us across the border to Luxembourg, where we were safe, and we checked into the Grande Hotel. We went to see Ravi Shankar at the theatre that night and must have looked a sight in our dirty, ripped clothes! Marc was transfixed as he watched Ravi’s performance; he was lost in another world. The next morning we left for Calais but missed the ferry and had a long wait until the next one, so we split up and went off to take a look around, which was always a disaster for us. Marc stayed with Simon in a nearby bar. Chris went off on his own, he was still unhappy about losing his beloved drum kit, while me and John headed off to a local bar. As we were walking back to the port that evening, we heard some commotion and saw Chris being thrown out of a sleazy bar and chased by angry French men. We hadn’t a clue what he had done but dragged him along with us while he was still shouting abuse at them. Luckily, we managed to give the angry mob the slip by hiding behind bins and made it back to the port in one piece. Simon and Marc were already in the Bentley and on the other side of the fence queuing for the ferry, they shouted that we were too late and they couldn’t wait any longer. It was the last ferry of the night and we had no money. I thought, “Sod this” and jumped over the high fence and John followed but Chris struggled, so we had to go back for him. Marc jumped out to help and we got in the car with Simon groaning at us. Once on the ferry, we headed for the bar and Chris headed for his bunk bed. We got very drunk and Marc was standing on a table reciting pornographic poetry. The passengers were fed up with him, so I managed to get him out before they got angry and we ended up in more trouble.
It must have been an amazing experience to play at the 14 hour Technicolour Dream Event
It was a benefit for an underground publication, I think it might have been OZ magazine or the International Times. I remember Simon driving us into the back of Alexandra Place and as we walked into this massive hall, we saw bands such as Pink Floyd, The Creation and The Pretty Things playing in every corner and lots of psychedelic light shows and films were screened with trippy installations everywhere. Pete Townshend was wandering around filming on his cine camera. We were off our heads on LSD, the organisers wouldn’t let us have a stage and we were told to play at floor level. We just messed around and made a noise, Marc walked about with his guitar on his head or he would leave it on top of the amp to give off loud feedback, we smashed things up as usual and I chucked feathers everywhere, it was an outrageous evening. There was an interview on the news the following night with Roger Daltrey, and his hair was covered in feathers. He must have hated us by this point, there was no escape.
What was the mood in the band after all the recent events? It was beginning to shift and Marc had disappeared. Simon went back to Germany a few months later to try and retrieve our equipment but it was too late, we had lost all our amps and drum kit forever. Marc returned to play one last gig at our club and then left the band, there wasn’t any drama, he simply made a decision to leave. Ravi Shankar’s gig in Luxembourg probably laid the seeds for Tyrannosaurus Rex.
How did you end up playing to a Bee Gees audience in Hamburg? After Marc left, we were hanging at our club and feeling a bit flat as many places were too scared to book us and we had to borrow equipment. Simon turned up and said he had got us a gig but we said we couldn’t play as we now had no guitarist. So, he suggested that Chris played guitar, which is something he had always wanted to do. Simon also suggested putting our club manager, Chris Colville, on drums, even though he had never played drums before. The gig was at the famous Star club in Hamburg and we were replacing the Bee Gees who had to pull out due to illness. Oh my God! We were now about to play with our club manager on drums and Chris on guitar, who only knew a few songs, to play to a Bee Gees crowd who wouldn’t have even heard of us! Needless to say, they hated us, and after three or four songs, I leapt into the audience bare-chested and they leapt on me and ripped my trousers off in anger. I hadn’t worn pants that night, so I had to get back on stage naked and shuffle off to the dressing room. Chris Colville smashed up the drum kit and Simon quickly got us out rather than face another German riot! On another occasion in Hamburg, Simon arranged for us to be driven around in a convertible while we were naked and covered in flowers; there were posters everywhere of us in a garden of flowers wearing beads and paisley kaftans. Simon filmed us running around naked on Burnham Beach for ‘Come Play With Me In The Garden’. I dread to think where the film ended up, probably on a porn site!
Jimi Hendrix was amongst many musicians who loved ‘Desdemona’ by John’s Children, does it bother you that the song is more associated with Marc Bolan?
Not really, mind you, Wow! Jimi Hendrix recording that would have been amazing. It was Marc’s idea of ‘Jailhouse Rock’, we recorded it at Spot Studios in South Molton Street in 1967. Cream were next door and Chris would occasionally pop his head round and swear at Ginger Baker, not sure why. Once again, we got another ban because of the lyrics ‘Lift up your skirt and fly’ and the BBC refused to play it. It’s one of those songs that people remember, even though we had released many good songs before this one, including ‘Smashed Blocked’ and ‘Remember Thomas A Beckett’, but it’s mainly the Marc Bolan fans who only recall this song. His backing vocals are very distinctive on the record. Obviously, our name was enhanced because of our connection with Marc, but we are also named as precursors of glam rock and punk. It’s a shame that we only get a fleeting mention in most of Marc’s biographies, as there are so many tales to tell of his time with us, the books all missed out on a lovely story there. Paul Weller ended up covering it at a gig. In fact, his current bass player, Andy Lewis, played with us on the last gig that Chris Townson played before he passed away in 2008.
In a stroke of irony, Chris Townson replaced Keith Moon during The Who’s tour, he must have been ecstatic! Yes, and we were thrilled for him. Despite the Germany fiasco, Kit asked Chris to fill in for Keith while he recovered in hospital after a stage prank went wrong. Chris was a huge fan and jumped at the chance. Despite the fact they were never friendly to us; they were still our musical heroes. Pete gave Chris a pile of records and said “Learn these, we play at the Isle of Mann tomorrow”. Chris was so excited and he pretty much knew how to play the songs anyway. ‘Desdemona’ was number two in the charts and The Who fans loved that Chris was standing in for Keith. Despite being a great replacement, Pete and Roger didn’t really speak to him but John was very friendly and they usually went clubbing together and would end up at a casino because John enjoyed a gamble. Roger and Pete still kept their distance and didn’t really acknowledge Chris. He adjusted well to coming back to John’s Children after playing to huge venues and living the rock star life. He was just happy to have played with them and done a good job.
What is the story of you all destroying an elderly couple’s living room? FAB 208 (that was a teenybop magazine at the time) ran a piece where they got us to decorate an elderly couple’s terraced house in Islington while they went out for a treat. Of course, it got completely out of hand and we ended up throwing paint everywhere, all over the furniture and curtains, it was in a terrible state. This poor old couple came back and burst into tears. Simon had to pay a lot of money for it to be put right again and get furniture replaced. I’m not sure why on earth a teen magazine would ask a band like John’s Children to paint a pensioners’ home! It’s like asking the Sex Pistols to take tea with the Queen!
What led to John’s Children splitting up? We had some gigs in the West Country, Chris Colville was still on drums and Chris and John on guitar. The pair of them had a really bad fight on stage and Chris Townson stormed off the stage during the set. The two Chris’ went back to London while John and I continued on the road and had a wild holiday on the south coast. We decided to sell the equipment along the way and live off the proceeds. Once we had run out of funds and had nothing left to sell, we headed back to London to face Simon.
How did Simon react and what did you do after the split? Simon was surprisingly okay and probably knew it was coming. He suggested that John Hewlett should now manage me under his supervision and we moved into his old flat near Kings Road, Chelsea. That was the end of John’s Children and the start of my solo career. I was signed to CBS and made quite a few records including Beatles covers as well as my own songs. I appeared on various TV shows and commercials and did stunt work for ‘The Avengers’. We hung out at Lionel Bart’s house where many colourful characters partied, including Keith Moon, Twiggy, The Beatles and the Rolling Stones. Lionel was such a flamboyant and lovely man, very eccentric and entertaining. He was reworking his compositions for the film version of his stage musical ‘Oliver!’ And he played his piano as we sang along with drinks in one hand and drugs in the other. I went to the London film premiere in 1968 and was fascinated to hear all those songs he had played on the piano being performed on the big screen. A young David Bowie was a regular guest at his house and he played me a rough version of ‘Space Oddity’ on his acoustic guitar and asked for my opinion, I just said “Yeah, it’s alright”, having no idea what I would hear on the radio some months later. I met up with David again at an audition for a role in ‘Virgin Soldiers’, the casting agent asked if I would cut my hair for the part but I refused and David said yes, so he got a part. Simon suggested I studied mime with Marcel Marceau and train in acrobatics, so that’s what I did! John went on to manage other artists and did really well.
What was your involvement with the film ‘Here We Go Round The Mulberry Bush’?
After a few solo projects, I recorded my song ‘It’s Been A Long Time’ with a full orchestra for the Spencer Davies Group and Traffic film. Simon asked me to assist in the edit suite in Old Compton street as he was the film’s musical director. Paul McCartney and John Lennon were next door sitting in on the film edit of ‘Magical Mystery Tour’. John was always hanging out of the window and shouting obscenities at passers while Paul was more focussed on the film. Paul and I both had girlfriends called Jane and whenever the phone rang in the corridor, one of us would answer and end up speaking to the other’s Jane which got confusing. I enjoyed doing something different and Simon recognised that I picked up things quickly, so it was a lot of fun to work on and I was chuffed they wanted me to sing one of my own songs.
What happened to the other band members and how did Jet come about? I kept in touch with the guys and saw Chris Townson regularly; he became a graphic designer and later got involved in social work. I always kept in touch with Marc and stayed good friends, he was really special and I still miss him. I’d loved to have seen what he would be doing now; he was very ahead of his time. I took a break from music and took up painting again, which I still enjoy. I used to sell my art work from house to house which proved quite lucrative. I met a French guy who was a fellow artist; we decided to go travelling for a year and ended up in all kinds of adventures which will be in my autobiography! On my return, Chris was playing in a band called Jook and John was managing both Jook and Sparks at the time. Sparks fired their bass player, Martin Gordon, after they recorded their LP ‘Kimono My House’. Martin wanted to write some songs but they preferred to retain control in the band. Martin contacted Chris after Jook split and suggested they form a band, they invited me to join them. We got David O’List from Roxy Music and The Nice on guitar. Our manager was linked to CBS and brought in Peter Oxendale on keyboards and Jet was born in 1974.
Jet was considered glam rock, would you agree?
We played the songs that Martin had intended for Sparks, so it was a similar style to them and very glam rock. It wasn’t really the kind of music I wanted to do but CBS was keen on it, so I became a glam rocker and decided to look the part. We supported Ian Hunter and Mick Ronson on a UK tour which was a blast. Ian McLeod joined us after David and Peter left. We used to lock up all our equipment in the CBS storage vaults but one day they told us it had all been stolen but we didn’t believe them and suspected they had taken it back and used Jet as a tax loss. They signed up a lot of bands at the same time and clearly decided to choose which ones they wanted to keep, they could claim for the ones they let go. While we were in Somerset rehearsing a rock opera for our next LP, one of their accountants came by and was shocked by the opera and told us we were dropped from the label. They really messed us about and it was all because of money.
When did Jet become the punk band Radio Stars? In 1977, I went to Rock On Records in Camden where a guy called Ted Carroll ran his own label, Chiswick Records, which launched many punk acts. I played a Jet demo of ‘Dirty Pictures’ and he agreed to sign us for a year to see how things went. Ted sent a promo of ‘Dirty Pictures’ to the Melody Maker and they loved it and asked what we were called. He looked at my list of suggestions for a new name and quickly picked Radio Stars. We realised that was our chosen name by reading the Melody Maker review. I’ve always been interested in astronomy and I took the name from quasars in space which are a source of radio waves, also known as Radio Stars.
Radio Stars made their TV debut on ‘Marc’. Looking back, that must have been a great but poignant experience.
One day, I bumped in to Marc down Kings Road where I was late and running to a Radio Stars rehearsal. This purple Mini with blacked out windows swung round and swerved next to me, the window wound down and there was Marc, “Hey, man”, he said, “What are you running from?” I explained where I was going and he said he had heard about Radio Stars and that he was soon going to have his own TV show and maybe we could appear on it. I told the others in the rehearsal and they all looked at me disbelievingly. But sure enough, two months later, our management got a call asking us to appear on the ‘Marc’ show. Marc looked surprisingly young and fit, as I had heard he had lost the plot a bit in his tax haven in Monte Carlo, taking lots of drugs and binging on Champagne. I think we did ‘No Russians in Russia’ on the show, and we had made tentative arrangements to meet up soon after his last show, but it was not to be. I was so happy for his success and it was great to catch up with him again, but sadly he died soon after. We used Marc’s song for John’s Children, ‘Horrible Breath,’ as the B- side to ‘Nervous Wreck’ which really pleased him. We appeared on the ‘Old Grey Whistle Test’ but Bob Harris didn’t speak to any of us, he really wasn’t interested in our style of music, he had many punk bands on the show but he never liked any of them. We recorded three John Peel sessions which were more enjoyable, and toured with Eddie and the Hot Rods and Squeeze. We also headlined our own tour but split up after our second LP.
What is Andy Ellison up to these days? I’ve continued to play with old band members over the years; we’ve played at a few punk events in London as well as gigs in Europe and US. It’s been really busy but great fun to perform with old mates again and play songs from all our bands. Many songs and albums have been re-released over time, so our music has never gone away. John’s Children recorded the ‘Black & White’ LP which was released by Acid Jazz in 2011 and includes new material as well as my version of ‘Sara, Crazy Child’ which I consider to be one of Marc’s finest songs. Boz Boorer joined our band; he’s a John’s Children fan and has worked extensively with Morrissey. I bumped in to him in my corner shop, where he said “You were in my favourite band, how about reforming and I’ll play guitar?” I played at the Steve Marriott Memorial event at the Astoria in 2001 and I unveiled a plaque to the Small Faces in Carnaby Street in 2007 where Don Arden had his office. Radio Stars supported Eddie and the Hot Rods at the 100 Club in 2010. I’ve appeared with T.Rextasy at many T. Rex conventions and benefit shows. They do a great job in keeping Marc’s memory alive, Daniel and his wife Karen are lovely people who work really hard and have a huge following of their own, apart from Marc’s fans. I’m playing at the Marc Bolan 35th Anniversary Concert at the O2 Shepherds Bush Empire on 15th September 2012. There will be more John’s Children gigs coming up, so keep checking our website and Facebook page. I’m told that I’m a cult, but I think they spelt it wrong! I’m busy writing my autobiography; it’s amazing how much comes back as I write. It will be a very funny and fascinating read about my life which has been very eventful with hopefully loads more to come. My most outstanding memory of my musical career will always be that final show on The Who tour in Germany which was really scary but so amazing at the same time, I’ll never forget that. Hopefully, I’ll hook up with Simon when he’s next in London and we’ll mull over old times!
Which of your songs are you most proud of?
I’m really proud of them all but I am very fond of ‘Remember Thomas A Beckett’ which was the B-side to ‘Desdemona’. I wrote it with John and based the lyrics on a 1964 remake of a film called ‘Night Must Fall’ starring Albert Finney; it’s a dark story about murder and obsession. Simon was going through his hippie stage and he wanted to slightly change the lyrics and renamed it ‘Come And Play With Me In The Garden’. I wrote ‘Midsummer Night’s Scene’ with Marc, it mentions petals and flowers, so these songs were often claimed to be the beginnings of Flower Power in the UK. I believe Marc didn’t want it released as he wasn’t happy with the production. There were only about fifty promos printed for record companies. Chris Townson used his copies as Frisbees in the fields near where he lived! The last copy sold for £4.5K, I still have my one!
You’ve suffered many injuries and accidents, which has been the worse? We had some awful near-misses in our old van. We were driving home from a gig when another car sped towards us and the van went up the embankment and spun over a few times, I was thrown out of the back window. Miraculously, we survived with cuts and bruises but it was one of many accidents we had in that van! Apart from the dislocated neck in Germany, I was always getting cuts and sprains from the stage fights and jumping off equipment, I’d often get punched while I was crowd surfing. I got more injuries in Radio stars. Once, someone stuck a hypodermic needle in my arm when I jumped in the audience, I could hardly stand and had to be taken to Hartlepool hospital, it must have been some kind of tranquiliser but it was scary for a while with the AIDS thing. I also fell 25 feet from a lighting rig, I was hanging upside down singing when one of the powerful lights swung down my arm, I just had to let go and fell in to the audience. I was unconscious for some time and broke my back and had serious burns to my arms that put me out of action for six months. I also had severed arteries and broken kneecaps at other times. NME once printed a picture of me as a skeleton and named all my injuries. I must have used up nine lives by now.
What instruments do you play? I have several guitars including a pink paisley Telecaster and a Union Jack acoustic guitar. I play piano when I’m composing and still enjoy the harmonica. I have an electric violin which I can’t really play but I can make some amazing sounds with it. My favourite instrument is my acoustic guitar.
Who are you listening to at the moment? I like many current bands; I’m currently listening to a band called Hard-Fi. I love Goldfrapp and Richard Hawley but I’m open to all kinds of music and I’m enjoying classical music these days. I’m not a fan of country but their occasional rock-based songs can be quite good. I tend to avoid Rap but one of my daughters is a fan and I sometimes hear the odd song which I think is really clever. I’d never want to manage a band, I’d be terrible and encourage people to be too outrageous and they’d probably end up killing someone because of me! But I’d advise new bands not to take it too seriously, many don’t seem to be in it for the fun and madness, they’re like accountants and business people these days. I guess times change but they need to have fun, money shouldn’t be the drive behind making music. I still think back to the days of us travelling to gigs in our old van, they were the best times we had, really.
Is there anything else you would like to try? Aside from writing my book, I’d like to act; I might have left it too late, who knows? I still enjoy painting, especially large black and white portraits; I’ve painted Keith Richards, Jimi Hendrix and Keith Moon amongst others. I love popping across to my place in the South of France and writing music, drinking wine and chilling. My favourite thing is rowing, I have a rowing boat at my studio on the Thames near Windsor and often go out at dusk, and it is magical.
Any regrets? Only that Marc died so young.
Thank you to Andy Ellison, a gentleman and a scholar....and eternal rock and roller.