A good one from Mr. Page – an early report from the road with ELO. A great read.
After mingling with the men from ELO, MIKE FLOOD PAGE discovers, in no uncertain terms that…
Exploding cello players are hard to get
Backstage in the largest conventional theatre in London, midst a scatter of drum heads, cables, and flats from old plays, a group of casually dressed men surround a curious object on the floor. A cable snakes away from its wooden figure-eight body to a couple of small batteries; inside they connect to a small charge.
In an atmosphere of increasing tension it`s front is replaced. A young man holds it up, and enquires if everyone is ready. The group hurries away from him in alarm. Someone gives the signal: a flash, a bang, and the front of the exploding cello flies off.
ELO`s latest recruit, second cellist Melvin Gayle, looks at the wreckage in his hands with a mixture of surprise and dismay. There is a quick conference: it is agreed the latest weapon in ELO`s armoured assault on classical music is deemed OK for the night.
Jeff Lynne explains: “We were thinking of an exploding cello player but they`re so hard to get.” Ah yes, all those tiresome cleaning bills.
Tonight it`s the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane, last night York; a couple of weeks back it was Phoenix or Denver or anywhere they like to hear the world`s first and best punk classic-rock band. They`ve never been able to restrain a good dig those Brummy liggers ELO.
Back in the days when the Idle Race were a cult band in Brummagem there was always that suspicion that they were too down to earth to take all that Tangerine Blancmange stuff too seriously, and the same esprit de piss-take pervades everything they do.
You know where their roots lie when you catch Jeff Lynne doodling away back stage at the middle break on `Runaway`, that classic by his hero Del Shannon. But then as new bassist Kelly Groucutt said in the pub later, “But `e`s yer mate now, Jeff, innee?” And indeed he is, but ELO are still a bunch of bad boys at heart. Unperturbed by the nonsense of the biz and still with their feet on the ground and their heroes in the early Sixties.
Over the same pint, no make that a couple, after the meal and before the show, Bev Bevan was explaining about the cover on their latest opus, `Eldorado` which has just cracked gold in the US where the group are still getting bigger and bigger. “Ere that`s right innit,” mused Kelly, “I mean, there`s seven of us now.” What they didn`t know, was that the cover was a still from the Wizard of Oz, the feet, those of the immortal Judy Garland. But everyone in the States knew right enough. “So they`re all saying how wonderful it is,” explains Bev, “and we`re saying, Oh, you know, we just thought it would be a good idea.”
It`s up for design awards now, but they`re not above getting a laugh out of it. Mind you that`s nothing to what happened to their first album in the States. United Artists, who handle them there, were in a hurry to start promotion on it, so a senior executive had his secretary call London for the title. Finding no-one in London who knew, she left a note on his pad that read `No answer`. So an album entitled `No Answer` is what they got. Still it`s a laff innit?
`Eldorado`. the same deft mix of pop classic strains with classic pop ideas that has seen them so far, overlaid with a real symphonic number, was the product of a few months thought on Jeff`s part, and two days on the lyrics. “I had to sit there for two days all day going `come on, do it, move on the paper!` and it come out alright in the end. Once I got started it was OK. I enjoyed that – working under pressure. It`s just that I fancied doing something with a concept. I thought about doing it with `On The Third Day` but we didn`t have time in the end.”
There must be problems transferring it to stage. “It`s quite difficult, yeah. But now Richard Tandy`s got a mellotron with choir parts an` stuff like that, it`s working out quite good. There`s a few more balls ups than there is on the record.”
When ELO started, Jeff was quoted as saying that they intended to take-off from the point the Beatles had reached with `I Am The Walrus`. “That was because nobody had used strings and that was the obvious thing to compare it with I suppose. But that`s not the ambition anymore. When we started we didn`t know anything about it, about the instruments we were using or anything, but it`s taken a definite shape now.”
How about that weird high singing style he employs, something reminiscent of the old Move days, a Brummie peculiarity perhaps? “It`s not a conscious thing. I think it`s the way you hold yer leg actually. I just try to make my voice nicer than it really is. I just try and get the rough edges out of it. Maybe it`s the air in Birmingham what does it, all that snot.”
How does he go about writing and making an album like `Eldorado`? “On `Eldorado` I went out of my way to do some pseudo-classical stuff which I enjoy a lot. I have to cheat `cos I can`t play piano very well, so all the fast bits I had to do at half speed. That`s for me to show Richard what it should go like. When we record we do the rhythm tracks first just me Bev, Richard and Kelly.” Then in come the strings: Hugh McDowall, Melvin Gayle, and Mick Kaminsky on violin, and then the fancy parts which were arranged by an old mate Louis Clark.
The mugs were empty so it was back over the road to get into the stage gear in the pint sized dressing room and on to a packed house. The set was the mixture as usual with that peculiar mix of straight rock and rollers including a magnificent work out on `Day Tripper` and a stomping finale of `Great Balls Of Fire` – preceded by the exploding cello, which, lamentably came over as a bit of a damp squib, though Melvin looked relieved when that was over.
The songs have the same simple but effective elements that Lynne brought to his Idle Race classic `Please No More Sad Songs`, but for the most part the strange keening vocals are but a poor second to the histrionics of the music. And the music, it`s so literal-minded, such a rip-off, and so successful. This is genuine classic-rock from the garbage can. A punk idea of art.
If they took it seriously they`d lose out to the Rick Wakeman`s and ELP`s of this world before the match had begun, but they don`t. They know that under the camouflage they have good simple songs, with a melancholy or strident one, and a solid rocking undertow.
Not that they are bad musicians, they are just headed in a different direction from the grandiose pretensions of the serious arty classic rock brigade.
The last number over they`re off for a minute. The crowd noise surges up, Jeff looks around at the gaudy crew scattered behind the curtain “Right lads, let`s get back out there”. And it`s a riotous trip through the most straightforward idea since Chuck Berry wrote it. `Roll Over Beethoven` with a classic intro. Now why didn`t someone think of that before?
Then the last curtain down, it`s back to the dressing room for peace and quiet and to change. Except that you can`t get to your civvies for a crowd at least three times too big for the room.
The situation was well beyond human control. Champagne corks popping in such a press becoming dangerous ballistic missiles. Your reporter, humming a recherche little number by Verdi, and snapping his fingers to a Bo Diddley rhythm, made his excuses, and left.
I have personally transcribed this from the original paper. Any errors in the text from the original magazine may not have been corrected for the sake of accuracy. If you have a music-related web-page where this fits – please make a link to the article. With credits to the original writer of the article from all of us music fans!
This number of Sounds also contains articles/interviews with these people: Joe Cocker, Argent, Paul McCartney, The Troggs, Chaka Khan, Lindisfarne, Rupert Holmes, Black Oak Arkansas, Labelle, Return To Forever, Arthur Lee, Flying Burrito Brothers, Glitter Band, Andy Fraser, The Sound of Philly, Back Door, Ronnie Lane, John Entwistle, Tom Paxton.
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