Thursday, 6 February 2020

Call Out The Instigators! I Was A Teenage Record Thief

by  Stuart Penney

Part One: Thunderclap Newman

Here’s something you don’t hear every day.  For a couple of years between 1969-71 my mate Charlie single-handedly ran the UK branch of the James Brown fan club.  It sounds unlikely, but it’s absolutely true. Once a month Charlie was allocated office space at Polydor Records’ London HQ to mail out newsletters and 8 x 10 glossy photos of Soul Brother No.1 to subscription-paying members.  This was not only pre-computers, of course, but also before the widespread implementation of photocopiers. So, Charlie would crank out the letters by hand on a noisy Gestetner duplicating machine. It was a tiresome, labour-intensive process, taking up most of an afternoon.  To speed things up he sometimes invited me along to help stuff the envelopes and generally assist with admin. This is the story of one such visit we made in September 1970. 
Lifetime single - One Word
I wasn’t really a soul / funk music fan at that time, I must confess, much preferring the heavy blues of Cream, Hendrix and Zeppelin. But I thoroughly enjoyed these trips, mainly because we always came away with plenty of free vinyl.  Like many of my generation, I lived for records and almost every waking minute was devoted to the acquisition of albums. But as a poverty-stricken teenager on minimum wage, my obsession far exceeded any available cash. So, whenever there was the slightest chance of getting records cheap, or better still, for free, I was there like a shot.  
Derek & the Dominos withdrawn single - Tell The Truth
At that time the Polydor offices occupied several floors of Swan House on Stratford Place, an elegant Georgian cul-de-sac just off Oxford Street.  Although almost directly opposite Bond Street tube station and a stone’s throw from the original HMV shop, Stratford Place is something of a backwater, isolated from the incessant noise of West End traffic.  Like the other major labels, Polydor was booming at the time and in every office and alcove, desks were piled high with promotional records, DJ mail-outs, posters, shop displays and the general clutter of music related paraphernalia. There was stuff everywhere. It was like an Aladdin's cave. We always timed our visits close to midday when we knew most of the staff would be out at lunch and the place was quiet, giving us free run of the building for an hour or two.  
Alongside records by current Polydor chart acts such as the Bee Gees and the New Seekers (in which I had little interest) there were all manner of rare and obscure items guaranteed to make the pulse race.  Here were a dozen copies of Rory Gallagher's “Sinner Boy”, a promo-only three-track single from his forthcoming debut solo album. Over there was a box of “One Word”, an unfeasibly scarce 45 by Tony Williams' Lifetime, featuring Jack Bruce and John McLaughlin.  On the floor under a desk I almost tripped over a carton of Eric Clapton’s Derek and the Dominos single “Tell The Truth”, the Phil Spector-produced fast version which was immediately withdrawn after release and would soon rocket in value. I held up a copy of the Dominos’ 45 to attract Charlie’s attention. “Help yourself!” he mouthed over the clank and wheeze of the Gestetner before returning to the task in hand.  Might as well take the whole box, in that case, I reasoned.

I’d known Charlie for a few years since we worked together at a Soho music publisher and. although we were very different in background and temperament, it was impossible to dislike him.  A Londoner born and bred, from Walthamstow via Chingford to be exact, he was a lovable rogue with an eye for the main chance. With his barrow boy mentality, he never missed an opportunity to earn a few quid even if it meant sailing close to the wind, legally speaking.  He once sold me a car on which he still owed money to the finance company, causing all kinds of grief when I came to resell it. "Oh, yeah. Perhaps I should have mentioned that" was his only defence when challenged.
*James Brown - Get Up I Feel Like Being A Sex Machine (Pt1)
In the mid-70s Charlie ran a record stall in Brick Lane market where his cockney bravado and gift of the gab helped him out of more than a few sticky situations, especially when he was caught selling bootlegs and other unauthorised gear, some of it fresh off the back of a lorry, I shouldn’t wonder.
But we didn’t think of this as stealing.  Goodness me, no. As unofficial (albeit temporary) Polydor workers we naturally assumed we had tacit approval to take a few records home with us and early 70s record company largesse meant it was just a perk of the job as far as we were concerned.  Anyway, most of the records we liberated were promos, which would soon be given away free to radio stations and music papers. That’s what we told ourselves, anyway.
*Rory Gallagher - It's You / Just The Smile / Sinner Boy - Promo side B
The fan club work continued apace as we helped ourselves to whatever records we fancied during breaks.  I remember finding a US single of “Love Like A Man” by Ten Years After with a different B-side to the UK pressing. There was a brief, golden period in the early 70s when so-called underground bands such as Deep Purple, Black Sabbath, Atomic Rooster and Jethro Tull regularly troubled the British singles charts and the Ten Years After 45 had been a surprise top ten hit only a few weeks previously. "Love Like A Man" was on the Deram label, so who knows what it was doing at Polydor, but we nabbed it anyway. Then I saw it: a white label LP in a plain cover.  Written on the sleeve in pencil it said, simply, “Thunderclap Newman – Hollywood Dream”.  “This is the band who did “Something In The Air”, isn’t it?” I said, referring to the big hit of June 1969 which had deposed the Beatles’ “The Ballad of John and Yoko” at the top of the charts.  It was seemingly a test pressing of their forthcoming LP, of which I knew nothing. “Stick it in the bag!” repeated Charlie, without even looking up from his work. Finally, our task was complete and, in between filling hundreds of envelopes and cranking the Gestetner, I could see we had amassed a decent pile of vinyl.  It had been a productive afternoon’s work.  We deposited the James Brown fan club letters in the Polydor mailroom and with Charlie bidding a cheery (not to say cheeky) farewell to the uniformed doorman (who didn’t check our bags, thankfully), we left Swan House weighed down but pleased with our monthly haul of illicit records.

*Thunderclap Newman - Hollywood Dream (Track 2406 003)
the following weeks the Thunderclap Newman LP bothered me, however.  The white sleeve contained absolutely no recording details or even a track listing and in those pre-internet days it was near-impossible to get such information ahead of release. It seemed unfinished and I resolved to secure a proper cover.  As luck would have it I worked in Old Compton Street at the time, just a few yards from the Soho offices of the band’s label, Track Records. 
Track was formed in late 1966 by the Who’s managers Kit Lambert and Chris Stamp. The label's two biggest money-spinners by far were Jimi Hendrix and the Who, but they also had several smaller, yet no less interesting, names on the roster such as John’s Children (featuring Marc Bolan), The Crazy World of Arthur Brown, Marsha Hunt and recent Pete Townshend protégés Thunderclap Newman. In fact, it was Arthur Brown who gave Track their first number one hit in August 1968 with his single "Fire", while Thunderclap Newman provided the label's second chart topper with "Something In The Air". Their hip credentials received a boost when, in late 1968, Track agreed to distribute John & Yoko's Two Virgins Apple LP, after EMI had flatly refused to handle the nude sleeve photo. All Track releases were, in turn, wholly distributed by Polydor, however, which explains why I'd found the white label LP there. So, one lunchtime a few days later, I breezed into the Track reception at 58 Old Compton Street as bold as you like and asked if they had any spare sleeves for Hollywood Dream (you could do that kind of thing in those days).  “Hang on a minute” said the bored receptionist, as she flipped a switch and said something I didn’t catch into the intercom.  A few minutes later a young man came bounding down the stairs two at a time. Fashionably dressed in a flowery shirt, corduroy jeans and longish hair, he looked every inch the young record company executive. “I hear you've got a copy of the Thunderclap Newman LP” he said, eyeing me quizzically.  “Yeah, that’s right” I answered cheerily, “But the thing is, I don't have a sleeve, see?” “Well, that’s strange”, he fired back. “The record is not even released until next Friday [October 2, 1970 to be exact], so perhaps you can explain how you have a copy already?”

*Melody Maker ad for Something In The Air - May 1969
This was awkward. I clearly hadn't thought my plan through.  “Ah, well, I have a mate who, er, works at Polydor, you see, and he gave me his copy” I blustered, thinking on my feet.  I figured it was close enough to the truth to be plausible. After a long pause followed by a few more probing questions, he bought the story, saying “OK, come back next week and we’ll give you a cover”.  Then he turned and ran back up the stairs.

The Track executive was true to his word and sure enough, a week later, a complimentary gatefold sleeve, packed with photos, recording information and that all-important track listing, was waiting for me in reception.  Finally, the package was complete and what a great, unassuming record it was. Every track was a joy. From the ten-minute version of “Accidents” (possibly the only pop song in history to warn of the dangers of train spotting) to the unreleased Bob Dylan number “Open the Door, Homer”, via every strange piano interlude, guitar instrumental and quirky pop/psych gem along the way. I loved it all.  And underpinning everything was “Something In The Air” the gently euphoric worldwide number one hit single, soon to become a timeless and indestructible staple of 1960s classic rock radio.  
Originally titled "Revolution", it was renamed "Something In The Air" to avoid confusion with the Beatles' track of the same name. The song’s unashamed call for civil insurrection, including the line “Hand out the arms and ammo”, was completely at odds with its lilting melody, soothing two chord progression (E major to F minor, just like Fleetwood Mac’s “Albatross”) subtle key changes and mellow string arrangement.  Deceptively simple in structure, “Something In The Air” was far greater than the sum of its parts.

 *Something In The Air sheet music
Thunderclap Newman was assembled in late 1968 to showcase the piano playing of Andy Newman and the song writing talent of Speedy Keen.  Pete Townshend had been an admirer of Newman’s unusual piano style since they were at art school together (see below). Speedy was Townshend’s driver and erstwhile flatmate who wrote “Armenia City in the Sky”, the opening track on the album The Who Sell Out. His quirky songs and reedy falsetto vocals suited the Thunderclap Newman sound perfectly.  
Guitar prodigy Jimmy McCulloch was only 15 or 16 when he joined the band but already played like a veteran, contributing some unexpectedly tough blues lead guitar to the album.  He and Andy Newman met for the first time on the day “Something In The Air” was recorded in early 1969. After Thunderclap Newman folded. Jimmy worked with around a dozen bands, including John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers and fellow Scots Stone the Crows.  Most notably he played lead guitar in Paul McCartney’s Wings between 1974-77 before his untimely death at age 26 in 1979.
Reinforcing it all was the piano work of Andy “Thunderclap” Newman himself.  A former GPO telephone engineer, Newman played an incongruous mix of honky-tonk and Bix Beiderbecke style boogie-woogie and his jazzy solos were shoehorned into almost every song.  This became the band’s trademark, whereby each tune would change key/tempo and veer off at a tangent to allow the piano interlude to happen. It was a strange and wondrous thing to behold, although I’m sure it put off as many casual listeners as it attracted.

*Thunderclap Newman with Pete Townshend
Pete Townshend produced the album, arranged the strings and played bass under the name “Bijou Drains”.  Speedy Keen is credited with drums on the LP, while Jimmy McCulloch’s brother Jack (co-writer of the Hollywood Dream instrumental title track) occupied the kit for live performances.  Jim Pitman-Avery was also brought in on bass for stage work. Even within the band, recollections vary regarding the amount of concerts they actually played. Some say it was a mere handful of live dates, while others claim they completed a full tour.
After just the one album and four singles, Thunderclap Newman broke up in April 1971. Hollywood Dream was a sales flop in Britain and the band narrowly escaped the dreaded one-hit wonder tag when a short version of “Accidents”, the follow-up to “Something In The Air”, scraped into the UK top 50 in June 1970, peaking at #46.
Meanwhile, “Something In The Air” took on a life of its own.  The song has appeared in countless movies, television programmes and adverts, usually whenever a 60s mood is required.  It has been covered by many artists including Labelle, Herbie Mann, Eurythmics, Fish (ex-Marillion), The Lightning Seeds, Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers and The Dukes of September (featuring Donald Fagen, Boz Scaggs and Michael McDonald).  Today, turn on any classic rock radio station anywhere in the world and the chances are you’ll hear “Something In The Air” within the hour.

*The 1973 US reissue of Hollywood Dream used a different sleeve
I treasured the album for decades until the CD era dawned and Hollywood Dream became available with pristine sound and bonus tracks (albeit with a different running order to the original LP).  Without a moment’s hesitation or regret I sold the white label copy for around £50 on eBay.  I’d already traded most of the Derek and the Dominos withdrawn singles years earlier for a pound each at the record stall in Kensington Market and after both tracks became available on Eric Clapton’s Crossroads box set, the rest went to eBay as well.  The rare Dominos’ single now sells for around 50 times the amount I got for them but, hey, you win some and you lose some.  But Hollywood Dream remains a favourite album and occasionally gets pulled out for a spin to this day.  So, thank you Polydor and thank you to the kind, nameless gentleman at Track Records. But most of all, thank you Charlie, wherever you are today.
Pete Townshend speaking about Andy "Thunderclap" Newman in a 1970 promo interview for the Hollywood Dream album
“The first time I met Andy Newman I was at art school.  Everywhere I went in the college one day, there were posters saying ‘Thunderclap Newman plays today’.  So, we all thought Thunderclap Newman must be an obsolete jazz star. So, we collect in the theatre and waited.  And out of the corner of my eye I see this peculiar guy with… the first image I got was his shape, which was a bit like a turnip. And he gets on the piano and starts to play, and as his fingers starts to tinkle, you know, I mean the magic mood that just sifted through.  After the theatre appearance he disappeared, and then friends and I used to get hold of tapes of his and listen to them, and completely worship him from afar. I remember the second time I met him we saw him in the street, my mate and me, we saw him walking in the street, looking in the gutter at things, and stopping and taking off his glasses and looking at something here and something there, and stroking his beard, and walking on a bit.  And we were following him going ‘Blimey! It’s him! It’s Thunderclap Newman!’ Like a couple of teeny boppers. And just as we were about to scream and ask for his autograph, he got on a bus and disappeared. Andy is a complete farce, he’s a walking farce. Just the sight of him makes me laugh sometimes. Although I’m getting used to him now. His music though, I never laugh at that. I mean if I do laugh, it’s laughter of someone who is hysterically happy.  His music is just completely… I feel that it’s partly mine. And I think a lot of people get that feeling.” 

*One of the many Basement Tapes acetates. "Open The Door, Homer" often
erroneously appeared as "Open The Door, Richard"

Part Two: The Basement Tapes Connection
Quite how Thunderclap Newman, a little-known band with only one hit single under their belts came to be awarded that most valuable of pop music prizes, an unreleased Bob Dylan song, is part of a much bigger story and deserves further explanation here.  
Considering Dylan was semi-retired following his motorcycle accident and out of the public eye for much of 1967, his songs were everywhere.  A collection of over 100 tracks recorded informally on borrowed equipment with the Hawks (soon to become The Band) between March and September of 1967 at Big Pink, the house they shared in Woodstock, were copyrighted by Dylan’s US publisher Dwarf Music. These lo-fi amateur recordings became known as the basement tapes.
In late 1967, a 14-track acetate disc of the strongest songs, compiled by Hawks’ keyboardist Garth Hudson, was circulated among publishers in London and New York with a view to finding artists who might want to record them.  
Dylan himself wasn’t especially precious about the material, admitting to Rolling Stone editor Kurt Loder in 1984 “They were just songs we had done for the publishing company for other artists to record those songs.  I wouldn’t have put them out.”
Bob may not have wanted the songs released, but other people had very different ideas, none of which involved copyright royalties or other legal niceties.  Around 50 tracks were swiftly bootlegged, appearing on famous titles such as Great White Wonder from June 1969 and regarded as the first notable rock bootleg album.  A flood of similar unauthorised releases followed until, in June 1975, CBS/Columbia felt duty-bound to officially issue The Basement Tapes album containing 24 of the original 1967 tracks.

The songs on Hudson’s 14-track acetate were: "Million Dollar Bash", "Yea! Heavy and a Bottle of Bread", "Please, Mrs. Henry", "Down in the Flood", "Lo and Behold", "Tiny Montgomery", "This Wheel's on Fire", "You Ain't Goin' Nowhere", "I Shall Be Released", "Tears of Rage", "Too Much of Nothing", "The Mighty Quinn", "Open the Door, Homer" and "Nothing Was Delivered”.
*Bob Dylan's Great White Wonder. The first rock bootleg?
Here is a brief account of what happened to some of those songs. 
Peter, Paul and Mary, managed by Dylan’s then-manager Albert Grossman, had the first hit with a basement tapes song when their cover of “Too Much of Nothing” reached number 35 on the Billboard chart in November 1967.  PP&M also recorded “I Shall Be Released” around the same time and both songs were included on their 1968 album Late Again.
In January 1968, Manfred Mann (a serial Dylan covers band) reached number one on the UK charts with a version of “The Mighty Quinn”, while in April “This Wheel’s on Fire”, recorded by Julie Driscoll, Brian Auger and the Trinity, hit #5 in Britain.  At the last count “This Wheel’s on Fire” had been covered around 30 times by artists as diverse as Mountain and Kylie Minogue.
Also in April 1968 “You Ain’t Goin’ Nowhere” was a minor UK/US hit for the Byrds.  Along with “Nothing Was Delivered” it appeared on their August 1968 watershed country rock album Sweetheart of the Rodeo.  UK beat merchants Unit 4 + 2 also released “You Ain’t Goin’ Nowhere” as a single during 1968. 
In May 1968 Boz Burrell, later of King Crimson and Bad Company, recorded “I Shall Be Released” and “Down In The Flood” as both sides of a single under the name “Boz”.  The backing musicians on the record included Ritchie Blackmore, Nick Simper and Jon Lord of the newly formed Deep Purple, plus bassist Chas Hodges, later with Chas and Dave. The B-side appeared incorrectly spelled as “Dove In The Flood”.  
UK psych/prog outfit Spooky Tooth included “Too Much Of Nothing” on their June 1968 Island debut It’s All About.  Two years later another Island band Fotheringay, fronted by Sandy Denny, recorded the song for their 1970 self-titled debut album.  
Ian & Sylvia, another of Albert Grossman’s folk acts, recorded “Tears of Rage”, “The Mighty Quinn” and “This Wheel’s On Fire” on two 1968 albums Nashville and Full Circle.
Still in 1968, bluegrass pickers Lester Flatt & Earl Scruggs recorded “Down In The Flood” on their album Changin’ Times.
The Hawks, by now re-named renamed The Band, tackled “This Wheel’s on Fire”, “I Shall Be Released” and “Tears of Rage” for their debut album, Music from Big Pink, released in July 1968.  Joan Baez also covered “Tears Of Rage” and “You Ain’t Goin’ Nowhere” on her 1968 LP of Dylan songs Any Day Now.
Little-known LA band Stone Country covered “Million Dollar Bash” in 1968, while Fairport Convention recorded it on their 1969 Island album Unhalfbricking.  Disgraced producer/singer/entrepreneur Jonathan King also released the song as a Decca single in 1970.  
In October 1970, ace guitarist Chris Spedding recorded the first known cover version of “Please, Mrs Henry” on his Harvest album Backwood Progression.
Along with Thunderclap Newman, several other artists covered “Open The Door, Homer”, including John Walker of the Walker Brothers who recorded it as the B-side of his 1968 solo single “I’ll Be Your Baby Tonight”, a Dylan song from the John Wesley Harding album.  
Within three years, 11 of the 14 tracks on Garth Hudson’s acetate had been covered by dozens of different artists.  Not a bad average for a bunch of orphan songs Dylan originally had little interest in. Since then, the total number of individual basement tapes covers has reached at least 300, with the anthemic “I Shall Be Released” leading the pack by a long way with over 150 English language versions alone, including recordings by Joe Cocker, the Box Tops, the Hollies and the Tremeloes.
*The complete Basement Tapes box set was finally released in 2014
So, how did Thunderclap Newman come to record “Open The Door, Homer”?  Their connection to Pete Townshend may have had something to do with it.  It’s known that several big rock names. including George Harrison, Eric Clapton, Jimi Hendrix and Neil Young, had copies of the basement tapes material in 1968, long before they were widely bootlegged.  So maybe Pete also had access to them and earmarked the song for his new band. Alternatively, the songs were freely circulating among Denmark Street publishers at the time, seemingly up for grabs by anyone with the right credentials and/or with a savvy agent/manager behind them. 
In memory of Thunderclap Newman:
James "Jimmy" McCulloch - 4 June 1953 – 27 September 1979
John "Speedy" Keen - 29 March 1945 – 12 March 2002
Andy "Thunderclap" Newman - 21 November 1942 - 29 March 2016

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