Saturday, April 11, 2009

Don't Fret, Keith Marshall's Only Crying

I’m pretty sure I’ve made reference before to a Time-Life CD compilation series called ‘The 80s Collection’. It first surfaced back in the mid 90s, and the idea was that each month a new double CD volume would arrive in the mail, with each volume focussing on hits from a particular year of the 80s. In all, the entire series comprised 20 double CD volumes (two from each year), and so over the course of a couple of years. I scored some genuinely outstanding tracks via the series, including some long hidden gems that I was rapped to rediscover. One such long lost treasure that I uncovered again, was the laid back, bluesy, southern rock ballad ‘Only Crying’ by Keith Marshall. The only copy of the track I’d had access to previous, was on a well worn vinyl album compilation called ‘1982...In The Sun’, which had originally been released in early ‘82, and featured a lot of songs that had first hit the charts in late ‘81. ‘Only Crying’ had been singer/guitarist Keith Marshall’s only hit as a solo artist, but Marshall had in fact been a key member of British glam rock outfit Hello. So in taking a closer look at the Keith Marshall story, it’s worth examining the history of Hello.

Hello is a traditional English language greeting which has…no wait, cue tape again. The origins of Hello hark back to the late 60s, when singer/guitarist Bob Bradbury began a North London outfit called The Flashback Berries. Soon after Bradbury formed a new band called The Age, recruiting drummer Jeff Allen, guitarist Keith Marshall, and a few months later, bassist Vic Faulkner. All of the band (aside from Allen) were still in their teens at the time, but over the next couple of years The Age gigged regularly around local venues, playing mostly covers material. For a period of a year or so, the band featured a female vocalist, and went under the moniker of Caroline Hall and the Age. But by 1971, Bradbury, Allen, Marshall, and Faulkner had decided to continue on as a quartet. Around that time, former Zombies’ road manager David Blaylock was working for Chappell Music publishing in marketing, and it was via Blaylock, that The Age came to the attention of Argent guitarist/vocalist Russ Ballard (see future post). Ballard first witnessed The Age in action via a gig at the Rolling Mills Club, in London. Blaylock had already offered the band his management services, and he arranged for Ballard to meet the band shortly after. Ballard was suitably impressed, and following a name change from The Age to Hello, it was agreed by all that the quartet would record some of Ballard’s compositions (songs that weren’t seen as suitable for Argent).

Veteran producer Mike Leander was brought in to oversee the band’s first recording sessions. Leander had already helmed productions for Marc Bolan, Joe Cocker, Van Morrison, Marianne Faithfull, to name a few, but circa early 70s had struck up a fruitful song writing/producer partnership with glam rock heavyweight Gary Glitter. During the band’s first recording session they laid down the Ballard penned track ‘Can’t Let You Go’, which went on to become a UK#32 hit for Barry Ryan in early ‘72. Around the same time Ryan’s version of ‘Can’t Let You Go’ was in the charts, Hello recorded another Ballard composition, the hard rocking ‘You Move Me’, which became Hello’s first single (via Bell Records). Sadly, ‘You Move Me’ didn’t move anywhere, and neither did another Ballard penned song ‘C’mon’, released later in ‘72.

By 1972/73, glam rock had exploded on the British music scene, and the likes of Glitter, Sweet, Wizzard, T-Rex, Mott the Hoople, Ziggy era Bowie, and Slade were dominating the airwaves, and the charts, and one of the most successful song writing teams behind the scenes, were Nicky Chinn and Mike Chapman. Hello’s manager, David Blaylock, saw glam rock as being the ticket to fame for his lads, and arranged for Hello to record a Chinn/Chapman song called ‘Dyna-mite’. Unfortunately, the band’s producer Mike Leander felt that ‘Another School Day’, written by the band themselves, would be a better option for Hello’s next single. Hello’s ‘Dyna-mite’ was shelved, but rival glam rock outfit Mud released their own version soon after, and scored their breakthrough hit (UK#4) late in ‘73, whilst Hello’s ‘Another School Day’ languished outside of the charts. It was a major blow to the young band’s confidence, and over the next year or so Hello kept a low profile in terms of studio output.

But Hello continued to forge a strong reputation on the live circuit, and despite not having released an album yet, the quartet ranked a very respectable seventh, in the New Musical Express’ ‘Best New Band’ reader’s poll of 1974. The time felt right to enter the studio again, but they needed a song that already had some pedigree. The song ‘Tell Him’ had been an international top ten hit in 1963 for the Exciters, and producer Mike Leander had already overseen the ‘glamming’ up of the track on the Glitter Band’s recent ‘Hey’ album. Hello recorded their own glam rock rendition of ‘Tell Him’, and the single was released in October of ‘74. It made an immediate impact on the charts, and within weeks Hello had said hello to the British top ten (#6/OZ#36), as well as breaking the band in Germany. It’s worth noting that a few months earlier, Hello’s producer, Mike Leander, had appeared in the Gary Glitter star vehicle film ‘Remember Me This Way’, in which he’s heard to say on the phone that an exciting new band called Hello are “taking off”. The ‘exciting new band’s follow up single, ‘Games Up’, had also been recorded by the Glitter Band, and whilst Hello’s version cracked the German top 30, it tanked at home. Similarly, the quartet’s glam rock makeover of ‘Bend Me Shape Me’ (a 1968 hit for both Amen Corner and American Breed) drifted into obscurity. Time to call on old mate Russ Ballard for help.

Ballard had been playing around with a song called ‘New York Groove’, and felt it was just the sort of catchy tune that would benefit from Hello’s vibrant performance energy. ‘New York Groove’ hit the British charts during October of ‘75, and promptly delivered Hello their second U.K. top ten single (#9), and matched the performance in Germany. The U.S. had remained largely aloof to the whole glam rock scene, and consequently the song remained unknown Stateside, that is until KISS guitarist Ace Frehley revived it in late ‘78 (US#13/OZ#29). As Hello’s version was riding high in the charts, their debut album was belatedly released. ‘Keep Us Off The Streets’ hit the shelves, originally featuring a mock denim jacket, in keeping with the general flashiness of all things glam. The marketing machine was put into overdrive, in an effort to promote Hello as the ‘next big thing’ in glam rock. The album featured a mix of glammed-up covers, and original songs, though only a handful by the band themselves. One of those songs, ‘Teenage Revolution’ (written by drummer Jeff Allen), lent itself brilliantly to being a strong response to anything glam heavyweights Sweet were offering at the time, and elsewhere the album pulsated with a youthful rock ‘n’ roll exuberance, even decadence, that in retrospect offered a glimpse of what punk would unleash soon after. The follow up single ‘Star Studded Sham’ (another Ballard effort), consolidated Hello’s profile in Germany, but bombed in Britain, and surprisingly the album ‘Keep Us Off The Streets’ never found a home inside the British charts.

Around the same time, Hello’s public profile received a further boost, when the band appeared in the Bruce Beresford film ‘Side By Side’, starring comedian Barry Humphries. The musical comedy also featured cameos/performance from Mud, The Rubettes, and Stephanie de Sykes, and realised a soundtrack offering tracks by Fox (see Jan 09 post), Disco-Tex and the Sex-O-Lettes, and Billy Ocean (see June 08 post). Hello’s earlier singles, ‘Game’s Up’ and ‘Bend Me Shape Me’, were also included. With the band also supporting the mega-selling Smokie on a sell-out tour in early ‘76, the lads could have been forgiven for thinking they were on the verge of something big. But something very big was about to overshadow the entire British music scene, and render glam rock yesterday’s news. When the brewing behemoth of punk exploded onto the British scene during 1976, Hello no doubt recognised that their days were numbered, at least in their home country. They released just one more single in Britain, 1976’s ‘Love Stealer’, before shifting base to Germany, where it seemed, at least for a time, their brand of music could still command a receptive audience.

Over the next couple of years, Hello maintained a strong following across parts of Europe, and also broke in Japan, where they performed a sell out tour in 1977. Producer Mike Leander maintained ties, as did Russ Ballard who offered up the single ‘Let It Rock’ in ‘77. But singles such as ‘Good Old U.S.A.’, and ‘Slow Motion’ (penned by Keith Marshall), couldn’t revive Hello’s fortunes beyond the continent. The band released their sophomore album, ‘Hello Again’, in 1978, and once more delivered some explosive covers of earlier hits, such as the Turtles’ ‘Elenor’, and Jeff Beck’s ‘Hi Ho Silver Lining’, in addition to some knockout originals like Marshall’s ‘Machine-Gun Hustle’, and Jeff Allen’s ‘Feel This Thing’. But if the first wave of punk hadn’t been enough to dump Hello onto the rocks, the disco phenomenon surely dealt the band a fatal blow. By 1979, with no prospect of a new record contract, Hello waved goodbye.

Singer/guitarist Bob Bradbury briefly flirted with a solo career in the late 80s, with the ‘Crazy Bout Dyna’, and in 2002 he launched a new version of Hello, and hit the road with Simon Ellis (guitar), Duncan Kenyon (bass), and Jaspa Tex (drums). The revamped Hello have proven to be popular on the lucrative nostalgia circuit, and are still a going strong to this day. Original drummer Jeff Allen (brother of Ultravox bassist Chris Cross) went on to play with the likes of Bonnie Tyler and Murray Head (see future posts).

Of the Hello alumnus, only guitarist/vocalist Keith Marshall enjoyed any degree of solo success. He pretty much abandoned the glam rock sound, and signed with Polydor in 1979, releasing the synth-pop style single ‘It’s Over’, produced by John Hudson. Marshall then set to work on his self-titled debut album, released on the Liberation/Arrival label in 1981. The up-tempo singles, ‘Let Me Rock You’ and ‘Dean’, the latter a revival of an old Hello song, both missed the charts, whilst ‘Silver and Diamonds’ was apparently well received in parts of Europe. But the seductive ‘Only Crying’ delivered Keith Marshall his only solo hit. After reaching #12 on the British charts in mid ‘81, ‘Only Crying’ debuted inside the Australian top 100 during November of ‘81. It spent no less than 28 weeks on the charts, and peaked at #19, early in ‘82.


Anonymous said...

I recently came accross your blog and have been reading along. I thought I would leave my first comment. I dont know what to say except that I have enjoyed reading. Nice blog. I will keep visiting this blog very often.


A. FlockOfSeagulls said...

Hi Joannah,
thanks very much for your comment. I'm glad you've enjoyed reading my posts. Great that you'll keep on visiting - lots more posts to come during the year.