woensdag 5 oktober 2016
Hollywood Dream. Thunderclap Newman
Recently I reviewed 'Tommy', the Who's rock opera. Not long after the release of 'Pinball Wizard' another song entered the Veronica Top 40 chart, that later I learned was produced by Pete Townsend of The Who. At the time I had no idea of the connection, I think. But then you never know what young ears pick up and remember, do you? 'Something In The Air' was that single and a minor hit in The Netherlands. It is another one of those songs in which anything was possible. A mini opera in its own right. From a fairly normal, medium rock song it holds this psychedelic, yet very old-fashioned, middle that no one would bother to release these days. In those days they did and a place in posterity is there for Thunderclap Newman.
The band is a construct of sorts. Pete Townsend was supposed to produce bands his manager Kit Lambert was creating. Due to his lack of time the three band ideas were merged and out came Thunderclap Newman, a studio vehicle for the songs of drummer and singer John "Speedy" Keen. He was an ex-roadie of The Who, who had contributed a song to one of its albums. He was joined by telephony mechanic and pianist Andy, 'Thunderclap' Newman and guitarist Jimmy McCullogh, later of Wings fame. Pete Townsend played the bass guitar. Due to the success of Something In The Air, a number 1 hitsingle in the U.K. and a single that sold over 1 million copies worldwide, the band also was to tour. It remained a one hit wonder and disbanded in 1971.
In 1970 an album was released, so technically it doesn't fit this series, but we are discussing the albums behind the hitsingle, so let's do it any way. Hollywood Dream, the reissue at least that I'm listening to, begins with the hit, of course. 'Something In The Air', that was originally called Revolution, in 2016 is not as exceptional as it sounded to me in 1969, 1974 and 1977, when I bought the song on a compilation album. At the same time I still hear the quality of the composition and the originality that Newman delivered to the song. The success is not a surprise. From the elementary guitar opening to the emotional end, everything seems in its right place, with the exception of that part, that is totally weird, out of place and belonging to an era that was as out of date as the dressing of Andy Newman was. For me, listening in 2016, it is the second guitar coming in that signals that something special is going to happen. The orchestration brings Keith West's 'Excerpt From A Teenage Opera' to mind. More and more is added to the song and Keen's somewhat nasal singing. Whoever thought up what happens in the middle section, must either have been totally crazy or brilliant. It is so weird, but when the second guitar leads the song back into the verse, with its jumping violins and hopping horns, brilliance is reached. What a song to be remembered by.
Andy "Thunderclap" Newman was an oddity in the (psychedelic) rock world of 1969. He was not so much older than the average British rocker at the time, born in 1942, but he looked like an office clerk born at least in the 1920s. Compared to the then only 16 year old McCullogh he was ancient of course. By the way, Newman died this year in April. With that all three members of the band are deceased. Only the bass player, mysteriously called, Bijou Drains, is still alive and rumoured to be working on a sequel to 'Tommy'.
How is the rest of the songs? Well to be honest, not bad at all. There's nothing really outstanding on Hollywood Dream, but the impression I got from listening to the title song, a weaker version of the hitsingle, now the second song on the album, does not hold up. The band continuous in different vains, although Newman playing interludes returns regularly. It is the signature sound of Thunderclap Newman. The band does come up with different songs that are worth listening to. Some resemble the lighter side of The Who, that influence is there, but John Keen finds his own voice as well. Take 'The Reason'. The Move seems an influence, before McCullogh takes over with layer upon layer of rock guitars. Pretty awesome it is. Just like the cover version of Dylan's 'Open the door, Homer' is. The songs are familiar sounding to those who love the second half of the 60s music coming out of the U.K. Thunderclap Newman has produced nothing to be ashamed of, they may just have been one or two years too late releasing this album.
There's still a lot of psychedelia involved, which may be an answer to why Thunderclap Newman never got beyond the first single really. After 1969, which already was late for psychedelia, rock was in since 'Jumping Jack Flash', it was totally out of sync with the times. Oddly enough, with the music coming from alternative psych bands all over the world these days, it may be the right time for a Thunderclap Newman reappraisal. Hollywood Dream sounds in no way like bands like Ghost Wave or The Black Angels, but the intention is the much the same. Estrangement from what is perceived as normal. It does that very well.
You can listen to 'Something In The Air' here: