Pennyblackmusic Presents: Johny Brown (Band of Holy Joy) - With Hector Gannet and Andy Thompson @The Water Rats, London, Saturday 25, May, 2024

Headlining are Johny Brown (Band of Holy Joy) With support from Hector Gannet And Andy Thompson
Hosted at the Water Rats London , Saturday 25th May, 2024. Doors open 7:30pm. First band on at 8:00pm; Admission £15 on the door or £12 in advance from We got Tickets
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Andy Ellison - Interview

  by Andrew Twambley

published: 5 / 10 / 2022

Andy Ellison - Interview


John's Children, Jet and Radio Stars' frontman Andy Ellison talks to Andrew Twambley about his new autobiography 'Stunt Rocker'', getting thrown off a tour by The Who and leading his bandmate Marc Bolan astray.

Having been a music fan for fifty odd years, I have read many a biography and autobiography, from the most monumental rock gods on the planet to those in the industry whom many of us will never have heard of, but nevertheless have made important contributions to the field of art that we all love. One may think that the guys and girls who have been round for years will always produce the best material…but not so. I find that the most interesting books are often by or about the lesser-known figures in the industry, because they try harder and tell stories that you haven’t heard a million times before. A typical example of such a tone is ‘Stunt Rocker’, the new biography by Andy Ellison. Andy was the enfant terrible of the early to mid-Sixties whose band, John’s Children, were so wild that The Who kicked them off their European tour for being too violent and destructive. Those old enough to recall John’s Children, the first time around, may recall that it was the band who introduced the world to Marc Bolan. But they were much more than that. Andy went on to form glam rock band Jet and punk rockers, Radio Stars. Andy’s book is a non-stop tale of mayhem and anarchy, and deserves a place on the bookshelf of any music fan who cares about the origins of the music we love. We spoke to him about the book and what a thoroughly naughty boy he has always been, PB: Hi Andy, it’s a great pleasure to speak to you. You are just about to release your autobiography, ‘Stunt Rocker’. It’s quite clear from the copy I received that you were the absolute enfant terrible of the ‘60s .It is a brilliant story, which not enough people know about. I think it should be called ‘The Baddest Muvva’, because you were a really bad guy in your day. ANDY ELLISON: Ha, well I've always been very naughty. It is the story of my life. PB: People know you for John’s Children but you go way back before then. Was The Silence your first band? Did you go back even further than that? AE: It became The Silence, but the first band that I joined was a band called The Clockwork Onions which became The Silence but I only joined by mistake. I went to see my mate Chris Counsel, who I went to boarding school with, who told me he was playing drums in some band at the weekend. So, I popped down to see them, and about halfway through the act the singer just leapt off the stage and chased this guy out of the hall as he was obviously chatting up his bird….as you called them in those days. PB: Some people still call them birds, up North anyway, even now. AE: That’s good. I’ll have to come up and live up North then. Anyway, he didn’t come back, so I jumped up on stage and joined in. I was wearing a belt around my shoulders with about five or six harmonicas on it for some reason and I thought, “Well I’ll just take things further by just playing some harmonica to help the band along.” A while later I just started making words up because they were like twelve-bar songs when you could do that sort of thing. Later that night, I was asked to come and rehearse with The Clockwork Onions. PB: Where did you go from The Clockwork Onions? AE: Eventually I decided, because we did play really loudly and were massive fans of The Small Faces and The Who, that we needed to up our game. So, we tried to buy as many big amplifiers as possible, and I thought a good name for the band would be The Silence, because were very noisy. So, it just went on from there. We nearly got signed to The Small Faces label as their manager Don Arden, (Sharon Osborne’s dad) saw us and liked us. He was a kind of gangster known locally as Al Capone. He took us to some gigs with The Small Faces, and then we realised that he wanted to break the band up as we were a bit of a threat to The Small Faces, so we took our leave, as it were! PB: But things turned round when you met Simon Napier-Bell, the legendary manager of artists such as the Yardbirds, Wham and Japan? AE: Yeah. PB: Where did he come from? AE: That’s a bit complicated, but in essence there was a club down in our town of Leatherhead called The Bluesette Club, where we used to hang out quite a lot and play gigs there. The manager of that club was a guy called Gordon Bennett. He was down there with my bandmates Chris Townsend and John Hewlett, who was bass guitarist in the band at the time,. I'm back in London. I don’t know what’s going on. He said to them, “Look I'm going to go off to the South of France. Do you want to come with me? I can do bounced cheques,” and the other two thought, “Oh this is brilliant. We’ll go with him.” So, they went on this trip to Nice with the bounced cheques and booked into The Carlton Hotel on the seafront there. They were living it up for a couple of days until the police arrived and Gordon Bennett disappeared. So, they both get arrested for bouncing cheques and put in jail. John manages to get out of jail and says he can try and find some bail money for them both. But he meets up with a girl down in the foyer of The Carlton Hotel, who says she’s going off to St Tropez and “Do you want to come?” So, John, being John, thinking “this sounds like fun”, he goes off to St Tropez. He is wandering through St Tropez and sees this lovely white, open top Bentley with all lovely white seats, and he’s thinking, “I’d love a car like that.” A bit later he has gone with the girl to the Boom Boom Club, and John said, “We’ve got to go in here,” as he recognised it was Rod Stewart and John Baldry singing. She paid for him to go into the club. He goes in past this table where Simon Napier-Bell is sitting with Bridget Bardot. Simon calls him over because he was quite a good-looking young lad and Simon says, “What’s a lovely young bloke like you doing with a horse like that?” John immediately leaves the girl and sits at the table with him, and ends up the rest of the evening drinking loads of brandies, telling Simon Napier-Bell the amazing stories about his fantastic band called The Silence. So, Simon actually takes him under his wing, and John finds himself driving around in this big white Bentley which unfortunately he is sick over some of the lovely white upholstery. Simon then manages to take John back to England, leaving Chris to sort out his own incarceration. I had been in London trying to organise a gig we had at a swimming pool party. About halfway through the morning, suddenly John Hewlett appears from nowhere walking up the drive in his lovely white suit that obviously Simon Napier Bell had bought him, looking immaculate. A couple of minutes later this tramp guy turns up with trousers all ripped and everything…it was Chris Townsend who found his own way back from France. Chris doesn’t want to do the gig and he starts kicking the van and saying,” I’m not doing anything.” We managed to get him involved in the end after getting him some clothes and a clean-up. Simon Napier-Bell was coming down to see us that night at this gig, and we headed off down to the gig and we did two sets. We did the first set and there was still nobody there, and then halfway through the second set we were getting a bit bored, and Chris was really angry and started kicking his drum in to the swimming pool, and I thought I might as well enhance this, so I get to the top diving board and dive off with my microphone which sparks and fuses everything. At that point, apparently, Simon Napier-Bell had come in at the back somewhere, and as I am sort of dragged out of the pool he pats me on the shoulder and says “That was very interesting guys. Let’s go to a nearby pub and talk.” So, we go off to the Stepping Stone Pub which is nearby, spend the evening drinking and talking, and he tells us all about the Yardbirds and we were telling him all these crazy stories about what we get up to. He became quite beguiled by us, and by the end of the evening he was saying, “I want to sign you.” Next morning we did sign to Simon Napier-Bell. PB: Didn‘t he shortly afterwards disappear to California then come back with copious amounts of LSD? AE: He did. Early on in our relationship he just disappeared to The States to do some backing work on our forthcoming single ‘Smash Blocked’. He didn’t want to use the band for some reason. He came back with this backing track which I had to sing over and that became the single. The rest of the band were a bit pissed off but it was a big hit and we all made money. He saw all these bands over there who were all taking acid. He didn’t bring much back but he introduced us to it. We did use quite a lot of acid, mostly obtained from the Beatles manager, Brian Epstein who had some of the best acid in London at the time. PB: Didn’t you eventually get to own that club in Leatherhead? AE: Yeah, exactly, so with the money that we made from our big hit ‘Smash Blocked’ we bought the club and Simon made us change its name to the John’s Children’s Club. By that time we had all been asked to wear all white clothes, very angelic looking although our stage act was completely mental. Then Simon had shipped over, from America, Al Capone’s Oldsmobile, which he had sprayed white in a garage in Notting Hill. So, we now had this white Oldsmobile which we would travel around in. and our chauffeur would wear a white suit to drive us around, and then he hired the local Hell’s Angels who would drive in front of us and behind us like an entourage. At that time there were riots going on between mods and rockers. Somehow Simon has managed to arrange for this mod band, John’s Children, being taken around to gigs with an entourage of Hell’s Angel ! It was an amazing sight as we drove around London and the counties. It was incredible, and the more we did these things the more Hell’s Angels would turn up. PB: When you ran the club down in Leatherhead didn’t you put on some fairly major acts there? AE: Yeah, we did. Jimi Hendrix appeared there once. That was fantastic. The Herd wdid a lot of gigs and, Cat Stevens was a regular. Then there was Ronnie Wood who actually came down with the Richardson Gang, who had apparently just signed his then band. PB: The South London mob, who were supposed to be rivals to The Krays, aka The Torture Gang! AE: Exactly that’s it. They had just been signed, and so they came down to the club one day. We were rehearsing down there, and suddenly these two guys came in these long black coats looking very suspicious and went into the backroom, and we wondered what was going on. Apparently they wanted some “payola”, otherwise they would burn the club down. This was ‘protection money’, so apparently somehow Chris Covill who was a wide boy from Shepherd’s Bush sorted everything out, and we never found out what went on there. PB: I suppose having the club burnt down was better than having your testicles electrocuted, which was, I believe, their famous choice of torture. AE: It was. Yes, jump leads on to testicles – not a good idea. I'm pretty sure Ronnie Wood did what he was told rather than have his testicles electrocuted! PB: I bet. Moving on a bit – what one of the most famous things I have read about you in the past, and in the book, was that The Who actually kicked you off their tour for being outrageous. What on earth was all that about? AE: Well, Pete Townshend said in the press, which is really ridiculous, that we were far too loud and far too dangerous and violent. I thought, “That’s coming from The Who!” Simon had a ton of extra money and bought us a massive load of speakers from America. They included Jordan amplifiers which were better the Marshalls, and they were like a huge wall of speakers. He also bought Chris a double drum kit. The only reason we were getting this chance to go on tour with The Who was because Kit Lambert, The Who’s manager, wanted to sign us to his label at Track Records, so he put us on tour with The Who as a support act, not knowing that there was going to be trouble. Anyway, the first night we were there we get to our sound check, and our roadie brings in all this massive wall of speakers, and we put them all across in front of The Who equipment. and then this drum kit which was bigger than Keith Moon’s Silver Slingerland drumkit double bass drumkit and start playing. Within seconds Pete Townsend and Keith Moon rush out and wonder what the hell was all this noise, thinking we were using their equipment and they see all these speakers. PB: I presume they were using Marshalls at the time? AE: Yeah, they were using the big Marshall speakers but we were way louder than them, so immediately Keith Moon runs over to Chris Townsend, who thinks he is coming to say “hello”, but instead of shaking hands Keith Moon starts kicking his drums, and Pete Townsend starts trying to smash up the amps. In the end they just disappeared backstage, and unfortunately we were in the same dressing room with them, and things didn’t start off too well that night. PB: How long did you last on the tour? AE: I think it was about five nights and it started to get more wild. The first night we managed to cause a riot, and most of the chairs which were in this big stadium were kicked over before The Who came on. Kit Lambert said, “No, you can’t do this every night. dear boys, I mean this is not the sort of thing we want on this tour. Otherwise I’ll have to ask you to leave.” Obviously we continue this act leading to fights between Kit Lambert and Simon Napier-Bell. Kit didn’t want to give us any money because we had caused such a destruction in the hall. PB: Weren’t feathers involved at one point? AE: Yes, on the last night, we went into the local town during the day, and we were thinking about what we could do with the act that night, and suddenly Simon spotted a shop which sold bags of feathers. So, we bought a vast amount of pillows, as Simon had decided that if I stuffed these pillows and then ripped them up and ran around in the audience he could keep an eye on where I was. That was the whole idea. At that point he also bought Marc some chains to smash his guitar around with and then smash us over the head with the chains. So, that night, after about five or six numbers, I do a leap into the audience. I had already been in a fight with John Hewlett on stage where we used blood capsules and ripped our clothes off. We had these amazing fights every night, and then I dived off the stage with these bags of feathers and threw them around. People were trying to punch me and kick me as I was running through the audience and the feathers were going up everywhere. In the end it was like a storm of feathers throughout this whole show. I managed to get back on stage, but then the whole thing turned into a complete riot. Everybody was smashing chairs up, and Simon said we have got to get out quick and dragged me into the back room. We managed to get into the car park, and we jumped into the Bentley and swerved out of this car park just as the riot police were arriving. I can remember looking up and seeing the windows at the top of the stadium all smashed and chairs coming out through the top of the windows, and I thought “Oh my God, what have we done?” Somehow we just managed to escape and disappeared off into the night back to the hotel. It wasn’t too much later during the night that Simon got a call telling us that the police had confiscated all our gear and were looking to deport us immediately. So, in the middle of the night we had to quickly get into Simon’s car in our ragged, dirty, white clothes and drive off into the night. PB: How did Marc Bolan get involved with you? AE: One night we went to a gig in Oxford Street where Kit Lambert had arranged to come and see us. Following that gig Kit told me that he would sign band if we lost “the lanky guitarist”, Jeff Cohen. Simon had to think about that. but at the time Simon was managing a young folk singer, a guy called Mark Feld, who became Mark Bolan, and Simon had the idea that we sack Jeff and replace him with Bolan. So, he took me to Mark Bolan’s house in Wimbledon. I spent the afternoon chatting to him and he played me some his songs. I wasn’t sure how he was going to fit in because he was slightly subdued, but a very friendly and funny guy. So, we got to rehearse with him the next day at our club in Leatherhead. Mark had never played an electric guitar before, so he came to the club. and Chris handed him a guitar and said, “Here you are!” and plugged it in, and he played something and nothing came out, and then Chris switches the knob and it’s a massive sound and Mark falls over backwards, thinking, “What the hell is this?” He was completely taken aback by this massive sound and we said, “That’s how we play, That’s what it is.” After that we couldn’t shut him up as he became more excited. He was a huge fan of Pete Townshend and Jimi Hendrix, so his new found sound blew him away. In the middle of all this, Simon comes in through the door and says, “Oh, hi Mark. I promised your mother I would get you home in time for tea,” and off they go! PB: Back in the day you get the impression of Marc Bolan sitting cross legged playing acoustic, yet you have your thrashing guitars, setting alight to them and swinging chains? AE: Yeah, that what he did with us. Completely became a wild child. After a certain amount of gigs, we showed him what we actually got up to, and he grew from this almost reclusive character into coming out into joining us as wild child. Eventually, because all that happened at The Who extravaganza in Germany, he obviously decided to go back to where his roots were. He went all Ravi Shankar. Most likely he decided then that that was the direction he wanted to go in. Later, everybody said that T Rex was the first time he played the electric guitar, but those people had no idea of his previous involvement with electric guitars. PB: After all that came John’s Children’s demise? AE: [Laughs] I suppose it was about seven or eight years later, and things had changed and the mod thing and the hippies had gone, and this glam rock thing had come in. One day I received a phone call from Chris Townsend, who had that point in time had already been in band called Duke managed by John Hewlett, our bass player, and said he had been approached by a guy from Sparks called Martin Gordon who had been sacked from Sparks. Chris said, “Do you want to come and try singing in a new band?” So, we start rehearsing with just a bass, drums and vocals. Eventually we said we’ve got to have a guitarist. At that time there was a tune on the radio called ‘The In Crowd’,by Bryan Ferry with this amazing guitar sound. We wanted that guy but couldn’t find out who it was. So we start rehearsing and we go through a load of guitarists. Then, one day Davy O’List, who had played on ‘The In Crowd ‘and had been with The Nice, Roxy Music and Pink Floyd turns up one day to a rehearsal, and he brings along a keyboard player by the name of Peter Oxendale. So, we start this new band Jet, and it wasn’t long before the management company of Gary Glitter wanted to sign us after hearing some demo tracks and soon we had a record deal. We recorded our single at the same studio as Queen, who we got on with like a house on fire. There are some funny stories about the police outside the studio coming in and rolling joint with us…but anyway there’s a bit more in the books. PB: When you were signed up by Gary Glitter’s management company, do you ever actually meet The Leader himself? AE: Oh yeah. Actually he seemed a really nice guy. We ended up on his football team, him and Rod Stewart. In fact, I used to go out and play weekend football with Gary Glitter and Rod Stewart on his team. I used to score all the goals and then in the papers the next day they would say Gary Glitter scored three……twats! PB: I remember a story from an interview I read a while back when you were supporting Mick Ronson and Ian Hunter, and then you fell off stage and you couldn’t get back into the premises or something? AE: Ah yeah, that was at the Apollo in Manchester, which had the highest stage in the country. There was also a little stage in front of the main stage which went up and down on hydraulics. During the soundcheck this little stage was about three foot below. It was about 90% up from the bottom and just a bit lower than the main stage. I thought, “I’ll jump down on to that at some point during the beginning of the act.” So, we started playing and I couldn’t see anything because it was very dark out front, so I jumped into the darkness thinking I'm going to land on this small stage about three feet below. Unfortunately I dropped about twenty-five feet down into an orchestra pit and bang into the floor, and I was dazed and confused …I’ve still got the end of microphone lead that’s just broken off with a microphone. Eventually I go on to the side and through a door and then into the darkness of the corridors, and I'm running all down these corridors trying to find a way back up to the stage, and the more I go left and right through these corridors the sound of the band is getting quieter. Suddenly I come across these doors at the end in the darkness and smash them open and run out, and I'm outside in the street and standing there with a broken microphone. I think, “Oh My God! I've got to get back on stage.” I usually run on stage with my top off anyway, so I'm looking like some sort of maniac at this point. So, I went round to the front and punters were still coming in. I barged through them and tried to get into the main hall, but unfortunately I get stopped by a bouncer and he started fighting with me, and in the end I turned round and managed to jump over the barrier with a couple of bouncers chasing me, and I go and climb a lighting rig on the side of the stage as my poor band are still going through the beginning of this number for ages and ages, or what seemed like ages anyway, and luckily I managed to grab one of them side mics and carry on. PB: After Jet, you moved on to Radio Stars. I have still got my copy of ‘Dirty Pictures’ at home, believe it or not. How come you transformed from glam to punk? Was that just the era you were in? AE: We weren’t really punk, but we signed to a small label Chiswick Records and they released ‘Dirty Pictures’. Somehow we started gigging straightaway. I was getting up to my old tricks of leaping into the audience and climbing everywhere, so we got labelled as punk even though I was doing what I had been doing for ten years PB: Didn’t you appear on ‘Top of the Pops’ about that time? AE: Yes. We had just finished a massive tour with Eddie and the Hot Rods and were booked for ‘Top of the Pops’ but there was some sort of strike so we thought we’d lost it. But the producer of ‘Top of the Pops’ really liked the idea of this song and with the girls singing the bit in the middle and wanted us back. So, we got ‘Top of the Pops’ and thought we had hit the big time. We had a gig about two days later at The National Park in North Kensington, and I remember arriving on a bus with Steve Parry, our drummer at the time, and seeing this massive queue going down the road and round the corner. I thought there must be somebody else paying there. Then we noticed it said ‘Radio Stars’ above the door! It just shows you what ‘Top of the Pops’ could do in those days. From there on we were just selling out everywhere. PB: Excellent. And what have you done since then. Andy? AE: Absolutely nothing [Laughs]! PB: You must have done something for the last forty years? AE: Well, basically now and again, I play with John’s Children still with some guys from Finland. We haven’t been able to play for the last couple of years, but we do have got some gigs coming up later in the year. I have also been playing gigs with Radio Stars occasionally, just on and off. The thing is you cannot make any money gigging these days, unless you’re the Rolling Stones, and we don’t exactly make huge amounts of money from recording so we do it for fun these days. PB: And you still do ‘Desdemona’? AE: Absolutely, of course. PB: Thank you very much for spending your time with us today. It was most enlightening. AE: I should have told you some of the other stories! When we nearly got kneecapped in Northern Ireland...loads of other stories. There are loads of other stories in the book, but then when I finished the book I suddenly went, “Oh My Gd I’ve forgotten all these other stories!” So, there will have to be a part two. PB: An update, excellent. AE: Even my earlier life – I don’t know whether you have read that bit – where I escaped from boarding school in the middle of Exmoor. You have read about that? PB: You’ve always been a very bad man. AE: Although I’m quite nice really, I think (Laughs). PB: Well, you sound like it. Thanks very much Andy, Andy Ellison’s autobiography ‘Stunt Rocker’ is published by Wintergardeb Publishing in September.

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