Single of the week

Nothing Ever Happens (Del Amitri)

One of the age-old music trivia questions is, which group’s name in Greek means ‘from the womb?’ Del Amitri right? Wrong! Find out more and read all about their 1990 hit Nothing Ever Happens.

The band were formed in 1983 by former chef Justin Currie, an appropriate name for a chef, in Glasgow. The original line up comprised, singer/bass player Currie, guitarist Iain Harvie, rhythm guitarist Bryan Tolland and drummer Paul Tyagi. They were compared, at the time, to Orange Juice, but Currie’s songwriting let them carve a niche of their own.

Justin explained in an interview with Song Writing magazine how he got into music, “I started by listening to The Beatles and pop music from quite a young age. My dad was a classical musician, but that was all a bit too intellectual for me. I really got into MOR stuff when I was eight or nine years old. My parents had a stereo in the 1970s and for some reason they bought Gilbert O’Sullivan’s first two albums, which I absolutely adored, and still do. We had a piano in the house so I learned Let It Be and Imagine on the piano when I was about 12 or 13, then one of my dad’s mates stored a bunch of stuff in our house and he had a classical guitar, so I started learning that. But at that point I was into punk rock, so I played basslines on the bottom two strings and started writing little punk songs on it.” A friend of Justin’s started his own record label and they recorded one song. They farmed a few copies around and it make Single of the Week in Sounds which, in turn, led to a John Peel session on Radio 1.

Now, about the name; when asked in a 2010 interview he said, “It was invented to be meaningless. Just a corruption of the Greek name ‘Dimitri.’ In various books it says Del Amitri, which is Greek for ‘of the womb’ — it’s not Greek for of the womb in any Greek dialect. But that’s become almost a fact even though it’s not a fact.”

Their debut single, Sense of Sickness and its eponymous parent album, both released in 1985, failed to make an impact. Further singles; Stick and Stones Girl and Hammering Heart did likewise. They took a little break and Currie spent time honing his songwriting skills. In 1988 the line-up changed when Currie and Harvie – the only two original members to remain throughout – brought in Andy Alston on keyboards and various sessions players including violin, cello and accordion, they also signed a record deal with the A&M label.

Their first hit, Kiss This Thing Goodbye reached number 59 in August 1989, but it got them on the chart map. The accompanying album, Waking Hours, did much better reaching number six and spending 10 months on the chart. Harvie recalled, “The album was out for about four months before anyone paid any attention to it. At the time, we were basically playing the same places we were playing when we were blagging gigs. It’s pretty crappy, but in this country you have to have at least one hit single to get people’s attention.”

The follow-up, Nothing Ever Happens went all the way to number 11, and became their biggest hit. “It’s a protest song that came directly out of the mid-to-late 80s,” Currie said, “a lot of our songs came out of that period and are not relevant to us anymore,” but they continued to play them. It’s actually a song that have haunted the band ever since. Currie said in an interview with Ian Fortnam in Record Collector, “We ended up getting pigeon-holed as a bit of a folk band because the video for Nothing Ever Happens had me and Iain strumming acoustic guitars. In actual fact, we were desperately trying to be a rock ‘n’ roll band.”

The song tells the story of the mundane, boring life of your average person finishing their day. The secretaries who type all day and are glad to switch off their machines. Janitors, or caretakers, as we call them, going around locking up buildings just so a night security guard can keep an eye on them all night. Pub landlords happy to call ‘time’ so people can leave and then having to kick the last few stragglers out at the end of a night. Then how everything is silent at night. CCTV’s in department stores that constantly record nothing happening. He even suggests that martians could land in the car park and no one would bat an eyelid. On the news, we hear terrible stories but just carry on as we do. Then the next day, the same thing happens. In other words, nothing ever happens, nothing really different happens and so the world remains as it did before.

Throughout the 90s, they released 15 more singles, all of which made the top 40, the highest being 1998s Don’t Come Home Too Soon, a song Justin wrote whilst he was bored on tour. He said of it, “I wrote that song about Scotland going to the World Cup which I disguised as a love song. People who heard it said I should send it to the Scottish Football Association, which I did.” Their last hit was appropriately called Just Before You Leave which reached number 37 in 2002. The band have never actually split up but Harvie began concentrating on production and Currie began a solo career. He has released four albums, What is Love For in 2007 and The Great War in 2010. Both failed to make the chart, but in 2013, Lower Reaches did just that, when it made number 46 and just last month came his latest, This Is My Kingdom Now spent just one week at number 54.

In recent times, Justin confessed that he’s become lazy. Roll to Me, a 1995 single, did really well in the States and the royalties have kept him comfortable. “I gave up the whole prolific thing years ago,” he told Aaron Slater. “I used to write maybe 30 songs a year of which 20 I would take to the band. I’ve got stacks of these songs and I go back to listen to them now and they’re rubbish. So now what I do is if I start a song and I know it’s going to be rubbish I just don’t bother finishing it. I write the first verse, think ‘this is going nowhere’ and go back and watch the telly. I know that sounds lazy but it’s not. It’s a structured creative approach.” But he can’t and doesn’t want to give it up, “It’s just something I have to do, or I go completely mad. If I haven’t written a song for six months I start getting very antsy. It doesn’t need to be a good song – I just need to write something. It’s not something I’d ever stop doing. I don’t care if it’s a song by Justin Currie or Del Amitri, as long as I’ve written and sung it, I’m happy.”

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Knocked It Off (B.A. Robertson)

In his heyday of the late seventies and early eighties, visually he looked like and was occasionally mistaken for Bruce Forsyth, these days you might mistake him for Rob Brydon. The connection must the long face and the prominent chin. Who? B. A. Robertson. A fine songwriter who can cram as many words into a song as Jim Steinman. His name was first seen in the UK chart in 1979 with his debut single Bang Bang, but he’d been around long before that.

B.A. (Brian Alexander) was born in Glasgow in September 1956 and learned piano as a teenager. He recorded his first album Wringing Applause in 1973 and because of his quirky and witty lyrics it received critical acclaim. If you check out the B side of Steve Harley and the Cockney Rebel’s 1975 number one, Make Me Smile (Come Up and See Me) you’ll hear B.A playing piano on the track Another Journey. Later that year he embarked on the occasional tour and in 1977 was the opening act on Van Der Graaf Generator’s farewell tour.

He put his own band together to promote the album Shadow Of A Thin Man, the band comprised guitarist Terry Britten, with whom B.A would form a long-term writing partnership, George Fenton, who later went on to compose many TV theme tunes and film scores, keyboard player Tony Hymas who later joined Ph.D with Jim Diamond and percussion player Frank Ricotti who became an in-demand session player for people like Tina Turner, Status Quo, Pet Shop Boys and Belle And Sebastian among others.

Bang Bang was his first UK hit which reached number two with a playful look at historical figures and their love lives, the follow-up, three months later was Knocked It Off another song with wacky lyrics explaining all the things that B.A could, wanted and was willing to do.

Those two songs, and the third hit, Kool in the Kaftan, were all taken from the album Initial Success which spent a couple of months on the chart in 1980. He spent a lot of time writing songs for other people and his first successes came with Cliff Richard’s hits Hot Shot, Carrie and Wired for Sound. In 1981 he wrote the theme to Noel Edmunds’ Multi-Coloured Swap Shop show and then co-wrote and provided backing vocals for its spin-off hit I Wanna Be a Winner credited as Brown Sauce. The following year he penned the lyrics to the Scottish World Cup Squad’s number five hit We Have a Dream.

During the eighties he wrote and produced songs with Joe Brown, Chris Spedding, Harry Nilsson, Sandie Shaw, Micky Dolenz and Lionel Bart. He also worked extensively with session bass player and songwriter Herbie Flowers.

He was briefly given his own BBC chat show, but his interviews technique and questions were a bit odd, to say the least. He was given his own music series called B.A In Music with guests that included Ray Charles and Jack Bruce and the last ever TV interview with Alex Harvey just before he died in February 1982.

The following year he got into acting and starred in the film Living Apart Together which was about a singer/songwriter returning to his hometown of Glasgow after a US tour and tries to save his marriage which was failing whilst he was away. Later the same year he starred, opposite Elaine Paige on the London Stage in the show Abbacadabra.

He continued songwriting and in 1986 he teamed up with Mike Rutherford who had just formed Mike and the Mechanics and co-wrote five of their hits including their biggest success The Living Years. Mike said of the song, “B.A. lost his dad and it’s about the lack of communication between him and his father before he died. There’s also the irony of him having a baby just after losing his father. I had exactly the same thing happen to me at the same time, so it meant a lot to me too.” The song was nominated for four Grammy Awards but lost out on Song of the Year to The Wind Beneath My Wings. It did, however, win Best Song at the Ivor Novello Awards in London.

In the nineties he worked with Dave Edmunds, Roger Daltrey, Lonnie Donegan and Duran Duran’s Andy Taylor. In 1996 he moved to Ireland where he composed the score for the movie Bloodlines (Legacy of a Lord). Two years later he wrote and produced Across The Bridge Of Hope – the title track of the Omagh tribute album which helped to raise over half a million dollars for the victims of the Omagh bombing.

He had long given up performing live, but in 2004 the New York producer Arnold Engelman encouraged him to return to live performance. He did a one-man show for 10 consecutive nights at the Edinburgh Festival which led to some small tours of Scotland and Ireland.

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King of the Cops (Billy Howard)

Christmas was always a time for novelty songs especially during the seventies and in 1975 a song made the chart which was the first record broadcaster Jeremy Vine bought, he said, “It was Billy Howard’s King of the Cops – a spoof on King of the Road by Roger Miller with impressions of police officers like Columbo and Kojak. I played it and played it and took off every person. I wanted to be an impressionist.” Well he never went down that path, but did end up on television and radio. Let’s find a little about that first song he bought.

Billy was born in Edgware, north London and by the age of five he was already showing signs of mimicry. At school he was often taking off his teachers which gained him parts in school plays and was singing solos in his local church. His father was a ukulele player and when Billy was 12 his father showed him three chords which gave him his interest in music, he continued to learn ukulele and was hell-bent on learning more after discovering the jazz guitarist Django Reinhardt. Two years later he took up guitar and trombone and ended up joining the school trad jazz band.

He seemed to prefer music to impressions and so, at the age of 16, he turned professional and joined various jazz bands and then a leading south coast jazz combo two year later. The following year he decided to add a trumpet to his repertoire of instruments which led him to join dance bands and began working on ships across Europe. He eventually had his own five-piece band who were featured on many BBC radio programmes.

Once he reached his twenties, Billy realised he wanted to be an entertainer. The north of England was generally the place where it was most successful and so was invited by an agent in Manchester for a try-out weekend which was so successful that he remained with them for a year. In his regular routine he began incorporating impressions of singers beginning with Max Bygraves and Frankie Vaughan. Because he played trumpet, he decided to add Louis Armstrong to his selection.

Mike Yarwood was almost certainly an inspiration and one of Billy’s friends suggested doing impressions of television people and, by his own admission, decided to pick the TV cops Kojak, Columbo, Ironside, Frank Cannon and Steve McGarrett from Hawaii 5’O and upstage them all pretending, in the character of Deputy Marshal Sam McCloud, from the series McCloud, that he was ‘king of the cops’. The track, which featured accurate impressions and a number of catchphrases, was only made for a giggle and never intended for release but Penny Farthing records signed him and the song reached number six in the UK. The B side is well worth a listen too. It’s called Bond is a Four Letter Word and tells a little story of Britain’s best-known secret agent in a Roger Moore style. There was obviously a trend starting here because just four months earlier Jasper Carrott charted Funky Moped and Magic Roundabout, the latter being another all-spoken hit. Unfortunately Billy’s follow-up, Disco Cops, missed the chart completely and he remains a one-hit-wonder.

On the back of the hit, Billy’s work load increased 10-fold and was soon topping the bill at some of the UK’s premier nightclubs including Cresta in Solihull, Wooky Hollow in Liverpool and Caesar’s Palace in Luton. By the end of the seventies, he became an in-demand voiceover artist for many television and cinema commercials.

Billy continues to entertain and the occasional luxury liner and has said, “I may be stuck with the tag of ‘all-round entertainer,’ but with so much garbage dished up to the long-suffering public in the name of entertainment these days, I’m just happy to be in demand! As long as there’s an audience somewhere who wants to be entertained, I’ll carry on till I drop, but not too soon I hope!”

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Cha Cha Slide (DJ Casper)

It’s incredible how some songs have a dance crazy attached to them which were never originally intended, the prime example being YMCA which, if you watch the original 1978 video, never did the semaphore arm movements which a whole audience will engage in if you have a good DJ to encourage them. This week I focus on a 2004 chart-topper which, the writer never envisaged would become an audience participation act that’s still fully indulged in to this day.

That song is Cha Cha Slide by DJ Casper who was born William Perry in Chicago, Illinois in 1965 and was also known as Mr C – The Slide Man. He explained how he got the name from, “I got the name Casper from when I was young and roller-skated a lot. I would always wear white whatever I did stage-wise.”

The song, which spawned a number of less-successful copycat versions, opens with the line ‘This is something new,’ well it isn’t not. “I wrote Cha Cha Slide in 1996 as an aerobics workout programme for a gym trainer friend of mine called David Wilson and I recorded and released my own version in 1998,” remembered Casper. It made little impact. In 2003 it surfaced in clubs across Europe and All Around The World Records picked it up for a UK release.

Although Casper wrote the song, the writing credit contradicts this. It seems that Marvel Thompson, a Chicago gang leader known as ‘King’ Of the Black Disciples, had overseen a drugs operation which raked in over $300,000 a day. He laundered some of the drug money into some legitimate businesses, including M.O.B. Records, which Casper was originally signed to. It led to a six-year investigation by the F.B.I. when he was then arrested and charged with drugs conspiracy. Eventually in March 2005 he pleaded guilty to conspiring with other members of the street gang to distribute cocaine and heroin and was sentenced to 15 years in prison.

The infectious two-step novelty song entered the chart at number two, having received virtually no airplay on mainstream radio. In, what was then a sliding singles market, the song made the rare one step climb to number one, the first time a song had climbed to the top since DJ Ötzi in the spring of 2001.

I mentioned earlier that there were some lesser successful version, but one did apparently sell enough to get into the chart and was by the mysterious MC Jig, but Casper reached number one whilst the cover only reached number 33. “I didn’t appreciate his version,” said Casper, “because he was trying to make people think he was the creator but he used my music and my words.”

The dance moves to Cha Cha Slide involve Casper getting the audience to slide to the left and then to the right as well as asking them to clap, hop and stomp their feet. There’s still so many who get a bit lost when it comes to the Charlie Brown, the more clued up ladies do it carefully! The follow-up single was another party favourite. Adopting the same instructing method, Casper, using a sample from the Gap Band original, rowed up the chart with a remake of Oops Upside Your Head.

Little was heard of DJ Casper over the next 12 years, but it May 2016 it was announced that he was diagnosed with two forms of kidney cancer; renal cancer and nero endocrine cancer. His wife Joyce, in an interview with Jet magazine said, “They did surgery on him at the end of January, but were unsuccessful, so they decided to do chemotherapy. I’m able to give him injections every day, because I’m a nurse, which is a blessing. My mom is a pastor, so there are a lot of prayers going up, and some Sundays, we make it to church. He’s not working nearly as much as he used to, and all the medications are quite expensive, so I had it on my heart to throw him a benefit. There will be dinner, live entertainment and a special tribute to Casper to highlight all he’s done. He’s not just the guy who created the Cha-Cha Slide, in the process of paving his career, Casper used to roller skate and he won the World’s Largest Steppers Contest nine times straight.”

We wish him well and hopefully a complete recovery.

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Mr Writer (Stereophonics)

We hear so often about a songwriter knocking out a song in just a matter of minutes and this week’s choice is no exception. Kelly Jones of the Stereophonics said of Mr Writer, “It took me 10 minutes to write and 10 years to explain.” He’s probably learned a lesson from it.

It all began in 1986 when singer/guitarist Kelly Jones and drummer Stuart Cable heard each other practising as they lived a few doors apart on the same street in Cwmaman in South Wales. Jones’ father used to be in a band called Oscar and the Kingfishers in the sixties who once supported Roy Orbison and that’s why Cable told Jones he should be a singer. They brought in a bass and keyboard player, called themselves Zephyr and recorded a couple of demos. Due to a couple of silly incidents the band split up, but a chance sighting by Jones who was on a bus and Cable who was at the bus stop, they reconnected and decided to give it another go.

In 1992, having changed their name from Tragic Love Company to Stereophonics after Cable spotted a gramophone called the Falcon Stereophonic, they got themselves a manager called John Brand and signed with V2 records. The line-up now comprising Jones, Cable and bass player Richard Jones (no relation).

Each of their first five hits did better than the previous one, but by the sixth hit, The Bartender and the Thief, they began regularly hitting the top 10. In 2000 they teamed up with Tom Jones for the number four hit Mama Told Me Not to Come, a song first recorded by the Animals in 1966.

Their next hit was Mr Writer, a song written about a journalist who had become friendly with the band and been on part of a tour with them, but then wrote a couple of unsavoury items that Kelly didn’t like. He was upset because they had partied together, had some drinks together and then this happened. “It’s just a song about a couple of people that have been around me, really,” Kelly told the Metro in April 2001 “It’s supposed to be a bit of a sarcastic song but, judging from some of the reviews, it seems some people didn’t really get it. I think the fuss about it from some members of the press has been blown out of proportion.” He recalled in the NME in 2010, “Our relationship with NME started favourably, we were on the front cover all the time. Then a few journalists came on the road, but wrote a different version of events and we got pissed off. In a gnarly way we wrote a narky song called Mr Writer and things have been a bit frosty ever since. I wrote one comment about one guy and it turned into a shitstorm. The pen is mightier than the sword. Well, it was. Now the blog is mightier than the sword.” Because Kelly wasn’t specific about who the scribe was, every journalist thought it was about them.

The relationship between the press and anyone in the public eye has nearly always been strained and all any of them want is to be quoted correctly and not be covered in dirt. When the journalist went on the road everything was lovely but that’s not what was written, hence the chorus line ‘Mr. Writer, why don’t you tell it like it is? Why don’t you tell it like it really is?’

In 2002 Cable was given his own television chat show, but the band weren’t happy as he wasn’t turning up for rehearsals and they eventually sacked him. He was given another show the following year and also became a presenter on BBC Wales. He fell out with Kelly again, but patched things up in 2009. On 7th June 2010, Cable finished his radio show that weekend and he was drinking in a pub in Trecynon then went home to continue drinking. He went to bed but choked on his own vomit during his sleep and died, he was just 40.

The band continued to released singles and albums and finally got their first number one single with Dakota in March 2005. It also proved to be their last top 10 hit single despite a further 10 years of releases. Their last album, however, Keep the Village Alive in 2015 did make number one.

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