Like last week’s Single of the Week, Ideal World by The Christians, this week’s choice is by a band that had already been in existence for about five years before they even got noticed. Where the Christians had 13 hits, this band only had two. Obviously a popular name for a group as three different acts with the same name have existed over three decades. They are called h2o and let’s examine their debut hit, I Dream to Sleep.
The band were formed in 1978 by lead singer Ian Donaldson after a short spell with a Glaswegian punk band called Scroo. He brought in Davie Wells on Guitar, Alan McGee on Bass and Kenny Dorman on drums and Ian explained in an interview with Mark Steel how they came up with the name, “We went crazy trying to think of a name, I wanted to call the band The Swivel Brothers and then someone came up with Marks and Spencer, then co2 was mentioned and finally we went came up with h2o – it’s both chantable and spray-paintable which, when you come from Glasgow, is very important.”
In 1980 they added a keyboard player called Ross Alcock and a saxophone player called Colin Gavigan who was a former child actor. Around the same time, Alan McGee quit the band to move onto greater things, including forming the Creation record label and was involved in either managing or signing bands like The Jesus and Mary Chain, Primal Scream and Oasis among others and he was replaced by Colin Ferguson. The following year a couple of new guitarists arrived and they released their first single, Hollywood Dream, on the small independent Spock label.
They got their break in early 1983 when they supported Kajagoogoo and on the back of that signed a record deal with RCA and began recording what was to be their first single, Burn to Win. The second song they recorded was Dream to Sleep or, as the record sleeve shows, I Dream to Sleep. The record company thought Dream To Sleep was the stronger song and opted to put it out as the A side with Burn To Win on the flip.
So how did the song come about? Ian explained, “At the time we wrote it, I was reading about sleep and how you must have it to dream. Throughout the day you take in and build up loads of images which have to be uncoupled. It’s those coupled images becoming part of reality – everybody’s experienced it.” Kenny, the drummer, added, “It’s also a love song; you know when you’ve in love and you’ve had a row and because you’re a wee bit upset you can’t get to sleep. The two ideas seemed to fit together really well.”
The follow up single, Just Outside of Heaven reached no. 38 and the band continue to tour, but there was pressure from the record company to get their debut album, Faith, finished. By the time it was released, the debut hit had long gone and the album failed to chart, thus the band were dropped by their label. Without a record deal, the six piece band found it hard going and inevitably split up. a
Ian and Ross continued to write and promote new songs and occasionally brought in various past members of the band to lend a hand. In 1987 they signed with a new label called Legend records and a single, Blue Diamond, received some national radio airplay, but missed the top 75 completely.
In 2016, Ian released a solo single called Angel Pale and he said of it, “I went into different areas with my voice, maybe higher at times than I have done in the past. I think people will remember a baritone, but I’ve explored a top range. Again, no limitations there, but I’d like to think tonally people will recognise it, and will not be disappointed.”
In 1989, a cover of Gerry & The Pacemakers’ Ferry ‘Cross The Mersey, credited to the Christians, Holly Johnson, Paul McCartney, Gerry Marsden, Stock Aitken & Waterman, topped the UK chart with all proceeds going to the victims and their families of the Hillsborough disaster. The lead credit on the Liverpool line-up was The Christians because, as lead singer Garry Christian remembered, “It was because we were the only act in the chart at the time.” It actual fact, they hadn’t had a hit for six months when a cover of the Isley Brothers’ Harvest for The World had made number eight. In reality, the week the song entered the chart at number one, Holly Johnson had just dropped out of the top 10 with Americanos and Paul McCartney had a new entry with My Brave Face, but it’s not that song I’m looking at this week, it’s the Christians’ first top 20 hit, Ideal World, from 18 months previous.
The band were formed in 1985 by the three Christian brothers – lead singer Garry, bassist Roger and keyboardist Russell, The fourth member was guitarist and keyboard player Henry Priestman whose middle name was Christian, but two years after forming Roger left because he didn’t want to go on tour. How did Garry get into music? “It was as a boy growing up in Liverpool that my passion for music was first ignited,” he said. He is one of 13 children most of whom would often sing together at home, one of his sisters briefly dated John Lennon. Garry occasionally stole his siblings’ records – The Mills Brothers were a favourite, but it was when he saw his older brothers, Dennis and Roger, leaving the house to do gigs it made Garry want to pursue a professional career.
He said: We loved entertainment at home and there were four of us brothers who used to pretend to be The Four Tops. We had a great time but I really wanted to be able to go out there like my brothers. They were performing in front of actual audiences. I thought it was amazing and I really wanted to be there with them.
Their debut hit in January 1987 was called Forgotten Town and Garry remembered in an interview how that began, “That song came in Henry Priestman’s Liverpool flat back in 1986, with an A & R man from Island Records sitting in a corner. Henry had this mirror which was really dusty so I wrote the lyrics to Forgotten Town in the dust and I read them as I was singing it.” In my interview with Henry he concurred, “I was the main writer, but some of these songs were so new, and we’d never performed them ‘live’ before, that we did indeed have to scratch some of the lyrics (as pointers) in the dust on a mirror in my bedroom, as we attempted our showcase performance! I wrote Forgotten Town about the then situation in Britain at the time, around 1986, which was really affecting the North especially my home town Hull, and also Liverpool, were I was living.”
Ideal World is what many people say they would like to live in, but what exactly is an ideal world? It’s always perceived as somewhere better than where you are now – something we aspire and hope for. “When we recorded that song,” Garry remembered in recent times, “we were talking about what was going on in South Africa, the Berlin wall still being up and things like that. It was a bad scene. But now things are 20 times worse; the world seems to have gone into freefall and into nonsense and we need to get ourselves out of that somehow.” Henry said at the time, “I’m a reasonably chipper fellow who gets grumpy and writes a song about it. It’s real, that’s me, warts and all.”
I asked Henry how he got going with Ideal World, “I now usually come up with the lyric, or at least a title, first, but at that time I tended to write the music/melody first, often using nonsense lyrics initially (like McCartney’s Yesterday, which famously started out as Scrambled Eggs!), and then I’d either write the lyrics myself, or, in the case with a few songs on that first Christians album, got my friend Mark Herman to come up with lyric ideas, which we’d then toss around. Mark’s initial title/lyric for Ideal World was The Game of Love, ‘In the game of love, we’d be free to choose’ etc etc) but me having written Forgotten Town, and a couple of others which had a slight social comment feel to them, I wanted to carry on in that vein for this song.” Echoing what Garry said about the South Africa connection, Henry added, “It was about the apartheid situation and amazingly many of the original phrases & lyrics that Mark had written for the Game of Love song seemed to still work in the song (including the opening line ‘before you point the finger, and hope the whole thing disappears’ and I just had to come up with other new bits to fit the new subject, including the title.”
“I always wanted to get away from Liverpool when I was younger and see the world,” Garry confessed, the band have done just that, “Looking back, I can’t believe it’s been 25 years of The Christians. It’s a long time. But then you look at bands like the Rolling Stones and they keep on doing it. There is no reason why we can’t too.” Life hasn’t always been rosy for Garry, he’s had his share of family tragedy, he lost two brothers, Dennis took his own life at the age of 26 and Roger, an original and albeit brief member of the Christians, suffered a brain haemorrhage and died at 47. “They were very awful times. Dennis was my eldest brother, he was my hero and I’d looked up to him my whole life. It was very difficult. It was the same with Roger. I was living away from Liverpool at the time and I got a call from my manager telling me what had happened. There is not a day that goes by when I do not think about them and feel sad about it.”
In 2010, Garry moved to Cheshire with his wife and son and said, “I’ve moved up in the world, Cheshire is a wonderful county. I love the countryside, the people are so lovely and you always get friendly smiles. I can’t think of anywhere better to live.”
As for Henry, he continues to be busy – in 2003 he produced former Take That’s Mark Owen’s album, In Your Own Time and in 2008, at the age of 53, finally released his debut solo album, The Chronicles of Modern Life. Never one to stand still, he has written some music for a James Bond Xbox game and for the BBC for their Wildlife on One and Natural World programmes. He has also written the music for a number of televisions commercials, He said, “I’m not stopping those, that’s what pays the bills.” Still running in London’s West End is the show Dreamboats and Petticoats for which Henry composed the title track. In 2012 he co-wrote Lost in the Shadows of Love, Cryin’ Time Again and
Puttin’ My Faith in Love with Graham Gouldman for Graham’s album Love and Work. I spoke to Henry on the week of the 50th Anniversary of The Beatles’ Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band and he said, “I’m going to Radio Merseyside tomorrow to sing When I’m 64 live on Billy Butler’s special Sgt Pepper at 50” programme.”
The Christians are still touring with Garry being the only original member and naturally there’s a demand for all the old hits, as for Ideal World, Henry said, “I know that it’s a staple of The Christians current live set, and indeed I do it in my own solo set.” I asked Henry if it was the song he was most proud of, to which he replied, “No, that’ll be the next song I write.”
Having someone form a record label specifically to promote your own product, has to be the ultimate form of flattery. That was precisely the case when Ezekiel Christopher Montanez came under the wing of producer Jim Lee at the beginning of 1962. That first song they made together is now 55 years old, it’s been a UK hit four times, three of them for its originator and once for a couple of radio bods.
Ezekiel Christopher Montanez was born in January 1943 in Los Angeles and grew up in nearby Hawthorne in a musical family. His brothers taught him to play guitar and at 15 he began to sing and write songs. He had attended the same school as the Beach Boys and recorded his first song, She’s My Rockin’ Baby. He idolised Richie Valens so he changed his name to Chris Montez and began performing in a style reminiscent of his hero. Whilst some producers had been hoping to find another Buddy Holly in the wake of the February ’59 plane crash, Jim Lee set about searching for the man who’d adopt the mantle of Ritchie Valens. Chris Montez was that man, and following a regional breakout of his first single, Jim spotted him in a club and signed him up. He also formed the Monogram record label on which to issue Chris’ records, the first being All You Had to Do (Was Tell Me) / Love Me, both sides co-written by Montez and Barry DeVorzon. Jim wrote the follow-up, Let’s Dance and gave it to his new protégé.
The song highlighted many of the dance crazes of the day like the Stomp, the Mashed Potato, the Twist and the Wahtusi. The original vinyl single was a real thumper and featured Ray Johnson on Hammond organ, Joel Hill on guitar, Ray Pohlman on bass and Jesse Sailes on drums. The CD remastered version just don’t have that same scope and sound that the vinyl provided. It was Ray Johnson’s raft of major 6ths elicited on a neatly draw-barred Hammond B3 that made the single shine like gold.
Whilst Let’s Dance was riding high in the chart, Montez toured America with former Drifter Clyde McPhatter and Sam Cooke and the following year he came to England and toured around Liverpool with Tommy Roe and even headlined a concert with the Beatles as support. By the time the tour reached London, Roe and Montez soon realised that it was almost impossible to follow the Beatles, so both of them dropped to second billing.
Chris recorded the album Let’s Dance and Have Some Kinda Fun and from it two more ‘dance’ tracks were released, Let’s Do the Limbo and My Baby Loves to Dance but neither troubled the record buyers. By January 1963 Chris was back in the UK top 10 with Some Kinda Fun. Switching from rock and roll to middle-of-the-road in 1966 he had one further top 10 hit with The More I See You.
Let’s Dance had staying power, exactly 10 years after its original release, it was re-issued to celebrate the anniversary and was back in the top 10 again. There was one further re-issue in 1979, following its use in the 1978 film National Lampoon’s Animal House which starred John Belushi, this time backed with Lonnie Mack’s Memphis, but stiffed at number 47.
In October 2002, Chris went on a tour of England, Ireland, and Wales with various sixties artists including Bobby Vee and Brian Hyland. In April and May this year, Chris was back on tour in the UK this time with Mike Pender, Dave Berry, Wayne Fontana and The Merseybeats and were all backed by the New Amen Corner.
By the way, that cover I mentioned earlier by a couple of radio bods was Bruno (Brookes) and Liz (Kershaw), together with the DJ Posse (whoever they were) which spent one week at number 54 in 1990.
You will often hear about a family being brought together by a tragedy, but rare did a band come together that way. Well, on the morning of 11th September 2001, a struggling comic-book artist from New Jersey, whose only character of note was a cartoon chimp named Breakfast Money, was walking to work in New York when he witnessed an aeroplane slam into the north tower of the World Trade Centre during the terrorist attacks that became known as 9/11. Like anyone, that sort of shock you’ll never forget and it will probably change your life forever in one way or another, for Gerard Way, it led him to go home, write a song and then form a band. That band was My Chemical Romance.
“My Chemical Romance was born in that moment,” Way told Luke Lewis, “I realised my job was bullshit so I went straight home and wrote my first song to express my feeling.” That song was called Skylines and Turnstiles but then needed a band because he discovered that he couldn’t sing and play guitar at the same time, so he asked his brother, Mikey, to join on bass and then recruited guitarist Ray Toro and drummer Matt Pelissier. The band’s name was suggested by Mikey who had been working in a branch of Barnes & Noble and spotted a book by Irvine Welsh called Ecstasy: Three Tales of Chemical Romance. They recorded a few tracks in Pelissier’s attic and within a few months Frank Iero was brought in to replace Toro.
Their 2002 debut album, I Brought You My Bullets, You Brought Me Your Love, was recorded in just 12 weeks but they were signed to a small label called Eyeball who didn’t have the budget to promote it well enough, but in 2003 they signed a deal with Frank Sinatra’s old label, Reprise and their debut hit, Thank You For The Venom stalled at number 71. At this time original co-founder, Matt Pelissier was replaced by Bob Bryar but Way was going through such a terrible time that the band’s life was nearly over after one minor hit, “By 2004, I was doing so many drugs, it was like the end of Scarface,” Way revealed. “If I hadn’t got clean I would’ve killed myself, I’m certain of that.” He did get clean and their follow-up hits, I’m Not Okay (I Promise), Helena (written about the Way’s grandmother) and The Ghost of You all made the top 30, but their big breakthrough came in October 2006 when Welcome to the Black Parade, the lead track from the concept album, The Black Parade, shot to number one.
“The album is ‘The Patient,’ who dies of cancer at an early age,” Way explained, “I’d like to think that when you die, death comes to you however you want. It comes in the form of your most powerful memory, and for ‘The Patient’ that memory is a parade I went to with my father.” The lead track tells the story of a patient dying of cancer in hospital ward and that journey to death is The Black Parade. Now, Gerard Way’s belief is that when your time comes, it comes in the form of your life’s strongest memory. This patient is young and died before he could really have any sort of life, so in this case, his strongest and most vivid memory is of the time when his father took him to the city to see a marching band, which is the song’s opening line.
During the recording of the accompanying video, two members of the band suffered unfortunate accidents; Way tore some ligaments in his leg after mucking about with another member of the band and Bryar suffered a burn on the back of his leg which became infected. The images are quite vivid as it shows the black parade marching to meet ‘The Patient’ – played by Lukas Haas who had appeared in 1996 film Mars Attacks! There is a line in the song which is personal to both brothers, ‘Sometimes I get the feeling she’s watching over me’ which was inspired by their grandmother, Helena.
They had seven more hits singles, including the two top 10s, Famous Last Words and Teenagers, both in 2007. In March 2013, Way announced that the band had split up but gave no reason for it, but a few days later, he explained at a show in New Jersey that it was a moment when his perspective shifted. He said he was uncharacteristically nervous and anxious and in the aftermath, saying, “I hollowed out, stopped listening to music, never picked up a pencil and started slipping into old habits.”
In March 2014, their label released a greatest hits package under the moniker May Death Never Stop You and it contained one unheard track called Fake Your Death which was available to download and scraped into the bottom end of the chart at number 63. All members have gone on to other projects both solo and members of bands, but none have yet had the success that MCR, as they became known, had.
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 KingdomNow 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.”