When Screaming Lord Sutch emerged on the British rock scene in the early 1960s, there were hardly any other musicians in the entire country who could play guitars and saxophone with anything approaching a genuine rock or R&B feel. Sutch was not a great singer, but his enthusiasm, lunacy, and eye for top-flight backing musicians carried the day on his handful of singles in the early-to-mid-1960s. Jimmy Page, Jeff Beck, Nicky Hopkins, Ritchie Blackmore, and Malcolm Fisher (Procol Harum) are some of the notable players who served time with Sutch before rising to greater fame in different groups. Sutch's early singles also rate as some of the best productions by pioneering British producer Joe Meek, mixing remakes of early rock'n'roll classics with material reflecting the singer's fascination for the ghoulish and the comically outrageous.
In the United States, Sutch's name is barely known. In the United Kingdom, he was downright famous, but not so much for his music as for his maverick electioneering. The founder of the Monster Raving Loony Party, he repeatedly ran for election in Britain. Considered jokes by many in the establishment, these campaigns actually championed some progressive ideas, some of which eventually came to pass, such as lowering of the voting age and the introduction of commercial radio.
Sadly, Sutch committed suicide in June 1999, nearly three years after I interviewed him at his home in 1996.
How were you different than the other British rock musicians when you first started to perform?
At that day, [it] was Cliff Richard and the Drifters, who were doing all the routines. They were just like [doing] Elvis Presley numbers, from the early days. Cliff Richard was influenced by Elvis, alongside Marty Wilde and Billy Fury and all these acts. A lot of the bands up and down the country were just copying Cliff Richard. There were just a lot of copycats of them about. It was timid, the music.
My style was more rock and roll and wild and frantic. When we appeared with some numbers from the American past, plus some we'd wrote ourselves, like "Big Black Coffin" and "Til the Following Night," then "Jack the Ripper," this was a bit wild and different for them to accept. Even the audiences over here at the time; they thought Johnny Kidd and the Pirates were wild, and we were a lot wilder than them.
I always had a high standard of musicianship, good musicians, plus a good visual show. I come from the musical area, so I see a lot of musical alliance. So I literally put that musical vaudeville to rock and roll, and that's how we presented a show.
Did you get any of your inspiration from Screamin' Jay Hawkins, who also used some vampire and coffin imagery in his live performances and songs?
I liked Screamin' Jay, but I preferred as far as wild rock and roll, Little Richard, who was more frantic and over the top, and Larry Williams, I liked the commercial stuff. I could never understand why Screamin' Jay never made more rock and roll records.
What were you looking for in backing musicians? A bunch of guys who became famous backed you in different lineups of the Savages.
We taught the Savages to be visual and move around a lot. I'd run around a lot on the stage, so we taught the band to move as well. That's one of the main factors. There was a marching routine with the baton and bass player, they would march forward, left-right left-right and go towards the crowd. The drummer and the pianist [would move] side to side. Then jumping across the stage and leaping up in the air, all this sort of stuff was taught to the likes of Ritchie Blackmore, who used to just stand in the corner when we first got him. We had to drag him 'round the stage and put a bit of life into him.
So he went off and joined Deep Purple, and it took off. When they did the stage shows, they said Ritchie Blackmore was taking over, because he was so visual. He was streaks ahead of all the others. They could equal him maybe musically, but not visually, because he had the Screamin' Lord Sutch and the Savages training. The others, they were just plain musicians. A lot of Keith Moon, a lot of his stage presence and his routines and his actual show [was] from Carlo Little, which was our original drummer, who taught him and was giving him drum lessons for 50 pence a time, 10 bob in the old money.
Jeff Beck, Ritchie Blackmore, and Jimmy Page have all played in the Savages, and all done gigs, and have all recorded as well, alongside a lot of the good pianists. Nicky Hopkins, who was on my original records, and then started to do sessions for the Rolling Stones, and then he did sessions for the Beatles. All this was good experience. We made him play live on stage. He used to do instrumentals, or vocals like "Don't Be Cruel" on piano, things like that.
[We had a] very high standard of professionalism. If you're jumping around on the stage in the show, the people don't think that it's serious. But it is. It's all been seriously worked out, these routines. So it's a lot of discipline gone into that.
Your early singles were split between rock'n'roll covers and songs with a kind of Halloween-type bent. Did you prefer one or the other approaches, musically?
All my early records had the horror track one side, and an R&B track the other side. That proved to the audience that come to see us, they'd see some horror songs, and then would see R&B. If we just did all horror, some people would think, oh, that's all they can do. We had some good R&B tracks on there, like "Don't You Just Know It" -- great guitar solo on there -- and stuff like "Bye Bye Johnny," "Bye Bye Baby," and all this stuff. And there's some good fill-ins on "Jack the Ripper" and "All Black and Hairy," there's a nice riff going.
I liked a bit of hard-boiled rock and roll, the classics like "Good Golly Miss Molly," and I liked the things like "Jack the Ripper" and "Dracula's Daughter" and "Til the Following Night." So it varied. You can build the show around that, 'cause my show's very visual, I have a lot of props and top hats and bodies on stage and heads severed and all this kind of stuff, sword-fencing, and someone dressed up as a policeman.
What were Joe Meek's contributions to the records?
He could round them off and control us, because we would tend to go on for about ten minutes on the song, so he would get 'em down to three minutes. It's only later on that the long ones come out, and I remember Jimmy Page saying that to me. He says, look. When I had him with the Heavy Friends album, I was trying to cut them down to three or four minutes. And he said, no, you haven't got to do that now, you can do eight or ten minutes for album tracks. Just do it till you get in the groove of it and then you do it as long as you can feel it. You don't have to suddenly wind it up. That was later, that was in the '70s.
Joe Meek's training was, he was good. He had all these acts that were doing straight rock and roll. And of course, with me doing the horror stuff, he was intrigued by horror. He was intrigued by graveyards and churches and things like that. He used to go walking around there, writing songs and stuff. I think he wrote the song "Monster in Black Tights" with a colleague walking 'round the cemetery. That was his kind of sense of humor, and I shared that with him. It was a good song, and we had a go at it.
How do you see your influence on other bands that followed you?
At the time I was doing R&B and rock and roll, it wasn't the current music. The Stones were near to us. [Drummer] Carlo [Little] was doing gigs for me and on the days off, the Stones kept coming to my gigs. There was Mick Jagger, Brian Jones, they're at all my gigs. Every time I did a gig they were there, watching the routines and the stage show. They used to borrow Carlo, Nicky Hopkins, and Ricky Fenson, the bass player, to do these offbeat gigs here and there.
They were doing just small pubs. And they were only ever a support band, or third on the bill, the Stones in them days. What come to the end of it all was when the Gunnell Brothers, who ran the Flamingo, who managed Georgie Fame, they had Georgie Fame on there -- it was like a jazz crowd, 'cause he was like jazz-oriented, so he had a lot of jazzers in there. And Carlo and the Stones played to that crowd, and they were just doing Chuck Berry and Bo Diddley numbers in the early days. And they literally got booed off. The Gunnell Brothers said to Carlo, "What're you doing with these idiots? Because you're gonna get nowhere with these." Pointing at Mick Jagger and Brian Jones, he says, "You oughta stick with Sutch and Long John Baldry and people like that you've been with, 'cause they at least headline and go over alright."
With that, Carlo was so embarrassed he was in there that he lent over and picked up a cigarette packet and tore it up and wrote on it, "Charlie Watts," and gave it to Mick Jagger and said, "Look, I can't do any more gigs. Give my mate it. Good friend of mine, covers for me. We cover for each other. Give Charlie Watts a ring. He'll be ideal for you." And that was it.
Carlo says now, he owns a house in Wembley near the famous Wembley Stadium. But he said, "If only I didn't have bent over and picked up that cigarette packet, not only could I own the house" -- which he's paying the mortgage for, it would be paid -- but he could own the whole street and probably streets beyond. But that's life, innit it?
So he had that experience, and he says, "What is it with me, Dave? Am I just destined to be unlucky?" And he lived 'round the corner from the Cream's drummer, Ginger Baker. He said, look, Ginger's made it. Now Charlie Watts has made it. After giving the job to Charlie Watts, which he did do, he says, we had this guy at Wembley Town Hall when we were doing gigs, kept looking at us from the wings. This guy in a gray raincoat. He kept looking at us, looking at us, and he was always standing in the wings at Wembley, when we played at Wembley Town Hall, in the wings, with this little baby-faced kid. A little round face, black hair, and he looked about 14. He kept looking at Carlo, and watching everything he did. [Carlo] said, "They're spying on me."
After about four gigs, [this] guy came up and said, look, Mr. Little, we know you live in Wembley. We live in Wembley as well, and I wondered if I paid you, would you teach my son how to play? 'Cause he's mad on you. He's got all your routines and everything. And that was Keith Moon. Carlo says, "I'll fit him in a couple of days a week," and that was it. So he says, I do that, and that guy has gone off and become a millionaire. He said, what am I doing wrong? This is years later.
I said, "You've just got to keep plugging." Years later, we brought it up again, and he says, "Charlie's still there [making] a fortune, and Keith Moon's become a millionaire." I said, no matter how you're looking, Carlo, you're doing better than Keith Moon, 'cause he's dead. And he's doing better than John Bonham, 'cause he's dead. Doesn't matter how fantastic and big and wealthy they are, once they're dead, they're gone. At least you're here, with your own house. You can play a gig, a shitty pub down the road, but you can play it. Brian Jones can't play it, nor can Keith Moon, nor can John Bonham. They can't get the pleasure out of the gig. That's one of the things in life, you know.
[This] other guy we had in the band used to start off with a lot of classical music, 'cause he had a Hammond organ. And Carlo used to throw a bit of chalk at him or cigarette packet and say, "Shut up, Ethel. That's bloody rubbish, we're a rock and roll band. Our audience see you playing classical music, they'll drop us. So stop with that shit." Carlo had another gig about a month later, and [the organist] was tuning up the organ again with this classical stuff. So Carlo threw a cigarette packet at him and said, stop it. They're coming in now. Play one of the rock and roll." He said, well, "I just did that a couple of weeks ago on the start of a session. The producer went mad on it. He really appreciated it." He said, we're not making records. The next thing we knew, this guy said, that record I made, it's 18 in the charts. And we said, what? 18 in the charts? What are you talking about? It was "A Whiter Shade of Pale," Matthew Fisher on the organ. The same thing he was playing that Carlo threw the thing at him, there it was. They made about four albums, didn't they, Procol Harum, toured all around the world and everything.
About six months ago, they did a revival album. Some record company offered them a lot of money to get the original band back. I think that was a double album. That's just one of the guys.
Another guy that was knocking around doing gigs with us when we couldn't get Ritchie or Jeff Beck or Jimmy Page was Albert Lee. We used Albert Lee a few times on gigs. And then he took off with Chris Farlowe. He's a very good singer, Chris Farlowe.
You know all the stories with [Deep] Purple? The guy from the Searchers, the drummer, Chris Curtis. He set up Purple. They said in the end -- he picked the top musicians, like nicked Ritchie from me, nicked someone's from someone else, and he had these great musicians. In the end, they were far superior than he could play. I think Ritchie and one of the others said to the two managers, these millionaire managers, that what's holding us back is the drummer. He said, "But he's formed you." He said, "Well, if you want us to make it, that's the hallowed truth." He [Curtis] did all the running around. He did all the phoning and got all of the people together. It's a hell of a story. And he ended up with nothing.
One thing that set you off from other British rock performers before the Beatles was that you were writing some of your own material from the very start.
There was in jazz, and there was in like country music, or Irish music, writers. But in rock and roll, the first writer-singer-performer was Johnny Kidd & the Pirates. And it was a three-piece, and the Who got all the -- he did everything that the Who did later on. But he did it before. Three-piece, with a guy out front, double drums, he had everything. Top guitarists. Joe Moretti and all these great guitarists. And his guitar licks are fantastic. And writing the lyrics.
And that's why the Who -- they got the standard of Pete Townshend, yet they still record "Shakin' All Over." And they used to do [Kidd's] "Please Don't Touch" live on stage. Their idea was based -- they did it a bit different -- but it was based on Johnny Kidd. Three piece, and that's it. That's why ["Shakin' All Over"] was a good [song] to do for the Who, because it's like a brand-new number worldwide. Then again, the Who were so big that the Who fans still bought their version. People bought both versions, even Johnny Kidd fans were pleased to see [it]. A lot of the sensible ones bought the Who's version as well. It's a good version. It's got a lot of power and everything in it.
Do you think you influences some of the punk and new wave bands, particularly with the theatrical aspects of your shows?
The Cramps, and the Damned. We've done tours with these. They were similar. It was that wild approach, and with the Damned, it was that wild R&B kind of approach, and fast music, and they just played the numbers ever-so-fast. They used a lot of our numbers. Another band was -- like the Psychobillies, and all that -- we did 20 gigs with the Stray Cats. We did a 20-gig tour with them, up and down the country. The early days, I played with the Who and the Yardbirds and meself. It was the three of us, touring around. We were all over the Continent -- France, Italy, Germany, it was great. That's when I was under Robert Stigwood.
What's interested you more in your career, your music or your activities as a politician?
[I was], I think, [the] first rock and roll politician before any of the others. That's why I liked it. The two can be mixed. A rock and roll singing politician, that's a good title.
Some of the things that were scoffed at in your early campaigns have now been adopted, right?
[There's the abolition of the 11-plus school examination, lowering of the voting age], and all-day opening of pubs. Even rock and roll colleges that I campaigned for, we've got that now, where you can have a course and have degrees on rock and roll. It's accepted. Before it was just classical music. Now it's modern music, American rock and roll to English rock and roll. So that's been accepted as another policy. We want passports for pets here, so that dogs and cats can go to France and Italy and go back. Otherwise you've got six months quarantine, it's a stupid law.
If they see you get a few votes...like, one of the [elections], I got 1,500 votes. So they actually are shocked by this, and they look into your politics then. [In contrast, you need] millions of pounds, millions and millions of dollars to be politically active in America.
We had a very strong movement over in the Green Party, it did well in Germany and on the Continent, and then they did well over here. Green issues about nuclear weapons and things like this, and suddenly they picked up a lot of votes, and then all the other parties -- Conservatives, Labor, and Liberal -- all picked up on the Green Party's policies. They nicked all their ideas. And now the Green Party's got nothing to say, 'cause all the other parties picked up their policies. But that's the way. They adapted it, and a lot of things have become law.
[In the early '60s, for media] there was only the BBC. And that would go early in the morning, 7:00 until about 11:00 at night. Just one channel. It was ridiculous. What took over in our early '60s was a combination of the pop pirates -- that's why we said we should make them legalize. Pop pirates were playing music all around the clock, and they played all the '60s -- the Beatles, Stones -- all that wasn't getting played on BBC radio. None of my records ever got played, that's why I started my own radio station (laughs). But they had a complete monopoly. It was very straight-laced and boring. So I said, we should have local radio up and down the country, like they've got in America, like they've got in Australia. And now that's become law. Not only have we got local commercial stations, we've got local radio, BBC ones.
So it's much better, 'cause local bands in Nottingham, Liverpool, could get played on local radio. Otherwise, if you've just got one blanketed program, and all the bands from Liverpool, Manchester, Birmingham send in their records to London, then they don't play 'em. They probably just play the ones from the London area.
They were opened up for anything. Even years later, the BBC wouldn't play the Sex Pistols records. But it still went to #1, because it was enough pirate stations about, plus there was the commercial stations. They didn't mind, they'd go, stuff the rules. I remember their album, Never Mind the Bollocks, that when it first come out [it] wasn't put in the national papers, they had to blank it out and put funny symbols. But just recently, they did a return of the Sex Pistols, and they just said, Never Mind the Bollocks is the Sex Pistols, and they can put the whole thing now. People are getting more broad-minded.
What is the Monster Raving Loony Party doing now?
We're gearing up to the general election, that in the offering. It looks like the Labor are well ahead now, because the Tories have been in so many times, and the people just say, oh, well, it's time Labor had a go. It's their turn to get in, Labor. That's in case the Loonies don't get in, of course. We'll be doing meetings. I'll get all my troops on red alert, get ready to stand up. We're at this moment getting our manifesto together with a lot of new ideas, which is about to come out on the unsuspecting public. This is a very strong, good manifesto. I could be #10 the next time.
Anything else you'd like to add?
I'm proud of the fact that so many of
Savages have gone on to much bigger things. Even Noel Redding and
Mitch Mitchell, who went on to back Hendrix. It's a great
Charlie Morgan, who was in the Savages, he went with Elton John.
I'm pleased to see that they get out there, and that they pass the
of the Savages. They're always there for encore. They can always
remember their routine and go into the show, which is good. I'm
of the fact that they've done well, I really am. 'Cause it only
as a little teeny band, an R&B band, just to have fun with around
and clubs, and it's amazing to think that musicians have topped the
in Japan, Germany, America, and all around the world, and they've been
part of my band. It's amazing. So I hope they keep going
I hope they go on to the year 2000, 2010.
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