I am a singer and you won’t know me because I never got on Top of the Pops but my voice did – and not just backing vocals either! I sang lead and backing vocals on a major British and European hit in 1974. It was of course The Bump. I can already hear the chorus of disapproval in my head: “that was Kenny, a boy band, had a few hits, saw them on Top of the Pops myself, didn’t they end up in court in a battle over royalties?” Now, I have no dispute their hits that came along after The Bump but let’s just get this straight; when The Bump was recorded and released they were nowhere to be seen, they made their first appearance as a group after the song had charted and as I said I sang The Bump, not Kenny!
I was sitting at home with my family on this special Thursday evening waiting for TOTP to start and I was nervous, not because I thought I had made the wrong choice when I had turned down the offer to perform on the show but because I was about to hear myself singing on the UK’s most iconic music show. You have to understand, this show was the pinnacle of popular music through the 60′s, 70′s and 80′s and it was more or less a given that if you got on TOTP then you had made it, it really was that big.
It was David Hamilton who introduced them and my heart was in my mouth as if it was me about to appear on the screen. They came on all shiny and young and did a good job miming to all the vocals I had recorded; I felt elated just knowing that it was me singing but it was a very strange thing to sit and watch these guys perform it as if it was them and knowing that out there in the big World, everyone thought it was them.
I had been having a crack at this music lark for several years by then and believe me, TOTP was very much on my radar as an aspiration and I didn’t turn it down lightly. I was living in Sleights, near Whitby and had been the singer in a Scarborough based band called “Brave New World” Just before I joined them, they had come second in the “Melody Maker” Folk/Rock competition and their prize was a recording contract with EMI, no less, the company that had signed “The Beatles” among others. They could do no wrong at that time. They were big on the College and Uni circuit particularly in the North and had amassed a strong and loyal fan base big towns and cities all over the Country.
They had a twin guitar line up but Dave Brown would switch between guitar and violin for certain songs. The material was mainly original songs written by drummer Pete Jackson and some folky type material that was traditional but arranged by the band and was really designed to create a party atmosphere towards the end of the gig with a lot wild dancing to Dave’s fine jigs. Pete’s songs were more “Pop/Rock” but they were very catchy and he knew how to write a good hook.
What was a shock was that they turned down the EMI offer because Dave’s Dad who was a Bank manager in Pickering thought the band could do better. Now I’m not sure on what basis he came to that conclusion, especially when you consider that that vast majority of his business at the Pickering branch was agricultural and fishing etc but in spite of that his advice was taken and the deal was declined. When I joined they were very ambitious and we all thought it was only a matter of time before we were discovered.
BNW’s gigs were mainly in the North but we had an offer to play in London and I think the place was called “The Kings Cross Cinema” and it was an “all nighter” featuring maybe 8 or 10 bands. I can’t remember who the other bands were but I know we had a good night and the crowd were up for it. Bill Martin was in the audience checking out all the bands, I guess and after we finished he came back-stage to have a chat with us. He wasn’t shy about telling us about his successes which included writing and producing several number one hits for the “Bay City Rollers” Then there was the Eurovision winner “Puppet on a String” and he was writing for “Slik” which was Midge Ure’s band. It was certainly an impressive list of hits although we may not have considered ourselves to be similar to any of those artists, the point was that Bill knew how to get a hit record so we were hanging on to his every word. Bill had a confidence and a strong Glasgow accent which only added to his air of authority and I guess it’s fair to say that we were convinced that he was genuine and well worth listening to.
He gave us plenty of praise and said he wanted to help us move up a level which was great for us to hear. He gave us his card and said we should call him the following week to arrange a meeting to discuss our future. It’s probably true to say that we were a bit snobby musically and considered the “Rollers” to be a teenybopper type band and not that credible as album artists, unlike ourselves who we arrogantly thought were good enough to make at least one great album.
The following week, Dave called and made the appointment for that Friday and the address if I recall was 32 Knox street, Marylebone. We drove down in the Tranny the night before and stayed at a cheap B n B in Sussex Gardens, Paddington. The idea was that we would all be fresh and on the ball so it was worth the expense. The whole band went, five of us and we thought it was a fantastic chance for us to break into the big time-I mean, this was Bill Martin!
We went on the tube with Dave carrying our demo’s, five songs recorded on a reel to reel 4 track and all written by Pete. When we arrived at the office we were offered tea or coffee by a lovely Australian girl called Kate while we waited for Bill to send for us. The room was full of gold and silver discs and we were all very impressed with our surroundings, this was what success looked like and at that moment I think we would have signed anything just to stay in that environment.
Bill made us feel welcome and got straight down to it; “Let’s hear these demo’s then” and Dave handed him the tape. We all sat and listed in silence as the tracks rolled by and it was impossible to guess what Bill was thinking but by the third track he started to spin the tape forward before the song had finished muttering something like “OK, got that now”which made me nervous but in spite of that he looked happy enough. “Great” he said when the tape had finished, “these are good songs but what we need is a hit single, maybe the second one could work, what’s it called? It was one of Pete’s more poppy compositions call “Collingwood Keys” It was meant to be the name of a pub or club but the title was the name of a piano maker and Pete had stuck it in when he was writing the song on his Collingwood Keys piano and it fitted perfectly. Bill thought this could make a single but had a couple of issues with part of the chorus which we all assured him we could fix, no problem. Bill still seemed confident-Go back to Scarborough and fix that song, then come and talk about a deal” he said. We were calm and grown up till we got about fifty yards from his office, then all the whooping and shouting started. Could this really be it? Really??
There was one song on the demo tape that Pete didn’t write and we had stuck on the end at my request. It was a cover of the song “Maybe I’m Amazed” In my opinion, one of Paul Mc Cartney’s best songs and I had recorded it with Pete and the guys and a friend called Roger Dean on piano. We never did it live but I just felt that it was perfect for me and I wanted people to hear it.
Over the next few weeks we did several new versions of “Collingwood Keys” trying desperately to give Bill what he wanted but after the fourth or fifth attempt he stopped taking our calls and we all knew that he’d lost interest and our chance had passed.
It was about two months later that I got a call from Bill and he invited me down on my own for what he called a wee chat. I told the guys and we all knew that this about me, not them. I said, let’s just wait and see what he wants. We made a deal that if he signed me up and I got big that they would be my backing band as long as I had the choice.
I turned up for my noon appointment with Bill and he started by telling me about his partner Phil Coulter. He said that he and Phil had a hand in everything, writing, producing, publishing and even management if I recall. He told me that Phil was very keen to record my version of “Maybe” and they would bring in the best musicians, including strings and do a top production on it. I could hardly speak. I was thinking, “where’s the catch?” I can remember asking “If we do it, can we send a copy to Paul?” Bill assured me that would be easy. He changed the subject without warning. “Can you sing falsetto?” I told him that my favourite bands were the Beatles and the Beach Boys and I’d been singing along to both since their early hits so falsetto was easy for me. He played a song called “Heart of Stone” which was sung in falsetto and asked if I could sing like the guy on the record and I told him I could. The singer’s name was Kenny and Phil had found him in Ireland, then brought him to London to record the track. It was written and produced by Bill and Phil and then licenced to Rak records, a company owned by Mickey Most. Rak was responsible for a lot of hits by artists like, “Hot Chocolate” “Suzy Quatro” “Smokie” and many others. After reaching the charts with that and then a follow up called “Give it to me now” Kenny had decided that he wanted to go back to Ireland leaving Bill and Phil one single short of their three single deal with Mickey and Rak. Here was the deal; I would record a single in the style and under the name of Kenny. That would fulfill their obligation to Rak and in return, I would record “Maybe I’m Amazed” and that could go out as my first single. We could sort out the details later but the Rak problem was urgent as Mickey was becoming very irritated by the long delay and apparently, an irritated Mickey was bad for everyone.
Phil had arrived in the middle of this long story and I liked him sraight away. He was clever, witty and somehow you could tell he was musical, it’s hard to explain but that’s what came across.
The next problem was the song. They had a few to choose from and they played me a couple of songs which were OK but nothing special. Phil mentioned the dance called the Bump and said that the b-side of the upcoming “Rollers new single was called the Bump and we should have a listen to that. As it happens I had seen some girls in a Whitby club dancing the Bump but the tempo on the Rollers track was much too fast to do the dance properly. I sang along to the track in falsetto and they both said it would work. They could take off all the vocals, slow down the drum track and start again. We had our song!
Phil was very positive about “Maybe” Like me, he thought it was one of McCartney’s best ever songs and he was sure we could do a great version and providing it got enough airplay could be a big hit. As soon as “The Bump was done he would book the studio to record the backing track-he would’nt need me for that but the following week we would do the vocals and the mixing. As I was about to leave Bill said that he would contact me about a contract for “Maybe” but the falsetto job would be a flat fee. I asked him what he meant. You will get a royalty for “Maybe I’m Amazed” but not for the Bump. For that you will get a flat fee, no royaties. “not bothered about that” I said, “Let’s just focus on the music” As I walked back to Kings Cross station I began to worry about the one problem that I kept hidden from Bill and knew that my day of reckoning was getting close. I had plenty of chances to mention it and if I didn’t tell him soon it would obviously be a massive problem.
I had planned to call Bill and explain my situation but I decided I would tell him face to face next time I was with him, that was better, I thought.
The day of recording “The Bump” came and they booked me into Selfridges Hotel the night before the session and Phil called with some advice for singers about to record.
No drink, early to bed, nice walk in the fresh air before going to the studio, that kind of thing. All good simple advice which I actually did follow.
The session was great fun. I did the lead vocals quite quickly and spent much longer on the backing vocals. Everything we did was double tracked and after maybe four hours or so we had an almost finished song. I was really working with Phil now and he was perfect for me. He made me laugh a lot and that’s always a good thing I believe.
He asked me to sing a part in a very low voice at the end of each chorus; “Come on and do the Bump” was the line but every time I tried to sing it I got the giggles and I couldn’t control it. Phil was laughing too and it became impossible for me so I asked him if he would have a go. He made it look easy and also did another “shouty” type line, it was “Come on everybody, do the Bump” All in all it was a great day for all of us and I thought of talking to Bill about my predicament but I didn’t want to spoil the good vibe that was swirling around us all. I knew that I couldn’t keep my secret much longer.