Friday, 6 October 2017

Screaming Lord Sutch: A Legend Of Rock 'N' Roll And British Politics

Published as a two-part interview in Rave-Up issues #12 & #13 (1987/1988) 
A condensed version was later published in American Music Press

Screaming Lord Sutch poses for Rave-Up.
Photo: Devorah Ostrov
Interview by Devorah Ostrov & Sara Brinker/Story by Devorah Ostrov

The manifesto for the Monster Raving Loony Party lists some serious and some not-so-serious matters its candidate, Screaming Lord Sutch, would pursue on the off-chance he was voted into Parliament:

1) Launch a national franchise of Jellied Eels and Tripe: We've had enough of the American Kentucky Fried Chicken and McDonald's. What we need is a national franchise of good old English food.

2) Harness the energy of joggers: Instead of having them run around in circles, I would put them on a conveyor-belt so that they could conduct free electricity for OAPs (Old Age Pensioners).

The Official Monster Raving Loony
 Party Manifesto
3) National Health System: We must cut back on wastages. Nursing staff and doctors should be given a decent wage just as they would if they were privately employed by say, BUPA or PPP.

4) Licensing laws: We believe that the pre-war licensing laws are outdated and the decision as to when a pub should open or close should be left to the discretion of the landlord.

5) Vote at 16: If a 16-year-old is able to get married, have children, and fight wars for our country, then surely, they are responsible enough to vote for the government of their choice.

6) Common Market: Withdrawing from the EEC may not be the answer to the country's problems. However, if we are to remain in the common market, Britain needs a much better "deal" than what we have at the moment.

But before Screaming Lord Sutch the Raving Loony, there was Screaming Lord Sutch the eccentric pop star. While we were in London, Sara and I met up with the amiable Mr. Sutch at his surprisingly sedate suburban home to chat about his legendary life.

Part 1: Rock 'n' Roll

Born simply David Edward Sutch on November 10, 1940, he began developing his alter ego at the age of 16. "I first got interested in the early black and white horror films, like Frankenstein and Dracula," he remarks. "But I also liked rock 'n' roll music, so I thought why not combine the two?"

An early publicity photo of Screaming Lord Sutch
 and the Savages 
His Lordship's mother was not entirely pleased with her son's career plans. "She freaked out! She thought I was completely mad. And when I started to grow my hair long, I was treated like an outcast. I was the local freak."

According to Sutch, when he first began performing in the 1950s, the London music scene was focused on only one entertainer.

"All the local pubs used to have talent nights," he reflects, "and in those days everyone was copying Elvis Presley. There must have been 10,000 Presley lookalikes walking the street! I figured since nobody could top Presley, I would just do my own stuff."

From the beginning, Sutch dubbed himself with the pseudo-royal title of "Lord" because he always wore a top hat and tails. (He did eventually change his name officially to Lord Sutch, although some reports will have you believe he was of hereditary royalty). At various times, he tells us, he was also known as the 3rd Earl of Harrow, and Lord of Horror and Macabre.

Last of the Teenage Idols vocalist Buttz says, 
"This show was a highlight of my career." 
"Then because I screamed a lot at shows, I was nicknamed 'the Screamer' and that title stuck," he explains.

With a set comprised of self-penned horror-pop tunes, covers of '50s standards and other novelties, Sutch and his back-up band, the Savages, debuted at the Parkhouse Hotel in 1958.

"It was a big old pub on the North Circular Road," he recollects of the venue. "We went onstage with earth-shattering screams coming from the back of the crowd, with the death march playing. Then I came out and started grabbing the first two rows of people. It gave them heart attacks! They weren't used to things like that."

The group's next job was at the trendy 2i's Coffee Bar. "At that time Cliff Richard, Johnny Steele and Gary Glitter (then known as Paul Raven) were all playing there," he recalls. "But they were all either copying Elvis, Eddie Cochran or Gene Vincent. The club's manager said, 'You don't copy Elvis, Eddie or Gene, do you?' I said, 'No. I come out of a coffin and sing my own songs.' He said, 'Oh, that sounds a bit different.'"

The coffin shtick was a direct pinch from Screamin' Jay Hawkins, who had been doing the same gimmick in America for several years. And while some of his coffins came from legitimate undertakers, Sutch reveals: "I've gone to cemeteries and been handed them!"

Lord Sutch poses in the back garden of his
surprisingly sedate suburban home.
Photo: Devorah Ostrov
Sutch's onstage costumes have utilized Dracula-style capes, Halloween masks, and horror movie makeup. While his props have included skulls, axes, daggers, blood, and fire. Even live animals have been incorporated into the act, with a Himalayan bear and a twenty-foot long alligator making appearances.

Meanwhile, his flair for self-publicity kept Lord Sutch constantly in the British press throughout the '60s. He made headlines with his first Parliamentary run as the leader of the National Teenage Party in 1963 (he won just over 200 votes); he established his own pirate radio station (Radio Sutch) off the coast of Southend; and he was chased at gunpoint by a girlfriend's irate father.

Sometimes he even got attention without trying...

"I lost a coffin once," he laughs. "I was driving down the M4 to a gig and there were a lot of people honking and waving at me. I thought nothing of it at the time, but when I pulled in for service, I noticed the coffin was gone. I'd had it strapped to a rack on top of the car — and the rack, everything, was gone! I was watching TV later that night and there was the Inspector of Transport talking to the Commissioner of Police saying, 'It's amazing what we find on these motorways: hats, umbrellas... Today we even found a coffin!'"

The Cramps, The Meteors, and Screaming Lord Sutch
Poster for a Hammersmith Palais show on June 22, 1980 
But getting a recording contract proved tougher than getting headlines. "My music was so uncommercial that they wouldn't give me a record deal," declares Sutch. "They figured, what's the point? It probably won't get played on the radio."

Sutch's first 45, "Till the Following Night" b/w a cover of "Good Golly Miss Molly," was issued by HMV POP (catalog #953) in 1961.

Lord Sutch and his Heavy Friend Jeff Beck
Cotillion Records publicity photo used
on the back cover of the LP.
Produced by Joe Meek (as were all of Sutch's early 45s), the A-side (a corny ditty along the lines of Bobby Boris Pickett's "Monster Mash") was originally called "My Big Black Coffin." However, Sutch's label didn't think the BBC would appreciate that title.

"The record company had someone rewrite it and they retitled it," he asserts. "The BBC still banned it straight away. In those days, if it didn't say Cliff Richard or Elvis Presley on the label the BBC banned it."

Although the BBC refused to play "Till the Following Night," Radio Luxembourg picked it up and it became something of a hit.

"It got played a lot on Radio Luxembourg," observes Sutch. "The record did well, and we built up a cult following by playing the colleges and universities, night clubs and leisure halls."

Sutch's next single, "Jack the Ripper" (1963 Decca Records), became his signature tune. Written by the team of Stacy/Haggin/Simmons, and first recorded by Clarence Stacy in 1961, the ghoulish ode was tailor-made for Sutch's over-the-top histrionics and he turned it into a bona fide showstopper.

Look out Torquay! Screaming Lord Sutch is in town!
"Ah-ha-ha, aaah!
The Ripper, Jack the Ripper
The Ripper, Jack the Ripper
There's a man who walks the streets of London late at night
The Ripper, Jack the Ripper
With a little black bag that's oh-so tight
The Ripper, Jack the Ripper
He's got a big black cloak hangin' down his back
The Ripper, Jack the Ripper
Well, that's a one big cat I just a hate to fight
The Ripper, Jack the Ripper
When he walks down the streets
To every girl he meets, he says  
Is your name Mary BLOOD?
The Ripper, Jack the Ripper
The Ripper, Jack the Ripper..."

"We had a whole routine worked out for that song," he points out. "We'd recreate a London scene with smoke and green lights — imagine a dark street in Whitechapel. We'd have girls dressed in Victorian clothes and chase them around the stage and 'stab' them! Then we'd rush about the audience and 'stab' someone who was in their seat. They loved it!"

Following the relative success of "Jack the Ripper," Decca issued Sutch's version of Leiber and Stoller's "I'm a Hog for You" (which had been a Top 40 hit for the Coasters a few years earlier), and in 1964 Oriole Records released two further 45s — "She's Fallen in Love with the Monster Man" and "Dracula's Daughter."

Oriole Records advert for
"She's Fallen in Love with the Monster Man"
The Oriole singles "did very well," notes Sutch. And in 1965 CBS issued his cover of the R&B standard "The Train Kept A' Rollin'."  The Savages that played on this record included future Deep Purple guitarist Ritchie Blackmore and no less than four saxophone players.

If Lord Sutch's memory serves him correctly, by this point in his career he'd already made his first forays to America. He dates his initial visit to "about 1962."

"I went over to look around and see what the scene was like," he says. "I went back in 1964 and played in New York and did a lot of the seaside/ beach places."

Over the next couple of years, Screaming Lord Sutch and the Savages played in Germany, France, and Italy. In February 1966, they took part in a whirlwind UK package tour that also featured the Who and the Graham Bond Organization. And later that year, they played alongside the Yardbirds, the Small Faces, and Simon & Garfunkel at the Tour de César music festival.

With the money he was earning, Sutch bought a Rolls Royce and had it customized with a Union Jack paint job — the same Rolls Royce on which a very dandified and very blond Lord Sutch plants his stylish boot on the famous album cover for Lord Sutch and Heavy Friends.

Lord Sutch and another heavy friend -
the Who's Keith Moon.
"There was a big I'm Backing Britain campaign at the time," he muses. "Everyone was waving British flags, so I thought I'd do one better and stick it over the whole car! When it was done, I put it on the Queen Mary to tour America in. We did a few gigs around New York, Milwaukee, and Chicago. And from there we made our way out to California."

Arriving in Los Angeles in 1968, Lord Sutch settled in for a while and signed with Cotillion Records (a division of Atlantic Records). "I played the Whisky and made all the scenes," he emphasizes.

Recording sessions for the Heavy Friends LP — which featured contributions from Sutch's pals Jeff Beck, Jimmy Page, John Bonham, Noel Redding, and Nicky Hopkins — took place at Hollywood's Mystic Studios over the space of twelve days from April 24 - May 5, 1969. Page and Bonham likely showed up in early May, when Led Zeppelin's US tour rolled into Irvine and Pasadena.

"I had laid down some tracks with Jeff Beck and Noel Redding," Sutch remembers, "when Jimmy Page called and said, 'I'll do some stuff for you.' In the end, he co-produced it and played on all the tracks." (It seems that Page has a quite different take on Heavy Friends and has since distanced himself from the project.)

Lord Sutch and Heavy Friends LP (Cotillion/Atlantic 1970)
Sutch continues, "John Bonham got involved when I went to pick up Jimmy to take him to the studio. Bonham was there and he said, 'I'd like to have a go as well. Do you mind if I play on it?' John Paul Jones wanted to do something as well, but their manager said it was turning into the second Led Zeppelin album and it had to stop somewhere."

The liner notes to Heavy Friends boldly announced that "Screaming Lord Sutch is about to wake up Southern California." But when it was released in 1970, the record flopped. A review in Rolling Stone called Sutch's shouted and growled vocals "absolutely terrible."

My autographed Screaming Lord Sutch 45
The Rolls and props were put in an LA garage and Sutch returned to England. But he wasn't quite done with rock 'n' roll just yet.

In April 1970, Screaming Lord Sutch invited Ritchie Blackmore and other former Savages (including his original drummer Carlo Little) as well as a few more "heavy friends" (Keith Moon, Noel Redding, and keyboardist Matthew Fisher from Procol Harum) to jam on some standard rockers and horror-pop numbers at the Country Club in Hampstead, London.

The show was taped (apparently to the astonishment of everyone except Sutch), and in 1972 Atlantic released the (somewhat tweaked) live album Hands of Jack the Ripper. The LP failed to set the world alight, and as far as recorded output, Sutch was finished for the next decade.

Part 2: Politics

It was during this time that he picked up the pieces of the National Teenage Party (rechristened as the Monster Raving Loony Party) and challenged the aged and boring Parliament on issues ranging from the youth vote to the preservation of Liverpool's Cavern Club.

Vote for Screaming Lord Sutch!
Photo: Devorah Ostrov
Q: Was there a particular reason, or a need that you saw, which first got you interested in running for Parliament?

Sutch: I first formed the National Teenage Party because I was interested in politics, and you couldn't vote over here until you were 21. There were people walking around married with kids and they couldn't vote. It was ridiculous! I also campaigned for commercial radio. All we had over here was the BBC and they only played chamber music, orchestras, or big bands. At one time, I ran a "pirate" radio station called "Radio Sutch" from an old fishing boat!

Q: What made you start again with politics in the '70s?

Sutch: I found that 30% of the population didn't bother to vote. We needed a party just for them — a protest party! That's why I formed the Official Monster Raving Loony Party.

Q: How close have you come to winning a Parliamentary election?

Sutch: I came close with the National Teenage Party. I had thousands of people doing marches. We got lots of publicity and in the end, we were accepted.

Publicity photo for the Monster Raving Loony Party
Q: So, the British public does take your campaigns seriously?

Sutch: Oh, yeah! Because I've been doing it for so many years now. I've stood against former Prime Minister Harold Wilson twice in Liverpool. I told them, "You've got the world-famous band, the Beatles, and this city looks like a bloody mess." People are starving; there are a lot of derelict areas. There's nothing there. Where is all that tax money going? It should be pumped back into the town! And then some guy on the Liverpool council decided they should knock down the Cavern [the club where the Beatles played] and on the space, they could park two cars. That's a real brainwave!

His Lordship looking like a proper
rock star. (Photo from the back cover
 of Hands of Jack the Ripper.)
Q: Instead of tearing it down, they should have turned the Cavern into a Beatles museum.

Sutch: Of course, they should have! And they could have charged a £1 entrance fee. They would have made £1000 a day! You couldn't charge that much to park two cars. Now they've got a whole industry like they have in Memphis for Elvis — a whole museum dedicated to the Beatles, the Searchers, the Swinging Blue Jeans... all of the bands that came out of that era. Now they're talking about rebuilding the Cavern, but it won't be the same. What are they going to build it out of? Plastic? Modern brick? It's not the same. It's sheer madness! That's why you've got to keep going.

Q: Do you know how many people belong to the Monster Raving Loony Party?

Sutch: A few thousand!

Q: What's up next on your political agenda?

Sutch: We have by-elections where a seat comes up because a lot of the MPs are too old. Most are in their late sixties or seventies. Some of them, when they win, fall over and croak from the excitement! What we're saying now is that there should be an age limit of say 55. What do these 70-year-old MPs have in common with someone on the dole? With a skinhead or a rocker? They're just a bunch of hooligans to them. There should be a department just to study youth, to find out why they riot, why they smash up telephone boxes, why there is all this vandalism.

Screaming Lord Sutch with four saxophones
and guitarist Ritchie Blackmore
And what about Lord Sutch's musical career? He still brings his original "horror rock" show to clubs and the occasional outdoor festival in England, but can we ever expect to see him Stateside again?

"I'd like to do a few more gigs in America," he nods, "and maybe pick up my stuff. The storage bills are outrageous!"

* * *

Promotion for "I'm a Hog for You"
Some rock historians think that Screaming Lord Sutch's foremost legacy will be as an early employer to some of rock's biggest stars. During the interview, we asked if it was true that AC/DC was once his back-up band...

Sutch: Oh, yeah! When they first came to England, they were just playing small pubs, getting £20 a night. Someone told me to go down and see this band — "They're great!" It was an absolute natural because I always had a wild guitarist in the band. You know, Page... Blackmore... My band has always been popular as a "band's band." Other groups would always come and see us whenever we played because I'd always use top musicians. The Rolling Stones used to come to my gigs in the early days. They actually nicked the drummer from my first band — Carlo Little. He did one show with them at the Flamingo Club and Jagger offered him to stay permanently. But the Flamingo Club was more of a jazzy club and the Stones just died a slow death there. The club manager asked Carlo what he was doing with this group of scruffy bastards? Carlo got embarrassed and said he didn't want to do it anymore. He gave them Charlie Watts' phone number!

* * *

Update: Sadly, Screaming Lord Sutch was found hanged at his home on June 16, 1999. Reports say he had suffered from a prolonged battle with depression.

6 comments:

  1. I first heard of Sutch in the liner notes to one of Sire's double-LP History Of British Rock sets; my first vicarious introduction to his music was via The Revillos' cover of "She's Fallen In Love With The Monster Man."

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hi Carl, other than "Jack the Ripper" I wasn't that familiar with Sutch's music before meeting him in London. I just knew about him as this wild character from the '60s. I was really surprised by how nice and friendly he was - and "normal"!

      Delete
  2. Dave bought my house in Hastings in the 80's - I left all my analogue masters in the basement, and they got skipped when he sold it . . .

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Wow!!! Was that the back garden of your "surprisingly sedate suburban home" that I photographed him in? What a shame to lose all your analogue masters. Are you the Tom Newman who produced "Tubular Bells"?

      Delete