Tag Archives: Jona Lewie

Snowman secret revealed

20 Dec

‘You put your left leg in, left leg out’…growled a snowman who sounded like he’s puffed on too many pipes. Sure the Hokey Cokey was familiar to millions, a staple of the drunken office party and wedding reception. But whose was that deep voice on the single released by Stiff in 1981 in an attempt to second consecutive Christmas hit in a row after Jona Lewie’s success with Stop The Cavalry?

Ian Dury had departed Stiff for Polydor that year and many were convinced it was his gravelly tones they were hearing – something that did the record no harm. Sonnie Rae, who was tasked with plugging the record for Stiff, recalls: “I just played that and people went, ‘That’s ian Dury, isn’t it?’, and I would go, ‘Ooh, I couldn’t possibly say because it’s a big secret. I don’t know who it is’. I think they all thought it was Ian Dury, so I think that’s why it got all the airplay it did.”

Dury’s former Stiff stablemate Jona Lewie was also among the names put forward as the record company remained tightlipped about the real identities of Frosty, Blob, Lump and Norman.

But it wasn’t a household name with chart hits to their name, but session guitarist and singer Martin Kershaw who led The Snowmen through the party favourite. Meanwhile, it was staff from the Stiff office, including publicist Nigel Dick, who were inside the costumes for the video and Top Of The Pops recordings.

Sadly for Stiff, any hope of a Christmas chart-topper melted away when the record stalled at No 18, leaving The Human League to enjoy the top spot with ‘Don’t You Want Me?’.

 

 

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Be Stiff Route 78

2 Aug

Here’s some great footage taken on 10 October 1978 at Olympia station in London as the Be Stiff train tour headed to Bristol for the opening night. Wreckless Eric, Lene Lovich, Rachel Sweet, Jona Lewie and Mickey Jupp were on the bill for what proved an ambitious and costly venture and which took in such outposts as Wick in Scotland. The 33-date itinerary came to a close at London’s Lyceum Ballroom on 19 November and the artists – minus Mickey Jupp – flew to New York for four shows at The Bottom Line. Anne Nightingale was presenting Old Grey Whistle Test at the time and is doing the voiceover.

The Be Stiff interviews: Jona Lewie

11 Jun
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Photo by Nigel Dick

Jona Lewie on playing New York’s Bottom Line as part of the Be Stiff Tour in 1978.

“I was glad of all that live experience. It is like a tennis match where you don’t win. You come out thinking, ‘Right. I’ve learned a lot from that match’ and that was more my attitude. I went forward and even more from having played at The Bottom Line and by then my act was really quite brazen. You had tables and chairs at The Bottom Line where people sat down to drink and have a little bit of food perhaps, that went right to the stage and right out to the little venue. And I just ran out and ran along the tables where all their coffees and drinks and food was, jumped down on to the floor, went around and back on the stage again and carried on singing. And on one of the nights, I just threw myself into the audience. I’ve seen that happen with other people since, so I was quite brazen by then; I’d developed my act. It wasn’t even an act, it was just impulse and desperation to try and make it and try and crack the States. In the sixties, the culture was, ‘If you can make it in the States…’ And indeed, my album was getting airplay all over America, apparently. But frankly Stiff blew it. They didn’t manage to get a label deal with Arista, who they were in negotiation with and there was a reason why Arista was put off them.”

Can’t Start Dancin’

14 Apr

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Stiff Sounds – Can’t Start Dancin’

‘This exciting LP is not available on cassette 8 track or anywhere else’. So triumphed the sleeve of Can’t Start Dancin’, a compilation album produced by the music paper Sounds as part of Stiff’s lavish promotion of the train tour in 1978.

Even by its own standards, Stiff really went to town when it came to the publicity in the run-up to what was an ambitious venture and a risky financial gamble by Dave Robinson. Sponsorship money had been prised out of Polygram, the Bron Agency, Ensign Records and the NME by the label in order to keep costs to a minimum. Sounds meanwhile had invested £35,000 on a 10-week promotional campaign that included national press advertising, commercial radio spots, specialist press ads, fly- posting and promotion at festivals and college campuses.

Sounds also produced an album of tracks by the five artists on the tour – Mickey Jupp, Jona Lewie, Lene Lovich, Rachel Sweet and Wreckless Eric. There were two songs by each of them, as well as from label-mates Ian Dury and The Rumour, making it a 14-track affair. The record was advertised heavily in the press and on radio.

The rear of the sleeve showcased the five covers of the albums Stiff was releasing on the same day to coincide with the start of the tour. Each was on a different coloured vinyl and picture disc. ‘If you require any information regarding Stiff Records and its heinous activities,’ it advised, ‘write to The Stiff Secret Service, 32 Alexander Street, London W2’.

Stop The Cavalry

22 Dec

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Excerpt from Be Stiff: The Stiff Records Story

[Dave] Robinson had a keen ear for a hit and he had immediately earmarked ‘Kitchen At Parties’ as a single when he’d listened to the rough demos Lewie had brought in after being signed. However, he‘d dismissed ‘Stop The Cavalry’ as “just an anti-war song”. On the cassette recording Robinson heard, Lewie had accompanied himself on the piano, giving the song a rather sparse feel. Convinced it had promise, Lewie went away and tried again using an eight-track recorder he had at home. This time Robinson heard a single.

‘Stop The Cavalry’ was a reflection on war from the perspective of a solider, his girlfriend waiting anxiously and missing him at Christmas, while the bombs drop all around him in the freezing trenches. Desperate to get home, he pleads with political leaders to end the conflict and dreams of being elevated to power so he can end the bloodshed himself. ‘Hey, Mr Churchill comes over here to say we’re doing splendidly,” he sang in the opening line, although the song was not specific to World War II and the term cavalry (‘gallantry’ in the original lyric) suggested the Great War. The former sociology student’s inspired decision to ditch the original piano accompaniment in favour of a Salvation Army-style brass band and sleigh bells gave the song a festive feel and his lyrics an unmistakably English setting.

“Looking back, I can’t remember if ’Can you end the gallantry?’ was just a way of fitting in the notes,” says Lewie. “I thought, ’That fits’ and then perhaps it mushroomed from there. Maybe it was that which turned it into a song that was referencing various war scenarios, and from there it went into how it would feel for a soldier as a person being in the situation. A horrific situation where you are daydreaming in your trench, waiting for the next period before you have to go out and fight again for another 10 yards. It happens to be in December and you’re cold and hungry and fed up, and your girlfriend is back home. The family are going to be having Christmas dinner soon and you think, ‘I’m pissed off with all this. If I survive, when I get home I’m going to become the Prime Minister, not just of Britain, but the whole world. And if I win the election, I’m going to stop the cavalry, because none of the others seem to be able to do it’. That’s sort of what he’s saying to himself in his daydream.”

Bob Andrews co-produced the song with Lewie and an initial mix was completed by October. But Robinson wasn’t satisfied and with the lucrative Christmas market looming large, he demanded they go into a different studio to get it right. He hailed the reworked version a triumph, as did Clive Calder, whose company Zomba published the song. Although never intended as a Christmas song, its release towards the end of November and the lyric, ‘I wish I could be home for Christmas’ made it one. A poignant video interspersed real photographs of war with shots of Lewie in the trenches and, in a dream, back at home in the arms of his girl. Stiff employees provided the army band.

On 6 December, to the delight of Lewie and everyone at Stiff, it went straight into the UK chart at number 15. The next week it jumped to number three, one place behind St Winifred’s School Choir’s ‘There’s No One Quite Like Grandma’, with Abba’s ‘Super Trouper’ at number one. However, with Britain still in mourning for John Lennon following his murder on 8 December, it was ‘ (Just Like) Starting Over’ that topped the charts in the week before Christmas. ‘Stop The Cavalry’ did, however, top the charts in France, Belgium and Austria and made him a star in other countries around the world.