STUART COLMAN (By Kevin Carey)
Born Ian Stuart Colman, 19 December 1944, Harrogate, Yorkshire, England
Discuss the Rock n Roll “revival” of the 1970’s and sooner or later the name of Stuart Colman will come up, whether it is in relation to the march on the BBC in 1976 or his production successes with Shakin’ Stevens and The Jets. Stuart was born Ian Stuart Colman (“But nobody ever called me Ian!”) on 19th December 1944 in Harrogate, Yorkshire, into a musical family. His father was an accomplished dance band leader, while his mother sang in a choir and his older sister taught piano. It was no surprise then when Stuart started taking an interest in musical instruments, first with the concertina and as he progressed, on to the piano, where he attained a grade seven. However, by this time the music being played over the airwaves was rock n roll and Stuart turned his attention to the drums. Forming and playing in a school band, The Demons, allowed him to cut his teeth on an eager audience of like-minded school friends. The material being played was mostly UK Chart music, with Cliff Richard and The Shadows being the mainstays. The Demons evolved, partly due to the fashionable interest in American westerns, into The Denvers, although maintaining the same nucleus of school friends.
Leaving grammar school in 1961, Stuart moved south, to Rugby where he gained an apprenticeship as a draughtsman with AEI (Associated Electrical Industries). Soon after joining the company, Stuart met two fellow employees who were keen to form a band. Mike Doyle and Mick Pearson were the co-workers, with Mick Pearson suggesting the band’s name – The Cataracts; in a more refined and well educated era, the name was designed to inspire visions of waterfalls, nothing to do with failing eyesight! The three originators were joined by another employee, Johnny Armitage, who played drums.
Stuart’s switch to bass guitar heralded a new chapter, not only in his playing, but also proving educational. Responding to an advert for a second hand Hofner President Bass guitar in April 1961, Stuart went to meet the seller, Paul Beaumont, who was eager to play him a 78rpm Brunswick which he had just acquired; that record was Hot Rock by Johnny Carroll, which had a totally different sound to everything Stuart had played previously. The guitar cost a princely £30 – several week’s wages at the time. Unfortunately, the seller wasn’t prepared to include the 78! The band made their public debut playing for hot dogs and coffee at a local coffee bar, The Il Kadore, where the band’s set consisted mostly of Shadows numbers. They would later gain further experience playing at The Fox in Lutterworth, where their set had evolved with changing musical tastes to include “twist” music. The band’s popularity grew and they were soon regulars across the Midlands dance halls.
In November 1963, Stuart along with Geoff Parsons (who had replaced Mick Pearson in The Cataracts), were invited to join another band – The Beat Preachers (Geoff Parsons, Stuart Colman, Graham Rolaston, Forbes Merrigan, Jackie McCormick). The band played mostly R&B – a la Rolling Stones, and would spend hours hunting obscure American R&B tunes to add to their set. In 1965, having already recorded a number of unsuccessful demos, the band met Tony Reeves, a producer working for PYE Records. They met at a restaurant called The Caribbean and it was under the name The Caribbeans that the band released their one single, the self penned Inside Out/ Up My Street (Pye 7N 15961) in October 1965. Although the disc received good reviews, it failed to chart.
In May 1966 Stuart joined Pinkerton’s Assorted Colours, who had recently charted with Mirror Mirror/She Don’t Care on DECCA. Things were looking bright for the band’s future, but their manager, Reg Calvert, was shot dead in a bizarre argument over the ownership of a radio transmitter which Calvert was using on the ‘Shivering Sands’ tower for his Radio City station; the station was originally in the joint ownership of Reg Calvert and one of his more eccentric acts, Screaming Lord Sutch. Calvert had been a hugely successful manager and promoter and his death created a vacuum which sadly Pinkerton’s fell in to, with the resulting inertia leading to a lack of gigs and recording opportunities. In an effort to rejuvenate their fortunes, Pinkerton’s Assorted Colours were re-named the Flying Machine, but retained some of the original band members (Tony Newman, Steve Jones, Sam “Pinkerton” Kempe, Stuart Colman, Paul Wilkinson), scoring a hit in 1969 with Smile A Little Smile For Me/Maybe We’ve Been Loving Too Long (CONGRESS (C6000) which peaked at # 4 in the US charts, earning them a gold disc. Despite the popularity of the track stateside, it failed to chart in the UK and while the band’s popularity in Europe remained high, further releases were unsuccessful. Growing tired of touring and a growing ambition towards record production led Stuart to return to England in 1971.
Later that year Stuart joined Hurricane, a band originally formed by Mal Gray (of the Wild Angels). As it turned out, Gray only briefly performed with the band, however they proved popular touring on the Northern club circuit. The other band members were established in British Rock n Roll; Dave Wendells (guitar) and Carlo Little (drums) had both been with Screaming Lord Sutch, while on piano, the incomparable Freddie Fingers Lee added further mayhem….. SC: “Freddie would take out his glass eye on stage and throw it to me to catch. Usually I caught it, but one night I missed and his eye disappeared down a hole in the stage. We had another gig to go on to, but couldn’t go until we’d found Freddie’s eye, so we went under the stage, crawling around with torches and finally found it all covered in cobwebs. Freddie put it straight back in!” On arriving at the next gig an hour late, the promoter refused to believe their excuses and smacked Freddie in the face. SC: “We did our set, but we didn’t get paid.” The glamorous lifestyle of a touring rock n roller! The band released one single, Mama Was A Honky Tonk Woman/Shakin’ an’ Breakin’ (Decca F13435) which failed to make any impression on the charts despite the ‘B’ side being a strong rocker.
Stuart's pied-a-terre when he moved south, was a bedsit flat in his cousin’s house in Hampton, Middlesex where, within a few weeks he struck up a conversation with his next door neighbour who'd also recently moved to the area and who declared a liking for Buddy Holly’s music. The neighbour was Geoff Barker and a lifelong friendship was forged by the mutual interest in music. During one such get together, Stuart and Geoff were in the process of redecorating Geoff’s living room and had got as far as stripping the wallpaper from the walls. It suddenly occurred to them that the walls now offered a blank canvas and they set about the challenge of filling one wall up each with the names of as many rock n roll singers or bands as they could, using felt pens.
SC: “It was great fun. We’d be using these sharpie pens and I’d go around there after work and add another name and then say something like: “Hey! I added The Treniers!” Having completed their masterpiece, the wall was duly wallpapered, although what future decorators would have made of the graffiti remains a mystery. On a later occasion, the two were reading the letters page in Melody Maker where someone had written in to say it would great if Fats Domino (who had recently toured the UK) could be carried on a throne around London’s streets. An idea was forming…..and a few weeks later they found themselves being interviewed on Charlie Gillett’s weekly Radio London show, Honky Tonk, where they proposed the idea of a mass march on BBC’s Broadcasting House in order to get the BBC to play “proper” rock n roll on a mainstream radio show and at a peak listening time. The march turned out to be a huge success, of course, although Colman was still surprised when offered the opportunity to actually present the new rock n roll show – but he didn’t take too much convincing to accept the role.
The show’s format was still partly governed by BBC policy which required “eight minutes of live music in each hour” and because of this a weekly “live” slot was given over to a singer or band. On one such occasion, the usual producer, Dave Price, was needed elsewhere and asked Stuart if he would produce the next live set – Shakin’ Stevens, the young Welsh rocker who had enjoyed recent success with his Elvis portrayal in the West End and who, prior to that, had been one of the best of the British rock n roll singer’s with his band, The Sunsets. However, Stevens was becoming frustrated with his lack of recording success to date and sought Stuart’s advice. Colman’s advice was succinct: “Easy – get yourself a decent band!” A few weeks later, Stuart received a call from Shaky’s recording management team at EPIC who asked him if he could assemble a band for Stevens’ next recording session. The band consisted of Albert Lee (lead guitar), Geraint Watkins (piano), Howard Tibble (drums), B J Cole (pedal steel guitar), Roger McKew (rhythm guitar) and Stuart on bass. While Epic’s Mike Hurst is shown as producer, it is generally acknowledged that the production was pure Colman and by the time of the next album release (‘Shaky’ 1981) full production credit had been passed to Stuart Colman.
A regular visitor to the studios during these Shakin’ Stevens sessions was the X Factor’s Simon Cowell who tried repeatedly to pitch songs for release – none were deemed good enough and it seems that this aspiring song writer’s career was destined to take a different path. Another young band to emerge from the British rockabilly uprising were The Jets who had also found only limited success in their recordings until Colman took them under his wing. Three of the resulting singles went on to chart in the UK, along with the best selling album 100% Cotton. Although receiving scant credit, Stuart provided much of the research to the producer (Curtis Clarke) of the 1980 movie Blue Suede Shoes. 1982 saw Stuart awarded the prestigious “Top Singles Producer of the Year” award by Music Week. It had been a successful year, with no less than 14 records charting.
Despite his busy schedule, Stuart continued hosting radio shows, remaining with Radio 1 until 1981, even though he went on to concurrently host the acclaimed ‘Echoes’ series on BBC Radio London (1978-1988). This opportunity came about when Stuart met Charlie Gillett’s producer at a party who proposed that Stuart might like to take over Charlie’s radio slot. The producer was keen on the show being called “At The Hop” but Stuart suggested using the same title as he was using for his weekly Melody Maker column. Echoes was born and became essential listening, especially for the guest appearances and incisive interviewing style.
As a great fan of the novelty record genre and in particular, the records of Peter Sellers and Bernard Cribbins, when he was offered the opportunity to produce the inaugural Comic Relief record in 1986, he jumped at the chance. The resulting release, Livin’ Doll by Cliff Richard and The Young Ones (Adrian Edmondson, Rik Mayall, Nigel Planer and Christopher Ryan) was a comic masterpiece, reaching # 1 in the UK, Australia and The Netherlands. Further novelty success was achieved with Mel (Smith) and Kim (Wilde) who recorded an updated Rockin’ Around The Christmas Tree (# 10 in the UK), while Gordon Kaye and Vicki Michelle found success with an ‘Allo ‘Allo inspired version of Je T'aime.
Throughout the 80’s Stuart produced albums by many of the great originators of rock n roll, including Billy Fury’s final album (released posthumously), The Crickets, Phil Everly and Little Richard. While most of these recording sessions went without hitch, the Little Richard sessions almost turned into a posthumous release. The recording of the album (“Lifetime Friend”) was scheduled for October 1985 and the venue was The Ridge Farm Studio, near Dorking in Surrey; this venue was unique in offering not only a studio, but also living accommodation within the 13 acre grounds. The accommodation was in the same style as the studio, with beamed ceilings and walls; Little Richard convinced his entourage that Henry VIII had been a previous resident! Midway through the sessions, which were scheduled to take the best part of two weeks to complete, Richard informed Colman that he wouldn’t be able to record over the weekend “for religious reasons.” That was OK, since the week had been fairly intense and taking the weekend off would give them a fresh impetus, so the next session was scheduled for mid-afternoon on the following Monday.
On the Monday 9th October, Stuart had dropped in to BBC studios in London before heading to Surrey. Simon Bates, another Radio 1 DJ, approached Stuart to tell him he had just heard that Little Richard had been involved in a serious car crash (on 8th October). Stuart’s immediate reaction was to ask where the accident had occurred, expecting it to have been local; “No” said Bates, “it was in Los Angeles!” It transpired that, having excused himself from recording over the weekend, Richard had dashed to Heathrow to catch a flight to LA, where he had hoped to get back for the cremation of his friend Rock Hudson, who had died a week earlier. Killing two birds with one stone, Richard had also accepted a lucrative walk on part in the TV series Miami Vice, which he wanted to fit in before flying back to the UK for Monday afternoon’s session. Unfortunately, jet-lag got the better of him and he fell asleep at the wheel of his car, crashing into a telegraph pole outside the NBC studios; if nothing else, this guaranteed publicity, with the NBC cameras capturing the moment he was cut from the wrecked car. Richard sustained a leg broken in fourteen places in the accident, which obviously prevented him from completing the UK session, which was re-scheduled once he recovered at the Cherokee Studios, near Richard’s home in LA.
In 1988 the re-launched Capital Radio station came calling and Stuart joined this dedicated “oldies” station where he remained for seven years (1988-1995), an at the same time he headed back to the BBC (Radio Solent) for “The Rocker Returns”(1989-1995). All this as well as occasional series such as The London-American Story in 1999 and sporadic projects such as researching the recent Hank Williams series on Radio 2. This year has seen a welcome return to UK radio with KCFM in Hull. 1993 saw Colman producing Jeff Beck and The Big Town Playboys on Beck’s homage to his own guitar hero, Cliff Gallup. The CD, Crazy Legs, received much critical acclaim for Jeff’s interpretation of Gallup’s style and impressed Colman with his attention to detail, using a replica of Gallup’s Gretsch Duo Jet, complete with unwound strings. In 1995 Stuart moved to Tennessee to gain better access to many of those he was producing. The move has paid dividends, with subsequent production credits reading like a Who’s Who of music.
In 2002 Stuart was diagnosed with cancer of the oesophagus which required intensive treatment through surgery and chemotherapy; recovery was as much through sheer willpower as it was through the skill of the surgeons. While recovering, there was further personal turmoil due to his separation and subsequent divorce from his wife, although, in his own words, this left him a “born again bachelor!” Recovery from the cancer has been complete and left him with a renewed sense of optimism, SC: “I think I see things a bit differently now. The sky looks bluer, wine tastes sweeter. Everything’s great!”
Stuart Colman the writer has become essential reading since his earliest articles for Melody Maker (Blue Suede News) in the 1970’s, followed by his book “They Kept On Rockin” which was published in 1982 (ISBN 0713712171, pbk.). Regular articles in Now Dig This (Nashville Notes/Repeating Echoes) and the quality of his meticulously researched sleeve notes for the many CD compilations he has been involved in have made him one of the most respected rock n roll historians.
Further projects are on the horizon, albeit at too early a stage to divulge. One project which we can look forward to, however, is Stuart’s contribution to the 50th anniversary of the plane crash which robbed us of Buddy Holly, Richie Valens and The Big Bopper. Stuart is currently compiling a detailed account of J P Richardson’s life, having recognized that of the three stars, his is the most under-researched. Something to look forward to and long overdue. So, what if Stuart Colman found himself stranded on the mythical desert island, with only enough time to grab a handful of records? Which ten would they be? Brenda Lee 'Ring-A-My Phone'; Cal Tjader 'Soul Sauce'; Floyd Dixon 'Ooh, Little Girl'; Elvis Presley 'Lawdy, Miss Clawdy'; Jerry Lee Lewis 'Breathless'; Conway Twitty 'I'll Try'; Billy Prager 'Do It Bop'; Santana 'Oye Como Va'; Carl Perkins 'Lend Me Your Comb'; Narvel Felts 'Rocket Ride'
And the five “Greatest Hits” CD’s he would take along? Gene Vincent; Fats Domino; The Coasters; Bill Doggett; Huey Smith.
There is the merest suggestion that one day there will be an autobiography, which would be packed with Stuart’s memories and anecdotes built up from his 50 years in the music business. It’s too soon to contemplate writing the book yet; there’s more to come!
Discography (to 1973)
The Beat Preachers 1965 Inside Out/Up My Street (Released under the pseudonym ‘The Caribbean’ (sic)
Pinkerton’s Assorted Colours
A compilation of Pinkerton’s Assorted Colours/Flying Machine has been released on CD (Flight Recorder – CASTLE B0000C83YY). Available on Amazon.Com
Hurricane 1973 Mama Was A Honky Tonk Woman/Shakin’ an’ Breakin’
Recommended reading: Just about anything, but his book, “ They Kept On Rockin'” is worth picking up. The Repeating Echoes series in Now Dig This and Nashville Notes. In 2006, Stuart started his series “I Shall Be Released”; this is one of the most ambitious projects undertaken by Now Dig This, with its retrospective review of records released 50 years earlier.
Acknowledgements. Phil Davies, Dik de Heer, David Byng, Stuart Colman
Flying Machine – Smile A Little Smile For Me
The Life and Time of Little Richard – The Authorised Biography by Charles White (ISBN-10: 0711997616)
The Pirate Radio Hall of Fame http://www.offshoreradio.co.uk/raid.htm
Kevin Carey, December 2008
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