“THE GRATEFUL DEAD have done it many times, Hawkwind used to do it, the Stones did it in New York some two years ago and The Jam did it last year. Do what? Simply get together with a generator and a truckload of equipment to play music in the street for the people – and, of course, the publicity. Radio Stars were the ones doing it this time, to notify the world at large of the release of their first album. The itinerary listed about seven stops around London but, due to a late start and a general lack of organisation, only four were covered – Portobello Road, Kensington High Street, Leicester Square and Carnaby Street. The first three performances went off without incident. The generator ran out of petrol once, a perturbed old lady tore the posters off the lorry, and surprised spectators were treated to a fistful of punchy songs at each stop. The crowds took it in the intended spirit, obviously pleased to find such diversion on a cold, cheerless day.
The police, however, were not amused. They pulled the plugs on the first three stops and turned out in force for the fourth, using three vans and four cars. Radio Stars were into their fourth song, the “Nervous Wreck” single and perhaps in too much of a jubilant mood for their own good. While the rozzers searched for the power source, Andy Ellison jumped on top of the nearest police van and finished the song from there. This astonishing sight brought howls of laughter from the crowd and a reaction akin to panic from the surprised, affronted constabulary. They seized Ellison as soon as they could, and carted him off to be charged with criminal damage (though how a van could be damaged by dancing on it in sneakers is not clear). He was later given a conditional discharge and fined £65.
As Radio Stars’ bassist and songwriter Martin Gordon later remarked about the over-zealous police, ‘they couldn’t have done it better if we’d paid them…’. Earlier on, I talked to Ellison and Gordon about Radio Stars’ position in the scheme of things, about how, despite three sturdy releases, their existence has to be brought to public attention through such stunts, albeit such entertaining ones; ‘It’s funny,” says Ellison, ‘I got talking to a guy who saw us live recently. He was totally surprised, because he thought we were going to be middle-of-the-road. From the pictures he had seen of us, he thought we would be a straight pop band trying to be new wave “He said, ‘Why don’t you do pictures like the way you sound?’. ‘ Ellison looks bemused at the thought; “He said he thought we were like the Rick Derringer of this country”. A fair comparison point: Radio Stars operate roughly the same furrow as the Winter brothers’ old cohort. Both play raucous rock instilled with popular melody, a kind of brash heavy metal that you can sing along to.
Ellison is no youngster. He sang on John’s Children’s 1967 hit Desdemona, the best remembered legacy from that bunch of psychedelic miscreants, and released three solo singles in the following years. He has also studied mime and has fallen in front of cars as a stunt man for The Avengers. Then in I975 he and Martin Gordon formed Jet, a little sparkle at the tail end of the glam-rock comet which was steered rather erratically by its management, Mike Leander’s glitter organisation. Nevertheless, it was in Jet that the foundations were laid for Radio Stars, as the band also featured future Radio Stars guitarist Ian McLeod.
‘Leander figured Jet could be a commercial Glitter Band’, Martin Gordon recalls. ‘What the Glitter Band could have been if they were credible… We really got pushed – we had to wear the most stupid clothes – just look at the back of the Jet album. It’s too embarrassing to even talk about’. Jet lasted long enough to record one album and complete a tour with the Hunter-Ronson band but died quietly soon after. About nine months later, however, Andy Ellison, Martin Gordon and lan Mcleod got back together and recorded ‘Dirty Pictures’ which, after being refused by no less than thirteen record companies, became Radio Stars’ debut single on the fearless Chiswick label. Finally they recently found themselves a drummer, a Canadian called Steve Parry; since then the band has been toning-up it’s live proficiency in readiness for their current tour and the release of their first album ‘Songs For Swinging Lovers’. Sinatra is not expected to sue – though he might baulk at the cover concept.
If you’ve heard Radio Stars’ new single “Nervous Wreck”, you’ll know that the recording technique used by Gordon would be even less to Sinatra’s liking than the use of his album title. ‘It’s a method of recording where you do everything as much and as loud as possible’, Martin Gordon explains. ‘Quite a lot of people use it – what we call the Eric Blatant principle, but it’s generally used subconsciously. Status Quo are an example’.
This element of humour extends further in Radio Stars’ work. They are a quirky outfit and a lot of it stems from Gordon’s off-beat preoccupations. For example collecting idiotic cuttings from the sensation-mongering tabloids features in his list of activities, and many of of the songs he writes are, well, not strictly serious. ‘I don’t think I could sit down and write a song about a subject that didn’t have any kind of humour in it because I don’t work like that. My songs are about trivial situations and things of no consequence because that’s what interests me. Sometimes the themes in my songs are the usual themes people write about, which in themselves aren’t particularly funny, but generally l find other people’s approach to it – the humourless approach – rather boring. Ours is the opposite of that’. Radio Stars are touring everywhere until Christmas, still wondering how to be photographed the way they sound.