Recently staying still long enough to be photographed amidst sand, beach balls and lawn furniture in the centre of one of London’s busiest intersections, the Radio Stars undoubtedly caused more consternation amongst tourists than they did among native Londoners. The session produced the cover shot for the “Radio Stars Holiday Album”, their second for Chiswick Records and another milestone in the long career of the Radio Stars’ acrobatic vocalist Andy Ellison. To recap the group’s already well-documented history – Andy initially entered the public eye with proto-type glitterboys John’s Children, a band that contained the late Marc Bolan for a time. Ellison rapidly established a reputation for a gymnastic stage act, which was just a part of the group’s outrageous performances (they incited several riots at Continental gigs). But it was for naught, as John’s Children eventually sank without a trace. Bolan of course subsequently achieved massive solo success, while Andy’s own three singles followed the five John’s Children releases into obscurity.
Ellison later resurfaced with John’s Children drummer Chris Townson and former Nice guitarist Davey O’List in the ill-starred Jet, a further exploration of the ‘glam’ mode which culminated in one good album, for CBS. But more importantly Jet united Andy with Martin Gordon, ex-Sparks bassist. Gordon, who had been instrumental in Sparks’ success, but was later then expelled by the ego-centric Mael Brothers, composed most of the songs on “Jet”. When the chunky guitar chordings of Ian McLeod were added, the seeds of the Radio Stars were sown, ready to blossom in early 1977 on the then young Chiswick label.
On the crest of a massive British and Irish tour, the Radio Stars are finding their “Holiday Album” receiving mixed reviews, unlike its predecessor “Songs For Swinging Lovers” (which was universally acclaimed). Andy described the new album and compared it to their debut platter “It’s heavier in places, and a lot slower in places. I think that’s got a lot to do with our getting out and gigging.” Therein lies the lifeline of the Radio Stars; their pulse beats more quickly onstage than off. Andy’s own ‘love of live’ is inherited from John’s Children, via Jet; it’s in the spotlight he nourishes. It’s a point over which there has been much printed controversey in the past year, ranging from plaudits for his stage antics to complaints that a man of his advanced age should’ve retired long since to a holiday camp for geriatric rockers. But that fate is a long way off yet. Instead he’s embarking on the two month Holiday Tour, which is to be followed by a further thirteen dates in the U.S. Ellison has sustained myriad injuries to various parts of his body while performing, which is why he’s pictured on the first Radio Stars album in protective knee pads. Andy: “I like gigging. I like recording when it’s in the final mixing stages, but gigging is it.”
Andy is seconded in that emotion by guitarist McLeod, who also excels himself (although without the acrobatics) onstage. Andy continues. “Gigging is definitely Ian’s thing too – he comes into the studio to put his guitar bits on tape, stays only to check that they’re o.k., and splits immediately.” The nuances of the studio are left to bassist/songwriter/producer Martin Gordon, who has recently increased his knob-turning activities to include various Chiswick stable-mates, and bands further afield, like the New Hearts. Gordon provides the Radio Stars with songs that are ideally irreverent blueprints for the group to expand upon in concert. By usurping familiar musical formulas and employing them to create often exciting new songs, he is, if you like, to the delightful hybrid of Pop and Heavy Metal what Nick Lowe is to Pure Pop. Andy cites the opening track of their new album as an example ‘Radio Stars is from Donna Summer, and the middle bit is from ‘Baba O’Riley’.
Ellison describes the general manner in which a Radio Stars song springs to life. “We usually come up with the titles in the first place; a line that you see somewhere, like in a newspaper – I mean, newspapers are great sources of lines – and it comes from there. Then the lyrics are next, and the band will take it from there, playing around.’ That description of the means certainly fits the ends, as a definite sense of spontaneity and witty insight pervades all of the Radio Stars’ recordings. Andy continues: “Nothing of this album was preconceived. In fact, we didn’t have an album together right up until the time the studio was booked. The “Beast of Barnsley” was done in one night and recorded the next day. Most of this album was done in the same way.” That fact stems from the Radio Stars’ love of gigging, something they’ve been doing almost constantly since the completion of their first album, although Andy adds, “Martin loves working in the studio, messing about with tapes and things.”
In fact, the Radio Stars left themselves no time to debate possible future directions prior to the recording of “The Holiday Album”. Andy “Once you get back into the studio, that’s when you change things. This album will change our direction a bit”. After one listen to the near-final remixes of the tapes, I offered that the album seemed more lushly arranged and more heavily keyboard-based than their first, but Andy found that surprising “I thought it was much more of a guitar album. And I think we used far fewer instruments than the first – it’s just Martin’s production has improved so much.”
One thing which worries partisan observers of today’s music scene is the thus-far seeming inability of the Radio Stars, along with fellow Chiswickians the Radiators and The (Count) Bishops, to crash the top ten – which is, on the other hand, being milked with such regularity by their contemporaries on the Stiff label. Chiswick haven’t been accorded the support of the trend conscious media like Stiff have, nor has Chiswick tried to foster a cult around their artists by instantly deleting releases. The Radio Stars almost cracked the charts with “Nervous Wreck”, but the delightful follow-up “From A Rabbit” fell on deaf ears. Small comfort might be gleaned from the knowledge that in a decade’s time it’ll likely be the Chiswick platters that are coveted by the collector, but for the short term a new distribution deal with EMI should finally ensure the deserved success (at least in Britain) of (some of) Chiswick’s Records.
And at the fore – barring accidents – will be those ace singles spinners the Radio Stars. Having been signed, sealed and delivered into CBS with Jet, Andy finds the small company set up congenial “Working for Chiswick is fantastic! I mean, CBS just sent us off to the country to rehearse in some old church when they wanted to get rid of us.’ They could still be in that deserted church in an obscure part of Somerset for all CBS knows or cares, an incident Andy laughingly recalls today as he chortles: ‘They may do that to the New Hearts (CBS recording artists) too, so we warned ’em. If they try to send you off to the country, don’t go! No old churches!”
If there’s any justice success will soon reward that happy marriage of the Radio Stars and Chiswick Records with hit records. The band are on the road now, touring for love and in support of their new ‘Holiday Album”, with Trevor White (another Sparks refugee, later of look and a minute solo career) added on second guitar – so the shows should be especially volatile. They arrive in Ireland at the end of October for their “Holiday”. Catch the Radio Stars in motion. You’ll be glad you did!