Nov 222011

Jeff Beck. Jimmy Page. John Bonham. Noel Redding. Nicky Hopkins. Stellar rock names who would have been a million-dollar band back in 1969-1970. You’d think that an album featuring all these excellent musicians would be a must-have classic for the ages, right? Not this time, bunkie.

Screaming Lord Sutch (aka David Edward Sutch) was a uniquely English phenomenon. Though woefully deficient in musical talent (something he readily admitted to), Sutch was never short of chutzpah. His foppish clothes, long hair, and a Union Jack-painted Rolls Royce Phantom V limousine  endeared him to young people and he became a fixture in the nascent UK music scene in the early 1960s. Mick Jagger supposedly referred to Sutch in the lyrics to “Get Off My Cloud” as “a guy who’s all dressed up like a Union Jack.” Sutch earned some notoriety for his horror-tinged stage shows and records, long before Alice Cooper appeared with his snakes, dolls, and guillotines. One of his better-known early singles was “All Black and Hairy” which, by the way, is not the title of an exploitative and racially-themed porn film.

In 1969, Lord Sutch managed to convince Messrs. Beck, Page, Bonham, Redding, and Hopkins to help him out with some demos he was recording in Hollywood. I don’t know how Sutch was able to perform such a feat, but my overheated imagination comes up with all sorts of blackmail scenarios. Jimmy Page said it was done on a lark under the condition that the names of he and his “heavy friends” would not actually appear on any recordings by Sutch. Now imagine Jimmy’s dismay when he saw his moniker emblazoned on the cover of a 1970 album titled Lord Sutch and Heavy Friends.

Friends, this is a truly dreadful record that quickly outstays its welcome even as a novelty. Critics everywhere justifiably savaged the album. Sutch is a horrible singer, the songs are unimaginative and derivative in the British Blooz tradition, and the famous names backing him sound like an anonymous garage band. You don’t have to take my word for it…

Page and company were embarrassed by the whole affair and tried to distance themselves from Sutch and his album as much as humanly possible. Page also was adamant in insisting that, contrary to the credits on the album, he did not co-write any of the songs nor did he play any of the guitar solos. The record is now something of a cult classic and appears on “Worst Album” lists everywhere. Lord Sutch (who was never really a Lord or any other title of English peerage) continued to perform, released several more albums with little or no notice, ran as a joke candidate quite a few times, and remained a lovable eccentric in British eyes. However, Sutch’s story does not end happily – he suffered from depression as time went on and eventually committed suicide by hanging in 1999. Have you ever heard of this guy and how do you remember him?


  10 Responses to “When Good Musicians Go Bad”

  1. hrrundivbakshi

    Are you FUCKING INSANE?! That song about his “union jack car” is ABSOLUTELY FUCKING AMAZING! WWWARRRAGGGHH!

  2. BigSteve

    What I remember about him is that he ran for a seat in parliament unsuccessfully and repeatedly under the banner of the Official Monster Raving Loony Party.

  3. Happiness Stan

    Oh Tony, it’s not absolutely terrible, just not very memorable.

    It only sold about ten copies when it was released, so used to exchange hands for extraordinary sums. I couldn’t believe my luck the day I picked up a probably once-played copy at the end of the seventies (in the same charity shop I had a few days earlier found a – fairly knackered but just about playable – demo copy of Jimmy Page’s “She Just Satisfies” for 25p – about 50 cents). It cost me a couple of quid, I think (about 4 bucks in 1980 money).

    His live set was extraordinary, even though he nicked most of his ideas from others (and horror films), being carried onstage in a coffin a la Screamin’ Jay Hawkins (if memory serves, pince nez me if I’m wrong), he had extraordinary presence and charisma for one so slight. The music was derivative, but the shows were amazing. He was also, by all accounts, a very personable chap, a mate of mine went to see him often and they’d often have a chat, he wouldn’t hear a word said against him.

    While saying that “ran as a joke candidate quite a few times” is not inaccurate, it doesn’t really begin to give the full picture.

    As leader of the Monster Raving Loony Party (an idea nicked from Monty Python) he remains to date the longest serving party leader. He defeated the former Foreign Secretary David Owen in a by-election in 1990 (admittedly Owen had defected to a minor party, but it did cause comment in political circles nationally). So, contrary to popular belief he did not always come last, he also beat the Plaid Cymru (Welsh Nationalist) candidate in Monmouth in 1991, and the MRLP occasionally had councillors on a very small number of local councils.

    He stood for Parliament for the first time for his National Teenage Party in 1963 on a platform of reducing the voting age from 21 to 18 (adopted as policy and passed by the Labour Government six years later in 1969), abolishing the 11-plus primary school entrance exams (abolished in 1976), installing ramps on buses to assist the elderly and disabled (soon phased in by the companies themselves), and passports for pets (since 2001). That is not a bad record policy-wise for any individual politician, let alone one who was never elected. He could also take considerable credit for annoying the Tories enough that they raised the deposit for Parliamentary candidates from £150 to £500 to discourage him from standing (although it never did).

    I was gutted when he died, there are so many English (not, in this instance, British) “eccentrics” who have even during their lifetimes been quite open about their intensely close relationships with their mothers, and seem completely unable to get over their death. The comedian and actor Kenneth Williams committed suicide not long after his mother died, Jimmy Savile lived with his mother until she died in 1984, and afterwards kept her room exactly as it had been when she passed away and had her clothes dry cleaned annually. Sutch was devoted to his mother, and his suicide appeared to have been largely driven by his inability to get over her death two years before.

    Okay, back to the music, he was derivative, his records weren’t very good, and this album is only remembered because rock royalty played on it.

    But he was a great man, and his death was a tragedy because not only had he had made a lot of people extremely happy, he actually did make a difference to people’s lives, even though eighteen year olds going to vote for the first time won’t have heard of him, or probably ever listen to this album. The majority of wheelchair users able to travel on buses for the last forty years won’t be humming “Jack The Ripper” as they rattle around on their trip to town, and kids who would previously have been written off by the education system because they didn’t pass a test when they were ten years old are not likely to want to listen to this album. I don’t particularly want to listen to this album, but even though he had a well-developed sense of humour and an extraordinary drive for self-promotion, it’s really not this record against which his life should be judged.

  4. misterioso

    HS, thanks for all that backstory. And I agree, merely not good rather than truly terrible. Not interesting enough to be that bad. Obviously an interesting character, though.

  5. tonyola

    Page, Beck, and company would probably disagree with you about the record being “not terrible”. Thanks for the extra info – I read much of it elsewhere but I wanted to keep my post to a manageable length.

  6. Indeed!

  7. Sorry, I meant that to come in under HStan’s comment…

    I kinda like the stuff he did in the early 60s, backed by The Savages.

  8. This is a character I’ve seen and heard of for years but never knowingly heard a lick by. He’s terrible, but the 3 tracks posted have some spirit. Not half as bad as I expected.

  9. Had Heavy Friends been the product of a bunch of enthusiastic 17-year-olds in a garage somewhere, I would be more understanding and forgiving. However, this is the work of a 28-year-old man who had been part of the English scene for close to a decade, and his cohorts ranked among the greatest musical talents in England bar none. Not only that, but Sutch reneged on his promise to keep the backing anonymous to the embarrassment of those who offered their help. These reasons are why I’ve been so hard on the album. Plus his singing is still atrocious.

  10. H. Munster

    The album does stink, but “Flashing Lights” has some really nice Jimmy Page guitar work.

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