- The TIME Tour
was in June of 1981 when ELO were back in Birmingham after their
jet-setting travels. During that summer we had several sessions where
Richard Tandy, Jeff and I would sit around drinking wine, strumming
guitars and seeing how many Beatle songs we could remember between us.
My love for John Lennon paid dividends - I knew quite a few of his bits.
Visiting his house one night, Jeff played me ELO's new TIME album, and
told me about the new tour in the pipeline. I have to admit I had always
thought it was Jeff who called me up asking: 'would I like to come and
sing with his group?' But writing this and checking my diaries, in fact
I see it was me who called him up in late July and asked 'was there
anything I could do to help out on the tour ..?'
- a coded way of saying 'Help I need a job!'
'I don't know Dave. It's a nice idea but… the only thing is …'
'You know being on tour is a sort-of… well, a pressured situation and
…. it's just that I had a mate in the group before and we ended up
falling out and now we're not mates anymore. I wouldn't want that to
I was relieved that was his reason and assured him that wouldn't be the
'Okay,' he said, 'we're practising tomorrow. Come over and we'll see how
The exhaust promptly fell off my car the next morning as I set out for
the rehearsal at Jeff's place. I arrived late, covered in oil.
Within two days the new line-up for the 'TIME' tour was revealed: I was
to play guitar, help with the singing and provide some extra keyboard
that time, ELO comprised of four people - Jeff, Bev, Richard and Kelly.
For the TIME tour the stage line-up was to be augmented by three more to
make a seven-piece concert band: Lou Clark, Mik Kaminski and me.
We rehearsed for three weeks at 'The Boggery' - a cricket pavilion in
Solihull that also doubled as a Jasper Carrot's folk-club. Then on
September 3 we jetted off to Los Angeles, America and the 'TIME' tour.
It was the first time I'd ever flown first class.
'Sex, drugs and rock 'n' roll' is the first thing people think of when
you mention touring with a 'pop group', and that is usually what they
want to hear - the 'dirt'. If that's what you are looking for, you need
read no further, because I will have to disappoint. There was certainly
sex, and there was certainly rock 'n' roll, but really the spirit of the
slogan didn't belong. ELO were in a different part of the arena.
Ozzie Osbourne's wife Sharon, summed it up in a TV interview: Sharon,
the daughter of ELO's one-time manager Don Arden, was recollecting how
she once accompanied ELO on the road in the 70's and thought they were
so boring and un-newsworthy that she herself threw a TV out of a hotel
window in order to spice things up a bit! That really says it all.
What I remember most about being part of the Electric Light Orchestra is
the tremendous good fun we had. Other groups may have behaved like
Satirycon on the road, but ELO was more like Monty Python.
was Kelly Groucutt, ELOs bass player, who inadvertently provided the
first milestone of major comedy on the American tour.
It happened before we ever got before the crowds, while we were
rehearsing in Los Angeles. The 'tour' almost ended right there and then,
before it ever began.
We were in what is called a 'sound stage' - an enormous building used by
the film studios.
The sound stage was really a cavernous, vast empty shed, with dimensions
that had more in keeping with an assembly hall forJumbo-Jets than a
rehearsal room. But it had an attribute of special interest to
movie-makers which was that no light from outside was allowed to enter -
Not a single photon, not even with a pass signed by Cecil B de Mille.
Outside the door it was a blistering bright California day but inside,
the only light was artificial. That meant it could be made completely
dark, and I mean completely!
When all the lights were turned off, the only way you knew that you had
not been suddenly stricken blind was that you could still see tiny
glimmers, the pinpricks of red from simmering amplifiers and keyboards.
The stage set that we played on had been specially constructed for the
TIME tour. We practised getting to our various positions in total
darkness, helped by strategically positioned roadies with small pen
torches, and of course, we rehearsed the music. While we played our set
again and again, the lighting crew went over their moves, so that for
example, the lights came up at the precise moment of the first downbeat,
or went down at the instant the last note hit. We rehearsed until it was
second nature to all of us. It was at the end of a song, when all the
lights went off, that Kelly's circus career began…
The now familiar inky blackness descended like a blanket as the last
chord died away.
Suddenly out of the silence there was an absurd raucous sound:
'KerBoingggg!' - I can only describe it as the noise you get when a
piano hits the bottom of a lift shaft.
'What the…? someone said. Heart-stopping seconds went by, then all the
lights went up again.
We looked around to see what on earth had happened…
Kelly was not on stage any more. He was lying on the concrete some eight
feet below the level of the stage set… In the blackness he had tripped
over a foldback speaker and fallen right off the front of the stage. His
bass guitar, still switched on, had provided the death-knell 'Boiiing'
that we all heard.
We looked down in horror. Kelly lay motionless as the road crew raced
toward him. 'Don't touch him!' someone shouted, as if at the scene of a
crime. We were sure he must be injured or worse… Kelly groaned and
began to move.. 'He's okay' someone said, meaning 'he's still alive'.
After a minute or so, he got shakily up to his feet, steadied by helping
hands: 'Are you all right?'
'Yeah' he said, with a reassuring smile as he looked up and realised the
extent of his acrobatics.
We all breathed again. He was just bruised. It was amazing! That was a
But the sound of the chord he chimed in the blackness that day
reverberated amongst us for long after. We descended into fits of
laughter every time someone mentioned it.
It was in the same Los Angeles studio also that we were first introduced
to Fred. - Fred was the robot that had been made specially for the
'TIME' tour, and he was to have an acrobatic career all of his own later
on. As soon as he arrived, the crew went to work checking out his
electronic responses and rehearsing his moves. Fred was controlled by
radio from the side of the stage, and had lights inside the dome of his
brain which glowed when he 'spoke.' Jeff borrowed my vocoder to record
Fred's opening speech over the music introducing the show, a taped
adaptation of 'Prologue' at the start of the 'TIME' album. When it was
done, we all stood at the back of the giant studio to watch the first
The music swelled up from the blackout, while lasers began darting to
and fro, like the uncertain chaos of creation. Frolicking coloured
lights appeared, slowly dancing and rising with the music into
brightness, and then in the cone of a spotlight Fred made his grand
entrance from stage right. Like a Dalek Emperor he rolled with slow
majesty to stage centre, turned and faced forward, and then 'spoke' the
electronic message that Jeff had gifted to him, his 'brain' glowing as
Just on the border of your waking mind, there lies another time, where
darkness and light are one… Then, his word to humankind completed,
Fred slowly retraced his steps off the stage as the lighting reverted
back to total blackout, while the music reached up to a final crescendo.
(That would be the cue for us all to get on stage and strike up with the
first song, 'Twilight.')
The whole thing was such a moving and powerful spectacle to me - I don't
know if it was the shock of realising just how excellent this show was,
or an unction of thankfulness that I could be part of such excellence,
or just the sheer power of the display, but there in the darkness I had
tears in my eyes. I was grateful the lights were turned off. Jeff
navigated his way over to me by the light of his cigarette end and said
' What do you think Dave?' I just choked back:
'Yeah that's good Jeff.'
He must have thought I didn't like it very much. I couldn't speak. It
By September 1981, ELO - already a household name in America - had a new
song about to break into the popular psyche - 'Hold on Tight.'
I was to quickly discover that being at that level of notoriety invited
fresh problems: When you suddenly find yourself famous - as I did - one
of the first things you learn (apart from discovering how many relatives
you have), is that you have also gained a cortège of followers -
reporters and fans - who make it their life's business to 'stalk' you
wherever you go. ELO had been this way before of course, and I benefited
from their hard-won experience. Protection from unsolicited attentions
was just a fiendish plot away….
It was back at the Boggery that I first became acquainted with their
We were all presented with a list of fictitious names to choose from. I
seem to recall that Jeff had a hand in making these up.
Anyway, it was a toss-up whether I was to be 'Bertram Stilt' or 'Wilf
Stonker'. In the end I got to be Mr. Stilt and Mik Kaminski joined the
Stonker family tree.
These spurious names, we were told, would be our only source of
identification to hotels and airlines. Back in the cricket pavilion in
rural England it had seemed like overkill:
'This is a bit over the top isn't it Jeff?' I said.
'You'll learn,' he replied. And learn I did, as soon as we hit America.
'Fan' after all, is an abbreviation of the word 'fanatic!'
Apart from protection, our aliases provided an ongoing font of hilarious
At every check-in desk, at hotels or airports, we would gather around to
listen with smiles while a clerk blandly called out these ridiculous
names and handed us our room keys or tickets:
'Yes, here' Mik would cry back.
I remember a bell-boy coming into a posh hotel restaurant calling out
loudly: 'Phone call for Mister Squash', and drummer Bev Bevan - alias
Fenton Squash - duly responding. It was so ridiculous, and quintessent
ELO, a group devoted to lightness and fun.
But the subterfuge worked. Our defensive shield remained largely intact.
It needed to.
Chris, our bouncer, came with us everywhere. He looked like an A-team
toughie who had repented and joined the Mormons. He always wore a
tailored light grey suit and was our 'battleship-in-being' - largely
ceremonial but with the potential to fire a broadside if needed. Chris
walked with the gait of a sumo wrestler, but he spoke softly and his
studied manner always exuded an aura of cultured, calm serenity. This
only added to the impression of coiled menace. Jeff joked that he was
only there to stop us all escaping back to England but often, we were
glad to have Chris around.
One time we were in a bar-restaurant in New York. The entire group was
sat together at a table in a booth when we were approached by a young
man who recognised us. The lad sat down at one end of the table and
started talking to Jeff. The patter had gone on for quite a while when
Chris suddenly rose up and leaned right across the table from the other
end of the booth and said 'excuse me' to the lad, while at the same time
pulling a rolled up newspaper from under his arm. Chris opened out the
newspaper, and inside was a walkman cassette player with the 'record'
'Let me help you to the door' Chris said in his characteristic soft
manner, as he escorted the young man away. He was always the perfect
gentleman, and I never saw him threaten anyone. He didn't need to - All
he had to do was stand up!
Being on tour is like hitching a ride on a perpetual motion machine. It
drives you, walks you, flies you, feeds you, - all in order to show you
off faultless before your judges for an hour and a half's concert each
night. Like a great shark that must always keep swimming or else it will
sink and die, the machine you are on seems to be forever taking you from
somewhere to somewhere else. It is an addictive but wearing beast to
ride. It stops for a breath but you are so high on the thrill of its
last gyration, you merely gawp wide-eyed as you stumble like a child
going from one Disney ride to another.
Travelling around with a pop group was for me, like being with a party
of tourists on the strangest of holidays. Along with the blood-pumping
thrill of playing before thousands of screaming fans, the fact we were
in a state of constant transportation brought its own excitements and
terrors. It was a holiday with priceless perks, for like a visitors from
another world, we got to ride mostly in sumptuous style, one befitting
the alien dignitaries we had become for the season.
In America, we had a four-engined airliner transporting us around for
most of the tour. It was a lovely machine, a British-made Viscount - the
first prop-jet airliner design in the world. Jeff dubbed it the 'Brown
Beauty'. It was luxuriously appointed to seat about fifteen in a cabin
capable of holding sixty passengers. Lou and Vic were the pilots and
Christine was the 'stewardess'.
One day she showed us her photograph on the front of Cosmopolitan
magazine and told us how she used to have a career as a professional
model. But Christine was always ready to prove she was not just a pretty
face and at one stopover, Lou and Vic took her up on her challenge that
'she could do anything a man could do'.
She told me about it the next day:
'Do you know, they got me changing a wheel on the plane last night!' -
Lou and Vic had sat drinking beers, laughingly issuing various
instructions - how high to jack the plane up, which toolbox to find a
spanner in - while she got covered in oil and grease changing the
plane's wheel all on her own!
On the other side of the Atlantic, the 'Brown beauty' was long gone and
new, less salubrious winged horsemen were found for us to ride upon. One
cold winters night we rode to Edinburgh on a hired twenty-seater plane.
After the show, when we came to return home, a white blanket of freezing
fog had descended over Edinburgh. We climbed aboard and peered anxiously
through frosted windows as the plane taxied at a snails pace from the
terminal, groping its way through the fog to the take off point. Jeff,
in fiendish playful mood, made an announcement welcoming us all aboard
the 'Buddy Holly Express'. Bev pleaded with him to shut up but that just
encouraged him more. He began singing out loud the song 'Raining in my
heart' with new custom lyrics ending in 'and it's freezing, and we're
all gonna die.' It was deep, crisp and even that night; everything
outside was unremitting white, the same colour as ELO's knuckles on that
In Europe we hired a French aeroplane replete with a stewardess who had
all the personal attributes of nurse Diesel in the comedy film 'High
Anxiety'. The plane did not move until she had double-checked that we
were all strapped in and definitely not smoking, and we had paid due
attention to her rendition of the safety drill for the enth time. And
Woe betide any one caught unlatching a seat belt before the light was
I noticed on one of the trips that Jeff and Richard had become
interested in the sound the engines would make as the aircraft taxied
around airports. It was a sort of stroboscopic 'Doppler' effect, as the
props cut into the air. Jeff tried to tape it on a walkman, I think he
wanted to use it as a sound effect on a record.
But the day we came to leave Berlin, we all got to appreciate the
Doppler effect full throttle:
The aircraft was at speed along the runway, almost ready to take off,
when a sudden 'thud' was followed by a bellow of that strobing prop
sound, accompanied by an enormous sheet of flame down the one side of
the plane - the side Jeff was sat on. The pilots slammed on the brakes,
and then taxied round for another go.
Jeff was not amused: 'Tell 'em to forget it, I'm getting off' he said as
I went forward to see what had gone wrong. Meanwhile, nurse Diesel was
telling us all to be quiet and stay in our seats as there was nothing to
worry about. The cockpit was crammed full of Frenchmen all chattering
and consulting manuals and dials. They explained to me in broken English
that an automatic feathering device had inadvertently cut in and shut
down the engine. Eventually, after much argy-bargy, the crew managed to
pacify Jeff about it and we had another uneventful take off apart from
the white ELO knuckles once more gripping seat arms.
we landed, we had motorcades of limousines to carry us between airports
and hotels, and then between hotels and gigs. In America they were
usually the smart, black stretched Cadillac's (the sort that mob chiefs
always seem to use in the movies).
In Sweden, we were met at the airport by a fleet of Mercedes waiting to
take us to the hotel. I was ushered into the back of one all on my own.
The convoy sped off into the wintry scene and quickly joined the
motorway to Stockholm. I soon realised we were travelling extremely fast
on the packed snow. I peered over at the speedometer and then slumped
lower in my seat, it was reading 140 KpH. Not only that, we were
tailgating right up the back of the car in front! I looked ahead and
behind, all the cars were the same. The entire motorcade was snaking
along like an express train, zooming across the frozen landscape as if
linked together by invisible couplings. I was absolutely terrified.
Later I learned that ELO had hired the limmo company which specialised
in transporting around high-level diplomats. In order to forestall any
possibility of terrorist interdiction, they had trained to drive like
that, in convoy at the highest speed, bumper to bumper.
It gave me some inkling of what it is like being somebody like Henry
Kissinger, forever being chaperoned under the threat of someone trying
to shoot you or blow you up.
Before my ELO days, being on 'the road' had meant carrying equipment,
setting it up and fiddling with knobs, changing fuses, plugs and strings
when they broke. But at the level ELO were at, there was none of that.
We had a veritable army of roadies who were experts at their job and
looked after us royally. Along with the sound engineers, they made the
job of playing with ELO a luxury: It was so much easier to perform your
best when you had such professional help around.
Once we came to a concert hall early in an afternoon to rehearse a new
idea. We entered the building and heard music playing:
'Boy that sounds good, wonder who it is?' someone said.
'Maybe it's the support group.'
But no, it was our roadies, all having a jam on the equipment they had
just set up.
The road crew were all American, hired with the rig as it were. But from
Birmingham, Brian and Phil had rode with us to look after our personal
Brian Jones was affectionately known as 'HQ', and he was indeed the man
in charge of everything in our universe. His short, bespectacled frame,
ever sported a knowing grin and a ready response to any inquiry.
Whatever you needed, Brian would get it, or know how to get it. Phil
Copestake, Brian's 'understudy', was amazing in a different way - years
ago he was in Jeff Turton's backing group 'The Houston Treadmill.' When
(in January 1970) Jeff offered me a job playing bass in the group, and I
told him I didn't have a bass guitar, he said 'you can use Phil's - He's
going to become the roadie!' Well I had known of people humping gear
while aspiring to be musicians but never the other way around! But that
was Phil, a salt-of-the-earth type, the obverse of the rock 'n' roll ego
maniacs usually in evidence in and around groups.
on the subject of roadies, let me tell you about the most famous roadie
I ever knew:
His name was John Downing but everyone knew him by the nickname 'Upsy.'
I knew Upsy before the word 'roadie' ever entered the lexicon of
language as a shorthand replacement for the title 'road manager.' Years
ago, he lived just a half mile from me in Tile Cross, and once came
marching up to me when I was fixing my car, and announced that he was
going to be my manager! I remember being amazed at his cheek and
optimism. Duly armed with tapes of my songs, Upsy went around pestering
various artistes, before moving on to higher callings.
After being the flagship roadie for Birmingham groups 'The Move' and
'ELO', he went on to work for a host of high-level acts, the most
notable being Jimmy Hendrix, who he worked with right up until he
overdosed. Upsy became something of a legend in the rock 'n' roll
fraternity of the time. If your group had Upsy as its roadie, it was a
medallion of honour that would be bragged about as if Eric Clapton had
been signed up to play guitar for you!
But he was to die in mysterious circumstances that will probably never
be satisfactorily explained: There were no witnesses to explain how Upsy
came to fall from the deck of a ferry into the North Sea one night in
But I digress…
Be on your guard tonight,' Bev said, 'the roadies usually have something
up their sleeve for the last gig of a tour.' It had become a tradition
apparently, and 7 November 1981, was the last concert of the American
tour, at Bloomington, Indiana.
Ever mindful of Bevs' warning, as I played that night I kept a watchful
vigil on what the road crew were up to, especially during the bits when
the lights were low. But nothing happened. - I thought maybe the idea of
a dastardly prank has lost its shock value for them, or perhaps they
planned to wreak some other kind of havoc, by spiking our drinks later,
But as we were playing the last song, 'Roll Over Beethoven,' I saw the
unmistakable shape of roadies scurrying about, carrying something, and I
knew the hour of reckoning was drawing nigh. Sure enough I turned to see
Brian Jones advancing up the steps of my rostrum clutching a paper
plate, which had on it a white gooey mass. I danced around the plinth
with him for few seconds while he grinned at me, but I had nowhere to
go. I couldn't even lift a finger to protect myself when he finally let
me have it in the face. It was a sort of cross between custard soufflé
and shaving cream and it obscured my view of everything for a moment,
until I could blow if off my eyes. Looking around I could see Bev was
equally afflicted and Lou Clark and Mik Kaminski were about to get
Then I looked down at the rest below. Kelly was at the front of the
stage, oblivious to what was happening behind him. He stood with one
foot on a foldback speaker, legs set wide apart, the neck of his bass
guitar pointed into the air triumphantly. Half of ELO had by now turned
into Christmas decorations and looked like frostbitten Eskimos, but
Kelly couldn't see. The crowd at his feet beamed, and as Brian Jones
approached him from behind across the big stage, their beams became
beamier and they gagged and screamed in ecstatic delight. All eyes in
the University of Indiana were focussed on one person. And he was loving
it, his guitar neck rose higher, the crowd roared louder…
Brian Jones stood right behind him barely a foot away, holding his paper
plate like a waiter in a period play. He was a star in his own right for
a full ten seconds. Finally he tapped Kelly on the shoulder and, as he
turned his head, let him have it, full frontal.
It was the quickest fall from grace I ever saw.
Wine and suicide
The American, and then the European tour, sped by in a blur of ritual
Limmo from Airport to hotel; - Limmo to gig, play;
Limmo back to hotel, after-gig booze-up, sleep-breakfast; - Limmo to
airport, fly to next town.
And so on it went, for 37 shows in America and then 32 in Europe.
Endless fun and jokes made it a voyage of delight for me.
I spent most every night after a concert, in Richard's hotel room where,
along with Jeff, I would attend the 'red wine club.' It was a select
fellowship largely because the rest of ELO were off doing the sorts of
things that people in groups do, and rarely bothered to drop in. The red
wine club was a dependable haven of zany banter and untold merriments:
Songs of infinite silliness would be composed and then forgotten amidst
gales of laughter. Once in a rare interlude of taste and seriousness we
tried to perform a rendition of Jim Cleary's song 'Modeste the minor
poet'. Even Richard couldn't figure out its unique chords, and we ended
up impulsively calling Jim back in England, as if it were a matter of
urgent national importance. In the middle of the night, he tried to
explain over the phone which finger went where on the strings, but we
never did work it out.
our loyal robot, performed faithfully for nearly all of the 69 shows. I
say nearly all, because one night in Europe, Fred tried to end it all
after receiving a welter of bad vibes that befuddled his overworked
brain. As well as introducing the show Fred always came on for the last
number of the night. He would join Mik Kaminski at centre stage in a
wild dance during the long solo in 'Roll over Beethoven'. Mik and Fred
would circle each other, as if mimicking each other's gyrations in a
sparring match that looked like a Ukrainian dance version of 'Star
Members of the road crew operated Fred from a console hidden behind the
house speakers on my side of the stage. That night from my rostrum
overlooking them, I could see that something had gone horribly wrong. A
gaggle of roadies were stood gesticulating at Fred's spasticated
movements, and like passengers in the back seat of a car without a
steering wheel, they were shouting instructions to the driver struggling
at the controls.
But Fred was getting signals from elsewhere… Afterwards, we accused
the police. But whether it was them, or signals from outer space, Fred
was moved to a fit of spontaneous jerks that suddenly caused him in a
moment of apparent digital revelation, to stop and face the audience,
and then traverse the entire stage area in one orgasmic bound of energy
that shot him right off the front and onto foldback speakers some feet
below. The crowd loved it. The roadies were horrified. Like fire crew
homing on a downed aircraft, they all rushed to his assistance. While
the music played on, they carried Fred off feet first, his little toes
turned up to the roof lights. He was seriously in need of surgery.
But although he had a fractured head, our ever resourceful road crew
team had him back on his feet again for the next show, albeit with
several windings of gaffer tape over the cracks in his Plexiglas
The TIME tour made its final curtain call at Munich on 5 March 1982.
We flew back home to Birmingham the next day. I think all of us were
aware that an era had ended.
England, NEC snow. Lord Mayors car. Fireman moonlighting as chauffer.