Great things are happening here in Russia, especially in the rock’n’roll world. If you believed the rubbish being said in the Western media about Russia at the moment, you probably wouldn’t realise it. But take it from me, this is a great country and a great place for rock’n’roll ! What a shame you are not learning the true story about Russia in the Western media, especially regarding the Ukraine.
This month am gonna continue the amazing story of Screaming Lord Sutch. You remember I began it in last month’s issue and this will be the second and concluding episode about his Lordship.
In the last issue, I described a hugely successful tribute concert here in Moscow, in the great man’s honour. It included some of his most famous songs and also a live performance from the legendary Russian group the Raw Cats. This month will concentrate some more on the man’s life both inside and outside of rock’n’roll, as well as detailing some of the darker sides to his character. Remember, this was a real British rock’n’roll legend to whom we should be forever grateful, especially those of us who were privileged to see him perform, in my case in the 1970s.
Sutch was a real pioneer. Already at the beginning of the 1960s he was wearing outrageously long hair before the advent of the Beatles. His garish costumes pre-dated the glam rock style over 10 years later. And his act then had shades of the psychobilly which was to emerge in the 1980s. But throughout his career he stayed loyal to rock’n’roll and made a significant contribution to our great music, especially during the 1960s and 1970s.
Some of the most enjoyable things about his Lordship are the stories about him. There were many and were usually hilarious. Here are just a couple:
In 1969 a friend of his who was a local newspaper reporter got a phone call from him, “It’s Sutch here. Grab a photographer and get yourself down here. My house is on fire – it’ll make a great story !” “Well, OK, David, but by the time I can get round to you the fire will be out.” “No, it won’t.” Why not ?” “I haven’t rung the Fire Brigade yet. I’ve got a bucket of water here – I’ll wait till you arrive so you can take a shot of me pouring it over the flames.” His friend got to the house 20 minutes later and to Sutch’s delight, the story made the front page of the paper. Thankfully the house did not all go up in flames !
In the early 1970s, his friend the music agent Paul Barrett booked him to appear in a barn at a luxury farm in Cambridgeshire, along with Shakin’ Stevens. Here’s how Barrett described what happened;
“All went well until Sutch decided to do ‘Great Balls of Fire’, featuring fire in a bucket which inevitably caught the hay in the barn alight. We saved the house, largely due to a chain of buckets – the fire brigade took ages to get there. There was much distress and many people looking for Sutch (not with the kindest of intentions). As dawn broke we were preparing to leave and I spotted a big old car parked on the edge of a field. There was a figure huddled inside, wearing a Superman T-shirt. It was Sutch. He wound down the window and enquired, “is everything alright, man ?”
His Lordship made a big impact on British rock’n’roll history, but in the UK he is much more famous for something else. In the early 1960s he set up his own political party. It stood candidates at general elections and made him a household name both at home and worldwide for a generation. The party was founded in 1963, when Sutch stood in a bye-election for the seat vacated by the former cabinet minister John Profumo. Those old enough will know of the huge scandal caused when it was revealed that Profumo was having an affair with the prostitute Christine Keeler while he was defence minister, at the same time that she was also having an affair with a Soviet agent in London. All this guaranteed tremendous publicity for Sutch when he campaigned for Profumo’s vacated seat in Stratford-upon-Avon.
Of course his political campaigns were pure comedy and theatre. He christened his new party “the Monster Raving Loony Party”. His campaign slogans comprised things like “I’d rather have one thousand laughs than one thousand votes,” “I stand for the four Rs, reading, writing and rock’n’roll” and “vote for the ghoul, he’s no fool.” He said the Party’s first act if it came to power, would be to build a marble statue of Tommy Steele in Bermondsey High Street. For Sutch this approach worked: Whilst always getting only a derisory number of votes, the publicity he got was huge and he became a sort of political institution. His general attitude towards politicians and politics of “sod ‘em all” resonated with the public, even if his party was too zany and ridiculous for them to vote for. In fact “Sod ‘em All” was the original name of his Party !
Another event which gained him lots of publicity was his association with Cynthia Payne. For younger readers I need to quickly explain; Cynthia Payne became notorious and famous in the 1970 for running probably the most famous brothel in London, whose clientele included some of the upper class echelons of British society. She was jailed for running such an establishment. A few years after her release, she decided she too would stand as a candidate in parliamentary elections. In her case the motive was to give publicity to the campaign to change the sex laws in Britain. Anyway here’s the Sutch connection – he lived for some time in Payne’s house, where all these illegal shenanigans had been going on ! Payne and Sutch struck up a friendship, founded originally on their common link of both being fringe parliamentary candidates.
He provided so much fun and entertainment to so many, but there was a dark side to his character. Even Payne testified to his meanness when it came to giving, especially anything involving money. Nearly all his female relationships ended unhappily. One of his most famous songs, “Jack the Ripper”, had lyrics of humour and levity when describing the evil murderer. In the 1970s, those who lived through that time like myself will remember the appalling serial murders of young women, by a man who became known as the Yorkshire Ripper. During the period of the murders and before the perpetrator was caught, Sutch continued to tour the country singing his Ripper song, thinking of the extra publicity that the murders would give him. It was to put it mildly in extremely bad taste and he suffered the consequences. At some gigs, especially in the area of the country where the murders were occurring, bottles and glasses were thrown at him and he often had to make quick exits for his personal safety. It was another example of Sutch’s insensitivity.
Throughout his life he suffered extreme mood swings, which included bouts of severe depression. It was while he was in such a condition that he committed suicide in 1999. But those of us who saw him perform and listened to his music have a huge amount to be thankful for. Rock’n’Roll, and in particular British r’n’r, would certainly have been the poorer without him. So here’s to his Lordship, the 3rd Earl of Harrow – there’ll never be another like him !