This month’s column is dedicated to the wildest British rocker of them all. He never had a hit record, he didn’t hit the real big time like Tommy Steele and Cliff Richard. But as those of us who saw him perform and remember him at his best can testify, his contribution to rock’n’roll was immense. He was the most outrageous British rocker we’ve ever had.
On 19th July this year we organised here in Moscow a Tribute Concert to the great man himself, Screaming Lord Sutch. Regular readers of my column will know that tribute events to great rockin’ icons are a tradition here in Russia. I myself have been involved in organising them and was glad to be able to do this one, dedicated to the memory of Lord Sutch.
In choosing a performer and a group that would be the most appropriate for such a tribute, that was easy. Valery Setkin from the Russian group the Raw Cats is the guy who in Russia gets closest to the Sutch persona. Regular readers of my column will remember my article on the Raw Cats, which included a description of Valery’s colourful history and personality. So I booked his band for the concert in July.
It was a wise choice. The event, at the Esse Café in Moscow, was a huge success. It began with me running my usual jive dance class, followed by the Raw Cats on stage; there was a great crowd and wonderful music ! You can see here some of the photos taken at this concert.
His Lordship’s real name was David Sutch and his greatest period musically was during the 1960s and 1970s. One of the secrets of his success was the high quality of his backing musicians, something he was careful to ensure throughout his career. And he certainly got through a lot of them. The personnel was continually changing. I mentioned in a previous article about a good friend of mine in the mid-1970s who was in his band. He waited one evening for Sutch to collect him in his car outside Sudbury station in north west London, to take him to a gig they were performing at. After waiting fruitlessly for over 2 hours my friend gave up and went home. He subsequently found out through another friend that Sutch had replaced him in the band without telling him. This was typical of his Lordship !
Another main reason for his success was his outrageous stage shows. His trademarks were outlandish costumes and themes of blood and horror. I already reported in a previous article about my seeing him at the London Rock’n’Roll Show in 1972 at Wembley Stadium. Again there was the over-the-top costume and the fake blood, coffin, knife stabbing scene, etc. He was truly excellent at that Show, a real showman. His set included an incredible female stripper, which I also described in erotic detail in that article and will not repeat here, but will never forget !
I saw him a few times during the 1970s when he performed in London. Coming from London himself, most of his concerts took place in the capital. At least that’s when he was in Britain; he spent a lot of time in the USA during this period. Every time I saw him, I was very impressed. On each occasion, he’d dress up in one of his garish costumes and perform in an outrageous style. I remember in particular one gig at the Marquee Club in London I attended – he was just sensational: Everything was “over the top’ !
One of my favourites of his many costumes, was to see him dressed up as a crazed Indian Chief with hair down to his waist, with a toilet seat worn round his neck. Another was his coming on stage inside a black coffin, pretending he was locked up inside it. Other props included knives and daggers, skulls and fake dead bodies. The thing was, he couldn’t really sing that well ! It was his character, personality and outrageousness that made him special, in addition to the high quality of the musicians he chose to back him on stage.
He was born in Harrow and adopted the stage name “Screaming Lord Sutch, 3rd Earl of Harrow”. Predictably this was shortened in time to just the first 3 words. Of course he had no aristocratic connections at all. He came from a north London working class family. I remember a Russian friend of mine earlier this year telling me how surprised he was, to find out that Sutch did not come from a titled family ! One of the ideas for the stage name came from his main musical inspiration, the legendary Screaming Jay Hawkins. Those of you into rock’n’roll will know what a genius Hawkins was – a great American entertainer who could also sing brilliant rockin’ numbers. The influence of Hawkins on Sutch’s stage persona and style was clear for all to see.
Like I said, he never really came to close to having a hit record. But he recorded some memorable numbers. If you’ve never heard his version of “Jack the Ripper”, check it out – it’s an iconic track. Plus another favourite of mine is “London Rocker” – a crackin’ number, this should be an anthem for those rockers like me from the capital. 2 others he’s famous for are “Murder in the Graveyard” and “All Black and Hairy”.
Sutch later became even more famous, as the founder and leader of the Monster Raving Loony Party. They stood candidates at general elections and generally enlivened and brought large doses of humour to politics in the UK. Sadly David committed suicide in 1999. Both these extra-curricular activities outside of rock’n’roll and the darker side of his private life, leading up to his committing suicide, are the two areas I’ll focus more on next month in this column. One thing I can promise – the second instalment of this piece about his Lordship will be very juicy and very scandalous !