Saturday, March 7, 2009

Screaming Lord Sutch

I'm a sucker for a good novelty. Hence, a minor fascination with that notable British rock'n'roll character Lord David Sutch aka Screaming Lord Sutch, proof positive that, sometimes, in the world of rock'n'roll having no talent is sometimes just not enough. He was certainly a photogenic little bugger though, no? Despite the claim on Wikipedia that he was "3rd Earl Of Harrow", David Sutch (b. Nov. 10, 1940) was not of royal lineage and in fact grew up in the working class area of Kilburn, North London. He fell in love with rock'n'roll upon hearing Rock Around The Clock in 1956 (he dug Haley because he was the spitting image of his other hero-- Winston Churchill). Determined to forge a career in rock'n'roll he made his way to the 2i's coffee bar in Soho, that incubator of all British pre-Beatles R&R talent (see Vince Taylor posting for more on the 2i's scene) but was rejected and found a gig at a nearby biker joint called the Cannibal Pot, where he was soon fronting his own outfit-- The Raving Savages whose original line up featured future session drummer Carlo Little and pianist Nicky Hopkins. His main calling card was a stage show inspired by Screamin' Jay Hawkins and old horror movies, that saw Sutch jumping out of a coffin, chasing semi-nude women around the stage with a meat cleaver, even doing a re-enactment of Jack The Ripper murders to illustrate the tune of he same name (see video clip above). He brought theatrics to rock'n'roll a good decade before Alice Cooper. In this manner it took a while for audiences to realize he couldn't sing two bars in the same key. He was soon packing 'em in all over the U.K. and in Hamburg where he was a good draw at the Star Club. In 1961 he was discovered by Joe Meek who produced Sutch's first two horror themed singles-- Til The Following Night (HMV) and Jack The Ripper (Decca), the group now billed as Screaming Lord Sutch & his Savages. Quite a few future notables passed through Sutch's group including Ritchie Blackmore (guitar star of Meek produced instrumental combo the Outlaws and later of Deep Purple), Jimmy Page, Keith Moon (briefly), and others. He cut a string of novelty horror singles, most are fairly unlistenable-- Dracula's Daughter, Monster In Black Tights, She's Fallen In Love With A Monster, etc. but some of the b-sides where quite good, original arrangements of rock'n'roll classics.Huey Smith's Don't You Just Know It and the Coaster's I'm A Hog For You (both served as the flip side of Jack the Ripper in different pressings), Bye Bye Baby (flip of Dracula's Daughter) are all credible, exciting rock'n'roll discs. His best was this 1965 re-make of the Johnny Burnette Trio's first 45 (covering both sides in highly original arrangements that highlight the strengths of his band) Train Kept A Rollin' b/w Honey Hush (CBS, UK). If it was the only record he ever made, he'd have been remembered as a genius. His best early sides compiled on a bootleg called The Screaming Lord Sutch Story can be found here. In 1963 Sutch attempted to launch his own pirate radio station-- Radio Sutch which would feature rock'n'roll records mixed in with such attractions as Mandy Rice-Davis doing dramatic readings from Lady Chatterly's Lover but a falling out with his manager Reginald Calvert nixed the project (Calvert was later murdered by someone he swindled). The same year Sutch stood for public office for the first time, running for Prime Minister on the Teenage Party whose main platform was lowering the voting age to twelve. He would go on to run for PM in each election up until 1990, the Teenage Party evolving into the Raving Loony Party (in one memorable election he wanted to extend suffrage to animals). It was in politics that Sutch is best remembered in the U.K., always cutting a striking figure at election time, no publicity ploy beneath was beneath him. Some people even voted for him. By the late sixties he had taken to riding around in a horse drawn chariot, his Savages outfitted in togas--- "You've got to keep up with the times", he told Nik Cohn. In 1970 Sutch was signed to Atlantic who attempted to market him to an uncomprehending U.S. market releasing two LP's-- Screaming Lord Sutch and Heavy Friends (featuring all the Savages alumni who'd made it as well as Jeff Beck, John Bonham and Noel Redding) and Hands Of Jack The Ripper. He toured the U.S. in a Union Jack painted Rolls Royce. These LPs have the distinction of being among the worst ever recorded, although in retrospect, crappy as they are they're way better than 90% of what's made the charts in the ensuing decades. Sutch continued to gig and even record the odd disc through the eighties, I saw him play at the Milkweig in Amsterdam in the early nineties, attempting to align himself with the Psychobilly craze, he was great in that "you had to be there and be stoned" sort of way. Unfortunately I was so loaded on hash that I lost the autographed 8x10 I'd gotten by stumbling into his dressing room and dropping the name of a mutual friend. I do remember he was surrounded by the strangest assortment of acolytes I've ever seen, including a guitar player named Rasputin who looked just like the real thing. In 1991 Sutch published his autobiography: Life As Sutch (with Peter Chippendale, Harper-Collins, UK), an amusing if rather peculiar volume, for some reason it was recalled and is very rare today. In 1999 his beloved mother Annie Emily Sutch passed away (he had lived with her for his whole life) and not long after (June 16, 1999) a grieving Lord David Sutch (he'd added the Lord via deed poll) hung himself. Sad ending, like all great rock'n'roll stories. Lord David Sutch, aka Screaming Lord Sutch is a perfect example of how a person of little promise was able to use rock'n'roll to rebuild his entire being into something special, some one who will be remembered, for as long as people care about rock'n'roll.

15 comments:

Anonymous said...

hey jim,
great post as usual. i saw lord sutch with the cramps at the hammersmith palais in london,in maybe 1981,don't remember much about the gig but...oh well

J.D. Hughes said...

I guess he could have been a star today, since noone can sing now without using a J-Lo Box.
I love the " keeping up with the times " toga bit.
Sad ending though, I agree.

DefChef said...

Great post, great story - and yet another example of why yr style & format are so well suited to the web. It's cool to get info on an artist I don't know a lot about or maybe skipped over (like SLS) - and my new policy is that if you write about him/her/them, then it's definitely worth looking into.

My other new policy is to read the entire post before going off to look for other material on the web...I tried yr SLS link (which is dead, btw) and then turned up this:

http://rapidshare.com/files/90635813/1972__Hands_of_Jack_the_Ripper.rar

...which is, as you know, awful. And I would've known that too if I'd bothered to read the whole post first. Whatever, lesson learned.

The Hound said...

try looking for The Screamin Lord Sutch Story via Chewbone link on right...

Anonymous said...

Another excellent mp3 and blogroll search engine for this stuff is Captain Crawl.

http://www.captaincrawl.com/index.php

J.D. King said...

Some good laffs in this post!

Cookie said...

Posted this on Bedazzled a couple years back...
http://bedazzled.blogs.com/bedazzled/2005/10/screaming_lord_.html

Anonymous said...

I believe that the Rolling Stones are refering to Lord Sutch when Mick sings "Then in flies a guy who's all dressed up like a Union Jack" on "Get Off Of My Cloud".

The Hound said...

He could've been talking about Pete Townshend....Sutch was drivin' around in a Union Jack (I think that LP came out in '70) but in '65 (the year of Get Off My Cloud) he was wearin' the Roman garb.
Is it possible that while the world falls apart this is what occupies our minds?

Anonymous said...

Ah, I think you're right in your Union Jack analysis. I remember reading that "fact" sometime ago and it seemed to make sense at the time. As for the Heavy Friends album, I do believe that was voted as a worst album in some NME poll (or some such rag) - which makes me feel all the more proud that I pretty much wore out my vinyl copy ("Smoke and Fire" issue). I think Jimmy Page might have been listed as the album's producer, but I think Sutch basically cut the demos to vinyl and released the album - much to the dismay of the artists. Yes, this sadly does occupy way too much of my thoughts...

Robert Cook said...

I'm chagrined to admit I bought both of Lord Sutch's Atlantic albums when they came out...the first because, as a young music fan just starting out buying records, I thought it would be great given all the big name musicians on it, and the second because, as a fanatical Who fan at the time, I had to have it because of Keith Moon's participation. I should have known better, already owning the first album, and I like to think I became a more discerning record buyer as I grew up. But, as bad as the records are, they are so peculiar in their campy badness that I can almost feel a pride of ownership. I mean...if you didn't hear them, who'd believe anyone would ever release such junk, much less on a major label?!

swac said...

The White Stripes used to end a lot of their shows with a blistering Jack the Ripper, glad I got to see them do it here in Halifax. I'm sure 99% of the crowd was left scratching their heads, but the tribute was appreciated.

johnny said...

there have been and stil continues to be many 'poseurs' in the world of rock'n'roll. sutch jsut wanted to entertain, and that he did probably better than anyone, and why did so many legend musicians play with him? they got it...a lot of others didn't unfortunately. by the way, sutch was psycobillying and punking before anyone else. jack white got it to...glad some others do,

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