Of the list of names synonymous with Brumbeat, Dave rates amongst the best. What a pedigree!! From mod-man with Danny King/Blaises to the unique and ecentric Uglys, on to Magnum and then getting the premium prize as a member of the Electric Light Orchestra. It is right to say that Dave has travelled the full gamut of the pop highway, and 'travelled' being the right word. From years stuck in the back of freezing ford transits to executive aircraft ferrying him around on the ELO "Time" world tour...
Dave has written a fabulous piece, with his normal 'left field' sense of humour, surrounding the rehearsals and preparation for touring with what was at the time one of the biggest bands in the world.
THE TIME TOUR - It was 1981 when E.L.O. were back in Birmingham after their jet setting travels. During that summer we had several sessions where Jeff Lynne, Richard Tandy, 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 Jeff's house one night he played me ELO's new 'TIME' album, and told me about the new tour in the pipeline. I have to admit I 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", "Its 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 we're not mates anymore. I wouldn't want that to happen again". I was relieved that was his reason and assured him that wouldn't be the case.
"Okay" he said, "We're practising tomorrow. Come over and we'll see how it sounds"
The exhaust promptly fell off my car the next morning as I set out for the rehearsal at Jeff's place and 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 parts.
At that time, ELO consisted of four people; Jeff, Bev (Bevan), Richard (Tandy) and Kelly (Groucutt). 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 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 had ever flown first class.
"Sex, drugs and rock and roll" is the first thing people think of when you mention touring with a pop group, and that's usually what they want to hear - the dirt. If that's what you're looking for here then 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.
Ozzy Osbourne's wife Sharon, summed it up in a TV interview. Sharon the daughter of ELO's former 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 the hotel window 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 Satyricon on the road, but ELO was more like Monty Python!
It was Kelly Groucutt, ELO's bass player, who inadvertently provided the first milestone of major comedy on the American tour. It happened even before we got before the crowds, whilst we were rehearsing in Los Angeles. The tour almost ended right then and there, before it even 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 shed for Jumbo 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 Demille. Outside 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 you hadn't been stricken blind was that you could still see the tiny glimmers, the pinpricks of red from simmering amps and keyboards. The stage set we performed 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 the instant the last note was 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. KERRBOIING!!! I can only describe it as the noise a piano makes as it 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 had happened.
Kelly was not on stage anymore, he was lying on the concrete some eight feet below the level of the stage set. In the blackness he had tripped over a fold back speaker and fallen right off the front of the stage. His bass guitar, still switched on, had provided the death knell boiing that we all heard. We looked down in horror, Kelly lay motionless as the road crew raced towards 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 OK" 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 alright?" "Yeah" he said with a reassuring smile as he looked up and realized the extent of his acrobatics. We all breathed again. He was just bruised. It was amazing - that was a big drop! 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 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 run.
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 Jeff had gifted to him, his 'brain' glowing as he did:
"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 the final crescendo. (That would be the cue for us all to get on stage and strike up with the first song titled 'Twilight').
The whole thing was such a moving and powerful spectacle to me. I don't know if it was the shock of realizing just how excellent this show was, or an unction of unthankfulness 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 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 was great...
These days, Dave has given up his 'proper job' and now concentrates on running his Church on The Hill with his lovely wife Mandy. For more information on his extensive music career or Christianity, visit his web site at www.scottmorgan.co.uk
This article is from a hopefully forthcoming book by Dave called 'Patterns In The Chaos'
Copyright © Dave Scott-Morgan
Illustration Copyright © Bulls Head Bob