Brush With Looniness

Last night’s show at the Black Swan was fun. While the crowd was sparse, they were friendly and enthusiastic. Thank you to all who came out and to Nemo on bass, and Greg Anzelc who did a fabulous job subbing in on drums — many positive comments from the audience! The club has asked us back for Fall, so stay tuned. Meantime, we will be at Relish on Friday, August 12 with Greg back on the kit, so you can see and hear for yourself.

This week’s topic is on playing with famous people. While I’ve already mentioned subbing in with musicians of renown some weeks back, my most memorable brush with greatness, was back in the early nineties.

Rik Emmett ad

At the time, I was working freelance for Rexx Acoustics, a Canmore-based Canadian amplifier maker founded by ex-Yorkville engineer George Krampera. His solid-state preamps and amplifiers were just beginning to gain notoriety through word of mouth and endorsement (Rik Emmett notably). My job was to travel abroad mostly and present them to potential distributors.

My Rexx collection

I did not do a particularly good job at that regrettably, but I always believed that the gear was top quality, and I now own everything they ever made, short one model, purchased over 12 years of scouring pawn shops and music stores (no freebie samples).

In the early 90s, I found myself in London for the British Music Trade Show (it had some other name but I forget what), and ended up at a musical event that featured notable British musicians; Ian Gillan of Deep Purple in particular stood out. I had been able to convince the organizers to put the Rexx amplifier and cabinet sample on stage as part of the backline gear, and stayed to mind it and bring it back to the hotel after the show.

The last performer of the evening turned out to be Screaming Lord Sutch. This may not be a household name, even amongst musicians, but he did enjoy some notoriety at the time.

David Sutch was a British performer and politician who started his career in the sixties. One of his earliest hits was Jack the Ripper. Check out the video below from 1965. I think you will see that Alice Cooper was not the first to go down the path of ghoulish rock.

Has to be heard to be believed!

Somehow Sutch parlayed that into a musical career that included an album produced by Jimmy Page of Led Zeppelin, and featuring performances by Page himself, Jeff Beck, John Bonham, Noel Redding and Nicky Hopkins. Despite the talent who played on it,  Lord Sutch and Heavy Friends has the dubious distinction of being recognized as one of the worst albums of all time. I had a copy at one time, and would vouch for that.

sutch_500Not content with music though, Sutch dabbled in politics and founded the Monster Raving Loony Party in 1983 (clearly inspiration for our own Rhinoceros Party). The  official position of the MRLP is “Sitting, facing forward.” Sutch ran in dozens of British elections, never successfully, but became a popular figure due to the party’s bizarre and satirical platform, and his gonzo showmanship.

So by the time I was in London in the early 90s, I knew very well who Screaming Lord Sutch was and what to expect. A guitar sat onstage unclaimed when he got on, so I picked it up.

I will never forget him turning around and looking at the band and saying in his gruff voice, “Okay, boys, this one’s in A.” The rest is a blur.

Sutch had a dark side, and suffered from depression. He died by suicide in 1999 after the loss of his mother.

My memory of him will be a lot cheerier. Yes, it might have been cooler to boast having played with someone extraordinarily talented and/or famous, but I don’t think it would have meant as much to me as I have always been attracted to the offbeat, the humorous and the intelligently bizarre.

Here is a longer video that documents his early days, including running in the British elections in the 60s, pre MRLP.

Until next week!


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