Smokie

Smokie is an English rock band from Bradford who found success in Europe in the 1970s.


History


Early years

Originally called The Yen, then The Sphynx and later Essence, the band was formed in 1965 at St. Bede's Grammar School in Heaton, Bradford. It was composed of Chris Norman (lead vocals/rhythm guitar/piano) (born Christopher Ward Norman, , ?n Redcar, North Yorkshire), Terry Uttley (born Terence David Uttley, , ?n Bradford, West Yorkshire) (bass/vocals), Alan Silson (lead guitar/vocals) (born , ?n Bradford, West Yorkshire) and Ron Kelly (drums) (born Ronald Bruce Kelly, , ?n Winchester, Hampshire). As Essence, they toured small clubs in Bradford and the surrounding communities. The band became The Black Cats in 1966 and in Nov 1967 the band changed their name to The Four Corners.


In April 1968, the group found a manager in Mark Jordan, who advised them to rename themselves The Elizabethans. The group now became fully professional, and the members garnered higher salaries. In June 1968 Terry Uttley joined the group. December saw the group having a first TV appearance on Yorkshire Television's news and magazine show "Calendar". In August 1969, the four performed two songs for the BBC show "High Jinx". Enthused with this successful performance Jordan had them record a first demo tape. In January 1970 RCA showed an interest in the band and suggested a name change to Kindness. A single was recorded, but due to a strike, the double A-side, "Light Of Love" / "Lindy Lou", was not released for a few months. 300 copies of that were sold and it was followed by a second single "Oh Julie" / "I Love You Carolina".


In late 1970, Dave Eager approached the group and offered to manage them. Subsequently, an arrangement was made with Rory Storm - formerly of the influential band and early Beatle contemporaries Rory Storm and the Hurricanes - the band to which Ringo Starr had originally belonged. Kindness backed Storm performing as 'Rory Storm and the Failures'. In late 1971, Norman suffered a serious infection which affected his vocal cords. After getting over the sickness his voice sounded much rougher, which the other group members considered an interesting addition to their sound. Eager introduced them to Decca, which resulted in recordings in February 1972 . Shortly thereafter their next single was released: "Let The Good Times Roll" / "Oh Yeah!"


Rise to fame

Around this time the band was offered to accompany Peter Noone, formerly lead vocalist of Herman's Hermits, on tour. Noone was also helpful in recording their next single for Decca, "Make It Better" / "Lonely Long Lady". Noone didn't bring the boys any luck, but during the tour Bill Hurley offered to manage them. Hurley convinced Eager to release the boys from the contract with him. They recruited an old school friend, Pete Spencer (born Peter David Spencer, , in Leeds, West Yorkshire) (drums/vocals), who had played in various groups, to drum for them. This line-up performed on a sightseeing boat in Frankfurt, Germany. Hurley introduced the band to composers Nicky Chinn and Mike Chapman (aka Chinnichap), who also wrote songs for glam rock contemporaries Sweet, Mud and Suzi Quatro, and also for Hot Chocolate. At first "Chinnichap" turned them down, but Hurley's tenacity eventually convinced the composers/producers to give the young group a chance. Hurley and Chinnichap started working intensely with the band, and suggested yet another name change to Smokey. Reluctantly, the band agreed. An attempt to dress the band up in leather clothes (similar to Suzi Quatro) was dropped, and the four won acceptance for their jeans outfit.


New instruments were bought and in late 1974 recordings sessions for their debut album commenced. On , Pass It Around was released. The album spawned the title song as a single but failed to gain significant attention from the British audience. In April that year Smokey opened for Pilot on tour.


Height of popularity

On , 1975, Smokey released their second album Changing All the Time. This LP sounded much softer than the debut, contained string arrangements on some songs, and heavily leaned toward acoustic guitar arrangements with close harmony vocals, which became their signature sound. The first single from the new album, "If You Think You Know How to Love Me", quickly became a big hit in many European countries, peaking at No. 3 in Britain, and won Smokey a wider audience. It was followed by "Don't Play Your Rock'n'Roll to Me".


Around this time the American soul legend Smokey Robinson threatened to file a law suit, alleging that the band's name would confuse the audience. In order to avoid legal action it was decided to drop the "ey" and undergo another name change to Smokie. Shortly after the release of the second album, their first tour as headline act commenced.


The next album was partly produced in America, where Nicky Chinn had moved for various reasons (the tax situation being just one of them). Midnight Caf? built on the popularity of Changing All the Time and established the group as a new pop phenomenon. The following years yielded a string of successful singles: "Something's Been Making Me Blue", "Wild Wild Angels" and "I'll Meet You at Midnight" gained a faithful following among younger listeners. When their single "Living Next Door to Alice" was released in November 1976, it quickly became the group's biggest hit, followed by the equally successful "Lay Back in the Arms of Someone". Smokie now found themselves European superstars with sold-out tours and million-selling albums. The next two albums were to emphasize their stature: Bright Lights & Back Alleys (1977) and The Montreux Album (1978) were both chart successes.


At the peak of Smokie's success in 1978 Chris Norman teamed up with Suzi Quatro (who had just decided to return to Chinnichap after looking at separation from them) and released a duet single, "Stumblin' In"/ "A Stranger With You" - another Chinnichap composition. Norman and Quatro were on top of the European charts for some time, and it reached the US Top 10, though disappointingly no higher than No. 41 in Britain. Smokie's subsequent 45 was "Mexican Girl" / "You Took Me By Surprise". Composed by Norman and Spencer, the record saw the group actively distance itself from Chinnichap. Smokie's next act was to produce British football star Kevin Keegan's first single, "Head Over Heels In Love". It charted in many European countries.


In 1979, the album The Other Side Of The Road was released, entirely recorded in Australia. It spawned two more hits for the band, "Do To Me"/"Cryin'" and "Babe It's Up To You" / "Did She Have To Go Away", but it became clear that their sales were declining. Only a subsequent non-album single release, the melancholic "Run To Me"/"Look What You're Doin'" became another hit.


Smokie met with a hiatus before Solid Ground was released in 1981 . The advance single was neither a Chinnichap composition nor penned by any Smokie member, but a cover of "Little Town Flirt"/"I'm In Love With You", the last Smokie single to chart.


Decline and Norman's departure

In early 1982 the last album for EMI/BMG was released, Strangers In Paradise, which was almost a complete failure. The departure from Chinnichap became notable, and the four members of Smokie appeared unable to recreate their success using their own material. Shortly after the release of Strangers In Paradise work began on two parallel albums, one released as Smokie - Midnight Delight, the other Chris Norman's solo debut, Rock Away Your Teardrops. Neither release sold well.


Though Smokie had begun work on a comeback, in 1986, Norman - enthused with the relative success of his second solo album Some Hearts are Diamonds - announced that he was to leave the band. He was replaced by Alan Barton, formerly of Black Lace, a friend of the band who had a vocal style similar to Norman's. Smokie also recruited keyboard player Martin Bullard. Spencer quit and was replaced on drums by Steve Pinnell. The new line-up released All Fired Up! in 1988, which brought some attention and contained a new version of "Rock Away Your Tear Drops", the song which was initially the title track to Norman's debut album.


Comeback

Several releases followed over the next years including Boulevard Of Broken Dreams (by Dieter Bohlen), Chasing Shadows and the 1994 album Celebration, which contained old hits in new arrangements accompanied by an orchestra. None had any real success. However, Smokie made a surprise return to the UK singles chart in 1995, with one of the most unlikely hits of the year - a duet with controversial northern comedian Roy Chubby Brown on a re-release of their biggest hit "Living Next Door To Alice" which reached #3. The band had noticed that, whilst touring in Ireland, whenever they sang the main line "For 24 years/I've been living next door to Alice" the audience would shout "Who the fuck is Alice". The resident DJ in Dutch caf? Gompie first came up with this phrase and, after a local record producer had noted its popularity and organized a recording, had a number 17-hit with Alice? Who the Fuck is Alice?! in the United Kingdom and in the Netherlands reaching #1. Smokie decided to cover the Gompie-version of their own song and thought that Brown was the ideal man for the job, with Barton singing the song vocals and Brown providing the additional sworn response.


They now hold the record as the first group to get a record in the Top Ten with the word "fuck" in it, and also the first to have it played on BBC1's "Top of the Pops", although with the offending word replaced due to the show being broadcast before the watershed. The word was not edited out, but Roy shouted the word "bleep" at the appropriate point.


Unfortunately shortly after the song was recorded Smokie's tour bus careered off of the road during a hailstorm in Germany. Barton, badly injured, died after five days in intensive care. The rest of the band and Brown agreed to donate their royalties from the song to Barton's first wife.


1990s-Present

The remaining members decided to continue with the band and went about finding their third lead singer. Friend of the band Mike Craft was chosen - allegedly, it only took one song to come to a decision. The World And Elsewhere was released later that year, followed by Light A Candle - The Christmas Album.


In 1996, Silson terminated his membership, saying he intended to pursue a solo career and to work with other acts as well, joining Mickey Finn's T. Rex; he also no longer wanted to be on the road all the time. Mick McConnell became the group's new lead guitarist. This formation produced the next album Wild Horses - The Nashville Album (1998), precisely in Nashville, Tennessee, U.S.. In February 2001, the group released two albums, Uncovered and Uncovered Too, which consist entirely of cover versions, with no original new songs added.


In 2004 Smokie released a studio album with their own material. The album, "On The Wire", marked the beginning of a new strong period for the band that, despite almost 30 years in the business, refuse to sit back and stop their development. 11 of the 14 songs on the new album were written by the band themselves.


In 2006 Smokie released the album "From the Heart", although mainly a compilation album, it contained 3 brand new tracks.


Personnel




1965 - 1968
Chris Norman - lead vocals, rhythm guitar
Alan Silson - lead guitar, vocals
Terry Uttley - bass, vocals
Ron Kelly - drums


1968 - 1986
Chris Norman - lead vocals, rhythm guitar
Alan Silson - lead guitar, vocals
Terry Uttley - bass, vocals
Pete Spencer - drums


1986 - 1995
Alan Barton - lead vocals, rhythm guitar
Alan Silson - lead guitar, vocals
Terry Uttley - bass, vocals
Steve Pinnell - drums
Martin Bullard - keyboards


1995 - 1996
Mike Craft - lead vocals, rhythm guitar
Alan Silson - lead guitar, vocals
Terry Uttley - bass, vocals
Steve Pinnell - drums
Martin Bullard - keyboards


1996 - Present
Mike Craft - lead vocals, rhythm guitar
Mick McConnell - lead guitar, vocals
Terry Uttley - bass, vocals
Steve Pinnell - drums
Martin Bullard - keyboards

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