FARLOWE'S HIGH TIMES
Revealed to Alan Freeman in an exclusive RAVE Heart – to - Heart
Transcribed by chrisfarlowe.co.uk
|It’s thirteen years since a certain boy strummed his very first guitar and decided that the high times were for him.
"Don’t think about success", pop people said, "then something might just happen!" Now it’s happened and
Chris Farlowe tells RAVE all about it.
"I can' help singing," Chris explains. "It's just something I do!"
He started out as a wood-carver…and carved out a dazzling disc career instead. For kicks he used to cause explosions…and how he’s making a bomb with his voice. He once made church furniture… today he sings soul.
That’s the kind of logic that sticks the Chris Farlowe story together. And although you hear rumours that Chris isn’t a great talker, it’s a fascinating story when he feels like telling it.
Where Chris comes from – Islington in North London - the locals don’t go much on big talk. Around there, the only thing that impresses them is results.
This was made pretty clear to Chris a few years back, when he foolishly announced to his workmates that he was going to make it as a top singer. All they said was "Big deal" and "Get him".
After he got to Number One, they came round a bit. But the lesson stuck, and Chris is strikingly free from the urge to say how the world ought to be run. So I got the coffeemaker burbling away and hoped it was going to be one of his chatty days. It was.
A salvo of barks from secretary’s Mexican mini-dog warned me that Chris was on his way up to my rooftop apartment. Pepe’s hi-fi ears are better than any doorbell. He can hear anybody getting into the lift five floors down.
I swung open the door just as Chris was getting his finger to the bell push. He must have thought the place was bugged with U.N.C.L.E gear! It turned out that Chris is closely related to the spy business. His cousin is Len Deighton, author of the best-seller, The Ipcress File. And Chris is really John Henry Deighton.
"We hate people who say Dayton" he said. "It’s Dyton".
"John Henry is a great jazz name", I said. "Why did you change it?"
"It seemed a good idea." Chris said. "John Henry reminded me of skiffle groups. I had enough of the skiffle caper."
"I was going to be a great artist. Then I was going to be a boxer. When I was eleven, I was going to be a great engineer. Then when I was thirteen I formed the John Henry Skiffle Group instead."
They won talent contests and played local gigs for pocket money until the skiffle craze ground to an exhausted halt and the three-chord regiments were disbanded. Chris who had started collecting motor magazines, had a craze on pictures of the American sports car all the films stars were driving that year. He paid it homage by forming a beat group and calling it the Thunderbirds.
"I was always certain I’d get into show business", he said. "But at the same time I thought I’d better learn a proper trade and get all the qualifications I could, so that I’d have a second living if things didn’t go right. So I worked for a Holloway joinery company making pews and pulpits and things, and at night I’d be playing semi-pro with the Thunderbirds. We were making very little- just pennies".
Chris was regularly "sorted out" by the manager of the carpentry shop for singing at work. His ceaseless gravel voice put off the other carvers – and when a carver is put off he is liable to carve angels with six fingers, which is something that actually happened once!
I told the manager I couldn’t help singing, it was just something I did. I thought. ‘you wait. One day I’ll make a record’. They used to fall about laughing and they said ‘Make a record? With that voice? You’re joking’.
"Anyway, we wrote a thing called ‘Air Travel’ for Decca. It was the first song I ever wrote, and they recorded it!"
Dazed with success, Chris laid down his gifted chisel, acquired his first mohair suit and had himself photographed in about 300 different positions. ‘The bill for the pictures was £80 and the Thunderbirds were making about thirty shillings a night…whenever they got a night!’
"I started learning then" he said "Learning to not to get carried away. But we made a lot more mistakes in the beginning. Going to Germany was one of them".
Nearly every British group I’ve talked to lately seems to have had a rough time over there. Chris and the Thunderbirds were no exception.
"We did a month in this club in Frankfurt," he said. "We couldn’t get any money out of the owner for weeks. When we finally did get paid he held back a lot of what we had coming. His story was that it was for tax. Tax, yea – listen, we were supposed to be on £35 a week each and we didn’t even get £35 for the whole month. We’d have starved if German families hadn’t taken pity on us and asked us home for meals. When I got to London I had eight pounds ten."
But things looked so black for the boys when they returned that Chris went and asked for his old job again. "I put up a bit of a front and said I’d made a bit of money in Germany, but they said, ‘Don’t give us that, Farlowe’."
"I used to carve
pews and pulpits and things"
"I couldn’t settle down again. I kept thinking, I’ve got the make it, I’ve just got to. So I quit again and had another go with a different manager. I recorded about four singles and Columbia put out one called ‘Just a Dream’. But it didn’t mean a thing. Then all of a sudden, someone said to Rik Gunnell, who was running the Flamingo club in London, ‘have you heard Chris Farlowe?’ Gunnell said we could come and see him. We did an audition, and we went down a storm".
Celebrities in the habit of dropping into the Flamingo included Paul McCartney, Mick Jagger and Paul Jones. They were kind and encouraging, and the Farlowe morale began to jump.
"I used to ask Mick what it was like to have a record in the Top Ten. But he said, ‘Don’t think about it. Most of the year you have the Beatles, ourselves, Dusty, the Animals and a few more in the top five spots. That leaves five for you and the rest, you could make it, anyone could make it, But it’s better if you don’t keep thinking about it all the time."
"All the same, I did think about it, I couldn’t help wondering what it must be like to have a silver disc."
At that time a young man in a white coat used to fry hot dogs, collect bottles from the tables and wash up in the Flamingo. He too had non-stop thoughts about the Top Ten. His name-Andrew Oldham. One night Andy told Chris of his plans to start an independent record company. It was to be called Immediate Records – and it would do tings very differently from the usual ideas of the disc firms. Rik Gunnell decided to back Andy Oldham "Everything he did he did well" said Rik, "Whether it was frying hot dogs or managing the stones." He agreed to let Chris record 'The Fool' for Immediate. Next came an EP produced by Mick and Andy and called 'Farlowe in the Midnight Hour'.
In January this year (1966) 'Think' shot into the Charts. And in June the energetic Jagger listened to a playback of his first disc as a solo producer. It was 'Out of Time'. A few mornings later the phone rang at the top of the tall old house where Chris has his own flat.
"I’m what?" He gasped.
"You’re Number One", his manager’s office repeated. Chris shot down the stairs to the corner newsagent and brought the papers. They confirmed the promise he had made to himself thirteen years ago when he picked up his first guitar.
At that moment in the conversation Chris looked at his watch, stood up and smoothed the creases out of his jacket. "I’ve got to make a phone call," he said. "To my girl"
As he left I remembered another phone call. It had wakened me at three o clock on a midwinter morning. Andrew Oldham was calling me from the recording studio to ask if I would listen to a disc he had just finished. It was 'Think'.
"Play it again," I said.
"What do you think?" asked Andy afterwards.
"I’ll tell you," I said. "It’s too involved to make the top Ten. But it’ll show a lot of people that Chris Farlowe is a very good singer."
It seems I wasn’t wrong. Nor were those who bought it.