A few months ago, my friend and near neighbour, Geoff Haslam, casually mentioned that he was about to produce some tracks for Loyd Grossman. Yep, that’s the pasta saucemeister, Through the Keyhole Loyd Grossman and he of the tortured diction who, it transpired, was once also known as ‘Jett Bronx’. Yep, that’s the same Jet Bronx of Jet Bronx and the Forbidden who, in case it passed you by – which it did me – reached #49 in the charts in December 1977 with their red vinyl single, ‘Ain’t Doing Nothing’.
To cut a long story short, a few weeks later I joined Haslam – legendary producer of Velvet Underground, J. Geils and MC5 albums – in a grotty Camden pub to witness Mr Bronx and the appropriately re-named New Forbidden, belt through a shortish, if compelling set of what we used to call power-pop written and largely sung by Valentine Guinness. Guinness is an interesting character, his stage persona slightly camp, his voice somewhat redolent of Al Stewart crossed with Peter Perret, his background stinking rich, and his compadres equally upmarket but nonetheless genuinely talented. They included bassist James Baring (of the banking dynasty), keyboardist Orlando Harrison (of the Alabama 3 dynasty) and off course multi-millionaire Grossman himself who, it has to be said, is a really cracking guitarist in the Robbie Robertson mould.
A phrase I coined to encapsulate all this for the Independent who I found myself reviewing it for was ‘toff rock’, which later got me thinking about other combos that have emerged from the upper classes to entertain audiences beyond the croquet lawns and air-conditioned marquees that are their natural, if socially limited bailiwick.
Primacy here probably goes to the Zombies, who came from posh schools in St Albans and who under the guidance of Rod Argent and Colin Blunstone conquered America and the world with a string of breathy hits in the mid-60s. And, er, that’s about it until, oddly, we reach the late noughties when as well as the New Forbidden, we have Simon Armitage’s Scaremongers and the Ian McMillan Orchestra.
I haven’t actually hear the latter mob, but thanks to well connected accomplice, the Scaremongers were persuaded to play our local British Legion last year and like the New Forbidden, they exhibited a nice line in catchy melodies layered with witty, sophisticated lyrics. Which should come as no surprise since Armitage is best known as a poet, as of course is McMillan so perhaps instead of toff rock, this emerging phenomenon should be known as ‘po rock’. Or then again, perhaps not.
For me the interesting question about rich folk with successful alter egos slumming it in the mosh pit, or rather the cocktail bar of post-new wave popism is why they’d want to do it in the first place? Why can’t they be satisfied with the vocations they’ve already profited from, and is there something faintly condescending about the middle or indeed upper-middle classes wanting to thrust their music into the ears of the lumpen proletariat instead of, as it’s supposed to be, the other way round?
Perhaps other, more assiduous students of the oeuvre may have the answers to these burning questions, as well as the identities of further toff rockers my withered memory has selectively jettisoned, but at least look out for the New Forbidden’s upcoming album if only because it will be produced by the same man who twiddled the knobs on ‘Sweet Jane’ and ‘Rock & Roll’.
And if that’s not enough, please take a gander at my website and link to other blogs at www.markwilliamsmedia.co.uk