Talking Music: Sandy Newman of The Marmalade Discusses Sixties Gold at St David’s Hall

ST DAVID’S HALL is winding the clocks back to the Swinging 60s for one night only with some of the biggest stars from an unforgettable era!

Sixties Gold returns to the National Concert Hall of Wales on Thursday 17 October with a stellar line-up who scored over 50 UK chart smash hits between them.

Headlining the bill are Manchester legends Herman’s Hermits celebrating their 55th anniversary. They are joined by fellow Mancunians Wayne Fontana & The Mindbenders, Scouse favourites The Merseybeats and Steve Ellis – the original voice of Love Affair.

Also sharing the stage are champions of the Scottish Beat, The Marmalade and Neil Collins caught up with their frontman, Sandy Newman to talk about their career and the forthcoming Sixties Gold tour…

Sixties Gold is back at the Hall by popular demand, and the line-up looks great!  Have your paths crossed much over the years?

We’ve been all over the world with Herman’s Hermits. The Merseybeats are pretty much the same. The first time I met Stevie Ellis was in France many years ago, and we were doing different things with bands back then. I go back a long way with Wayne Fontana too – I was a little boy when he was in the charts! I saw him at a Scottish gig at the Paisley Ice Rink many moons ago. Everyone gets along and comes from the same mentality.

The earliest incarnation of the band goes way back to 1961 before a name-change in 1966 to The Marmalade. Why did that come about?

The band were originally called Dean Ford & The Gaylords, and they were one of the few groups back in the day to venture south because they had done everything they could in Scotland. It was a great challenge to try and break the market. They were spotted and signed up to an agency in London that looked after Brian Poole & The Tremeloes and the early Fleetwood Mac. It was a very active office managed by a gentleman called Peter Walsh.

There was talk of changing as the type of name had become unfashionable because there were already Cliff Richard & The Shadows, Shane Fenton & The Fentones and Tony Rivers & The Castaways. So, they were summoned to Peter’s office, and it was him who came up with the name. He was a good old Lancashire man, and he told them “Right then lads, I’ve been sitting over my breakfast this morning and I’ve decided you’re gonna be called The Marmalade!”

Are you simply referred to as just Marmalade now?

It’s always been a funny one that because even on records it’s been both, and sometimes it depends on how it comes up in a sentence. The penultimate album was The Marmalade, the current one is just Marmalade. Its swings between both!

You’ve been a part of the band’s line-up since 1973. How did that first come about?

It was November 1973, and I remember it very clearly. I was in a band in Scotland called The Chris McClure Section, who I’d joined when I was about 17-18. They were second to Dean Ford & The Gaylords, so they were a popular band. We ended up having a record deal with CBS, and there were a few promotional things we would do together so I kind of knew the guys anyway. A few people had left, but Dean Ford was still there and so was Graham Knight, the bass player, but he decided he was very unhappy with the direction the band was going. He didn’t want to play on any of the records, he wanted a whole new thing with a new image.

Graham went back to the old manager, and put together a band, which I became involved with. They had a singer for about three or four months, but he didn’t quite fit the bill. We tried to audition different singers, so I eventually said to the guys that all these people turning up didn’t feel right, so I offered to do it – and that’s how it started!

In late 1975, we were offered a song by Tony Macaulay called Falling Apart at the Seams. We recorded it very quickly, and it re-established the whole thing and gave us a very different identity. And I’ve been treading the boards ever since!

I think you can hear Marmalade’s sound resonating amongst some of the Britpop bands of the 1990s with that classic 60s guitar sound. Would you agree with that?

I would say the 70s more. There were bands on the road in the 70s who got big like Smokie and The Sweet, who were influenced by the early Marmalade sound.

The Marmalade were recording with CBS and had a hit in Holland with I See the Rain, and I saw them as a young guy playing that track in the Marquee Club just before it was released. But it wasn’t capturing mainstream radio in Britain, so CBS offered them songs like Loving Things and Wait for Me Mary-Anne. They then became successful, which took the band on a different route from their early sound. When I’ve done TV stuff over the years with bands like Smokie and The Sweet, they’ve said “You’ve no idea how much the early band influenced us!” I guess that permeated through a little bit to the 90s.

Sixties Gold returns to the National Concert Hall of Wales on Thursday 17 OctoberSixties Gold returns to the National Concert Hall of Wales on Thursday 17 October

Sixties Gold returns to the National Concert Hall of Wales on Thursday 17 October

Despite Marmalade’s distinctly 60s sound, you did develop a style all of your own with the use of two bassists didn’t you?

I was a fan myself of Marmalade’s early sound with two bass guitars, which was a very novel thing. One was a clanky, trebly sound and the other was a proper bass and it made this real heavy sound live.

The more psychedelic sounding I See the Rain was a favourite of both Jimi Hendrix and Noel Gallagher. It must fill you with a sense of pride to have two such prominent artists lauding the work of Marmalade.

Yes, in 1967 Jimi Hendrix chose it as his record of the year! I was still in school for God’s sake, and I had come down to London to buy stage gear and I was staying with my sister. That week I went to see The Marmalade and Joe Cocker in the Marquee Club, which a mind-blowing experience. But it was the days of the early hippies, so I See the Rain was a bit of a psychedelic classic. It was all flower power, and everyone was wearing kaftans! It was a whole different vibe at that time, and London was really the place to be internationally – the whole fashion and hoping you could glimpse one of The Beatles!

Talking of innovative sounds, would Reflections of My Life have been one of the first instances of backwards guitar on record?

It was a bit of a trick where you would record the music and then physically take the tape out of the machine and re-spool it so it went backwards. It was a bit like George Martin cutting all the tape up ad reassembling it from the floor like he did with the psychedelic crescendo to A Day in the Life. Reflections was certainly innovative. It was at the time of the Vietnam War, so it struck a huge chord in America. I did some solo performances in Nashville a few years ago, and people asked me to play that song. They absolutely love it over there, and it’s permeated the generations.

In the subsequent years, were the band under pressure from CBS to record more chart-oriented material, which eventually resulted in releasing Lovin’ Things and Ob-La-Di Ob-La-Da?

Ob-La-Di was either going to a big success for whoever recorded it, or it was going to be a failure. Thankfully, it hit the top of the charts for us! It was offered as an exclusive from the White Album, and Marmalade captured the imagination on Top of the Pops wearing the kilts. It is what it is, it’s a party song! Children identify with it immediately. McCartney loves it and still plays it live, and he was really fighting for it to be a single, but it only came out in Germany for The Beatles. There are so many covers of it, but I think Marmalade’s is just about the definitive version.

Is it right that the band rejected recording Everlasting Love, which went on to be a No.1 hit for Love Affair?

There was a choice between two, but the boys wanted to do Lovin’ Things. Love Affair were signed to CBS as well. These songs had already been hits in America, and then they were punted to up and coming acts over here to make hit records.

In November 1969, the band signed to Decca Records. Did that deal allow the band more creative freedom?

When the band signed to Decca after CBS ran out, they got a great contract which allowed them free studio time to be able to do more experimental things at the time like Reflections of My Life. I think if they had only been given three hours of recording time, I don’t think it would’ve been like the record it ended up. It was a luxury the band was afforded because they had been successful, which bred more success.

How much of an extent would you say the band conquered America?

Before my time, the management was a little bit naïve because the band were offered to go out there off the back of Reflections. But the philosophy of the management was that they wanted to wait until they had another hit record, or two. That was a really bad idea. Rainbow followed that and was a success, but not to the same level and then unfortunately it just faded away. There was a whole new kind of music coming along – “album bands” like Emerson, Lake & Palmer, Jethro Tull and Deep Purple. That took precedence, and by the time they did get the chance to go to America, things had changed. Falling Apart at the Seams was a bit of a success over there, but nothing like Reflections. The boat was missed and it’s something that a lot of people in the old band regret, but that’s the way the cookie crumbles.

You enjoyed some immediate success in the band with Falling Apart at the Seams only a year after joining the band. It must be a special song for you?

It came from nowhere. We were called into the office one day, and it already been demoed by Tony Burrows, who was the voice of so many great records. But Tony wanted it to be a falsetto harmony record, so there was a whole different approach and the basic premise was that they were looking for someone who could do it like that, so I was called in to do it. We were working in Germany that weekend, and after doing a gig we sat around a piano and learned all the harmonies and performed it in a certain key. We came back the following week, and the bloody thing was recorded, so it was a real wham-bam thing! It charted in early ’76 and did very well and hung around for a long time. It relaunched us. We were on TV, and it established me in the identity as the singer.

If push came to shove, what would be your favourite Marmalade song?

That’s a hard question, but it would be – in equal measure – I See the Rain and Reflections of My Life. Reflections isn’t my song and I wasn’t in the band when it was made, but I’ve made various versions myself and I’ve performed it all over the world and I know what that song does to people. It’s a great tune and sentiment.

But I still stray back to when I was a youngster and them trying to get a hit with, I See the Rain. I always had an eye on what they were doing when I was in other bands whilst at school, so it was a bit surreal to be in The Marmalade afterwards.

2013 saw Marmalade line-up release their first studio album since 1979 entitled Penultimate. What was it like being back with new material?

It started off like a solo album. It took me to Nashville, as it had a country flavour. There were changes of members in the band at the time though, which took precedence as I’d been with them so long and it quickly transformed into a Marmalade project. It was originally going to be quite a simple album, but it ended up being a bit of a marathon! Unfortunately, there were a few legal issues around the release that got in the way, but I’m still proud of it.

I’ve put a 21-track compilation together for the gigs, which has the hits on it and some of the stuff we did for Target Records and my own things that we play live anyway. You’re a bit restricted on tours like this as you’re only on stage for 30 minutes maximum, so you can’t expect people coming along to be educated with the new material – they’re coming to hear the hits, of course they are! And that’s what they get, and that’s what they should get.

You can’t say “Here’s a new one” as I know how disappointing that can be. I went to see Neil Young way back, and I was a real fan, but he didn’t play one song that anybody knew! The Eagles as a four-piece were supporting on their first British support tour, that’s how far back it was – but all he did at that gig was play an album that nobody had heard! I wanted to hear Southern Man and After the Gold Rush!

With time restrictions on these tours though, you’ll always bump into someone in the foyer saying they wanted to hear a certain song. But if you’re of the era and you like the music, you’ll get the best efforts from the acts on the bill – you certainly will from The Marmalade!