“I was really happy for the guys...”
Interview with Ron Kelly
 

Ron KellyRon Kelly. This is a person who knows our heroes really well since those early times on the turning point of 60s and 70s. Who has left the band just within an inch of their fame, Smokie got their success and gained general acceptance already without him. A very talented drummer who brought up his mastery and took in best music examples of that time. His career is very interesting and deserves deep respect even without his cooperation with Kindness. And today he’s again in the ranks playing in Alan Silson’s band for the last years.
    Having been a very nice, friendly and extremely communicative man, solicitously keeping unique examples of a great history and having just a phenomenal memory Ron has kindly agreed to answer the questions of our website. So, get acquainted with Ron Kelly, who tells of himself, about our heroes, about how it all has started. About his youthful aspirations and ambitions, years of making and about hard but so dear work.

 
Part 1
 

— Ron, here’s traditional question for the beginning: tell us, please, where you were born and who were your parents?

— I was born in Winchester, in the county of Hampshire and my Father was Peter Kelly, born in Leeds, Yorkshire and my Mother was Milly Knight from Alton, Hampshire. They met when my Father was stationed with the Army at Bordon which is near Alton, and married the year before I was born.

— Your Dad was a drummer, wasn’t he? Could you tell something about his drummer's career?

— My Dad first became interested in drumming when at 12 years old he heard Gene Krupa on the radio. Gene Krupa was the first drummer to front a band and to bring the drummer out to the audience. After hearing him on the radio my Dad went out to the music shop in Leeds and bought some drumsticks. He then proceeded to teach himself to play (in much the same way as I did) and at 14 years old he played the drums in the Local workingmen's club in Gomersal which was the village where he lived. Incidentally he used to practice on my Grandmother's biscuit tins as he didn’t have a drumkit or a practice pad.

When he did his national service in the army he was the drummer with the dance band in his unit and they used to play the Saturday night dances in the town of Alton in Hampshire, which was where he met my Mum. Whilst he was there he was spotted by a musician in the Geraldo Orchestra, who were famous in England in the late 1940's and was asked if he would take the deputy role of drummer in the band. This he did whenever the drummer couldn't do the gigs and he appeared and played with the band on national radio. Unfortunately there are no recordings existing anywhere of him playing with Geraldo's band.

Just as I was born he was offered the job with Geraldo full time but with me being only a baby and the music business not being a steady job he couldn't take up the offer and went into engineering full time when he left the army, where he had a regular job. He continued to play the Saturday night sessions at the Gomersal workingmen's club until he hung up his sticks in 1958.

Ron

— And what about you? When did your interest in drumming start?

— My interest in drumming started when one day I found my Dad’s sticks in the cupboard… I had been asked for my birth certificate by the teacher at school and I knew it was kept in a tin in our sideboard. Whilst I was looking for this tin I came across his sticks hidden at the back of the sideboard cupboard. Up until that time I had always wanted to be a guitarist like my hero of that time Hank Marvin from the Shadows. I used to use my cricket bat to pretend that I was playing the guitar and mimed in the mirror to all the Shadows hits.

— So then you decided you’ll be a drummer? When did you start to practice on drums?

— That was the moment when I decided to become a drummer. I asked my father to teach me so he showed me the basic drum rudiments and then advised me to watch other drummers and to listen to what they played and then copy them but adapt it to my own way of playing. I was 12 years old at the time. I also practiced on my Mother’s biscuit tins until my father bought me a plastic Ringo Starr snare drum with an attached 12” cymbal for my 13th birthday.

— Were you a successful pupil at school? And what were your favourite lessons?

— At school I did ok in certain subjects usually the ones I enjoyed taking and got grade 1's in English Language, English Literature, Maths, History and Woodwork. In the lessons that I did not enjoy I was usually daydreaming about football or music instead of listening and learning which resulted in not so good grades. I loved the sport lessons and played for the school and Football, Cricket, Rugby, Swimming and was a member of the school cross country running team too. My favourite lesson at school was music and I loved learning about all the great musicians from classical to pop. Our music teacher Michael Taylor was a great fan of The Beatles and we used to discuss their records in lessons. Brilliant.

— As you’ve told once, your school in Birkenshaw is famous for the fact that Alan, Chris, Ron and Terry have played their first ever public gig exactly there...

— Yes, our first ever public appearance was at Birkenshaw school in 1965. I cannot remember the exact date but I do remember that it was a school dance on a Friday evening, and we set up our gear behind the curtains on the stage. We did not have a P.A. (Public Address) system so we used the school system. When we were introduced as the Alchristerons the girls started screaming as we went into the first number-or so we thought they were screaming until we realised that it was in fact the speakers feeding back. Once we got that sorted out the gig went really well. The bonus for me was that there was a girl at school who I really fancied but she had never ever looked at me. After the gig she was all over me and she became my girlfriend – all innocent in those days I can assure you.

— How did you meet Alan and Chris? How did you start playing together?

— I met Alan in Moore’s music shop in Bradford. I was waiting in the shop to go in for my drum lesson when he came up to me and asked me if I was a drummer. We chatted and he asked me if I wanted to join him and Chris in a group that he was getting together. When I found out that he and I lived near each other then that sealed the deal and the next day I went down to his Mother and Father’s house in East Bierley and He, Chris and myself jammed together for the first time. We decided straight after playing the first number that we would stay together as musicians and friends.

1st line upSo we started a little group together. Chris and Alan invited Terry to a practice and after playing a few songs we invited him to join the group. He was initially a guitarist but had to change to bass if he wanted to join us. This group played at school dances and fetes and garden parties etc.. Unfortunately when we left school, they all went out to work and I went to college and the band split up. In college I met some guys in a band called ‘The Black Cats’ and they asked me to join them, but they weren’t very good. I knew Chris and Alan were not doing anything, so first of all I asked Alan to join and then we both asked Chris to be the singer. We kept the bass player, Arthur Higgins who was a very good bass player. When the band started to play we had lots of names: The Yen, Long Side Down, Sphinx, The Four Corners and then we changed to The Elizabethans. When the chance to go to Butlins and turn Professional came, Arthur Higgins’s father would not let him go pro, as he wanted him to finish his studies. Luckily, we managed to get Terry Uttley’s Dad Tommy to let him leave his printing apprenticeship and rejoin the band and that’s when it all started. On 1st June 1968 we arrived at Butlins as Pro musicians.

The Elizabethans— You were with Chris at that historical moment when he first met his future wife Linda…

— Yes, I was with Margie (Linda's sister). I went out with her when Chris met Linda. If you remember my anecdote about Elgin (on Alan’s website) where we were sat in the Two Red Shoes cafe when 2 girls walked in and Chris and I went over to talk to them. The blonde one was Linda and the rest was history. Well the dark haired girl was Margie and we became girlfriend and boyfriend (at least when I was in Scotland) She is still a lovely lady and I met her for the first time since those days at Pete’s 60th birthday bash. We had a lot of catching up to do on that night! I found out also that she lives just 16K from where I live.

— By the way, how was this Pete’s 60th birthday? Have you met many well known friends from the past there?

— Pete’s bash was great – everyone who went had a wonderful time. I met quite a lot of people from the past including Don Maundrill, who at one time was Smokie’s tour manager and Phil Coleman Smokie’s sound engineer in the 70s and 80s.

— Now let’s speak about the recordings of Kindness.
KindnessThe very first official recording was the single “Light Of Love” which was released on April 3, 1970. Great song as well as a great version from Kindness! Tell us please any facts and details regarding that recording.

— Regarding that recording for RCA, we recorded it at Trident Studios in January 1970. The producer was a guy named Tony Atkins and he came up with several tracks that had been pre-recorded including the b-side “Lindy Lou”. All we had to do was to put our individual tracks on the recording, which was recorded at Trident Studios in London. The guys put their vocals on and I put some tambourine and percussion on and I think Alan put some acoustic guitar on it. We had no input on mixing or production and we only heard the finished tracks when Mark Jordan (our manager) received a copy two weeks later. We even had to buy our own copies for ourselves and families. The record was chosen as 'Record of the week' on BBC Radio 1 "Breakfast Show" by the D.J. Tony Blackburn and was played every day for that week and then sank without trace. He put the kiss of death on it. That is the full story of the first recording.

— Yes, what a sad destiny for "Light Of Love" at that time... So what was your next official recording where you all really played on and did all the vocals?

— The first single that we all played on and did all the instrumentals was "You Ring A Bell" C/W "Have You Met Angela" which were both written by Albert Hammond to be released on Bell Records. The tracks were produced by Steve Rowland but never released. I was the only person who had a copy of those tracks as far as I know but I stupidly lent them to a so called friend of mine who promptly disappeared with the copy.

— Well, it looks like we still have something to search for… ;-) Can you tell us about any other rare recordings?

— The rarest recording of all – it is of Kindness, playing and singing backing vocals on a record by a friend of ours called Ronnie Storm, released under the name of Fuzzy and the Barnetts and called My Desire. It is only on acetate and there is to my knowledge on one other copy in existence and that is owned by Ronnie himself. It was recorded at Calrec Studios in Hebden Bridge in Yorkshire in 1969 if I remember correctly.
    Ronnie Storm – the first time I met him was when he was playing with his band The Typhoons, in fact at the time Ronnie was managed by Mark Jordan. You will not find anything about Fuzzy And The Barnetts because when the record was made Ronnie was going to issue the record under that name because as far as I can understand it, at the time he was signed to another record company, so the name of Fuzzy And The Barnetts was what we call an alias or non-deplume, used so that the artist cannot be identified. Something like George Harrison did when he played on the Cream single Badge. If you remember he was credited on that record as Harry Georgeson.

— We can’t but ask you one more question regarding so called Kindness album called "Once", as some fans still think there was such a release. Could you dispel that myth?

— The Kindness album you mention must be a selfmade complilation because I have never heard of it! There was certainly never any official album from Kindness. We only ever had singles released by record companies.

Kindness— Many fans also have the CD with live recordings of Kindness. Have you any reminiscences regarding those recordings? Who sang the lead vocals on those songs?

— Regarding the Kindness CD I can give you the full history of those recordings because it was my father who did the original recordings from Radio One back in the years from 1968 to 1971. I still have all these original recordings on reel to reel tape and I still have the original tape recorder as well. My dad placed the microphone from this recorder in front of the speaker on a little transistor radio that we had at home and recorded everything 'live'. In fact if you listen very carefully you can actually hear him shout "come on my boys" at the beginning of track ‘Rainbow’. My Dad died some years ago and to hear him say that brings back so many memories for me. The live Radio One sessions were quite frightening if you thought about them because we were actually playing live on national radio which had audiences of over 7 million people and if you made a mistake it was heard by everybody – luckily we hardly ever made mistakes. The other radio sessions we recorded at the BBC theatre in Hulme Manchester and we had three hours to record five tracks which we did backing first and then vocals and mixing. We always started at 10 o'clock in the morning which wasn't very good for the guys who had to sing especially as we had to get up early to travel from Bradford to Manchester and then get all the gear in and set it up on the stage so that we were ready to go at 10am when the producer, John Wilcox would arrive. The drum solo was recorded at The East Bowling Unity Club in Bradford and the reason that the beginning and ends are missing is because my dad who was recording it on the tape recorder knew that we were running out of tape and tried to get it all on but unfortunately failed by about 5 minutes.

Regarding the lead vocals on the CD Chris sings lead vocals on all songs except: ‘Rolling Over’, ‘Soothe Me’ & ‘Wild World’ is Terry, ‘Chains’, ‘Woodstock’, ‘Lola’ & ‘Hi Ho Silver Lining’ is Alan. Sometimes in one song both Alan & Chris used to share lead vocals such as ‘I Can Hear The Grass Grow’.

click on pics to enlarge

— There wasn’t a keyboard player in Kindness, why?

— Kindness never had a keyboard player simply because we never really needed one. If there was any piano part to be played Chris always played it. If you have seen all the old photos of Kindness you will also see that we never had anything mic'd up except the vocals and the guys who sang never had any monitors either. Their vocals were brilliant when you think that they were singing things like 'Suite: Judy Blue Eyes' (by Crosby, Stills and Nash) in total close harmonies.

— “We never had anything mic'd up except the vocals” means the drums weren't mic'd up at all?

— Yes, just so. The guitarists got their sounds completely from their guitars and amps and the volume from my drums just came from me hitting them. If we were doing a really loud song such as 'Black Night' by Deep Purple to make myself heard I had to hit the drums as hard as I possibly could which made me extremely fit and also meant that I needed a shower after every gig!

— For some time Kindness were the backing group for Peter Noone. Do you remember him?

— I remember Peter Noone very well because Kindness were his backing group for over two years in the early seventies. He was a really nice guy but I haven’t seen him since that time.
    We just did mainly Herman's Hermits numbers and one of his solo career numbers "Oh You Pretty Thing" which was written by David Bowie. We did all his hits such as "I'm Into Something Good", "No Milk Today", "There's A Kind Of Hush", "Mrs. Brown You've Got A Lovely Daughter", "Henry the 8th" and we did such numbers as Buddy Holly's "It Doesn't Matter Anymore", The Drifters' "Save The Last Dance For Me" and "Hey Tonight" by Creedence Clearwater Revival. On my anecdotes section on Alan's site I tell you about when we worked at the Shakespeare Theatre in Liverpool when the stage stuck.
    We have no recordings or photos of us with Peter which is a shame when you consider that we worked with him many times.

Kindness— And here comes probably the most frequently asked question to you from people who know the Smokie’s history: how it had happened that you left Kindness? Haven’t you regretted of that decision?

— At the time I decided to leave Kindness, we had had three record deals and singles released that had never achieved anything and the deal with Decca was due to expire. We had no further offers of record deals from any other companies and things looked really bad for the band.

At that time John Verity contacted me and offered me the drum chair with his band. Unfortunately his drummer at the time wasn’t good enough and had let the band down on recordings so John asked me to join. We recorded a best selling album, did a nationwide tour with the rock legends Argent who were very big at the time and we were due to do a 90 day-60 city concert tour of the States supporting the legendary Steely Dan which would have propelled us into exposure to a huge audience and hopefully fame and fortune. However due to circumstances which have already been explained on the Alan Silson website things did not happen for us.

Of course I regretted the decision to leave the band and this really hit me hard when I saw them for the first time on 'Top of the Pops' on the BBC. I sat down and cried – I was really happy for the guys but really sad for myself and from that day I could never watch them on the television or listen to them on the radio.

— Would you like to play once again together with Chris, Alan and Terry as Kindness? What your personal favourite songs from the Kindness repertoire would you like to perform then?

— It would be absolutely fantastic if Kindness could do a re-union gig and we could play any of the songs that we originally performed all those years ago. My personal favourite would be to perform 'Suite: Judy Blue Eyes' as I really enjoyed everything about that song. I would also love to play 'Communication Breakdown' again too.

Verity album

— Regarding John Verity, how long you did play in his band and did you make any recordings with him?

— I played in John’s band for nearly two years and recorded 2 albums with him. The first Album called Verity was released in 1973. It features John, with myself on drums, Geoff Lythe on keyboards and guitar and the great Gerry Smith on bass. Gerry was a wonderful bassist to work with, a brilliant vocalist and was a real gentleman. The second album was never mixed or even released or even formatted. I’m not even sure that these tracks were ever released in any form afterwards as I have never heard them since.

— Did you like Steely Dan?

— Regarding Steely Dan, we should have done an American tour with them. One of my all time favourite songs is Reeling in the Years. Their drummer at that time was the late great Jeff Pocaro. He is one of my all time favourite drummers. There’s a track by Toto called Rosanna and his playing on that track is absolutely phenomenal. His use of ghost notes on snare drum is absolutely amazing.

— So after work with John Verity you played in the band called Smokestack…

— Regarding Smokestack, Geoff Lythe who played in the John Verity band with me was also guitarist/keyboard player in Smokestack. SmokestackWhen John's band split up I joined Smokestack and when our guitarist left, Geoff replaced him.
    I have a tape of the band recorded live in Blackpool in 1975. It features besides me on drums, Geoff Lythe on keyboards and lead guitar, Lyndon Walsh on lead vocals and rhythm, Barry Brook on bass and vocals and a great lead guitarist called Albie Harrop on some tracks on lead guitar. It really rocks and features tracks such as ‘Stairway To Heaven’, ‘Highway Star’ and ‘Strange Kinda Woman’ amongst others. During that summer in Blackpool we played for 32 weeks consecutively for 7 nights and 4 lunchtimes every week (235 days without a day off) which made us an extremely tight band!

— So what was the next step in your musical career?

— The next step was with the band called Owl between 1977 and 78. It was based in Leeds and we entered the national TV Talent Contest "New Faces" and won our show and finished second on the Grand All Winners Show. OwlIncidentally – one of the Judges on the show was a certain Mickie Most! We played a lot of Rock/Pop and the song that we won the show with was "Reeling In The Years" by Steely Dan. Unfortunately I have no recordings and I have tried to get hold of the TV footage but apparently it no longer exists. Nobody has a copy of it either. At that time home video recorders did not exist.

Just as a footnote to the photo of Owl. The line up was Lee Jackson backing vocals (my wife as she was then), Theresa Deakin backing vocals, Bob Deakin lead guitar and vocals, Pete O'Grady Keyboards and Lead vocals, Me and Ian Booth bass guitar and vocals.

— And what was then?

— Then I played in a band called Stormer who were signed up to Ring’o Records which was Ringo Starr’s record company. We recorded an album in 1978. The Stormer album was brilliant especially as it was written totally by the band. I wrote ‘Go your own way’ when I split up with Pamela. We had been together for 4 years and had drifted apart mainly because I was touring all the time with the band and we hardly ever saw each other. She was a lovely person and very pretty too. I wrote the song actually in 1974. ‘Lean on me’ was written in 1975 and ‘Baby I still love you’ in 1978.

Stormer's single 'My Home Town’ would have been a hit if the record company hadn't have gone bust, but we later found out that the company was written off as a tax loss. It went straight to number 15 in the German charts but unfortunately was then withdrawn from sale before it could go any higher! Peter Leeds who was Blondie’s manager at that time made an offer to the official receivers who were handling the administration of Ring’o Records, but it was considered that the offer was not high enough and so was rejected. I have no idea at all if the master tape still exists.
    Other artistes on the Ring’o label at the time were Graham Bonnet, Rab Noakes, Johnny Wainman (a punk singer) and Suzanne, a girl vocalist from New Zealand.

— Did you perform those songs live on stage or that was only a studio project?

— Yes, we did perform all those tracks on stage. We were a very good live band and all the guys were great vocalists and brilliant musicians too.

signing with Ringo

— So you were lucky to get acquainted with Ringo Starr. Tell us please a bit about that. Did you get into his house?

— We spent 6 weeks at Tittenhurst Park, which was Ringo’s home in Ascot, Surrey. He had a full 48 track recording studio in the west wing of the house and we lived in the house for the time we were recording. That was just the first of four or five visits for recording and mixing. There was a cook/housekeeper called Rosie who looked after us, cooked for us and just generally catered for our every need. This house had belonged to John Lennon before Ringo bought it from him and was the house featured in the video for ‘Imagine’. The garden was a huge 80 acres and had a lake and a swimming pool as well as its own chapel. There were mini motorbikes for us to ride around the grounds and to generally enjoy ourselves on. At the top of the house was a room which had locks and alarms on it and we were told that it was out of bounds to us by Mike O’Donnel who was the studio manager and a good friend of Ringo’s. At the end of the 6 weeks of recording we finally persuaded Mike to show us what was in the room. He made us promise that we wouldn’t touch anything in the room and then opened the door. In the room was all the Beatles original gear including John and George’s Rickenbacker guitars, Paul’s Hofner Violin Bass, Ringo’s first Ludwig drumkit with the original signwritten front bass drumhead as well as all their Vox amplification and their Shure microphones. There was also a Gibson Les Paul guitar which had been given to Ringo as a present from his very good friend Mark Bolan, just before Mark was tragically killed in a road accident. There were also racks and racks of videos of every TV show and interviews that the Beatles had ever done in their history. In one of the cottages in the grounds of Tittenhurst was the white piano which was featured in the ‘Imagine’ video as well as many items of furniture which had been owned by John when he was in the house.

click on pics to enlarge
with Ringo

Whenever Ringo was in London we would meet up with him and a couple of times we went out to restaurants with him and spent the vening in his company which was awesome for me especially as he was my all time hero! I am extremely proud of my association with Ringo both working with him and as a friend. I am very lucky to have had the experience of a lifetime with him.

Recently I have watched the Ringo 2006 band. Wonderful! The whole video is great though and it is funny to see two of my friends on it. Ringo and Rod Argent. When we toured with Argent I spent four weeks on a tour bus with Rod and the rest of the guys from Argent and became firm friends with them all. Great memories!

 

To the Part 2 >>>
 


The interview was made with the participation of Dmitriy Kraskovskiy (Chernigov, Ukraine).

February, 2009 © www.chris-norman.ru