There’s a link between all of the members of Space Elevator , apart from the fact that they’re all very good musicians (and I always include singers in that category); all of them have, at some time, been involved the Ben Elton/Queen musical, “We Will Rock You” which played for twelve years at London’s Dominion Theatre before closing in May of this year. I know that some music fans are pretty sniffy about musical theatre, but the fact is that you have to be a very, very good (and consistent) musician to play in such a high-profile production as this. So, what I’m saying is that the five members of Space Elevator are musicians of the highest order and, putting “We Will Rock You” aside, they have worked with some of the biggest names in modern music.
Space Elevator comprises The Duchess (vocals), David Young (guitar), Neil Murray (bass), Elliott Ware (keyboards) and Brian Greene (drums) and their first album “Space Elevator” is out now and, in the best possible way, it’s what you would expect from a group of musicians with their background and experience. The songs are well constructed, the performances are all faultless and the whole album is underpinned by sense of theatricality and fun that’s so often missing from serious (or po-faced and pretentious) rock albums. And, there are quite a few segues from one song to the next, so don’t even think about listening to it on shuffle.
It’s not too difficult to pick out reference points either, musical and lyrical; “We Are the Losers” features layered Brian May-style guitars, massed vocals and changes of tempo and instrumentation before the music hall piano leads into the anthemic finale and straight out into “I Will Find You (Gallifrey Dreams)”. This epic pop ballad provides a musical setting for the Dr Who/Rose love story, opening with gently picked acoustic guitar and close-miked vocal and building up to a chorus with a great guitar hook and The Duchess’s vocal cords set to stun. The album’s first song “Elevator” and “More Than Enough” both use highly processed spoken intros representing an automated lift voice and radio announcer respectively, while “Little White Lies” and “We Can Fly” rely on tempo changes to keep the attention focussed. Lyrically, the album is shot through with the theme of looking to the future, which forms the basis of “Move On” and “Really Don’t Care” and also pops up elsewhere. The Duchess even has a “Killer Queen”-style Freddie Mercury moment with “Oils and Bubbles”, featuring the memorable lines: ˊI’m so clean, scrubbed to a sheen, I’m a total hygiene queen; it’s the only way I’ll be bedded, to cleanliness I’m totally weddedˋ, which wouldn’t sound out of place in “The Rocky Horror Show”, but fits perfectly with the high camp of the piano backing, the guitar solo and the layered backing vocals in the chorus.
“Space Elevator” isn’t an album that will allow your attention to wander; you’re never more than eight bars from another surprise, whether it’s a tempo change, a guitar fill, a breakdown or an unexpected segue into the next song. The rock purists will object to the theatrical elements and the production, but if that bothers you, then stick to Dumpy’s Rusty Nuts. Throughout the album, The Duchess’s dynamic range is matched by superb playing and arrangements full of hooks which just won’t quit. Go on, you know you want to.
Some of my Closet Classics are there mainly on musical merit, some mainly on the strength of memories they evoke, but this earns its place on both counts. I first heard the songs on this EP during my Freshers’ Week at the University of Dundee and I still say that “September”, featured on this EP, is one of the finest pieces of guitar-playing I’ve ever heard live.
Cado Belle was one of 3 bands I saw in a hectic week (the other 2 were Frankie Miller’s Full House and Skeets Boliver, if you must know) that set the scene for 4 years of watching great bands, DJing and generally having a good time. I did a bit of studying as well, when I had to. I went along to the gig with my new mate Steve J (still my mate now and a bloody good bloke) in his yellow ex-GPO Morris van, which was great if you were in the passenger seat, but a bit agricultural otherwise. It had the added advantage of being absolutely impossible to lose in a car park.
We knew nothing about the band, but it was Freshers’ Week and we were determined to do everything that was on offer, especially if it also involved having a few beers. We discovered that Cado Belle, fronted by singer Maggie Reilly, was a great Scottish soul band with a line-up of drums, bass, keyboards, guitar and sax. Blue-eyed soul was huge in Scotland in the mid-70s; it was actually a criminal offence to have a band in Scotland without at least 1 sax player at that time.
It’s fair to say that it wasn’t a capacity audience, but we were enthusiastic and the band was exceptional, playing material from their first (and only) album and the eponymous EP. The set was packed with superb playing and singing from a very accomplished band (we all said “tight” in those days) and we were all having a great time. And then the band started to play “September”.
Anyone in the audience who had ever picked up a guitar was absolutely speechless as Alan Darby’s guitar gently wept its way through the beautiful extended intro using perfectly controlled feedback over a wash of electric piano to lead the song into Maggie Reilly’s ethereal vocal. You expected recordings of guitarists to be this good, but it was incredible to see it live. I won’t say that it changed my life, but it was one of the events that made me realise guitar-playing was only ever going to be a hobby. When you analyse it, it’s not really much of song because it’s only really one verse but it’s an incredibly evocative piece of music; if you were pretentious, you might even call it a tone poem.
Obviously, I bought the EP as soon as I could get my hands on it and it’s a perfect little mini album. The other 3 songs are “It’s Over” (a Boz Scaggs classic), “Play it Once for Me” (written by Stuart MacKillop, the band’s keyboard player) and “Gimme Little Sign” (as made famous by Brenton Wood and covered by many others since, including Peter Andre). All 4 tracks on this EP stand up on their own merits and my vinyl 12” copy has been played to death since I bought it. I’ve played it to many people including some very gifted musicians and it always gets the same response; stunned silence followed by queries about the band and then the inevitable “Why haven’t I heard this before?”
The band split up in 1979, but maintained loose ties and worked together occasionally. Colin Tully (saxophone and woodwind) composed the music for the Bill Forsyth film “Gregory’s Girl”, Stuart MacKillop worked with ABBA and continues to work regularly with Maggie Reilly, along with bass player Gavin Hodgson. Maggie Reilly went on to have hits with Mike Oldfield (including “Moonlight Shadow”) and is still recording and performing.
As for Alan Darby, he’s currently working on the Queen musical “We Will Rock You” in London, but if you run a quick search, you’ll be amazed at what he’s done and the artists he’s worked with. Strangely enough, Alan Darby’s name has cropped up in conversations decades apart with various people. In the early 80s, a friend of mine managed a cocktail bar in Covent Garden and told me that Alan worked there as a doorman for a while, which may or may not be true. Twenty years later, in the early Noughties, during one of many late-night chats with the late Allan Mawn, the subject of Cado Belle came up again. Allan (who genuinely seemed to know every musician in Scotland) told me that he’d recently spoken to Alan Darby just after his return from a tour in Japan with the Bay City Rollers and that he was currently working with Lulu’s band. It’s a long way from playing to 150 students at Dundee University Students’ Association and, no doubt, a fascinating journey. Normally, I would fill a piece like this with links to the music but, unfortunately it just isn’t out there. If you want to hear a little more Cado Belle, try their MySpace page.
These 4 tracks, and “September” in particular, have been favourites of mine for over 30 years. They still sound fresh even now and they’ve created a whole set of memories and associations years after they were initially released. Great songs and playing never get old.