Thunderclap Newman

Thunderclap Newman was an English psychedelic pop-rock band that scored a 1969 UK No. 1 hit with “Something In the Air.” Pete Townshend produced the single and their acclaimed 1970 album Hollywood Dream for Track Record, the label run by Who managers Kit Lambert and Chris Stamp.

Members: Speedy Keen (vocals, guitar, drums), Andy Newman (keyboards), Jimmy McCulloch (guitar), Jim Avery (bass), Leslie Taylor (background vocals)


Background

Thunderclap Newman coalesced when Townshend sourced musicians for songwriter and Who roadie Speedy Keen, who wrote “Armenia City in the Sky,” a psychedelic track on The Who Sell Out.

Keen (b. John David Percy Keen; March 29, 1945) started as the drummer in The Krewsaders, an early Ealing beat group that spawned The Second Thoughts, which featured guitarist Tony Duhig and (future Nirvana) singer Patrick Campbell-Lyons. They toured army bases with Percy Sledge and recorded four songs but didn’t land a deal before Duhig and late-period keyboardist John Field formed The Tomcats, which morphed into July, a precursor to Jade Warrior. In late 1965, Keen toured Italy with The Rocking Eccentrics.

In 1966, singer–actor Oscar (aka Paul Nicholas, no relation to the seventies Manchester band named Oscar) recorded Keen’s “Club of Light” for Reaction Records, a venture of music mogul (and eventual Bee Gees manager) Robert Stigwood, whose label housed The Who between their split with Shel Talmy and the setup of Track. (Townshend wrote Oscar’s followup a-side, “Join My Gang”). Keen became Townshend’s roommate and van driver. He sings guest vocals on “Armenia,” the only Who song written for the band by a non-member.

In early 1969, as Townshend finished work on Tommy, he arranged a home session with Speedy to record “Something In the Air,” a psychedelic anthem that Keen first titled “Revolution” (changed in light of the Beatles hit). For the session, Townshend handled bass and string arrangements (under the moniker Bijou Drains) and summoned teenage guitarist Jimmy McCulloch and Dixieland pianist (and Grand Postal Office engineer) Andrew ‘Thunderclap’ Newman (b. November 21, 1942; Hounslow).

McCulloch (b. James McCulloch; June 4, 1953) took up guitar at age eleven, inspired by Gypsy jazz legend Django Reinhardt. At thirteen, his family moved from Cumbernauld, Scotland, to London, where he joined beatsters The Jaguars. In 1967, they opened for The Who as One In a Million and cut the MGM single “Fredereek Hernando” (b/w “Double Sight”). That April, he partook in the 14 Hour Technicolour Dream, a counterculture event at Alexandra Palace, where he played in an ad hoc band called Utterly Incredible, Too Long Ago to Remember, Sometimes Shouting at People.


“Something In the Air”

On May 23, 1969, Thunderclap Newman released “Something In the Air” on Track Record. Townshend produced the song and its b-side, “Wilhelmina,” a 1930s waltz.

A. “Something In the Air” (3:55)
B. “Wilhelmina” (2:53) originated as “Wilhelmina (She’s Plump And Round),” a Gypsy waltz by Cumberland Clark and Mark Strong; recorded by Rossini’s Accordeon Band as the b-side of their 1935 Crown Records 9″ shellac “When I Grow Too Old to Dream.”

On the week of July 2, 1969, “Something In the Air” reached No. 1 on the UK Singles Chart, where it displaced “The Ballad of John and Yoko” by The Beatles and held off “Suspicious Minds” by Elvis Presley. Thunderclap Newman held the summit for three weeks and then bowed to “Honky Tonk Women” by The Rolling Stones.


1970 Singles

On May 15, 1970, Thunderclap Newman released “Accidents,” a Speedy Keen original backed with the McCulloch brothers “I See It All,” both produced by Pete Townshend for Track Record.

A. “Accidents”
B. “I See It All”

On August 21, 1970, Thunderclap Newman released “The Reason,” a Keen original backed with Andy Newman’s “Stormy Petrel.”

A. “The Reason”
B. “Stormy Petrel”


Hollywood Dream

Thunderclap Newman released their only album, Hollywood Dream, in September 1970 on Track. It features ten Speedy Keen originals, including “The Old Cornmill,” “When I Think,” and the pre-released a-sides “Something In the Air,” “The Reason,” and “Accidents,” presented here in elongated form. Jimmy McCulloch co-wrote the instrumental title-track with his brother Jack. Side One contains the Bob Dylan cover “Open the Door, Homer.”

1. “Hollywood #1” (3:20)
2. “The Reason” (4:05)
3. “Open the Door, Homer” (3:00)
4. “Look Around” (2:59)
5. “Accidents” (9:40)
6. “Wild Country” (4:14)
7. “When I Think” (3:06)
8. “The Old Cornmill” (3:58)
9. “I Don’t Know” (3:44)
10. “Hollywood Dream” (3:06)
11. “Hollywood #2” (2:54)
12. “Something in the Air” (3:54)

John “Speedy” Keen – lead vocals, drums, percussion, acoustic guitar, conga, glockenspiel, gong, maracas
Andy Newman – piano, organ, soprano saxophone, bass saxophone, oboe, tin whistle, glockenspiel, cor anglais, Bengali flutes, Japanese battle cymbal, hand bell, Indian finger cymbals, sleigh bells, Chinese temple block, vocals
Jimmy McCulloch – acoustic guitar, electric guitar, maracas, wood block, backing vocals

Pete Townshend (as Bijou Drains) – bass, producer
Chris Morphet – harmonica (4, 5)
Ian Green – string arrangement on “Something in the Air”

Graham Hughes – cover art
Chris Morphet – album spread photographs

13 Nov 1970
A. “Wild Country”
B. “Hollywood”


Discography:

  • Hollywood Dream (1969)

Sources:

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