Back in the New York groove”
Making it in the music business relies just as much as being in the right place in the right time as it does on skill and ability – for every successful Iron Maiden there’s a failed Drunk Rock, for every extensive discography there’s the single 7” that never made it. I realised this from an early age when artists who never had any right to be on TOTP seemed to appear on a regular basis (step forward The Wombles and Guys & Dolls amongst many others), whereas others such as Hello appeared with a great single or two and then disappeared.
One of the key singles on my stereo (a Fidelity UA8 I seem to remember) in late ’75 was Hello’s “New York Groove”. It was more laid back than the music I normally played but it had an addictive quality. I was so certain that they were around to stay I even announced to my mates that they would outshine my favourite group of all time – Queen. Of course history shows me to be completely wrong; while Hello reached number nine in October and then disappeared, Queen hit number one with Bohemian Rhapsody in November and wrote their own chapter in rock history.
The group was formed in the early 70s by Bob Bradbury (vocals), Keith Marshall (guitar), Vic Faulkner (bass) and Jeff Allen (drums). Going by the name of Age they were a covers band and played youth clubs (they were still teenagers themselves) around North London. It was while playing this circuit that they were ‘discovered’ by Russ Ballard and David Blaylock. Both men had experience within the music industry (Ballard was the songwriter for Argent and Blaylock, who had been the Zombies’ road manager, worked for Chappell Music publishing) and saw the group’s potential for chart success. With the intention of using the group to front Ballard’s non-Argent compositions they were renamed Hello and moved into the recording studio.
At their first session they recorded “Can’t Let You Go” – the song however wasn’t right for Hello and it was passed on to Barry Ryan who subsequently hit the charts with it. Their first single came from a follow up session and was more of a rocker; “You Move Me” was released on Bell Records in 1972 but totally missed the charts. With their next release, “C’mon”, also failing to chart the group and Blaylock (who had become their manager) parted company with Ballard.
At this point Nicky Chinn and Mike Chapman approached the group with one of their songs. Probably one of the most commercially successful writing partnerships of the Glam era their approach virtually guaranteed Hello chart success. After recording the song, “Dyna-Mite”, the group were ready for it to hit the charts when the producer, Mike Leander, cancelled the release and replaced it with the group composition “Another School Day”. The single failed and, to add insult to injury, “Dyna-Mite” was taken back by Chinn and Chapman and given to another group striving for chart success – Mud. Mud had a massive hit with the song and it launched their chart career, Hello however disappeared from the recording scene.
Following on from the apparent end of their chart dreams the group returned to what they did best, playing live. For the next three years they concentrated on gigs and built a strong fan base around the country. In 1975 they were number seven in the NME Best New Band readers’ poll and returned to the recording studio once more. This time they covered an early 60’s hit, “Tell Him” by the Exciters, but in a Glam Rock style. This however wasn’t the first Glam version of the song as Mike Leander had produced a version for the Glitter Band on their “Hey” album. Fortunately this time their chart success wasn’t foiled by a producer and “Tell Him” reached number six in the charts.
In an attempt to consolidate their chart success the group followed this with a cover of the Glitter Band’s “Game’s Up”. Again they hit the charts but not in the UK; they made the top thirty in Germany while back home they failed to chart. Trying another cover, Amen Corner’s “Bend Me, Shape Me”, they missed the charts again and it looked as if the group’s time in the limelight was already at an end.
Their place in Glam history was however to arrive in the form of a reunion with songwriter Ballard. He had a song he was playing around with called “New York Groove” and offered it to the group. This is the song that they are famously remembered for as it rocketed them up the charts (in the UK and Germany), onto TV screens and into music papers. The infectious rhythm of the song was perfect for radio play and the group were ready for the air of publicity. They hit the big screen when Barry Humphries brought them onboard for his movie “Side by Side” where they played alongside other groups such as the Rubettes and Mud. Their debut album was also released and was a masterpiece of marketing, with a faux-denim cover it stood out from other LPs on the rack, and they took on a sell-out tour with Smokie. It seemed as if, after years of trying, Hello had hit their groove and were here to stay.
The follow up to “New York Groove”, “Star Studded Sham”, hit the charts but once more this was only the German charts. Despite all the publicity and success the group had attained, the UK charts had once again closed its doors on the group. In fact the UK was so closed to Hello as a chart act that they eventually only released singles in Germany and Japan where they continued to have success. The UK’s disregard for the group was so total that as a teenager I thought that they were a German group who had a ‘lucky’ UK hit, rather than a UK group who were recognised in Germany.
Ignored in their homeland the group virtually relocated to Germany where they continued to have hits for a number of years before they broke up in 1979.