Following the release of his highly acclaimed new album ‘The Last Glam In Town’ I talk to former Glitter Band legend, John Rossall. Our chat covers glam rock, show bands, growing up in Blackpool and, of course, John’s new album and the prospect of touring again post-Covid.
The last glam in town – that’s quite a statement isn’t it?
People have their own perspectives and thoughts on it. I just wanted to do an album. I’ve not done one for years and years, well forty-odd years, of original songs. But, yeah, I think it’s a bit of a statement really.
It’s such an authentic sound on the album that really captures the original spirit of glam. What was the experience like in the studio, making a glam rock album in the 2020s rather than the 1970s?
Well, for a start in the 70s you were actually in the room with somebody. If anybody was going to record something, they actually came in the studio to do it. You couldn’t have a guitar player playing his part in, say, Berlin and the drummer drumming in Stockholm. That’s a change. That took me a while to get used to.
Clearly it worked! Did you find the technology helped you create that glam sound even though it was recorded in a completely different context?
In some ways it did. But you have to write the song first before you worry about the technology. But I knew what I wanted to do before I started recording. I wanted to update what we did – the Glitter sound, basically. I wanted to bring it right up to the twenty-first century. It’s not been played on radio stations for quite a long time and I kind of wanted to update it. Make the drums a bit more powerful and make one or two subtle changes. But the main ingredients of it, the original production – I wanted to keep some of that magic in it.
You must be very encouraged with the reviews so far?
Yes, I am. It’s like I’ve written them myself almost! It’s a surprise. The reviews everywhere – it’s been beyond my wildest dreams really.
Tell us about some of the people you collaborated with on the album.
I had a few people. Apart from my touring band – that was the basic bottom line – but I had different guests on different songs. For instance, Jon Robb from the Membranes, we got together. I wanted to take the Glitter thing to a bit of a dark side, an almost avant-garde thing. And I found that the most challenging thing, to update it in that way but keep the roots of it still there, you know. Also, I worked with Robert Lloyd from the Nightingales. I recorded three songs with him and also Mark Standby, who’s a long-time collaborator. He was in my band about twenty years ago. He lives in Berlin now. I got Bob Bradbury from Hello to write a song for me. I wanted him to do one where we produce a kind of tribal feel with the drums. And then I got Michael (Wikman) from Sweden who plays the drum track on that. Of course, not forgetting Alan Merrill from the Arrows who wrote ‘I Love Rock ‘n’ Roll’ who wrote a song for me (‘Equaliser’) not long before he passed away, a couple of months later.
That was written especially for you for this album, was it?
Yes. We knew each other quite well in the 70s, obviously. But you know, over the years you kind of lose touch, like you do. But in the last five years we reconnected and did about three short tours in the UK. And the magic – he was still the same guy. I really enjoyed the tours we did with him and it’s so sad he never got to hear the finished thing. He actually plays guitar and does backing vocals on there.
Some of the songs on the album are really personal to you, aren’t they, like ‘Blackpool Rocks’?
Well there’s quite a lot of songs about Blackpool that I learnt when I was growing up. Most of them by the great legend George Formby – ‘My Little Stick of Blackpool Rock’ and ‘Cleaning Windows’ and all that kind of thing. But I kind of wanted to do one that went over my childhood. I grew up in Blackpool. My dad was in quite a famous Blackpool band in the Empress Ballroom. He played there for twenty years and as a kid, aged about 10 or 11, I used to go down there about once a week. And I used to stand at the side of the stage. Of course, I liked swing bands when I was about 10, 11, 12. And because he worked at the Tower Company, Winter Gardens we used to get a lot of free tickets to the summer season shows. And the whole atmosphere of Blackpool in the 50s was amazing. And that’s what basically the song is about. My childhood, Blackpool in the summer and my dad, who was still my mentor, even after all these years. So that’s what that was about. I was quite happy when it was done although it was one of the hardest songs to write on the album, actually.
If we can now go back to the very early days of your career. You were leading the Boston Show Band in the late 60s and early 70s and they morphed into the Glitter Band. We tend to think of show bands as mainly an Irish thing, but you were an English band working in Germany, weren’t you?
My first professional job, earning a living, was in an Irish show band. And I lived in Ireland for a few years. And then I joined the Mike Leander Show Band, which was an eleven-piece band, back in 1965. We did an eleven-week tour, an old-fashioned kind of package tour with the Bachelors headlining and people like Susan Maughan. And then the band disbanded and I didn’t know what to do and I thought I’ll start my own band. And that’s what I did a few months after that. Got an act together, got some guys together and we went across to Germany in 1966 and we stayed there for about nearly six years. Of course, there were personnel changes, people leave, somebody wants to settle down and when they got home sick, they’d want to go back to the UK. But I enjoyed doing it. We worked together with Paul Raven (Gary Glitter) during that time. And we kind of split really beginning of 72. We were touring the UK quite heavily. And myself and Harvey Ellison, the other sax player in the band, we had laid some notes down on ‘Rock and Roll (Part 2)’ in December of 71 and we thought the record had fizzled out. Then I got a call from Mike Leander around about the beginning of June of 72. And he asked whether we’d like to re-acquaint ourselves and work with Paul Raven again with ‘Rock and Roll (Part 2)’. And I thought yeah, we’ll do that. We were doing quite well and had some records as the Boston Showband at that time and I did make it a condition – and I liked the idea of Mike Leander producing – I did make it a condition that we would get to do a record after a reasonable amount of time, which we did.
And how many albums did you do with the Glitter Band then?
I did two.
People wouldn’t necessarily think show band to glam rock as the obvious route. But there were parts of the show band sound that became an integral part of the Glitter Band sound weren’t there?
The main thing was that most bands and groups around, they were just guitars and drums and maybe keyboards. Not a lot of them had sax and brass so that was correct. And, of course, in my very early days as a teenager in Blackpool I was playing in brass bands. And ‘Angel Face’ that’s got a kind of brass band feel about it, with the drums and the way the brass section goes especially in the middle eight. Some of those ideas, of course are apparent on the new album. As I said, I only did two albums with the Glitter Band back in the 70s, but this album is kind of the album I missed out on – that I wanted to make. Because when I left, I felt I had unfinished business with the band. I wanted the band to do something in America. We’d done it in the UK and Europe but to me the job was only half done. And I left.
So, this album isn’t just a career renaissance for you it’s actually a career highlight in terms of albums then?
Yeah, it is. When I started making the album it never entered my head, I was going to make a 70s album or a glam album. It’s just me. I’m the guy who wrote those songs in the 70s. And I’m a lot older now and more mature obviously – I hope! And I write songs now. And it’s people who are listening who put you where they think you should be. And it wasn’t a nostalgic album either. I just wanted to make a brand new statement and update the Glitter sound and do some fun songs. And that’s what this is about – having fun really, nothing serious.
You left the Glitter Band in the mid-70s for a solo career. For those who are maybe not familiar with your career since then do you want to just briefly sum up what you did musically between the Glitter Band and now with this album?
Well I did a couple of singles which were quite decent, but I was quite unlucky actually. One was playlisted everywhere. A song called ‘It’s No Use You Telling Me No’ a song I did with Twentieth Century Fox. And lo and behold just as it was coming out, they decided to close their UK office down. And we tried to buy the master back to give it to another record company, but they wouldn’t let us have it. And I was quite disillusioned. Then I went to Sweden for quite a few years. I was relatively unknown there. I thought my music was done but after a couple of years it never really leaves you. And I got a band together – Swedish guys – with the idea of just playing a few gigs, getting together at the weekends just for a bit of fun. But then I started getting invitations to go to Germany playing festivals. Big festivals, a couple of trips to the UK and, of course, it like reawakens you – the hunger. So, we were touring, quite a bit and shows in the UK. Not with any original music just mainly the old hits. And about two years ago I thought it would be nice to go on tour, make a new album with some brand-new songs and that would give me something new and creative. Well, of course, I got the album bit done and I should be on tour really now but obviously I’m not.
Yes, that’s something that’s affected every musician.
That’s the luck again! It strikes!
So, what are your plans now this album is out and assuming at some point venues reopen and we can start seeing live gigs again?
Hopefully, we’ll still tour the album, albeit next March, April, May – whenever we’re allowed to and it’s safe to do so, of course. That’s my immediate plan. Of course, the album’s only been released a couple of weeks so it’s still early days for it. We’ll have to see how we go with the album, really, and then that will decide what I do. But if it remains the same as now, I’ll probably go out and promote the album and do some shows. I still enjoy playing live. It’s still a great feeling you know.
And still going out there playing music. You could be the Jerry Lee Lewis of glam rock. The last glam standing?
Yes well. If the cap fits, yes!
Anything else you want to say?
Well I just hope people give it a chance, give it a good listen to and go out and buy it obviously. And I hope I can perform it next year on some live shows. I know through social media that people really want me to tour the album and that’s what I’ll try to do. So, all I want to say is I hope everyone gets through this alright and we can carry on and life gets back to something a bit like more like normal for us all.
Thanks to Claire Moat and Anne Street for their assistance in arranging this interview.