There’s a lot more to Mod soul boy Steve Ellis than “Everlasting Love” you know! As his brand new solo album will testify.
Brighton-based (he’s a Mod, where else?), Steve speaks to editor Simon Redley about Love Affair and pop stardom, the new solo record, his pals Paul Weller, Roger Daltrey, the late Keith Moon – and how he missed out on a much better career – at the Co-op!
One of the best male singers the UK has produced in 50 years, Steve Ellis shot to fame with the band Love Affair and a string of hit singles in the late 1960s, including the timeless “Everlasting Love”.
But even when he was appearing on the front cover of pop magazines, newspapers and on the TV screens with shows like Top of the Pops. Topping the charts and girls flocking round him, his mother had other ideas for her son’s career choice.
“You could have been manager at the Co-op!”, she told him in all seriousness! Never forgetting that as a teenager he worked down the co-op on Fridays and Saturdays. Maybe the Co-op stocks Steve’s cracking new solo album, released on the 27th anniversary of Small Faces legend Steve Marriott’s death.
Steve’s hero since he was a kid, died at the age of just 44-years-old in a fire at his home, probably caused by a cigarette in his bed. The coroner recorded an accidental death verdict. The world lost a rock great voice that day.
Speaking to me from his Brighton home, Steve is well up for a good old natter and we cover a large array of topics, both on and off the record. He’s funny, interesting, very down to earth, doesn’t swerve any question at all, no ego, no bullshit, no showbiz nonsense, no churning out ‘PR’ fodder.
Above all, he is great company and made the 100 minutes feel like two old pals putting the world to rights, for me. A lot in common personally, to do with family backgrounds and some other stuff, coincidentally. So, the reason we are hooked up. The new record. I got advance promo copy # 32. Steve tells me his copy is # 100. Ohh, how important am I then?
On the new record he is joined by Paul Weller, who co-produced it with Steve and Charles Rees. Plus the band COW, Manfred Mann’s Mike D’Abo, Kev Wallbank (The Dream Foundry), Andy Crofts and Ben Gordelier (The Moons).
Just like his live repertoire, he dips in and out of a mixed bag of genres on the record, from Northern Soul, rock, rhythm & blues, reggae and pop.
It is not a retro fest. Not at all. This is modern-day stuff, which would be a glove-tight fit in any decade, but the strength of the material and the strength of Steve’s voice makes it a definite 2018 affair. Yes, a 2018 love affair (see what I did there?)
Aside from the crafted originals, he carefully selects some tasty morsels, such as “Forgot To Be Your Lover”, the William Bell classic, Gerry Marsden’s emotion soaked perfect ballad, “Don’t Let The Sun Catch You Crying”, which for me, is the surprise of the set. A snug fit for Steve’s voice and a curved ball perhaps.
“Cry Me A River” (again with Paul Weller) is a nitty gritty rhythm & blues stomper, Jimmy Cliff’s “Sitting In Limbo “gets the Steve Ellis makeover as does Tim Hardin’s “Black Sheep Boy”.
Bog standard question to kick things off. How would Steve describe it to someone who had not heard it? “A mixed bag, but kind of glued together in the feel of it. It interlinks alright”. The title. “Without getting all arty farty; while throwing ideas around and I said what about ‘Boom, Bang, Twang’? “They said, what’s that? I said, well it’s bass, drums and guitar innit. They couldn’t put boom, bang, twang – and keyboards”, he laughs.
Back on Sony after all these years. Well, he was actually on CBS, but Sony bought them. Steve says he always felt it was the best home for the album, as they own most of his back catalogue already. So, he recorded all the tracks, and pitched it. The label gave him a yes please after six months, and then another five months to deal with the legal stuff and contracts.
Next, I want to know what the record says about Steve Ellis, the artist. No pondering a high-brow answer with this geezer. “I do what I do. I make music”. How about what it says about you as a person then? Again, a cut-the-crap answer: “Read into it what you like”.
The most personal song? The last track, “Oh Death”. Steve wrote it as a poem. He was scribbling notes night after night while making the record, not sure if the words he had penned would make a song or not. “It’s about the passage of life. You are here and might as well give it your best shot, you know”. I do.
Steve’s last two solo albums “Best Of Days” & “Ten Commitments”, were more on the down lo, and less production perhaps. For “Best Of Days”, he popped just down the road to a mate’s garage. They couldn’t fit a drum kit in there, so the drummer used programming. His band learned the songs at soundchecks while on tour. The next one was knocked out in a studio in Leicester in five days.
The latest album was a “kind of accident waiting to happen”. Steve’s old mate Paul Weller had offered him his studio Black Barn over the years, but he’d not yet worked there or even been there. Steve got chatting to some strangers – a husband and wife – in a record shop in Brighton one day, who turned out to be in a band called COW. He offers to do a song with them and suggest they send him some songs.
Steve chooses two. He later gets a call to say a studio is booked for the session. Where? Black Barn. “I said, hey that’s Paul’s studio. He said yeah, I don’t like telling people, but he’s my cousin”. Steve laughs.
Paul turns up to contribute to the record and reminds Steve about making his own record there. “So I did”. He first met Mr Weller back in 1983 or 84, and they began sending each other tapes of their work. Paul citing Mr Ellis as one of his influences.
They have joined forces on various musical projects over the years, including the Steve Marriott memorial gig, and a single in aid of the NSPCC. So, what’s it like, recording with the bloke? “It’s great. Its fully loaded. Paul’s one of my best mates. He is totally into his music. Music is what he lives and breathes. Music, his family and clothes”.
The lead single “Lonely No More”, taken from Steve’s new album, was written with Paul. It has been compared to the Style Council. Steve slings in a shit hot vocal, his vocal prowess defying those 68 years he has clocked up on this planet. Lovely phrasing and lots of attitude. Nice hooky tune. Very commercial and radio-ready.
“Paul sent me a demo and said have a fiddle about with this. I sat down with it through headphones. Then I thought, what’s one of the best Northern Soul records there is, that we (Love Affair) played live anyway.
He answers his own question. “Do I Love You, Indeed I Do”, first recorded by Motown artist Frank Wilson in 1965. Steve used that superb track as the template for the Weller/Ellis co-write. Paul playing piano on the track. It certainly has the feel; an authentic slice of soul.
The recording sessions were done in four blocks of three days. Paul appears on seven tracks on guitar, piano and backing vocals. Steve recalls the day they cut “Lonely No More”, and how Paul got into the Northern Soul zone. “It is quite amusing. We stayed at the house and I came out and waked over to the studio at about 11 in the morning.
“I heard this Northern Soul track blasting out at about 500 Watts and thought where the bloody hell’s that coming from. I walked back across the garden and Paul is sitting on a bench on his own, with the windows open, looking up to the sky. Listening to this Northern Soul track full blast”.
Steve laughs at the mental picture in his head. “So, we went in and did ‘Lonely No More’. He was probably getting into the groove, kind of, if you know what I mean.” Indeed I do, Steve (see what I did there?).
2018 is a big year for Steve. In February, it was 50 years since the smash hit number one single “Everlasting Love” by Love Affair, was released in 1968. Their version of “Everlasting Love” reached number one in the UK, and Top 10 in seven other countries and has amassed over 10 million sales to date.
The only Love Affair member to appear on their biggest hit…
But the only member of Love Affair to appear on the actual record is Steve Ellis – session players drafted in to make the backing music. Two years before that, in 1966, not only did England lift the World Cup football trophy, but a certain 15-year-old Middlesex lad Stephen John Ellis, got his first professional gig singing in a group called the Soul Survivors.
After the band’s first release on Decca, they moved on to the CBS label and became one of the most successful British pop acts of the late 1960s, under their new name ‘Love Affair’. Scoring a string of chart busting singles in 1968 including “Everlasting Love”, “Rainbow Valley”, “Bringing On Back The Good Times”, “One Road” and “A Day Without Love”.
But in autumn 1969, Steve Ellis walked out of Love Affair to re-think his musical direction. CBS retained him as a solo artist. A slew of solo singles and a soundtrack album – the highly praised lounge funk album he made with Keith Mansfield as the soundtrack to the 1970 film “Loot” – failed to ignite.
Then came stints with two new bands – firstly under the name of Ellis – followed by one album with rock super group Widowmaker. Before another solo album was shelved due to contractual issues.
This was followed by tragedy when, having given up on the music industry to work as a Docker in order to get “match fit” and to re-think his next musical step, Steve suffered a most horrific accident – or as he calls it “an altercation with some two-tonne forklift blades.”
An incredibly brave fight to walk again led him back to music in the early 90s. For the best part of the next 10 years, he toured as Steve Ellis’ Love Affair and he has been part of various 60s package tours across the years.
Another big date in Steve’s calendar, was the recent Record Store Day and the release of a limited edition of a newly re-mastered “Everlasting Love” in gold vinyl with a double A-side of Steve’s solo single, “Lonely No More” .
Does he ever get fed up of singing “Everlasting Love” after five decades? “The thing about that track is this; I do it properly. Everything I do on stage, I don’t do jukebox. Like the package tours I do. I love ‘em. I get to work with a bunch of guys I have known since we were kids. We all get on, there are no egos, and you do what you are supposed to do.
“The audience are great. The place is jumping and you are having the time of your life. I do it properly. I don’t treat it like a lot of bands who just got through the motion. No. You gotta mean it and even if you are knackered, and been on the road for three months, you got to want it and pull it out of your boots and do it properly.
“It’s a great song. That’s what a record should be about; great songs. If you make a self-indulgent records, generally speaking they don’t hit the public.
I Refused To Sing Everlasting Love For Two Years
“It doesn’t mean you are gonna commercialise yourself. My take with the new album, every track’s got to be a good song. Every track on the other two albums you mentioned have got to be a good song, because you got to sing it live.
“So, for that track, I refused to do it for a couple of years. People got really irate, so I took the view that you know what; people are paying good money to come and see me play, so I should really be doing it, so I about faced on it.
“I stopped doing it because I was moving on. OK, I’ve done that, now I am gonna do this. So, I got a band together with Zoot Money and completely committed commercial suicide to do a fusion of sort of rock, soul pop, blues…a bit of everything all together. Roger Daltrey produced it. Everybody liked it, but it didn’t sell. Why I don’t know. Perhaps people wanted to hear more of the same, I don’t know mate.
“Got to keep moving and got to keep making new music. For making ‘The Ten Commitments’, I must have listened to 100 tracks and I cherry picked 10. There’s no spare tracks in my back catalogue sitting in a vault anywhere. Every track I have ever recorded has been on an album. But there is the album I shelved with Sony back in 71, ish. I did half of it with Keith Mansfield and half of it with Hookfoot.
“Caleb Quaye (of Hookfoot) was my mate, he grew up down the road from me, and I tried to get him in Love Affair. He is three years older than me and was in a band. Years later I said, let’s do an album, your band and me. We did six tracks, and shelved it all. Then I got a band together with Zoot, because I always felt I belonged in a band.
“45 years later, I thought, I have got to find them tracks, and I have been looking for those tracks for years. I got a call one day to say, we found them. The two inch masters”. Liam Watson at the famed London analogue studio Toerag, did a bit of cooking with the tapes, shoved them in an oven and baked them to stop them disintegrating.
The tracks were put out in a box set – Love Affair and solo stuff, licensed to a record label. Steve tells me he would like to get the collection released again, maybe in a year or so, and get it back on Sony, because they own the rights to the tracks anyway.
So, as Paul Weller cites Steve Ellis as an influence, who are Steve’s? “Well, when I was about 14, I used to watch Sunday night TV. I am that old, there were only two channels. Mum and Dad watched variety shows, a big thing on a Sunday night.
“I loved Ray Charles, absolutely taken with Ray Charles. My Mum used to buy me Ray Charles records when I was 14. I got a band together and I played the drums, you know, a school band.
“I’d go up my Nan’s and watch ‘The Six-Five Special’, and you’d see Billy Fury and all these black American R&B bands. Little Richard; what a voice, what a voice. People don’t really appreciate what a great voice he’s got. They can’t get beyond Tutti Frutti. Listen to his soul stuff…..
“I was in a gang. Bunch of kids, from age of five and six, right through my teenage years. We morphed into Mods. We’d go round each other’s house; and ask, what you bought? Oh, The Temptations. What you got? Brian Carroll an expert now in mastering, is the same age as my eldest sister, and four years older than me. An original Mod. Brian would say, ‘ere Steve, I’ve got some tunes for you’. Sue Records and what have you. That sparked me up into the kind of stuff I liked.
“I played drums in this band. I started out on biscuit tins because me Dad would not buy me a drum kit”. Steve chuckles. “That is absolutely right. I thought, there’s no conjuring this; I’m not gonna get a drum kit out of the old man.
“We are all listening to the Motown and everything else, and Brian’s stuff and what have you. I saw the Small Faces on TV and I was 15, and I just went, ‘Fuck. I could do that’. We saw the Small Faces and we thought, they’re like us. That was it.
“What happened was, and this is the absolute, hands-on, God’s truth; I got railroaded by my mate Nigel to go for this audition for this band, from a Melody Maker advert. I go along and my mate who lived down the road from me, was on Hammond, which I couldn’t believe. ‘Steve what you doing here? Same as you mate’.
“We end up playing in the pubs and clubs, anything; the opening of a letter. I saw Marriott and The Small Faces and thought, I can do that. Because it fuckin’ beats the shit out of working in a factory.
When are you gonna get a proper job?”
“My Dad said to me; what are you going to do when you leave school? I said, well I saw the career’s officer, and he said what do you want to be, and I said, well I’m in a band. This career’s guy said, that’s what you should do, you should do that”. Steve’s Dad was ex-RAF ground crew. Steve’s Grandfather lived with them. He was on the Somme in the horse artillery. Both men were an influence on Steve and his outlook on life.
Even when Steve was doing well with his music career, his beloved old Dad would ask him: “When are you gonna get a proper job?”. His Mum didn’t let him off the hook either.
“As a kid, I did a paper round in the morning and worked at the Co-op on Friday and Saturday, on the old baker’s bike and all that. I used to work in the butcher’s, greengrocer’s, the whole shebang.
“The manager said, when you leave school you can come here and be assistant manager, right. Of course, my Mum used to go to the Co-op all the time. Telling them all the time, ‘Ohh, my boy’s gonna be assistant manager when…’
“Do you know what, until she died, my Mum bless her; she still used to say to me; you could have been manager at the Co-op”. Steve and I both laugh loudly at that thought. “I’d go, Mum for God’s sake, that was 50 years ago. She was funny, my Mum…..”.
Steve calls it his “debt of honour” to the late Steve Marriott, when he answered the call from his pal and boxing promoter Dean, to perform on the bill of a tribute concert in memory of the Small Faces star, to give him a “proper send off”.
Steve helped organise it, as well as performing. It turned into a once a year thing, which then became an annual Small Faces convention. Steve became close friends with Steve Marriott’s Mother.
In 2000, Steve was part of the biggest Marriott tribute gig yet, at the Astoria in London, with a star-studded lineup, including Humble Pie’s Jerry Shirley and Peter Frampton, Noel Gallagher and Gem from Oasis, Paul Weller, Ian “Mac” McLagan and Kenney Jones from the Small Faces, and many more. Steve feels he has done his bit now to tip his hat to his late hero, and will not take part in any more tribute concerts.
Heading towards his 70th birthday in two year’s time; he is serious about looking after his voice with a strict regime, so after any gig he gives the after-show stuff a wide swerve. His priority is to get to his hotel room and to bed, as fast as he can and get some kip, to avoid his voice suffering the next day. He doesn’t drink alcohol at all.
Cruel twist of fate…
In 1981 Steve had a major life-changing accident on the docks at Shoreham, after quitting the music business. But in a cruel twist of fate, he had given his notice in a few days before, to go back out on the road doing gigs.
Both his feet were crushed and he spent eight years learning to walk again, many painful operations, lots of rehabilitation and therapy, unable to get back on stage and on the road. As he slowly recovered, eventually he took up karate for 10 years and became a proficient exponent.
But as a result, both his knees need replacing. He had six operations on one, is in constant pain and will have that replaced after the three month tour he embarks on at the end of this year.
What advice would 68-year-old Steve give to young Steve back in the day? “Behave yourself. Oh, and listen to good advice from people. Ronnie Lane once said to me, ‘never trust your accountant’. Top bloke he was….”
“I have had an amazing fucking innings, so far. Weller said to me the other week, he went to a book launch or film premiere, somewhere in London, and two people who shall remain nameless, global superstars who Paul knows, are there.
“They are both talking about all their ailments, and one is talking about prostate cancer and the other about going deaf, and everything else. Weller says to them;, this is what happens when you keep going until you fall of your perch. I pissed myself.
“Music, music, music until you fall off your perch? No, there’s more to life. That’s good advice – get yourself a hobby. If you are in the music business, get a hobby. In fact, get two”. Steve’s hobbies? 1. Restoring Japanese swords. 2. Collecting records.
“I got into restoring swords, and kept a few back. They are real ones; Samurai swords. I have a whole library on the history of it. 500 years old, a work of art. It’s a killing machine, but also a thing of beauty. I’ve cut myself to pieces sometimes on the blades. I love it. I love it. It takes my mind off of everything else, and it is putting something back into how it was.
“I think I got that off my Dad. He was terrible. He’d be walking along with the dog and he’d pick up a screw, and I’d say, what you doing that for Dad and he’d say, you never know when it’s going to come in handy. He sat and watched me for about fours hours once, and he was fascinated and said that is amazing what you are doing”.
Steve is not a party animal and unlike many of his fellow musicians and music stars, he doesn’t imbibe. He has not touched a drop of booze since 1979. He quit the drink when he found out his good mate Keith Moon had died after a life of excess all areas. He has not had a drink in 39 years, and says he never thinks about it.
“He was my mate. I cried my fucking eyes out when he died. You got to understand, it really messed my mind up when he died. That was the saddest thing. I walked into the record company – I was on Ariola at the time – I was really happy, and I saw a kid who used to work there, who I got matey with.
“I said hiya mate, are you alright. He said, have you heard the news? What? He said Keith Moon’s dead. I promise you, honestly it was like someone just punched me in the face. I said no, no, no. He said, yeah, he is dead.
“The stupid things he used to do; he had nine lives and you never ever thought that anything would ever happen. I lived next door to Roger Daltrey for two years and used to go to his gigs with him. Roger used to tell me, on Keith’s 21st birthday, he fell out of a second floor window at a hotel in America, bounced, and knocked all his teeth out.
Keith Moon’s death was a real heartbreaker for me…
“His death. That was a real heartbreaker. Moon is a very long time ago now, but he was an absolutely lovely, lovely bloke and he was probably bi-polar, but they didn’t know what it was then.
“He would be the clown if he was goaded on, but in his quieter moments he was a lovely, lovely fella”. Steve tells a funny story about staying at Keith’s place and waiting for him to get ready so they could go down the local village pub. The look of surprise on Steve’s face when Keith opens his bedroom door and is stood there dressed in women’s clothes and makeup.
No way. You cannot go out like that mate. ‘Moon The Loon’ thinks otherwise. He was DJ’ing for the Beach Boys the next day and had decided to do that little job dressed like this, so this was a dress rehearsal in his mind.
They get to the pub, and the old guys sat there look up, do not bat an eye lid and say, “It’s only Keith”, and carry on their night! In those days, Steve would drink almost as much booze as his mate Keith Moon when he was with him, but was always conscious of the damage it could do to his body too.
Steve has strong views on today’s pop music scene and current music trends. I love this quote: “The charts today are some 16-year-old kid singing a nursery rhyme in their underwear…”
He goes on to tell me about a recent incident where he got wound up about what he heard and saw on the TV, while tuning in to see the chart show, to check who was doing what, ahead of the release of his new album. He was not impressed.
“Kuala Lumpur – on the chart show….what in God’s name is this? Kuala Lumpur or something is what she was called”. Er, I think you mean British pop queen Dua Lipa! “I was like, can’t be having this any more and flicked to the next channel, and Kuala Lumpur pops up again. Another nursery rhyme, but a different set of clothes. I’d got an attack of the Kuala Lumpurs”. That did it, we both crack up laughing.
“The trouble is with music, it is getting melted down and melted down to nursery rhymes, and kids buy it and kids don’t understand. They think music is all free. It’s not their fault, it is how they have grown up”. His mind turns back to his own record. “I don’t know what’s going to happen with this album. It might sell three copies, who knows? I haven’t the faintest idea”.
He has lived in Brighton for 35 years or more, has been married for 45 years, has three kids and no grandkids, as yet…
You nearly dropped me right in the sh…..
He makes a confession just over an hour into our chat. “You know, I had to shut up when you asked me what my other hobby is, because my missus was standing behind me and I’ve got an ongoing war about vinyl in the front room!
“You nearly dropped me right in the shitter. That’s why I went all weird; she’s gone out now. When we go on tour, three months; me and my mate Big Kev, we soundcheck and then we go for walkabout. Go to record shops, charity shops. Come back with a bag, three or four things in, chuck ‘em behind a chair in the front room.
“The chair keeps moving forever forward. Now you can’t open the door all the way. She said, if you don’t get rid of them records, I am gonna throw them away when you are away on tour. I bought a record cabinet, given I have got a room full of them upstairs. I started undoing all these bags. About 21 bags full….”
On June 9th, Steve is backed by the Norman Beaker Band for a solo concert at Darwen Library Theatre in Lancashire. Then he is back on the road for three months from October this year, on the last Sixties Gold tour with The Searchers, The Merseybeats, The Fortunes, P.J. Proby (his final tour too) and Vanity Fare, 28 dates across the UK. He digs those package tours, and gets the right hump if anyone disses them.
“I cannot stand this inverted snobbery the press has about 60s package tours”.
He’s also got a bee in his bonnet about bands going out to do shows billed as some big name of yesteryear, with no original members in the lineup. “I know a lot of the bands that do it, and I feel very strongly and am very vocal about it. If there is a band and they are claiming to be so and so, and there is no original member, I won’t have it. I’m quite vocal about it.
“If there’s one member happens to be the surviving member, because the others have ceased to be or packed it in, that’s fair enough. If it’s the singer. But I’m fortunate the tours I do, they are all originals. Last year was Gerry Marsden, The Tremeloes, my old mates from the early 60s…
“As long as you do it right and you do it properly, it’s a total bonus, everyone comes to have a good time. Only downside, it’s fucking hard work, travelling around on the spin for three months”.
His life mission statement’s motto is “march or die” and Steve has that message tattooed on his left arm. But his ever present sense of humour makes sure the chat doesn’t get too sombre or serious though, and is best reflected in his answer to my final question, of what is the best thing about being Steve Ellis.
“Getting up in the morning and looking in the mirror, and thanking God someone’s looking back at me”. Long may that continue…
- Steve Ellis: “Boom! Bang! Twang!” (Sony) is out now in all formats.
By Simon Redley