Rainbow Ffolly interview with Roger Newell
1. Thank you for taking your time to do this interview about your band. Firstly I would like to ask you where did you grow up and what are some of your influences from back then?
I was born and grew up in High Wycombe in Buckinghamshire. I first got into music in about 1957 and enjoyed listening to the Everly Brothers, Danny And The Juniors and a bit of Presley. It wasn’t until I heard Apache by the Shadows in 1960 that I felt I’d like to play music and so then I started to save money in order to buy a guitar.
2. Were you or others in any bands before forming Rainbow Ffolly? Any releases perhaps? Why the name Rainbow Ffolly?
Different local bands only on a semi-pro basis for all of us with the odd demos but no formal releases. I started in The Technics which later became The Switch before joining up with Jon, Richard and Stewart.
Jon (Dunsterville) came up with the name. He’d been reading an article on names with impact that suggested using colours and miss-spelling. Rainbow was effectively all the colours and folly meant fun. Miss spelling that with a double F and there you have it. We all liked it too so that’s what we became.
3. Tell me about the start of Rainbow Ffolly…how did you come together?
Stewart Osborn and I lived in the same road and grew up together. We both took a keen interest in music and both bought guitars and started playing in 1961. Stewart soon switched to drums and quickly landed a job playing with Force Four with Jon and Richard Dunsterville and a bass player called Alan Thomas. I was a big fan of Jet Harris (bass player with The Shadows) and really liked playing bass and a shortage of players in High Wycombe who actually owned a bass guitar meant I got a lot of gigs very quickly and ended up in a couple of hard working semi pro bands. At a point where Force Four were about to turn professional they needed another bass player and Stewart suggested me. We had a rehearsal together and got on so well musically and socially that I joined immediately. We changed the name to Rainbow Ffolly a few months down the line as part of that professional move.
4. In 1968 you released a single on Parlophone records called Drive My Car / Go Girl. Would you like to tell me how did you get signed up?
Well actually we recorded and released the album first. In fact we were the first band in Britain (and maybe the World) who released an album before a single! Parlophone took Drive My Car from the album but Go Girl was a new track recorded much later.
It all started when we went to the Jackson Studios in Rickmansworth (close to High Wycombe) to record a demo record of two or three tracks. They liked how we sounded and asked if we had more original material? We had a couple more songs in the can so they said come back next week with a dozen and we’ll record an album with you and see if we can get a deal. It’ll cost you nothing. How could we refuse? So we went home and wrote. Jon proved a prolific writer and a dozen songs in a week was well within his capacity back then and he built on some of our stuff too. The Jackson’s were ecstatic with what we’d produced so we made what we thought were a batch of demos. When we’d put it all down, jingles and all, John and Malcolm took the tapes to major companies in London. They went to EMI first and they really wanted the album, but just as it was, no re-recording. We were utterly amazed.
Me, Jon, Stewart, Richard.
5. Sallies Fforth is your legendary album from 1968. I would like if you could tell me some of the strongest memories from producing and recording this LP?
Mostly it was really good fun. We had no time or cost constraints so had pretty much a free run of things. Malcolm and John Jackson (sons of the late DJ Jack Jackson) produced and engineered the whole thing and were tremendously helpful in keeping things on track and offering suggestions. They also provided biscuits, cake and gallons of tea so we felt very much at home there. We were still gigging all the way through the process. We never seemed to drop below twenty gigs a month no matter what else we were up to.
What gear did you use?
Personally, my Fender Precision bass (which I still have and still use to record with) and a Burns Shadows Bass, straight into the desk. I had a variety of bass amps during that time as I had a habit of wearing them out. These included a Vox T60 Head and Cab, Vox 100watt Bass Head and a Burns Double B rig. Jon had a Gretsch White Falcon and a Strat, Richard a Gibson acoustic and a twelve string and Stewart had a Ludwig kit as far as I remember.
How many copies were made?
No idea but obviously not enough! They cost a fortune these days if you can find one!
The cover artwork is mind blowing. Please tell us more about it!
This is Jon again! Great artist and this is essentially a collage of things that were part of our collective lives at the time. Things we wore, things we did, things we said, a lot of ‘in’ jokes there. Like the codes on the names on the back cover that denotes birthday (without year) hair and eye colour and instrument. The cuddly elephant (Gruddley Pod), the jigsaw giraffe, the scantily clad girls all had a meaning to us that is totally lost on the rest of the world and that’s probably just as well.
6. I will write down all the songs from the album and I would really appreciate it if you could comment each song a bit.
A1 She’s Alright
Just a straight forward pop song, good to play on stage.
A2 I’m So Happy
This is a jaunty little piece that kind of summed up haow were were feeling at the time.
The real title is Montgolfier ’67 and in 1968 it denoted the 185th Anniversary of the first public demonstration of the Montgolfier Brothers hot air balloon. Everyone forgets to put the year after this for some reason. We liked kiting and balloons so this seemed a good subject to write a song about.
A4 Drive My Car
This started out as a hastily put together track that turned out to be a winner like sometimes happens. It’s a strong song and it’s no wonder it was picked out as the single.
Sweet sad song this, and something that Jon could just rattle off when he was in the right frame of mind. He was an amazingly talented guy and very inspirational.
A6 Hey You
Strange musical harmonies on this and a weird experimental mix from the Jacksons make this a curious song that was always fun to play. It was much heavier on stage, bordering on heavy metal although that hadn’t happened at that time!
A7 Sun Sing
This was one of the first songs we demoed and caught the Jackson’s interest. Used to play this on stage a lot and it’s still one of our favourites.
B1 Sun and Sand
Summertime song that evolved as we played hence written by all. No heavy words or meaning, just lets go down to the beach and have some fun.
B2 Labour Exchange
As a musician there were odd times that we all had to visit this place. We hated it and making fun out of it in a song helped to make it less fearsome.
This is just totally bonkers! Great fun to record and using an old out of tune piano that happened to be there. It was so bad it was funny to hear so it was ideal for the track.
This came from me and Jon experimenting with chromatic runs. We often used to play bass and guitar riffs together to see what we could do. This got a bit out of hand and we said, can we make a song out of this? No! But we did and the title remained.
B5 Sighing Game
This evolved from a little tune I’d been playing around with that Jon liked and then turned into a song. You just had to give him something and he would take it as inspiration and out would come another tune. Sad little song this although I don’t remember feeling sad at the time.
B6 Come on Go
This started from a guitar phrase from Jon. Bit of Chet Atkins with a rock-a-billy feel in a way. Like most of the stuff we did, it was easy on the ear and fun to play and listen to.
7. Did you ever tour? If so please tell where and with who?
Like I said earlier Ffolly was constantly on the road with a diary that had over twenty gigs a month and that went on for three or four years. Most nights we played at least two hours but often we would do more. Bloody hard work but we loved it. It took its toll though and that along with the failure to ‘make it big’ with the album that constant work ethic played a part in the demise of the band. My touring days are not over as you will see below.
8. I bet you have some interesting stories to share about playing together etc.
Jon dunsterville, Richard Dunsterville, Stewart Osborn, Roger Newell and the guy to the far right is our manager John Sparrowhawk.
Well we certainly enjoyed our two week residency at the Playboy Club in Park Lane in London for a start! That was our first fully professional engagement. We did a week in the Star Club in Hamburg. That was four 45 minutes sets a night and we used to get back to where we stayed about 3.30am. Tough gig that. We travelled everywhere in an old ambulance that we put a huge key on the top as if it was clockwork. It certainly drew attention.
We played a club one night that was insistent on harmony bands that had a minimum of four members. It was a prestigious gig and we were keen to do it. However the morning of the gig Richard was taken ill with food poisoning and was far too ill to play. So we got a sheet of cardboard and made a life sized cut out of him than set off to the gig. We played as a trio with the cardboard Richard and when the club owner popped it during the evening to see that everything was ok he glanced at us, saw four on stage and heard the three part harmonies and all was well. He was happy and we got paid. We played there a few times after that but as a genuine four piece. We told Richard the first one was the best gig we’d done! Essentially we virtually lived in the ambulance. Often slept in it when we were miles from anywhere too. Amazing how comfortable a 4×12 cabinet is when you’ve just played for three hours, packed up the van then travelled 200 miles until too exhausted to go further.
9. What happened next for you?
When Ffolly folded Stewart and I formed a heavy rock band with a couple of friends which was called Bad Wax. It was short lived but great fun. After that I floated about a bit musically then met up with Rick Wakeman when I was playing in my local pub. He got up and joined in and a few weeks later we did Journey To The Centre Of The Earth with him. When that album topped the charts he quit Yes and I became a founder member of the English Rock Ensemble and toured the World with him as well as make a few more albums.
10. Guerssen Records did an amazing job reissuing your album. Are you happy with it?
Very happy indeed! They’ve done an incredibly accurate job of recreating the original vinyl album and you get Go Girl as an added bonus. The artwork looks brilliant still and the overall quality is excellent. The info sheet inside, written by Brian Hogg is a nice surprise and another great addition. I also have the See For Miles and the Rev-Ola Cds and both are fine. The Rev-Ola is good because you get the Drive My Car mono single mix as well the flip, Go Girl which is available on both. It’s all that was ever released sadly. Unfortunately none of us get any royalties for what we did but we’re pleased that our music is still out there.
11. What are you doing these days?
After Rick I worked and wrote with a girl called Su Lyn in Cambridge and we produced some pretty good stuff of which I’m very proud but nothing was properly released sadly. From that I joined a heavy rock band called Trux. Again great fun but nothing released that I was on. For the last twenty odd years I’ve been playing for original British rock n roller, Marty Wilde as a member of the Wildcats. Great band and a great bunch of blokes so who could ask for more. We work as much as possible and do a full blown tour every two or three years. I’m also a music journalist writing about bass and reviewing the latest CDs and DVDs so still very much involved with music I’m glad to say.
Interview made by Klemen Breznikar / 2011
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