SPECIAL FEATURE – AUSMUSIC ROGUES GALLERY

 

 

 

Try to Remember (Schmidt/Jones) 1969 and Tom-Tom Turnaround (N Chinn/M Chapman) – New World 1971

John “Fuzzy” Lee (guitar, baritone vocals), ex-carpenter, and Mel Noonan, ex-TV technician, (guitar, bass vocals) had originally performed as The Folksingers around Brisbane clubs, and in 1965 they added Robert Elford (guitar, tenor vocals) to become the MOR trio New World. They developed a profile locally by finishing in the finals of The Holden Showcase, a national TV talent quest show, for three consecutive years, John Kane replaced Elford as the tenor voice, and the band signed with EMI and headed into the Albert Music studios in Sydney to record their debut single Try to Remember.

Try to Remember was a song from the off-Broadway musical The Fantasticks and had been recorded by many artists including the Sandpipers, Julie Andrews, Harry Belafonte, Roger Whittaker, and Nana Mouskouri, it had a wistful, dreamy, lullaby feel to it, and was perfect for the group.

New World traded in soft acoustic guitar sounds and narrative lyricism that suited their subtle vocal counter-harmonies often with spoken word inserts to heighten dramatic effect, they were compared to the Seekers and the Irish trio The Bachelors, their debut record climbed to #12 nationally and in 1970 they played way to London as the resident act on a P&O liner.

After relocating to the UK, they struggled to make an impact in a market more fixated on hard rock and glitter rock than folksy acoustic ditties, they busked in Piccadilly to survive, and lived in a dingy flat in Kilburn, until they were invited to appear on the most prestigious TV talent show in the UK, Opportunity Knocks, compered by the venerable Hughie Green.

The group were a sensation on the show, knocking off Johnny Neal and the Starliners who had triumphed in the previous three weeks, and they went onto win for ten consecutive weeks from October to early December 1970, eclipsing the eight-week winning streak previously set by Mary Hopkins. The New World template for success was founded on the group’s three -part vocal harmonies, the tenor voice of John Kane, the bass of Mel Noonan and the baritone of John Lee, and the intimacy of their vocal delivery and lyrical styling.

New World’s success on Opportunity Knocks was paralleled by the rise of two emerging songwriters and producers in former Brisbane boy Mike Chapman and Londoner Nick Chinn who had thrown in their performing jobs and set about creating what would become one of the most successful partnerships in the UK music industry, as the “ChinniChap” hit factory stormed the charts throughout the 1970’s and was directly responsible for the sale of over 200 million singles and albums.

 

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New World became very hot, very quickly when Chinn and Chapman started to write songs for them, producer Mickie Most (the Animals, Herman’s Hermits, Donovan, Lulu, Suzie Quatro) signed them to his RAK imprint label. Their first release for him was a cover of Joe South’s Rose Garden, which had been a hit for Lynne Anderson, the New World version charted at #15 in the UK but failed to impress in Australia.

Regular appearances on UK TV in The Two Ronnies and the Morecombe and Wise Show substantially boosted their image in the UK, they were touring the clubs non-stop, appearing in pantomimes, teen magazines and formed their own fan club.

When Chinn and Chapman took demos of their songs to Mickie Most to persuade him to record their music, he was unimpressed until he heard Tom Tom Turnaround, so it was this song that put the seal on the Chinni/Chap/RAK partnership that would dominate the UK charts for a decade, and New World were their first chart success.

It is a simple, bittersweet, folksy campfire ballad about love, life, the decisions we make, and the chance for ultimate redemption, the layered harmonies of John “Fuzzy” Lee, Mel Noonan and John Kane and the familiar acoustic guitar riffs that exemplified each New World recording, were beautifully augmented by orchestration and a subtle string arrangement.

 

After the band landed regular guest spots on UK TV the sales of Tom-Tom Turnaround soared from 8,000 copies a day to 20,000 copies a day. They quickly followed up with Kara Kara, another Chinn/Chapman song produced by Mickie Most, recorded at Abbey Road studios and featured Suzie Quatro on bass guitar, it was a formulaic “ChinniChap” song but again well-executed by the boys and it took them back into the UK top ten at #9, but disappointingly did not climb beyond #53 in Australia.

Mike Chapman, the co-composer and producer of the song was originally from Brisbane and became a seminal force in popular music throughout the 70’s as a producer of numerous hits under the “ChinniChap” RAK label, Englishman Nick Chinn was the other half of the partnership.

Chinn and Chapman were prolific composers, their many hits included – Mickey (Toni Basil), Can the Can, 48 Crash, Devil Gate Drive (Susie Quatro), Ballroom Blitz, Blockbuster (Sweet), Living Next Door to Alice, Lay Back in the Arms of Someone, Oh Carol (Smokie), Lay Your Love on Me, Some Girls (Racey) Kiss You All Over (Exile) and Dynamite, Tiger Feet (Mud).

New World followed up with two more Chinn/Chapman top twenty hits locally with Sister Jane (#19 in”72) and the pre-Smokie version of Living Next Door to Alice (#20 in ’73) inspired by Dr. Hook’s song Sylvia’s Mother, which was a much bigger hit for Smokie who took it to #1 in Australia and six other countries, #5 in the UK and #25 in the USA, in 1977.

The band was dealt a bitter blow in May 1972 when the former president of their fan club, Wendy Sandiford, seriously smitten with John Lee, who had spurned her, wrote a letter to Scotland Yard claiming that Lee was guilty of having carnal knowledge of minors, impregnating a thirteen- year-old girl, lying to fans about the age and marital status of group members, and forging postal votes during the Opportunity Knocks campaign back in 1970 to ensure victory.

It was the last claim about “uttering a forged postcard” that gathered momentum, fan club members including Sandiford and her close friend Maxine Stein, as well as girls at the Coloma College for Girls at West Wickham which the group had visited, and a well-known London prostitute Janie Jones and her “working girls” were all enthusiastically completing postcard vote forms under pseudonyms and with bogus addresses. A prostitute from Jones group was alleged to have provided sex to an ITV employee to encourage preferred treatment of the group, and to ensure that the weekly clapometer, which recorded, rather dubiously, the popularity of each act in the TV studio, was well-oiled and fully-functioning when New World performed.

 

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The group were summonsed to appear at the Old Bailey to answer charges of fraud and conspiracy, and all this was taking place only a short time after the OZ magazine editors- Australians Richard Neville, Jim Anderson, and Felix Dennis, had been charged by the UK’s Obscene Publications Squad for debauching and corrupting the morals of young children with their “Schoolkids Issue” of the magazine which featured the views of 20 schoolchildren on such matters as sex, drugs and education.

The OZ defendants were subjected to a 28- day trial, also at the Old Bailey and found guilty as charged, only to have all the charges subsequently dismissed on appeal in what was and remains the longest obscenity trial in British history.

The powers-that-be however seemed to be intent on teaching miscreant Australians a lesson, and the members of New World were subjected to a trial that dragged on for eight days, it was a tabloid frenzy, the newspapers were intent on demonizing the accused Antipodeans, the case had everything – pop stars, payola, prostitutes, phony postcard polls, and perplexed pre-pubescent female fans  – after pleading guilty to the minor charge of “uttering a forged postcard”, the case wound up, but the band’s reputation was permanently besmirched and they did not chart again after 1973 when Rooftop Singing struggled to #51 locally and disappeared after only eight weeks.     

Nick Chinn had the final word on New World as noted in Sean Egan’s “The Guys Who Wrote ‘Em” “I think people forget about them because they were a very soft act…As personalities, they made no impact, and I think because of that everyone forgets about them and the hits don’t really live on. We were very delighted to have the hits at the time but they’re not an act I talk about very much… nice guys and everything, but maybe too nice.”

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