The Quietus - A new rock music and pop culture website

A Quietus Interview

Rock & Roll Part 3: Stepping Out Of Gary Glitter's Shadow
John Robb , November 14th, 2008 12:12

The Glitter Band have had enough of being tarred with the same brush as their former 'Leader' and are recording a new album. John Robb investigates.

"For me the Glitter band were more influential than the Beatles," explained The Fall's Mark Smith recently.

Sometimes Smith hits the nail on the head, and even if he is exaggerating to make a point, The Glitter Band had an amazingly unique sound, a sound that has gone on to inspire an unlikely cross section of musicians. They are an influence on anyone who fancies a bit of the two drummer tribal stomp on their sound.

The Glitter band, though, are trapped by history.

They may have played on some of pop’s great records and had a whole career of their own, but now they have to spend every day fending off tabloids and defining themselves against the actions of their former front man.

The Glitter Band's unique sound is well appreciated by the cognoscenti of alternative music makers. They are the last living link to the brilliant producer Mike Leander, who created the Glitter Band sound which has influenced so many people in pop from The Fall to The Smiths to Marilyn Manson, Adam And The Ants, Bow Wow Wow and Killing Joke and anyone else who cops that droning guitar over a tribal beat. It's a sound that is so distinctive that it causes the Pavlovian exhortation: "Ah! The Glitter beat!"

(Even the Cologne techno scene of the early 00s which featured the so-called 'schaffel' rhythm in triplet eights was in thrall to the Glitter beat. They were also a massive influence on The KLF/Timelords who collaborated with GG, Ed.)

It's a sound that is part of the fabric of British pop culture. A fabric that has been torn by Paul Gadd's fall from grace.

The band have become entangled in Gary Glitter’s new world and they feel unfairly tarred with the same brush as their former singer, as John Rossal their new leader wearily explains.

"I've not even spoken to Gary for 30 years and every day I have to speak about him. The tabloids ring all the time looking for stories but I have nothing to tell. We were not even that close when we were working with him. Glitter was difficult to work with even when we first met him in 1964/65 when we were his backing band in the Starr Club in Germany. Even then he insisted on staying in a hotel whilst we had to share digs in bunk beds behind the stage. He was always a prima dona really."

The Glitter Band’s own career has been stymied by the situation.

"It seems like every time we get a series of gigs together and some sort of comeback is on the cards, he will get arrested and we lose a lot of shows. But when we do play people really appreciate what we are doing. People come to the gigs and they understand that the band and the songs are quite separate from the whole situation."

Musically the story had become about Gary Glitter but in reality it should be about the band's producer Mike Leander.

In short, he was a pop genius and should be lauded in the way that Joe Meek is. His imagination and sheer musical brilliance was key in the 60s colouring in records with amazing and imaginative use of strings, working with The Beatles, Marianne Faithful, Billy Fury and a whole host of other key players. Leander died ten years ago at the age of 55 and is now mainly forgotten or his legacy forever tainted by his association with Glitter. This is unfortunate to say the least as Leander himself had a brilliantly original musical mind and, unlike the equally genius Meek, never murdered anyone.

In the 70s Leander created the Glitter Band and one of the decade’s biggest pop stars Gary Glitter. Yeah that’s right the sick dog of pop Gary Glitter, the fallen star, the convicted paedophile whose every movement is the concern of the tabloids.

We are certainly not making any case for Gary Glitter here, he merely grunted along on these records - his creative input was zero.

This does not detract, though, from Mike Leander who created these deceptively simple records, slowing down Burundi drums played in shuffling three fours and copying their tribal power with two drum kits and adding massive drones from the guitar bass and a brass section. He played all the instruments himself till he came up with the dark and strange rock & roll of 'Rock n roll part 1 and 2'.

Glitter Band bass player John Rossall co-wrote some of the songs and continues the band to this day, but he knows his place in the scheme of things.

"For me when we play we are carrying on the work and legacy of Mike Leander. A lot of people who criticise us for playing these songs don’t really know the whole depth of the story. We're the musicians that played on parts of the records. What people miss out on is the fact the whole Glitter thing comes from Mike Leander. Not only were all the Glitter records his creations and his productions he also produced The Herd, Billy Fury, Cliff Richard and countless other people; he also did all the strings for Marianne Faithful and for the Beatles' 'She's Leaving Home' which was the only time George Martin didn’t do them. He also arranged the strings for The Drifters' 'Under The Boardwalk'. He did lots of different kinds of things."

Experimenting in the studio one night Leander did one of those rare things: he synthesised a whole new pop sound from some unlikely sources. Every day he would be in the studio producing session after session. On this particular evening one of his charges David Essex, who he was producing at the time, phoned in sick and in the downtime Leander invented the Glitter band sound.

Rossall adds: "The whole Glitter sound started on a Mike Leander instrumental. He was working on a David Essex session and when David had rung in sick with a cold Mike started work on this instrumental. He was trying to do a Johnny Congas type of thing and it developed from there. He was also influenced by Osibisa’s rhythms. He then put this amazing droning guitar sound on it. He found an old guitar with a really bad action on it and put it through some really heavy fender tube amps till it was jumping off the floor and that was how that sound came about."

Rossall shakes his head with sadness at the way Leander has nearly been forgotten.

"Mike played all instruments apart from the brass which me and Gerry did. Mike used to get in the studio on his own with the engineer and play the drums for 20 minutes trying out different drum things and then say: 'Right, roll the tape.’ to the engineer and then record a section that he would then he would make a loop out of and copy it onto the 24 track. He would then go and overdub the bass, floor and small toms on one track; then the bass and the guitar. If he could have played brass then he would have done that as well."

Not content with applying looped rhythm tracks to teenage dance music (something you are more likely to associate with house music some twenty years later) Leander wrote these yob anthems and played all the instruments himself; quite some feat.

"Mike was brilliant, he played on every track - we just came in and did the brass parts. When he needed a vocalist he got Gary Glitter because he was around at the time making lots of different records under different names that were all flops. It was because he was easily available. There were other choices but Gary was hungry to have a hit. He had been around for ten years by that time and done loads of records and he was very keen to take the chance."

Rossall himself had known Leander since the 60s and was asked by the producer to put the Glitter Band together to back up the vocalist when the hits started pouring out and there were tours and Top Of The Pops to be done.

The Glitter Band spent five years backing up the singer until they split away under Leander’s steady tutelage to have their own hits which of course meant that they fell out with the leader of the gang in 1977 and have never spoken to him since then but his ghost is ever present. John Rossall looks worn out at the very mention of the disgraced singer.

Nowadays they have become music pariahs as the tabloids froth themselves into indignation over the sad and disturbing sexual tastes of their convicted paedophile former front man Gary Glitter.

They recently played the punk festival in Blackpool, which could have been a really difficult gig.

"It was nerve wracking. We didn’t know how people were going to react. Before we went on the room was empty but suddenly it filled up and people were going crazy. It was a real relief."

Looking to the future the newly invigorated Glitter Band are thinking big. Rossall is even talking of making a new album.

"I've got loads of ideas for songs, we want to make something heavy, really tribal, really do something with our sound," he explains before starting to sing one track in the bar - it sounds fantastic.

Could this be the most unlikely comeback in pop history? Sometimes when the odds are stacked up this high the creative juices can go crazy. Rossall describes an album that sounds quite interesting, if he has the nerve to go against his commercial instincts and make the sort of record that Mike Leander would approve of then he could really be onto something.

I keep throwing names at him, I tell him to get Marilyn Manson to mix a track, Mark Smith to do something, Marco from the Ants on guitar - after all, these people have borrowed those Leander drums for excellent use of their own enough times.

The potential is there and the talent is there- could the Glitter Band be about to use rock & roll to excise the ghost of Gary Glitter the bacofoil god with feet of clay?

Are the Glitter Band capable of making rock n roll part3?