Messing with Stevie Wonder, being forgetful about ABBA

Is it possible that the second biggest-selling pop act of all time was inspired by a quite well-known Liverpool group?

We can’t be expected to remember everything in life, and certainly this, recounted to me recently by Arrival’s Frank Collins, rings only the faintest of bells.

Frank remembers being told that ABBA were big fans of Arrival. I really don’t remember.

But can it just be coincidence that Arrival’s first album was called Arrival and pictures the group exiting a helicopter…..

….and that six years later, ABBA released their fourth album, also titled Arrival, and pictures the group in a —– helicopter? If you’re reading this, Benny, Björn, Agnetha or Frida, do get in touch and let us know. (Oh come on, don’t be ridiculous!).

All this Arrival talk sent me to Amazon to have a poke around, and I was amazed to find a double CD by Arrival.

Even more amazing was to find a track I had produced which proved to be Arrival’s last single, a track I have avoided listening to it since its release. Shall I tell you why?

Down the pub one night, celebrating the success of something or other at CBS I was cornered by Steve Colyer, mucker-in-chief to David Essex, and a guy I generally avoided.

“So,” he said. “This record you’ve made with Arrival.” He left a silence, which I thought was going to be filled with a simple, “It’s never gonna get played on the radio” (he was head of promotion).

But that wasn’t what he wanted to tell me. It was much worse than that. Looking me straight in the eye, and never wavering, he said: “I tell you something. If I was Arrival I’d be really pissed off at you for putting my name on a piece of shit like that. Call yourself a producer?” At which point, he picked up his pint, stood and left. Job done.

The record never did get played (Steve Colyer would never have promoted a record he personally thought was “a piece of shit”, even though that was what he was paid to do). A few years later, I might have flattened him. But in 1973, I was all ‘peace and love’, so I just sat there stricken with embarrassment.

I never listened to the record again.

Until today. But that’s getting ahead of myself. Let’s roll back a few decades.

By 1973, Stevie Wonder was on a roll that didn’t really end until The Secret Life Of Plants in 1979. Mind you, most artists wouldn’t have minded being on a roll that ended on such a high – Plants may have been a commercial (and critical) failure by Stevie’s standards, but my goodness it was wonderful.

But back in 1973, he released Innervisions which contained Misstra Know-It-All, an only slightly-veiled attack on US President Richard Nixon. I knew at once that this was a song I should record with Kokomo, even though it would have to be released under the Arrival name.

Arrival – as I explained a few posts back – were at the end of their tether.  They had recently been more or less forced to record You’re Going Far, a totally anodyne theme from the movie The Heartbreak Kid. Having seen them live as part of their new band, Kokomo, I hatched an idea to get the whole of Kokomo in the studio to record Misstra Know It All. That, I thought, might make CBS sit up and take notice.

Well, that didn’t work, did it!

Recently, I’ve been in touch by phone with Frank Collins and Tony O’Malley of Arrival/Kokomo. I’ve also been to see them live, at the revived Crawdaddy Club in Richmond. That was a wonderful experience, I can tell you. If you see Kokomo or Tony O’Malley coming to a venue near you anytime soon, grab a ticket. You will dance your socks off.

So, back at Amazon I ordered the Arrival double CD. It arrived today, and guess what? Steve Colyer was wrong. Misstra Know-It-All‘s not shit at all. Someone on YouTube thinks it’s “the best Stevie Wonder cover ever”. 4,774 people have viewed the YT post, and although only 13 have commented, there isn’t one dissenter. They all love it. It’s got 35 ‘likes’, but more importantly, no ‘dislikes’.

Just to make sure I wasn’t kidding myself, I phoned Frank Collins. His recollection is that we all did a pretty decent job, except that Dyan Birch hated doing the growly B-b-b-ber-ber-ber-ber-ber bit (a Stevie Wonder speciality). But since that now seems to have disappeared with an early fade, I think we can all rest easy that we didn’t make a piece of shit.

And while I’m on the subject of all things Arrival and Kokomo, if you’re a fan of The Band, and of roots rock in general, I will point you most enthusiastically at The Grease Band, whose first album was a thing of exceptional beauty. Kokomo’s Alan Spenner and Neil Hubbard were half of The Grease Band.

So here’s the last Arrival single, which also happens to be the first Kokomo recording.

He’s Misstra Know-It-All, Arrival

And here’s The Grease Band playing live in 1971. The great Alan Spenner on bass is the one with the Wolfman chops. Neil Hubbard, still playing with Kokomo, is playing the black Gibson. Henry McCullough – known, among other things, for the beautiful guitar solo on Paul McCartney’s My Love – is lead vocal and guitar. And then there’s Bruce Rowland, surely the funkiest drummer Britain has ever produced. Chris Stainton is on piano here.

1 Comment

  1. Great to see Henry McCullough here in fine form. I lived over in Northern Ireland for a few years in the mid 1980’s and Henry played regularly at pubs in Portstewart and Portrush. He was a very cool guy and would chat to us young students who’d pester him for stories about his rock star life. He was a stunning guitarist to see and hear play.
    Sad to hear of his recent poor health.

    Like

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