Firstly my apologies for the lateness of this tribute to Kelly Groucutt. The news only filtered through to me very recently. Kelly, best remembered as the bass player and second vocalist in the Electric Light Orchestra, passed away after suffering a heart attack on February 19th 2009. He was 63 years old.
Kelly initially joined ELO in 1974 just in time to add his bass skills, additional vocals, and stage presence to the Eldorado album tour. The sight of Kelly sharing the stage with band leader Jeff Lynne both sporting similar hairstyles, and sharing the vocals became a familiar one as ELO grew into one of the worlds biggest selling acts.
The first ELO album that Kelly appeared on was Face The Music, the band's fifth studio record, which was released in 1975. It signalled the start of a run of albums that saw ELO become one of the biggest bands of the time, capable of filling major arenas the world over.
Albums such as New World Record, Out Of The Blue, and Discovery all became huge commercial successes. By this time they were able to sell out the Wembley Arena on eight consecutive nights.
Hit singles were by now the norm for the band. "Turn To Stone," "Evil Woman," "Mr. Blue Sky," " Telephone Line," "Sweet Talkin' Woman," "Don't Bring Me Down," "Strange Magic," and "The Diary Of Horace Wimp" are just a few that spring to mind.
Kelly took the vocals on several ELO tracks and supported lead singer Jeff Lynne when playing live. That year saw the band provide the soundtrack for the film Xanadu starring Olivia Newton-John. Despite the film being a commercial disappointment, the title song gave ELO a number one UK hit single.
1981 saw the release of their concept album Time which gave the band another hit with "Hold On Tight." The last ELO album that Kelly appeared on was Secret Messages. By now though the band had peaked and by 1982 Groucutt was working on a solo album simply called Kelly featuring several ELO members as guests.
That same year he left ELO citing disagreements over royalty payments. The dispute between him and Jeff Lynne was settled out of court with Kelly reportedly receiving an undisclosed sum. ELO finally ran out of steam in 1986. However it was not the end of the story as far as Kelly was concerned.
In 1988 ELO and former Move drummer Bev Bevan put together ELO Part II. Meanwhile Kelly was involved in another ELO spin off band called Orkestra alongside another former ELO stalwart, the man with the electric blue violin, Mik Kiminski.
The two offshoots finally merged and Kelly could again be seen on the same stage as Bevan, Kiminski, cellist Hugh McDowell, and Louis Clark, the man behind the string arrangements of ELO, in an ever revolving line-up.
Their second album Moment of Truth emerged in 1994 and they followed this with an ambitious touring schedule resulting in a double live album released as One Night. By the end of 1999 Bev Bevan announced that he was leaving.
Kelly continued this time under the moniker Orchestra and was rehearsing for a tour of the UK, due in May, when he was taken ill and suffered the heart attack. The other members of Orchestra, which includes former Part II members Eric Troyer, Louis Clark, Mik Kiminski, and Phil Bates have announced that they will continue with the tour as a mark of respect for him.
I saw ELO many time over the years from early theatre sized shows, through to the Out Of The Blue stage set that included a massive space ship as part of the effects.
Whilst Jeff Lynne was the undeniable brains, figurehead, and driving force behind the bands successes the contributions of Kelly Groucutt, Mik Kiminski, Bev Bevan, Richard Tandy, and Hugh McDowell cannot be understated. It was Kelly's vocal harmonies, on stage persona, and stylish bass playing that will be remembered.
A few years later I was lucky enough to meet Bev Bevan just at the time that he was putting ELO Part II together. As a result I went to see the new band at a country club somewhere deep within Surrey. It was, for me as a fan who had seen the original band at their very height, a strange venue for the band to play.
Bev sat high above the band behind his drum kit. Eric Troyer was stage right on keys, Mik Kiminski pranced around with that blue violin. However it was Kelly that caught the eye. Despite time finally defeating the big hair of 1977 he still had that twinkle in his eye.
The audience sat behind tables and chairs as the waitresses served chicken in a basket and beer. However when they launched into hit after hit from the glory days of ELO they abandoned the tables and in unison were up at the front dancing.
They loved it, the band loved it, and despite all the legal wranglings that had happened everyone involved had a great evening keeping the music of ELO alive. It was a night to remember, a night that started oddly, and ended triumphantly. "Strange Magic" indeed.