Steve Ellis first began singing in a band at the age of 15. The band were called Soul Survivors, initially gate crashing weddings, youth clubs and barmitzva`s in north London on the pretence that they were booked to perform. When the band improved substantially they began to play venues such as The Marquee, The Flamingo, Tiles and Mod clubs in Brighton, Clacton and Soul clubs in Manchester, Stoke etc.
After the bands first release on Decca Records, they moved on to CBS and became one of the most successful British pop acts of the late `60s, under their new name "Love Affair", and had a string of hit records. The music was inaudible due to the Beatle-mania like mayhem that ensued and was never repeated until a decade later when the Bay City Rollers found success.
In autumn 1969, Steve Ellis walked out of Love Affair to re-think his musical direction. CBS retained him as a solo artist and his future looked decidedly rosy. Without him, Love Affair floundered, while Steve seemed to have the world at his feet. But it didn`t work out that way.
Despite a succession of different bands and deals, he never again tasted chart success - undeservedly so, judging by the records - and his career was cut painfully short in 1981 when he suffered a horrific accident after retiring from the music business to work as a docker.
But a brave fight to regain his mobility led him back to music in the early `90s, and for the next 10 years, he toured as Steve Ellis` Love Affair, belting out a mixture of the band`s old hits and newer material to an audience of nostalgists and younger converts. He`s also plugged in to the enduring Mod scene, organising and performing at the Small Faces Convention at the Ruskin, East London as a tribute to the late Steve Marriott and Ronnie Lane. The upshot of this was sell-out concerts at The Astoria and The Royal Albert Hall, with proceeds going to Ronnie Lane`s sons after their house in Wales burnt down. Both shows included all star guests paying tribute to Marriott and Lane. "A Mod is for life, not just for Christmas", he laughs.
And he teamed up with Paul Weller to record a single, "Step Inside My Love", issued 1998 to raise funds for the NSPCC. The single`s production has echoes of smooth mid-80s soul - indeed, Glen "I Won`t Cry" Goldsmith sings backing - and Ellis`s voice is still in fine fettle. It`s been a long haul...
After deciding to leave the Love Affair, Steve discussed forming a band with Zoot Money, Jimmy McCulloch from Thunderclap Newman and Terry Reid. But nothing came of these plans, so Steve instead went solo. His first project was contributing to the soundtrack of Loot, the screen adaptation of a play by the infamous playwright, Joe Orton.
"Keith Mansfield co-wrote the music and asked me if I`d sing. It was quite jazzy. Brilliant film, though." And he contributed to old friend Pete Bardens` debut LP: "He was recording `The Answer`, and said, come and do some vocals. It was good because he had Peter Green on guitar."
Then came a version of Jimmy Webb`s "Evie": "I loved that song. Hookfoot`s guitarist, Caleb Quaye (Elton John sidekick, Finlay Quaye`s uncle and creator of the freakbeat classic, `Baby Your Phrasing Is Bad`), lived three roads up from me when we were kids and he was top dog, guitar-wise. We had a big orchestra, with Caleb and Clem Cattini - a brilliant drummer. I did a Poll Winners` Concert at the Empire Pool Wembley, a complete reversal of the Love Affair because I went out with an orchestra, Caleb and Sue & Sunny on backing vocals."
In 1971, Steve found a new manager. "I bumped into (ex-Animal and Hendrix/Slade manager) Chas Chandler in a nightclub and we got chatting. He made the right noises. I stayed with Chas for a couple of singles, including `Take Your Love`. Then I did `Hold On` with Howie Casey and his big brass section, Johnny Steele from the Animals on drums, little Jimmy McCulloch on guitar, Zoot Money on piano and a Canadian band, Eggs Over Easy, who were touring over here with Loudon Wainwright. That was a bloody good band. We did a few gigs."
The following year, Steve assembled a new band - billed simply as Ellis or, later, the Ellis Group. "That was Zoot and two bass players - Jim Leverton (Fat Mattress), who ended upwith Steve Marriott, then Nick South (ex-Vinegar Joe/Alexis Korner). We also had a German guitarist, Andy Gröber, alias Andy Gee (ex-Springfield Park) and Davie Lutton (drums) from Eire Apparent.
"Zoot`s great. He`s a complete character, a great keyboard player and a good singer, too. Working with him was brilliant. That was one seriously good band, if a bit way out - Zoot with his jazzy influence. It was a meeting of everything, really."
"Riding On The Crest Of A Slump", Ellis`s first album, was produced by the Who`s Roger Daltrey: "He`s a good lad. I lived next door to him near Heathfield, Sussex in a spare cottage of his for three years to get out of London. I got people like Maggie Bell from Stone The Crows, Mike Patto and Roger Chapman and we`d rehearse there. I think Roger regretted it, because we made a lot of bloody noise. He was moaning. He done a good job, though. We had Glyn Johns come in, the Stones` producer. Say what you like, mate! The whole album had a good feel."
Daltrey`s role was taken by Mike Vernon for Ellis`s second LP, "Why Not?" (1973). "That`s got three/four good tracks but the rest didn`t work out. We did a blues, which is unbelievable - about eight minutes long. Mike`s very business-like. I knew him in the early days and thought he`d be good to work with. But he was matter-of-fact, very formal - `right, time to go`. Bad chemistry. We didn`t seem to get the backing from CBS we thought we deserved. I wrote this single, `El Doomo`, and the head of CBS was going to sue the charts because it got to No. 50 in 1974 and didn`t budge for three weeks."
Ellis felt they`d been ignored in favour of Epic`s more established stars like Jeff Beck, Argent and Donovan. "Zoot was getting itchy feet and the band was like a cooperative, run very fairly, and we were beating our head against the door because we were touring non-stop but we weren`t promoting anything. Then Epic said, `we wanna keep you but can you lose the band`. I was not well pleased but the band said, `get on with a solo career if you want. The choice is yours`."
Instead, Steve joined a hard rock outfit, Widowmaker - alongside guitarists Luther `Ariel Bender` Grosvenor (ex-Mott The Hoople, Spooky Tooth), and Huw Lloyd Langton (ex-Hawkwind) and drummer Paul Nichols (ex-Lindisfarne). The band signed to Jet, owned by the notorious Don Arden.
"He was like a caricature of Edward G. Robinson", laughs Ellis. "Roger Chapman put me up for it - he`d been a mate for years. We rehearsed at ELP`s Manticore Studios in Fulham Road and invited record companies down. Don Arden sent an A&R man down and we went up his house for a meeting. And he did exactly what he said: promoted us out on tours as a functioning band with product.
"Initially, it was fine. We played with the Who, all the best bands. We went to America. The initial batch of the LP went out in the U.S. but then people couldn`t buy it for three months - we went round the shops looking for it - so we missed the boat completely. But you couldn`t judge Widowmaker on their records because we were a live band, although the first album had its moments. Live, we used to do stuff you wouldn`t associate with a heavy metal band - Motown, `Road Runner`, but rocked up, Humble Pie-ish. I`ve always had this affinity with Marriott and really liked Paul Rodgers - Free were excellent.
"But friends warned me, you`ve done a wrong move. The band onstage was brilliant, very powerful; the band offstage was awful. It was like the Gunfight At The O.K. Corral! You wouldn`t believe the fights - some were X-certificate! I put Luther away one night after a tedious spell on tour. Hospital? Oh yeah. We`d argue and he`d say he was gonna kill me. He did that three/four times and I said, you do it once more and that`s it. But he kicked off and we had a tear-up, as you do. It was either him or me. He stopped doing it after that.
"In the cold light of day, he`s a lovely guy. But the chemistry was bad. It wasn`t enjoyable - except on stage. We were living out of suitcases, you wanna be home - we all had kids - but we were stuck in America on a ball-busting tour, punching the living daylights out of each other. It was all wrong. That was never addressed and put right. I was wild, drinking a lot - but everybody was. I didn`t want to be a caricature of a rock singer.
"I didn`t want the chaos, the fighting, the arguments. I`ll be me own man. So I came back from America and walked. I wasn`t on Widowmaker`s second album, `Too Late To Cry` - though I wrote half the tracks. They got another guy and he did exactly the same as I did - he laid Luther out and walked!
"When punk kicked off, I thought, I`m out of this. The old guard, the generation before me, who were living in mansions and had swimming pools, were shitting themselves when punk came along. They were quivering in their boots. They thought the day had come when the life they were leading was gonna curl up and die. I couldn`t stand punk musically. But I liked the idea - it kicked everybody up the arse, all this complacency, sitting around vegging out. Rock in the `70s became so boring, mundane, idle. But punk was gonna last two/three years, so there was no way I was gonna form a punk band because I couldn`t relate to it - that would have been really sad! So I sat back for a while to let things roll."
Ellis`s next move was another solo deal - with Ariola - but the problems continued when a whole album, "The Last Angry Man", was shelved. "That was down to a row between the producers", groans Steve, "although David Courtenay, who produced the album, thinks he may still have the masters. We taped about 30 tracks - they`re Beatley, orchestrated. I had grade-A players: Henry McCullough, Brian Robertson - I wrote a track with him - plus two drummers, Henry Spinetti and Barry Morgan, Brian Hodges, who was Van Morrison`s bass player, Tim Hinkley and Roger Chapman on backing vocals. I`m gonna try and get it out because that album was special to me." [currently available on Angel Air records] The project did spawn two singles, however - the Sam & Dave cover, "Soothe Me", and a ballad, "Rag And Bone".
Ellis had been living the rock`n`roll lifestyle for a decade - not least because of his friendship with that legendary lover of excess, Keith Moon. Steve raises his eyebrows: "Christ, the nights I had out with Keith Moon - just madness, loads of booze. I`d stay at Keith`s house in Chertsey for three days with Viv Stanshall and you`d be surrendering. Two days with Moon was like a month on tour. It wasn`t you were wimping out, your body would just be saying enough is enough. Your kidneys would be banging and you`d say, Keith, I`ve gotta go!
"One night, Moon was in his room, all quiet. We kept banging on the door. Keith, we`re going down the pub. Hang on, boys. Eventually, he came out in full drag - gloves, the rings, the wig, the make-up. We fell about laughing. C`mon, let`s go, he says. Keith, you can`t go out like that. He said, yeah, I`m DJ`ing for the Beach Boys at Alexandra Palace tomorrow - so he was having a dress rehearsal. We walk in the pub and there`s two old boys. We were a bit wary but one of them turns and says `it`s alright, it`s only Keith`!
"Anything went. He was like a naughty schoolboy. He`d do anything to make you laugh. Your sides would split with laughter. There`s a side to Keith that was like Peter Sellers to me - quite sad, tragic. He`d do anything for you as a mate. He`d give you anything. He was a real character.
"Roger Daltrey told me stories. On Keith`s 21st birthday, he jumped out of a second story window in America and bounced, knocked all his teeth out, ran around a car park with a can of spray and sprayed all these Cadillacs, paint-stripped the lot of `em, chucked everything out of windows. He got a bill for his birthday for something like $250,000. And he just paid it. His accountant said, `Keith, you`ve got some money, you need to spend it`. He`d go, `I`ll have a Dino Ferrari, one of those, one of those...`, and rang back and said, `I`ve spent it`. The accountant`s like, `I didn`t mean in one day!`
"But his capacity for alcohol wasn`t normal, whatever else he was having", admits Steve. And it isn`t funny to me because Moon`s dead. It really upset me bigtime. When Moon died, that was it for me; I knocked the drink out. Moon was indestructible. I thought, if it could kill Moon, it`ll kill me. Anyway, drinking don`t agree with me. I turn into a nine-foot Glaswegian! Well, that`s the last time I had a drink, which was about 15 years ago. That drug is not for me. Frankie Miller`s a mate. He`s got a great voice and the poor sod had a stroke because he didn`t look after himself. Rory Gallagher - God almighty, he died!
"After the chaos of living, breathing and sleeping music, I had to take stock of the situation. So I packed it in. After Widowmaker, it was a watershed. I thought, what am I gonna do? I`ve got a family. I moved down south to Brighton and thought, I wanna get fit. A fella next door said, why don`t you work on the docks? So I became a docker. And it was brilliant. I got paid every week, which was a bonus. I went to the doctor, who said I was A1 athlete fit. I was chuffed because, in the rock business, you`re prone to abuse and late nights."
Then tragedy struck. Steve pauses: "In 1981, two days before I planned to leave the docks, I had my feet smashed to a pulp in an altercation with some two-tonne forklift blades. They chopped my feet in half. That led to eight years in and out of hospital - operations, bone grafts. They`ll never be right but they`re all right. It was horrendous, walking round on crutches. Any chance of continuing my musical career went straight out the window. I had to concentrate on sorting myself out. I was in a right mess. I couldn`t even walk for years. But I clawed my way back in. I got fit, took up karate for eight years, got back to some semblance of mobility.
"Around 1991, I thought, sod it, let`s get back into music again. If I do it myself and come unstuck, I`ve only got myself to blame. A friend said, get back on tour. I thought, yeah, that`s what I love doing. There`s stuff I recorded when I couldn`t walk, sitting down singing. It was the nucleus of that outfit I took out on the road. There was a band calling themselves the Love Affair that had nothing to do with us so I prefixed it - `Steve Ellis` Love Affair`. And we gigged all the time.
An agent said, get a live album out, about two hours before we went onstage one night in Scotland. So we put out a CD, cut live, straight onto DAT, no frills, no graces, on condition it cost no more than £2.99. I added some studio demos. It`s got mine and the band`s name on it. And it negates all these phoney re-recordings which shouldn`t be on the shelves. People are going out buying Love Affair tracks and they`re not the Love Affair. There are even CDs out there with my picture on the cover - the original line-up - without me on."
All of which brings us to Steve`s charity single - for the NSPCC - "Step Inside My Love", aided on guitar and piano by Paul Weller - the first fruits of a friendship dating back to the `80s. "I sent Paul a tape when he was in the Style Council. I met him and Mick Talbot up at Solid Bond about `83/`84. Over the years, we exchanged tapes.
"We did a track written by our original guitarist, Rex Brayley, "Step Inside My Love", at Rollover Studios in Beethoven Street (laughs) up at Hyde Park. I sent Paul a tape and he said, yeah, I really like the tune - a souly number. He said, I wouldn`t mind putting some guitar on it. I said, great, so I booked the studio and he came down, did a great job. The backing vocals was Glenn Goldsmith - brilliant. Paul put the guitar on and a bit more keyboards."
There have been a multitude of Love Affair (Sony/Evangeline/Repertoire) / Ellis (Evangeline) / Widowmaker (Sanctuary) and a Steve Ellis anthology (also Sanctuary). In addition, several issues on Angel Air Records (including the previously mentioned, Last Angry Man), re-issues and Steve Ellis tracks featured on various compilations including Loot the soundtrack for the film of the same name. There have been several recent DVDs released - "Last Tango in Bradford" on Angel Air and "Steve Marriott Memorial concert" on Sanctuary.
Steve has been inactive for two years due to his son being taken unexpectedly ill.
Steve`s latest project is finding a record deal for his new, mostly self-produced album. "It features lots of different people, like Iain Dunnet, the keyboard player from Climax Blues Band", says Steve. "An Irish fella, Sam Smith, has written two tracks with me and played acoustic on them. Also I have Danny from my band on bass, Steve Fairhead on guitar and slide guitar, Rory Cameron playing some blues harp, Nigel Glockler from Saxon on drums and drum programming and Roger Daltrey guesting. Also included is a bonus track (Everlasting Love Live) from Fairfield Hall, Croydon with Paul Weller and Steve Cradock. Just loads of talented mates really, all pitching in to help. The album is now finally completed and a suitable record deal is currently being sought. Downloads available shortly!"
"Step Inside" will be joined by new songs like "As The Crow Flies", "Requiem", "A Little Modesty" and about 10 others. The album was finally released in 2008, on Demon records, to critical acclaim and is currently available.
Current projects also include a book/biography with the assistance of well known journalist/author Paolo Hewitt, author of many bestsellers, his latest projects include Martin Chivers (ex Tottenham Hotspur Legend) and The Mumper, co-written with Mark Baxter, which is soon to be made into a film.
Steve is currently working on a documentary entitled `A Life in Music` with Ed Houghton / Bird feeder films. Currently interviewing friends for inclusion, including Roger Daltrey (The Who), Huw Langton (Widowmaker), Dean Powell (Boxing promoter) and Paul Weller (as Himself!)
Steve Ellis may be past his half-century but, judging by recent performances guesting with New Amen Corner and Soul Survivors, his voice sounds as majestic as it did 30 years ago on "Everlasting Love". It seems that he is, truly, a soul survivor.
Steve Ellis: Biography
Steve Ellis` initial interest in playing music only extended as far as bashing some biscuit tins, whilst two brothers strummed Kay`s catalogue guitars in their mum`s front room,. He was about 12 or 13 and wanted to be a `proper` drummer, but his pleas to his father for help to buy a decent drum kit failed, so he got fired from that particular embryonic beat combo! A few years later, Nigel, another friend of his, who used to bring his guitar to Steve`s house and play, whilst Steve sang along, dragged him off to accompany him on an audition in Tottenham, North London for a band who`d taken out an ad in Melody Maker. Steve, then aged fifteen, sang at the audition, was offered the vocalist vacancy and a career was born!
That band were called Soul Survivors and they played in various clubs in and around London for the next couple of years. They did the rounds and paid their dues, got a record deal with Decca and recorded a cover of The Rolling Stones `She Smiled Sweetly`, but it did nothing chartwise and the band played on! The band then switched to CBS Records and got offered the chance to record a cover of the song "Everlasting Love". The song had recently been a US hit for Robert Knight, the band went for it and were packed off to record it under the guidance of Muff Winwood at Island Studios. They recorded a group version of what was, on the original recording, a big production number, but the results didn`t find favour with the powers that be at C.B.S. . This was no bad reflection on the band`s musical talents, as they were more than competent, even though they were so very young at the time! The decision was then taken to put Steve in the studio with a bigger "band", an orchestra in fact, and the results, along with a name change to (The) Love Affair, catapaulted them to the top of the UK charts by the early days of 1968.
Suddenly, they could do no wrong, (despite some press furore over the fact that they`d admitted, quite innocently, on primetime TV, that the rest of the band had not played on the song) and subsequent hits kept them in the charts through `68 and on into `69. They gigged all over the UK, Europe and Scandinavia, but were lumped into the teenybopper bracket and were screamed at by young girls wherever they went.
In the U.K., Europe and other territories, their version of Everlasting Love has become one of the defining songs of that era, with Rainbow Valley only slightly less so, both songs being written by Buzz Cason and Mac Gayden. Their other hits, "Day Without Love" , "One Road" and "Bringing on Back the Good Times" were written by Phillip Goodhand-Tait, who effectively became a non participating band member and stand up well against the first two hits and despite reaching lower chart positions in the U.K. demonstrated that they were a capable self contained musical unit. The songs that were the chart hits for the band, were shining examples of a late 60`s trend towards big production values on single releases, whilst, in the main, the B-sides and album tracks were recorded by the band themselves and show a much more raw sounding angle to their music.
As a live band, they were able to compete with the best of them and, in concert, displayed their Mod roots to great effect, with Steve`s souful voice being a standout feature. Steve was the pin up poster boy of the times, (along with an equally very young Peter Frampton) and although all this success and adulation seemed to be all a band could ever want, it started to ring hollow with Steve and contributed to his decision to quit the band and opt for a solo career as 1969 wore on. He left in December 1969: "We never really made it big anywhere but Britain and I think that if we had started to happen in America, I wouldn`t have left". A song, recorded for release as a Love Affair single, "Time Hasn`t Changed Us" remained unreleased and forgotten until writer Phillp Goodhand-Tait discovered an acetate copy, whilst having a "clearout" at his home. The song is included on the CD Love Affair release, "An Affair to Remember". Steve, then aged 19, was heading out into the big world as a solo artist!
First, there was a guest vocalist appearance, along with Peter Green, on the Peter Bardens solo album, "The Answer". Then came a couple of singles for CBS, produced by Chas Chandler, then the soundtrack album to the film of Joe Orton`s "Loot", directed by Silvio Narizzano. There were also extensive recording sessions for a proposed solo album, but the idea was shelved and the songs finally saw the light of day as an album called "Rollin with the `69 Crew" more than forty years later. After this, Steve decided that he was missing playing in a band and so, with Zoot Money, set about putting together the band that became known as simply Ellis (despite the bands wishes to be known as Kin). Other members included ex-Peter Bardens guitarist Andy Gee; ex-Fat Mattress bassist Jimmy Leverton, later replaced by Nick South; and drummer Dave Lutton. Two (recently re-issued) albums were released, "Riding on the Crest of a Slump" and "Why Not", before the band, lacking any real record company support, ran out of steam and split.
Steve then joined up with Widowmaker, at the request of Luther Grosvenor (ex Spooky Tooth/ Mott the Hoople), who were a much more hard rocking outfit and with a newly released album, "Widowmaker" under their belts they toured the USA supporting labelmates E.L.O., and were both managed by Don Arden. The grind of the tours and bad chemistry within the band caused Steve to part company on their return home from a particularly extensive tour playing large festivals and arenas. The "Widowmaker" album has recently been re-issued by Angel Air, with the inclusion of some live tracks.
The next move was to record a solo album and "The Last Angry Man" was recorded, but it didn`t get to see the light of day until 2001. It is now re-issued as "The Love Affair is Over" and includes tracks from 1983, known as the "Basement Days" recordings. The non appearance of this album was Steve`s cue to quit the business and get a job that would pay regular wages so he could support his young family properly. The desire to make music eventually returned, along with some lucrative enough work offers to make it all financially viable again, so Steve handed in his notice at his job in Shoreham docks, but on the last day at work he suffered an horrific accident that would have him in and out of hospitals for the next eight years, whilst he learned to walk again. Eventually, he managed enough mobility, through studying martial arts, to be able to gig again. Whilst in the process of assembling a band that would have to be known as Steve Ellis` Love Affair (after some legal skirmishes with the then current, non original member version of Love Affair), Steve was offered the opportunity to front the German rock band, Scarlet. An eponymous album was released in Europe, but this was only a minor diversion and Steve hit the road in 1991, with Steve Ellis` Love Affair and had a ten year stint playing in the U.K. and across Europe.
Steve Ellis` Love Affair recorded a charity single "Step Inside My Love" in aid of the NSPCC, with Paul Weller guesting, which raised a substantial amount of money for the cause.
Steve also found time, along with boxing promoter Dean Powell, to organize a tribute concert in memory of the late Steve Marriott, at The Ruskin Arms in East Ham. This then morphed into the annual Small Faces convention that runs to this day and in 2001 Steve made a memorable appearance at the Steve Marriott Memorial Concert, along with Paul Weller, Noel Gallagher, Ian MacLagan, Jerry Shirley, Peter Frampton, Zak Starkey, Midge Ure et al, at the London Astoria. Aside from a guest appearance at a similar concert, at the Royal Albert Hall, in aid of the family of the late Ronnie Lane, who had then recently suffered a serious house fire, that would Steve`s final involvement with the conventions.
Work began on another solo album, but progress was halted when Steve`s son became seriously ill. The album "Best of Days" finally appeared in late 2008 and garnered favourable reviews. Steve began gigging again and has subsequently recorded another album called "Ten Commitments", which was released in late 2011. Following on from that, he is in the process of recording an album of songs featuring collaborations with some of his many musical friends, which should see the light of day in 2016. A biography is in the works too, as is a documentary dvd, along with more gigs, a 64 date tour, commencing in October 2015 and more music.