still cropped at the top short whilst longer on the sides. Shirts were tighter, often with longer collars or sometimes replaced by rugby tops or tee-shirts, coupled with bomber style jackets and the classic Doctor Marten boots… a look for young men often described in the media as ‘aggro lads’. Like The Who, in the early to mid-sixties, Jook wanted to produce music for their peers, this time not the Mods, but the skinheads or aggro lads, and their sound was powerful, raw rock ‘n’ roll, brutal blues, passionate and anthemic. Jook were a classic four piece; bass, drums, guitar and vocals, stemming from working class roots, and they played like their life depended on it. Wonderful to see and hear. Yet they never made the impact they deserved or tasted the career success they had planned and worked so hard for. Why? That’s one of pop musics’ great mysteries, but nevertheless their brief history is an interesting tale in the world of rock ‘n’ roll.
Two key members for Jook, their manager and drummer, John Hewlett and Chris Townson, were both members of the psychedelic Mod thug band, John’s Children. Guitarist and drummer respectively, John’s Children formed in 1966 and disbanded in 1968. An aggressive band in sound and attitude, yet flamboyant in their dress sense, they never had any real chart success, despite the short lived presence of proto superstar Marc Bolan in their ranks. Perhaps their finest hour in the annals of rock ‘n’ roll history is when they supported The Who on a riotously destructive tour of Germany in the spring of 1967, only to be subsequently fired by The Who, ostensibly because Pete Townsend found them “too loud and violent” (and evidently a hard act to follow.) Which is a bit bloody rich coming from a man who made the on-stage autodestruction of his guitar into smithereens an art form, and a key part of his early stage craft.
However Jook weren’t simply formed from the cold ashes of John’s Children, but more as a vehicle for Edinburgh born guitarist/ singer songwriter Ian ‘Ralf’ Kimmet, who in the late sixties was trying to make it as record producer, working with a then unknown band, Mud, who in the next decade would prove to be major players on the glam rock scene. As well as being a producer, Kimmet worked for music publishers B Feldman & Co in London’s West end. One of their acts was Gallagher and Lyle. An acoustic duo, Bernard Joseph "Benny" Gallagher and Graham Hamilton Lyle were a splinter band from Apple Records new signing McGuinness Flint. Furthermore their manager, the aforementioned John Hewlett, who had opted for a more managerial career as opposed to that of a musician, was offered a desk at B Feldman & Co’s office. It is here that Hewlett met Kimmet and soon a friend of Hewlett, guitarist Trevor White, was paying regular visits to the office… a bond was quickly formed between the three.
Kimmet seemed to be growing tired of dealing with other people’s music, and wanted to make his own. Hewlett saw the opportunity and potential to marry Kimmet’s songwriting talents and White’s skills as a guitarist, after witnessing that they already had chemistry. Kimmet and White just needed a bass player, a drummer and a record deal and the world would be theirs for the taking.
Taking a huge gamble in early 1971, Kimmet and White left their employment and put all their efforts into forming a band. A close and early friend of Kimmet’s, Ian Hampton, was invited to join as a bass player. However he didn’t own a bass at the time as he was playing keyboards with another band Catch 22, but not wishing to let his friend or himself down, he quickly rushed out, purchased a bass and climbed aboard. In addition another Edinburgh resident, Alan Pratt, was recruited as a drummer. Kimmet and White, along with Hampton and Pratt all moved out of the ‘old smoke’ and set up shop in Oxnam, southeast Scotland, a rural setting where they could focus on songwriting and defining their sound. They were totally self-funded, as they had no record deal let alone a name for the band, yet their self belief must have been incredibly strong. Whilst the band worked on their music, Hewlett stayed in London to secure a deal for the band with no name.
Hewlett proved to be a real music industry mover and shaker (in fact he would later go on to become manager of seventies sensations Sparks). He arranged an audition for his nameless band with RCA’s head of A&R Mike Everitt, the label which had recently signed David Bowie. Everitt more or less signed the boys on the spot for a £5,000 advance with guitars, amps, a PA system and a van thrown in for good measure. Nobody seems sure if Hewlett played a rough demo or simply blagged it… either way it shows he was a skilled negotiator. With the sixties over, perhaps the record companies felt they could snag another nascent Beatles or Stones in the making and with potentially huge amounts of money to be made, gambling in signing in acts must have been encouraged. Wouldn’t it be nice if record companies held the same philosophy today. As it was, the early 70s did produce homegrown huge acts like Sweet, Slade and The Bay City Rollers, who were absolutely phenomenal in the UK, but who never quite had the spunk to smash it in the US; a second British Invasion at that time was just wishful thinking.
However the RCA signing was not wholly welcomed by the struggling musicians up in Oxnam. Pratt didn’t want the big time, so left the band to focus on his electoral business in Scotland. Hewlett and co must have surely been peeved, yet being the stoic player he was he recruited his former John’s Children partner in crime Chris Townson on drums. Everything was slowly taking shape… now they needed a name. There seems to be a conflict in the actual origin of the name, one source suggests that Hewlett pinched the name from Gene Chandler’s ‘Jook (Duke) of Earl’ whilst another suggests it came from the then managing director of Warner Music, Rob Dickins, (a friend of Hewlett’s) from a play on words Jook Joint/ Duke of Edinburgh. Whichever is correct, the lads had found a name, ‘Jook’… now to do some gigs.
Jook obtained a monthly residency at The Sundown, Edmonton, North London in 1972, which proved to be successful in building a core following, a solid audience for the band live… next step was to release a single. In October of that year, they released their debut 45, Alright With Me c/w Do What You Can, a rocky riff number, nice jangling guitar that descends into feedback at the crescendo, a catchy sing along chorus with strong Daltrey type vocals. It was a song of unity and being true to yourself and carefree, a hangover from the Summer of Love from 1967. Yet it failed to chart.
After some thought Hewlett introduced the four lads to the Skinhead culture of the early 70s, exactly as Pete Meaden, original manager of The Who, had introduced Townsend and co to Mod culture in the 60s. Maybe their new found audience at The Sundown had a strong skinhead/terrace look and mentality and Hewlett had glimpsed a huge opportunity - or at least what he believed to be a huge one.
Despite the lack of chart success, the new look paid off, as the band now had Skinheads following them around London, which in turn attracted media interest as Jook began to be perceived as the figureheads of the bovver boys. Hewlett must have kissed the sky when he read this. More positive interest was obtained in terms of choice support slots; Wizzard, The Faces and Genesis were all keen to have Jook open for them. Their look even inspired a then unknown band, The Golden Crusaders, a bunch of lads who used to be in the Jook audience at Edinburgh gigs. They loved the look so much they took it on wholesale – albeit with a little more trouser flare and a little added Tartan round the hems - and promptly changed their name to The Bay City Rollers.
Anyway, despite the lack of single sales, Jook ended 1972 by going to Olympic Studios (a favourite of many bands in the 60s like The Rolling Stones) to record some original material, with the belief that 1973 would be their year. Unfortunately the band felt these new songs weren’t good enough to be commercially successful, so they opted to record two covers; Jimmy Reed’s Mod classic Shame Shame Shame and Gallagher and Lyle’s City and Suburban Blues.
Shame, Shame Shame is a strong blues number with a pop art feel to it, an aggressive love song, and certainly radio friendly. With four handsome lads giving it their all, this should have been the perfect formula for a top ten single, yet chart success eluded them again. Hewlett and Jook must have been more than a little stressed by now. After all, they were signed to the home of Bowie and Elvis, so why couldn’t they replicate their chart success? As it was, RCA were pondering the very same… Therefore they brought record Producer Steve Rowland over from Los Angeles, California… the same man who had given Dave Dee, Dozy, Beaky, Mick & Tich thirteen top ten hits and who had also discovered Peter Frampton and The Herd. Big stuff…
For their next release, Kimmet brought one of his own compositions to the table, “Oo Oo Rudi”, which in fact was a song written for the Jook fans, a nod to a self descriptive term they used for themselves… “we’re not Skinheads, we’re Rudis”. A mere few years later a Punk band from Belfast would be inspired by the name and use it themselves… yes, you guessed it, Rudi.
Rowland, maybe because he came from LA, didn’t see or understand the vision. The once perceived formula for success was now just wishful thinking. Yet Jook and Hewlett, along with RCA, still actually believed… but it was a fast fading belief for all parties involved. So RCA used the services of Roxy Music’s producer John Porter for Jook’s vinyl tribute to newspaper cartoon Andy Capp, “King Capp”. Again this was not a hit. John Burgess, who had produced hits for Manfred Mann and The Hollies, and was a business partner of former Beatles’ producer George Martin in AIR studios, was called in to save the day. By now it was 1974, two years on the go and no massive record sales.
The result was Bish Bash Bosh (reminds you of The Creation’s Biff Bang Pow?) and B-side Crazy Kids. Bish Bash Bosh was a cracking single – a foot stomping, hand clapping, glam rock anthem, blending the flare (sic) of the early 70s with the back bone and back beat of greasy 50’s rock ‘n’ roll… it was the epitome of the glam rock sound. Now, with a prized upcoming tour support slot with glam superstars The Sweet and perhaps their finest recording to date in their arsenal, Jook must have thought finally, this is it… yet their run of rotten luck prevailed… lead singer of The Sweet Brian Connolly got into a fight and was put in hospital. The tour was cancelled the very day before the release of Bish Bash Bosh.
With funds running out, and a sudden lack of upcoming well-paid gigs - due to turning down gig offers as Jook thought they would be on tour supporting The Sweet - things were dire. So what did the band do? Get pissed, get into a fight, feel embittered? No. Jook collectively gritted their teeth and went into RG Jones studio in Wimbledon to record more songs. Sessions that critics, fans and the Jook camp themselves have stated were their best ever. Perhaps being on the edge and facing despair suited their artistic nature and made them perform and play with passion and verve. There’s nothing like a siege mentality to bolster performances… come on boys, us and them, the gang spitting in the face of adversity.
Unfortunately this was to be their final battle cry, as RCA were not prepared to release any more material and their deal was for singles only - not an album. In addition, their usual tour de force, Hewlett had been focusing all his attention on the LA pop wonders, brothers Ron and Russell Mael of Sparks, who had their first top ten hit in 1974 with This Town Ain't Big Enough for Both of Us reaching number 2.
Furthermore Sparks’ sudden success only hastened the demise of Jook. Not only did the band lose the full attention of their manager, but Hewlett also poached White and Hampton as rhythm guitarist and bass respectively for pop’s music latest prodigy, effectively ripping the guts from the Jook carcass… Townson did try out on drums, but his services simply weren’t required.
However in 1978, Hewlett took Jook’s final recording session to Chiswick Records, which seems a curious coincidence as he was summarily sacked as Sparks’ manager that very year. Chiswick, the label that released the first Punk single in 1976, The Dammed’s New Rose, released an EP with a Kimmet penned Skinhead anthem, Different Class, with bitter ‘call to arms’ lyrics - “Doctor Martens and crombies, all tooled up as well. If you come to cheer you better stay clear you'll sign your own death knell" – a slice of real beefy, angry, young man blues, a sonic headbutt, totally and utterly in your face, a 70s take on The Who’s My Generation with the musicianship to match. Another number in keeping with the Youth Culture theme of the EP, was the track Charlie Rich, Mohair Sam… a catchy Mod anthem straight from the 60s clubs. Whether Hewlett pushed this recording for financial gain or he still believed in Jook, doesn’t really matter, as the EP was, as usual, not a success… Punk was still going strong, and the Mod revival scene was starting to grow with bands like The Jam, The Chords and The Purple Hearts, all bands who could easily be the younger brothers of Jook, gigging furiously around London, knocking out speed fuelled numbers to match the very best of ‘em. In a nutshell, there was no band now to promote this EP, and back in 1978, nostalgia was not big business, as everyone was busy knocking over the statues, looking forward not back.
Sad stuff… but let’s fast forward the tape machine 27 years… In 2005 a CD was released by RPM Records entitled Jook - A Different Class, featuring twenty of their songs, plus two bonus demos… a compilation of quality Jook material that has received a devoted cult following and has been cited as a bonafide classic. Yet nine years later, it would be nice to give this often forgotten band one last nudge for the better… and the band members themselves now feel the same, as they reformed in August 2014, for a punk festival in Hartford, Connecticut., of all places. How and why Connecticut, I don’t know. Sadly the deceased Townson wasn’t there to witness this great occasion - although I’m sure he there in spirit - and Simon Stewart took over the drums.
Alas, at the time of writing, no further gigs have been planned for 2015.
As a new fan, I discovered Jook purely by accident… I was looking for a photo of Sparks for an article, and I stumbled across a raft of shots of four young sharp Skinheads, looking smart and tough at White Hart Lane. WTF? I had no idea who they were, yet thanks to YouTube I was able to discover their music, and it was like being a teenager all over again, discovering a new band for the first time. Any fans of The Who, The Creation, Buzzcocks, The Jam, Oasis, The Artic Monkeys and so on, will get Jook and maybe a heavyweight in the world of music can find a few bob down the back of his Heal’s sofa and give this band one last push for the recognition they truly deserve.
Maybe it’s a little bold to cite Jook as the missing link between The Who and The Jam, but it ain’t far from the absolute truth… perhaps the old adage of six degrees of separation is more apt? Whatever, do yourself a favour and lend an ear. A Different Class indeed…