Steve Ellis - The Everlasting Soul Speaks

Written by Kev McDonald
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ZANI  spoke to Steve just ahead of his preparations for his Isle of Wight appearance with Chris Farlowe over the August Bank Holiday Weekend - we covered a lot of ground and got his thoughts on all things Modernist, Then and Now, Personal Inspirations, Style and Shades and his forthcoming album “10 Commitments”…

ZANI - It has been said that the Mod Lifestyle – Music, Clothes, Scooters, Clubs, Dandyism. Is the only youth cult that can be looked back on in later years without embarrassment  .Would you agree?  

Steve Ellis - The basis of Mod (ernism) came from the roots of the Jazz Players, Buddy Rich, Ronnie Scott etc. The influence of the way they dressed in mohair suits, coupled with the US College Boy look, consisting of Levis, Harrington jackets (I believe named for the character Rodney Harrington played by Ryan O'Neal in the US Soap opera Peyton Place which ran from ’64 - ’69), button down shirts and of course penny loafers, was immense.

The Dandyism element never appealed to me - it has no place in mod as I see it, 'cos it came along  much later

ZANI - What is the enduring appeal of Mod in all its incarnations?

Steve Ellis - Pete Meaden, The Who’s first manager said:  "Modism, Mod living, is an aphorism for clean living under difficult circumstances."

I'm probably paraphrasing Mr Meaden, but I have to agree with the sentiment. I’d say quite simply that the style remains - the looks I mentioned above are what I’m still wearing on the street 50 years on. And Rockers in some shape will always live on - Bikers/leather jackets, jeans and t-shirts…

ZANI - Is it an innate Mod sensibility that connects you with leading lights like Paul Weller and Steve Cradock?
Steve Ellis - For me it is all about the music - Paul has been a mate for 25 years, his drive has always come from the music, and I’m sure it is the same with Steve too.

ZANI - Did Paul Weller ever locate those shades he coveted so much on the cover of your “An Everlasting Soul” anthology?

Steve Ellis - You know it ‘s great, ever since I’ve known Paul he asks have I got this or have I got that still… I gave him a beautiful Ben Sherman a while ago. He loved it and used that shirt as the  pattern for the candy-striped range for Ben Sherman… but sadly I couldn’t find those sunglasses he saw me wearing on the “An Everlasting Soul” cover. Gone astray. I’d forgotten all about that until the following Christmas when a parcel arrived from Paul - he’d tracked down a lovely Gucci pair of shades that were identical and sent them to me. I loved ‘em as soon as I saw ‘em and still wear them to this day. But only when its sunny.

steve ellis kev macdonald paul mcavoy zani 3ZANI - Lets talk about ‘the passion’.  What first triggered your interest and passion for music?
Steve Ellis - When I was 11 or 12 the highlight of my week was a trip to Wood Green, to the market and then back to my Grandmas to watch Six-Five Special on the BBC. I sat in awe in front of this strange old black and white TV set, mesmerised by the images of performers like Gene Vincent, Buddy Holly, Elvis of course... and British Artists like Joe Brown and Marty Wilde. The whole thing caught me and fired my imagination I guess.

ZANI - Did your style evolve or were you encouraged towards particular songs?

Steve Ellis - Around the time I stated singing I was a mod in a gang, all of us aged about 15 or 16. We were well into Otis Redding, Ray Charles, The Temptations, and all the black US Soul and R&B labels like Motown, Stax, Chess etc. I ended up in a band called the Soul Survivors and we started with cover versions of these tunes, with the obligatory mod-orientated chart hits of the time… We rehearsed at every given opportunity and we became a good, tight, live band, playing clubs in London, Brighton, Clacton, Stoke etc,  all while I was still at school.

Fuck me, we even played the Flamingo and I was just sixteen years old - the drummer was only fourteen.

ZANI - This ones a hypothetical – Are there any particular tunes that you coveted - that you felt “had your name written all over them”?

Steve Ellis - No,not really, I don’t think that way.
ZANI - You must have been exceptionally proud of the “ Three Steves” tag that was given to you, lining you up with Steve Marriott and Steve Winwood?
Steve Ellis - Oh Yeah. I met Stevie Winwood around his time in Traffic. He is a very talented individual and quiet with it…
Steve Marriott on the other hand was another very talented individual but definitely not quiet.

I recall last seeing Marriott - it would have been around ’71, a jam session at the Revolution Club with Terry Reid - and he called me a 'lazy c**t' because he thought I wasn’t playing live anymore. When I told him about the two studio albums I’d just done his attitude changed substantially. I always liked Steve and I remember meeting him a few times when he was still in the Small Faces. In fact when Love Affair were No.1 we did TOTP with Steve and the boys, and they had the dressing room next door. They sent round a couple of bottles of Champagne for us to celebrate with… little did they know that I didn't bleeding' drink. It was a lovely gesture though…
When all is said and done, Steve Marriott was a massive talent… he had a truly great voice, and is sad loss… I think everyone will agree.

ZANI - There was a great Rave magazine picture of you dressed as a Choirboy?
Steve Ellis - Yeah - I remember that day. It was about people who had come to the fore in ‘67/'68, and Rave photographed Andy Fairweather-Low (Amen Corner), Peter Frampton (The Herd) and Francis Rossi (Status Quo) and me for the Xmas cover…we had a lot of fun.

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ZANI - I understand that David Wedgbury was co manager of your first band. What are your recollections of working with him?
Steve Ellis - David became our 3rd collective manager and we were quite in awe of him - I mean, he had shot the iconic cover for the Who’s My Generation LP. David’s ideas were always innovative. I remember he wanted us all in white suits, which had a red line running up them, and he wanted the line to continue up our faces and for us to be called “The Thin Red Line”.

We were having none of it. We wouldn’t trade our Ben Shermans and Levis for that. We thought it was mad. A bonkers idea… Stroll on.

In the end David left our management for reasons unknown, but I was fortunate enough to bump into him at the book launch for Terry Rawlings and Keith Badman's book about the Rolling Stones, “Good Times, Bad Times”. The launch was held at the Railway Hotel in Richmond, a venue the Stones had often played back in the day, and David and I had a great old catch up. It had been about thirty years since I’d last seen him.
I was so, so glad that we'd met again, as sadly he died soon afterwards in 1998. I remember him as a very talented photographer and a true gentleman.

ZANI - You have been associated with Brighton for some time, living here in and your long term friendship with Roger Daltrey is well known . Did you catch any of the filming of Quadrophenia in ‘78?
Steve Ellis - No, but I think the part was tailor made for Phil Daniels as Jimmy.

ZANI - What were your thoughts on that and the film in general?
Steve Ellis - I thought the rest of the cast were great… I just didn’t get the casting of Sting as the Ace Face though - but he played the part well.

I’ve told Roger this to his face, and he is like a brother to me, but I have never liked Who concept albums. I think Townshend’s three-minute wonders - along with Ray Davis' - are brilliant…That said, ”Who’s Next” is one of my all time Top Ten albums and some of the tracks on that run a lot longer than three minutes..

2/steve ellis kev macdonald paul mcavoy zani 6ZANI - Did they get it right from your experience as a London Mod?
Steve Ellis - Yeah, I think they did - without being a trainspotter about it. The Mods vs Rockers fights were not something I experienced - we hung out with Rockers, my crew never had rows with them... we only ever fought with other Mods. Ironic.

A pal of mine in Brighton called Rocking Bill (a Rock’n’Roll DJ) was paid a fiver in 1964 or maybe 65, to throw deck-chairs at a crowd of Mods by some newspaper guys looking for a story… This picture is now an iconic image of the times and gets featured every time Mods and Rockers get a mention. And it was all a set up.

ZANI - Similarly the filming of the latest ‘Brighton Rock ‘movie took place in 2009/10. Have you seen the movie and did the 60’s setting chime with you?

Steve Ellis - I have seen it - strangely enough I was put up by my manager 30 years ago to play the role of “Pinkie” in a planned new version back then, but nothing ever came of it…

I like the actor who plays Pinkie in this version - Sam Riley - he was excellent in “Control” playing Ian Curtis of Joy Division, a very dark and disturbing movie - and he gets it dead right.I don’t think you can beat the Richard Attenborough original though…

The Mod/Rockers spin is a good marketing move - good luck to ‘em - and if the remake brings people to discover the original film so much the better.

ZANI - The ’79 Mod wave is the best known beyond the original incarnation, and there are 80s, 90s and 21st Century Mods and Stylists as we speak drawing inspiration from the trendsetters like yourself. What was it like seeing kids in a Parkas and Desert boot “uniform”, particularly in ‘79?
Steve Ellis - Funnily enough a lot of my mates are Scooter Boys from that period, and in some ways it made me laugh - not sarcastically - to see people running around in 60s gear again. Around that time a kid at the bottom of my street inscribed “MODS” in wet cement - it is still there in fact and every time I pass it I have a chuckle… I did earlier today.

ZANI - If you met a 16-year-old version of yourself, what advice would you have for yourself at that age?

Steve Ellis - Three things: Behave yourself son. Remember that you will never understand women… and most important of all: Get yourself a good lawyer.

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ZANI - If you met any 16 year old dreaming of Vespa 50s,Parkas and Rickenbackers, where would you point him or her in terms a style and appreciation of Mod inspiration?

Steve Ellis - My advice would be to get down to your local library and DO YOUR RESEARCH... The old newspapers of the time are priceless, a gold mine of information.

A mate of mine ,Smiler (Paul Anderson), co-wrote a book with his oppo Damian Jones about the Fleur De Lys… a lot of time, effort and research went into that book and it shows. If you don’t research it, it’s all hearsay.

Smiler has spent the last six years in various libraries doing just that… researching what I would call the ultimate Mod bible… soon to be printed when a decent publisher steps up to the plate. I have seen this work-in-progress and its knockout. Absolutely awesome, a great job well done and really will be the last word on all things Mod. If there's any publishers out there, bite this man's hand off. Quick.

ZANI - Had to be asked – the Britpop and the Oasis/Blur thing.What did you think?
Steve Ellis - Its funny, but I always thought that Blur would last longer than Oasis. But Oasis were to my mind more of a Rock n’Roll band... some great tunes.

ZANI - Was there a Mod continuum there?  Were there elements from a 60s - 80s Mod sensibility & sus there?

Steve Ellis - I dunno really… clothes-wise, Blur kinda looked more like Casuals to me, with the track suit tops and Fila jumpers and all that, and Oasis looked a bit Manc-baggy-meets-Mod-in-a-back-alley if you know what I mean. All very cool though.

ZANI - If you could book a room with a studio & instruments, and supplies for a couple of days, who would be there with you?
-    A supergroup?
-    If era / age were no barrier, who would sing with you?
-    Who would write the songs?
-    Who would play Guitar? Bass? Drums? Keyboards? Brass?
-    Who would produce?
-    And how would this collective be styled?

Steve Ellis - What sort of a question is that. Right, OK, here goes...The band would be: Drums – Moonie / Buddy Rich
Bass – Jack Bruce / Duck Dunn
Keyboards – Booker T
Guitar – Steve Cropper
Guitar – Stevie Ray Vaughan
Guitar – Ry Cooder
Acoustic Guitar – Burt Jansch

The Singers:
Bonnie Bramlett
Aretha Franklin
Etta James
Terry Reid
The Temptations
Any Motown Harmony Group -
and of course Ray Charles on the piano - I could go on forever.  Far too many great names to mention and choose from really

ZANI - Your album credits always name check a wide and eclectic range of people who inspire you, in music and beyond... Who inspires you, then and now?

Steve Ellis - The Singers and Musicians listed above - and most of all Ray Charles… I loved his voice. My mother used to bring home Ray Charles LPs from Woolies and I played them all the time. Brilliant.

ZANI - It is a lesser-known aspect of your life that you have overcome severe setbacks on a personal level. What saw you through the darkest times and where does your determination come from?

steve ellis kev macdonald paul mcavoy zani 7Steve Ellis - My Mother and Father, my family really… always an inspiration. You only get one chance and only have one family. To have children of your own is a fantastically emotional and inspirational thing. Determination? Well, my Dad served in the RAF in WW2… and moreover my Grandfather was a proper 'Boy Soldier' on both the Somme and Ypres in the Great War. Only 15 years old and in the trenches on the front line, in the most terrible conflict imaginable… They don't make 'em like that anymore. Different generation… He was as hard as nails but the kindest man you ever met. Never complained about anything.  He was my best mate as a kid. It’s been said that I’m feisty and I think I definitely get that from my Grandfather.

ZANI - What excites you currently in music and what  are you listening to at the moment?
Steve Ellis - I have to say, not a fat lot these day, I’m waiting for something new to come along and grab me really…There are good singers coming through though here and there. Adele is a breath of fresh air for me, especially after all the X Factor bollocks they've been churning out… Although to be fair there were one or two decent girl singers that came out of that show, but bugger all else.

ZANI - Will your next album have new material and some covers of your favourite tunes?
Steve Ellis - You know what, I’ve been sussed out. The album is called “10 Commitments” because it’s 10 Songs qnd took 10 Days to record and mix…

There is some Buzz Cason and Mac Gaydon in there on a track called “ Healing Touch”. Cason & Gaydon wrote “Everlasting Love” and “Rainbow Valley”.

There’s an Ian McLagan tune on there too and some nice little surprises really… how about a slower “Stax” style version of the Beatles “Please Please Me”? Look out for the inclusion of a video of “Please Please Me” on the CD too… terrific.

ZANI - Will you tour the album? Plans for live dates in 2011?
Steve Ellis - Yeah. Look at my website for the tour dates:  Steve Ellis Official SIte

ZANI - And to close,  the $64,000 dollar question, There has been mention in some of your sleeve notes that you’ve thought of committing your life story to a book - are you planning this as we write?

Steve Ellis - The book was finished in 2001, but it’s been languishing on the backburner for a number of reasons, namely I’ve been so busy with things since then… uppermost being my son getting taken gravely ill and his welfare was obviously far more important than anything else to me. After he recovered substantially enough, due in no small part to his own tenacity I must add, I got back on with the music and released "Best of Days" which came out a couple of years back and got myself back onstage… performing "LIVE" is what it is all about… suffice to say with all that going on the book stayed suspended in limbo, but recently I've shown the raw manuscript as it stands to a few people and have had really good feedback, but every time I move on it I get busy again

It’s currently sitting with Paolo Hewitt, a very good writer in my view, so lets see how it goes from there.But this is my $64,000 reply to your question above: If you have any more Mod Questions, please send them on a postcard to me at this address  XXXXXXXXXXXXXX … Hopefully by the time they arrive I will have moved You know, I never got into the music biz to make money, and its just as fucking well.

Massive thanks for your time Steve - an absolute honour for me, Paul and ZANI

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© Words - Kev McDonald/ ZANI Media

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