Imagine a place where the water is so soft and pure you can drink it straight from the tap. Not only that, but when the local brewers use it to make beer it produces a wonderful creamy head on the top of your pint. And when you come to pay, it’s only a couple of quid (less than US $3). Then, when you’ve had a skinful of beer, you can stagger out into the bright lights and follow your nose to a little place where they serve the most wonderful fried fish. The name of this marvellous fish is haddock, and it comes covered in golden batter and soaked in malt vinegar and salt. Delicious! And if you are not in the mood for fish, you will also find in this place an array of little cafes where they serve the most mouth-watering, aromatic, spicy food which you scoop up with great fluffy discs of flat bread. The name of this food is curry and chapatis.
The weather is never a problem in this place, because all is forgiven when Christmas comes and the snow falls, turning the town into a picture-postcard winter wonderland, complete with mistletoe, robin redbreasts and snowmen with carrots for noses. It’s so cute you feel like weeping. When the snow clears you can catch a bus over a hill or two and find yourself in a delightful Olde-Worlde village where the famous Bronte sisters lived in a pretty little parsonage. Or you can stay in the town and wander over to the world-famous museum of film and photography to while away a fascinating hour or two. After that, feel free to pop down the road to see a concert at the famous St George’s Hall where icons such as Charles Dickens, David Bowie and Duke Ellington have appeared.
In this mythical place, the rivers are crystal clean and the old canals carry shining white pleasure-boat cruisers – so lovely on a Sunday! And when you feel like driving you can buy a brand-new second-hand Mercedes for a couple of grand (thousand pounds). For more sedentary pleasures, you will find plenty of quaint little bookshops which may even stock a few slightly worn vinyl LPs, if you are lucky. And if you want to study, there is a first-rate university and a very well-known art college. The people in this magical town and surrounding area are pure and simple (a bit like the water). They are also very honest and tell the truth to your face. They don’t beat about the bush or talk with forked tongues like sly Londoners who are only after your money.
Of course, ladies and gentlemen, in case you haven’t guessed, I am talking about none other than BRADFORD, my beloved home town. Yes, folks, I dream about the old place every day. But there is one thing I haven’t told you about – a little known fact that makes it all the more astonishing. Bradford once spawned a world-famous pop group, one that I would like to pay a little tribute to today. The name of that group is Smokie. Please don’t feel dumb or guilty if you haven’t heard of them, but the truth is they were massive. I know the 70s was a long time ago now, but the impact of Smokie is still being felt all over the world. So, let me entertain you with a few facts about this overlooked outfit:
1) Before they made the big time, Smokie had a manager called Mark Jordan. I kid you not.
2) Also before they shot to stardom, when they were known as Kindness, our heroes were the backing band for Peter Noone from the famous Herman’s Hermits (“There’s a kind of hush…”)
3) In 1973, drummer Pete Spencer joined. He had played in loads of groups with amazing names such as The Chevrons, The Common Bond, Dave and Dee Dees Playground, London Fog, Sugar and Spice, and Brenda and The Collection. I would love to know who Dee Dees is (was?). Pete’s first gig with the band was performing on a sightseeing boat in Frankfurt, Germany.
4) When fame first arrived, the band were called Smokey, not Smokie. So, what’s the difference? Well, US soul legend Smokey Robinson didn’t like it one bit. He threatened to file a lawsuit, alleging the band’s name would confuse the audience. Can you believe that!? In order to avoid legal action, the group changed the spelling to “Smokie”.
5) In 1978, now firmly established as pop stars, Smokie had a brilliant idea. They decided to produce British football star Kevin Keegan’s first single, “Head Over Heels in Love”, which charted in many European countries. (Don’t tell me you haven’t heard our Kev singing his heart out!)
6) Smokie were not just a big hit in little old England, they were even bigger on the Continent and elsewhere. The band had loyal fans in Denmark, Israel, Germany, Holland, Australia and Russia – to name but a few.
7) To date, heart-throb lead singer Chris Norman has released 28 solo albums!
Absolutely fascinating facts – don’t you agree, folks? But my favourite anecdote about the band comes from a Russian fan, Danny, who shares his love of Smokie on a website called vinyl-blog.com. Danny has proudly posted pics of his very own copy of Smokie’s Greatest Hits, an LP made in Israel. Here is exactly what Danny says:
“One of the first western Rock’n’Roll bands which became very popular in Soviet Union was Smokie. I think, that their LP was released there even prior Beatles and Stones. Being a child I very liked them, I still kind of like them…For the very first time I heard Smokie when Soviets released the record contained the mix of popular foreign music. One of the songs there, I even remember it was the last one on side A, was “I’ll Meet You At Midnight”. I think this was one of three or four songs I liked from that vinyl. The rest sounded to me like a crap. The compilation is finalized with a great ballad “Wild Wild Angels”. If I would be a musician, I would rearrange this composition to make it a Metal one. But even the way it is I really enjoy it.”
Don’t you just love him already? I’d love to meet Danny and share some reminiscences about Smokie. But perhaps it would be most appropriate if I finish with a line or two from one of their songs, a sentiment that is close to my heart. The song is called Back to Bradford, and it goes like this: “Goodbye cardboard city, you’ve nothing to say / Though your face is pretty, I don’t have to stay / She’s my friend and you know what I like / Going back to Bradford, it’s what I prefer / Though your face is pretty, you’re nothing like her.”
I just couldn’t say it better myself…