It’s a great mystery

Written By: John Gardiner - Liner notes from the CD - Mickey Jupp "Live At The BBC"

Mickey Jupp

It’s a great mystery why Mickey Jupp, a highly inventive songwriter, gifted guitarist and pianist, and very emotive singer, has never enjoyed the acclaim his talents so richly deserve. Although highly respected by musical peers such as Nick Lowe and Gary Brooker, he has only ever enjoyed cult status. Hopefully this very enterprising collection of performances, culled from the archives of BBC Radio 1, will lead to a reappraisal of his undoubted creativity and influence.

Born in Worthing, 6 March 1944, Mickey moved to Southend as a child and reluctantly took up formal piano lessons. The music of Lieber and Stoller completely changed his attitude, and he taught himself to play rock’n’roll and blues piano. Then at the age of 14 learned to play guitar (Mickey tended to write songs with guitar rather than with a piano). The astute, sharply observed and good-humoured lyrics of Jerry Lieber, showcased in Coasters classics such as Shoppin’ for Clothe, were to become a template for Mickey’s later song writing.

After leaving Art College in 1962 and getting married for the first time, Mickey joined “The Black Diamonds” (he played guitar) with Tony Diamond on drums. Mickey’s first vocals for the band were on the Barrett Strong cover song “Money”. In 1963 Mickey formed his very own R’n’B group, the Orioles (named by Gary Brooker). They were in friendly rivalry with another popular Southend band, the Paramount’s, who later evolved into Procol Harum. Unlike them, the Orioles were unable to gain a record contract and eventually broke up in 1966. But in 1968 Mickey and a new band, Legend, released a self-titled album on Bell. The songs (all original Jupp compositions) covered a wide range of melodic pop and blues styles, with the track Twenty Carat Rocker sounding tailor-made for Jerry Lee Lewis. The whole album was recorded, mixed and over dubbed in 9 hours (financed completely by the band themselves). However, the group had essentially been put together for the a lbum and after only one gig (a private party on a boat in Staines) they disbanded (Chris East would later hook up with Mickey in the mid 1980’s to write songs for the “X” album – one track which didn’t feature on this album was “Function to Function” recorded by the legendary Chris Farlowe). Although the band was no more they still received airplay on the BBC courtesy of legendary presenter Bob Harris.

Jupp spent a year working and living in Bath during 1969 (this was where most of his next album was written – the track Cross Country was quite reminiscent of his train journey) then one day, completely out of the blue, he received a letter from Robin Trower which simply said “Call Me”. Mickey came back to Southend, secured the management services of David Knights (who had just left Procol Harum), and put together a new Legend line-up comprising himself on vocals,guitar and piano, Mo Witham (guitar), John Bobin (bass) and Bill Fifield (drums). Bill ‘Legend’ Fifield was later to join T Rex (Bill was introduced to Marc Bolan via Tony Visconti) and subsequently replaced by Bob Clouter.

They secured a recording deal with Vertigo and released an album, again called Legend (commonly referred to as “The Red Boot” album) in 1971. The cover shot of a gleaming red leather winkle picker boot clearly proclaimed the band's rock'n'roll roots, which were also reflected in the album’s content: a set of highly listenable and totally unpretentious tracks, completely set apart from the prevailing progressive rock climate. John Peel, a Gene Vincent devotee, fully appreciated Jupp’s song writing and the band’s rock’n’roll sensibility. But despite Peel’s support, sales were disappointing, and the same fate befell the equally impressive Moonshine (the strings on this album were arranged and produced by Matthew Fisher of Procol Harum), released by Vertigo in 1972 – by which time the group had replaced Bob Clouter and John Bobin after the bands ill fated “Italian” tour.

Clearly Vertigo had no idea how to market the group. Today Mickey says they received ‘no back-up whatever’ from the label, and even found themselves financing some of their own advertising. He has also recalled playing rock’n’roll sets at university gigs, to audiences seated on the floor expecting to hear extended self-indulgent guitar solos and other features of heavy rock.

This writer can recollect seeing the group in 1971 at a well-known rock watering hole, the Greyhound in West London. The mainly afghan coat-wearing clientele were at first bemused by the rock’n’roll content of Legend’s set, but were soon won over by the strengths of the original songs as well as the very impressive standard of singing and musicianship. Perhaps the inadvisability of sitting on the floor in a public house was another contributory factor to a successful gig!

Mickey returned to Southend after retreating back to Bath for a few years, combining working in a music shop (run by Chris Stevens) with playing in a local dance band (he also spent a brief time with a local department store which inspired the Moonshine album track “At The Shop”). Yet he was tempted back by the acknowledgements of his talent and influence by Wilko Johnson and Lee Brilleaux of Dr Feelgood, who were coming to the fore in the pub rock revolution. Jupp’s cause was also championed by the widely respected broadcaster and writer Charlie Gillett. Ironically Legend had, by only a short period, pre-dated the pub rock boom. If they had remained together, it seems certain they would have found a much more receptive audience and could well have achieved the success they fully merited.

By 1974, Legend had come to an end. Mickey disappeared from the scene for approximately two years. He was recruited by Robin Trower and Frank Mead to form a band called Kilroy – this merely became an abortive work out. Mickey put together his own big band featuring 4 vocalists including Bob Fish (ex Darts). They toured for a short period around the UK and received favourable reviews. Mickey used this band to put out a few new tracks that he had written, Spy and The Last Time I Saw Your Face (renamed for the Juppanese album as ‘Pilot’) featured in the bands set list.

By late 1976, Mickey was re-discovered in an NME interview and had now embarked on a solo career and was signed by Stiff Records in 1978. A compilation album, essentially covering the three Legend albums, was issued and was then closely followed by his first solo album, Juppanese. Side one of the album was produced by Nick Lowe/Dave Edmunds, with backing by Rockpile. Side two was produced by Gary Brooker of Procol Harum and featured Chris Spedding on guitar (currently touring with Roxy Music).

It is from this period that the tracks on this album originate. Although there were entirely different line-ups for each of the sessions featured, one is struck by the consistently impressive standard of playing from the individual musicians concerned. It is solid evidence that Jupp’s reputation was such that he could always call on the services of high-calibre instrumentalists. Even more apparent is the totally unforced nature of Jupp’s singing, combining an impassioned bluesy voice with crystal clear diction. Underpinning all this is the sheer range of Jupp’s song writing, rooted in the realities of everyday living yet infused with humour, perception and a fertile imagination.

Three of the tracks are from a 1978 John Peel session, including Cheque Book, recorded by Dr Feelgood and a staple item in their live set. John Gordon (bass) and Ron Telemacque (drums) provide rock solid rhythm support, while Mick Grabham (lead guitar) offers some searing solos.

Also included are tracks from a session for the Stuart Coleman programme. The highly amusing wordplay of Switchboard Susan (a Swedish version was released by Roxette entitled Marie Vixen) led to covers by both Lowe and Brooker, as well as sixties group the Searchers, who were then signed to Sire Records and trying to re-invent themselves as a New Wave group. The driving rockers, So Long and Down at the Doctor’s (only released on a compilation album Southend Rock featuring Frank Mead on Harmonica), were covered by Dr Feelgood, with the latter becoming another highlight of their live set. Stellar backing support to Jupp’s impassioned vocals was provided by Pete Gosling (guitar), Vic Young (bass), Mac Poole (drums) and Geraint Watkins (piano). Known collectively as the Cable Layers, this line-up accompanied Jupp on the 1978 Stiff Artists tour.

Another group of tracks originate from a Radio 1 ‘In Concert’ session in late 1979. Jupp’s band comprised Ian ‘Chuck’ Duck (guitar), Pat Donaldson (bass), Frank Mead (Alto Saxophone) and ex-Fairporter Dave Mattacks (drums). The witty Shortlist was recorded by Roger Chapman, while Mickey acknowledges Bobby Bland before singing the blues standard St James Infirmary. The medley Bony Morony/Sweet Little Rock’n’Roller gives him the opportunity to pay tribute to Larry Williams and Chuck Berry, the latter an especially strong hero and influence.

The remaining tracks, from an earlier ‘In Concert’ session of 1978, offer a rare opportunity to hear Mickey in an acoustic session, accompanied by Oriole/Legend mainstay Mo Witham. It features the powerful ballad Pilot, later recorded by Gary Brooker, and the good-humoured Hole In My Pocket, which dates back to Legend’s ‘Red Boot’ album. Excellent instrumentation, powerful singing and great songs clearly show that an acoustic folk blues route could have been a viable option for Jupp.

Success again eluded Mickey following Juppanese, and he clearly felt uneasy with the ‘gung ho’ marketing approach of Stiff Records. He went on to produce a further seven solo albums on various record labels including A&M, the last to date being You Say Rock on the Swedish label Gazelle in 1994 (produced by Jerry Williams – Sweden’s answer to Cliff Richard). The estimable German label Line have reissued much of Jupp’s output of the 1980s, as well as releasing original albums such as As The Yeah's Go By (1991) – the album Mickey himself says he is most proud of.

Each of the tracks on this album highlight the total honesty of Jupp’s music. There is no pretence or artifice, and every performance is imbued with a genuine love for the very nature of rock’n’roll. Perhaps this is why he never became a household name: Mickey Jupp is very much his own man. His greatest opportunity was in 1978, but he was not interested in aggressive self-promotion and, unlike many of his Stiff label-mates, he preferred to let his music do the talking for him. Mickey says today that the label perceived him as ‘awkward’, and were more interested in marketing ‘eccentrics’ such as Wreckless Eric and Lene Lovich.

Apart from those already mentioned, Jupp’s songs have also been recorded by Rick Nelson, The Judd’s (who’s Tears for You sold over 3 million copies), Delbert McClinton and Chris Farlowe, amongst others. He still writes songs, and hopefully the release of this album might help persuade him to take a sabbatical from his craft shop in deepest Cumbria and return to a recording studio again. So, if Messrs Peel and Gillett could lead a movement to achieve this objective, many admirers of a highly creative songwriter blessed with an authentic rock’n’roll voice would be really grateful…


Thanks to: Mickey Jupp; Paul Moules. Visit the Mickey Jupp website: