Thunderclap Newman was a British one-hit wonder band that Pete Townshend of The Who and Kit Lambert formed circa December 1968 - January 1969 in a bid to showcase the talents of John "Speedy" Keen, Andy "Thunderclap" Newman and Jimmy McCulloch.
Their single, "Something in the Air", a 1969 UK Number One hit, remains in demand for television commercials, film soundtracks and compilations. The band released a critically acclaimed rock album, Hollywood Dream, and three other singles (which appeared on the album): "Accidents", "The Reason" and "Wild Country".
From 1969 until 1971, the nucleus of the band consisted of the songwriter Speedy Keen (vocals, drums, guitar); Andy "Thunderclap" Newman (piano); and Jimmy McCulloch (guitar). Pete Townshend (alias Bijou Drains) played bass guitar on their album and singles, all of which he had recorded and produced in IBC Studio and his Twickenham home studio. The band augmented its personnel during its tours: in 1969, by James "Jim" Pitman-Avery (bass guitar) and Jack McCulloch (drums); and in 1971, by Ronnie Peel (bass guitar) and Roger Felice (drums). The band folded in April 1971 and was resurrected by Andy Newman and his colleagues circa 2007.
In 1969, Townshend created the band to showcase songs written by the former Who chauffeur, drummer/singer/guitarist Keen. Keen wrote the opening track on The Who Sell Out album, "Armenia City in the Sky". Townshend produced the single, played its bass guitar under the pseudonym Bijou Drains, and hired for it the GPO engineer and Dixieland jazz pianist "Thunderclap" Newman (born Andrew Laurence Newman, 21 November 1942, Hounslow, Middlesex) and the fifteen-year-old Glaswegian guitarist Jimmy McCulloch.
Keen, Newman, and McCulloch met each other for the first time, in December 1968 or January 1969, in Townshend's home studio to record "Something in the Air". Before then, Townshend had planned to work on projects for each of the musicians, but Kit Lambert prevailed upon Townshend, who was working on what became the rock-opera Tommy, to save time by coalescing the three musicians into the collective project that became Thunderclap Newman.
"Something in the Air", which Keen wrote for the film, The Magic Christian, was number one in the UK Singles Chart for three weeks, holding off Elvis Presley and the Beatles' "Ballad of John and Yoko" in the process. Originally titled "Revolution", but later renamed because The Beatles had released a song of that name in 1968 (the B-side of "Hey Jude"), "Something in the Air" captured post-flower power rebellion, marrying McCulloch's electric rhythm and lead guitars, Keen's drumming and falsetto, Newman's piano solo and Townshend's (uncredited) electric bass. By December 1969, the single was awarded a gold disc for world sales of more than a million.
"Something in the Air" appeared on the soundtracks of the films The Magic Christian (1969) and The Strawberry Statement (1970), the last having helped the single reach number 25 in the United States. The song also appeared in the deluxe edition of the Easy Rider CD. In the UK and US, a follow-up single, "Accidents", came out only in May 1970, and charted at No. 44 for only a week, but not charting at all in the US. An album, Hollywood Dream, again produced by Townshend and released the previous year, peaked in Billboard 200 chart at No. 163. "Something in the Air" was also in the film Almost Famous (2000) and is used on the soundtrack. It was also used in a 2008 television episode of My Name Is Earl.
The critic Nathan Morley described "Accidents" as the band's masterpiece. “One would," he wrote, "have to listen to Wagner in a funeral parlour for something even more morbid than Thunderclap Newman’s ‘Accidents’, which chronicles the deaths of various hapless children who all meet a very nasty end – Poor Mary falls in a river whilst waiting for the Queen to sail by and little Johnny is killed by a speeding car. That said, the song, orchestration and performance are simply brilliant. It is captivating and without doubt their best recording."
Thunderclap Newman had not planned to undertake live performances, but the band relented when, to their collective surprise, "Something in the Air" became a chart success. The trio, augmented by Jim Pitman-Avery (bass guitar) and McCulloch's elder brother Jack (drums), undertook a 26-date tour of England and Scotland in support of Deep Purple from July 1969 to August 1969. Thunderclap Newman's live setlist then typically included the following songs: "Lady Madonna", by the Beatles; a twelve-bar jam; "Wilhelmina"; Water music, by Andy Newman; and "Something in the Air". On 8 August, Pitman-Avery and McCulloch announced their intention to leave the band. Within weeks, they had formed the country-rock band Wild Country with Terry Keyworth (guitar) and Stuart Whitcombe (keyboards). That year, the band appeared in television programmes in Britain (How Late It Is, Top of the Pops) and Germany (Beat-Club).
In October 1970, Thunderclap Newman released its critically acclaimed album, Hollywood Dream. That year, they released three singles: "Accidents/I See It All", "The Reason/Stormy Petrel" and "Wild Country/Hollywood Dream". On 7 November, they appeared on Ev (a.k.a., The Kenny Everett Show). In early 1971, the founding trio reformed with the Australian musicians Roger Felice (drums) and Ronnie Peel (bass guitar).
On 6 March 1971, the New Musical Express reported the band's personnel change: "Thunderclap Newman has finally settled down into a five-piece group, with two new members being brought in — although on certain dates, the outfit may be augmented by a brass section. Permanent line-up now comprises Newman (piano), Speedy Keen (rhythm guitar and vocals), Jimmy McCulloch (lead guitar), Ronnie Peel (bass) and Roger Felice (drums). Dates include University of Sussex (tomorrow, Saturday), Sheffield University (March 12) and Nelson Imperial (14). A Scottish tour is being set for the end of April."
With its new line-up, from January 1971 to April 1971 Thunderclap Newman supported Deep Purple during a 19-date tour of England and Scotland. Their live setlist then typically included the following: "Look Around", "The Reason" and "Wild Country", plus cover songs written by other artists. At some time during those months, the band supported Leon Russell during a tour of Holland and they had supported Deep Purple during a tour of Scandinavia. They played the club circuit and had avoided playing in ballrooms. That year, Thunderclap Newman made a cameo appearance in the British movie, Not Tonight, Darling!.
Thunderclap Newman broke up circa 10 April 1971 — days before they were scheduled to start a tour of Scotland and weeks before they were scheduled to be part of a package tour with Marsha Hunt and others during The Who's 12-week tour of the US.
The members of the band had little in common. In a 1972 NME interview, Newman said that he got on with Keen's music but not with Keen personally, while the exact opposite was true with regard to McCulloch.
In 2008, Newman appeared on an episode of the British television programme Those Were The Days to comment upon the night of the first moon landing, when Thunderclap Newman had performed an almost-nightlong concert.
McCulloch had stints with a dozen or more bands, including John Mayall, Stone the Crows, and Paul McCartney's Wings and at the age of 26 he died of heart failure caused by a heroin overdose on 27 September 1979.
In 1973, Keen released a solo album for Track, entitled Previous Convictions, which featured McCulloch and Roger Felice on some tracks. He began recording a double album as a follow-up. Frustrated by his lack of progress at Track, he took the demos to Island Records, which pared it down to the single album Y'know Wot I Mean? and released it in 1975. Its single, "Someone to Love", received plenty of airplay but failed to sell.
Discouraged, Keen ceased recording after one more single in 1976. He tried his hand at the record producing, working with the punk band Johnny Thunders and the Heartbreakers on their first album L.A.M.F. in 1977, and also produced Motörhead's first album before leaving the music industry. He appears on several tracks on the best of Motorhead double CD All the Aces, as part of a live set originally performed under the name The Muggers. The set includes five songs written and sung by Keen, only one of which had appeared on his solo albums.
Keen suffered from arthritis for several years, and was recording his third solo album, when he unexpectedly died at the age of 56 on 12 March 2002.
In 1971, Newman recorded a solo album, Rainbow, and he played assorted instruments on Roger Ruskin Spear's first album.
In February 2010, Newman performed as Thunderclap Newman with a new line-up at the Con Club in Lewes, Sussex. The line-up consists of Tony Stubbings (bass guitar), Nick Johnson (lead guitar), Mark Brzezicki (former Big Country, drums) and Josh Townshend (nephew of Pete Townshend, on rhythm guitar and vocals). Soon thereafter, the band released a CD entitled Beyond Hollywood. Thunderclap Newman supported Big Country on a 2011 tour of the U.K.
"Something in the Air" appears on the soundtracks of the films The Magic Christian (1969), The Strawberry Statement (1970), Kingpin (1996), Almost Famous (2000), The Dish (2000), and The Girl Next Door (2004). The song also appears in episodes of the television series Six Feet Under, The Riches, My Name is Earl, and Love Child.
The band is mentioned in Thomas Pynchon's 2009 novel Inherent Vice (pg. 356)..
The song "Something in the Air" currently is used for opening and closing for the Internet talkhost Nicole Sandler's show Radio or Not found on ustream.
- List of artists who reached number one on the UK Singles Chart
- List of performers on Top of the Pops
- UK No.1 Hits of 1969
- List of NME covers
- List of 1960s one-hit wonders in the United States
- Rice, Tim; Gambaccini, Paul; Rice, Jonathan (1995). The Guinness Book of British Hit Singles: Every Single Hit Since 1952 (10th ed.). Enfield, Middlesex, London: Guinness World Records Ltd. ISBN 0-85112-633-2.
- Sleeve notes on CD re-issue of Y'Know Wot I Mean? (Edsel EDCD 462)
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Image from Discogs