Early work: Supertramp

Supertramp (1970)

Supertramp: Supertramp, A&M 1970
side oneside two
1 Surely1 Nothing To Show
2 It’s A Long Road2 Shadow Song
3 Aubade3 Try Again
4 And I Am Not Like Other Birds of Prey4 Surely
5 Words Unspoken
6 Maybe I’m A Beggar
7 Home Again
All songs written by Richard Davies, Roger Hodgson, Richard Palmer

This one comes from a position of bias. Most of these LP sections are about collectability, or about music. This one’s about history.

I’ve known guitarist Richard Palmer since I was four, and I briefly worked as a roadie for Supertramp while this album was being promoted. His songwriting and playing name became Richard Palmer-James after Supertramp.

Rock history, Wikipedia and inaccuracy …

I’m also going to rant a little about the accuracy of rock histories online and in print which screw up the chronology of the band. ‘Being there’ often doesn’t help with bands recalling a long career decades later, but my experience was brief, memorable and I do remember. (Interestingly the title of a Supertramp demo produced by Gary Wright is Remember / Saying No). Martin Melhuish’s The Supertramp Book dates from 1986, and he interviewed many of the participants, but in the early days it’s full of small errors. Richard Palmer had not “been writing lyrics for King Crimson” though he would be doing so three years later. Their manager Sam Miesegaes was not conducting business from ‘The Mayflower Hotel.’ I’d say that was misheard taped interview where someone says ‘A MayFAIR hotel’ … it was Brown’s Hotel in Mayfair where Sam always stayed. In particular the personnel division between the first and second albums happened on a different time scale.

I’ll tell the tale from my perspective.

In the summer of 1969, a professional band from Bournemouth called Ginger Man broke up for lack of work. John Wetton (bass, vocals) went on to Splinter, Mogul Thrash, Family, King Crimson, Roxy Music, Uriah Heep, UK and Asia. Richard Palmer (guitar, vocals) went on to Supertramp, King Crimson lyricist, Emergency, Munich and La Bionda. Bob Jenkins (drums) went on to Room, then became one of the most sought after touring and session drummers. You name them, Bob’s played with them. John Hutcheson (organ, vocals) went on to Room briefly, then took a doctorate in control engineering and moved to the USA.

Three of them … John, Richard and Hutch had come from The Palmer-James Group, a hugely popular south coast R&B then soul band.

Richard answered an advert in Melody Maker, for a new band. This was under the patronage of Sam Miesegaes, a wealthy Geneva-based resident of Dutch origin. It was to be formed around keyboard player Rick Davies from The Joint. The Joint’s lead singer / bass player John “Andy” Andrews was to switch to manage the new band, and would audition and choose the new musicians with Rick Davies. Andy had recorded It’s Just Love / A Rose Growing In The Ruins under his own name as John Andrews and The Lonely Ones (and a highly collectable 45 that is. Parlophone 1966. £250, or £350 for a DJ promo copy as it later became a Northern Soul favourite).

They recruited two guitarists, Richard Palmer and Roger Hodgson. Richard had also auditioned for a fledgling Wishbone Ash, and had the choice. Roger had recorded a single Mr Boyd as Argosy, right after leaving school. That single was backed by Elton John, Nigel Olsson and Caleb Qaye. That’s another collectable 45 … DJM label, 1969, mint value £120. Roger can play anything. Show him an instrument, he’ll get a tune out of it, and was selected for his voice, and he was asked to switch to bass guitar. (No, he hadn’t “mastered bass over the years” as in The Supertramp Book).

They didn’t have a drummer, mainly because Rick Davies is one of the best natural drummers I’ve ever seen, so was somewhat picky. Nigel Olsson was one who didn’t get the job, but that was Elton John’s gain. They recruited Keith Baker, who had been with The Joint. The band was called Daddy, and was dispatched to the wilds of Kent to a cottage at Botolph’s Bridge to get it together. They had a copy of Music From Big Pink and Rick Davies’ Horace Silver LPs.

After a few months, they were sent out to the PN Club in Munich to get it together as a live band. There is a circulating and bootlegged video, Daddy: Portrait 1970, by film director Haro Senft, of them on stage. It’s generally labelled as Supertramp as it has circulated, but they were still called Daddy.

Daddy: PN Club 1970, from Portrait by Haro Senft
Rick Davies, Richard Palmer, Keith Baker, Roger Hodgson

Both All Along The Watchtower and Season of The Witch were in long arrangements originally done by Tetrad /Ginger Man. Richard was on lead vocal. Richard said they had been influenced by the Alan Bown Set’s arrangement … by John Helliwell, who by 1973 was in Supertramp. We listened to several versions when we did a Ginger Man reunion gig in 2017, and it turned out Hutch had arranged most of it. On the Supertramp versions you can hear how good they were on stage and how well Rick, Richard and Roger blended together. The two covers were still in the stage show in late 1970. You can find Portrait easily on line (if you type ‘Supertramp’ rather than ‘Daddy.’) Listening back, it’s astonishing how good Roger was on bass guitar, only months after switching from guitar.

Daddy: Portrait 1970
1 It’s A Long Road
(Davies, Hodgson, Palmer)
2 Maybe I’m A Beggar
(Davies, Hodgson, Palmer)
3 Walking In The Park
(Graham Bond)
4 All Along The Watchtower
(Bob Dylan)
5 Season of The Witch
(Donovan)
6 It’s A Long Road (audience recording version)
(Davies, Hodgson, Palmer)
7 Maybe I’m A Beggar (audience recording version)
(Davies, Hodgson, Palmer)
14th December 1969., PN Club Munich

Back in England by Christmas 1969, they were then sent to a palatial modern house near Godalming, Surrey … set in woodland, so noise wasn’t an issue. This was their second long bout of ‘getting it together in the country’ and this time it was to write an album. Herein lies a problem. Four guys stuck together in the middle of nowhere for weeks on end. Again. The band had not evolved. They weren’t old pals, they all came from different places. Rick Davies had been working solidly as a musician … drummer and keyboard player … for several years on the circuit. His tastes were what we’d now call soul jazz and funky R &B. Richard Palmer had been in a popular semi-pro band, playing more gigs than most pro bands, then had spent three years at university, rejoining the band in holidays … they were then a soul band. He’d had a year on the road in the prog-oriented Tetrad who changed their name to Ginger Man. Their style is best described as ‘Cream meets Vanilla Fudge.’ Roger had come straight from public school, and was the youngest by several years. His tastes were Beatles and Traffic. In January and February 1970, Richard’s letters were bemoaning the never-ending search for a drummer. They recruited Bob Millar on drums, an East End lad who’d (allegedly) been playing as the only white guy in the Skatalites. He was an incredibly good drummer.

The band Daddy Longlegs were kicking up about the name Daddy. Richard and I exchanged pages and pages of possible names. Richard came up with Supertramp from Autobiography of A Supertramp by W.H. Davies, a book anthologised in 1960s school English books. The name ‘Davies’ was the coincidence that made it right.

The Supertramp Book opines that Rick Davies was responsible for the riffs, Roger for the melodies and Richard Palmer for the lyrics. It wasn’t that simple. When I listen to the album Nothing To Show and It’s A Long Road sound Rick Davies. Try Again and Maybe I’m A Beggar and Surely are melodic Roger. I have the benefit of having heard Richard Palmer’s abortive solo album, cut in Munich with John “Andy” Andrews after Supertramp … John Wetton dropped in to play piano. Songs on there went on to be recorded by King Crimson, and I can assure you that it was not only the lyrics that were carried over, but melodies too.

Easter 1970. I was back from the University of East Anglia for three weeks. Hutch had formed a bar band to finance his studies, but no longer having a group van, transporting his Hammond organ was a problem. He decided to cut it in half below the keyboard. This involved two large multi-connector blocs and snipping each wire (one per key) in turn and soldering it to numbered terminals above and below. Cut the wire, solder it into number 36 pin above and 36 pin below. He needed an assistant and we did it in a day. We were employed to cut Supertramp’s far larger Hammond in half. Oh, dear. Problem. The L-100 had split easily. Rick Davies Hammond (a B3 or C3) fell apart once cut. A one day job turned into three days non-stop. I still have the solder scars.

Richard Palmer, Roger Hodgson, Rick Davies. My car.

Around this time, Hutch and I visited the studio where they were recording, and we were there in the photo session for the back of the LP. There are outtakes from the photos with the band next to my 1953 Vauxhall Wyvern which were contemplated for the sleeve. Bob Millar wasn’t around till later in the day. I got the feeling that the three songwriters were “the band.” Period.

It was a great car. Roger, Richard, Rick.

Chronology. The first album came out on 14th August 1970. It was recorded by the four piece, but Dave Winthrop joined on saxes and flute (from The Mooche) BEFORE the supporting gigs and tours. If you heard Supertramp in 1970, you almost certainly heard the five piece who also played on the John Peel Show. I first met Dave when they played the Marquee in July, before the album came out. Rick Davies had always wanted a five piece. For a while, due to mutual love of The Band, they contemplated two keyboards, and they had a demo tape of Gilbert O’Sullivan, Rick’s old pal from Swindon. They thought there might be an image issue. I’d seen Dave play in Norwich before. If you don’t believe my chronology, check the Isle of Wight Festival photo.

Rick Davies, Bob Millar, Roger Hodgson on bass, Richard Palmer on guitar, Dave Winthrop on flute, 27 August 1970. That’s the Hammond we split.

I’d just finished my MA thesis and was recruited as Andy’s assistant. I think there was a hope that I was experienced at soldering the wires back together on the Hammond. Every time we transported it, the first task was to connect the blocks and then check every key one by one. I’d have a soldering iron already warming up before I started.

The dynamics? Early on Andy and I were in the long wheelbase Transit van. Roger drove the group car. Richard soon joined us in the van. Then it was become screamingly unfair that Roger was doing all the driving and so Andy switched to the car, and Dave Winthrop usually joined Rick and me in the van. Andy left and a new Liverpudlian roadie replaced him (whose name escapes me) but I was now doing the soundboard at the side instead of Andy.

Zig Zag magazine 15 September 1969. Note the album adverts show the five piece with Dave Winthrop

A&M Records were great. Supertramp were one of their very first UK signings along with Strawbs. There was a freezing Sunday when we drove into a Scottish seaside town for the evening’s gig. The wind was blasting off the North Sea. No one felt like it until I parked outside W.H. Smith (or John Menzies). The whole window display was the Supertramp LP with a poster for the gig. It was like that most places.

It was somewhat ‘mushroom’ territory for me … I was largely in the dark on internal politics. It was clear that a Rick Davies / Roger axis was the core already. Rick Davies was definitely the leader, but he was taciturn to say the least, and virtually all decisions were communicated by Roger. A notebook was kept of all expenses to be set against future earnings, and Roger carried and maintained the notebook. It was down to “M1 services … Rick tea 5d. Richard white coffee 6d.”

Roger was also willing to drive and the first to help if we had to negotiate the Hammond up long flights of stairs. I remember his kindness. Once after the van broke down and I’d had a very long day getting a replacement, we were at the motorway services at 3 a.m. and Roger told the other roadie to move over and drive the van, he’d drive the car, and I could sleep in the passenger seat.

Yes, I remember rows. A bad one in Scotland when the band had been ‘bought and sold’ for four days. The first two gigs had already earned more than they were paid and the fourth would be the same. The promoter hadn’t filled the third day, so he put them into a Glasgow youth club for £20 (after £200 at a college the night before). Richard was furious and thought they shouldn’t play the youth club and there was an almighty row.

I’d put the tipping point as the London School of Economics on a Saturday night. Supertramp were playing in the lecture hall to a seated audience. Mogul Thrash were playing later, in the canteen for dancing. As well as John Wetton on bass / vocal, the Mogul Thrash group had Jim Litherland from Colosseum, Mike Rosen from Eclection, and the future Average White Band horn section.

The billing was about equal. Mogul Thrash’s roadie, Raf, made a point of thanking us for supporting them. I said I thought they were supporting us. The atmosphere was icy. As John Wetton, Richard’s band mate for six years, and our oldest friend, was in Mogul Thrash (and we knew all of them), Richard and I went out to dinner with Mogul Thrash after the gig. Supertramp never did fun things like that. The next day we were accused of ‘treachery’ in dining with the opposition. Richard said Mogul Thrash had played far better. Rick and Roger (and I) disagreed. Years later, I discussed it with John Wetton. In his memory, they’d had a harder, funkier sound, but he thought Supertramp had easily had the better songs. He told me he’d discussed it over lunch with Roger Hodgson after they ran into each other once in a studio.

I certainly don’t remember any discussion about “It’s either Richard or Roger” as described in The Supertramp Book. We went to Frankfurt to play the Zoom Club in December. Sam came up from Geneva. There were lots of huddled discussions. Richard decided to leave. I spent happy hours with the club’s German DJ who kindly gave me records he had double promo copies of. That’s the sort of thing I would remember. We drove back, and went straight to see a test showing of the Haro Senft movie they had done the soundtrack to, Fegefeur in a Soho viewing room. We hadn’t even had time to wash or change. It was after lunch and we’d had no sleep since Frankfurt. The replete and semi-pissed film executives said, ‘Fuckin’ hell. It’s in German!’ and promptly fell asleep. We went out to a tea room. Sam (who had flown over) ordered me to pay for the executives’ coffees. I never got the money back. Having driven non-stop Frankfurt to London, I slept for four or five hours, then drove Richard and his guitars and amps back to Bournemouth.

I didn’t leave. I went back to Roger’s mum’s house in the country. They were trying to write songs and decide on a new guitarist. We did one gig with David O’List from The Nice. Years later I communicated with him about the great artwork for his own label and mentioned the gig. He’d forgotten all about it but had always wondered why he had the first Supertramp LP and knew and liked all the songs from it.

It was decided that it was back to a house in the country. Bad news for me, as I lived on expenses on the road and pocketed my £15 a week wage untouched. My brother-in-law had just been offered a job at a university in Brussels, and the language school he worked for was getting very angry about the impossibility of finding a replacement for January 2nd, just ten days away. I offered to do it for a month, pointed out to Supertramp they had no need of me in a house in the country and promised to rejoin in a month or two when they went back on the road. I never did.

Bob Millar was still there. He left after a disastrous tour of Norway early in 1971. My last conversation with Bob was at Roger’s mother’s house. We were sitting on the sofa while Rick and Roger were composing next door. Bob said, ‘You know, Pete, I’ve finally worked this band out. They’re all total c**ts.’ ‘Well,’ I said, ‘All bands seem like that sometimes.’ Bob stared at me, ‘Nah, this lot are c**ts all the time. All of them. Including you.’

I saw Supertramp Mark II, the Indelibly Stamped band, several times. Dave Winthrop was with them. They were down to playing gigs like Brockenhurst Sixth Form College. They played the Ritz Ballroom in Bournemouth, and Frank Farrell and Kevin Currie came back to Ian Prentice’s house with me … Ian had invented and built the incredible Axis amplifiers that can be seen in the Isle of Wight photo. Richard Palmer designed the Axis logo. Dave Winthrop later joined Secret Affair.

I heard Crime of The Century before it was released. By then Richard was writing for King Crimson. They invited Richard to come from Munich to their house in Somerset (still getting it together in the country) to hear it. I went with him. We were blown away, hearing it on huge monitor speakers from open-reel tape. To dispel all the animosity talk, they then asked Richard if he would rewrite the lyrics and consider rejoining. Roger had long switched back to acoustic guitar, and was adding piano. They thought about having another guitarist. Richard told them the lyrics were great as they were, and that they really didn’t need him to change them, and wished them well and that he believed it would be a major hit record. Interestingly, Supertramp were the band with no guitar solos after Richard had left.

The last time I spoke to Rick and Roger was backstage at Bournemouth Winter Gardens in their new role as stars. Roger asked me to come back to work for them (just being nice, I think). I pointed out that they still owed me £15 for the last week I had worked with them. No one laughed. No one gave me the money either. I have seen Supertramp without Roger, and Roger solo since, but didn’t meet them.

COLLECTING

There is an early pressing- there can’t have been many – with a different title on the inner label.

Discogs had just the one for sale in September 2022, priced at £104. I’d never seen one until someone queried it from this page.

I asked Richard Palmer-James:

Richard Palmer-James:

We started looking for an album title before the artwork and packaging were finalised, and part of the somewhat unwieldy moniker AND I AM NOT LIKE OTHER BIRDS OF PREY seemed to be the only song title in the collection suitable for purpose.

Having suggested this to the powers-that-be at A&M Records UK, we soon heard that CEO Larry Yaskiel, the first boss of the recently-founded British branch of the company, had promptly put forward BIRDS OF PRAY as a preferred title, with cover art depicting a line of nuns
doing the can-can. He thought – possibly rightly – that this would be a fine attention-grabber at the launch of the new group.

But my erstwhile colleagues and I were of course appalled, and quickly decided to insist on the eponymous solution to stop any further creative rampages from Larry or anyone else who might have wanted to have a say in the matter.

Nevertheless the first pressing of the album retained our original title suggestion on the centre label – this is simply an editorial slip-up.

(Kevin Godley and Lol Creme released a nunless album called BIRDS OF PREY over a decade later.)

INDELIBLY STAMPED

Indelibly Stamped: Supertramp A&M, 1971. The cover design caused a fuss
side oneside two
1 Your Poppa Don’t Mind
(Davies, Hodgson)
1 Potter
(Davies, Hodgson)
2 Travelled
(Davies, Hodgson)
2 Comin’ Home To See You
(Davies, Hodgson)
3 Rosie Had Everything Planned
(Farrell, Hodgson)
3 Times Have Changed
(Davies, Hodgson)
4 Remember
(Davies, Hodgson)
4 Friend In Need
(Davies, Hodgson)
5 Forever
(Davies, Hodgson)
5 Aries
(Davies, Hodgson)
My favourite track, Rosie Had Everything Planned, was a Frank Farrell co-write.
It has Roger’s acoustic guitar right at the forefront

Only three Supertramp albums are worth over Rare Record Price Guide 2022’s £15 cut off point.

Supertramp 1970 … RRG mint value £50
Indelibly Stamped … RRG mint value £50
Crime of The Century 1st pressing with inserts … £15 mint

The valuation of Supertramp is conservative. Discogs sales are:

Lowest: £13.50
Median: £18.00
Highest: £90.00

Then £104 for the early pressing with the title on the inner label.

There are copies in modest Very Good condition at £25 to £30. I’ll ignore the Russian one at £230 as the usual bullshit.

Indelibly Stamped on discogs:

Lowest: £12.00
Median: £25.95
Highest: £64.80

Copies on sale from £5 to £56. Again, we’ll ignore the Russian near mint copy at £130.

Land Ho: Supertramp, A&M 45, 1974. Sleeve as bought by me on the day of release, plain white. A&M were changing designs at this point.

I’m surprised Rare Record Price Guide don’t list the early 1974 single, Land Ho! / Summer Romance.

Discogs has it at:
Lowest £10.00
Median £18.00
High £29.99

There are three on sale between £38.81 and £81.50

Retrospectacle: The Supertramp Anthology 2CD set has both sides, Land Ho and Summer Romance. It also has the gorgeous Surely from Supertramp and Your Poppa Don’t Mind from Indelibly Stamped.

There was an acetate of Remember / Saying No. Credited to Daddy. Produced Gary Wright. Richard had one, but lost it years ago. I’d guess the other copies would be Rick, Roger and Sam. I can still remember the tune.

Slow Motion: Supertramp, CD, EMI France, 2002

The other song of interest is Goldrush. They were trying it out with Supertramp Mark 1. Supertramp Mk II played it every time I saw them. It was re-recorded on the album Slow Motion by Supertramp in 2002. It’s a Rick Davies-Richard Palmer-James co-composition, dating to 1970. Rick had been trying to nail it for years and there had been several tries at recording it. He finally nailed it. Signature rhythm keyboard playing.

The Slow Motion CD reiterates the value of early … or late … work. Before or after the hits. £16 to £31 on eBay. Discogs median is £8.75. Highest is £15.54. Copies advertised on sale range from £10 up to £45. As with all CDs, that will drop if it is reissued.

CODA:

Richard Palmer and John Andrews, December 2019

In December 2019, we did a Ginger Man / Palmer-James Group reunion gig in Poole, with Bob Jenkins on drums, John Hutcheson on keyboards, and Alec James (drummer with the original Palmer-James, now a singer). Andy Andrews took over John Wetton’s bass / lead vocal role. Richard Palmer (guitar, vocal) and John Andrews (bass, vocal) performed It’s A Long Road and Maybe I’m A Beggar from the album. John Wetton’s widow, Lisa, played drums on Maybe I’m A Beggar and sang back up on several numbers.

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