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- Crime of the Century
Review No: 260
Roger Hodgson: Vocals, Guitars, Piano
John Anthony Helliwell: Saxophones, Clarinets, Vocals
Dougie Thomson: Bass Guitar
Richard Davies: Vocals, Harmonica, Keyboards
“Crime of the Century” is the name of the album, but in hindsight “Surprise of the Century” would have been a more apt title. Supertramp was formed in 1969 around Richard Davies, with the financial backing of Stanley August Miesegaes (known to his friends as Sam).
In the first auditions Richard met Roger Hodgson, who were to become the nucleus of the band we now know from legend as Supertramp. After various name changes the band decided to be called Supertramp after Sam suggested it from the W. H. Davies book published in 1910, ‘History of a Supertramp.’
The first self titled Supertramp album was released in 1970, to no public or critical acclaim. The rest of the band are either fired, have a nervous breakdown, or jump ship. A second album is recorded, ‘Indelibly Stamped’ (1971), which if anything fared even worse than its predecessor. (Both of these albums feature rather aimless songs featuring meandering solos and indifferent lyrics instantly forgettable.) After the tour to promote Indelibly Stamped, the three new recruits to the band are all fired, leaving just the duo of Davies and Hodgson again. At this point Sam separates from the band, paying off the 60,000 pound debts already incurred, wishing them all the best for the future, but severing any further ties.
Davies and Hodgson bravely keep going, recruiting new musicians in the shape of magical saxophonist John Anthony Helliwell (ex ‘Alan Bown Sound’) and the rock solid jazzy drumming of Bob. C. Benberg (ex ‘Bees Make Honey’ and ‘Ilford Subway’ with American Scott Gorman before he became famous with ‘Thin Lizzy’). Perhaps most importantly of all, Dougie Thomson came in on bass guitar and took over the business management of the band.
At this point the band were gigging day to day to survive
whilst writing new material for the proposed new album. But A&M Records
had no future plans for the band; in fact they thought Supertramp had
imploded. Roger Hodgson and Richard Davies, under the watchful eye of
new partner Dougie Thomson, went back to A&M Records to plead their
case for another bite at the cherry. For once somebody at the record company
got it right.
Bloody Well Right
Hide In Your Shell
If Everyone Was Listening
Crime Of The Century
In November 1973 the band are moved lock, stock, and if you want, smokin’ barrel, to a farm in Somerset, England to work on the new material for the next album. From there in February 1974 they are moved on to Trident Recording Studios in London with the excellent Ken Scott holding down production duties. In June the band finish off recordings in the famous Ramport Studios. The third album under the Supertramp banner is released in September 1973, and with the full weight of the A&M publicity machine behind them, coupled with some ground breaking and prestigious live concerts, the band becomes overnight sensations.
The first single off the album, “Dreamer” (which was to be the template for the Supertramp sound from here on, hammering piano, searing guitar licks, beautifully contrasting harmonised vocals, with catchy amusing lyrics, combustible saxophone and clarinets, and a jazz influenced rhythm section) was to peak at Number 13 in the British charts, followed by the album itself which was in the Top Five by Christmas of that year.
All the songs on the album have a conceptual theme to them: in this case insanity. All sorts of insanity, whether it be brought on by education (School), dreaming (the first single), love (Rudy), shyness (Hide In Your Shell) or authority (the title track). Every track is instantly recognisable as Supertramp, and the album as a whole runs together perfectly, starting with the haunting harmonica opening of School to the final rousing crescendo of the title track.
In-between there are some splendid melodies ranging from many of the band’s influences, folk, progressive/rock, pop, jazz and the classics, combining the vocal talents of both Hodgson and Davies in their contrasting manner, giving Supertramp that essential variety. This is used in quite devastating effect on the album’s centrepiece song Asylum, where they both sound as if they are completely going off the planet. Quite a blend you may think, but it all gels to stirring effect.
Supertramp was to go on to conquer the adult oriented world of rock music, even the advent of punk rock did not dent their mercurial rise to stardom. Three more smash hit albums were to follow, “Crisis What Crisis?” (1975), “Even In The Quietest Moments” (1977) and culminating in the Worldwide Number One album “Breakfast in America” (1979) which was to spawn four hit singles on its own (in those days hit singles used to mean something). The band toured internationally on the strength of these records and would fill stadiums wherever they went.
As in many marriages, something that started out as blissfully perfect ruptured into bitterness and in family fighting. After one more not so successful album and world tour, Roger Hodgson left the family, taking with him John Anthony Helliwell, leaving Richard Davies to carry on with the name Supertramp. Of course by this time none of them needed to work for the money, and really did not care, nor to be quite honest did the public, enough was enough.
Both carried on their careers in a very lacklustre manner,
but were never to find that original spark again. All good things must
come to an end. The Tramp was super for a long time and made enough to
retire to its mansion. I do like a story with a happy (if not perfect)
ending. I wonder if Stanley August Miesegaes “Sam” ever got
repaid for his original funding of the dream?