Sunday, 9 April 2017

Interview: Author John Van Der Kiste (Electric Light Orchestra: Song By Song)

#1,262: Hello ... Hello ... my old friends ... It's great to see you once again! The news that acclaimed author John Van Der Kiste has written a new book on the album career of ELO following on from his excellent biographies of Roy Wood and Jeff Lynne will certainly be of much interest to ELO fans who will likely be joining this writer in eagerly awaiting its publication in early June. Yours Truly KJS recently interviewed John for ELO Beatles Forever (ELOBF) and asked all kinds of questions including a fair few about “Electric Light Orchestra: Song By Song” thus:

KJS: Your books “Roy Wood: The Move, Wizzard and Beyond” and “Jeff Lynne: The Electric Light Orchestra - Before and After” are required reading for fans of The Move, ELO, Wizzard and related artistes. But what inspired you to write your third book, this time about the album career of ELO?
JVDK: It wasn’t me. Honest, guv! Seriously - and firstly, thank you for the kind comments. Fonthill Media, who until recently specialised mostly in history, are now expanding into the music and entertainment field. This is one of the first titles in a series they are commissioning on major acts, focusing on individual songs from each album, including studio and live sets, and in the case of groups, solo releases by every member as applicable. So Jeff, Roy, Kelly, Louis and Michael’s individual works are there too - although I drew a line which excludes The Move, Wizzard, The Idle Race, Violinski et al. There were some hard choices to make. A companion volume on Pink Floyd is due at the same time as mine, and the author, Andrew Wild, sent me a very friendly email recently saying he too is a massive ELO and associated fan. All the best people are!
KJS: “Electric Light Orchestra: Song By Song” is an appealing book title. How did you approach the research and decide on the format of each chapter/album?
JVDK: The format was laid down by the series editors, one of whom is a lifelong British prog rock lover. Authors are allowed some leeway, as books tend to shape themselves as they go along, but as ever the watchword is consistency. As for the research, it’s the customary trawling of available printed and on line sources, listening to the records again and with more of an analytical mind than ever before, researching and thinking about them ‘out of the box’. Michael de Albuquerque, who I contacted through a mutual friend (Thanks and Hi Martin Kinch!) was kind enough to send me a few answers to questions about his solo albums, which are extremely hard to find these days and also very poorly documented on the net. It would have been good to talk to the other guys about the music a little, but most of them have been extensively interviewed in recent years and it’s on the internet, and as we know, for various reasons some are not too keen to talking about their ELO days any more.
KJS: Your book undoubtedly will commence with 1971’s “The Electric Light Orchestra” and end with 2015’s “Alone In The Universe”?
JVDK: Indeed.
KJS: There were an awful lot of compilation albums in between - were you tempted at any point to cover some of them too?
JVDK: The original brief was not to feature compilation albums unless they contained previously unreleased tracks unavailable elsewhere. ELO thankfully have not been one of those acts who persistently trap buyers into purchasing another ‘Greatest Hits’ merely to obtain one song they haven’t already got on the other LP's or CD's. I was however asked to cover bonus tracks on recent reissues, and as far as possible additional numbers on overseas editions. (Quite why we can’t have one standard global track listing for every title I don’t know, but that’s another can of worms). ‘Xanadu’ is there, of course, just the ELO songs - and it’s interesting that ‘Drum Dreams’ (as far as I can work out) is the only B-side not to appear on an official group album.
KJS: Have you included “Electric Light Orchestra Part Two” and “Moment Of Truth” in your ELO studio album overview? Was it a difficult choice to include or exclude them given the degree of controversy that Part II can engender, particularly in certain social media forums?
JVDK: Definitely yes. I realise that this can be a divisive one, and I feel those two albums haven’t really worn quite so well over the years. But I saw Part II twice when they were touring in support of each one, and while it seems both are long since deleted and not prime candidates for reissue, they have their good moments. And in any case, as a matter of record (excuse the pun), it’s only fair to give them their due.
John Van Der Kiste has previously written biographies about both Jeff Lynne and Roy Wood
KJS: Have you a personal and least favourite ELO studio album? Which ELO studio album was easiest for you to write about?
JVDK: A difficult choice, but I think my favourite is ‘Eldorado’. The first one was possibly the easiest to write about (and the one about which I could say the most), as it had such an interesting history and every track has a character of its own. I’m aware that some fans don’t care for it (and Bev has not been kind on the subject either), but I find it quirky and fascinating. Unpolished, yes, but still groundbreaking. ‘ELO 2’ took some getting into as well, but I put it into the same category as records like Blind Faith and Traffic albums which went over my teenage head at the time and now sound far better to somebody of my more mature years. My least favourite - some of ‘Secret Messages’ doesn’t really cut it for me. Three years later, the album Jeff & Co. had meant it to be would have fitted on a single CD and my verdict would be very different. But I think Jeff lost something after the strings were replaced by keyboards, and I’m not a fan of the programmed drums which went on nearly everything by everyone in the 80's.
KJS: Is there an extended mention for “Beatles Forever”, “Motor Factory”, the Garden Rehearsals and the aborted “Secret Messages” double album in the book?
JVDK: Absolutely. Your good self supplied some valuable info on these - without which any book on ELO would not be complete!
KJS: What are your hopes and aspirations for “Electric Light Orchestra: Song By Song”?
JVDK: That everyone likes it and feels that several months of hard graft have been well worthwhile. As ever I enjoyed the challenge, and while we were asked to add a smattering of personal opinion, I have kept this within bounds. The main aim is to be informative and produce as comprehensive a piece of work in one compact volume as reasonably possible.
KJS: Have you plans for any further ELO or even Beatles related books?
JVDK: ELO, not at the moment, unless any ex-members want a ghostwriter - and somebody from Birmingham would probably do it far better than I ever could. Interestingly, another publisher turned down my Beatles book, partly because I’m not a Scouser! (Despite the name, I come from Devon, although as they say, I'm ‘of Dutch extraction’). Beatles books, none planned - although in a few years something may come along. I do however have a book on Lindisfarne due out shortly, and I'm currently writing a biography of another Birmingham-born megastar. (Clue - he was in the 2004 Hall of Fame ensemble playing alongside Jeff on ‘While My Guitar Gently Weeps’ as seen on YouTube).
KJS: What can you tell me about the launch of the book?
JVDK: I’m going to come on stage with Jeff Lynne’s ELO and play blues harmonica on a few tour dates this year. Dream on … no, nothing planned. Just amazon, Facebook, social media and I expect I’ll crack open a bottle of something appropriate the day I receive my complimentary copies.
KJS: And finally, a question always asked when I’m interviewing for elobeatlesforever (elobf), what are your fave songs by ELO (and, of course, The Beatles)?
JVDK: On the whole, It’s the rockers that really get me going the most. ‘Ma-Ma-Ma-Belle’, ‘Rockaria!’, ‘Don’t Bring Me Down’ are sheer magic and hit the spot just as much today as they did at first. I’ve also always adored ‘Twilight’ for that bubbling hook and the explosive bit about two-thirds of the way through with the phasing where it sounds like someone is pushing a complete music shop’s worth of drums over Beachy Head, and the full version of ‘10538 Overture’ for that glorious dense swirling last minute or so where they build on that riff until it fades out. Of the more obscure ones, I love ‘Everyone’s Born To Die’ - it sounds incredibly like Bob Dylan, ‘Blonde on Blonde’ era. ‘Mr Blue Sky’ is wonderful, of course, but it’s a little like ‘A Whiter Shade of Pale’ - having been played so much over the years, it’s just less fresh than some of the others. As for The Beatles - a much harder choice. I got bored with ‘Hey Jude’ when it was out as it was played to death, but nearly fifty years on it sounds awesome once again. I also love ‘While My Guitar Gently Weeps’, ‘Here Comes The Sun’, and of the lesser-known ones, ‘Old Brown Shoe’ is very overlooked. Spot the George Harrison fan - and can I include ‘What is Life’ (OK, only two Beatles on that one!), which I think one of the most sublime productions ever. Thank you Keith! It’s been lovely to talk about all this!

“Electric Light Orchestra: Song By Song” by John Van Der Kiste (Paperback, 144 pages; ISBN-10: 1781556008, ISBN-13: 978-1781556009) is published by Fonthill Media on Friday 28th July and can (at the time of writing) be ordered via this link thus:

ELO Beatles Forever (ELOBF) recommends “Electric Light Orchestra: Song By Song” by John Van Der Kiste to those enlightened folks who enjoy the music of ELO/Jeff LynneRoy WoodThe Move'Brum Beat'The Beatles and related artistes.

Until next "Time" in the ELO (and related) Universe ... KJS ... 09-Apr-2017


  1. I'll be looking forward to getting this new ELO -Song By Song book. I have the Jeff Lynne -Before and After and Roy Wood- The Move, Wizzard and Beyond books that John has done. I highly recommend them to other ELO/Roy Wood fans. I even have a signed copy by John of a earlier version of the Roy Wood book with a blue cover called "The Roy Wood Story" put out by A & F Publications. Thanks for the interview. It was a good read. Would have liked to heard what John thought about Roy getting into the Rock -N- Roll Hall Of Fame. Cheers, -Chris/Oklahoma

  2. Looking forward to getting a copy of this.

  3. Stella the star cleaner ! ***Sunday, 9 April 2017 at 22:52:00 BST

    Got this book on pre order on Amazon,and also thanks for the article Keith, wonderful as usual my dear friend xxx

  4. For those of you who are in command of German, I have written a two-volume-ebook called "Eldorado" about Jeff's entire career, focussing on every album and tour. I also interviewed some musicians and sound engineers such as Dick Plant, Mack, Tom Thiel or Colin Owen.I also worked closely together with Patrik Guttenbacher, the author of "Unexpected Moments."

    Peter Sutter.

  5. I can't wait to start reading this book and KJS it was a great interview loved it.

  6. I had an e-mail from Alan Sutton at Fonthill Media to say the book is now in stock. I am away for a few days but am assuming that my copies will arrive while I am away and be awaiting me on my return.