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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The ELO Story, 23 Feb 2013
Neil Frost (Germany) - See all my reviews
This review is from: The Electric Light Orchestra Story (Hardcover)
Bev Bevan's book, initially published in late 1980, was written following ELO's two year break from touring and with limited recording commitments. Today the book appears rather dated, mainly because the music business no longer operates on the same principles described here. This then makes it very much a product of it's time, but this is by no means a criticism.

It provides a frank insight into the rise of ELO into international superstardom and in particular how the band survived life on the road, with touring schedules that today either nobody would want to finance, or the artist themselves wouldn't have the stamina to go through with.

Bev was in an ideal position (quite literally) to write the book (compiled from his personal diaries and scrap books) since he was a founding member of the band and the drummer, an opportunity which offered him a view not only of the audience but of the front line. As he points out, "the cast keeps changing, but it seems I shall keep on drumming forever."

Suitably Bev starts his story with a prologue describing the lead up to a concert at the Anaheim Stadium in Hollywood in August 1978, as part of ELO's world tour to promote their double album Out of the Blue. "We are six thousand long miles away from home on a world tour taking us across Europe, Japan, Australia and America" and the reader realises that success has found them at last but that it wasn't always like this. The ascent was often difficult.

"Let There Be Drums" brings us back to reality, to a red-brick Victoria terrace in Sparkhill, Birmingham, England where Bev grew up and his dream of becoming a famous musician took root following the purchase of a chrome white drum kit, that he set up in his bedroom and following joining his first band The Senators. At school, Bev sat next to Robert Davis, later to gain equal fame as Bev, not as a musician, but as an entertainer, better known as Jasper Carrott. The pair started their working lives together at a Birmingham department store, but for Bev his free time activities were spent getting gigs with his band.

Being the right person, in the right place at the right time is a very true saying and Bev does not underestimate this. Walking into the store one day, was one Brian Hinds, better known as Denny Laine, later founding member of The Moody Blues - probably Birmingham's biggest band, prior to ELO. Through him, Bev got his first semi-pro break in The Diplomats and from there was selected by Carl Wayne to join his band The Vikings.

From here, The Move was formed, a supergroup (long before the term really existed) of Birmingham's supposedly best musicians. The band were rather schizoid in their career: building on the songwriting talents of Roy Wood, they became regulars in the charts between 1967 and 1970, but their live performances ended up as riots on stage as they wrecked their equipment a la The Who. Various personnel changes led eventually and most significantly to the replacement of Carl Wayne by Jeff Lynne. And so to the formation of The Electric Light Orchestra.

In comparison to other groups who emerged at the same time, ELO were unique in that, rather than being formed following the amalgamation of two or more bands (usually under a name different from the one which would make them famous) they were formed out of one that was already successful. Initially, ELO was a side-project, but ultimately one which became a full-time commitment for all concerned.

Though the band's success can be put down to Lynne's talents as a songwriter and producer, it was in no small part down to the business strategy of manager Don Arden who, as Bev subtley puts it, made sure everyone got their arses into gear when it became clear how big ELO were about to become. This input into their success parallels very much that of Brian Epstein's influence on The Beatles.

Their rise to fame and fortune was not without it's problems. Firstly, the departure of Roy Wood after just one album has been a much debated subject over the years, but on reflection it shaped the band for success by forcing Jeff Lynne to the forefront and show what he was worth.

Secondly, the lack of album sales and sell-out concerts in their home country caused frustration and led to them virtually turning their backs on the UK in order to concentrate on the United States, who took them to their hearts virtually from the beginning.

Following the departure of various members (either voluntarily or by force) ELO's line-up stabilised around 1975 and their career took off, helped by the commercial song-writing of Jeff Lynne and some striking publicity in the form of the easily identifiable logo which transferred over well into the merchandise. They spent months on the road promoting their albums and Bev notes not so much the antics of ELO, but of two other major bands they encountered on their travels, namely Deep Purple and Led Zeppelin. The latter being particularly interesting as John Bonham hired a Harley Davidson to race around the corridors of the famed Continental Hyatt House in Los Angeles.

ELO themselves were very much onlookers to such antics, though their manager's daughter - a certain Sharon (today Mrs Ozzy Osbourne) - was often like a badly-behaved teenager on a school trip.

One of my favourite chapters is Out of the Blue which tells of the creation of the famous double album, right from it's humble beginnings in a Swiss mountain chalet, to it's recording at Musicland, the basement studios of Arabella Haus in Munich, Germany.

Though roughly chronologically compiled, the book offers little musical assessment, or even the changes in style (especially over the course of the first five studio albums). The book is all the better for it, as it is the people who make the music that are more interesting than the music itself. As individual musicians, ELO were never candidates from the readers' polls at the time. They were at best competent, very much restricted by the musical leadership of Jeff Lynne. What counted was the end result, which was very much down to the production talents of Jeff. Today, ELO is almost only mentioned in reference to his career and it is almost forgotten that ELO were, for few years at least, an operating band, recording albums and touring the world.

Visually the book is quite stunning, from Bev's school days, to the on-the-road antics they got involved with (in particular football). Most are in black and white, but there are 16 pages reserved as a colour section which, quite justifiably features many photos of the famous spaceship stage from their 1978 world tour.

Despite the slight dating of the book, one aspect of ELO's career that has stood the test of time is their music. Jeff Lynne's talents have ensured that even in 2010's their hits are included in the play list of many a radio station. Lots of today's artists also freely admit to being inspired to enter the music business via an ELO song. Tribute bands have sprung up to cater for the audiences still supporting them and relive their music live. Alongside with many others from the late Sixties and early Seventies, ELO's music has hardly dated - catchy melodies will always be in and coupled with Jeff Lynne's knack of producing the whole thing superbly, their music lives on.

In conclusion, if you want to find out how the music business operated in the immediate post-Beatles era, read Bev's book. If you want to find out what ELO's music is like, have a search on the net or buy one of their CDs.
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The Electric Light Orchestra Story
The Electric Light Orchestra Story by Bev Bevan (Hardcover - 1980)
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