Stories, they say, mean different things to different people: they make some laugh and others cry, expand the mind, soothe the soul, and warm the heart. Songs are a lot like that, too. Derek Elliott has brought together an extraordinary journey that spans four decades of acquaintances, friends, and life experiences, culminating in nine vastly diverse songs that have a haunting signature about them yet fit snugly into any record collection.
A harmonious childhood
Let me tell you more about the man: Derek Elliott was born in Bristol, in England: a fairly shy boy growing up in a big family following the war. His mother told him that he started singing before he could talk and the next door neighbour, a piano and music teacher, told her, ‘You should train that boy. He could become an opera singer!’ But opera was a long way away from the emerging sounds of the late 50s and early 60s; these were far more exciting, and of much more interest to a guy coming up into his teenage years.
He acquired a tiny crystal radio, as many kids did then. It seems crazy nowadays, when digital technology is taken for granted, but it was real leading edge stuff in the late 1950s. Suddenly, as soon as Mum said ‘up to bed’, the order was swiftly obeyed: a quick wash, pyjamas on, and into bed. Then, once the tiny crackling radio was placed out of sight under the pillow, the wavering signal was tuned to Radio Caroline. From a pirate radio ship out at sea (which made things even more exciting) came the amazing rhythms of blues, gospel, jazz, and, of course, rock and roll. You never lose your first love in music. Most artists were American: there were so many of them, but they were all ground-breaking and amazing. Bill Haley, Little Richard, Gene Vincent, the Everly Brothers, Roy Orbison, Elvis Presley… the list goes on.
An inspirational era
Growing into his teens, Derek remained highly influenced by this extraordinary period in music. He didn’t take too well to piano lessons, which cost his parents probably more than they could afford at the time. But, thanks to Dad acting as guarantor, he acquired a battered jumbo acoustic 6-string guitar in a second-hand shop. This he paid for weekly from his paper round, and managed to get some basic chords out of it to accompany his singing. Before he was twelve, he was singing and playing at family parties and other local events. By this time many British bands had emerged: Cliff and the Shadows, Marty Wilde, and Johnny Kidd and the Pirates, to name just a few. Later into the Sixties came the amazing period of the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, etc. Derek believes he was privileged to have come through such an inspirational era of musical change.
While Derek’s musical endeavours were advancing to working solo, and sometimes with duos and local bands, his school work was undoubtedly suffering. He failed his eleven plus and went to a secondary modern school: he did fairly well, but there were real distractions – besides the girls! The school had at least six bands, and Derek was the singer in one of them. Originally called the Meteors, all aged fourteen and named in the Bristol Evening World as the ‘youngest rock band in Bristol’, they eventually evolved into the Night Riders and gigged extensively in the area for several years.
It was during this period that the bands hung around the theatres when all the national rock tours hit Bristol, getting involved in any way possible – which normally meant lugging gear about and getting coffee from the local café! But it was nonetheless invaluable in learning about the real business, and Derek was able to meet many of the heroes he had heard on that old crystal radio… how stories twist and turn.
From the age of twelve or so Derek had begun, in secret, to write his own songs – he was far too shy a lad to share them with anyone else – and he always knew that song-writing would play a major part in his life. Indeed it has, as well as in his growing music portfolio.
The only job worth doing
Derek decided to take music a step further after leaving school and, after trying a number of office and shop jobs, handed in his notice and took the big step of going full-time into the music business. He had already been playing extensively at a semi-professional level with solo work, various bands, and duos. Song-writing became more important: he continued to write his own material, as well as collaborations with other writers. Whilst he was working in a duo at an old time music hall venue, an agent approached to sign them: their first week’s professional work was in a social club in Nottingham.
After some years of touring and having songs published – some by Mike Batt, some by other publishers – Derek went back to a more traditional career, still working in show business semi-professionally with dance bands and on his own. He, of course, continued to write his own beloved songs. It was time to catch up on his education: gaining a BA in business studies and a postgraduate degree in law, he began a successful career in local government, then the civil service, and eventually started his own consultancy and training business. Derek met his wife Su, as you might expect, through the music business – she was a music stand, holding music sheets for him at a rehearsal as his band backed her mother Yvonne, a jazz singer! They married in 1970: in 1972 Su’s mum married Adge Cutler, who tragically died in a car crash in 1974. Derek has too many stories of those times to recount here, or perhaps anywhere, but they were extremely happy times. Sadly, Derek and Su divorced – but very amicably. They remain close friends to this day.
The genesis of an album
It comes full circle. Derek thoroughly enjoyed his career working in varied and interesting areas, including having his own company, and now that he has retired the full-time return to his first love, music, comes with a new batch of songs. These embrace all of his roots, and particularly the whole range of human emotions experienced during a lifetime: now recorded for everyone to hear. But the album itself has its own story. Let’s backtrack for a moment to the 1970s, to pick up a thread of curiosity in this unfolding story. Derek sang a lot in church, as so many singers do: it’s a great grounding, both spiritually and musically. It was during this time that Derek joined a gospel rock choir, Amaziah, that finally became a tight heavy rock band. While he was the singer, Amaziah went on the road! One album, ‘Straight Talker’, recorded and released on vinyl, is now on the rare album lists. Over the years it has been valued at hundreds and reportedly thousands of pounds! Derek wishes he had kept a few hundred!
An amazing reunion
Now, as the unfolding of this story continues: the lead guitarist at that time was a young schoolboy called Jez Coad, who has since had an amazing career in the music business playing, writing, and producing records for many artists (including Simple Minds) and plenty of TV shows and films. Jez, of course, is the producer of this album. In addition, the keyboard player was Dave Steel, who plays amazing keys on several tracks of the album: particularly the title track, Life Just Comes and Goes. Some reunion! And what a sound these guys make.
The three of them know that there is something special about this project. They work easily together as the sound spins from smokin’ rock, past pretty much everything else, to heart-tugging melody and lyrics. It all works smoothly together, with a seamless signature sound that heightens the joys, tears, laughter, mystery and complexity of life as you move from one song to the next with a natural ease. The hook lines infuriate you: you simply can’t get them out of your head, day or night. ‘How could you do this to us, Derek?’ But he does this as a close friend would do – hardly surprising, since you’ll quickly get to know him and keep asking to hear all his songs again as you press replay!
The album is also available to download from cdbaby and i-Tunes.