Screaming Lord Sutch at The Towers, Westminster, London, UK, 1983.
Screaming Lord Sutch - Vocals
Entertainment Or Death: The Strange Case Of Screaming Lord Sutch
I first got acquainted with Screaming Lord Sutch's music at the local public library, of all places, where I stumbled across HANDS OF JACK THE RIPPER (1972). As a budding record collector, the cover - featuring His Lordship in full cape and top hat, seemingly ready to spring from a dark alley - offered ample incentive to check out the contents.
So did the "Heavy Friends" whose names are plastered prominently on the cover (Ritchie Blackmore, Matthew Fisher, Carlo Little, Keith Moon and Noel Redding). The album is chiefly remembered for the controversy over its creation - allegedly, recorded live, without the participants' knowledge - though I honestly didn't give a damn about the implications.
I only had one question: did the contents rock? The answer was a resounding "yes," with the title track - a sequel, of sorts, to Sutch's 1964 single, "Jack The Ripper" - making the strongest impression. Like most committed music fans, however, I knew little about the man behind the monster rock image until I picked up Graham Sharpe's biography, THE MAN WHO WAS LORD SUTCH (2005).
As it turns out, the real story is every bit as compelling as the image, if not more so. The story of His Lordship's real life counterpart, David Sutch, is that of a quintessential outsider - one shaped by postwar poverty, and a drive to be heard - who also struggled with lifelong depression, as well as the natural doubts and vulnerabilities that any entertainer in his position fconfronts.
However, you don't need to be a show business denizen to understand the issues that Sutch faced - which inspired me to give a presentation for my local depression support group. To gain a deeper understanding of the Sutch phenomenon, I reached out to Graham. His responses, in turn, formed the heart of a presentation that I gave to my local depression support group in October 2013.
The final text of my presentation follows below, along with additional insights from longtime Savages drummer "Wild" Bob Burgos - whom I also thank, as well, for his contributions. Further observations are welcome; for now, just sit back, crank up one of the records discussed here - and reflect on Screaming Lord Sutch's life and times.
ENTERTAINMENT OR DEATH:
Running on the slogan, "Vote for the ghoul - he's no fool," Sutch called for abolishing dog licenses, more public toilets in Stratford, the introduction of commercial radio, and the right to vote at 18. "You can fight for your country at 18 and you can be hung," Sutch proclaimed. "But when it comes to voting you are still a child." (Repsch: 210-211)
In the end, Tory candidate Angus Maude swept to the House of Commons with 15,000 votes. Still, Sutch's tally (208) "was actually quite heartening in view of the fact that the teenagers whom he was representing did not yet have the vote," notes Joe Meek's biographer, John Repsch. However, Sutch's last two proposals became law in five years - so, perhaps, the ghoul knew more than the public cared to admit. (Repsch, THE LEGENDARY JOE MEEK: 211)
Sutch's colorful run marked the first of nearly 40 similar campaigns, which - along with his live gigs, and records - gave new meaning to the word "flamboyant" - whether it meant leaping from a coffin to start the show, singing with a toilet seat around his neck, or setting various objects on fire... whatever it took to entertain, Lord Sutch would do.
On June 16, 1999, this remarkable story ended, when Sutch's last partner, Yvonne Elwood, entered his London home, and found him - standing upright by the stairs, or so it appeared. "I thought he was playing a joke on me and wanted me to take a photograph of him - so I did," she told Sutch's biographer, Graham Sharpe. "Then suddenly I realised what he'd done."
Investigators later determined that the 58-year-old Sutch had wound a child's jump rope around his neck, and ruled out foul play in his death. His survivors included one son, Tristan, from a previous relationship - who inherited an estate worth nearly 400,000 GBP (Great British Pounds).
"THE PAIN OF IT ALL"
As Sharpe observes in his biography, THE MAN WHO WAS SCREAMING LORD SUTCH (2005), one clue comes from a note - entitled "Depression" - that surfaced after his death. Whether the words are original is unclear, but the meaning is unmistakable:
"Living with depression is the nearest thing to death. Even more than sleep. In sleep you are out cold. In depression you feel yourself dying and you can't do anything about it. The deep pain and torture you go through is hell. You are awake but you feel the pain of it all." (Sharpe: 222-223)
Dave Savage, who's continued performing a Sutch tribute act - in full top hat, and cloak - summarized the consensus this way: "It is tragic that a man like Dave, who had friends in just about every town, couldn't tell anyone how he really felt. A man who was surrounded by people with genuine love for him had to die alone." (Sharpe: 223)
What other inferences can be drawn about Sutch's mindset, and struggles? To get further insights, a brief look at his life is in order.
"TOO NEAR THE KNUCKLE"
Sutch's own working life was brief, and unremarkable. After leaving school at 16, he lasted one day at a sheet metal factory, before he moved on to life as an plumber, mechanic's assistant, and window cleaner - which he liked, but not for conventional reasons, as Sharpe's book makes clear:
"I could work the hours I wanted, and, if it was freezing cold or raining, I could stay in bed. The work gave me the freedom to be myself, let my hair grow long and practise songs as I went on my rounds." (Sharpe: p. 27)
By the late 1950s, Sutch begun performing live, and - between 1961 and 1964 - burst onto the British Beat scene with several uniquely unhinged singles - "Till The Following Night," "Jack The Ripper," "She's Fallen In Love With A Monster Man," and "Dracula's Daughter" - that didn't bother the charts, but cemented the horror-themed image that kept him in the public eye for decades.
Even so, when most of his peers made do with 20 GPB per week from their managers, Sutch could earn 65 GBP per night as one of the era's top draws. (Sharpe: 58) He and his merry men dressed as cavemen, monks, or Roman gladiators - when they weren't fooling with fake cadavers, knives, and skulls... or plastic hearts and lungs that they'd chuck into the crowd. If that didn't work, Sutch might start throwing the real thing... in this case, pigs' heads and hearts.
Getting banned helped spread the word, too, as Sutch discovered with his first single, "Till The Following Night" - which featured a creaking coffin lid, shrieks and screams that his producer, Joe Meek, gleefully recycled from a previous record by the Moontrekkers: "Night Of The Vampire."
Alas, "Night Of The Vampire" was banned by the BBC as "unsuitable for people of a nervous disposition" - so,"Till The Following Night" didn't escape a similar fate. Nor did "Jack The Ripper" fare better, even in a less politically incorrect era - in 1988, popular outcry apparently persuaded RCA/Ariola to cancel a remake of the song that Sutch had planned to release 100 years after the murders. (Sharpe: 57)
However, Sutch remained the man to beat live, as guitarist Cliff Bennett told Sharpe: "It is easy to forget how dramatic his act was in those days. When he came out of his coffin, makeup on, long hair flying, he frightened the life out of the audience." (Sharpe: 40)
As Graham Sharpe informed me, in our 9/4/13 email chat, he considers "Till The Following Night" Sutch's strongest vocal performance, and one that "deserved to be a hit," while "'Jack The Ripper' was too near the knuckle for its day," he advised me. "A couple of years later, and a 'Ready, Steady, Go' appearance might have propelled it onto the charts."
"I'M PHONING THE PRESS"
At times, this lust for attention got physically hazardous, as bandmate Paul Nicholas discovered during a 1974 London gig - when his employer leaped into the audience to beat up a heckler. However, the crowd took exception to these maneuvers - and responded by chasing the band out of the venue.
"I was halfway down the road with Dave and he was in a telephone box," Nicholas recalled, in Sharpe's book. "I said, 'Dave, what are you doing?', and he said, 'I'm phoning the press.' I said, 'They're coming down the road.' 'Coward.'" (Sharpe: 53)
In 1983, Sutch reaped an unexpected second act in life by founding the Official Monster Raving Loony Party. As the name suggests, its positions - giving heated toilets seats to pensioners, for example, or instituting g a two-day workweek, with a five-day weekend - weren't calculated to win massive votes, but served two main purposes: offer a vehicle to make fun of British politics, and keep Sutch's name alive.
Naturally, I asked Sharpe if these endeavors held Sutch back from being taken seriously by the public that he never stopped courting. Sharpe replied:
"It is very easy to be pigeon-holed by the media, but almost impossible to change that perception. The political niche he developed allowed him two bites at the celebrity cherry and he couldn't resist its allure with the potential, if illusory, for an element of serious attention. He didn't have the self-discipline to escape the stereotyping he was being seduced into."
Even so, the Loony Party - which continues today - chalked up some notable wins. Sutch's proudest alternative political moment came in 1990, when - in yet another local election - he garnered more votes than the candidate of the Continuing Social Decmoratic Party, led by David Owen, former Foreign Secretary. The SDP promptly dissolved within days.
Small wonder, then, that Sutch could roll out such campaign slogans like, "Vote for insanity - you know it makes sense." When Margaret Thatcher was forced to resign from office in 1990, Sutch - who'd run against the so-called "Iron Lady" in her own district of Finchley - wrote, in a letter to The Daily Telegraph: "Thatcherism may come and go, but Loonyism - which represents the true spirit of the British people - will go on forever." (Sharpe: 135)
"CHASING SOMETHING HE COULD NOT CATCH"
In May 1995, however, His Lordship faced a major financial crisis, triggered by a home that he'd bought in the seaside town of Hastings - and couldn't afford. Unfortunately, Sutch's collecting mania literally knew no bounds. as his previous partners, Thann Rendessy, and Giselle Mehennet, would quickly discover.
For starters, Sutch filled his home with Thann - then, his mother's property, including a shed, and a garage - from floor to ceiling, with whatever items that he bought on impulse, picked up off the road, or took home from friends. "He couldn't get rid of stuff - he just couldn't do it," Thann told Sharpe. "He kept every bill, every electric bill, phone bill - from the fifties onwards. He would not even throw away a piece of paper - he would just put 'em in a box." (Sharpe: 101)
Suffice to say, tossing anything was never on the agenda, though Thann felt that it was no environment for a child - which is why she took Tristan to America, in 1977. However, Sutch did have to address his housing situation - when Barclays sued for 194,000 GBP, including a 120,000 GBP loan for the Hastings property, one of five that he owned by this point.
Eventually, both sides settled, reducing His Lordship's debts to a manageable level - though, as promoter Paul Barrett told Sharpe, "I think he realised that now he'd never catch up - he didn't have another thirty years in which to start over - he was chasing something he could not catch." (Sharpe: 162)
When I asked Sharpe how these behaviors fit into his understanding of the man, he responded: "It is amazing that extreme 'hoarding' has only recently been acknowledged as a serious problem. Today he could have been helped to deal with it, although he might well have preferred to appear in a Channel 5 TV show treating it as something of a joke."
"ANNIE EMILY SUTCH LIVES ON"
As many of Sutch's associates note, it's no accident that he took his own life so soon after losing his mother - yet, in his final round of live performance, Sutch began sporting a button that read, "Annie Emily Sutch Lives On," as if to suggest that he wasn't ready to let go just yet. And, while Sutch hanged himself in his mother's home, he'd never visited her grave, nor bought a headstone for it. (Sharpe: 181)
Opinions remain equally divided on his mental state. On one hand, an agent who'd booked him some lucrative TV ad work maintains that he'd phone for lengthy chats after his mother's death, and didn't seem visibly depressed.. (Sharpe: 199)
The musicians who backed him for a Raving Loony Party celebration on April Fool's Day, 1999, in London, noticed a far less animated Sutch, as lead guitarist Terry Clemson explains: "He used none of his usual props and changed his act around. In the middle of 'Jack The Ripper' he went off on a tangent - it seemed as though his heart wasn't really in it and he had something on his mind." (Sharpe: 200)
Fellow '60s traveler Jess Conrad is even more blunt, saying, "His work was tailing off and much of what he was getting was absolute crap. He couldn't even get on the Sixties revival weekends." (Sharpe: 200) As Sharpe points out, Sutch's headstone bears his real name - not that of his public alter ego.
"...THEN MONEY IT IS"
Then and now, however, rock's fiercely competitive fraternity has never been kind to mental illness, as these lines from Frank Zappa's 1981 song, "Suicide Chump," might suggest: "Go ahead on 'n get it over with then, find you a bridge and take a jump/Just make sure you do it right the first time, 'cause nothin's worse than a Suicide Chump").
Or, ponder this wisdom from Ted Nugent, on the suicide of Nirvana's Kurt Cobain: "I didn't like him, I'm glad he's dead. And the only way that girl, Kirk Cobain's daughter (Frances Bean, who was still an infant), will have a normal childhood is when that worthless, addicted slut of a mother (Courtney Love) dies, and she'll be given to parents that give a damn."
Given these attitudes, does it makes sense that - as Sutch's driver recalls - his boss would visit specialists in the middle of the night, because he didn't want the tabloids getting wind of his visits? Do these behaviors reflect a case of "insanity making sense," or a question of protective coloration? You decide.
Not for nothing did Sharpe tell me: "Almost everyone who knew him thinks they may have been able to talk him out of it given the chance. They're well meaning but mistaken."
Although he "doesn't feel qualified to pontificate on depression," as Sharpe cites one other factor as worthy of attention: "I grew up in much the same generation, when depression was seen as something almost to be ashamed of, and the circles in which he moved did not recognise the existence of such problems. Whether he could ever articulate his feelings is a moot point but he was on medication so must have known all was not well."
Indeed, through all these varying accounts and recollections of his life, Sutch comes across as an ambivalent, conflicted man - a quality that he recognized in this notebook entry, found after his death: "You may think money will give you the chance of freedom, but it does not. But if I had to choose money or no money, then money it is."
So what kind of footprint did Sutch, the man, leave behind? Well, there's the outrageous persona who liberated the stage - a full decade before the likes of Alice Cooper and Iggy Pop grabbed most of the credit for doing likewise, in most of the official rock history books. Songs like "Jack The Ripper" have gained an unexpected second life, through covers by well-known current bands, like the White Stripes.
There's Sutch, the bandleader, whose ever-changing cast of lineups became a training ground for about 40-plus musicians - who, fittingly, get a chapter all to themselves in Sharpe's book. Guitarist Ritchie Blackmore (Deep Purple), keyboardist Matthew Fisher (Procol Harum), session pianist Nicky Hopkins (Beatles, Rolling Stones) and bassist Nick Simper (also of Deep Purple) are just some of the better-known names who first called themselves Savages.
And, finally, there's the impression that stuck longest with musicians like the Lurkers' drummer, Pete Haynes - known to the world as Manic Essco - who shared a bill with Sutch in the punk era. During my 6/7/10 interview with him, Haynes's recollections of their encounter were fresh, and vivid, nearly 40 years later:
"We came off, and he said, "Is that it?" I said, "Yeah." And he said, "No, no, you've got to do longer [sets] than that." He spoke to me like a kindly uncle, like a kid with a learning disability, or something. I said, "I'm tired!" And he said, "You can't be tired, you're a young bloke." I said, "I'm knackered." He said, "No, no, you've got to go on again, you've got to do it again."
"So we had a bit of a chat. We went up there again, and I think we did it [the set] about a minute quicker! And he just gave up. But, I tell you, he was one of the best people we played with. He was a real friendly bloke, and I suppose he knew that we were very green. And he let us use the gear, wished us the best of luck, had a pint with me afterwards. I thought he was a good bloke, but we didn't meet many people like that again."
These recollections have fueled the recollections of countless others, such as author and musicians Alan Clayton, whose song, "The Last Show On Earth," offers as remarkable tribute as any to the top-hatted, leopardskin-coated man who stalked many a stage for decades:
"David, oh David, hang onto that daydream.
EMAIL CHAT WITH "WILD" BOB BURGOS (November 23+29, 2013)
When Carlo Little left in 1979, Bob answered his call to duty as a Savage -- and wound up staying with Sutch "for the best part of 23 years and wouldn't change any of it," as he advises, in his 11/23/13 email to me. "He was one of the kindest people I have ever met and a true gentleman underneath his all crazy costumes."
Like many of the key players in Sutch's life, Bob's memories of him remain vivid after his 1999 passing. "Now that he's passed away it leaves me with a lot of sadness, but also a lot of joy when I think of all the great times we had touring all over Europe together,..He was a very special person to so many, and I believe that you will never see the likes of him again in any shape or form."
With those sentiments in mind, Bob took a break from a recent round of studio work to share his insights about the man who called himself Lord Sutch.
CHAIRMAN RALPH (CR): As you know, the '60s was a period of extremes -- you had commercial pop ("Mrs. Brown, You've Got A Lovely Daughter") coexisting with the gutsier likes of "Can't Explain," for example. Why didn't Sutch's records of that era find their niche, as well? He clearly hoped for similar success, so why didn't he get it?
"WILD" BOB BURGOS (WBB): As you already know the '60s was a crazy time and I believe that David... Or Screaming Lord Sutch & The Savages... was just too outrageous with his horror songs at that time to succeed in getting into the pop charts. If he sung ballads or pretty songs, then maybe he might of had a chart hit, but he was very successful on all his live shows... In fact he was more successful than most other bands around at that time cause he was a true entertainer, and the many people that went to see him on his theatrical shows were usually thrilled or scared with all the skullheads, coffin, masks, choppers, swords, fire and blood curdling screams etc, etc... But this was never chart topping material for the typical public music fan... But he was definitely successful throughout his career in so many other ways.
CR: Of course, the relationship between Sutch and his mother, Annie, gets a lot of discussion in Graham's book -- people seem divided on whether the dynamic between them was healthy, or unhealthy. Where do you come down on the issue?
WBB: Yes, David loved his mother very much... Annie was a lovely lady and I knew her well. She was a devoted mother and was always there for him, they were so very close!
When girl friends let him down in any way, David always turned back to his old mum who never let him down, and this infuriated his girl friends... It was a kind-of marriage in itself as their bond together was very strong that I thought was a lovely thing, and when Annie passed away David fell apart because she was the only true love in his life.
Annie was always there for David... They were soul mates, and when she had passed he went down hill and never recovered... They were the perfect match in so many ways.
CR: As you know, there's also a lot of debate on whether Sutch suffered from clinical depression, a problem he rarely acknowledged publicly -- what held him back from getting professional help?
WBB: It was depression and stress that took David away from us and there was nothing he could do except live with it, 'cause I believe that if the public found out, his whole monster/fun attitudes and stage acts would be looked at in a different way... It must have been very hard for him to cope at times now that it has all come to light.
CR: As Tony Dangerfield states of Sutch's suicide:: "... what he did was meant -- it wasn't a cry for help." Do you share this belief, or was there anything that could have prevented him from going down that road?
WBB: I think Tony Dangerfield was right when he said that it 'wasn't a cry for help'... David really couldn't cope with life in the fast lane anymore, and couldn't face everybody knowing his faults and problems cause everyone looked at him as a true leader and a strong character, but inside he was very vulnerable.
CR: Sutch's lifelong political tomfoolery is another interesting aspect of his personality -- coming long before today's media era, where third party candidates are practically part of the political furniture. Did you see them as serious ventures, or simply another outlet, given his lack of chart success?
WBB: David's political beliefs were quite normal to many people in the UK, but he took it too far so as to gather popularity with his Loony Party... I don't think it was anything to do with his lack of chart success, but more to be in the public eye and having fans, followers and of course many friends.
CR: Many people tend to tag Lord Sutch as a "novelty horror rocker," and call it a day, but I think there was more going on there... what made him such a distinctive live performer (especially compared to the other legends that you've worked with, like Chuck Berry, for instance)? What's your favorite memory of playing live with him?
WBB: David grew up in the world of the very early horror movies... He loved them, and I believe he incorporated all his childhood thoughts and dreams into his music, stage shows and Loony party that would make him different from anyone else, and it worked!
I remember back in the late '70s when we were just about to go on tour around Britain... His son Tristian was about 10 years old at that time, and my Mother was to look after him whilst we were away, and just before we went David gave him a big box of toy Monsters and plastic Creepy crawlies to play with, that I thought very strange at the time but also very funny.
He really was a true Rocker and also to many in Britain as being the king of horror, and I believe that he was too, but again he might have taken it a little too far sometimes.
His distinctive stage act was out of this world with blood, chopped of heads axes fire and many other crazy murderous things always being acted on stage that always packed out every club we played at. To name my favourite memory with him is very difficult... Just too many to mention (Editor's Note: see link below for one that I have found...)!
CR: What's your favorite record of Sutch's -- one that you performed on, and one that you didn't?
WBB: One of my favourite songs that I played drums on with him is: "Scream And Scream," and two of his tracks that I didn't perform on that I liked was: "All Black and Hairy" & "Monster in Black Tights"... Both were wonderful tracks!
CR: As the book mentions, you dedicated an album to Sutch -- where did the inspiration come from, and how do you look back on it now?
WBB: David was like a brother to me, he was one of the family and a wonderful person, so when he passed away I wanted to dedicate my latest album to him... In fact, I have dedicated two or three albums to him over the years 'cause he was a very special person to me and always shall be.
I've always been inspired by David and his music... There has always been something that united us both together from those early days gone by, and I've always believed that we spoke the same language so to speak... Ha,ha,ha!! He once dedicated his album ROCK & HORROR to me, and that really knocked me out at the time when that record was released back in 1982, and it still does today... It meant a lot to me cause I knew he meant it !!!!
CR: A more general question, that I'm sure you uniquely positioned to answer, from your experiences with Matchbox: it seems that interest in the '50s and '60s has never been stronger. What makes people keeping coming back to that era, and artists like Sutch?
WBB: The interest for artists like Screaming Lord Sutch has never gone away 'cause he has always been a household name and is part of the English pop heritage, and being an outrageous character too with his Loony Party, has always kept him in the public eye.
The early '50s and '60s in the UK has always had a strong following... More so than in the USA. In Europe there are many organisations, clubs that cater for early Rock 'n' Roll music and is a lifestyle for so many Rockers and Teddy Boys, etc., etc.!!
The music back in those halcyon days was truly wonderful compered to today's scene and lifestyle and David Sutch was part of those glorious times that the Rockers still remember and want to keep alive.
CR: We're almost 15 years into a world that's gone without David Sutch's presence. What kind of a legacy did he leave behind, in your opinion?
WBB: My legacy, my thoughts and my last words concerning David is: The last paragraph that I wrote in my last email to you....
His name is David, Lord David Sutch, and he formed the Monster Raving Loony Party... The most popular political fun party ever known in the UK... This claim to fame alone would be enough and quite enviable. But David is far more than the team leader for the loonies. It is safe to say that hardly a day goes by when each of us is not exposed to, in some form or other...The genius of Screaming Lord Sutch.
LINK-A_RAMA (Just paste into your browser, and let 'er rip!)
SCREAMING LORD SUTCH ("Scream And Scream"):
"THE SHOW MUST GO ON" (HELSINKI, FINLAND, 1988)
Screaming Lord Sutch & His Savages, 1979
Maintained by BlackCat Rockabilly Europe