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Andy Ellison's autobiography will leave you howling for more

'Stunt Rocker' is filled with true life tales of a man who dangles 25 feet above the audience... for fun.
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Andy Ellison

Stunt Rocker: The Many Adventures of Andy Ellison

Wintergarden Publishing

As the frontman for three of the most exciting bands in British rock history, Andy Ellison was always going to have a great story to tell. Shortlived though they were, John’s Children (1966-1967), Jet (1974-1976) and Radio Stars (1976-1980) are all regarded as legends today, with posthumous catalogs that dwarf their original output. But it is their concerts that live longest in the memories of those fortunate enough to have caught them, and for that, they — and we — have Ellison to thank.

The man was… well, there are lots of words that come to mind, but let’s stick with “supercharged.” A constant blur of motion and activity, he was once described as a manic Energizer bunny, and that works well. He also appeared to possess a superhuman ability to hurt himself in new and inventive ways. His knees took a serious battering every time he leaped in the air and came down on them — which was usually several times a night. He dangled from lighting rigs while the lights scorched his flesh. He fell into the audience from precipitous heights. And he broke bones like other people break bread — including, unbeknownst to him, his back.

And why? Well, as he says at the beginning of this remarkable autobiography, because “this is what I do. Don’t ask me why.”

Stunt Rocker is one of those books that you simply don’t want to put down. And while part of that is fascination with the sheer chaos that seems to unfold around every band Ellison sings with (John’s Children were kicked off a Who tour for provoking a riot; at a Jet gig, he leaped off the stage towards a small hydraulic platform he’d noticed earlier — without realizing it had been lowered 15 feet back into the orchestra pit), Ellison’s enthusiasm for his way of his life is even more addictive.

He lives to perform, and his excitement is contagious. And why not, because there was always something going on, whether it was Jet’s guitarist breaking his foot while kicking a hotel door; or a confused Top Of The Pops host mistakenly introducing Radio Stars as Wings, and being astonished when they immediately struck up that band’s latest hit, “Mull of Kintyre.” Or… or… or…. Stunt Rocker is a mine of anecdote, and with a wealth of photos (many in color, most previously unpublished), the on-page action is tangible.

What comes over strongest, however, is the sheer good humor of the man. It would be easy, after all, for Ellison to resent the fact that Mega-Fame never came knocking on the door; that the closest he ever came to bothering the toppermost of the poppermost was the three weeks in 1977 that Radio Stars’ “Nervous Wreck” spent climbing to No. 39, and then falling straight out again.

But no. There’s a funny, or at least wry, side to everything, with even disappointments leading to something unexpectedly brilliant; and Stunt Rocker passes by in one long glorious, uninterrupted blur of joy and exhilaration. And while the more beetle-browed among us might mourn the absence of a discography (probably because super-fan Steve Wright published one earlier this year), salvation is at hand in the form of not one but two simultaneous CD releases.

The first, which falls out of the pages themselves, shares the book’s title and rounds up 20 tracks from across Ellison ’s career — most of them, it is true, live cuts or rerecordings by the reformed John’s Children and Radio Stars that have occupied his time across the past 40 years, but there are also solo cuts dating back to the late 1960s, and a couple of Jet numbers, recorded live in 1975. It makes for a rollicking soundtrack to the book.

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Even better, however, is Wall To Wall Jive (Easy Action), a 2-CD anthology which echoes the entire story, beginning with a couple of demos recorded by John’s Children’s immediate predecessors, The Silence, before marching on through three songs by JC themselves, a clutch of Ellison’s late-'60s solo recordings, a lone Jet demo, a handful of Radio Stars cuts, and then another disc’s worth of ever-entertaining solo cuts and collaborations that serve as an expanded version of Ellison’s recent Cluster Bombs vinyl compilation.

Of course, it’s highly selective; another disc at least would have been nice. But it leaves room for one to dream that some day, some enterprising label will offer Ellison a multi-disc anthology to fill with what the 2-CD’s liner notes describe as “nearly 60 years of misbehaving.”

In the meantime, armed with these discs and the book, you’ll be on your way to compiling your own box set, and it will be the most fun you’ve ever had in the company of someone who used to dangle upside down, 25 feet above the audience, and then let go for a living.

  

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