Electric Light Orchestra Biography

The original Electric Light Orchestra (commonly shortened to ELO) line-up comprised Roy Wood (Roy Adrian Wood, 8 November 1946, Birmingham, Warwickshire, England; vocals, cello, woodwind, guitars), Jeff Lynne (b. 30 December 1947, Birmingham, Warwickshire, England; vocals, piano, guitar) and Bev Bevan (b. Beverley Bevan, 23 November 1945, Birmingham, Warwickshire, England; drums). They had all been members of pop unit the Move, but viewed this new venture as a means of greater self-expression. Vowing to ‘carry on where the Beatles’ ‘I Am The Walrus’ left off’, they completed an experimental self-titled set (commonly known as No Answer) with the aid of Bill Hunt (b. 23 May 1947, Birmingham, Warwickshire, England; French horn) and Steve Woolam (violin). Despite their lofty ambitions, the band still showed traces of its earlier counterpart with Lynne’s grasp of melody much in evidence, particularly on the startling ‘10538 Overture’, a UK Top 10 single in 1972.

Although Woolam departed, the remaining quartet added Hugh McDowell (b. 31 July 1953, Hampstead, London, England), Andy Craig (cello), ex-Balls keyboard player Richard Tandy (b. 26 March 1948, Birmingham, Warwickshire, England; bass, piano, guitar) and Wilf Gibson (b. 28 February 1945, Dilston, Northumberland, England; violin) for a series of indifferent live appearances, following which Wood took Hunt and McDowell to form Wizzard. With Craig absenting himself from either party, Lynne, Bevan, Gibson and Tandy maintained the ELO name with the addition of Mike De Albuquerque (b. 24 June 1947, Wimbledon, London, England; bass/vocals) and cellists Mike Edwards (b. Michael Edwards, 31 May, Ealing, London, England) and Colin Walker (b. 8 July 1949, Minchinhampton, Gloucestershire, England). The reshaped line-up completed the transitional Electric Light Orchestra 2 and scored a UK Top 10 single with an indulgent cover version of Chuck Berry’s ‘Roll Over Beethoven’ that included quotes from Beethoven’s 5th Symphony. Gibson and Walker then made way for violinist Mik Kaminski (b. Michael Kaminski, 2 September 1951, Harrogate, England) as ELO enjoyed a third UK hit with ‘Showdown’, but two ensuing singles, ‘Ma-Ma-Ma Belle’ and the sublime ‘Can’t Get It Out Of My Head’, were surprising failures. The latter song reached the US Top 10, however, which in turn helped its attendant album, Eldorado: A Symphony By The Electric Light Orchestra, to achieve gold status.

By the release of 1975’s Face The Music, the line-up had stabilized around Lynne, Bevan, Tandy, Kaminski, the returning McDowell, Kelly Groucutt (b. Michael Groucutt, 8 September 1945, Coseley, Worcestershire, England; bass) and Melvyn Gale (b. 15 January 1952, London, England; cello). ELO became a star attraction on America’s lucrative stadium circuit and achieved considerable commercial success with the albums A New World Record, Out Of The Blue and the UK chart-topping Discovery. Lynne’s compositions successfully steered the line between pop and rock, inspiring commentators to compare his band with the Beatles. Between 1976 and 1981 ELO scored an unbroken run of 14 UK Top 20 singles, including ‘Evil Woman’ and ‘Livin’ Thing’ (1976), ‘Telephone Line’ and ‘Turn To Stone’ (1977), ‘Mr. Blue Sky’, ‘Wild West Hero’ and ‘Sweet Talkin’ Woman’ (1978), ‘Shine A Little Love’, ‘The Diary Of Horace Wimp’, ‘Don’t Bring Me Down’ and ‘Confusion’/‘Last Train To London’ (1979), and ‘Xanadu’, a chart-topping collaboration with Olivia Newton-John, taken from the movie of the same name. The line-up had now been slimmed to feature Lynne, Bevan, Tandy and Groucutt, but recurrent legal and distribution problems conspired to undermine ELO’s momentum. Time (their second UK chart-topper) and Secret Messages lacked the verve of earlier work and despite further UK Top 20 hits with ‘Hold On Tight’ and ‘Rock ‘N’ Roll Is King’, the band’s future was put in doubt by a paucity of releases and Lynne’s growing disenchantment, and the guitarist’s pursuit of a solo career signalled a final split. It should also be noted that ELO enjoyed 14 US Top 20 hits during their heyday, from ‘Can’t Get It Out Of My Head’ in 1974 to ‘Calling America’ in 1986.

In 1991, former drummer Bev Bevan emerged with ELO 2. That unit failed, owing to the fact that the Electric Light Orchestra without Lynne is like a toaster without a plug. It was therefore with considerable relief to loyal fans that Lynne resurrected the name in 2001. Featuring Richard Tandy and guest appearances from Ringo Starr and George Harrison, Zoom exhibited a few sparks to remind fans of the band’s glory years. For some inexplicable reason, after many years of being unfashionable in the new millennium, it was suddenly OK to like ELO again. Looking back over an impressive catalogue and listening once again to their music (especially Out Of The Blue), it is hard to see why they became the butt of so many jokes. At their worst they were dull but at their best they were a magnificent quality pop group.

Source: The Encyclopedia of Popular Music by Colin Larkin. Licensed from Muze.

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