Gary James' Interview With Mark Ellen Of
They are best known for a song called "Hitchin' A Ride", which reached number five in the Billboard charts and number sixteen in the British charts in January, 1970. That group was Vanity Fare.
Vanity Fare member Mark Ellen spoke with us about the group.
Q - Mark, where does Vanity Fare perform today and what type of venue do you perform in?
A - Vanity Fare mainly do package shows with other stars of the '60s. This year (2012) for instance, Peter Noone, Chris Montez, Brian Hyland and Brian Poole, ex-Tremeloes, in theatre venues throughout the UK, plus festivals at Holiday (Vocational) resorts on the British coast.
Q - How many shows do you perform each year?
A - On average, two hundred shows per year.
Q - You came into the band after "Hitchin' A Ride" became a hit and after Dick Alix and Tony Goulden left the band. So, why would two members leave a band just when they experienced such success?
A - Dick left to get more into the management side of things. He's still is involved in sports management. Tony Goulden did not like the extended tours. He got into politics and became a mayor.
Q - Speaking of politics, you have a job in city government. How demanding is that?
A - Very demanding. Every day I have people calling me with a problem in their locality asking me to help. Everything from noisy neighbors to parking problems on their streets, bad landlords, dog fouling, planning permission. Anything from a hyper market to a shed in their back yard. Diverse. You name it.
Q - How did you get interested in politics?
A - Both my parents were politically active. So it was natural that I would follow in their footsteps. I guess I was fifteen years old when I first got really interested and joined a political party.
Q - What was happening with the group when you joined? Was the group touring, recording?
A - When I joined there was complacency within the band. I helped get the guys re-motivated musically and added a heavier sound, being more of a Rock drummer than Dick was. We went on to have hits in Europe, number one in Europe for ten weeks, Scandinavia, Australia.
Q - What were you doing before Vanity Fare?
A - In my home country of Scotland, I played with a top band, supporting chart acts of the time. Just some of the acts I toured with were The Who, The Small Faces, Robert Plant And The Band Of Joy, The Kinks, The Moody Blues and Cream. A great experience for a young musician.
Q - Was it a big transition for you to go into Vanity Fare?
A - Not really, although Vanity Fare played lighter music than I was used to. My influence guided them to a more Soft Rock groove.
Q - Even though "Hitchin' A Ride" was such a big hit, Vanity Fare enjoyed more success in England than in the United States. Why would that have been? A lack of promotion?
A - Not true. "Hitchin' A Ride" peaked higher in the U.S. than in the U.K. Vanity Fare did just one tour, in 1969, in the U.S. The management failed Vanity Fare. Small, ineffectual gigs. Not enough exploitation of Vanity Fare's American success.
Q - You were born where? Kent, England?
A - No. Inverness, Scotland. Moved to London in 1968, then Kent in 1970.
Q - Since no one in the group wrote "Hitchin' A Ride", how is it that Vanity Fare was offered that song?
A - In those days, before bands wrote their hit records, the music industry supplied the songs. Tin Pan Alley in Soho, London had all the publishing houses. A bit like the Brill building in New York with Carole King and Neil Sedaka, who as it happens, pitched Vanity Fare the first song I recorded with Vanity Fare... flopped! It was an assembly line. Our manager at the time was a buddy to many of the established song writers, publishing and record companies, not to mention the BBC radio DJs. However, Vanity Fare were fortunate to be allowed to submit "B" sides for the singles, which were generally accepted. This encouraged the band to write and through the following decades we have had success in various countries, even up to the present with our new CD, "West Coast", about to be released.