❉ Some just might say – ‘Isn’t one of them the father of Sara Pascoe?’ (One of them is!)
It’s highly unlikely that someone will say “Oh I loved that song of theirs…’. They only had one (minor) hit in Dawn in 1976, which gained them an appearance on Top Of The Pops. But as any reader of We Are Cult will know, chart success, or lack of it, is no indicator whatsoever of the quality of anyone’s musical output. Is there a market for Flintlock? One minor hit in the 1970s seems to suggest there was not much of one in they heyday. But all of their albums were reissued in Japan in the early 2000s, in a series of those delightful mini-replica-vinyl editions. Cherry Red have now compiled all of the band’s work in one clamshell box set.
The band consisted of Derek ‘Father of Sara’ Pascoe, Mike ‘Tomorrow People’ Holoway, Bill Price, Jamie Stone and John Summerton. Do they deserve more than being a minor footnote in pop history?
The band were regular features on ITV in the mid 70s, and subsequently were hyped to high heaven by the likes of Look-In. At the same time as the band were up and running, drummer Mike Holoway became one of the stars of ITV’s The Tomorrow People, in effect becoming the lead character when he joined in the opening story of the fourth season, One Law in August 1975. This was screened a few months after Flintlock’s debut single, Learn To Cry was released. The band even appeared together in a story in 1976, The Heart Of Sogguth, as ‘The Fresh Hearts’ with Mike being given a drum by a man wanting to manage the band, who is a worshipper of vaguely satanic (as far as a children’s programme in the 1970s will get) god Sogguth. Mike starts playing the ancient drum to the beat of a metronome, whereupon people begin chanting Sogguth and seem to fall into a trance. Groovy stuff!
The whole band also regularly featured on two vehicles based around Pauline Quirke, You Must Be Joking and Pauline’s Quirkes. Using doing a couple of numbers and taking part in some of the sub-Crackerjack (CRACKERJACK!) sketches. You might even spot Mike on the bongos playing in an acoustic power trio with Phil Daniels and Gary Kemp in one episode.
Back to the music…despite Flintlock’s (over) exposure on ITV and in teeny magazines their records, Dawn aside, just did not sell.
The album first is Flintlock’s On The Way… (sadly not subtitled ‘To the bargain bins’) which opens very promisingly with some disco-ish wah-wah guitar but then turns to overly polite pop. They seem like a band out of time. There’s even some vaguely psychedelic prog (!) in the instrumental Renouf’s Dream and the phased wah-wah guitars of Samantha. This also contains the HIT – Dawn. Though why this charted and none of their other singles did isn’t clear.
Lyrically the album is all pretty hackneyed stuff, mainly about girls who don’t love them any more, leaving on midnight trains to get home to their baby, dancing the night away and the band’s theme song Flintlock’s On The Way contains that hoariest of cliched rhymes – waiting/anticipating. It’s surprisingly there isn’t a moon / June rhyme too. But then just when you’ve written them off along comes the single A Little Bit Of Lovin’ which starts ‘Last night at the discotheque/As we were dancing to the Sex-O-Lettes’. And people thought the Pet Shop Boys were the first to name drop Disco Tex’s band in a lyric (Electricity on Bilingual). The B-side, Sooner Or Later even features some startling doo-WAH! harmony vocals, which my school band decided to plunder for one of our songs back in the late 1980s. We thought Flintlock were hysterical, in that way people did about early ‘70s things back then. “Oh look – they’re wearing flares hehehe” we’d titter. If only we’d seen the matching catsuits with their names emblazoned upon them!
We even named one of our songs Hot From The Lock, the title of the band’s faux-live second album. Here the weedy anaemic songs are overdubbed with screams of adulation. The band also throw in some covers, the inevitable polite side of The Beatles (Can’t Buy Me Love and She’s Leaving Home) but more impressively Steely Dan’s Rikki Don’t Lose That Number and Procol Harum’s A White Shade Of Pale. This probably shows where their musical hearts actually lay, some being former members of Barking Youth Jazz Orchestra. This may have been the problem of Flintlock and why they never really caught on. They were aimed very much as the teen and pre-teen market, singing and playing fluff that says and means nothing at all. Yet the arrangements can sometimes be overly fussy, as if they’re trying to prove their chops at the same time.
Ironically for a band who appear to be secret prog rockers, there’s very little progression across this box set. Third album Tears N Cheers sounds pretty much like all the others. They could have recorded their entire oeuvre over a weekend in 1975 and you’d be none the wiser. While punk was beginning to emerge (though it was never really the commercial juggernaut revisionism would have you believe) Flintlock were still flogging their polite boogie. More than competently played, but almost totally anonymous.
Fourth and final album Stand Alone sees Pascoe take a back seat a new lead vocalist Jimmy Edwards (not that one, though having Pa Glum in the band might have been amusing and finally given them a unique selling point). This album is almost all self-written including the nearly seven-minute (!) prog wig-out Neerodavis’s Blues. Their Look In audience would have been baffled (or bored) by this, and self consciously serious rock fans were never going to take Flintlock seriously. As ever, they fell between two stools. By 1979 it was all over, and in prefect synchronicity The Tomorrow People also ended. The 1980s were not going to be Flintlock’s decade, but then the 1970s weren’t really theirs either.
There’s nothing offensively bad about this music. The band are more than competent, they were all talented, the songs are ok in that mid ’70s MOR teen pop way. But nothing really sticks out. Apart from keyboard player Bill’s ears. The best pop music, though, needs ideas. Being a singer who can sing in tune or a decent musician is not enough. After a while Flintlock’s songs all seem to blend into one another and it can feel like you’re listening to a collection of Bay City Rollers’ B-sides or covers of songs used in chase sequences in Scooby Doo.
If you really like 70s kitsch, you may find enjoyment here, maybe even a nostalgic hit if you were glued to You Must Be Joking in 1976. But most of the world will carry on in the same ignorance of Flintlock that’s existed since the 1970s.
❉ Flintlock: The Albums (4CD Expanded Box Set) released 28 October 2022 by Cherry Red Group, RRP £23.99. Cherry Red Records have been releasing and reissuing the most innovative and independent thinking music since 1978. Follow them on Twitter or visit their site.
❉ Ian Harris is a longstanding contributor to We Are Cult.
Photo credits: Look-In images sourced from Graeme Wood Twitter users Graeme Wood (@woodg31) and Matthew Williams (@yorkie201180), and comicvine.gamespot.com· Header image © Getty Images. Images may be subjected to copyright.