Pete French: Atomic Clasic Rock Performer
Vocalist Pete French has since worked with Leaf Hound, Cactus and Atomic Rooster amongst others, as well as pursuing a solo career.
Legendary prog rock band Atomic Rooster have reformed and been kicking up a storm at festivals and shows across the Europe. With the full blessing of Vincent Crane’s widow, the band, featuring original members Pete French(vocal) and Steve ‘Boltz’ Bolton(guitar) ,will be performing album favorites and the hit singles “Tomorrow Night” and “Devil’s Answer”. Completing the line up are Shug Millage (bass), Bo Walsh (drums) and Adrian Gautrey (organ/keys).
Photo: Atomic Rooster
Atomic Rooster are a British rock band, originally formed by members of The Crazy World of Arthur Brown, organist Vincent Crane and drummer Carl Palmer. Throughout their history, keyboardist Vincent Crane was the only constant member and wrote the majority of their material. Their history is defined by two periods: the early-mid-1970s and the early 1980s. The band went through radical style changes, but they are best known for the hard, progressive rock sound of their hit singles, “Tomorrow Night” (UK No. 11) and “Devil’s Answer” (UK No. 4), both in 1971.
In 2016, Atomic Rooster reformed with permission from Crane’s widow, with the new line-up featuring two members from the various 1970s incarnations of the band.
Interview © by Michael Limnios – Part 1
In summer 1969, The Crazy World of Arthur Brown had to cease touring in the middle of their second U.S. tour because of keyboardist Vincent Crane’s mental illness. When he recovered, he and drummer Carl Palmer took the step to leave Arthur Brown and return to England, the return date being Friday, 13 June 1969, which was the year of the rooster in the Chinese calendar, and arranged a meeting with Brian Jones to discuss a collaboration. After Jones’s death, they adopted the name Atomic Rooster (with influence from the US band Rhinoceros), and soon recruited Nick Graham on bass and vocals. They followed with what had been The Crazy World of Arthur Brown arrangement of vocals, organ, bass, and drums.
They soon undertook live dates around London; at their first headlining gig at the London Lyceum on Friday, 29 August 1969, the opening act was Deep Purple. They eventually struck a deal with B & C Records and began recording their debut album in December 1969. Their first LP, Atomic Roooster, was released in February 1970, along with a single, “Friday the 13th.” By March, Crane felt it was best that they add a guitarist, and recruited John Du Cann from acid-progressive rock band Andromeda. However, just as Du Cann joined, bassist-vocalist Graham left. Du Cann (who played guitar and sang for Andromeda) took over vocal duties, whilst Crane overdubbed the bass lines on his Hammond organ with a combination of left hand and foot pedals. Atomic Rooster resumed gigging until the end of June 1970, when Carl Palmer announced his departure to join Emerson, Lake & Palmer. Ric Parnell filled the drum spot until August, when the young Paul Hammond was recruited from Farm to the drum spot. They then recorded their second album, Death Walks Behind You, released in September 1970. Originally. it was not commercially successful, as with the first album, but by February 1971, the single “Tomorrow Night” reached No. 11 in the UK Singles Chart, with the album reaching No. 12 in the UK Albums Chart. Atomic Rooster made an appearance on the Top of the Pops, and toured to support the album.
Photo: Brunning Sunflower Blues Band
In June 1971, just before they began configuring their line-up once again, the single “Devil’s Answer” hit No. 4 in the UK. Atomic Rooster began recording In Hearing of Atomic Rooster (UK No. 18). Crane felt the band needed a singer who could “project” to an audience, and asked Leaf Hound vocalist Pete French to audition for the band. Not long after French came into the studio, Crane promptly sacked Du Cann, and Paul Hammond followed him to form Bullet, later renamed Hard Stuff. French recorded all the vocals on the album (save for “Black Snake,” sung by Crane), and the album was released in August 1971.
The Atomic Rooster lineup featuring Pete French on vocals, Steve Bolton on guitar, Ric Parnell on drums, and Crane on keyboards toured Italy, then across America and Canada. This lineup ended their international tour to appear at a benefit gig in September 1971 at the Oval cricket ground, appearing in front of some 65,000 people, supporting The Faces and The Who. After this concert, French moved on to sign with Atlantic records and joined the American rock band Cactus. In February 1972, Crane recruited vocalist Chris Farlowe, at that time with Colosseum, to take the place of French. They went on tour and recorded their first album together in spring 1972. They released the album Made in England along with the single “Stand by Me,” on Dawn Records. They were more into soul at this point, and the progressive and heavy rock leanings from the other releases had receded. The single did not chart and the album just barely caught any attention, but touring followed through.
Interview © by Michael Limnios – Part 2
Guitarist Steve Bolton left at the end of 1972, and was replaced by John Goodsall, appearing under the name Johnny Mandala. They released the album Nice ‘n’ Greasy in 1973, along with the single “Save Me,” a re-working of “Friday the 13th.” This time, it was in a complete funk style. After nearly two years without any hits, Dawn Records dropped the group and Atomic Rooster began to split. After a tour, Farlowe, Mandala and Parnell left. The single “Tell Your Story, Sing Your Song” was released in March 1974 as “Vincent Crane’s Atomic Rooster” on Decca. All subsequent gigs were played by Crane along with members of the blues band Sam Apple Pie. A final concert was played in February 1975, a benefit gig for the RSPCA. Afterwards, Crane disbanded Atomic Rooster.
Vincent Crane put together the music for a number of plays and musicals in England between 1976 and 1977, including two of Peter Green’s radio broadcasts. Crane teamed up with Arthur Brown again to play on his album Chisholm In My Bosom, and in 1979 they released the album Faster Than the Speed of Light. Crane and Brown would also perform a rendition of “Green Door”, dressed in top hat and tails.
John Du Cann dropped the “Du” from his name when he, Paul Hammond and John Gustafson released two albums as Hard Stuff between 1972 and 1973. Hard Stuff ended when Hammond suffered injuries in a car accident. Afterwards, Cann filled in the guitar spot in Thin Lizzy for a tour in Germany during 1974, before going off the road to write music for ads and jingles in England. In 1977, he recorded a solo album (The World’s Not Big Enough) with members of Status Quo and Gillan, before learning his record company was not going to release it. In 1979, he had a minor hit with his rendition of “Don’t Be a Dummy,” used in a Lee Cooper Jeans ad. Also in 1977 Paul Hammond played drums with T.H.E., a three piece featuring Pete Newnham (Cockney Rebel/Window) on guitar and vocals, and Mike Marchant (Third Ear Band) on bass and vocals. A single called “Rudi” was released that year on B&C Records under the name Pete Newnham, which has become a collector’s item. That song and two unreleased tracks, “Johnny the Snark” and “Play with Fire” now appear on Bored Teenagers No. 5 from Detour Records.
Photo: Leaf Hound
During 1980, Crane contacted Cann and after some discussion, got an Atomic Rooster reformation under way, with Cann reverting to his ‘du Cann’ surname. They recruited session drummer Preston Heyman and recorded an album, along with one 7/12″ single, on EMI Records. The album, Atomic Rooster (1980), was followed by a tour, but Heyman left in October and Paul Hammond returned to play drums after Ginger Baker filled in for two weeks. They continued touring and released two singles in 1981 and 1982. However, du Cann was unable to make their last-minute booking at the Reading Festival, so Crane and Hammond used Mick Hawksworth (ex-Andromeda) as a stand-in. John McCoy later stepped in on bass at the insistence of Polydor Records, for whom they would release two further singles, “Play It Again” and “End of the Day”, which saw some attention on the Heavy Metal charts, but did little elsewhere, and Polydor shortly afterwards dropped the band.
With Du Cann gone, Crane set about a new form of Atomic Rooster. Paul Hammond stayed on and played drums for the following album Headline News (1983), recorded in late 1982. Several guitarists played on the album, including David Gilmour of Pink Floyd, Bernie Torme of Gillan and John Mizarolli. Crane added vocals to the album along with his wife on backing vocals. A tour of Germany and Italy included Bernie Torme on guitar. Mizarolli played guitar for several U.K. dates. Headline News was released in June 1983, and featured a completely different sound from anything they had ever done, including electronics and synthesizers. The album was completely written by Vincent Crane, leading some to perceive it as a Crane solo album.
Crane disbanded Atomic Rooster once again at the end of 1983. In 1984, he went on to the project Katmandu with Peter Green, Ray Dorset and Jeff Whittaker, and they recorded the album A Case for the Blues. In 1985, Crane joined Dexy’s Midnight Runners, playing piano for their album Don’t Stand Me Down and two singles, one becoming the theme song for the television series Brush Strokes.
Dexy’s Midnight Runners disbanded in 1987 and Crane intended to reform Atomic Rooster with Du Cann once again. A German tour was planned for 1989. However, Crane’s mental illness intervened, and he died when he overdosed on painkillers on 14 February 1989. Du Cann struck a deal with Angel Air Records and oversaw the release and re-release of much of his and Atomic Rooster’s material, including live recordings, compilations, compilations of unreleased material and album reissues with extra material. Paul Hammond died in 1992 and du Cann in 2011, so all members of the band that recorded Death Walks Behind You are now dead. In 2016, a new line-up of Atomic Rooster played together with permission from Crane’s widow. The first gig was a low-key warm up in Clitheroe, Lancashire on 14 July 2016. The line-up was Pete French and Steve Bolton, plus keyboardist Christian Madden, bass guitarist Shug Millidge, and drummer Bo Walsh. In 2017, Madden was replaced by Adrian Gautrey.