• Nicholas Sadlier

Electric Light Orchestra: every album, every song. Barry Delve chats about his new book...

Electric Light Orchestra: every album, every song has generated huge interest among ELO fans. For any fans out there yet to order it, why should they do so?

"When I was given the opportunity to write the book I set out to write something I would want to read myself, so I spent time researching and spoke to a lot of people who worked with ELO over the years. As a consequence I’ve uncovered some new facts and solved a couple of mysteries too, and I think I’ve put it together in a way that will satisfy even the most diehard fan. The book also works as a great overview of the band for the more casual listener for, as well as being an overview of every song and album, it covers the history of the band from their beginnings until present day and works as a continuous read or something to dip in and out of."

Never judge a book by its cover, right? Well I think the cover looks great. You're a graphic designer - did you have any input into that?

"I’m afraid not. The ‘On Track…’ covers have a fixed template and are created by the publisher in house, so I always knew what the cover would look like; the only variable was which albums would be pictured. In my mind I knew the first album and Out Of The Blue had to be featured, along with one of the new ones so there was one free space. I think Discovery works really well as the extra album as it’s one of their most recognisable covers. I did put together the photo section in the middle, which was initially very different to how it turned out, as I had included what I thought were more interesting ephemera like promotional ads, tickets, and clippings, such as the page of the 18th August 1973 Melody Maker which had the advert for a violinist that Mik Kaminski responded to, but the publisher wanted me to focus on photographs. I did manage to sneak in a couple of bits though, including a photo I’d tracked down of the titular EQ module that inspired ‘10538 Overture’."

At some stage while writing the book, you must have thought to yourself, 'Jeff is probably going to see this.' Was the prospect of writing a book - essentially about your music hero and a potential reader of the book - a little bit daunting?

"We all know Jeff is a very private man and probably doesn’t appreciate a book like this being written, but I’m first and foremost a fan and the book was written from that perspective, respecting Jeff’s amazing talent and body of work throughout. I don’t for one minute think he’ll read it, but at the back of my mind throughout the process I was always mindful that if I ever met Jeff I’d want to be able to look him in the shades."

This book looks to have been one almighty undertaking. How long did it take, from the point of beginning your research to sign off and sending the final proof to the printer?

"Don’t tell the publisher this but I was originally commissioned to do it in July 2019 with a delivery date of August 31st 2020 and spent the first 6 months putting it off or just tinkering around the edges. I’ve got a full time job and really underestimated the commitment I needed to get the book done. Then COVID struck and I got furloughed for 6 weeks and with the deadline at that point just 4 months away I threw myself into it out of panic more than anything else. I found my rhythm though and after that I got really disciplined. It was still a year late though! I delivered the first draft in the last week of July 2021 and I was immediately told I had to cut about 10,000 words in order to fit the maximum page count. I did that and it then went to a proof reader who made further changes, and then when it came back to me and I stealthily undid most of those changes! It finally went to print in October."

You undertook a huge amount of personal research in order to check and verify previously widely believed ELO 'facts' and to reveal previously unknown information. Without giving too much away, did you unearth anything that made you go 'WOW!'

"Not so much ‘wow’ moments, but it was good to be able to put some missing pieces of the jigsaw back, such as getting to the bottom of the story about the so called alternative artwork for ‘Secret Messages’ and working out exactly how Jeff Lynne made that ’skidding’ noise at the end of ‘Don’t Bring Me Down’. There could have been a ‘WOW’ moment from John Elton, who produced the unseen ‘Freedom City’ movie, which used the soundtrack to the first album and starred Roy, Jeff and Bev with support from actress Samantha Bond in her first role. I got in touch with John and he mentioned he had a script for the film and lots of production photographs . Apart from what’s in Bev’s book, hardly anything is known about ‘Freedom City’ and it would have been great to reveal a bit more about it, but unfortunately John was unable to locate his files as they were in storage in another location. He mails me occasionally to say he’s still looking! I thought I’d had a massive scoop with John Kehe, who told me all about the original designs for the Eldorado cover but a couple of months after I’d spoken to him he gave an interview online and repeated just about everything he’d told me!"

You kept an ELO scrapbook as a younger fan. Did any material from that make it into the book?

I made up my mind to go back to the original sources for all quotes and interviews, and not recycle stuff second hand from the internet so it made researching dates a lot easier, and helped prompt personal memories of what it was like to hear albums like ‘Discovery’ for the first time.

Many people with links to ELO were invaluable sources of information. Are you able to mention any of the 'interesting' people you made contact with?

"I didn’t want anyone to find out I was doing the book until it was finished so I decided to approach people that were more peripheral to ELO, mainly because they were easier to contact and I knew they would be more forthcoming. Some of the cover designers were really up for it. John’s Kosh and Kehe were particularly helpful. Bill Bottrell gave me a few nuggets about ‘Time’ and ‘Secret Messages’ and I wish I’d had more time with him. I did also manage to speak to a couple of other people a bit closer to the band who were able to clarify some things for me."

Everyone has their favourite ELO songs as well as one or two ELO songs they don't particularly care for. So how did you manage to remain objective and unbiased when writing about every song? Was that difficult?

"The ‘biggies’ were incredibly difficult and tended to keep putting them off! I left ‘Mr Blue Sky’ until last, or at least thought I had. I did a final read of the book after I thought I’d finished and realised I’d left out ‘Can’t Get It Out Of My Head’! It was hard to be objective with the really popular songs but not in the way you might think. Take a song we all love, like ‘Telephone Line’ for instance. I must have heard that thousands of times, and had almost become desensitised to how great a song it is. It was one of the first ones I did (I didn’t do the albums chronologically) and when I reread what I wrote, I realised I hadn’t done the magnificence of it justice at all, so I rewrote it completely. From then on I decided to approach every song as if it was was the first time I was hearing it and actually ‘listen’ to it. This turned out to be really rewarding and helped me to focus on the individual songs."

As well as all of your research, did you find yourself having to listen to each ELO song over and over again before finally putting your thoughts on them into print?

"Goodness yes! On repeat all day and that’s no joke. Each time I started an album I’d listen to it all the way through first and then each individual song over and over, while I was writing about it, trying to work out what my angle would be, and what to say without repeating myself."

Which song was the most challenging to research or write about and why?

"Most of them! I’d look at the song title and the blank page on my screen and it more often than not it was ‘WTF am I going to say about this?’. Jeff and Bev gave a lot of interviews to the music press in the early days which provided a lot of background information on the first few albums but those sources dried up as ELO became bigger. I found those early albums the easiest to do as the band were trying to find their way and were trying lots of different and innovative things, sometimes successfully, sometimes not, but always interestingly. If I had to choose the one song I had the most trepidation about, it would probably be ‘Mr Blue Sky’; and I touch on the reasons for that in the review."

Was it difficult to wax lyrical about The Battle of Marston Moor?

"That was fun to do as it’s such a wacky piece! And I did find something nice to say about it. I think in the whole book there’s only a couple of songs that got short shrift (well, they got some shrift but it wasn’t particularly short, because it’s ELO we’re talking about and they’re fantastic) and this is neither of them."

With ELO 'literally' (lol) consuming so much of your life during the writing of this book, did you ever feel the need to take a break away from the band by listening to other music... which also begs the question 'what music does Barry Delve listen to when it's not ELO?'

"I felt guilty listening to anything else while I had a deadline to meet, so it was pretty much ELO full on. Regarding other music I guess I have what is usually called ‘eclectic’ tastes, which covers just about everything. I was a big fan of New Wave back in the day and nowadays I guess I’m drawn to the poppier side of what is called ‘alternative’ and if I’ve got the radio on it will be BBC 6 Music. My other big musical love is Cheap Trick, who I’ve followed since the late 70’s, and have seen countless times."

This is your first book. Has it given you the writer's bug and might there be more?

"I really envy people who can knock out hundreds of words in 30 minutes, as with me it’s definitely the opposite way round! It was really important to me that I could corroborate everything in the book, which meant I spent hours cross checking and researching every fact I put in. It was one of the hardest things I’ve done and once I knuckled down and got into my routine, it just took over all my free time. I’ve mentioned in the introduction that due to word limitations I had to keep the book focussed purely on ELO, so I think there may be enough material for a book on Jeff’s career outside of ELO. I’m not sure if there’s quite the same demand for that or if I want to do it though!"

Finally, as you're a graphic designer, I have to ask you which is ELO's finest album cover and why?

"‘A New World Record’. It’s so iconic and just perfect. I love the story of how Kosh put it together and came up with the classic logo which gave ELO the visual identity they’ve used ever since. The original was four foot square!"

Electric Light Orchestra: every album, every song by Barry Delve is available from Amazon

Burning Shed and most online booksellers.


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