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Formed in 1973 in England, the Rubettes were originally organized as a session outfit by Wayne Bickerton of Polydor A&R. Inspired by the successes of Sha Na Na, Mud, and Showaddywaddy, they combined glam rock presentation (red and white suits with matching caps) with a rock & roll revival sound. Their first release, 1974's "Sugar Baby Love," was an instant smash, remaining at number one in England for five weeks while denting the U.S. charts at number 37 in August, and remains their best-known record. Subsequent releases would be less successful, but the band soldiered on and continued to tour on the nostalgia circuit well into the 2000s.
The Rubettes' original lineup featured John Richardson on drums, Mick Clarke on bass, Bill Hurd and Peter Arnesen on keyboards, and Tony Thorpe on guitar. Vocalist Paul DaVinci left the band just before "Sugar Baby Love," replaced by Alan Williams. Their name, like their music, was selected to consciously tap into '50s America iconography, and the revival sound bore fruit in the U.K. on several more singles: The "Sugar Baby Love" soundalike "Tonight" was a strong follow-up, and "Jukebox Jive" and "I Can Do It" went Top Ten there as well. None charted in the States, though, and the band, which had evolved from prefab status to full-fledged band, moved from glammy nostalgia into more serious territory. They turned many a head with 1976's "Under One Roof," a sensitive portrayal of a gay man disowned and later murdered by his father; along with Rod Stewart's "The Killing of Georgie," it was one of very few songs tackling the difficult topic of homophobia. At the time some speculated that the song had been designed to be so uncommercial as to get the band dropped from their label. If so, it worked all too well, as the Rubettes soon fell silent in the face of dwindling success. Arnesen left that year, followed soon after by Hurd, and by 1979 the group was history. In 1983, though, at the urging of a German promoter, Williams re-formed the band for festival shows. Redubbed the Rubettes featuring Alan Williams to counteract other acts passing themselves off as the Rubettes, the reconstituted unit continued to tour Europe in oldies revival packages intermittently into the 2000s, with original members Richardson and Clarke back in the fold along with ex-Kinks keyboardist Mark Haley.
The Rubettes were an English pop band assembled in 1973 by the songwriting team of Wayne Bickerton, then the head of A&R at Polydor Records, and his co-songwriter, Tony Waddington, after their doo-wop and 1950s American pop-influenced songs had been rejected by a number of existing acts. The band duly emerged at the tail end of the glam rock movement, wearing trademark white suits and cloth caps on stage. Their first release, "Sugar Baby Love" was an instant hit remaining at number one in the United Kingdom for four weeks in May 1974, while reaching number 37 on the U.S. chart that August, and remains their best-known record. Subsequent releases would be less successful, but the band continued to tour on the nostalgia circuit well into the 2000s.
The Rubettes’ first and biggest hit was "Sugar Baby Love" (1974) which was a number one in the United Kingdom, going on to sell around 500,000 copies in the UK and three million copies globally. Two million copies were sold in France alone, an achievement matched by no other British group. With three more songs, "Sugar Baby Love" was recorded for Polydor in October 1973 at Landsdown Studios in Holland Park, London by a group of session musicians featuring the distinctive falsetto lead vocal of Paul Da Vinci (real name: Paul Prewer). Da Vinci would not, however, become a member of the band put together by John Richardson but would pursue solo work. "Sugar Baby Love" was their only UK No. 1 and sole U.S. Top 40 entry. In November 1974 NME music magazine reported that The Rubettes, The Glitter Band and Mud were among the UK bands who had roles in a new film titled Never Too Young To Rock.
The Rubettes went on to have a number of other hits across Europe during the mid-1970s, such as "Tonight", "Juke Box Jive" and "I Can Do It" sung by Alan Williams, mostly written by the Bickerton–Waddington songwriting team. The Rubettes' success encouraged Bickerton and Waddington to set up State Records, so that ten months after the release of "Sugar Baby Love", the fourth Rubettes single "I Can Do It" was on State (catalogue reference STAT 1).
The band were to abandon glammy nostalgia to enter more serious territory. "Under One Roof" (1976) was a portrayal of a gay man disowned and later murdered by his father; along with Rod Stewart's "The Killing of Georgie", it was one of the few songs that tackled the topic of homophobia. Their most successful self-composed hit was the country rock styled ballad "Baby I Know", which reached number 10 in the UK and Germany in 1977. Reportedly, Thorpe's vocal was chosen as the final one after each member of the band tried to sing it without success. Thorpe claims he sung it how the imagined Dolly Parton may have sung it.They played as a quintet from early 1975 and always as a quartet from mid-1976 (Bill Hurd (keyboardist) became an out-of-staff member; during his retirement years, he joined Suzi Quatro's band, touring and playing on a number of worldwide hits, which included the Top 20 hit "She's in Love with You" in 1979, before re-joining the Rubettes in 1982.)
In another attempt to get away from the 'do-wop' glam image, Thorpe insisted that the trademark vocal harmonies were left off of his composition "You're the Reason Why". Gerry Shury and the band out-voted him. The version with no vocal backing has been available as a bootleg recording in certain parts of Europe. After Thorpe's departure in 1979, the group's success began to dwindle.
Bass player Mick Clarke recorded a solo album Games in 1979 for the cult German label Blubber Lips.
In 1979, Alan Williams had Tony Thorpe fired over a set list disagreement. Williams then insisted that all of Thorpe's lead vocals were taken off off the upcoming album Still Unwinding. His guitar parts and backing vocals remained.
The band continued releasing records into the 1980s, then re-grouped in 1983 in order to exploit the German market for 1970s nostalgia.
In 1994, the group's profile was raised by the inclusion of "Sugar Baby Love" in the hit movie Muriel's Wedding. This song was also featured in the 2005 Neil Jordan film Breakfast on Pluto soundtrack, and in a popular Safe Sex commercial.
In 2002, the group hit the headlines once more when, following an acrimonius split and legal action, the Rubettes became the latest in a long line of bands (including the Beach Boys and Spandau Ballet) to end up in the courts in a dispute over ownership of the band's name. The court ruled that both Williams and Hurd could tour as the Rubettes, as long as it was clear which member was fronting the band. Original members John Richardson and Mick Clarke, along with ex-Kinks keyboardist Mark Haley, feature with Alan Williams in his band. Hurd is the only member of his group connected with the original line up, but his drummer, Alex Bines, played with the group beginning with their reunion in 1982.
All was well until 2005 when Williams and Hurd were back in court following an appearance by Hurd's band on the German television station ZDF, with Williams claiming Hurd had breached the terms of the original agreement. On 2 February 2006, a High Court judge found that Hurd and Williams had both been guilty of breaching the 2002 agreement. Costs of the trial were, however, awarded to Williams in view of the severity of Hurd's breaches. Hurd appealed against this decision, but on 3 November 2006 the Appeal Court in London ruled against him, awarding the costs of the appeal to Williams. Hurd has since gone bankrupt.
On 28 March 2008, "Sugar Baby Love" was declared to be the most successful oldie of all time by the German television station RTL.
In May and June 2008, The Rubettes were part of the 'Glitz Blitz & 70s Hitz' tour of the UK alongside Sweet and Showaddywaddy.
In June 2009, Bill Hurd's Rubettes played at the East Kilbride ArtBurst Festival.
In 2010, Bill Hurd's Rubettes covered the 1997 Thorpe composition "Where the Angels Fear to Tread" on their album 21st Century Rock 'n' Roll on Angel Air Records.
In March 2012, Thorpe digitally released the No Hits, No Jazz Collection and performed at Darwen Library Theatre with a live eight-piece band for his '50th Anniversary 1-Gig-Tour'. It featured session musicians Iain Reddy, Liam Barber, Justin Randall and Gregg Harper. "You're the Reason Why" was played.
The original line-up of the band was:-Alan Williams (born Alan James Williams, 23 December 1948, Welwyn Garden City, Hertfordshire) – vocals, guitarJohn Richardson (born John George Richardson, 3 May 1948, South Ockendon, Essex) – drums, vocalsMick Clarke (born Michael William Clarke, 10 August 1946, Grimsby, Lincolnshire) – bass, vocalsTony Thorpe (born Anthony John Thorpe, 20 July 1945, St Bartholomew Hospital, Smithfields, London) – lead guitar, vocalsPete Arnesen (born Hans Peter Arnesen, 25 August 1947, Salzburg, Austria) – pianoBill Hurd (born William Frederick George Hurd, 11 August 1948, East Ham, East London) – organ, piano
Of the original Rubettes line-up only Richardson, Williams and Arnesen participated in the recording of "Sugar Baby Love" although all members featured on the Top of the Pops re-recording for playback purposes.