#844: Something In The Air by Thunderclap Newman
John David Percy “Speedy” Keen was born in West London, England, in 1945. In his late teens he played with The Krewsaders, and 1964-65 with The Second Thoughts. He was with a band called the Eccentrics and his song “City Of Lights” was recorded by Oscar in 1966. In 1967, his song “Armenia City In The Sky” was recorded by The Who for their album The Who Sell Out. This is the only song recorded for an album by The Who not written by any of the bandmates. It happened that Keen shared a flat with and worked as a driver for The Who’s guitarist and keyboard player Pete Townshend. Who bassist John Entwistle joked that people thought “Armenia City In The Sky” was “I’m an Ear Sitting in the Sky”.
James “Jimmy” McCulloch was born in Dumbarton, Scotland, in 1953. In 1964, at the age of eleven he was inspired by the music of Django Reinhardt and began to learn guitar. In 1967, he was a member of the psychedelic band One in a Million who released several singles in Scotland. The band opened concerts for The Who when they toured Scotland in 1967.
Peter Townshend was born in West London in 1945. Born into a musical family, Townshend learned to play guitar at the age of eleven. He and a schoolmate, John Entwistle, formed a traditional jazz group called the Confederates where Townshend played banjo and Entwistle played horn. John Entwistle joined Roger Daltry’s band, The Detours, in 1961. And soon after suggested Pete Townsend join the band. In 1964 there was another regional band named The Detours and so Daltry’s band came up with a new name, The Who. By 1969, when he formed Thunderclap Newman as a side gig, Townshend has enjoyed pop hits with The Who including “I Can’t Explain”, “My Generation”, “Substitute”, “I’m A Boy”, “Happy Jack”, “Pictures Of Lily”, “I Can See For Miles”, “Call Me Lightning”, “Magic Bus”, “Pinball Wizard” and “I’m Free”.
Andy “Thunderclap” Newman was born in November 1942 in Isleworth, Middlesex, and grew up in Hounslow. Andy’s first musical efforts were on his great-grandmother’s old wooden-framed piano, later replaced by an iron-framed upright model.
From 1969 until 1971, the nucleus of Thunderclap Newman consisted of the songwriter John “Speedy” Keen on lead vocals, drums, and guitar, Andy “Thunderclap” Newman on piano, and Jimmy McCulloch on guitar. As well, Pete Townshend using the alias ‘Bijou Drains’ played bass guitar on their album and singles. All the bands’ material was recorded and produced at the IBC Studio and Pete Townshends’ Twickenham home studio.
In 1969, Thunderclap Newman recorded a song titled “Something In The Air”.
“Something In The Air” was written by Speedy Keen. At first, the song was titled “Revolution” but the name was changed so it wouldn’t be confused with the 1968 Beatles B-side to “Hey Jude”. The opening line is “call out the instigators, because their’s something in the air.” In English, to ‘call out’ someone can mean to challenge, mock, “to announce to someone that you knows the other’s lies or intentions.” However, the meaning in “Something In The Air” it to literally call out the instigators, to signal that this is the moment to start a revolution. The instigators are the ringleaders who have been waiting for the moment to “hand our the arms and ammo, we’re gonna blast our way through here.” The instigators are announcing to the world, by their actions, that “the revolution’s here.”
“Something In The Air” offers an opposite message to The Beatles “Revolution”. In the case of the Fab Four, they sing “we all want to change the world…but when you talk about destruction. Don’t you know that you can count me out.” The Beatles contemplate making a contribution, and acknowledge many want to “change the constitution,” or “the institution.” But they advocate a better path: “to free your mind instead.” They warn the China’s Chairman Mao, and others are among the “people with minds that hate.” So all this talk of ‘Revolution’ is loaded with some very troubling potential outcomes.
For Thunderclap Newman, now that the time has come to ‘hand our the arms and ammo,’ the revolution that is beginning is what those eager for change have been waiting for. “And you know it’s right” they sing. Blasting our way through here will be the way the people “get it together now.” “Something In The Air” captured a post-flower power rebellion in the the political winds of 1968-69. In 1967, the media dubbed the summer of 1967 as “the Summer of Love.” The Beatles sang “All You Need Is Love”. Scott McKenzie sang “If you’re going to San Francisco, be sure to wear some flowers in your hair.” Marcia Strassman, in “The Flower Children” sang “they just want to be wanted, they just want to be free. Why don’t we just love them, and let them be.”
But, in the mix along with peace and love was the sense that not all was well with democracy, with those in authority. Many hippies in the United States and Canada wore buttons stating “Question Authority.” Jefferson Airplane sang in “Somebody To Love”, “when the truth is found to be lies, and all the joy within you dies.” The song pointed to disturbances in the social-political arena. Many young people in the United States, and beyond, understood that President Johnson and the Pentagon were lying to the American public about the Vietnam War. In “For What It’s Worth”, Buffalo Springfield advised “There’s something happening here. But what it is ain’t exactly clear. There’s a man with a gun over there, telling me I got to beware. I think it’s time we stop Children, what’s that sound? Everybody look – what’s going down? There’s battle lines being drawn. Nobody’s right if everybody’s wrong. Young people speaking their minds, getting so much resistance from behind.”
In the United States on April 4, 1968, Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated and there were riots in 110 cities in the USA. The worst riots were in Washington D.C., Baltimore and Chicago. The riots marked the end of the Civil Rights Era.
On August 28, 1968, outside the Democratic Convention in Chicago, “The Battle of Michigan Avenue” was described by Neil Steinberg of The Chicago Sun-Times as “a 17-minute melee in front of the Conrad Hilton”, was broadcast on television, along with footage from the floor of the convention. The police violence extended to protesters, bystanders, reporters and photographers, while tear-gas reached Hubert Humphrey in his hotel suite. Police pushed protesters through plate-glass windows, then pursued them inside and beat them as they sprawled on the broken glass. 100 protesters and 119 police officers were treated for injuries, and 600 protesters were arrested. Television cameras recorded the police brutality while demonstrators chanted “The whole world is watching.”
And on June 28, 1969, patrons of The Stonewall club in Greenwich Village started a riot protesting police raids on ‘gay bars.’ The Stonewall uprisings were marked on the first anniversary on June 28, 1970, with the first Gay Pride parade in New York City.
In Argentina, at the beginning of May ’69, a series of strikes and popular assemblies occurred in Córdoba, which were harshly repressed by the provincial and national military authorities of the junta. On 13 May 1969, in San Miguel de Tucumán former workers of a sugar mill took the factory and its manager as hostage, asking for overdue payments. On 14 May, in Córdoba, automobile industry workers protested the elimination of the Saturday rest. On 15 May, the University of Corrientes increased the price of food tickets in its cafeteria fivefold. Numbers of youth were killed in these and other protests by the junta.
On January 5, 1968, Alexander Dubček became the First Secretary of the Communist Party of Czechoslovakia. His reforms for human rights and liberalized reforms for democracy, including free speech in the media, were crushed in August 21 when Soviet tanks rolled into Prague. The season of what was called the Prague Spring inspired the novel The Unbearable Lightness of Being by Czech writer Milan Kundera, and playwright Václav Havel, and many others.
In France, for seven weeks in May and June 1968, over 11 million adults participated in a general strike. this represented 22% of the population. It was feared there would be a civil war or a military coup. The wildcat protests ended with the results of the June 23rd federal election returning Charles De Gaulle to the French presidency.
The 1968 movement in Italy, or Sessantotto, was inspired by distaste for traditional Italian society. In May 1968 all universities, except Bocconi, were occupied. In the same month a hundred artists, including Gio Pomodoro, Arnaldo Pomodoro, Ernesto Treccani and Gianni Dova occupied for 15 days the Palazzo della Triennale.
In Mexico Mexican university students mobilized to protest Mexican government authoritarianism and sought broad political and cultural changes in Mexico. The entire summer leading up to the opening of the 1968 Mexico City Olympics had a series of escalating conflicts between Mexican students with a broad base of non-student supporters and the police. Mexican president Gustavo Ordaz saw the massive and largely peaceful demonstrations as a threat to Mexico’s image on the world stage and to his government’s ability to maintain order. On October 2, after a summer of protests against the Mexican government and the occupation of the central campus of the National Autonomous University (UNAM) by the army, a student demonstration in Tlatelolco Plaza in Mexico City ended with police, paratroopers and paramilitary units firing on students, killing and wounding an undetermined number of people.
In Northern Ireland, on October 5, 1968, a civil rights march in Derry was banned by the government. When marchers defied the ban, police officers surrounded the marchers and beat them indiscriminately and without provocation. More than 100 people were injured, including a number of nationalist politicians. The incident was filmed by television news crews and shown around the world. It caused outrage among Catholics and nationalists, sparking two days of rioting in Derry between nationalists and the police. These events were a catalyst for ‘something in the air’ leading to the riots of August 1969, and an escalation of ‘The Troubles.’
In Senegal, there were major protests against the military forces and riots against the government. After the killing of 28 demonstrators in June ’68, protests were dispersed and uprisings sprung up nationwide. Nationwide and countrywide protests took place into mid-June. There were two weeks of intense violence and deadly demonstrations. The movement was forcibly quelled by excessive amount of force by the military.
In Yugoslavia, Student protests were held in Belgrade as the first mass protest in Yugoslavia after World War II. Protests also broke out in other capitals of Yugoslav republics of Sarajevo, Zagreb and Ljubljana. After youth protests erupted in Belgrade on the night of June 2, 1968, students of the Belgrade University went into a seven-day strike. Police beat the students and banned all public gatherings. Students then gathered at the Faculty of Philosophy, held debates and speeches on social justice and handed out banned copies of the magazine Student. Students also protested against economic reforms, which led to high unemployment and forced workers to leave the country and find work elsewhere. In Ljubljana, more than 5000 people gathered on Prešern square. They were dispersed by police units from Croatia using batons, tear gas and water canons. Hundreds were injured.
Other news headlines in 1968 and 1969 reported mass demonstrations, riots and protests met with harsh police repression in Brazil, Japan, Pakistan, Poland, Spain, Sweden, Tunisia, and West Germany. Across the world there was something in the air. Thunderclap Newman captured the international mood reflected in these diverse national protests.
Internationally, “Something In The Air” peaked for three weeks in July ’69 at #1 in the UK, at #9 in the Netherlands and #13 in West Germany. In North American record markets it peaked at #1 in Hamilton (ON), San Bernardino (CA), Fayetteville-Ft. Bragg (NC), Portland (ME), #2 in New Haven (CT), Montgomery (AL), #3 in St. Louis, and Milwaukee (WI), #4 in Rochester (NY), #5 in Pittsburgh, Vancouver (WA), and Atlanta, #6 in Vancouver (BC), Ottawa (ON), Victoria (BC), Fort Lauderdale, and Kalamazoo (MI), #7 in Toronto, Kingston (ON), Salt Lake City, Oklahoma City, and Portland (OR), #8 in Jacksonville (FL), and Seattle, #9 in Fresno (CA), Spokane (WA), and Dallas, #10 in Miami, and Manchester (NH), and #11 in Bremerton (WA), Fargo (ND), and Fredericton (NB).
Thunderclap Newman had not planned to go on tour and perform in concert. However, the band relented when, to their collective surprise, “Something in the Air” became a chart success.
Thunderclap Newman augmented its personnel during its tours in 1969 with bass guitarist James “Jim” Pitman-Avery and drummer Jack McCulloch. Now they were six musicians and opened on a 26-date tour of England and Scotland in with headliner Deep Purple from July 1969 to August 1969.
In October 1970, Thunderclap Newman released its critically acclaimed album, Hollywood Dream. That year, they released three singles: “Accidents/I See It All”, which charted in Hamilton (ON); “The Reason/Stormy Petrel” and “Wild Country/Hollywood Dream”.
From January 1971 to April 1971 Thunderclap Newman supported Deep Purple during a 19-date tour of England and Scotland. That year Thunderclap Newman also opened on tour in the Netherlands for Leon Russell, and for Deep Purple on tour in Scandinavia. In 1971, additional musicians on tour were bass guitarist Ronnie Peel and drummer Roger Felice. Thunderclap Newman made a cameo appearance in the 1971 British movie Not Tonight, Darling.
Thunderclap Newman folded in April 1971.
In 1969, “Something In The Air” appeared in the film The Magic Christian, along with “Come And Get It” by Badfinger. In 1970, “Something In The Air” was included in the film The Strawberry Statement, concerning the 1968 Columbia University protests. Later in 1996, the song was in the bowling film Kingpin, and three films in the 2000s. In 1993 Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers recorded a cover of “Something In The Air”.
Jimmy McCulloch joined Stone The Crows from 1972-73 and was briefly in the Scottish pop band Blue. Next, he became a member of Paul McCartney’s band Wings from 1974-77. He was in the studio for “Junior’s Farm”, “Listen To What The Man Said”, “Let ‘Em In”, “Silly Love Songs”, and “With A Little Luck”. He also was a session musician on albums for Roger Daltry, Harry Nilsson, Peter Frampton and John Entwistle. In 1977 McCulloch became a member of the reformed Small Faces. On September 27, 1979, Jimmy McCulloch was found dead of heart failure due to morphine and alcohol poisoning. He was not known for using hard drugs.
Speedy Keen went on to produce multiple albums for the British speed rock band Motörhead. He suffered with arthritis for many years. Keen died of heart failure at age 56 in 2002.
Apart from a 1971 solo album, Rainbow, Andy “Thunderclap” Newman was musically dormant and worked as an electrician, until he put together a new version of Thunderclap Newman in 2010 featuring Townshend’s nephew Josh and Big Country’s drummer Mark Brzezicki. They recorded the album Beyond Hollywood and played live shows, including an appearance at the 2012 Isle of Wight festival. He died at the age of 73 in late March 2016.
Peter Townshend has continued to record and tour as a member of The Who. In 2006, The Who released their eleventh studio album. Their most recent concerts in Vancouver have all been at the Rogers’ Arena: October 8, 2006; May 13, 2016, and October 21, 2019.
May 7, 2022
Adam Sweeting, “Andy ‘Thunderclap’ Newman obituary: Founding member of Thunderclap Newman, the band that had a No 1 hit with Something in the Air in 1969,” Guardian, April 3, 2016.
“Jimmy McCulloch: Bands: Blue, Wings, Stone The Crows,” Rockopedia.com.
Thor Christensen, “Pete Townshend on the absurdity of The Who in 2019,” Dallas Morning-News, September 23, 2019.
Alan Clayson, “Speedy Keen,” Guardian, June 6, 2002.
Joel Achenbach, “A Party that had Lost its Mind in 1968, Democrats held one of histories most disastrous Conventions,” Washington Post, August 24, 1968.
Stephen Erlanger, “May 1968 – a watershed in French life,” New York Times, April 28, 2008.
Stefan von Kempis, “The Long ’68’. Italy’s View of the Protest Movement of 40 Years ago,” Overseas Information, June 2008.
“Belgrade’s 1968 student unrest spurs nostalgia,” Thaindian News, June 4, 2008.
“Echoes of 1968 unrest in Senegal student protests,” France24, March 6, 2018.
Richard Severo, “Alexander Dubcek, 70, Dies in Prague,” New York Times, November 8, 1992.
“Mexico’s 1968 Massacre: What Really Happened?,” NPR, December 1, 2008.
“CKLG Boss 30,” CKLG 730 AM, Vancouver, BC, October 24, 1969.
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