When Chris Norman's band - then known as Kindness - released their first single, 'And That Is Life', on RCA in 1969, they had already been around for a while, having been formed at school. Even so it was to be another six years before they got a hit. Part of the reason for the delay may have been their insistence on playing on their records at a time when such practices were frowned on for pop acts; certainly that's why they lost their RCA contract.
They went on to release some stuff on Decca and to back Peter Noone - he'd just left Herman's Hermits and was promoting 'Oh You Pretty Things' - before the big break beckoned in 1974: their manager secured them a deal with the hottest songwriters in the country.
The initial response from the band was far from enthusiastic: 'We were a bit worried because Chinn & Chapman at that time had a bit of a stigma about them - the fact that they were a hit factory, there was always that negative press thing about them.' But the concept for Smokey, as the band had become known, allowed for them to retain their integrity: aware of their negative image, the Chinnichaps were looking for an album-based band in an attempt to be taken a little more seriously. Picking up on the group's denim-clad lack of image and their accomplished harmony singing, they created a debut album Pass It Around that was pitched at the rock audience (complete with nudge-nudge drug references).
Radio One was unimpressed and, despite an appearance on The Old Grey Whistle Test (the first Chinn & Chapman band to be on the most muso of all TV shows), the album and the singles from it stiffed entirely. Which shocked the hell out of RAK and Chinnichap, neither of which were used to failures.
A rapid re-think produced a lighter, more poppy sound, featuring busking acoustic guitars and harmonizing voices - not dissimilar to the likes of Sutherland Brothers or Gallagher & Lyle, but better - and an immediate brace of hits: 'If You Think You Know How To Love Me' and 'Don't Play Your Rock & Roll To Me'. Those hits were enough to attract the attention of Motown, who complained that the group's name might confuse fans of Mr Robinson - the next single, 'Something's Been Making Me Blue', was therefore released as Smokie.
The next five years were good ones for Smokie - they kept going, despite punk and disco, and kept on having hits, both in Britain and elsewhere in Europe. In Germany, particularly, they were huge: I remember 'Living Next Door To Alice' being #1 there for what seemed like half a year.
The group split in 1983, and Chris Norman - who'd already scored a big international hit duetting with Suzi Quatro on 'Stumbling In' - went on to pursue a solo career. He never really hit in Britain, but there was success elsewhere, and he continues to make new albums and play on a regular basis. His main concern in both is to avoid the revivalist route, leaving that to the group still known as Smokie (which I believe now contains only guitarist Terry Utley from the classic line-up).
1975 If You Think You Know How To Love Me (#3)
1975 Don't Play Your Rock & Roll To Me (#8)
1976 Something's Been Making Me Blue (#17)
1976 I'll Meet You At Midnight (#11)
1976 Living Next Door To Alice (#5)
1977 Lay Back In The Arms Of Someone (#12)
1977 It's Your Life (#5)
1977 Needles And Pins (#10)
1978 For A Few Dollars More (#17)
1978 Oh Carol (#5)
1978 Mexican Girl (#19)
1977 Living Next Door To Alice (#25)