John “Speedy” Keen was an old crony of The Who (he had been Keith Moon’s chauffeur and “Man Friday”) and had written Armenia City In The Sky, which appeared on The Who Sell Out LP.
The unlikely Andy Newman – an old acquaintance of Pete Townshend from art school – played terrific pub-style piano and looked much like a GPO engineer – which he was.
16-year-old Jimmy McCulloch was spotted by Townshend in an obscure Scottish band.
Townshend matched McCulloch with Speedy Keen in a new group named after its pianist, Thunderclap Newman (although Kit Lambert – The Who‘s manager at the time – proposed naming the trio My Favourite Freaks) and this combination created the now-classic single, Something In The Air – with Townshend on production duties and uncredited bass (he worked under the pseudonym ‘Bijou Drains’).
Their sole album – Hollywood Dream – delivered the goods in a similar fashion, fuelled by Keen’s reedy vocals and Newman’s charming honky-tonk piano (with production assistance again from Townshend).
With their initial recording success, pressure was put on Thunderclap Newman to tour Britain, but even though they augmented the line-up with Jim Pitman-Avory and Jack McCulloch (Jimmy’s brother) for live engagements, they could never hope to reproduce their studio sound live on stage.
Consequently, concerts were a huge disappointment – which helped hasten the band’s demise.
Three more singles followed – Accidents, The Reason, and Wild Country – before the band called it a day.
Andy Newman and John Keen both later recorded well-received solo albums, while Jimmy McCulloch found recording and performing success with Stone The Crows and as a member of Paul McCartney‘s post-Beatles group, Wings, before dying of heart complications due to a heroin overdose in 1979 at the age of 26.
Andy Newman continued to perform occasionally as Thunderclap Newman until he passed away on 30 March 2016.
John ‘Speedy’ Keen