Saturday 16 December 2017

Obituary: Andy 'Thunderclap' Newman, jazz pianist

As a founder member of Thunderclap Newman, he put together the beautiful one-hit wonder 'Something in the Air'

Boys in the band: Newman with his signature pipe
Boys in the band: Newman with his signature pipe Newsdesk Newsdesk

Andy 'Thunderclap' Newman, who has died aged 73, was a jazz pianist and founder member of Thunderclap Newman, a cobbled-together session band whose anthemic Something in the Air was the surprise hit of the summer of 1969.

The band, which went by Newman's school nickname, was formed by Pete Townshend, guitarist with The Who, and the music impresario Kit Lambert to demo tracks written by the singer/drummer John 'Speedy' Keen, Townshend's occasional chauffeur.

Townshend recruited Newman, a pipe-smoking GPO telephone engineer whom he had known at art school, to play keyboards and Jimmy McCulloch, a 15-year-old Glaswegian guitarist, who later played in Paul McCartney's Wings. Townshend himself played bass, under the name Bijou Drains, on their only album, Hollywood Dream.

Performing in a trilby, spectacles, braces and bow tie, the bearded Newman provided a dapper counterpoint to his younger long-haired bandmates. He looked like a professor taking his students on a class outing.

On his barrelhouse piano, however, he delivered a stomping Dixieland bridge for Something in the Air that blended perfectly with his bandmates' psychedelic rock.

The song, with Keen's lyrics, chimed with the rebellious mood of the time: "Call out the instigator/Because there's something in the air/We've got to get together sooner or later/Because the revolution's here..."

In July 1969, the song went to number one in the British charts, where it remained for three weeks. It was, however, their only successful single and the band split up two years later. Although, as one critic noted: "If you are going to be a one-hit wonder, you might as well be remembered for something as wonderful as Something in the Air.

Andrew Laurence Newman was born on November 21, 1942 in Hounslow, west London and taught himself the piano by watching his father, a gardener, play at home. At school, his classmates nicknamed him 'Thunderclap'.

"They thought the rather clumsy style I played on the piano was reminiscent of a lightning bolt," he recalled.

He met Townshend in the early 1960s at Ealing Art College, where there was a vibrant music scene. Newman subsequently joined the GPO.

When Townshend contacted him in 1968, it was initially to create a soundtrack to a proposed film; while that did not happen a band was formed out of the sessions.

Thunderclap Newman toured with Deep Purple and Leon Russell before disbanding in 1971.

Described by fellow musicians as a quiet, erudite and private man, Newman subsequently released a solo album, Rainbow (1971), and recorded with Roger Ruskin Spear, who had attended Ealing Art College, before joining the Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band.

In later years, he worked as an electrician and campaigned on behalf of the housing co-operative in Clapham where he lived.

In 2010, Newman toured with a new Thunderclap Newman line-up including Pete Townshend's nephew, Josh Townshend, as the band's singer.

Newman is survived by a brother.

Andy 'Thunderclap' Newman, born November 21, 1942, died March 20, 2016.

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