Three schoolfriends from Bradford, West Yorkshire, UK, Terry Uttley, Alan Silson, and Chris Norman, wanted to become rock stars. They formed a group and were signed up for a summer season at Butlin's holiday camp. Then they were sacked.
Undeterred, they changed the band's name and were signed up by RCA, releasing their first single 'Light of Love'. By this time, Pete Spencer had joined the band as drummer. The man who turned down The Beatles (now working for Decca Records) then signed them up, but they had no recording successes. However, they successfully auditioned to be the backing band for Peter Noone of 'Herman and the Hermits' fame.
After a year's touring they returned to gigging in the north of England. Bill Hurley, who knew that the production team of Nicky Chinn and Mike Chapman (Chinnichap) were looking for a band to work with, spotted the lads at a gig, and got them signed up in 1974, as 'Smokey'.
Chinn and Chapman originally named the band 'Smokey', and that was how the name was spelled on their first two hit singles. It was then announced that they were changing the spelling to avoid confusion with Smokey Robinson, the soul singer and son-in-law of Tamla Motown founder Berry Gordy.
Smokie were seen as Chinn and Chapman's bid for respectability. They had previously been known for writing teeny-pop hits for the likes of Mud, Sweet, and Suzi Quatro. The material they wrote for Smokie was a bit more sophisticated.
The group's first single 'Pass It Around' was banned by BBC Radio One because of its' title's suggestion of drug use. Their second single, 'If You Think You Know How To Love Me', was a hit; it peaked at number three in the charts, and sold millions of copies around the world. They had 12 UK Top 40 hits in the 1975-78 era, of which the following six made the Top 10:
- 'If You Think You Know How To Love Me'
- 'Don't Play Your Rock'n'Roll To Me'
- 'Living Next Door To Alice'
- 'It's Your Life'
- 'Needles And Pins'1
- 'Oh Carol'2
These further hits led to successful tours around the world over the next five years, achieving platinum, gold, and silver discs for their record sales. When Chris Norman decided to leave the band to pursue a solo career, the band called it a day.
After a few years of doing their own thing, the former members received a call to re-form the band.
The year was 1985, and their local football club, Bradford City, had just suffered a major disaster. The club's main stand caught fire during a game and there was considerable loss of life. This shocking event was worsened because the game was being televised live. The sight of people on fire running onto the pitch was truly horrifying. In the aftermath, the former members of Smokie were asked to perform a one-off concert to raise funds for the relatives of the victims of the disaster.
The lads willingly agreed and the concert was a great success. It also led to the demand for more appearances, and Smokie became popular again. The band went back on the road, performing in Europe and Australia.
Before long, Chris Norman could no longer cope with his solo work conflicting with his commitment to the band, so he left Smokie again. The band signed up another singer, Alan Barton. They continued to have commercial success, such as the 1989 album Boulevard of Broken Dreams, which went to number one in Norway and stayed there for a record ten weeks. The group members in this period of Smokie's history consisted of:
- Alan Barton - Lead Vocals/Guitar
- Terry Uttley - Vocals/Bass Guitar
- Alan Silson - Vocals/Lead Guitar
- Martin Bullard - Keyboards
- Steve Pinnell - Drums/Percussion
Three band members, Alan Silson, Terry Uttley, and Alan Barton, were on the tour bus in Germany when it crashed, with Alan Barton sustaining fatal injuries. After Alan died, the band faced an unenviable choice. They had not only lost their lead singer but also a great friend. Should they continue without him; replace him with another singer; or scrap the band? With the help of fans and media support, they decided to continue playing, and auditioned Mike Craft. His task of making his own place in the band, while taking the place of the well-loved, respected and much-missed front-man, showed his strength of character. Not only did he succeed, but he took the group from strength to strength and even more success.
Who the F..k is Alice?
'Living Next Door To Alice' was first a hit for Smokie in 1976, when it reached number five in the charts. The idea of the 'amended' version of the song first came from a Dutch band called Gompie, and their version became a hit in Europe. It also made the UK top 20 - but Smokie covered Gompie's cover of their song with the aid of notoriously foul-mouthed comedian Roy 'Chubby' Brown, and had the biggest British hit. The re-release, 'Living Next Door To Alice (Who the F..k is Alice?)' in 1995, sold in excess of 200,000 copies, reaching the top five best-selling singles again.
At their current concerts, the group come back for their encore and sing 'Living Next Door To Alice'; but they leave Chubby Brown's lines in the newer version for the audience to sing.
In 1996, Alan Silson left the band, and was replaced by Mick McConnell, who quickly became popular with the fans and Smokie's success continued. The European tour, 'The World and Elsewhere', in 1997, and the accompanying album went platinum. Smokie even cracked the notoriously hard American market, performing and recording the album Wild Horses in Nashville, Tennessee.
Continuing with their European tour in 1998 into 1999, the band extended their performances with visits to countries such as Russia and South Africa. Ulaan Bataar, in Mongolia, was a sell-out. They played two nights to a packed open-air 25,000 capacity stadium, with more than 60,000 fans listening outside, as they couldn't get tickets.
South America was also conquered. Montevideo, Uruguay, was such a success that the band said they intended to return there as often as they can. After touring Malta, the band took up a new challenge and played concerts in Bejing. Learning and singing a traditional Chinese folk song 'Nan Li Wan' broke the ice with the audience and soon had them rocking in the aisles.
This tour of China was filmed by Yorkshire Television for a documentary about the band, clips of which are shown at their latest concerts. The one remaining original band member, Terry Uttley, is seen weeping with joy and hugging his fellow band-mates after the success of the concerts.
The Success Continues
Heading into the fourth decade of the band's life, the double CD Uncovered, contains the band's greatest hits and covers of their favourite songs. It sold so many copies that it achieved double platinum status. This success has been followed by another album Uncovered 2. The band completed their first UK tour in over ten years, and plan to tour Korea in the future.
Smokie are a friendly band who love to meet their fans face-to-face. They sign autographs and pose for photographs with fans after concerts. At a concert in the Grimsby Auditorium on 21 March, 2002, in the UK, Smokie were their own backing band; they performed for over two-and-a-half hours with just a 15-minute break. They are an excellent live band and their old hits haven't dated at all. A great evening out for rock fans of all ages!
- The Hits Collection - Volume 1
- The Hits Collection - Volume 2
- The Hits Collection - Volume 3
- The Montreux Album
- Midnight Café
- Changing All The Time
- Don't Play Your Rock 'N' Roll To Me
- The Other Side Of The Road
- Smokie - Live
- The Best Of Smokie
- The Very Best Of Smokie
- The Concert - Live
- The Collection
- The Collection - Volume 2
- Strangers In Paradise
- The Very Best Of The Rock Songs
- The Best Of 20 Years
- Solid Ground
- With Love From Smokie
- 18 Carat Gold
- Hit Mix
- Wild Horses
- Light A Candle
- Who The F..k Is Alice?
- The World - And Elsewhere
- All Fired Up
- Whose Are These Boots?
- Burnin' Ambition
- Chasing Shadows
- Uncovered 2
Smokie have their own website at Smokie, where you can join their fan club and chat to other fans.