The Infinite Jukebox: Thunderclap Newman’s ‘The Reason’

As I mentioned in the context of Speedy Keen’s ‘Someone to Love’, Thunderclap Newman only released four singles in their brief career. Everyone knows ‘Something in the Air’, the Number 1 hit that nobody expected and everyone struggled to follow. It was almost a year later when a follow-up appeared, charting for one week at no. 44, which was the end of the band’s chart career.
Career do I say? And ‘band’ do I say? Thunderclap Newman took their name from keyboard and kazoo player Andy ‘Thunderclap’ Newman, an eccentric 24 year old GPO Engineer and jazz fan, who didn’t want to go into the music business because it would disrupt his GPO pension. It included guitar wizard Jimmy McCullough, a 15 year old from Glasgow who would end up a member of Wings playing on songs on which no guitar could be heard. And the trio were a studio set-up as a vehicle to record the songs of John ‘Speedy’ Keen, Who roadie, Pete Townshend chauffeur and Best Man at his wedding.
There was nothing organic about them. In a New Musical Express interview, to promote his first and only solo album, Newman commented that he liked Keen but didn’t like his music, whereas for McCullough it was the opposite.
‘Something of the Air’ stands head, shoulders and torso above the rest of the band’s limited oeuvre (a total of 18 tracks including single and album versions of their second and third singles). It came and went in that last year before I started listening to music. ‘Accidents’ was a weird choice for a single, even in its completely re-recorded shorter form, but the one that caught my ear and swallowed me up entire was the third single, ‘The Reason’, that for a long time I believed was called ‘There’s a Reason’, because that’s the line Speedy sings.
I caught it on tape the first time I heard it, losing less than two seconds as it went straight into the lyrics, and playing it over and over again. It wasn’t until sometime the following year, or maybe even the one after when, having accompanied my mother to Ashton Market one Saturday afternoon, I was allowed five minutes to browse the singles untidily piled on a record stall. It was a cold afternoon and Mam didn’t want to just hang around and freeze, so she asked if there was anything in particular I was looking for. I mentioned ‘There’s a Reason’ so she went off down the other end of the stall whilst I picked through what was in front of me and she came back two minutes later holding a single in an inappropriate DJM Records sleeve and asked, “Is this what you’re after?” It sure was!
It’s a song with a tremendous nostalgic history behind it, a song that nobody else seemed to have heard of, but one that I loved and would play over and over again. I’d play it at my friends, none of whom seemed to appreciate it, but I could always sink into it and let the music surround me.
Yet it’s a weird choice as a single, even for 1970, when music was in flux between the certainties of the Sixties and the unfathomable future ahead. Anything could be a success, or so you’d have to believe if you look at releases, but ‘The Reason’ is improbable from the outset. Maybe if I’d had a couple of years listening under my belt, I might not have found it so fascinating.
But it’s a stop-start song, with quasi-mystical lyrics that never really resolve into a statement of what Keen is getting at. The instrumentation is low-key, and the rhythm constantly stops to allow the picked intro to repeat. The distinction between this and the album version is the brief, tinkling rather than thumping piano solo by Newman, overdubbed on an otherwise dull and shapeless harmonica interlude.
And there’s an extended coda where McCullough gets to strut his stuff with an electrifying solo that uses all the fretboard without ever losing its shape, which the single mix makes more concentrated and continuous.
Listening to it a half century further on, I find that for once my tastes have shifted away from a song that once was so meaningful to me, that it is now bound up almost entirely with nostalgia for days gone. Then, I wasn’t as familiar with ‘Something in the Air’ as I am now, not caught up in the spell of that magical sound and it’s summery haze of optimism. ‘The Reason’, in contrast, has no such aura about it, no such simplicity. Like all the band’s other songs, it lives in the shadow of something that couldn’t be repeated. I feel only sorrow that it no longer represents what I always thought it to be.

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