Rick Foster recalls the making of Chicory Tip’s 1972 hit ‘Son Of My Father’, the first UK Number One record to feature a synthesiser as the lead instrument
“We’re all Kent boys. We’re all Maidstone boys. We all went to South Borough School in the town. We left there in 1961, when we were 15, and started playing music soon after. Barry Mayger, our bassist, came round my house one day and said there was a group doing covers of Cliff Richard & The Shadows at our youth club that night. So we went along and were shocked to find they were just kids of our age. It was very inspiring. Barry and I got some cheap instruments, roped in a couple of other friends, and that was it. We were a group.
“We called ourselves The Sonics. We had several break-ups, various people came and went, but then we settled on a nucleus of me on guitar, Barry on bass, Peter Hewson on vocals and Brian Shearer on drums. That was the line-up for ‘Son Of My Father’. It was Barry’s idea to change our name to Chicory Tip. He came up with it after seeing ‘chicory essence’ on a bottle of Camp Coffee, which I think you can still get. He suggested it after we came off stage one night when we were playing with The Mannish Boys. Most of The Mannish Boys were from Maidstone too. Their singer was David Jones, later better known as David Bowie.
“Chicory Tip was managed by a guy called Roger Easterby and he got us a record deal with CBS. Roger was also a record plugger and towards the end of 1971 he was asked to work on a record by Giorgio Moroder. Giorgio had written the music for this track, which had originally been released in Germany [issued under the title ‘Nachts Scheint Die Sonne’ (‘In The Night Shines The Sun’) and sung by German schlager star Michael Holm], but now it had English lyrics by Peter Bellotte and was renamed ‘Son Of My Father’. When Roger heard the English version, he thought it would be a good song for Chicory Tip to cover.
“In those days, there was a strange rule about covers, whereby a record had to be played on the radio for the publishing to be logged, and once that had happened anyone could record a version of it. So Roger took Giorgio’s record to a little radio station somewhere out of the way, I think it was down in Bristol, got them to play it, and then straight away put Chicory Tip in the studio to do our version of it. Which was a bit naughty really. We did the dirty on Giorgio and there’s no denying it.
“We recorded the track at AIR Studios, George Martin’s place in Oxford Street. We recorded and mixed the whole thing in a couple of days, finishing on Christmas Eve, and then CBS released the record in January 1972, a week or two before Giorgio’s version came out. I remember George Martin popping in when we were mixing and saying, ‘This smells like a hit to me’. Those were his actual words.
I think we all knew we’d done something a bit special too. It got to Number 30 in the UK charts on the strength of just three radio plays and that put us on ‘Top Of The Pops’. After that, it went all the way to Number One.
“‘Son Of My Father’ was a good pop song, but what made it so different was the Moog. There are actually several tracks of Moog on there, but everybody knows it for the lead melody. I think I’m right in saying it was the first track to have a synthesiser as the lead instrument. I also think it was the first Number One record in the UK to feature a synthesiser at all. Like most musicians at the time, we were aware of synths, but we didn’t really know much about them. The guy who set up the Moog for us was Chris Thomas, the main engineer at AIR [whose later credits include mixing Pink Floyd’s ‘Dark Side Of The Moon’ and producing Roxy Music and the Sex Pistols].
“I remember watching Chris doing all the set-ups and being totally gobsmacked. It was incredible. I’d never seen anything like it before. And all the time I was wondering how on earth we were going to recreate that outside of the studio. We were a gigging band and we did lots of promo stuff when the record came out, but we got ourselves a Minimoog, which had only just been released at the time. I played a bit of keyboards, so I played the Minimoog at the gigs. I used to have all sorts of trouble with it though. It was always going out of tune and it was quite difficult to handle.
“‘Son Of My Father’ ended up being a hit all over Europe. Which was good for Giorgio Moroder, as well as for us. As it happens, Giorgio was in touch with Roger Easterby and he was fine about what we’d done. In fact, Giorgio and Peter Bellotte wrote our next few singles, including ‘What’s Your Name’ and ‘Good Grief Christina’, both of which also featured the Moog. Giorgio was a smashing bloke. He was great to work with. I think the records he did with us put him on the path towards being a figurehead of electronic music. The next thing Giorgio and Peter did after working with us was Donna Summer.
“I left Chicory Tip in 1973 and spent the next 25 years playing guitar with Edison Lighthouse [best known for their 1970 hit ‘Love Grows (Where My Rosemary Goes)’]. But then a few years ago, Barry, Brian and I started playing gigs as Chicory Tip again. Barry lives in Portugal now, so these days it’s me, Brian and Peter Giles. Peter went to South Borough School too. We play most weekends, pubs and parties and so on. There’s no Minimoog though. When I left the band in 1973, I must admit I was glad to have seen the back of it.”