Richard Palmer-James

Richard Jeffrey Charles Palmer was born in Bournemouth on 11th June 1947 at the Pine Lea Nursing Home in Meyrick Park, Bournemouth, and spent his formative years in Bengal Road, Winton, close to Victoria Park, the home of the Poppies football club. He acquired his first instrument, an ukulele, at the age of thirteen, quickly followed by a guitar on which he would studiously learn Shadows and Duane Eddy instrumentals. The first song he could play from beginning to end was The Ramrods 1961 version of “Ghost Riders in the Sky”. While he was at Bournemouth School for Boys in 1962, Richard formed his first group, The Corvettes, with three like-minded pupils: drummer Alec James, rhythm guitarist Pete Mounty and Clive Field on bass. The group were initially an all instrumental outfit playing Richard’s favourite Shadows, Ventures and Dakotas numbers, apart from a version of “Twist and Shout” on which Alec James got to air his tonsils. When they became a quintet with the addition of vocalist Paul Mead, their repertoire expanded to include the hits of the day.

In the summer of 1964, an acquaintance from school, John Wetton, auditioned in Richard’s front room on a cheap Danelectro bass with an unreliable pickup and despite the off-putting interference punctuating the rehearsal, he did enough to be accepted into the group. To make way for Wetton, there was a reshuffle with Pete Mounty stepping down and Clive Field moving onto rhythm guitar, but he only lasted a couple of weeks as he was ousted for not being up to the job. Over the coming months, the friendship between Richard and John blossomed as they rehearsed new songs and on most Saturdays Richard would cycle over to John’s home and take the short walk to Don Strikes music shop in the Westbourne arcade where they would try out the latest instruments while chatting to Don’s son, Bev.

The Corvettes become a quartet circa 1964, Left to Right: Richard Palmer, Paul Mead, Alec James & John Wetton (Photograph courtesy of Peter Viney & Richard Palmer-James)

Over the coming year the group dispensed a selection of their favourite rock ‘n’ roll covers and the hits of the day around Bournemouth at a variety of venues such as the Epiphany Church Hall in Moordown, The Wheelhouse at the Lansdowne, Corpus Christi Church Hall in Boscombe, Winton Congregational Church Hall, the Bure Club in Mudeford and further afield in Brockenhurst, Weymouth, Torquay and Gillingham, quite a trek in Richard’s father’s old GPO Morris Minor van. In the summer of 1965 Richard and John attended a gig at the Lagland Street Boys Club in Poole, where they saw a gritty blues band from Gosport called The Classics. They were a morose-looking bunch with long unkempt hair, scruffy jeans and a habit of puffing on fags while grinding out dirty, amped up versions of Muddy Waters and Jimmy Reed numbers. The band made a big impact on the boys and almost overnight The Corvettes changed direction by dumping their matching waistcoats and slacks in favour of sober dark suits, and discarding the lightweight pop songs for gritty r&b covers. There was also a change of name to The Palmer James Group, a combination of Richard and Alec’s surnames not solely Richard’s, as his double-barrelled nom de plume wasn’t adopted until the early seventies when he signed up with a copyright agency and found that there was a Richard Palmer already registered. Weeks after the change in direction, the band expanded to a quintet with the addition of John ‘Hutch’ Hutcheson on Vox organ, as a keyboard was an essential ingredient to augment their new sound.

palmer james group
The Palmer James Group in 1965, Left to Right: Richard Palmer, John Wetton, ‘Hutch’ Hutcheson, Alec James & Paul Mead (Photograph courtesy of Peter Viney & Richard Palmer-James)

In the autumn of 1965 Richard left the band and Bournemouth for the University of Aberystwyth, where he attained a Bachelor of Arts degree in Fine Art and English Literature. During the three years he was away studying in Wales, there was a seismic shift in musical direction from some of the old stagers such as The Beatles, Small Faces and Rolling Stones and a diversification in styles from newer bands such as Cream, Traffic, Pink Floyd, The Nice and The Jimi Hendrix Experience. The top twenty was no longer the sole point of reference as album sales outstripped singles and musical proficiency took priority over pretty boy looks and teen appeal. In the summer of 1968 Richard returned to Bournemouth with plans to form a new band with John Wetton and ‘Hutch’ Hutcheson that reflected the current musical trends. They recruited a drummer, Bob Jenkins, and named the band Tetrad (a group of four according to the Collins dictionary). The quartet set about assembling a repertoire of their favourite songs including Donovan’s “Season of the Witch”, “Morning Dew”, a song written by Bonnie Dobson but made famous by the American Tim Rose and the newly formed Jeff Beck Group, Cream’s “White Room”, The Zombies “Time of the Season” and a version of The Supremes “You Keep Me Hanging On” in the style of the heavy rock band Vanilla Fudge. Over the next year they encountered much austerity and hardship as they trundled around the country playing to mainly disinterested punters in clubs, colleges and universities. The problem lay in their dogged termination in sticking with tried and tested covers and not trusting in their own ability to write original songs. The decision ultimately brought about their demise as Decca Records rejected them after an audition on the grounds that they had nothing new or original to say. After a disastrous gig with the former Drifter Clyde McPhatter that made the band look like a bunch of amateurs after he changed the repertoire mid-set and a name change to Ginger Man that failed to elicit anymore interest, the band admitted defeat and called it a day after a gig in Salisbury.

Photo Ginger Man 1969
Ginger Man in 1969, Left to Right: Richard Palmer, John Wetton, Bob Jenkins & John ‘Hutch’ Hutcheson (Photograph courtesy of Peter Viney & Richard Palmer-James)

Unemployed, Richard reverted to the fate that befell many a musician back in the sixties and seventies by trawling through the advertisement pages of Melody Maker looking for work. The first audition he applied for in St. Johns Wood, London was organised by Martin Turner and Steve Upton, a bassist and drummer respectively, who were on the lookout for a guitarist and a keyboard player. After listening to an endless succession of guitar players, including Richard, they couldn’t decide between Ted Turner or Andy Powell. Ultimately, they plumped for both and launched the twin guitar attack of Wishbone Ash to great acclaim.

Later the same day, Richard attended another tryout in Shepherd’s Bush arranged by the pianist Rick Davies, formerly of The Joint. Financed by the Dutch millionaire Stanley ‘Sam’ August Miesegaes, Davies was on the lookout for musicians to form a new band, as Miesegaes didn’t think his former outfit was up to the job. Rick had already unearthed the Portsmouth born guitarist Roger Hodgson and Richard, thinking he was wasting his time as the position was already taken, ran through the motions performing his party pieces “Eyesight to the Blind” by Sonny Boy Williamson and Donovan’s “Season of the Witch”. He left not expecting to hear from Davies again, but days later he received a phone call offering him the job after Hodgson had agreed to move onto bass. The line-up of the new band was completed by former Bakerloo drummer Keith Baker (no relation to Ginger).

The newly christened Daddy spent several months of intense rehearsals in Botolph’s Bridge House in Romney Marsh, before debuting at Lympne Castle in Kent. The band then crossed the channel for a month long residency in Munich, playing five, half hour sets a night, seven on a weekend, at the PN Club where they honed a repertoire of original material interspersed with a bunch of Chuck Berry covers and old blues standards to pad out the time. During the residency, four songs were recorded live by Radio Free Europe for broadcast behind the Iron Curtain and a ten-minute version of Bob Dylan’s “All Along the Watchtower” was filmed by the director Haro Senft for a short documentary film, Daddy: Portrait 1970. After Germany, they moved on to the genteel surroundings of the Etonnoir Club in Geneva for a week of dates, where they were mainly ignored by an aloof, snobby clientele.

In the spring of 1970 the band moved their centre of operations to ‘Tir-Na-Nog’, a house in Grayshott Surrey, and replaced the disgruntled Keith Baker. Apparently the grumpy drummer was unhappy with the direction the music was heading, plus he wasn’t too keen on his bandmates either, his place was taken by the relatively unknown Robert Millar. There was also a name change because of a trio of American draft dodgers known as Daddy Longlegs landing on our shores. To avoid any confusion, Daddy appropriated the moniker Supertramp from the 1908 William Henry Davies novel, The Autobiography of a Super-Tramp.

In June the band made their London debut at the Lyceum in London supporting Procol Harum. The following month they released a self-titled, self-produced debut album of eleven original songs written by Roger Hodgson, Rick Davies and Richard. Recorded at Morgan Studios in London over a two-week period, it failed to catch the imagination of the record buying public but won a positive review from Melody Maker, “Overall it’s a record that demands repeated listening for it has moments of real style, reminiscent of early Pink Floyd”. Shortly after its release Richard, Hodgson and Davies were invited to compose a soundtrack for the Haro Senft directed film Fegefeuer in Munich. It was a line of work Richard would return to later in his career.

Supertramp, 1970 Isle of Wight Festival, Left to Right: Davies, Millar, Hodgson, Palmer-James & Winthrop

Over the next six months, Supertramp played over seventy shows across the UK, including a spot on the Thursday night bill of the third ‘Isle of Wight Festival’ in August 1970. They also recorded a short session for broadcast on John Peel’s radio show Top Gear in June and were captured live while supporting Caravan on John Peel’s Sunday Concert show in October. However, after gaining fifth member, saxophonist and flautist Dave Winthrop, cracks appeared as relations between Richard and the rest of the band broke down over musical direction and several other petty annoyances. On the 15th December 1970, Richard played his final show with Supertramp at the Zoom Club in Frankfurt and walked away with two pounds ten shillings to his name. Over the years, Supertramp suffered many line-up changes before finally breaking through in 1974 with the album Crime of the Century and the top twenty single “Dreamer”. They have subsequently sold over forty five million records worldwide, hitting pay dirt in 1979 with their sixth album “Breakfast in America” which has sold nearly seventeen million copies alone.

Photo Supertramp 1970
Supertramp, Left to Right: Rick Davies, Roger Hodgson, Richard, Robert Millar & David Winthrop

While Supertramp were in Germany, Richard made several friends and contacts and in the spring of 1971, he left Britain to try his luck in Munich, where over the years he carved out a living writing lyrics and composing film and television scores. In 1973 he received a package from his old school friend John Wetton containing a tape of works in progress recorded by his new band, King Crimson. During rehearsals in Richmond it soon became apparent that the role vacated by Pete Sinfield needed to be filled and Wetton, as the designated vocalist, knew the very person who could be trusted to write suitable lyrics. Back in Munich Richard listened intently to the tapes and came up with words for three songs that would become “Easy Money”, “Exiles” and “Book of Saturday” on Crimson’s fifth album, Lark’s Tongues in Aspic. He repeated the process on their next two albums writing lyrics for “The Great Deceiver”, “Lament”, The Night Watch” and “The Mincer” on Starless and Bible Black and “Fallen Angel” and “Starless” on Red. He was given a free rein to write whatever he felt was appropriate with no interference from the band.

For a couple of years Richard played guitar in the German brass / rock band Emergency with Hanus Berka, saxophones, flute and keyboards, Peter Bischof, vocals and percussion, bassist Yerzy Ziembrowski, Veit Marvos keyboards and drummer Bernd Knaak. They toured throughout Europe but the intricate arrangements and brisk tempos taxed Richard’s technical ability. Consequently he only appeared on one album, Get Out To the Country, although he contributed lyrics to the follow-up, No Compromise. In the mid-eighties he was back on the German live circuit in an AOR rock band with former Emergency vocalist Peter Bischof, plus saxophonist Pepe Solera, bassist Hans-Herbert Gebhard, drummer Ede, second guitarist Bimey Oberreit and keyboard player Simon Phillips. The band was named after the city where they were based, Munich. He appeared on two of their albums, 1986’s The Other Side of Midnight and You Never Know from 1987. At the end of the decade he left Munich, the city and the band, for lower Bavaria where he and his wife raised their two boys in the relative peace and serenity of the countryside.

During the seventies Richard’s guitar chops cropped up on the album Arbeit Macht Frei by Klaus Der Geiger, or ‘Klaus the fiddler’ as he was more commonly known in his native Munich and a self-titled album by Hansi Heldman and Razzia in 1978. He also became an in demand writer of English lyrics for a diverse number of European artists. His wordsmithery can be heard on Moti Special’s album Motivation, Michael Cretu’s The Invisible Man, Diez and Bischof’s Daybreak, Sandra’s The Long Play and four albums by the Italian disco duo La Bionda. In 1983 Richard and Ralph Siegel wrote “Together We’re Strong” for the French songstress Mireille Mathieu and the actor Patrick Duffy, better known for playing Bobby Ewing in the hit TV series Dallas. The song became a huge hit in Europe making the top ten in France, Belgium, Finland and the Netherlands. Later he would contribute lyrics to Haddaway’s 1995 album The Drive and former King Crimson violinist David Cross’s two albums Closer Than Skin in 2005 and Sign of the Crow 2016.

In 1979 John Wetton and John ‘Hutch’ Hutcheson flew out to Germany to meet up with their old Tetrad bandmate at Musicland Studios in Munich. Over the next ten days they recorded nine songs with a trio of German musician’s, drummer Curt Cress, saxophonist Michael Lohmann and Kristian Schulz on mini-moog. The album, I Wish You Would, consisted of nine songs including five blues covers, “Dimples”, “Good Morning Little Schoolgirl”, “You Can’t Judge a Book By Its Cover”, “Eyesight to the Blind” and the title track plus four originals penned by Richard and John. The album was credited to Jack-Knife. Eighteen years later Richard compiled a hodgepodge of twenty-four unreleased works in progress, live acoustic performances and updated takes on songs from John Wetton’s career with King Crimson, solo work and other projects called Monkey Business 1972 – 1997. The recording is only of interest to die hard collectors and curious fans wanting to peak behind the curtain of John and Richard’s song writing process. Both albums gained a CD release in 2014 as a two for one package on John Wetton’s own record label, Primary Purpose.

Two Heads, Left to Tight: Erich Schachtner & Richard Palmer-James, ‘Blues Meets Classical’

During the nineties Richard brushed up on his computer-based production and editing techniques at home and also took to the road, once again performing blues and country covers at low key gigs in the bars and clubs close to his home in Bavaria. In 2001 he met guitarist Erich Schachtner while they were both members of the Bavarian blues rock band Bluesgate and discovered they shared a common musical interest. They formed a duo specialising in classical music and Django Reinhardt and John Dowland covers in a show billed as ‘Blues Meets Classical’. Over the years they have been in the four piece Richard Palmer-James Band together, before reverting to the duo format under the name of Two Heads, performing original material and selections from the Supertramp and King Crimson back catalogues.

In 2016 Richard finally released his first solo album, Takeaway. Comprising of thirteen songs written specifically to suit his own sensibilities, the gentle acoustic instrumentation exudes a soothing atmosphere while the thoughtful, introspective lyrics fit his world-weary voice to perfection. Richard still lives in Germany with his family and returns to Bournemouth to visit friends and family whenever he can.

Photo Richard Palmer James Hutch Paul
Left to Right: Richard Palmer-James, Alec James & John ‘Hutch’ Hutcheson in 2017 (Photograph courtesy of Peter Viney & Richard Palmer-James)
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The Palmer James Group 51 years after their breakup, performing at the Blue Boar (formerly the Cellar Club) in Poole on Sunday 1st December 2019. Left to Right: John ‘Hutch’ Hutcheson, Alec James, Richard Palmer-James, Lisa Wetton (John Wetton’s wife), John Andrews & Bob Jenkins (Photograph John Cherry)

Special thanks go to Richard’s friend Peter Viney for additional information and photographs.

Richard Palmer-James Discography
 Supertramp Album

Supertramp: A&M (AMLS 981) 1970

King Crimson Albums

Larks Tongues in Aspic: Island (ILPS 9230) 1973 Lyrics only

Starless and Bible Black: Island (ILPS 9275) 1974 Lyrics only

Red: Island (ILPS 9308) 1974 Lyrics only

Emergency Single

Confessions / The Flag: Brain (509) 1973

 Emergency Albums

Get Out To the Country: Brain (1037) 1973

No Compromise: Brain (1052) 1974 Lyrics only

  Munich Albums

The Other Side of Midnight: Intercord (INT 145.090) 1986

You Never Know: Intercord (INT 145.097) 1987

Richard Palmer-James and John Wetton Albums

I Wish You Would: Polydor (MPF 1259) 1979 As Jack-Knife

Monkey Business 1972 – 1997: Blueprint (BP-295-CD) 1998

Jack-Knife / Monkey Business: Primary Purpose (PP001CD) 2014 Two for one CD

Richard Palmer-James Album

Takeaway: Primary Purpose (PP006CD) 2016

 Richard Palmer-James Albums as a Guest and Lyricist

Klaus Der Geiger: Arbeit Macht Frei: Bluff Records (BF1010) 1973

Diez and Bischof Daybreak: Atlantic (ATL 50 156) 1975 Lyrics only

Hansi Heldman and Razzia: Hansi Heldman and Razzia: Trikont (US 38) 1978

La Bionda LaBionda: Baby Records (LPX 24) 1978

La Bionda High Energy: Baby Records (BR 56001) 1979 Lyrics only

La Bionda I Wanna Be Your Lover: Baby Records (BR 56018) 1980 Lyrics only

Moti Special Motivation:  TELDEC (6.26166) 1985 Lyrics only

Michael Cretu The Invisible Man: Virgin (207 161) 1985 Lyrics only

Sandra The Long Play: Virgin (207 356) 1985 Lyrics only

La Bionda In Between: Universal (UMD77566) 1998 Lyrics only

Haddaway The Drive: Ariola (BVCP-843) 1995 Lyrics only

David Cross Closer Than Skin: Noisy Records (NOISY 003) 2005 Lyrics only

David Cross Sign of the Crow: Noisy Records (NOISY 008) 2016 Lyrics only

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