Were you a fan of The Spectrum, a band whose early line up included Charlie Watts, but whose main claim to fame remains, whether they like it or not, their vocal theme over the end credits of Gerry and Sylvia Anderson’s Captain Scarlet?
(All together, now… “They crash him and his body they burn, They smash him but they know he’ll return… to live again!”)
Well if you are – or you’re a fan of the art of British comic artist Tom Kerr, whose many credits included work on titles as diverse as Lion, Princess and Buster, then you may be interested in this page of “The Spectrum” art from Lady Penelope, currently on offer on eBay, which ran in Issue 104 of the weekly sister paper to TV21, published in January 1968.
The strip centred on the band The Spectrum, whose main claim to fame is their catchy vocals for theme featured over the credits of episodes of the Gerry Anderson series, Captain Scarlet, but whose musical career began in the early 1960s, through to 1971, drawing to a close after a number of line-up changes.
It’s a common misconception that the band were formed to be a British version of The Monkees. Over on Louder Than War, Ian Canty has documented the band’s career in some detail, in coverage prompted by the release of The Spectrum – All The Colours Of The Spectrum (Complete Recordings: 1964-1970) by Grapefruit Records, back in 2017.
“Early participants included future Rolling Stone rock-solid time-keeper Charlie Watts,” Ian notes, “but the band settled itself around singer/guitarist Colin Forsey, lead guitarist Tony Atkins and bass player Anthony Judd.
“They supported the Beatles in 1963 working under the name of Dale Stevens and the Group Five, but generally busied themselves with live work in and around the capital.”
Following the release of their single “Little Girl” by EMI in 1965, RCA picked up the band and, after The Monkees success, decided that the time was right to repeat that with a British band, with, Ian Canty suggests, some sort of agreement with Screen Gems, The Monkees makers.
“Though trumpeting the band as the new Monkees the bands didn’t actually have much in common, the Spectrum being a working group in their own right for seven years before the bigwigs at RCA ‘discovered’ them,” he points out.
After hearing the band on the radio, Gerry and Sylvia Anderson decided The Spectrum should record a new end theme for Captain Scarlet – their name the same as the umbrella security organisation their indestructible puppet hero worked for.
It was also, it appears, the Andersons who decided the band as should have a Monkees’ like tie-in to the show, signing them to a £100,000 deal, according to a now defunct web site, Scarlet Fever, partly through the strip featured in Lady Penelope from Issue 103 – 122, cover dated 6th January 1968 – 18th May 1968), which also promoted upcoming gigs, as well as offering the group in some perhaps unlikely adventures. The strip was drawn by Tom Kerr, who also drew episodes of “The Monkees” strip for the same comic.
Sadly for the band, despite their TV exposure and comic strip appearances, they had little UK chart success, although they did have a stronger following in Europe. The Radio London web site notes they enjoyed Number One hits in Spain with “Samantha’s Mine” and “Headin’ For A Heatwave” (their third 1967 UK release), and hit the top spot in Germany, with their cover of the Beatles’ “Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da” (their second 1968 UK release).
Rare record collector Blake Mitchner feels The Spectrum, not to be confused with a contemporary Australian band of the same name formed in 1969, spent their career in the constant shadow of bigger bands in England. “Whilst they were easily as talented and musically good as similar great bands The Small Faces and The Nice, they only hit the Number One position in Spain and Germany, and everything planned for them in the UK backfired,” he wrote back in 2013.
Commenting Blake’s post, which offers a review of their RCA-produced album, The Light Is Dark Enough, released in 1970, fan Len Davies notes the bands members had been playing together for years prior to 1967, when they finally got more exposure, through their connection to Captain Scarlet and plenty of air play for their single, “Portobello Road”, released in 1967.
“Their first single that received a lot of radio play, ‘Samantha’s Mine’, would have charted had RCA pressed enough copies to make the sales,” Len feels. “The B side was a version of a Monkees song, ‘Saturdays Child’, which is probably where the misconception [that they were a manufactured band] came from.
“Tony Blackburn, on Radio One, loved the band and when they released ‘Oh bla di oh bla da’ he pushed it heavily, until Marmalade released their version and Spectrum’s was dropped.”
The Spectrum’s ten year run came to an end in 1971, drummer Keith Forsey later becoming a record producer who worked with disco pioneer Giorgio Moroder, going on to produce Generation X’s “Dancing With Myself” and the parent album “Kiss Me Deadly”, before helming Billy Idol’s years of solo US success in the 1980s.
Keith also produced the film soundtracks for Flashdance, Beverly Hills Cop II and The Breakfast Club, and co-wrote the Simple Minds track “Don’t You Forget About Me”.
Despite being largely forgotten now, there are still enthusiastic fans out there, some who have worked with band members down the decades, and clearly enough for Grapefruit Records to release their entire back catalogue!
• The Spectrum’s vocal version of the Captain Scarlet theme song can be heard on the end credits of episodes 7, 10, 12, 14, 16, 18, 20 and 22 – 32 of the popular series. Another version of the theme tune was recorded by Manfred Mann’s Mike Vickers
• The Spectrum – All The Colours Of The Spectrum – Album Review by Ian Canty – features background on the band
Tracking the Life and Work of Tom Kerr
downthetubes contributor Norman Boyd has been on a bit of a mission for some time trying to document the life and work of Tom Kerr, a stalwart of the British comic industry from the 1940s onwards, with a growing stripography here.
There’s also a Facebook group, The Comic Art of Tom Kerr, too, and watch for a full Tom Kerr listing and article in Steve Holland’s BAM! magazine when launched.
• Anti-smoking strips drawn by Tom Kerr feature on Lew Stringer’s Blimey! blog
With thanks to Norman Boyd and Michael Slattery