OF A SOPHISTO-ROCK SAXOPHONIST BY ANNIE McCLEAN
- (The Story so Far…)
Anthony Helliwell was born into a musical family in the Yorkshire
town of Todmorden on the 15 th February 1945 just 4 months after
another musically famous Todmordarian, Keith Emerson, of Emerson,
Lake and Palmer fame.Exposure to music in the Helliwell home was
virtually instantaneous. Family members were involved in every
type of music from church to local Gilbert and Sullivan productions.
John’s parents duly ensured that their young lad received
the usual childhood piano and recorder lessons but none of these
musical stimuli proved very inspirational to him and it was left
to the jazz record collection of a family friend to prompt our
small hero to start his quest for a clarinet.
These were the grey fifties in post world war
II England. Times were hard and some serious saving of pocket
money was required to achieve his goal. Two years later and fifteen
pounds poorer, he became the proud owner of a clarinet, promptly
joining the Todmorden Symphony Orchestra whilst barely a teenager.
His musical interests were by this time leaning increasingly towards
jazz and by the age of fifteen he’d spent a further £35
on an alto saxophone and had begun playing with several school
groups including the TGS5 (Todmorden Grammar School Five) which
he founded. The group was quickly banned when
teaching staff objected to “scandalous” lyrical content,
namely the use of that dodgy word “baby”. Eminem take
Life in Yorkshire also involved the usual childhood
pranks and adventures with his peers. During one winter (?62/63),
a particularly cold snap caused all the local water courses to
ice up. John and his best pal decided to do a spot of messing
about on the (frozen) river. The ice gave way under our young
saxophonist who duly fell in and being unable to swim had to be
dragged out by his chum. The two remain firm friends to this day.
In common with many successful artistes, John seems to have visualized
his future path in music from a very early age. In a school essay
from his mid teens he confidently predicted a future career as
a long haired and bearded, touring jazz musician. Not bad for
no crystal ball.
Over the next three years a teenaged Helliwell
continued to play and to study for his school leaving exams (A
levels). Initially his plan was to study music at the Royal College
of Music but by eighteen and the completion of his studies he
had found work in Birmingham (August ’63) as a budding computer
programmer for ICL, then Britain’s largest computer firm.
Music was still an important part of his life
and in his free time he played in a succession of local dance
and blues bands. Birmingham had a very exciting mix of musicians
beginning to emerge at that time, including key future members
of Traffic, ELO and the Moody Blues, all of whom crossed the young
first real experience of playing in a blues influenced band was
the amateur Jugs O’Henry which he joined back in May ‘65
but when Jugs announced his intention to turn professional, John
decided to chance his luck too, moving south with the band to
a London base and turning his back on the world of computers.
Gig bookings dwindled quickly and unexpectedly so that the following
year with no band and no job, our man was forced to place an ad
in the Melody Maker “Have sax, will travel.” As luck
would have it, a Swedish computer firm simultaneously offered
him a position but he plumped instead for another music job, replacing
David Green in The Alan Bown Set mark II in Feb ’66
Alan Bown was a trumpet
player and his, for that time, daring vision of mixing horns with
rock quickly began to pay off. That very same month the Bournemouth
Times ran a feature on the band and a mere three months later
in October John (or rather John Anthony as he was known professionally)
cut his first single with the band "Emergency 999" with
a December follow up of "Headline News". A first album
“Outward-Alan Bown” followed in April ‘67.
By then, more high profile gigs were definitely
on the cards. In August they played the Windsor Jazz and Blues
festival alongside the likes of Cream, releasing another single
"Toyland” in October and playing the Marquee Club in
London the same month. The band’s name was truncated to
“The Alan Bown” around this time. Gig attendances
were on the increase along with their accompanying rock ‘n
roll dangers. Just two days before Christmas, Helliwell blood
was spilt when the band became involved in a huge bar fight in
In July ‘68, the band performed on one
of the hippest UK tv music shows of the time, the "Simon
Dee Show" and also made it to London’s Royal Albert
Hall for a show which included Joe Cocker and the Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah
Band. The latter was a highly eccentric and comic combo featuring
the late Viv Stanshall, a bespectacled, blond haired and bearded
brass player with more than a passing resemblance to John, as
would be subsequently commented on by the media in the 70s. As
an aside, the BDDB eventually recorded “Little Sir Echo”
which John would occasionally choose to perform in his future
solo “guest spots” with Supertramp.
A second album “Second album” was
released and John continued on with The Alan Bown over the next
four years, successively recording “We Can Help You ’;
“Outward Bown"; "Gypsy Girl"; "The Alan
Bown - Listen" and "The Alan Bown Stretching Out"
The latter, a 1971 album, contained the only
Helliwell composition to date, "Turning Point". A number
of personnel changes occurred in the latter years, not least in
’69 with the addition of the late Robert Palmer as new vocalist.
Dougie Thomson came on board on bass for what was to be the last
six months of the band’s life.
In March 1972 The Alan Bown disbanded leaving
the 27 year old Helliwell in search once more of a new musical
vehicle. Dougie and he had by now formed a firm friendship and
the two attempted to start up a new band “Wizard”
(not to be confused with Roy Wood’s band). Their venture
was short lived and both (now married) men had to resort to taking
whatever music jobs they could. John
was in the nightmarish position of also having to deal with an
overdue tax bill, the result of a mix-up whilst playing with The
Alan Bown. He found a day job working in a dry cleaners but also
had to work evenings playing the clubs, pubs and even seedy strip
joints of London till the wee hours of the morning, grabbing sleep
whenever he could till the tax bill was paid off.
Around this time Dougie joined forces with a
struggling Supertramp and meanwhile John, taxes paid, did a spot
of UK touring, then took off for Germany, reluctantly leaving
his wife Christine back in England. The work involved playing
around various American Air Force Bases but after only a few months
(Aug. ’73) John was glad to return to his family back in
Blighty. Rumour has it that the gifted “20 stone multi-instrumentalist”,
Pete Lancaster whom he was gigging with at the time, is still
performing in Germany to this day.
Just a few weeks after John’s return, Dougie
got back in touch and invited him down informally for a bit of
a session with Supertramp. They’d all become aware of his
considerable musical prowess due to the fact that both Supertramp
and The Alan Bown had occasionally played together on the same
bill but his permanent inclusion in the band seems to have been
clinched by his equal talents in the joke telling department,
a skill which he would later use to good effect on stage in his
role as Supertramp’s master of ceremonies.
He is rumoured to have broken the ice with his
future band mates by telling one of his many jokes. "Did
you hear the one about the Irishman who received water skis for
Christmas?” [Answer: He spent the whole holiday looking
for a lake with a slope]. And thus, at Dougie’s invitation,
John sat in with the band and was instantly impressed. That first
day they worked on a number of songs which would eventually see
the light of day as Crime of the Century tracks.
of the first songs that John recalls hearing was “From Now
On.” John continued to return to successive ‘tramp
rehearsals until he eventually began performing gigs with them.
No one, least not our sax player, can remember exactly when this
was or can even remember him being asked to join formally! Supertramp
were also in a pretty bad way both in terms of finance and band
morale. John like the other members, realized that some day-work
was necessary to keep body and soul together whilst the band were
in rehearsal time and so worked as a petrol pump attendant and
even took mind numbing work screwing nuts and bolts together on
pipes before resorting to going out on tour for a stint with the
soul singer Jimmy Ruffin.
Finally, with enough Supertramp demo tracks recorded,
A&M gave the go ahead for a third album to be recorded and
in Nov. ‘73 John and Christine moved out of London to join
the rest of the band and their families for a spot of communal
living in an isolated Somerset cottage “Southcombe Farm”.
Three months later Crime of the Century was ready
to be recorded and the Helliwells relocated back to Maidenhead
outside London. John started recording tracks at Trident studios
in Jan ‘74 including a single “Land Ho/ Summer Romance”
which was subsequently remixed and released in February just after
John turned 29.
The first Helliwell official public appearance
with Supertramp was in March ’74 at the Queens Club in Westcliff
although he had also performed the new single with them on the
BBCs “Rock On” some weeks previously. Recording for
Crime of the Century was finished by June and released in September.
The band showcased
it to assorted music industry heavyweights including A&M founder
Jerry Moss at Chelsea’s King’s Road Theatre with John’s
better half Christine on hand to reprieve her recording role as
one of the trampettes who provided backing vocals for “Hide
in your Shell”.
Prior to Dreamer being released in December ’74 as the new
single, Supertramp had actually performed it several times that
autumn on BBC tv. John is memorable in these clips for “playing”
water-filled wine glasses by rubbing the rims.
This was supposed to be providing some of the
sustained synth sounds but was merely an eye catching stage device.
John headed off in October with Supertramp mk. III on their first
tour of Great Britain which ended just before Christmas ‘74,
at which point COTC was at number 4 in the UK charts and the nation’s
music press were clamoring to run pieces on the band and the album.
John no doubt grabbed a few precious weeks of
down time with Christine over the holiday period but the new year
(end of Jan ’75) saw him out on the road in the UK with
Supertramp once more, playing to around a dozen venues. They came
off the road just days before John turned 30, then headed over
to France for a one off February show at the “Bataclan”,
the show immortalized in the sleeve notes of “Paris”.
stories are to be believed the promoter had had little success
in selling the tickets prior to their arrival. On the day of the
performance with a mere handful shifted, the band recalls taking
to the street and attempting to give tickets away to passers by.
The show lives on as a French radio recording and probably afforded
John his first opportunity to try out his linguistic skills on
stage by talking to the crowd partially in French.
much more fluent but equally self assured John took to the stage
of London’s Hammersmith Odeon the next month on March 9
th. The gig was a last minute add-on to the end of the tour and
has become famous or rather perhaps infamous as an illegal bootleg
beloved amongst Supertramp fans. It was also briefly commercially
released in 2001 as “Is Everybody Listening”. For
some bizarre reason the original bootleg erroneously gave the
venue for this show as Cleveland, Ohio rather than London, England,
a mistake which the 2001 commercial release unfortunately replicated
on its own cover notes.
Be that as it may, the recording presents a highly
dynamic live band, tearing through many of the current Crime of
the Century AND future Crisis? What Crisis? numbers.
Moreover, it’s heartwarming evidence of
a zany, and firmly tongue in cheek Helliwell MC, whose pithy wit
has delighted Supertramp audiences the world over. He can be heard
welcoming the Hammersmith audience thus:
“Thanks man.... Good evening. Welcome to my show
and I'd like to do another one now. This is from my album. I shall
be supported by Rick and Roger on vocals on this one. This is
called .... Ooh another thing. We've got a little guest vocal
group tonight. These are "The Trampettes" and they'll
be appearing at the end of this number. They're pretty cool so
don't applaud too much. This is "Hide in Your Shell"...
on, when a lone heckler in the crowd continued to push his luck
too far, our man confidently halted proceedings to have a word
with him thus:
Ooh we've got the chap
from "rent-a-mouth” here tonight [crowd and Dougie
laugh and cheer] Yeah... anyway to continue... Hey listen. To
get on 'ere you need some material and the only material you've
got is that shitty suit you're wearing [huge crowd applause].
John ‘fessed up to this put down of put
downs being borrowed from the old bass player in The Alan Bown.
Whatever, it swiftly did the job and elicited a huge cheer from
the giggling crowd. The heckler was heard no more.
same recording has further evidence of his great wit and also
perhaps personal disregard for safety. During this tour, he’d
had a specially wired up jacket made, encrusted with fairy lights
to give that special “glow in the dark” effect. He
can be heard instructing Irish roadie Norman Hall to “Turn
me on man” at which point Norman dutifully plugged him into
the mains electricity! Twinkling in the darkness, he accompanied
himself on the piano and generally hammed it up whilst singing
“The Alphabet Song” (A You’re Adorable) but
on other nights would occasionally swap this for “Little
Sir Echo” a song he’d had taught to him by his uncle
in his childhood days.
now had their sights set on more distant lands and in less than
a month (April ‘75) John found himself playing in Supertramp’s
first ever American show in Milwaukee. Christine stayed behind
in England and the same month gave birth to the couple’s
first child, Charles Louis on the night that Supertramp performed
in St. Louis Missouri. After playing further US and Canadian dates,
the band members found themselves on the west coast and were able
to put down some kind of roots, renting accommodation in the Venice
Beach area outside of LA. At that time it wasn’t perhaps
what the Helliwells had been used to in Maidenhead – John
recalled one sticky moment where he exited his apartment and walked
straight into a posse of policemen, guns drawn in hot pursuit
of a felon. Shaken, he quickly followed their “Son get back
and Supertramp returned briefly to the recording studio in LA
in the summer of ’75, to begin work on his second album
with the band. He headed off to play several more N. American
dates with them before returning home to London and the autumn
completion of work on what would become
“Crisis? What Crisis?
the single release of “Lady” from the album, Supertramp
returned to the road in November of ’75 for a UK tour to
coincide with the album’s release. After a brief respite
for Christmas, it was off once more in January, this time on a
European tour. The tour ended triumphantly with a sold out Royal
Albert Hall show, at which John announced the birth of Jesse Siebenberg
to the assembled 6000 crowd. Little did he know that the same
lad would be playing percussion on that very stage with them twenty
two years later in 1997.
The band had by this time decided to make a go
of it in the States, intending to relocate permanently to the
west coast. John and Christine sold off their house contents and
the band embarked on a global tour for the new album. John spent
the next few months touring N. America and in May headed with
the band towards Japan then Australia and New Zealand.
a summer free from performing, it was once again time for John
to start work on his third Supertramp album with rehearsals starting
in early autumn ’76. Recording followed at Colorado’s
Caribou Studios and was completed in the week prior to Christmas
’76. Holiday festivities out of the way, the band began
mixing at the Record Plant. Friends of the band were invited to
provide the background vocals on “From Now On” but
the normally mild mannered perfectionist lost the plot a little
when the assembled group persistently sang out of tune. In exasperation
he’s alleged to have yelled “Why can’t these
bastards sing in tune?”
Examination of any publicity shots from around
this time onwards shows John to be wearing a simple small, dark,
rectangular pendant. An American fan rather mysteriously sought
him out at a stage door after one mid seventies performance, presented
with the piece and made some statement about it being able to
bring luck to the band ie “wear it always and you will continue
to perform together” – something like that. It’s
a nice touch that no matter where he is in the world, to this
day, whether playing with Supertramp or Roger Hodgson, that he
will always have the pendant around his neck.
Our man celebrated his 32 nd birthday just weeks
before the release of “Even in the Quietest Moments”
and the start of its accompanying global tour in Canada. As the
band worked their way across N. America John was asked by producer
Toni Visconti to take time out in Toronto to record two tracks
with Bob Siebenberg’s brother-in-law, Scott Gorham and his
band Thin Lizzy which included the hit single “Dancin’
in the Moonlight”.
John completed performances with Supertramp
in the US then caught up with Thin Lizzy back in London in late
August ’77 to make a live appearance with them on the BBV
TV show, “Top of the Pops”. A few days later he and
Supertramp were off to Denmark to commence a European tour which
brought them to the UK mid October. Using a camera he picked up
on an earlier tour, John commenced a photographic study which
consisted of the daily “view from my window” of whichever
hotel and city he was in. To date the project remains unpublished
but it would make a fascinating study of life on the road as seen
from the eyes of a traveling musician.
The band reached London on the 10 th November
to wind up the tour, filming some of their best known live band
footage at St. Mary’s College that evening. It’s perhaps
no coincidence to note that this and the earlier recorded Hammersmith
shows are both “end of tour” shows.
March ‘78 the boys were back hard at work on the next album
in Rick’s Californian home. The following month they took
a rehearsal space at LA’s Burbank studio, naming it for
the English cottage where they had first put COTC together some
five and a half years previously. Relocation to LA’s Village
Recorders followed only a matter of weeks later and recording
commenced on “Breakfast in America” in Studio B (Studio
A was for at least part of the time occupied by Steely Dan working
on their last album of the 20 th Century, “Gaucho”).
Studio B only had one recording booth and as
the backing for tracks such as The Logical song were recorded
live, John was dispatched to the toilet to play his solos. Engineer
Pete Henderson bemusedly recalled, “He used to complain
about it a lot, but I think he was actually quite happy being
He was allowed out to contribute backing vocals
to some of the tracks and is even the “heavy breather”
heard exhaling at the start of every bar in the introduction to
“The Logical Song”.
Recording for Breakfast in America finished at the end of ’78.
The album cover design was completed by including a photo of the
band on the back. For the location they chose Bert’s Mad
House on La Brea Avenue in LA, located literally just across the
street from the studios (sadly it’s now gone, rumoured to
have been turned into a parking lot). Look carefully and all the
musicians are reading a newspaper from their own home towns. John’s
Manchester Evening News represents his nearest city to Todmorden.
With the album’s
release in March ’79 it was time for John to take to the
road again. The North American tour leg got underway in St. Louis
and worked its way across N. America until mid August. Supertramp
were on the crest of a wave. In Buffalo in May the Mayor even
presented them with the keys of the city which John gleefully
accepted on stage.
touring brought them to Paris on the 29 th November ‘79
for the legendary recording and filming of the show which would
be issued as the double live album “Paris”. Surviving
footage showed John as ever really getting into the swing of things.
In black wrap around sunglasses and with his trade mark flowing
blond locks, he ducked and dived his way around the stage, at
one point climbing on to the grand piano and lying on his back,
microphone in hand, to sing the backing vocals for “Dreamer”.
His voice is heard greeting the audience in French and his introductory
detailed descriptions of the various recent meals he’d had,
have become as much a part of the live recording as has the music.
His ability to learn a few sentences of the language of whatever
country he is performing in is a trait which continues to endear
him to continental fans.
the double live album released in ’80, is also evidence
of the musical quoting which John delights in. Take a listen to
the album’s version of “Bloody Well Right” and
you’ll find him skillfully inserting the opening bars of
Duke Ellington's "Rockin' In Rhythm". He doesn't appear
to have used the riff prior to this tour but it can be heard even
more completely on Live '88. Whatever town he plays in on tour,
he also likes to research its well known melodies then attempt
to weave them into some of the show numbers that night.
RTL radio in Paris invited John and Roger Hodgson
into their studios during one of the days of their autumn shows
in ’79. John brought along his clarinet and the pair performed
a breathtaking version of Even in the Quietest Moments but the
biggest surprise of the entire session was when he suddenly took
over the keyboards and played Joni Mitchell’s “Morning
Morgantown”! Evidently his childhood piano lessons hadn’t
been in vain.
With the touring ended soon after this, John
had most of ’80 off and was able to spend time with his
family back in LA. He was able to indulge in his pastimes, one
of which was bicycling. He liked nothing better than to cycle
up and down the steep hills around his canyon home but one day
in January ’81 he simply rounded a corner too sharply, fell
off and suffered a bad break to his leg, requiring surgery to
fit a metal plate and pins which he has to this day. Once over
this set back, it was time to regroup with his fellow musicians
and think about their follow-up to “Paris”.
for the album “…famous last words…” took
most of ’82. Just before its release in October, John guested
on David Letterman’s “The Late Show” and was
then dispatched in November on a solo round-the-world publicity
jaunt for the album’s forthcoming singles. Over in London,
BBC Radio 1’s “Newsbeat” caught up with him
and asked him if he’d ever done the standard rock ‘n
roll thing of wrecking his hotel room. Our man assured them that
that had never happened but as an after thought added “but
we did once throw a dead fish on to the roof of an ambassador’s
to his departure from the States, John took part in the video
recording for both singles from the album. The second, “My
Kind of Lady” had a 50s feel to it and required John and
the others to shave off their trademark beards. He also found
time to film intros for a music documentary “Les Enfants
du Rock” for European tv w hich portrayed him tongue in
cheek as a TV studio anchorman.
John packed his bags for yet another tour, playing
the first of many ’tramp shows in Sweden at the start of
On 24 th June he played in front of some 80 to
85 thousand souls at the Parc de Seaux in Paris which at that
time was the largest ever audience assembled at a concert.
Just five days later
the tour reached London’s Earl’s Court (29 th June).
One piece from the British press at that time describes John as
“tall, bearded and quite definitely the skinniest 38-year-old
in rock 'n' roll. He's also the possessor of an enviable tan.”
band got to the capital city just in time for the mens’
tennis finals at Wimbledon, an event which John and several of
the others managed to get tickets to. John McEnroe, at that time
one of the world’s top tennis stars, was obviously also
a Supertramp fan and turned up in the front row at one of the
London shows. John delighted in pointing him out to the crowd
and “serving” an imaginary tennis ball at him from
In August the N. American part of the tour started,
ending on the 25 th September ’83 at Irvine Meadows in California.
This was to be Roger Hodgson’s last show with the band –
it was John who presented him on stage with an inscribed gold
watch. An emotional evening for all concerned.
New phase of John’s life with Supertramp
began after Roger’s departure. From now on Rick Davies would
be the sole writer. By mid ’84 he and the remaining band
members had assembled once more to begin work on John’s
seventh album with them, “Brother Where You Bound”.
The cover work features coloured ape to humanoid outlines on a
white background. It became the “in” joke within the
band to identify which level of evolution matched what musician.
John claims that he is of course on the right hand side as the
fully evolved human.
In May ’85 the band and a huge gaggle of
reporters met up in Paris and took the luxurious “Orient
Express” to Vienna with the purpose of attending the premiere
of the very ambitious film for “Brother” filmed by
Rene Daalder. By all accounts the wine flowed and a good time
was had by all – and so they should have, with tickets costing
a “mere” $600 a head. John and Rick commandeered the
piano in the lounge and played into the wee small hours much to
the alarm of all the terribly posh, staid older couples on board.
Yet another Helliwell out-on-the-road period
ensued in late September ’85 starting way out west in St.
John Newfoundland as ‘tramp began its touring of N. America.
By February the band were over in Europe. Just three days after
John’s 41 st birthday he became a father for the second
time. His second son William was born back home in Santa Monica
whilst John was in the midst of touring. However by March ’86
he’d again reached London, and could
this time be joined by his family. The band performed at the Royal
Albert Hall in aid of the Prince’s Trust in front of Prince
Charles and Princess Diana. The elder Helliwell son, Charles was
asked to sit with them in the Royal Box. Diana had always professed
to being a big ‘tramp fan and Charles Helliwell got to introduce
both royals to the band backstage prior to the show.
In ’87 John and Supertramp recorded “Free
As A Bird”, a more experimental album that toyed with modern
technology. He freely states that this wasn’t perhaps their
best idea but then again, hind sight is a wonderful thing. With
the album’s release in autumn of that year, John had Christmas
with his family and then flew south in the new year to Rio de
Janeiro for the start of the “World Migration Tour”
which eventually finished off (May ’88) in London at the
Royal Albert Hall.
The end of the 80’s marked the start of
a dormant period for the band
Musically with the apparent laying off of Supertramp,
John began to consider studying for a music degree. He knew he’d
want to study at the Royal Northern College of Music in Manchester
and this may have been one of the family’s decisions in
relocating back to Yorkshire some time in the early 90’s.
However he kept in contact with all his Supertramp buddies including
Roger Hodgson and when asked by Roger to go out on the road in
America for a mini series of gigs, accepted readily. The “Rites
of Passage” band played several Californian dates in the
summer of ’96. The last date (2 nd August in Nevada City)
was recorded live and issued as the CD “Rites of Passage”.
The new Supertramp album “Some Things Never
Change” took shape over 1996. However there was a very big
snag looming on the horizon. John was by now living back in England
and was well into his degree course in Manchester. If all went
to plan it should occupy him for the following year, a year which
Rick had earmarked for a new Supertramp tour. After much soul
searching, the oldest student on his course, the 51 years young
John decided to shelve his degree for the time being and get back
out on the road.
The “It’s About Time” tour
was announced towards the end of 1996, marking the emergence of
Supertramp mark IV. John and the others began their tour in Europe
in April, reaching N. America by mid July.
On 9 th April 1997, John, Rick and Bob were awarded
with the “Chevalier de l’ordre des Arts et Lettres”
medal by the French Government. This green and white medal is
one of the country’s most distinguished cultural awards
and is a measure of just how highly the French regard Supertramp
(as an example, Bowie wasn’t awarded his until late ’99!)
The tour crossed back again to Europe in September
‘97, proceeding to sell out a further five consecutive nights
at The Royal Albert Hall. John took on his usual role of MC and
revelled in his intro to “Take the Long Way Home”
which consisted of a mock safety announcement advising the audience
about traffic jams or diversions all around the venue. Of
course half way through it, a giant Helliwell “talking head”
appeared, looking down at the stage from the video screen. In
a classic moment John got to talk to his alter ego, the virtual
image peering down at him and saying “John. Listen –
all you’ve got to say to them is, ladies and gentlemen when
you go home tonight, take the long.. way.. home”. The ever
sartorial MC definitely surpassed himself on this tour, appearing
most nights in a silver John Paul Gautier suit (apparently he
had a second one in a brown tone which he wore to some shows).
At the end of the tour John retired back to Yorkshire
to home and family. His tour performance was again preserved for
posterity the following year with the release of the live double
album “It Was The Best of Times” which had been recorded
back in London the previous 19th and 20th September.
Towards the end of 1999 he took time out to travel
into Manchester to meet up with Tim “TJ” Tjernlund,
an American Supertramp historian and compiler of a band “time
line” from whence many of the dates quoted in this bio were
obtained. Tim and John spent an afternoon trying to put some sort
of chronology on to all the facts and figures collected by TJ
over the years.
In 2001, Rick Davies regrouped John and the others
to record their first album of the new millennium, “Slow
Motion”. This time John and his colleagues were presented
with pretty much the finished article. Rick in an almost “solo
album” venture had conceived the album on his own and now
handed each musician detailed demos for each to work from. Most
of it hit the spot but in a radio interval John had a little chuckle
over a mysteriously ditched track called “Flight 29”.
This, quite apart from having an unfortunate title given the tragedy
of September 11 th, got a rather lukewarm response from the various
musicians when they heard it. When Rick told an interviewer “I
don’t think they liked it very much” John quipped
back with, “It was just when were stamping up and down on
the [demo] CD that he realized.”
Slow Motion hit the shops early in 2002. John
flew to Paris to reunite with the others in rehearsals for several
weeks before they commenced touring in Spain the next month. It
was in Barcelona’s Olympic Stadium on the 28 th April that
John announced proudly in Spanish to the assembled 15000 throng
that he’d just become a grandfather ("Hoy he sido abuelo").
His first grandchild, Edgar Helliwell, was born in New Zealand.
Obviously delighted, he mugged around on stage pretending to wobble
about on a walking stick. Mark Hart
joined in his celebrations by substituting “Grandpa John
Helliwell” at the point where he would normally sing “Mr.
John Helliwell” during The Logical Song. Poor Rick Davies
was so overwhelmed that when introducing the band he referred
to John as "a grandma... no wait.. grandad...grandad...”
John has undoubtedly influenced many younger aspiring musicians
to turn professional. One such person is French saxophonist Laurent
Hunziker. On the 7 th May, John invited Laurent and his sax
quartet on stage at the Paris Bercy show to guest with him on
“Over You”, playing a special arrangement John had
written out just for that show. It’s probably the first
time apart from “trampette singers” that “outside”
musicians have joined Supertramp on stage for such a one-off appearance.
There is one other known exception to this however! Music is definitely
in the Helliwell genes. John’s younger son William has become
an accomplished trumpet player. On the 17 th July ‘02 in
Edinburgh, the teenaged William appeared on stage to play “Goodbye
Stranger” with his father and Supertramp. At the end of
the number, apparently even tough old roadies had a tear in their
eye whilst his proud father could be seen mouthing to the audience,
“that’s my boy!”
After the 2002 “One More for the Road”
tour, yet more musical projects were in store for John in the
new millennium. French musician Alan Simon asked John, Bob, Jesse
and Andrew Hodgson to play on an album “Gaïa”,
which was released in 2003. It included 20
prominent solo artistes of international standing and was intended
to raise money for an environmental educational project.
More recently in January 2004 John was reunited
with Alan Simon, members of the Gaïa Band, Jesse Siebenberg
and Roger Hodgson at “Art on Ice” - an ice and music
spectacular staged in Zurich. They performed three Supertramp
numbers, John commenting that, when it came to playing “It’s
Raining Again” this was the first time he’d performed
it on stage with Roger in some 21 years. Scary stuff.
In March 2004 John, some friends and his son
William performed a jazz concert in their home
county of Yorkshire. If rumours are to be believed, there are
many more jazz performances to come. John, created his own Jazz
group, with most talented musicians : It is called "Crème
anglaise"... Beside this, John also plays in the ensemble
To be continued……
Postscript: The above has concentrated on John’s
recording career within Supertramp. He has also played sax on
recordings for many other world class acts not least Diana Ross
and Chris de Burgh. Have a listen...
There may be more to come from Supertramp, but right now
I’m playing music based on my many inspirations, including
jazz, funk, blues, soul and rock, with some of my favourite musicians.
We are called John Helliwell’s “Crème Anglaise”
and the band variously includes: Mark Hart (vocals, guitar and
keyboards) from ‘Supertramp’ and ‘Crowded House’,
Mike Walker (internationally acclaimed jazz guitarist), multi-talented
organist and vocalist John Ellis, the rocking Geth Griffith on
double bass and bass guitar, pianistic star Arthur Lea, and stellar
drummer Ben Bryant.
Have a listen to our CD “Crème
Anglaise” - if you like it half as much as we do, then we
like it twice as much as you do! Come and see and hear us in a
place near you!