Electronic Sound: Landmarks – ‘The Crunch’ by The RAH Band

(First published in Electronic Sound magazine #76, April 2021)

LANDMARKS

Richard Anthony Hewson – aka The RAH Band – remembers his 1977 Top Ten single ‘The Crunch’.

Interview: Bob Fischer

“I started out as an arranger back in 1968, with Mary Hopkin’s Number One single ‘Those Were The Days’. Which, of course, opened the doors to a lot of similar work. So I was arranging for lots of people, which was good fun – I love working with orchestras.

“But I did that for a few years, and it’s the same old story that you must have heard a thousand times – arrangers don’t get royalties. You get a one-off fee for every job. I did ‘The Long And Winding Road’ and ‘I Me Mine’ for The Beatles, and got £40 apiece! I was thinking ‘I’m never going to get out of this unless I start doing my own writing and producing.’ And I could play the guitar, bass and keyboards – so what about trying to make a record myself? I hired a funny old Philips four-track machine, and put my guitars through all the different fuzz and wah-wah pedals that were around at the time, creating this overdriven, ‘crunchy’ sound. That’s where the name came from.

“I had a Hohner electric piano, too. It had that lovely sound you get on those old funk records. I put that through a pedal as well, and recorded a track just based on one note… literally in the bedroom. I was one of the first bedroom bands! And when I’d got as far as I could, I took the four-track down to the RG Jones Studio in Wimbledon, and we put drums and a brass section on it.  

“Then one day I just thought ‘Perhaps it could do with an extra tune on top…’ So I plugged in another one of my pedals, and came up with the ‘Da-di-da-da-da’ melody! There isn’t a synth on ‘The Crunch’, though – definitely not. This was 1974, and at that time I didn’t have any synthesizers. I got some straight afterwards – Roland contacted me and offered me an SH-5, which I still have. But it wasn’t used on ‘The Crunch’.

“It didn’t do anything at first. It sounded great to me, but not many people were interested. Then, three years later, one guy from EMI picked up on it and said ‘This is amazing…’ I wish I could remember his name, I’d like to thank him! Although it didn’t end up on EMI ­– it was released on Good Earth Records, through RCA. And I didn’t really follow its progress until somebody rang up and said ‘Your record’s doing well in the clubs, and it’s coming into the charts!’ I thought ‘Oooh, we’re off now…’  

“This was August 1977. I then got a call saying it was Number Six in the charts, and that it was predicted to be Number One the following week. And I thought ‘Blimey, this is amazing – are you sure?’ It was getting exciting.

“But then… Elvis Presley died. That week. And this is a story I haven’t told many people… RCA stopped pressing ‘The Crunch’ and started re-pressing all of Elvis’ records instead. So my single didn’t get to Number One because Elvis died! I don’t know whether we should say this? I love Elvis to bits… oh, go on then. That is the story. 

“And it’s not me in the balaclava on Top Of The Pops! Back in those days, you had to play live. And you’d get a call only a few days beforehand, depending on how your chart position was looking. And I had to say ‘I’m terribly sorry, but I’m booked in at EMI to do some orchestral arrangements.’ I just wasn’t available.

“I heard no more until I saw the show – and they’d just got some guys in to deputize! Who weren’t terribly into the music [laughs]… and if you watch that Top Of The Pops performance on Youtube, it sounds nothing like the record at all. I thought ‘What?!? This is going to kill it stone dead.’ But it didn’t… it still went up the charts.

“But here’s another story – after that, they appeared on the front of some magazine saying they’d taken on a world tour! I had to get a lawyer in to squash it… [laughs]. I think I read on one of the Youtube comments that somebody knows who it was in the balaclava. Perhaps I shouldn’t delve too deeply into it…

“But it was fun to finally do Top of the Pops in 1985, with ‘Clouds Across The Moon’. We had a guy in a robot outfit who nearly set the studio on fire! Robbie the Robot, he was called… and he had a firework hidden in his helmet. It was live, and at the end – if you look at the Youtube video – he set it off. The firemen were all waiting in the wings…

“Back in those days people used to say I was an electronic pioneer. I was one of the first people to buy a Roland D-50, and the TR-909 drum machine. That’s a fantastic machine – all the American rappers used one of those. I was really into all the tech, but now I’m totally the opposite… I never got into Pro Tools and Logic. My son comes down and says ‘Dad, look at all this ancient gear!’

“But I’m still doing stuff, it’s all guns blazing. I’m working on a track I started last year called ‘One Day We’ll Smile Again’. I discovered a girl with a really nice voice: Bella Hutton, give her a namecheck! She’s 19, and very keen on saving the planet – and rightly so. So the song is about how one day we’ll get the environment right. I think I’ll release it later in the spring, when the flowers come out.

“As for ‘The Crunch’… my grandsons have grown up a bit now, but I remember when they were nine or ten, one of them took it into school and they all loved it. And he was able to say ‘My grandad once made this really cool record…’”

The RAH Band website – including Richard’s new podcast – is at therahband.com