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John Miles

+ {The Influence}

Talented English-born singer and multi-instrumentalist whose “Music” was left behind somewhat with the new wave/punk explosion, the James Dean-like “Rebel” with a pause soft-rocker JOHN MILES claimed some “Highfly”-ing chart territory in the mid-70s before his “Slow Down” to morph into everybody’s fave support act to the stars.
Born John Errington, 23 April 1949, Jarrow, County Durham (now Tyne and Wear), John’s first venture into music was in ‘69 when he spearheaded local post-psych band The INFLUENCE, a trio put together by ex-Smokestack Crumble alumni Vic Malcolm (guitar) and Paul Thompson (drums). The band only released one single, `I Want To Live’ (b/w `Driving Me Wild’) – for Cliff Cooper’s Orange Records – before the latter pair formed Yellow; Malcolm would later join GEORDIE; Thompson joined ROXY MUSIC.
Meanwhile, putting aside the rather overused “Set” suffix but sticking with Orange Records, JOHN MILES (on vocals/guitars/keyboards) enlisted bassist/co-scribe Bob Marshall and drummer Barry Black in order to back his solo pop/rock aspirations. Several singles later – from 1970’s soulful `Why Don’t You Love Me’ to 1974’s `What’s On Your Mind’ – the artist was still no nearer the Tuesday charts.
Decca Records had been in search of a rock/pop star since The ROLLING STONES had followed their own path, so in JOHN MILES they were anticipating great things. Their faith paid off when the man’s major label debut, `Highfly’, soared into the Top 20 in autumn ’75; and even spent time in the Hot 100 in the US. The test though was not to have a one-hit-wonder, and with the classical/prog/disco `Music’ epic, MILES was now a Top 3 act. Produced by ALAN PARSONS and supplemented by orchestral arrangements from Andrew Powell, the 6-minute song opened the grooves of his long-awaited debut set, REBEL (1976) {*7} – at 27, the Jarrow lad had now a Top 10 album, although American audiences weren’t buying into his “rock” just yet.
Neither fitting into one category nor another was a problem for John’s PR people, and when `Remember Yesterday’ and `Manhattan Skyline’ fell short of the Top 30, sophomore set STRANGER IN THE CITY (1977) {*6} consequently only racked up a moderate chart position; boosted a little on both sides of the big pond when the funky `Slow Down’ gate-crashed the US and UK chart party. At a time when the new wave/punk movement had usurped prog-rock, glam and anything else in its way, MILES re-invented himself as a balladeer; the heartfelt `No Hard Feelings’ a perfect example of how Decca had their heads in the sand, when the B-side (`Nice Man Jack’) was positively post-glam and rock. Still, there was consolation when 1978’s Rupert Holmes-produced ZARAGON {*7} popped its piano-prog pinhead into the Top 50.
It was fair to say that John was an artist who could indeed turn his hand to any genre or style, and a perfect example of his all-encompassing flirtations were held within Top 50 fourth set, MMPH – MORE MILES PER HOUR (1979) {*6}; produced again by ALAN PARSONS. The addition of ex-SNAFU keyboardist Brian Chatton went unnoticed by hard-rockers when listening to the AOR of flop 45, `Can’t Keep A Good Man Down’. However MILES was indeed coming to a dead end in terms of commercial status; the set was issued as “Sympathy” in the US.
Switching allegiances to E.M.I. (Harvest Records in the States), there was little reprieve for 1981’s MILES HIGH {*4} and 1983’s PLAY ON {*5}. In the space of a decade John had went from hero to zero, and with his JOHN MILES BAND (featuring the steadfast Bob Marshall and former JETHRO TULL sticksman Barriemore Barlow), the harder-edged but pedestrian TRANSITION (1986) {*5} fitted hand-in-glove into an American pomp-rock market. Signed to Atco Records (Valentino in the UK) and produced by both Pat Moran and YES man Trevor Rabin, singles `Blinded’ and `I Need Your Love’ sealed MILES’ fate.
Thankfully for John, there was an outlet for John’s power ballad vocals as a guest for The ALAN PARSONS PROJECT; he’d already appeared for JIMMY PAGE on his 1988 “Outrider” set. The APP connection continued when John shared his modern classical muse on 1990’s “Freudiana”. John also worked with TINA TURNER (since 1987) and JOE COCKER (on 1992’s “Night Calls”).
In 1993, MILES tried once again to regenerate his heady days with the release of UPFRONT {*6}, and for the most part he’d succeeded via a hard-hitting muscular production that became quite popular in Switzerland. Thereafter, he was part of The Electric Band, who comprised his son John Miles Jr., Ollie Marland, Trevor Murrell and Dale Davis.
A curiosity if nothing else, MILES and singer Sara Murray composed the soundtrack to the stage musical, “Tom & Catherine: a true love story” – concerning novelist Catherine Cookson and hubby Tom – which was released by Orange Records in 1999.
Ten years later, there was one last live outing for the former star, when PSE Records in Belgium issued the rare BEST OF JOHN MILES: AT NIGHT OF THE PROMS {*6}, capturing the singer performing classical and classic-rock hits, and topped off by his own `Music’.
In 2017, John was presented the “Outstanding Musical Achievement” prize at the Progressive Music Awards.
© MC Strong/MCS/GRD 1994 // rev-up MCS Nov2019

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